NutreeLife: The Preston firm making green protein for lean, mean vegan machines
To celebrate his and his wife's 30th wedding anniversary a few years ago, Patrick Mroczak took his family to Curaçao in the South Caribbean.
“I’d decided to retire about a year before, but I was sat there with my son-in-law, Adam [Hodgkinson]” says Patrick. “I said ‘you know what, there’s an up-and-coming market for plant-based, vegan protein bars. Why don’t we start our own business?’”
NutreeLife, a Preston-based, family-run vegan health nutrition company, was born.
Co-founded by Patrick, 56, and Adam, 29, NutreeLife manufactures vegan protein bars, snacks, protein powders, and burger mixes for an ever-growing global market. Adamant their product should be as ‘clean’ as possible, NutreeLife’s protein is made from sustainably-sourced plants as opposed to whey protein sourced from cows’ milk and therefore contains just a fraction of the additives usually required to keep animal products stable.
“Because of market growth and new technologies, we thought we could offer something which had never been done before,” says Patrick, who was born in Belgium, met his English wife in South Africa, and who has lived in the UK for the past 26 years. “People had been trying to make new products on conventional machines and so, because I’m an engineer, I said to Adam ‘make me a product and I’ll find a way to manufacture it’.
“It was a gamble and we put a lot of our own money in, but we have a can-do attitude,” adds Patrick, who has worked on manufacturing and engineering solutions for the likes of Starbucks, Myprotein, Arla, and Kellogg’s. “When it’s your money, it makes you think twice so we took things in stages and it’s become something special.
“We do a lot in-house to make sure it’s a bespoke product and we’ve developed a bar which is more confectionery-like. We’ve gone away from this concept of ‘it’s plant-based, it’s vegan’. So what? What we do is actually a great bar which you probably won’t even know is vegan. In the past, it wasn’t like that.”
Working out of its Preston sites and soon to move to their £1.7m purpose-built factory in Burscough, the company has seen a surge in orders during lockdown and has had to double its workforce since the start of the year to fulfil demand. Overall, NutreeLife is on course to almost quadruple turnover from £1.2m to £4m.
“The growth for some of our customers has been phenomenal,” explains Patrick. “We can turn around a new product in six weeks, so more and more we’re attracting customers because we can launch fairly quickly and we work in partnership with them. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved.”
Working with Made Smarter, an initiative which helps businesses embrace digital tools to promote development, the company has also been implementing state-of-the-art technologies to continue their growth, with Patrick aiming for a turnover of £8m within the next three years and to double staff numbers again.
Removing the need to carry out wasteful and time-consuming manual coating, their innovative new production line has allowed them to create multi-layered chocolate and caramel protein bars. As a result, the company has increased productivity, improved quality, and reduced waste, energy-use, and machine downtime between production - all invaluable in a market under pressure from Covid-19.
“We’re confident,” Patrick says. “To grow like we have is brilliant but challenging - I’ve got to recruit 25 new staff and managers. We haven’t got all the money in the world because we’re a start-up, but where it matters we invest in people and we treat staff well.
“By hook or by crook, we’re getting there and it’s really working out,” he adds. “It’s fantastic to see the business grow - we’ve had buy-out offers already but we’ve always said ‘no, not interested’. It’s ours. We didn’t start it just to sell it and I wasn’t ready to retire anyway!”