Having spent his career in the wine industry, we spoke to Guy Smith from Smith & Evans vineyard in Somerset to find out why he thinks…
Saltash-based PKF Francis Clark client Let Them Eat is a maker of gluten and dairy free products with a mission. The company’s aim is not only to improve on the currently available choices which are invariably either gluten or dairy free (but rarely both) and usually pretty dull and unappetising, but to offer truly delicious cakes and savoury products which the whole family will enjoy and not just an individual who has to live with a restrictive diet. The idea is to consign the phrase – ‘Stop, you can’t eat that’ to history.
The business was started in 2014 by Lisa Hackett who lives with an auto-immune disease and wanted to find alternative sources of gluten and dairy free products for herself. She found available products not only bland and tasteless but misleading with ingredient descriptions disguising the use of fats, salt and sugar.
She developed a small range of recipes and experimented by taking them to a farmer’s market hoping for feedback on their quality and price. She sold out inside 2 hours and repeated the exercise twice more selling more products just as quickly. She learned a lot from the experience, especially about what potential customers want and not just what she could produce.
The business then became serious with Lisa converting the cellar at her home into a bakery and using ingredients most of us would have in our pantries – fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds – to hand make a range of light, moist and delicious gluten and dairy free cakes which even contain ‘one of your five a day’.
“Our philosophy is very simple. We make products that people want to eat from natural ingredients with no artificial additives. We use plain language to describe the ingredients and if I can’t pronounce it, I don’t buy it. Being self-trained, I have no fixed ideas about how things should be done – just what the end product should look like, taste like and consist of.”
It soon became clear that demand was outstripping the ability to supply from Lisa’s cellar and that there was considerable potential to grow the business by offering savoury products. However, this required a separate meat production room so the business moved to an industrial unit in Saltash. Lisa and her husband Del, co-owner of the incorporated business, have made a considerable investment in new equipment including industrial mixers and refrigerators etc. to anticipate future growth.
Orders grew and from selling around 700 units a week from home, the business is currently moving 5,000 units each week including a strategic partnership with Rowe’s Bakery to supply gluten free pasties. Other customers include numerous tourist locations, independent delis, restaurants and pubs as well as the Lost Gardens of Heligan who supply Lisa with end-of-season surplus produce for Lisa to come up with new gluten and dairy free culinary ideas.
“We’re very happy where we are at the moment. We’re operating for 5 days a week with 8 fantastic employees but there is huge potential for growth and even to go 24/7. Firstly, established bakeries can’t produce what we can because of the risk of cross-contamination. It’s easy to forget that Gluten is more than a nuisance for some, consumption of the smallest particles of gluten can have very serious consequences and in worst cases can lead to hospitalisation.
“Secondly, I have ambitions to export and begin trading with airlines, ferries and cruise ships. I think there are great possibilities in these areas but we are taking it steadily learning more and more and thinking up new ideas as we go. We are also expanding our mail order business as demand from individuals increases.
“I had previous experience in hygiene related environments so picking up on that side of the business was not too bad especially as we had great support from Environmental Health and Trading Standards. However, I hadn’t realised how valuable a good accountant/business adviser could be until I met with Justin Gliddon at PKF Francis Clark.
“Like us, Justin speaks in plain English and tells it like it is. He has really helped us understand the business, where it is now and where it can go in the future. His advice when we were approached by a potential investor/purchaser was invaluable. He works with you, not for you and is like a part of the team.”
Business Service Director Justin Gliddon added:
“PKF Francis Clark advises Let Them Eat on tax issues as well as undertaking their statutory accounts and payroll. We regularly discuss funding/cash flow and the range of opportunities that are in the pipeline. In addition, we act as a sounding board on risk and have built a really good working relationship, meeting with Lisa on a regular basis to discuss business issues and opportunities (and to eat cake!)
“Along with our corporate finance expert, Dave Armstrong, we have been discussing with Lisa her strategy for growth and requirements for external funding including available grant funding which could help Lisa and Del make their next big step forward.
“Our Tax Specialists delighted to work with Lisa. As a relatively recent start-up, Let Them Eat is a fantastic business with huge potential for growth and we are looking forward to helping them get to where they want to be.”