Just Love Food Company: Mike Woods
The founder of the nut-free food range on securing a deal with Sainsbury’s and his plans to become the allergy-friendly market leader
Company name: Just Love Food Company Website:www.justlovefoodcompany.com Founders: Mike Woods Age: 46 Based: Oakdale, south Wales Staff Numbers: 10 Date started: Production started 5.4.2010
Tell us what your business does The Just Love Food Company is a producer of nut safe celebration cakes.
Where did the idea for your business come from? Since 2001, I have been unable to buy a birthday cake for two of my children, who have severe nut allergies, from high street stores. All high street supermarket birthday cakes carry a warning that make the product “not suitable for nut allergy sufferers”. This ongoing battle provided me with the impetus to establish Just Love Food Company, where our starting point was the creation of ‘nut safe’ celebration cakes.
How did you know there was a market for it? It is estimated that one in 55 children now have a nut allergy and this figure is growing. One in 55 means that just about every other primary school class has one child with a nut allergy. The allergy not only affects the sufferer, it affects brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and friends, in fact, anyone the allergy sufferer comes into contact with. We want to make a difference and provide a solution to help the parents, families and friends of those with allergies.
What were you doing before starting up? I have worked for the past 20 years in the food industry more recently as managing director of Avana Bakeries and Memory Lane Cakes both based in south Wales. It was not hard emotionally to leave as after going through a structured process of evaluating my work purpose it was clear to me I had to run my own business. Financially you know it has risks, but the vision of what we want to achieve outplays any fear.
What planning did you do before you started up?I did ask key future stakeholders before going too far. In particular, contacts I had in the supermarkets. They gave me enough encouraging feedback to say it was a clear market opportunity. I knew allergy-friendly birthday cakes were one of the most asked for products currently not openly available. I used local accountancy firm Graham Paul Chartered Accountants to support doing a business plan and we involved lenders early on in the process to ensure there was buy in before going too far. Solicitors Berrysmith in Cardiff also provided with me with robust legal advice all the way through the process. Once I established some product design ideas I used a network of mothers’ groups, friends and good industry experts to test the ideas.
How did you raise the money? We have received £150,000 funding using the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme (EFG), secured by Natwest, to provide essential working capital to help set up the business, as well as £250,000 debt and equity from Finance Wales which will ensure the business has sufficient funds to pursue its growth strategy to branch out into different markets and product ranges. We didn’t have any rejections, though we did have some terms changed during the process that made borrowing from them very difficult – a polite way of you turning them down rather than them turning me down.
How did you find suppliers? We have searched the breadth of the UK to find suppliers who meet our requirements and acknowledge our nut safe promise. By working closely with our suppliers we have been able to ensure all of our ingredients are manufactured in an environment that does not handle nuts. We visit them and test the ingredients regularly to satisfy ourselves that the ingredients are safe to be used in our cakes.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them? The biggest challenge so far has been to get the ingredients from nut free sites, and to convince retailers of the need to provide nut free solutions. There is still a long way to go before retailers are providing good ranges for people with allergies, but at least things are moving in the right direction. We have been fortunate to secure an exclusive deal with Sainsbury’s who are going to stock our cakes. Like us, Sainsbury’s can see a gap in the market for the supply of nut-free products and can see our vision of making fabulous food products that provide solutions for those with allergies. In order for the supermarkets to sit up and take notice that there is a need, I would urge shoppers to keep asking in stores and requesting that they provide products for people with allergies.
How have you promoted your business? There is so much we could be doing with PR and marketing but unfortunately we don’t have a limitless pot. We have received advice and support from a Cardiff-based PR agency to launch the business, as well as support and advice from Sainsbury’s in-house PR team. Targeting social media sites such as Twitter and a selection of parent bloggers has proven particularly effective to get word out there with our target audience. We are now looking at further strategies to target other markets.
What about staff – how many do you have? We have 10 members of staff, chosen as a mixture from my two previous cake businesses, a post graduate from UWIC and some new blood. It’s not burdensome at all. All the people who joined have come to be part of the vision we have.
What has your growth been like? It’s still early days. However, we launched on time and to budget. We expect to start making a profit after six months.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? In five years’ time we will have established the Just Love Food brand as the Weightwatchers equivalent in allergy food. Weightwatchers as a low fat food brand goes across multiple categories and is number one by far in this sector. The business can then be sold as a brand leader to anyone with the right ethical purpose.