The UK bakery sector is ripe for disruption, according to Julianne Ponan, the CEO and founder of Creative Nature, which sells baking mixes, bars and other allergy-safe food products.
Creative Nature's products focus on superfoods such as goji berries, cacao nibs and bee pollen, and include snack bars and supplements.
Ponan, who suffers from anaphylaxis and is therefore allergic to most of the 14 major allergens, explained her inspiration for launching the brand.
“I’m allergic to all nuts, chickpeas, lentils, sesame and a whole load of other things as well and I found that there was absolutely nothing on the market that catered for this in terms of a snacking range that was healthy, or a bakery free-from range that wasn’t limited.
“There were a few amazing brands paving the way such as Nakd but they didn’t cater for the nut allergy sufferers. So we saw this was a gap in the market.
“I decided to launch a range that did cater for this -- not only the things I was allergic to, but also catering for [coeliacs], dairy sufferers and soya as well.”
The Surrey, UK-based company recently secured more than £500,000 of investment via equity crowdfunding site Seedrs and now wants to get firmly established in the bakery category.
The company’s Gogi Goodness and Salted Caramel snack bars are probably the top sellers, she explained to FoodNavigator.
“However, I believe the baking category is definitely growing. Free-from in general is set to hit £673m by 2020 in the UK alone which is huge growth,” she said.
And while the healthy snacking sector is a fast growing one, the bakery industry is “yet to be shaken up at all”, she believed. “If you look at the [bakery] shelves, it’s very old fashioned, it’s the likes of Betty Croker and Paul Hollywood and a few others. But it’s very much full of sweeteners, preservatives and stabilizers and there's nothing really natural there.”
Creative Nature’s bakery mixes, meanwhile, have a ‘less is more’ ethos. “Our brownie mix contains brown rice flour, unrefined raw cane sugar, chocolate chips, milled flaxseed and baking powder. That’s it, it’s really simple.”
Although simple, as a premium product it is more expensive.
“If you were to buy a brownie from a Costa or a fresh brownie that was completely top 14 allergen-free and vegan you would be paying upwards of £2/£2.50 for just a brownie slice. However, if you make our mix it costs 27 pence per brownie.
"A Betty Crocker mix will sell for £1.50 and you'll get 20 brownies but that brownie is not catered for anyone that suffers from allergies and it’s not vegan.”
Allergies are increasing in UK
Meanwhile, the demand for free-from foods among consumers continues to rise.
"There has been a rise of 615% in hospitalisations over the last few years and that's due to anaphylaxis - so people actually suffering from allergies. Anaphylaxis is also increasing in children,” noted Panan.
Peanut allergy affects around 2% (1 in 50) of children in the UK and has been increasing in recent decades, according to Allergy UK. In terms of gluten free, around 1% of the UK population is Celiac, “but many people choose to go gluten free as a lifestyle choice anyway,” added Panan.
As such, Creative Nature stresses its products are aimed at everyone, not solely those with serious allergies. “We are not niche. We are not exclusive. You may have a child that suffers from a gluten allergy in your family but your whole family can eat it because it tastes just as good.”
This inclusiveness does, however, present a challenge in terms of aisle positioning.
"I’m not completely sure about the whole free-from aisle at the moment,” explains Panan. “I suffer from a nut allergy. However, if you go to the free-from aisle every single product contains nuts so it doesn't really depict what free-from is.”
Creative Nature’s baking powders, meanwhile, are in the baking section in Sainsbury's, but the free-from section in Asda. As such “we feel we are missing out on a lot of baking customers that would actually choose to have a gluten free product anyway but can’t be bothered to go to the free from section because they are already in home baking.”
Since launching the bars and range of baking mixes, Creative Nature products have launched into major supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s Asda, Co-op and Ocado, high street retailers like TK Max, high end and health conscious stores like The Natural Kitchen, Vital Ingredient and Sourced Market and overseas to Switzerland, Iceland and Portugal.
"We want to really start gaining market share within the supermarkets to have a bigger presence on shelf for Creative Nature,” added Panan. “We are focussing on export over the next 24 months and reaching places like Australia, other parts of Europe and also the Middle East.
“Australia is way ahead of the UK. They have whole bays and aisles devoted to healthy snacking, whereas we are still struggling to get sweet-free checkouts.”
‘Packaging has been a bugbear’
It is also moving towards more sustainable packaging. “We’ve always been very sustainable,” Panan points out. “We always sea freight, we reduce our carbon footprint, but packaging has been a bugbear for us because all compostable packaging at the moment will not guarantee that allergens can’t get through.
“We’ve been testing to see whether there is a way that we can do this and slowly we are getting there. Hopefully we will be moving to either a fully recyclable packaging or compostable.”
Creative Nature was among the first cohort of companies to participate in the FoodBytes! by Rabobank event in Europe.
FoodBytes! by Rabobank is a pitching competition for early stage start-ups, providing them with mentoring and networking opportunities with investors and corporates.
Applications for FoodBytes! London (6-7 November) close on 4 August at 11.59pm GMT. The platform identifies innovations with the potential to disrupt the food industry and supply chain. Areas it focuses on include sustainable farming, packaging, traceability solutions, environmentally-friendly ingredients, food waste reduction and the latest sustainable CPG food start-ups.
The criteria for successful applicants looks at product innovation, market opportunity, traction and commercial viability – with a focus on sustainability and social impact. The full criteria can be found here.
Creative Nature’s pitch from FoodBytes! by Rabobank can be viewed here.