The Gym Kitchen

Read time: 4 mins        Added date: 19/01/2024

As a successful Channel 4 and Lloyds Bank Black In Business beneficiary, The Gym Kitchen is gearing up for further growth by making nutritious and tasty ready meals more mainstream through the power of TV advertising. Read why resilience has been vital in its founder’s journey.

The Gym Kitchen is one of five beneficiaries of the Channel 4 and Lloyds Bank Black In Business initiative, receiving a package including a bespoke TV advertisement, £100k of advertising on Channel 4 and six months of bespoke mentorship to support growth. As a Black entrepreneur from East London, Segun Akinwoleola’s path has been a rollercoaster ride, but he’s defied the odds to build a flourishing food brand and has exciting plans for the future.

Segun’s initial spark came from frustration at the lack of accessible, affordable, healthy, and, most importantly tasty, supermarket ready meals. In 2016, he noted the rise in sports nutrition, meal prep shoppers and more people leaving supermarkets to buy healthier options elsewhere, so he knew there was a space that could be filled.

The first step was to validate his concept, so Segun stood outside gyms and fitness centres and asked people what they thought. After receiving positive feedback, he sourced suppliers for the initial meal range that was macronutrient-counted, affordable and convenient without compromising on flavour.

Bouncing back from the unexpected

With a sales background and negotiating experience with buyers at leading retailers for brands including John Frieda and Revlon, Segun was in a strong position when he branched out with his own products.

And after four years of hard work and embarking on one of his biggest challenges to date, Segun had prevailed, hitting a huge milestone, securing a listing in Asda.

The Gym Kitchen’s products hit the shelves in early 2020, but unfortunately the thrill was soon cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I spent four years trying to get the product onto the shelves only to have it come off three months after launching. It was such a crazy time for us. But the good thing was they saw how the products were bringing in a new type of shopper so they backed it to return after six months,” Segun states.

Since that initial setback, the business has flourished. The Gym Kitchen has expanded its product range and retail customer base, selling desserts, fresh and frozen ready meals, high-protein pizzas and pouches with grains and lentils. As well as Asda, you’ll find them in the Co-op, Morrisons, Ocado and Tesco, with more supermarkets in the pipeline.

Segun admits he doesn’t stop to reflect on his successes despite winning Great Taste and Co-op Pioneering Product awards. “It’s always that go-go-go mindset that kicks in and having to stay one step ahead, for example on new product development, or educating customers about the goodness in the products, so yes I'm pretty bad at stopping to celebrate,” he mentions. 

Speaking up about important issues

Segun is keen to make time to share his journey and has already been invited to speak at Tesco. “I didn’t think this was something I’d do because I wanted to focus on work. However, The Gym Kitchen is prominent in supermarkets, so people want to hear the story behind it. I use my experiences about persistence and creating the brand to share more on ethnic diversity within retail,” he says.

His time however hasn’t always been positive. When arriving for meetings with a box containing his products, he was often mistaken for a delivery driver because of the colour of his skin and told to “go round the back.”

His passion and determination saw him through many moments, but brings into sharp focus the underrepresentation of Black-owned brands is an issue that still needs to be addressed. This is backed up by research from Add Psalt, a brand accelerator focused on increasing diversity in the consumer goods sector. They found that only two or three brands out of thousands on the supermarket shelves are Black-owned.

“Initiatives like this are incredible. I never thought I’d be doing a TV ad so soon on this journey. It’s going to help with our reach, portray ourselves as a bigger brand and test what resonates with our target audience.”

Segun Akinwoleola – Founder, The Gym Kitchen.

A springboard for future success

Being told he was one of five beneficiaries of the Channel 4 and Lloyds Bank Black In Business initiative made a holiday with his wife all the sweeter. They were browsing a market in Rhodes when Segun got the phone call, which allowed him a rare chance to celebrate.

He understands one of the most significant challenges facing Black entrepreneurs is the lack of financial support in the early stages. Many people can’t rely on family and friends, and in 2022, Black founders received only 1% of all venture capital funds in the UK. This is why he feels greater support must be available for other Black entrepreneurs to follow in his footsteps.

Building the brand

Segun plans to hire two new employees in sales and marketing soon. He also hopes the knock-on benefits of having £100k worth of TV advertising on Channel 4 will allow The Gym Kitchen to explore new European export markets.

He’s also benefitting from the marketing and mentoring support, seeing this as essential as he strives to improve the brand’s marketing and better understand trading in different countries and currencies.

Segun has big ambitions for the brand in the next five years. “I want to create a household name across the UK with a lifestyle element, so not just products, but advice, apps and potentially physical shops,” he says. So watch this space as The Gym Kitchen goes from strength to strength, and look out for them on your TV screens in 2024.

 

Delivering game-changing advertising opportunities

Read more about the initiative and the other beneficiaries and what they hope to gain from the Black In Business initiative.

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