Seven ways to shake up your food and drink business

Mini Black Milk milkshakes at BBST

Thur Aug 9 2018

Meet Black Milk Cereal, a Manchester-born blended drinks business that’s doubling its turnover every year thanks to five successful revenue streams and its unwavering focus on customer experience.

Founders Andy Young and Oliver Taylor share their seven ways to shake up your business.


1. Give people something unexpected

Customers enjoying milkshakes in VIP at BBST


Barclaycard research found that 66% of people like it when a brand surprises them with an unexpected experience or offer[1].  It’s definitely a customer desire that Black Milk Cereal is set up to serve, as Andy explains:

“Black Milk Cereal is all about giving customers amazing experiences. The products themselves tend to be pretty unexpected!

“But as well as surprising people with the Freak!Shakes and mammoth waffles, we’re all about popping up in unexpected locations like live music events, offices and shops.


“We recently entered a Barclaycard Business competition to showcase our brand in the VIP hospitality area at Barclaycard presents British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park. We won and it was awesome to surprise and delight celebrities and successful business people with two of our most popular milkshakes. Our shakes are not necessarily something they’d expect to see there.”


2. Build local social followers

With more than 40,000 followers on Instagram, Black Milk Cereal knows a thing or two about the power of a large yet targeted social following. Oliver tells us more:

“Yes we’ve got followers from all over the world, and that’s amazing because it’s a way for us to overcome a language barrier when overseas customers come into our cafés. People will often just show us a picture they’ve seen on Instagram so they don’t have to try and read the menu.

“But the majority of our followers are from the areas local to our cafés. It means we’ve built a social following of actual customers, not just people who like what we do but might only visit us once in their life because they live so far away. And that means we don’t spend any money on marketing in the traditional sense.”


3. Make the most of the experience

A Black Milk product close up


“Our cafés in Manchester, Bolton and London are all designed to not only be cool spaces for our customers to relax in, but also to be amazing backdrops when people photograph their shakes and waffles to post on social media,” says Oliver.

“So we really thought about the table tops, the glasses and plates, the artwork.

“Probably even more important, though, is building anticipation. The build up to getting that incredible end product is just as important as the milkshake or waffle itself. It’s how we keep customers coming back for more once the initial surprise of the product has worn off.

“Ordering something in our café and watching one of the Black Milk team create it in front of you is like the build-up on a rollercoaster…it’s all part of what makes the overall experience so great.”


4. Use a corporate card to kick-start new things

“We bought our first blender with our Barclaycard business card back when we opened up in Afflecks, a sort of alternative indoor market in Manchester city centre. It’s something we couldn’t afford but knew we needed if we were to grow the brand to our own premises,” says Andy.

“Now, we serve more than 20,000 milkshakes a year and we’re confident that number will double next year.

“Not only that, but in 2017 we listened to customer feedback that we needed to shake up our menu. So we put a couple of amazing waffle irons on our Barclaycard – again, we knew it was an investment we needed to make but we didn’t have the cash in the bank to do that. Expanding the menu from shakes to waffles has been a turning point for the brand and we’ve since opened up in Bolton and Soho.”


5. Think of customers as advocates

Customers photographing their Freakshakes


“We take Black Milk Cereal to all sorts of unexpected places, from shared work spaces, to department stores, to weddings,” says Andy.

“By making the experience interactive where we can – in other words, teaching people how to create their own Freak!Shakes –  we’re encouraging loyalty because people feel part of the brand, part of our story.

“And by doing that, customers become advocates; they want to share their experiences on social media and that’s much more powerful than any marketing we could do ourselves.”


6. Collaborate

Collaboration with partner businesses is critical to Black Milk Cereal’s success so far; it’s how they reach new audiences and leverage established brands.

“It’s exciting to work with brands that have the same ethos as us but which do things differently,” says Olly.

“We’ve worked with shared work space providers, huge department stores, fashion brands and of course Barclaycard Business. It’s allowed us to take the excitement of our brand to a wide range of people, and give them all something they can enjoy, remember, share and recommend to their friends,” he adds.

“It’s also great for the brands we partner with because our shakes can keep people in a shop for longer, add to their overall experience and encourage loyalty to both brands.”


7. Be proactive but patient

Andy’s top tip for business growth is to be patient.

“It’s really important to be ambitious and proactive, but sometimes it’s good to go slow so you’ve got time to get systems in place and test whether or not they work. Before we create something new, we make sure the foundations are solid for what we’ve already built.”

Black Milk Cereal – Since 2015

Spotted a gap in the market to create a premium, experience-led destination for customers.

March 2015 - Set up Black Milk Cereal in a unit of Afflecks, an indoor market in Manchester and a real incubator for quirky, independent start-ups and small businesses.

September 2015 - Knocked through a wall of Afflecks to triple floor space.

June 2017 - Moved to a bigger café on Oldham Street, Manchester.

March 2018 - Opened a franchise in Bolton.

April 2018 - Opened up in Soho, London.

They’ve doubled their turnover every year since they opened without any investment.

The future holds lots of collaborations, a permanent café in London and franchises across Yorkshire and the North West.

[1] A nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults and 250 business owners conducted by OMD Research between 19th June – 5th July 2018

[2] A nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults and 250 business owners conducted by OMD Research between 19th June – 5th July 2018

[3] A nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults and 250 business owners conducted by OMD Research between 19th June – 5th July 2018

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