How a man with Preston roots grew his easy-eat vegan food idea into a £50m business

Vegan food is firmly on the menu right at mainstream restaurants and on supermarket shelves as more people look to at healthily or care for the planet.
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And so it is with one entrepreneur, whose family hail from Preston, who has seen his easy-cook, plant-based creations earn a place on county grocer Booths’ shelves this month.

Paul Brown, 42, set up the business, Bol, aged 20, after an injury ended his career as a snowboard instructor out in California.

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At the time he had been considering a career in sport and as a result was conscious of what he was eating, but the enforced lay-off allowed him to look at an alternative career and one whose time is coming, as the world looks to Glasgow for the COP26 environment conference.

Paul Brown, who has grown his vegan food brand Bol into a £50m businessPaul Brown, who has grown his vegan food brand Bol into a £50m business
Paul Brown, who has grown his vegan food brand Bol into a £50m business

Paul’s mum Patricia went to English Martyrs school in Preston, and was a former Miss Preston North End, while grandad Eddie Robinson and nana Mary Robinson ran the Herman Pub off Plungington Road, a favourite of snooker ace Hurricane Higgins, and the Six Arches Caravan Park near Scorton.

Paul said: “I broke every bone in my wrist and dislocated my elbow.

“Mum wanted me home but I ended up staying another year and, in that time, I wrote my first business plan for an on-the-go food business.

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“My, mum was living in Salford and so I came back and worked in a cafe in Manchester where I learned how business worked. I raised half the funding in that time that I needed for my own business.

One of Paul's power soups rangeOne of Paul's power soups range
One of Paul's power soups range

“Then I joined what was a fledgling smoothie company called Innocent drinks in 2001 and drove around the North for six years selling smoothies out the back of a van.

“I did the deal to launch Innocent into Booths. They had only been selling in and around London until then. I remember Edwin Booth came into the meeting and that was pretty intimidating! He has quite a presence.

“From my time out in California I knew that smoothies were going to be big here too.

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“In 2008 Innocent launched their food business doing veg pots and I was responsible for that. When Innocent sold the business to Coca cola in 2015, I decided it was time to rekindle the entrepreneurial dream and I started Bol.”

The products have an international feelThe products have an international feel
The products have an international feel

He started trading on April 26, 2015, and since then has had retail sales of just over £50m. This financial year alone, Bol saw sales of £20m.

He added: “We have created over 45 million portions of veg.

“At the end of 2016 we won news business of the year at the national business awards which was cool.

“At that time we were still doing recipes that had meat fish and dairy, but I decided then to just go 100 per cent plant based.

One of the ready meals from the Bol range of 100 per cent plant-based foodsOne of the ready meals from the Bol range of 100 per cent plant-based foods
One of the ready meals from the Bol range of 100 per cent plant-based foods
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“It was a tough call to make, as it set us back a fair amount, but it was the right decision.

“What we eat is the single biggest environmental decision we face every single day, so I was really keen to make it easier for more people to start eating more plants. It’s better for your health and its better for the planet.

“Some 45 per cent of the Earth’s landmass is being used for animal agriculture. The overall inefficiency of the industrialised food industry is ridiculous.

“The amount of water use to create one hamburger is the same amount of water used when showering for two months.

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“Eighteen per cent of all damaging emissions come from animal agriculture which is bigger than total transportation which is 13 per cent.

“This planet is not that big and there are seven billion of us with 10 billion in a few years.

“All of the protein we eat comes originally from plants. Feeding that to animals that we then eat is inefficient.

“We have just launched a range of power soups and our pea soup has 35 g of protein which is more than a chicken breast, plus you are getting all the vitamins.

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“I was really into my sport and I was the guy who ate chicken breast after chicken breast to get my protein, but that’s actually complete nonsense.

“So what we are doing is not making food for vegans as such, we are trying to make it a positive choice for people to embrace more plant-based and celebrating how good that food is.”

The name is Paul’s international take on the word bowl as most of the products made veg pots and soups were served in bowls.

He wanted a one-word brand name that had international cache and a foodie connotation. He uses 100 per cent recyclable plastic, card and glass packaging and sources ingredients from as close to the production facilities in Lincolnshire as possible.

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“We are listed in a number of big supermarket chains around the UK but to get this listing in Booths, as a guy from the area, I am absolutely delighted.”

Paul said: “I feel like I have gone back to my roots now we have this listing in Booths. My nana lived off Tower Lane and she had her own cleaning business and now she now thinks I have made it.

“Until I got this listing in Booths, I am not sure my Nana thought the business was real!”

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