Delicious Alchemy: Emma Killilea

For Emma Killilea, discovering she had a serious food allergy turned out to be just the push she needed to set up her own award-winning business. Tired with the limited range of wheat free foods, she set about forming her own company, selling a range or breads, cakes and desserts to restaurants and hotels, specifically catering for food allergies.

Company name: Delicious Alchemy Founders: Emma Killilea Age: 34 Based: Sheffield Staff Numbers: Just me Date started: founded in October 2005, trading since August 2006

Where did the idea for your business come from? When I was 28 found out I had wheat allergy. I couldn’t buy nice food even in the supermarket, so I had to start making everything for myself. There was very little in the way of ready meals I could have, so I had to get back into cooking. I started researching and found out 10% of the population suffers from a food allergy and thought I could do something. So started baking and experimenting

What were you doing before starting up? I was a consultant for video game developers so I had experience at being self-employed. But I had never written a business plan, I had just got work from people I knew. After I came up with this concept I sold my house and went back to university in Sheffield from Derby. They have a really good food degree there, and I’m in final year of it now.

How did you raise the money?Within a year of starting my degree I’d won the university Enterprise Challenge, which is a business planning competition they run every year – then I won the Yorkshire and Humberside regional version called the ‘winner of winners’. And straight after the Natwest Startups awards where I was nominated for best business plan, I won the UK national student entrepreneur (UK SECK award). Start-up costs were about £15,000 which I won from the awards. If I hadn’t won those awards I would still definitely have gone ahead with starting the business. I would have got a government grant because I’m up in Sheffield, and would have put some of my own money in and borrowed from the bank.

What planning did you do before you started up?I had to get the product formulation right, so I had to keep baking until I was happy and they were really different to what is already out there. Then I had to work out the best way to get them to the market, so I looked into setting up a bakery of my own but that wasn’t going to be possible because you need accreditation in order to sell into hotels, and that requires being a certain size already. I had one baker lined up who pulled out because of a packaging problem. Then I met my current baker, who does food for NHS, and also gluten free foods. We’re now in a partnership together.

Is there much competition? There are other brands of ‘free-from’ foods that are sold in supermarkets, but nobody else is directly targeting the food service industry.

What do you want for the company in the future?We are talking to certain retailers about starting to stock in shops but it’s mainly focused on the food service industry. In ten years I’d like to see the product in every hotel in the UK, and I’d like to see people with food allergies taken seriously. I’d also like to do some diabetic foods soon.

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