Building a Challenger brand

The rise of challenger food and drink brands has been a hot topic for a while now. If you’re not familiar with the term, these brands are smaller, independent companies, offering something new and different to the market.

The Alantra Food and Drink Fast 50 report (2022) featured challenger brands who believe that their best years were still to come, with a focus on product development, market share, and building an international presence. The report highlights that consumers are now looking for smaller food and drink brands that offer something unique, interesting, and different. Brands that have high levels of innovation and strong, genuine consumer relationships tend to be more attractive.

Online retail and social media has enabled challenger brands the opportunity of success early on in their journey, ultimately allowing them to accurately target their audience, grow and expand.

In this blog post, we are taking a closer look at some great challenger brand examples from the Alantra report. We share their success stories and what makes them stand out from the crowd.


A meat free company, selling ready to cook, frozen and on the go food products. They wanted to build a distinctive brand, something not typical to the shades of green used by other plant-based specialists. They chose for their tone of voice to be based on humour rather than the more virtuous feel of some of their rival brands too, as this is done a lot already. It was important for them to really stand out from the crowd. The website alone makes them stand out from the crowd with their heavy branding and mono colours. This keeps everything simple and makes the main product stand out from the crowd.


Creating indulgent, plant based snacks that everyone can enjoy. The brand uses bright colours and bold type to appeal to a younger, health-conscious market. Their mission was to build a lifestyle brand and avoid the gym-goers target audience that their competitors had previously chosen to go for. The company hugely invests in its community, and this is a big part of their brand. They have a team that spends time talking to their customers and taking on board their feedback.


The brand’s sales are mainly online, with a direct-to-consumer website that has seen huge traffic over the last year. A strong focus on community and customer service has helped the business grow rapidly. The brand has many customers becoming brand ambassadors, and more than a third of their customers arrive by word of mouth.


The brand saw the potential to capitalise on the growing interest in health and wellness while wanting to push further into lifestyle products. Working in-house helps with keeping supplies flowing, from ideation to fulfilment.

A common strategy for challenger brands is to define their offering to show how they differentiate from previous brands. This can be an aggressive strategy to use but has worked for brands like Brewdog. They called out what they perceive to be failings in their industry by criticising other brewers as bland, which struck a chord with consumers. Distinctive packaging, advertising, marketing material, and tone of voice can all add to this sense of difference and standing out.

Many challenger brands in the sector are working hard to create communities of customers who effectively operate as brand ambassadors, building noise around the company independently of its own efforts. One such example is Sauce Shop, founded in 2014 to sell distinctive sauces such as ketchups and mayonnaise. From the start, Pam Digva deliberately set out to differentiate themselves from industry giants such as Heinz. They had a great product that genuinely excited people who had only ever tasted the incumbents’ sauces. This gave them the confidence to be a bit cheeky and rebellious. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but the key is to listen as well as to be loud. “We have set out to be disruptive, but we make a huge effort on social media channels to listen to what people are saying and to respond,” says Pam.

In conclusion, the rise of challenger brands in the food and drink sector shows no signs of slowing down. The success stories of the brands mentioned above demonstrate the same key idea… By being innovative, genuine and bold, you can strike a real relationship with your consumers!

Reference: Alantra Food and Drink Fast 50, 2022

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