The health drink that won a cult following

Stuart Jeffries gave up his marketing job in the glamour industry to focus on making tasty shakes for athletes. Now his company turns over £3m a year - and he's just getting started.

In his jeans and unfussy polo shirt, Stuart Jeffreys, 36, is not your typical businessman. But then the Cambridge maths graduate, and co-founder of sports drink firm For Goodness Shakes, has never been a conformist. Although he worked as a marketing man at L'Oreal for seven years, he never entirely fitted in. "I was quite a grungy boy from Cumbria, whereas L'Oreal was full of these 'eurobabes' from France and Switzerland called Simone and Nicole, with perfect clothes, hair and an interest in high fashion. I knew it wasn't quite me. To be honest I just joined because of the girls."

In 2003 "something snapped. I knew I had to get out." He packed in the job, hitched a rucksack to his bicycle, and spent a couple of months taking part in 100-mile bike races across Europe, something he'd always wanted to do. Nutrition suddenly became important, and he noticed that the protein shakes used by athletes for the recovery stage of each race "tasted like medicine. You never wanted to finish them."

So after a chat with a dietician friend on the British Olympic team, he became a regular customer at Sainsbury's, buying ingredients to make experimental drinks in his south London flat with milk, carbs, vitamins and minerals. After much mixing and tasting, he hit on a formula he liked. But his savings were running out. He contacted a friend, another "black sheep" at L'Oreal called Jeremy Martin, and suggested they become partners. Martin agreed. They put in £25,000 each, hired a salesman and began flogging their idea for a sports recovery drink to supermarkets.

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Tesco liked it. And after some hard negotiating, and nine separate meetings, a deal was agreed: a factory in Belgium would manufacture the drink; 150 Tesco branches would then give it a trial. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly. But then, just two weeks before the trial was due to start, the factory pulled out. "It was one of these getting-dumped-by-your-girlfriend-type lunches. 'It's not you, it's us, would you like another glass of wine or some more dessert?' That really landed us in it." But eventually the pair found another factory in the Alps.

With a relatively puny marketing budget of £100,000, they began hanging around at marathons and other sports events, handing out free drinks to athletes as they finished races. The shakes developed a cult following, and by the end of 2005 they had managed to sell £400,000-worth of the drinks after the decathlete Dean Macey agreed to front the brand.

A year later turnover reached £1m; this year it will be £3m. Next year, despite the recession, For Goodness Shakes expects to double that figure as it moves into more stores, including Sainsbury's and the Co-op. But Jeffreys has no intention of taking it easy now and buying a yacht. "It's not like that at all," he says. "We're only just getting started."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.