Growing a successful challenger brand – Innovate podcast

Growing a Successful Challenger Brand – Innovate Podcast

The Innovate Podcast is a biweekly series of discussions with CPG Innovation experts, on how to innovate with success in an ever-changing world.

In the sixth episode, our host Vypr Founder Ben Davies was joined by Mike & Joe Hill, founders of One Planet Pizza, who discussed the intriguing story of growing their challenger brand in a saturated market.

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Read the highlights below.

During the episode, Mike and Joe discussed their brand’s mission, getting listings in stores, and the opportunities and risks for such challenger brands. We’ll summarise their learnings below.

How Challenger Brands can Stand Out and Succeed

1 – By Offering a Point of Difference

In the episode, One Planet Pizza said that their main challenge was and is ‘wrestling into’ a sector that’s dominated with a lot of competition from big names in the frozen category – frozen pizza especially.

And as bigger companies with large amounts of financial backing are also moving into the plant-based pizza sector, it’s only getting noisier.

“Large companies are now moving into the plant-based pizza sector, and the other thing is you’ve got quite large well-funded new challenger companies like this coming into the meat and dairy, you’ve got the American companies coming over as well.

“We’re really fighting on so many different levels, there’s so much noise out there that it’s really difficult to cut through”

With all this noise, One Planet Pizza emphasised the importance of identifying gaps in the market and showing retailers that they’re offering a unique point of difference big companies don’t have.

Dedicating time to making a product exceptional is one way – One Planet Pizza spends a lot of time making sure their product is a great experience for their customers, by focusing on its quality.

“A lot of our time and energy over the last few years has been working with different manufacturers and really trying to nail [the cheese] in terms of the taste and texture, also its stringiness, pulliness, how it freezes and cooks again”

Another difference and advantage of challenger brands that they mentioned, was that it’s easier to build and present a more authentic story, which we’ll explore below.

2 – By Being Authentic and Having a Brand Story

One Planet Pizza had great insight for brands looking to win listings in retailers.

They highlighted the importance of being themselves and authentically presenting the brand, which helps to set them apart from some bigger companies.

“We’ve never hidden away from being authentic and being ourselves… [In meetings with buyers] the advantage of challenger brands is you can come along and have a bit of a personality and a bit of a story, that’ll help you get noticed and remembered by these buyers… it’s a bit more fun and interesting for them”

By setting themselves apart from the bigger businesses in this way, the chances of being remembered are much higher. But of course, brands need to present a compelling business story too, and should remember to express commitment and desire to growing their brand with retailers.

However, it’s also important to keep up with how retailers are changing and tailor approaches to each, especially as many are becoming more hesitant in listing new brands due to the current climate. We’ll discover more on this below.

3 – By Keeping up with Retailer AND Consumer Needs

When optimising a product for retail, it’s essential to keep up with retailer needs and expectations.

As an example, Mike mentioned that supermarkets are becoming more cautious due to supply chain issues. They’re now looking at how resilient a small brand’s supply chain is. By identifying this behaviour, One Planet Pizza was able to focus efforts on improving this.

“Supermarkets are battening down the hatches… They’re being very cautious about introducing new brands and companies because of supply chain issues. That’s something we’re actively addressing as we speak… improving our production and supply chain capabilities because that’s something which the big multiples are really looking at now.”

In this way, it’s evident to keep up with such shifts in retailer behaviour, so brands are more adept to respond to them when meeting buyers.

More obviously, it’s also important to keep up with consumer needs, as brands must validate and optimise with the target audience to ensure the product is desirable.

“The more research we do and the more we look at the customer feedback and market itself and competition, the more we realise that for us, with pizza taste is king and it seems more and more important we focus on flavour and indulgence”

By using consumer research and data, One Planet Pizza have already discovered what they should focus on to deliver a great product for customers, having identified taste as a key aspect of their product. It’s also enabled them to identify opportunities such as innovating their pizza offering for those that are looking for something that more accurately replicates a traditional meaty pizza.

“Launching into Asda we’re learning more about how flexitarians in the UK want the meatier, cheesier, more realistic alternatives… it’s helping us tweak our direction in terms of innovation and product development… So we’re looking towards more meaty, cheesy alternatives than we would have done on our own”

Ultimately, consumer research allows brands to develop great products, but also to convince retailers that their product is worth being listed on shelves – a win-win.

Consumer research is essential to innovation, but what role does innovation play with challenger brands? Read on below to find out.

The Role of Innovation in Success for Challenger Brands

Innovation has a big role to play in product for many big companies, but One Planet Pizza emphasised that they’re focusing efforts strategically.

They’re currently conducting smaller innovations to keep up with changing consumer needs as we explored above, but the ‘bigger’ NPD-style innovations are currently taking a backseat while the brand focuses on optimising their existing range.

“We’re looking at ways to constantly tweak and improve our current core range offering”

This is something important to consider, especially for smaller brands with less financial resources. Sometimes it’s better to build out a strong portfolio that is really working, instead of forcefully spending efforts innovating a completely new range, when there is no need for it.

Our host Ben Davies agreed: “Innovation can be a bit of a distraction for smaller brands at times because there’s just a belief that you need to keep innovating to stay alive but actually having a core range of 3 or 4 absolutely market-beating products is arguably a better way to maintain that kind of growth and authenticity and very loyal customer base”

However, they also emphasised the importance of businesses being more innovative when challenged, and striking a good balance. As we at Vypr emphasise, consumer research should always drive future decisions on whether innovation or optimisation is essential in different scenarios.


Ultimately, One Planet Pizza’s mission is to be known as the best-tasting vegan pizza on the market, and you can find their products in an impressive number of stores including ASDA and Whole Foods.

“For me the priority is just making sure we remain the best-tasting vegan pizza on the market… that’s the brand we want to be known as”

If you want to discover more, including the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, listen to the full podcast on-demand now. Click the links below to listen on your preferred platform.

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