Startup Grind serves up a delicious double interview
Startup Grind kicks off again after taking time off during the summer and we are treated to a double interview. Forbytes’ own Marlene Lowe hosts the fireside chat at Codebase that introduces us to Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne (Genius Foods) and Sydney Chasin (The Healthy Crop LTD). As the names of their companies reveal they are both passionate about food and introducing better alternatives to the market.
Sydney Chasin studied finance before becoming the founder and director of The Healthy Crop. The company’s focus lies on sorghum grain and bringing the resilient crop to the western markets. The Healthy Crop’s first product, lil’POP, have only recently launched. However, this small step towards sustainability might have a big impact in the long run.
Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne studied physiology at university and wrote about how to cook for allergies before founding Genius Foods. The company itself began in her kitchen as she experimented to find an alternative to the appalling gluten-free bread available in stores. After three years she finally had a solution, and in 2009 she could buy her own bread in regular stores.
The fireside chat
The interview is cheerful and the audience is engaged. So engaged, in fact, that Marlene is forced to limit the number of questions per person. However, this level of engagement is not surprising. Food is something that everyone has an opinion about, and everybody has at least a little bit of knowledge of what they want and need on their plate.
Both Sydney and Lucinda started their journey in their own kitchen. Though they faced different difficulties it is easy to see the similarities as well. Lucinda started out experimenting to find the right combination of starch to replace wheat. Sydney, on the other hand, searched for a supplier of sorghum grain. How did she find her supplier? “Through Instagram,” she laughs, and explains the chain of events and people who helped her find the people she needed.
Genius Foods bear the undeniable mark of Lucinda’s sons. With one being allergic to dairy and the other severely gluten intolerant, delivering tasty bread without dairy and gluten was the first and most important step for the company. Today they have 26 products available, but it is evident that the bread is closest to Lucinda’s heart. It is a staple food, an easy snack, and a necessity for a smooth-running family life.
Once Sydney and Lucinda felt that they were on to something both made the decision that they wanted to prove the viability of their products before scaling. Unfortunately, neither of them was able to scale at their own pace.
Lucinda ended up scaling much faster than she had planned, by simply coming into contact with the right person, with the right means, at the right time. Sydney, on the other hand, faced the realization that it was all or nothing. The sorghum required highly specialized equipment and of the heavy variety to boot.
What is the hardest moment you have had?
“I think the hardest part was when Tesco said ‘we’re going to put you into 700 stores,'” Lucinda tells us. It sounds strange to hear that being faced with such a demand for her product was almost a negative experience. However, she explains that the pressure of delivering at such a large scale was nothing to scoff at. Baking bread is one thing, but once you scale it up any little mistake will become a big problem. “It was a shock to see how inconsistent the recipe and the process was,” she says. In the end it took a lot of hard work during three extremely stressful weeks to sort out the hiccups.
“The biggest challenge for me has been manufacturing,” Sydney says. She had troubles finding a manufacturer to begin with, nevermind one who truly listened and took interest in the product. Because sorghum is such a small grain, she, much like Lucinda, faced complications when scaling her production. The big pumping kettle used to pop the grain proved to be ill suited to the small sorghum. The grain kept getting caught in parts of it and got burned. It came down to a long series of trial and error to sort out what the problem was and how to solve it.
What is the best moment so far?
There is a thrill when you see your product on the shelf or online, Lucinda tells us. A few weeks after the near disastrous scaling of production she stood in Tesco with her children and saw her bread on the shelves with her own eyes. Being able to buy lots of bread in one go just like any other mother, that was the best moment so far for her.
“I would say the high moment was being on the production line of our first production and watching thousands of units of something that you’ve made come off the production line,” Sydney says. To see something that you have created coming out the way you imagined it, all the theoretical parts becoming reality, is exciting.
Tasty tips for the food entrepreneur
Your brand first and foremost
Few food companies care to copyright the process of making their product. Doing so would after all reveal how it is done. Consequently, you need to protect the brand, not the recipe. “The first thing that you have to do is making sure that you are brand centric," Sydney says. "Because at the end of the day the brand is the most protectable side of your company."
Scaling is more complicated than you think
“It is one thing to invent something at home, but it is another scaling it for sale,” Lucinda warns, underlining the stories of their own difficulties in the process.
Find the right investor
Don’t just look for an investor, look for an investor who understands the value of what you are doing. You need to be passionate about the value of the work you are doing. However, the same is true for your investors. If they are passionate themselves then they are far more likely to stay with you for the long term. And it can be quite necessary to have a long term investor in order to succeed.
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About Startup Grind
Startup Grind is powered by Google for Entrepreneurs and is a global startup community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. With monthly events all over the world, it aims to feature fireside chats with successful local founders, innovators, educators and investors. They share personal stories and lessons learned on the road to building great companies. Their values of; making friends, not contacts; giving, not taking; and helping others before helping yourself, speak to us as an organisation. We are pleased to be part of the Startup Grind community.
The next Startup Grind event
The next event in Edinburgh will take place October 25th 2018, this time featuring Daniel Rodgers, CEO of QikServe. Tickets to the event as well as more information is available via Startup Grind Edinburgh's website.