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ABF’s venture into the sports nutrition arena – the story so far

18/12/17

Mark is the Finance Director at ABF’s Sports Nutrition, which was created post the acquisition of two SME sports nutrition businesses: HIGH 5 and Reflex Nutrition. HIGH 5 is a leading hydration and energy brand and Reflex Nutrition is a premium strength and recovery brand. 

AB Sports Nutrition is the culmination of a project ABF undertook which focused on how it could enter high growth fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) categories that they did not operate in at the time. Sports Nutrition was chosen as a high growth category which fitted well with ABF’s skill base, and had potential to create value within its grocery division.

Over a period of two years, the business development team in ABF met a number of sports nutrition business owners. This exercise whittled a list of thirty potential targets down to ten. In 2016 ABF started in-depth discussions and due diligence work with HIGH5 and Reflex. After a lot of hard work, both businesses were acquired within a few weeks of each other in February and March 2017.

The biggest challenge we experienced in the first six months was managing two highly entrepreneurial businesses; learning what makes them successful, developing growth plans; whilst managing the reporting and governance needs of ABF. We had to work out what critical processes needed to be put in place, e.g. anti-bribery and corruption guidelines and key segregation of duties controls, and what processes could wait because they would dampen the entrepreneurial spirit of the business.

Whilst juggling this dichotomy, the people in the business were looking for leadership in a time of huge change, (we took the decision in May to move the HIGH5 factory from Leicester down to the Reflex Nutrition site in Brighton).

From a finance perspective, we are in the process of building the foundations to enable us to accelerate growth. Implementing standard costs, and Purchase Price Variance accounting was one of the first big changes, along with developing processes to meet ABF’s four-weekly reporting cycle. After a spell of finance team recruitment, the team have done a great job of getting behind the numbers; to understand current performance and also, where the business makes money. This is helping inform better decision making.

Lots of people who work at AB Sports Nutrition have a keen interest in sport. A passion for sport and for our products also shines through in our customers – at events people talk animatedly about their sports nutrition in a different way to how they talk about browsing the supermarket aisles. Whether struggling round a park run or competing in a Mixed Martial Arts competition, there is no doubt that HIGH5 and Reflex are helping people enjoy their sport more. 

The lovely thing that makes ABF different is the degree of trust and autonomy they give to businesses at a local level. One of the most motivating aspects for me is that we are at the beginning of a journey, and we are making strategic choices for the direction we want to embark on.

At ABF there is no set rule book; you can, if you are comfortable with some ambiguity, set your own path. Your plans and strategies are robustly challenged but this is done in a respectful way and with the aim of getting to a better solution. You also realise over time that usually someone somewhere in ABF has faced a similar challenge to the one currently facing you…and if you reach out to that person then almost without fail you get advice and unconditional help. The final thing that makes ABF different is the long term view. Roughly 50 years ago ABF invested in a small business in a sector they weren’t currently in. I’m not sure that our Sports Nutrition business will be as successful as Primark has been…but we plan to give it our best shot! 

If you would like to learn more about ABF and our career opportunities, please visit the microsite here. 

Guest author: Mark Fowle - Finance Director at AB Sports Nutrition
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