JLife speaks to branding expert William Topp, marketing manager at Gosh! about the vegan food manufacturer’s evolution from a small kosher deli to one of the UK’s top-selling ‘free-from’ brands.
Jewish food entrepreneur, Richard Loebenberg has been manufacturing kosher cuisine since 1998 when he purchased the small London kosher delicatessen and manufacturing unit, Steve’s Deli. Loebenberg took the decision to close the deli side of the business, rebranding under the name Great Food as he began to supply kosher deli-style products to high street retailers including Pret a Manger, Marks & Spencer and Leon.
Two years previously, Loebenberg suffered a viral stroke which left him unable to work for 18 months. This experience went on to define his business ethos, promoting healthy eating in his personal and business life, as he resolved to ensure the products he sold would be free from meat, nuts, gluten and additives.
When Loebenberg stepped down from his role as director in 2014, Great Food reinvented itself under a different guise, yet still retained the same healthy eating philosophy.
“When the Gosh! brand was founded back in 2015, we started with a range of just four products and have since expanded to a range of 19 vegan bites, burgers and sausages, all free from the top 14 allergens”, said William Topp, the man tasked with bringing the brand’s vision to life.
“Plant-based food has well and truly broken into the mainstream now. There are more people searching for products like Gosh! than ever before. We set out to create great tasting plant-based food that is suitable for everyone, whatever their dietary needs or preferences and we believe this positioning resonates with consumers and has largely contributed to our success.”
Loebenberg, still a shareholder in Gosh!, now heads kosher ready meal company Eureka Cove, which he founded with his wife, Jackie. A venture with an enlightened ethos, Eureka Cove hopes to raise £25,000 for Chai Cancer Care within the next two years by donating 25p from every sale to the organisation. Gosh! has similarly developed a brand positioning “centred around kindness”, as it moves towards recyclable plastic packaging and increasing diversion of waste from landfill.
This sustainable ethos is combined with eye-catching packaging and an endearingly informal brand voice to stand out from the crowd. William Topp emphasises that the way a product is presented on and offline can be as crucial to success as the product itself.
“We believe that the way a product tastes is always the most important factor, but this is closely followed by the way it looks. It needs to look appealing to be chosen from the shelves after all! When creating Gosh! we were very keen that our packaging used vibrant and bright colours. The inspiration from this came from the vegetables we use in the products, which aims to convey our all-natural USP.”
Although Gosh! products are kosher all year round, the company recently made the decision to make its entire range suitable for consumption by the community during Pesach.
“We haven’t forgotten our roots as a kosher brand and want to ensure that Gosh! carries on with this tradition. It’s important for us that our products are suitable for as many people as possible and part of this is ensuring that we are relevant for the Jewish community around the important Passover period.”
All of its products have achieved kosher certification from the Kosher London Beth Din (KLBD) and Sephardi Kashrut Authority (SKA), yet Topp admits this rigorous approval process can prove a challenging hurdle for businesses.
However, the fact that only plant-based foodstuffs are used during production goes a long way to ensuring its compliance while circumnavigating expenses incurred by the rabbinical inspections required when meat and gluten are employed. For Gosh! the price of a product designed to be inclusive and not exclusive is instead shouldered in the stringent standards required to comply with not only kosher regulations, but those of the Vegan Society, Vegetarian Society and Coeliac Society.
“Our brand was formed around kosher principles, so thankfully from day one we have been compliant. These certifications mean we must apply demanding ingredient standards on our suppliers to align completely with kosher requirements.
“We do not specifically attribute this expense to the kosher certification. We want to ensure that our ingredients are of the highest quality standards and are compliant with all our accreditations to show consumers they can trust Gosh! food completely.”
Topp believes that bringing exciting, health conscious food to the kosher market is a relatively untapped avenue in the UK food industry.
“We feel that there is a huge opportunity within the market. The UK has a large and forward-thinking Jewish community that would undoubtedly be responsive to such innovations.”
However, from Loebenberg’s previous forays into the industry, the team was aware from the outset of the pitfalls of marketing its food primarily as kosher, as its categorisation by retailers as ‘ethnic’ risks limiting sales.
“Our approach is to ensure that our products are available to as wide an audience as possible, so we do not position ourselves solely as a kosher brand anymore, but this is an important market for us that we are keen to support further.”
When it comes to the task of reinventing persisting stereotypes of ‘free-from’ food, William Topp believes that attitudes are already changing.
“More people than ever are recognising that plant-based foods can taste great and are often healthier and kinder to the environment than meat alternatives. Manufacturers like ourselves have a responsibility to ensure that we are constantly innovating and launching products that the modern-day consumer wants. If as an industry we can do this and continue to highlight the benefits of these foods, we think that any preconceptions will soon dissipate.”
With many in the kosher foods industry seeking to replicate Gosh!’s success, we asked the marketing maestro how budding entrepreneurs can hope to tap into this burgeoning market.
“The best bit of advice we can give is to stay true to your brand values and ensure that your products offer a unique benefit versus your competitor. People nowadays are more informed than ever before on what they are consuming and are inspired by so many different cuisines. It’s an exciting time to be in the food industry, where there’s a definite opportunity for new brands to offer innovative and great tasting food.”
The Gosh! range is available from Sainsbury’s Moortown.