Profile | Healthy Sales & Marketing

Healthy Sales & Marketing is one of the health food trade’s best-kept secrets – yet  the brands it represents have sales of over £30 million. Here, Natural Products editor Jim Manson talks to HSM founder Cliff Moss about what it takes to succeed in today’s congested and competitive natural products sector.

You eventually get to the head offices of Healthy Sales & Marketing when you reach a converted barn at the end of a long, winding lane in deepest rural Sussex.

But that’s the not the real reason why the company remains one of the health food trade’s best kept secrets. That has much more to do with HSM’s style of operation – a hard-working, behind the scenes business with the focus on delivering value for its clients. And by all accounts that is also the style of Healthy Sales & Marketing’s founder Cliff Moss.

Comments one industry insider: “Cliff is well known and respected in the trade but he’s actually quite a modest guy. He’s much happier putting his energies into the brands rather than blowing his own trumpet. It’s served HSM and those brands it represents ­– big and small – very well.”

Strong focus
So, what is it that makes HSM stand out in the natural products arena? The evidence that it does, incidentally, can be seen in its client list – Green & Black’s, Clipper Teas, Tom’s of Maine, Urtekram, Lifestream, Pai, Tints of Nature and USN Sports Nutrition being among the roll call of leading natural and organic brands on its lists. Our industry insider again: “HSM’s specialisation in the health food trade is certainly one factor. But the company also has a very strong focus on the last part of the chain. Lots of agencies will get you listed by a wholesaler but HSM has a reputation for physically going into stores and getting products on shelves.”

HSM offers a flexible range of services – everything from sales representation through to the fully integrated running of a UK business, for an overseas company. But it prides itself on being able to get products into the marketplace quickly, and pull them through at the retail level thanks to its sales team. And the company’s feet-on-the-ground way of doing business has helped it forge a unique relationship with both health food retailers and wholesalers.

Healthy Sales & Marketing was formed in 1995 by Cliff Moss, a natural products industry stalwart who previously held senior positions (managing director of Whole Earth Foods and Green & Black’s among them) with several leading brands. In just 17 years he has built a solid, respected business. The HSM group also owns a range of new and heritage brands which complement rather than conflict with its client offering – among them PLj Lemon Juice, Honegar, and Free & Easy

Experienced team
So, what is it that makes HSM’s offer so effective? Moss tells Natural Products: “It’s a mixture of things. We’re a very hands-on company and I make it my business to regularly call on clients and retailers, and the whole team here stays very close to the industry – and at the forefront of industry developments. As well as having access to key buyers – a challenge often for companies coming into the UK –  our turnkey approach includes an importation and logistical function for the UK wholesalers. So we are able to consolidate supply to wholesalers of a number of products. Simple things like product labelling can be a real challenge unless you have an experienced partner to work with like HSM.” And Moss stresses the experience and industry knowledge of the whole team – “even our accountant has a qualification from ION”.

While HSM represents its brands in the fine food, multiple retail, pharmacy and online (it even has its own selling site – channels, its main focus has always been on the natural products sector.

Operating out of a dedicated site in Cheshire, the company works with all the specialist health food wholesalers in Britain and Ireland. Its sales team meets with 300 independent health food stores every six weeks and holds very regular meetings with Holland & Barrett.

Inside track
HSM is able to offer its clients an inside track by virtue of that specialist knowledge and engagement with the health food trade. Moss explains: “Taking a brand to market is tough – and the UK health food sector is probably the most congested in the world. Part of my job is giving new entrants a bit of a reality check! To succeed in the sector you need to understand how it works, you need to allow time to grow – it’s not instant sales like the multiples, it can take a year or so for volumes to grow. You’ll need genuinely innovative products, not a ‘me too’ range. You’ve got to keep talking to retailers and be actively using PR to drive customers to your products.”

A recipe for success? Well, proof of the pudding can be seen in the individual brand successes. Even well-established brands in the HSM fold have been recording strong growth in recent years. Clipper Teas is one example, where that growth is the product “of getting the legwork done”. USN has also seen good growth thanks to work done to strengthen distribution. “Supporting well-known brands with distribution of core products translates directly into more SKUs on shelves.”=

Take it seriously
The health food trade is different, says Moss. “You need to treat the sector seriously and understand that it’s an ethics based sector. You need to understand the issues that drive consumers into these specialist stores – health, free-from, organic, Fairtrade, wholefood.

“And you’ll need to understand how the wholesalers work in the natural products channel – where you have up to 20 specialist wholesalers servicing probably no more than a thousand health stores. Do you know what listing fee to expect, what type of wholesaler promotion will serve you best?

These are all areas where HSM has extensive experience. ‘We’ve got a bit of traction, and that can help new brands get established more quickly and more sure-footedly.

And when it comes to wholesaler marketing and promotions, brands need to spend money, says Moss. “There’s a temptation in austere times to batten down the hatches. But the brands that are doing that are the ones currently losing market share. The people who are investing in the health food channel at the moment are reaping the rewards – Green & Black’s being a good example.”

Moss believes the perennial ‘independents versus multiples’ debate is unhelpful. “It’s a false comparison to make. The evidence shows that virtually every brand that has a multiple offer has seen its health food trade sales increase as a result. And the problem for brands who are only in the health channel is that they peak quickly and peak smaller. Our approach is to create  a bespoke offer to the independent trade to help ensure brands enjoy growth in both channels.”

A changing retail landscape
HSM’s long-standing and regular contact with the independent retail trade provides it with some unique insights into the changing retail landscape – and the challenges facing the independent sector. Comments Cliff Moss: “There are some very good retailers out there. But there are also a lot who have not moved on. There really are some stores that still look like they are firmly stuck in the seventies! There’s often a lack of clear merchandising so you end up with an incoherent jumble of products. And while they may be offering new product categories, like high-end natural products, the selling environment is still low-end. Facias need to be updated to reflect that style – and price points – of these products.

“Most stores could make simple improvements that would help drive up average basket spend. There’s a case also for thinking more strategically. We try to offer lots of promotions to independents and we do it to build brand awareness, not increase sales. Unfortunately very few retailers pass on the discount to their customers, so that opportunity to grow footfall by getting people through the front door is being lost.

Building relationships
Moss attaches high importance to relationship building: “We’ve been working with some of our brands – for example, Toms of Maine, Green & Black’s and Lifestream – virtually since we started. It’s a very relationship focused trade.” Working with the right people in the first instance is also important,” he says. “We’re strict with ourselves about who, and what, we work with. We’re looking to work with businesses that show a real commitment and who have a consistent message – those are things we pride ourselves on too. And for our part we try to avoid competing brands – so, for example, we don’t work for any other chocolate brand.”

HSM is also undertakes bespoke PR and marketing campaigns for its brands, offering everything from advice on strategic direction to full implementation of multi-channel campaigns. “We were delighted recently to bring Stephanie Matson on board. Stephanie has an excellent track record and understanding of health sector PR. She’s a great addition to the team here and one which means that we are the only sales and marketing operation in the natural products sector offering a fully integrated PR, sales and marketing service. As well as being a unique feature, we think it’s an essential one for brands in the current economic climate”.

It’s good to talk
One of the ways that the company ‘talks’ regularly with retailers is through its quarterly 8-page magazine Healthy Talk. Produced on a non-profit basis – and raising money for charities – it’s distributed to 1000 health stores and aims to be informative as well as functioning as an effective sales tool.

Healthy Talk is just another way that Healthy Sales & Marketing aims to set itself apart. But I ask Cliff Moss if he could pick out the single most important ingredient of success in today’s congested and competitive health food trade. “There’s always a case to be made for working smarter, not harder. But this is very much a relationship-focused trade and you’ve got to get the legwork done. You’ve got to put yourself and your brands in front of people. Face to face is still so important. “


Get the legwork done
This is relationship-focused trade and you’ve got to get the legwork done. You’ve got to put yourself and your brands in front of people. There’s no substitute for face to face

Remember, the health trade is different
You need to treat the sector seriously and understand that it’s an ethics based sector. You need to understand the issues that drive consumers into these specialist stores – health, free-from, organic, Fairtrade, wholefood

‘Independents versus multiples’?
It’s a false comparison to make. The evidence shows that virtually every brand that has a multiple offer has seen its health food trade sales increase as a result. Our approach is to create a bespoke offer to the independent trade to ensure brands enjoy growth in both channels.

You have to invest!
It’s tempting in austere times to batten down the hatches. The brands that are doing that are the ones losing market share. The people investing the in the channel are reaping the rewards. You’ve got to spend some money!

The short CV

Business name:
Healthy Sales & marketing

Billingshurst, West Sussex; Wardle, Cheshire

Managing Director:
Cliff Moss


Client brands:
Green & Black’s, Clipper Teas, Schwabe, Toms of Maine, USN Sports Nutrition, Tints of Nature, Pai

Distributor brands:
Lifestream, Urtekram, Healthy Foods Brands (PLJ, Honegar, Free & Easy)