In 2009 Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne launched Genius Foods, the first-to-market UK brand in gluten-free bread. She shares her three top tips for getting a new idea off the ground.
1. Innovate to a high standard
I baked thousands of loaves of bread to figure out a recipe with the right consistency and taste. I’d studied physiology, written books on the functionality of ingredients and the science of cooking and I was a chef and so quite well placed to solve this problem.
I slept with pen and paper by my bed to jot down any ideas that came to me in the night. I became obsessed, blending different ingredients to achieve an elastic dough and soft, springy fresh bread. The protein gluten found in wheat, barley and rye, plays an important role in our favourite bakery goods. It forms a stretchy network through dough and batters, acting as scaffolding and creating the bubble structure in bread and cakes, the thin feathery sheets in croissants and allows you to roll out pastry without it falling apart. Gluten’s essential role in baked goods is extremely challenging to imitate with other ingredients, as I discovered.
I spent two years in my kitchen, documenting every trial in meticulous detail, adjusting the formula as I went along, five grams less of one ingredient, 10 grams more of another ingredient.
My three children were my toughest judges – children never lie. Finally, after baking thousands of loaves, they said ‘mum, this bread is delicious’. That is when I knew I was ready to scale up my recipe (or so I thought). It took me another year in a bakery to get to a batch of 200 kilos of bread that tasted and looked like what I had created at home. Beware though; know when to stop perfecting and tweaking or you will never enter the market.
2. Constantly engage with consumers
The response from our first test with consumers was overwhelming: bread is a staple and for consumers who had not been able to enjoy a sandwich for years, trying a soft fresh gluten free bread was an emotional moment. Our fresh gluten free bread meant parents could now offer packed lunches to their kids and make a sandwich for a journey.
These days we have over 80,000 customers subscribed to our newsletter. They are invested in our brand and give us instant feedback whenever we make changes to recipes or try new products. They are a fantastic community, and key in our development.
3. Build a culture that welcomes challenges
Ten years ago I had the luxury of time and the peaceful surroundings of my kitchen that made it okay to fail and gave me space to think.
I did not have the responsibility of running a business and its daily challenges. Since then, our innovation drivers have evolved. These days we are on a R&D mission to reduce our list of ingredients, and looking for ingredients grown closer to home to optimise the nutritional benefit of our products for digestive wellness. As a nascent business with a completely new product, there was never a textbook to follow. Genius is a stimulating place to work as it keeps our teams guessing. This is one of the reasons why we’ve held on to talent. There is always something new to work on and when people move on, they tend to go to other innovative businesses.