It was a decade ago when Two Chicks first made the headlines. The liquid egg white brand now turns over around £4 million a year, and have been diversifying its product range to enter the high protein snacks market with Chirps, an egg white based snack product in four flavours. Founders Anna Richey and Alla Ouvarova speak with GrowthBusiness on building an egg white empire and growing an established brand.
Chirps are stocked in all major UK retailers plus export to Holland, France, Hong Kong, UAE and Kuwait.
“It all started when I was in Los Angeles ten years ago and noticed how popular egg white omelettes are in America,” Richey says. Working with her friend and co-founder, Ouvarova, the duo deep-dove into the separated egg whites market in America and realised the idea could have legs in the UK and Europe.
“It was a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck,” Ouvorova adds. “When we first started, I looked after the financial forecast and logistics, while Anna’s expertise was PR and getting us listed in supermarkets. We had to start from scratch, so I remember us buying a business plan writing book!”
Two Chicks initially launched in Selfridges with a six-week exclusivity period, after which it was listed in Waitrose and other supermarkets. Today, the egg white products are nationally available in all major outlets including Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s, Booths and Ocado.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing all the way.
“It was hard to find start-up capital, especially because we’re not food entrepreneurs, and had no background in the field. We took equity finance from a friend to start out. But the thing that got us through the tough times was that we both believed in the business. If either of us had a bad day, we’d pick each other up,” Ouvorova says.
Richey recalls the early days when the two went around food markets leaving leaflets, hoping to catch the attention of buyers. “We’ve been chased out by security and had buyers ring us up confused! But the thing is, at that early stage, you just can’t think about failing. It was natural instinct in us. We stripped away all the costs, and worked with a minimal amount. That’s how it all started.”
“The problem is that entrepreneurs give up too easily nowadays. We used to called buyers 10 times a day, if not more. People don’t keep going nowadays. If you’re a food entrepreneur, getting into supermarkets is only the first hurdle. You’ve got to sell. You can’t be too good for any job, and should prepare yourself to do cr*p jobs. We didn’t draw a salary for two years. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth all the hard work.”
After steady growth, Two Chicks launched a high protein crisp style snack, Chirps, in November 2014. “We started out by looking for something based on egg whites that would be healthy and filling, but htere was nothing like that in the market. That said, the healthy snack market is very tough to break into. It’s even harder when you have to educate the market. We’re the only ones here doing this, so it’s about explaining the benefits and letting the product do the taking. Now we’re listed in Holland & Barrett, Ocado, and Wholefoods,” says Richey.
According to Ouvorova, the two had been considering expanding for some time now, looking for something to take them to the next growth phase. “We’re looking to expand geographically, for one. But more than that, we’re aimed at health conscious consumers, and there’s such a massive trend for healthy eating. We’re doing really well for having one skew, but we realised that if we really want to grow as a brand, we need a portfolio. Things change, and businesses that go with the times do well. This is one of the reasons why we introduced Chirps, and we make sure that we keep all our products egg based to stay true to our brand.”
As for parting words of wisdom, Ouvorova believes that failure is never an option. “Having a good idea isn’t enough. You need to be struck by an idea, have the passion and don’t give up. I was never afraid of failing, because I didn’t have time to even think about failing.”
For Richey, once you get your business off the ground, there’s always a chance you’ll fail. “It’s not all luck. It’s about persevering, and going that extra mile,” she says. “In the US, entrepreneurs get praised for just trying. Starting up on your own is seen as brave and commendable, regardless of whether you make it or not. In the UK, we’re not there yet. Here, if you fail, you get looked down upon, which can be discouraging. People don’t see the journey, just the end. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying.”