How Futurelife Diversified Without Losing Focus

Futurelife started out as a company with a mission: To create a great-tasting, nutritional, functional food that would improve the health and wellbeing of consumers. Fast forward a decade, or so, and Futurelife is a large and successful organisation with a massive reach and a range of products. The secret to the company's success? According to founder Paul Saad, it's all about staying true to your original mission.

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Vital Stats

You’re only as good as the products you’re selling right now                    

When quality dips, consumers will move on, maybe not immediately, but certainly in the long run. Diversifying revenue streams is important to growth, but don’t do so at the expense of your core products.

Adrienne Weerheim

There is a term in the business world called ‘dogfooding’. It’s not entirely clear where this concept originated, but it means testing and embracing your own product within the company. Some say it came from the head of Alpo dog food, Lorne Greene, who claimed in advertisements that he fed Alpo to his own dogs. Another theory suggests that there was a tradition within the American Kal Kan pet food company, which was started in 1936, where the incumbent president of the organisation would always eat a can of the company’s dog food at shareholders’ meetings to show how safe, healthy and, indeed, palatable it was.

Regardless of where it started, it had taken hold of the business world, especially the tech sector, by the 1980s. In 1980, Apple ordered all departments to stop buying typewriters. All employees would instead start using Apple computers. In 1988, Microsoft manager Paul Maritz apparently sent an email titled ‘Eating our own Dogfood’, which encouraged more internal use of the company’s products. A common practice now had a catchy name. To this day, dogfooding is often cited in tech circles as an important principle.

But this principle obviously extends far beyond the tech world. The owner of a car company who refused to drive his own cars would be viewed with suspicion, after all. How can you try to convince consumers to embrace your product if you don’t use (and like) it yourself? This is not a problem that Futurelife founder Paul Saad has.

“I use my own product just about every single day. I even travel with it. So, if I’m overseas, I can still have my daily bowl of Futurelife,” says Saad. “I love what I do and I believe in what I do, and that makes my job easy.”

Spotting an opportunity

In the mid-2000s, Paul identified the need for a highly nutritional food that was easy to prepare and consume. “There were a lot of products that had low nutritional value, and you also had large populations that suffered from malnutrition, so I wanted to create a product that could combat this situation.”

In 2008, Paul led a team of doctors and nutritionists in a project to create a product that was balanced nutritionally, and required nothing more than water to prepare. A year or two later, Futurelife was officially out of development and ready to hit shelves. The success of the brand was somewhat unexpected.

“We knew that we had a simple yet nutritious product that few competitors could compete with, but we underestimated the potential size of the market. We thought it would be more niche. We pictured customers looking for a product that could help them manage their nutritional needs in a hassle-free way, but we didn’t realise how many of those customers were out there. A far larger cross-section of the South African population embraced Futrelife than we expected. The growth we enjoyed was more than we could have hoped for,” says Paul.

At the same time, Saad also had a strong theory about why Futurelife was enjoying such success.

“It all comes down to the quality of your product. I don’t think that you can successfully start a company just to make money. You need to care about what you do, and you need to care about your customers. The wellbeing of our customers was always the number one priority for us.

“You also can’t build a good brand on the back of a bad product. Activities like sales and marketing are great, but they can’t sustain you in the long run if your product isn’t great,” says Paul.

Diversification

The same is true of an older, more established brand, says Paul. “Growth brings great opportunities, but it also brings new challenges and demands. You have to give consumers what they want, and that means evolving and diversifying. If people are demanding a product with reduced sugar, for instance, you need to respond to that. You also have to create new products that people ask for. We now provide Futurelife drinks, breads and bars because there was a demand for these items.

“Diversification is tricky, though. Even as you grow and diversify, you need to stay true to your original vision and mission. You’re only as good as the products you’re selling right now. If quality drops, or you venture too far out of your focus area, the brand will suffer. You need to live up to customers’ expectations.”

For Paul and Futurelife, the important thing has been to stay focused on the health and wellbeing of the customer. As long as this remains the singular focus of the company, growth and diversification won’t degrade the essence of the organisation.

“You need to ask yourself: Why did I start this company? Am I still in it for the same reasons? Am I still pursuing my original vision? These questions should guide your decisions. We could have diversified the Futurelife brand far more and pursued countless other revenue streams if we wanted to, but we decided against it. We didn’t want to chase fads or put out products that didn’t represent the original ethos of the Futurelife brand. For us, it’s still about the health and wellbeing of the customer. We create every new product with this in mind. The day we stop doing that is the day that the company fails.”

Key Insight

You can’t build good brands on the back of bad products              

All the sales and marketing strategies in the world won’t build a sustainable brand if you don’t offer a quality product that consumers want to support.