Q&A: Growth and opportunities beckon for homemade health snack brand

Today we talk to Mike Watts-Seale, co-founder of the health food maker Blue Dinosaur. From its humble beginnings as a homemade healthy snack Mike shared with his friends, Blue Dinosaur has evolved into a growing business that has made a mark in Australia and internationally. The brand was recently acquired by ASX-listed venture Forbidden Foods that specialises in innovative health-focused foods, enabling both businesses to embark on a new chapter of growth.

ISB: What is the story of Blue Dinosaur and how it came about?

MWS: I started making my own protein balls for my workmates and friends at the gym because I couldn’t find any that I liked enough to buy. My homemade snacks became so popular with all my friends that I started thinking it could be a business that would create a whole new option of healthy snacking. Together with my wife Tina, we started making hand-baked snacks consisting of very few ingredients that tasted very natural and could also fit in your pocket to eat on the go. We started with what is now called “Dark Cacao” and committed from the beginning never to use chemicals, binders, flavours, preservatives, or anything artificial, and to make every single product by hand.

ISB: While not having any previous business background, in what way has the different career experiences of you and your partners shaped the business into what it has become?

MWS: My experience as a firefighter taught me to apply logic to every scenario and roll with the punches. In the fire brigade, you have no idea what your shift will entail and when the jobs come through, they are guaranteed to be unique and not follow a script. Tina’s experience working with the university taught her that any answers could be found if you are willing to apply enough perseverance. Jarrad’s (Blue Dinosaur’s Brand Manager) time as a professional surfer and professional surf coach taught him how to respond positively to situations you can’t control. You can’t control the ocean, but you can control your reaction and approach to what the ocean does. All in all, we regard ourselves as a team of problem solvers and have never shied away from a challenge. We’ve consistently punched above our weight and taken on the giants in our industry.

ISB: What is the most challenging aspect of running this venture thus far and how have you overcome it?

MWS: Realising that having the best product on the planet simply isn’t enough to be successful in a crowded market was a difficult learning curve and one that took us a while to overcome. We spent years working with consumer behaviour psychologists and experts in the field to understand that there are many more factors than just product quality that leads to a purchase and how we can better present our products to make sure they shine brighter than the others on the shelf.

ISB: Why did you decide to go forward with the deal of having Forbidden Foods acquire the brand?

MWS: It was important to us that we continue to grow our brand and give it the best possible opportunity to thrive in Australia and overseas. There are many synergies between Blue Dinosaur and the Forbidden Foods business, including the significant brand equity and cultural alignment. Blue Dinosaur has built a brand that resonates strongly among the active and health-conscious millennial demographic, built on the back of their founder-led team – just like Forbidden Foods. The transaction also provides the opportunity to capitalise on existing overlap in the supply chain of both businesses in the procurement of key ingredients and other materials.

ISB: What does Forbidden Foods bring to the table with regards to the future of Blue Dinosaur?

MWS: Becoming part of the Forbidden Foods family makes a lot of sense for the future success of our brand. For both our brands, it creates a key opportunity to accelerate international growth, leveraging Forbidden Foods e-commerce capability and existing Asia partnerships to enhance distribution in global markets. Blue Dinosaur has secured trademarks in all targeted regions Forbidden Foods is strategically pursuing, including securing US distribution rights which also presents a large export opportunity to scale in coming years.

ISB: What has been the most important lesson in this business journey that you hope aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from?

MWS: I used to think the best entrepreneurs had the best ideas, now I realise the best entrepreneurs work the hardest. I look back over the last 11 years we have been in business, and I’m shocked at just how much work we have put in. From staying up until midnight every night baking our bars at home, then loading our little van and driving across the country with our marquee on the roof to attend events every weekend, to managing major accounts across multiple countries. I believe the key to success has been determination and never assuming we had done enough.