Grenade – parking its tank on confectioners’ lawns

A wander through the food-to-go aisles of Marks & Spencer confirms the extent to which protein snacks have become big business. Ten years ago, those aisles were the exclusive preserve of its own high-end branded foods, but now Mars-owned KIND Bars jostle with Kellogg-owned RX Bars in the frenzied healthier snacking category.
M&S was the making of another – now mainstream – healthier snacking brand. Grenade Carb Killa bars were first stocked in 2018 in 150 stores, but quickly rolled out to an estate of nearly 1000.
But what else can we learn about the strategic choices made by this turbo-charged brand?
Grenade founders, Alan & Juliet Barratt who still run the company
History
Grenade was started by husband and wife team Alan and Juliet Barratt in 2009/10. Originally the pair were importers and distributors of protein powders, mostly from the US and aimed at muscle-builders and other health enthusiasts, their ranges were retailed by specialist health food web retailers and health stores.
The couple believed that many of the products represented a compromise to far: either healthy but tasteless; or tasty but sugar laden. In a bid to address the compromise, they started developing recipes that delivered on taste but maintained health credentials.
In 2014 the couple were bought out by investment house Grovepoint. Three years later, the Birmingham-based firm changed hands again when Lion Capital acquired it for £72m.
The founders remain active – working as CEO and CMO – and the business has been consistently recognised for its rapid growth, winning various awards and featuring in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 every year from 2014 – 2018.
Brand positioning choices
From its origins in sports nutrition (protein powders etc), Grenade has sought to fish in a bigger pond – targeting more mainstream on-the-go snacking occasions – which it more eloquently labels as ‘active nutrition’.
Mike Simons, head of category at Grenade, notes: “Protein bars cater to these consumers by combining the taste of a chocolate bar with added health benefits and less sugar”.
Grenade’s brand tone of voice is colourful, loud and unapologetic. This position is echoed across the mix – from web to packaging and point of sale materials.
Product choices
Since the launch of their Carb Killa range in 2015, Grenade has become the best-selling protein bar on the UK market, shifting over 70 million units a year. More recently they secured a “Product of the Year 2019” accolade.
The bars each contain up to 23 grams of protein, are high in fibre but have less than 2g of sugar. The carbohydrate content is also classed as low GI.
Flavours are fairly mainstream (competing head on with confectionery options) but the naming conventions are somewhat quirky, in line with Grenade’s brand positioning, for example: Peanut Nutter, Cookie Dough, Caramel Chaos & Banana Armour.

Category management choices

What has unlocked Grenade’s potential? Adopting the rules of the confectionery game is almost certainly a key driver.
This seems to be confirmed by the company’s sales pitch to retailers: “A category once dominated by chocolate singles has now seen a shift in shoppers’ expectations and what they are looking to purchase. As consumers move towards a more active lifestyle, they have become more aware of the implications of consuming products with a high sugar content and, in turn, have been actively seeking healthier alternatives.”
Pricing choices
Retailing at between £2 and £2.50 for a single bar, Grenade is able to achieve a substantial premium compared with confectionery count lines which are typically sold around or below £1.

The firm claims that when consumers consider buying a protein bar, “the taste is twice as important as the price of the product, meaning consumers are happy paying a higher price for a more premium product they perceive as healthier.”

Distribution & display choices
Aping the strategies of mainstream snacking brands, Grenade has secured wide (and increasing distribution). As well as M&S, its snack bars are listed in Tesco, Sainsburys, Superdrug, Holland & Barratt, Ocado & Amazon, as well as a growing number of independent convenience stores.
In a case of “right place at the right time”, Grenade has benefitted from retailers who are have been under pressure to replace unhealthy products located at traditional impulse hot spots (such as besides the checkouts) with healthier alternatives. Not only have they achieved that – but as noted they’ve done so with a premium product attracting a far superior cash margins for the seller.
As well breaking into mainstream distribution, Grenade products are sold via their own e-commerce platform and also now exported to 100+ countries worldwide.
Innovation choices
Recent innovation focus has been in Active Nutrition where Grenade’s stated aim is to innovate to deliver products enabling people to make healthier lifestyle choices without having to compromise on taste.
In November 2019, Grenade launched its first foray into the energy drinks sector with Grenade Energy, claiming the fruity drink packed the same punch as a double espresso.
In the last few days, the brand has launched a trio of oat-based protein snack bars (i.e. flapjacks) called Grenade Reload. Positioned as “the perfect guilt-free option for those looking to fuel themselves during the day in a healthier way”, the new bars contain 23-24% of protein and a teaspoon or less of sugar.
Launching in three variants – Blueberry Muffin, Chocolate Chunk and Billionaires Shortbread – the bars offer a blend of complex carbohydrates and higher protein levels to “help consumers feel fuller for longer”.
Communication choices
Grenade makes a significant investment in social media. With over 164,000 followers, the brand’s Instagram account is an excellent example of strong content that’s both engaging for target audience but also strongly linked to the brand.
Grenade run a variety of events (like workouts and fitness classes) and publicity stunts, featuring its trademark orange tank. The brand partners with athletes, fitness celebrities and DJs – examples include rugby player James Maskill and his wife, Chloe Madeley, a personal trainer and model.
In November, Grenade launched a regular podcast called “Pull the Pin” (do you see what they did there?). The content stretches way beyond sports and nutrition and is indicative of the the firm’s stated desire to build a “global lifestyle brand”.
Choices combine for a compelling commercial proposition
My belief is that an effective category sales story should always be clear about “what’s in it” for three parties – the consumer, the retailer and your own brand/business.
Grenade is a superb example of that “triple win” in action…
Consumer win – high protein, low sugar, as tasty as confectionery
Retailer win – higher cash margin & a growth category (especially compared with confectionery)
Business win – sales & profit delivery, via much broadened availability
It will be fascinating to watch where Grenade goes next in furthering its aspiration to be a lifestyle brand. I wonder whether they’ll be noticed and perhaps acquired by one of the larger snacking players on whose lawn their orange tank is now parked.

At Brand Ambition we help clients to conquer complexity and develop simple, effective and actionable strategies to succeed in their marketplace. If you’d like to have a chat, please get in touch.

Note – Grenade is a not a Brand Ambition client and this article is not intended to imply any endorsement of our business/services.

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