It was no easy task to get entrepreneur Cassandra Stavrou to seat down for a moment and answer my questions. But it was really worth the chase. Cassandra and Ryan Kohn founded Propercorn after that she felt that there was still room for some fashionable snacks as wherever she would pop out she’d hardly find any. Something with great brand identity but still an easy and funny packaging changing with the seasons. Based in London, the company developps snacks prepared or better ‘done properly‘ meaning that the quality of the product doesn’t stop with the smooth and elegant paper of the packaging. What is inside does matter – sourcing of the ingredients being equally critical as their preparation with an engagement to deliver ‘proper’ snack food. Propercorn’s innovative take on sponsoring enabled the brand to put its name (and much more) next to major events on the agenda in a way that is normally limited to luxury or premium consumer brands. Cassandra Stavrou explains everything in this exclusive interview.
Business Madame : I spotted your brand on Instagram. Actually on London Design Festival account. You have developed a smart sponsorship marketing strategy that is taking the brand right next to the hypest communities. How do you connect with the fashion and design industries?
Cassandra Stavrou : We have enjoyed a very natural relationship with these communities, I think by virtue of the fact that we are so passionate about our own creativity. We have a hugely talented, small team of designers and our illustrator, Woody, who are continually producing some amazing work. We also collaborate with creatives who inspire us- we recently worked with Jess Bonham and Anna Lomax to shoot our packs that you can see on our website. I hope that the creative communities appreciate that we behave slightly differently to your typical snack brand and act more like fashion brand in some ways. We are in fact the Official Snack of London Fashion week!
BM : Although your brand is very much a baby brand, with only a few years of existence, you are now launching a platform to support entrepreneurs ? Why ?
CS : We really believe in entrepreneurship and mentorship. Now that we have started to enjoy some success, we wanted to create PROPERCORN Platform to allow us to share some of the things we have learned along the way.
“In 2014, our third year of business, we turned over £5.5m which we’re incredibly proud of. Also we are in fact the Official Snack of London Fashion week!” Cassandra Stavrou, Founder of Propercorn.
BM : How does it work ? What’s the idea ?
CS : We invited young people, aged between 16 and 23, to submit their new business ideas to us, with finalists winning a 2 day workshop with our team. After pitching to our panel of successful entrepreneurs, we picked a winner that received £7,500 funding and commitment of mentorship from us. It was an amazing couple of days and I think the team enjoyed it just as much as the entrants!
BM : Hence my next question. How did you start Propercorn and what were the challenges you faced ?
CS : I had no prior experience setting up something like PROPERCORN, so initially it was very much a case of working things out as I went along. I did a free business course to teach me the basics and initially experimented with recipes and different flavours at home. I wanted to create a snack that was both genuinely tasty and good for you. As a young girl, with no proven track record, it was difficult to initially get people to take me seriously but I was so passionate about what I was trying to achieve that it didn’t dissuade me.
BM : Compared to Paris, London is better described as THE place to be for entrepreneurs. Do you agree with this statement, and if so what kind of assets make a difference ?
CS : I’m not really sure, to be honest, as I haven’t got much experience of Paris as an entrepreneur. What I can say is that London is definitely a hub of activity and people are very supportive of anyone wishing to start their own business. However, the amount of support and information now available on-line and digitally does mean that the barriers have come down much more and I know a lot of people who are starting business all over the world, including in less-developed parts of Africa.
BM : And you’ve made it in the UK snack food market which is very competitive. Only in a short period of time. Can you share figures ? And beyond figures, your method ?
CS : In 2014, our third year of business, we turned over £5.5m which we’re incredibly proud of. We now outsell hand-cooked crisps in some leading UK retailers but there’s still such a long way to go and a great opportunity ahead of us. We have ambitious targets and we want to get there in the right way, never losing sight of our ‘Done Properly’ ethos. Working as part of such a strong and dynamic team, where every member is as personally and emotionally invested in the brand as I am, makes this prospect much less daunting. I am impressed by their energy and integrity on a daily basis- it’s this that drives our success.
BM : What is your strategic vision for the brand ? Are you to enter new markets or develop new products ?
CS : Our international business has been, and will continue to be, a big focus for us this year, with PROPERCORN now available in 6 European countries including France, Switzerland and The Netherlands. We’re always on the look out for new markets but there’s still a lot of work to be done closer to home. In terms of new products, we’re always innovating in order to keep the category fresh and exciting. We never just innovate for the sake of it though; every flavour has to offer genuine great taste and satisfaction, not just the novelty factor. We have lots of exciting new flavours and formats in the pipeline, so watch this space!