In 2009, Cassandra Stavrou spotted a gap in the market for a healthy snack that didn’t compromise on taste. “The only people making healthy snacks were Weightwatchers,” she says. “They tasted like cardboard and screamed ‘I’m on a diet’.”

Two years later, aged 25, she launched Propercorn – now known as Proper Snacks – landing Google as her first customer. Proper is now the number one independent snack brand in the UK, exports to more than 10 countries around the world, and recently launched a crisp brand. “We sell five bags every second,” says Cassandra. “I want to be the world’s favourite feel-good snack company.”

Rising stars

Watch our Top 50 editor Rebecca Burn-Callander identify the ‘Rising Stars’ from The LDC Top 50 Most Ambitious Business Leaders 2020. These leaders are talented entrepreneurs carving out niches, achieving extraordinary growth or leading a brand of tomorrow.

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What drives you to be successful?

I lost my dad to cancer when I was young. Being the eldest child, I think that subconsciously I became very focused on looking after my family and providing.

How important is it to make a positive difference in the world?

We want to prove that big can be beautiful. We were the first popcorn brand to go palm oil free and Fairtrade. We give surplus stock to Fareshare and The Felix Project to reduce wastage. We are helping to crowdfund homeless people into employment through our charity partner, Beam. We’re now looking to go carbon neutral without offsetting, which is the next challenge. I also sit on the government’s Food and Drink Council, helping to represent the needs of food start-ups and SMEs.

How do you source great talent?

We have a phrase here: you need to be a builder, not a tenant. If you want to find solutions to problems and work out new ways of doing things, this is the place to work. If you just want to complain to the landlord, PROPER is probably not for you.

How will you grow the business over the next five years?

I’m really excited about our lentil crisps, which was the biggest ‘better for you’ launch of 2019. Popcorn is a £115m category. The crisp category is worth £2.5bn. It’s a much bigger market and we want a big piece of it. We are also looking to reach critical mass across the whole of Europe; we’re the number one premium popcorn brand in Holland and Ireland already. We are a small team of 50 and we’re still in hyper-growth, even in our ninth year. That makes me really proud.

Quote mark

If you want to find solutions to problems and work out new ways of doing things, this is the place to work.”

Cassandra Stavrou MBE
Founder, Proper Snacks