Fancy a Snog? The man behind the frozen yoghurt that Unilever has invested in

Co-founder Robert Baines is anything but frosty about his business ambitions

Look around you, Londoners, and you’d find many a snogging hotspot. There’s one hidden in Convent Garden, another in the middle of South Kensington and one slap-bang in the middle of Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush.

No, we’re not talking about London’s make-out hideaways. We’re talking about frozen yoghurt brand Snog, which has 12 outlets around the world, including seven in London and others in Kuwait, Pakistan, Columbia and Dubai.

The idea behind the five-year-old firm, known for its cheeky catchphrases like “You’ll never forget your first snog”, is to provide delights that are “fat free, made with organic yoghurt and organic milk”.

It all started when Canadian-born investment banker Robert Baines ditched the number crunching for the entrepreneurial life, and set up catering outlets at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, followed by Tinto Coffee shop in Fulham.

He then met his partner of 16 years, Pablo Uribe, and the pair decided to become business partners too, setting up an architectural, interior design and property development company.

But after travelling for a while, the duo realised that a food business was their calling. So they set up Snog in London.

Last year, Unilever Ventures, Unilever’s investment arm, took a stake in the business. The founders won’t disclose shareholdings, the amount of investment received or their turnover, but they say rapid international expansion is their next move.

How will they achieve this? We speak to co-founder Baines:

Q. How did you come up with the idea for Snog?

I had frozen yoghurt every day in New York until my friend, a nutritionist, explained how unhealthy all the frozen yoghurt on offer was in the market. The content is 70% sugar and very little, if any, contain fresh yoghurt.  

I did a little bit of research and was very inspired to develop the healthiest and most delicious frozen yoghurt in the market with loads of fresh organic non-fat yoghurt. All of our flavours are just crushed organic fruit with no artificial flavourings or nasty oils.

My partner of 16 years Pablo Uribe thought launching a frozen yoghurt brand was very exciting and Snog became our calling card on the high street.

Q. What’s the story behind the name?

We wanted the name of the brand to reflect our quirky personality yet be a very British brand. Hence, Snog.

Q. Where did you get funding from?

We funded the business ourselves until Unilever approached us to take a stake in the company. They were looking for a healthy, premium frozen yoghurt brand to partner with and it was an ideal match for us when they came knocking on our door as they are the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of ice cream and frozen treats.

Equally important to us is Unilever’s commitment to being sustainable and shifting their interests into healthy product lines, so as to offer their customers nutritious ingredients and healthy lifestyles.

Q. Where did you open your first branch and how have you scaled the business since? 

We opened our first branch in May 2007 in South Kensington. Expansion was gradual in order to keep the brand essence. We now have seven shops in capital including South Kensington, Soho, Covent Garden, Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, St. John’s Wood, Marylebone and Islington.

We are planning to open four more outlets by end of 2013. Also, we are opening a store in Germany in October this year with Unilever’s support.

Q. What are the main challenges you faced growing the business?

Keeping the focus on the DNA of the brand and building a good infrastructure prior to expanding on a large scale.

 Q. What’s the five-year plan? Do you have an exit strategy?

We want to be the global leader in the premium frozen yoghurt market. With the help of our partners at Unilever, it is a realistic vision. Exit is not on our minds as we want to continue to keep our brand tight and offer the most delicious health frozen yoghurt as possible.

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