infocus: Women in Innovation senior business mentor Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne has taken Genius Gluten-Free from kitchen table to world-conquering brand.
The value of brand identity in product development
Scientist and chef Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne started Genius Gluten-Free in her kitchen when her son was found to be gluten-intolerant. It is now the UK market leader in free from bakery products and also sold in stores in Europe, the US, and Australia. As one of 22 senior business mentors for the infocus: Women in Innovation programme, she believes female entrepreneurs should be brave, bold, and passionate about making their ideas come to life.
How did you turn a kitchen-table experiment into a global brand?
“I came up with the bread because my son is gluten-free, and I have a unique background which allowed me to do that – I’m a physiologist, so I have a scientific background, but I’ve also worked as a chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant, and I’d written the Leith School of Food & Wine textbook, which is The Science of Cooking, so I had spent four years of my life writing about why we use the ingredients we do in cooking and what they’re doing. During that time, I had my first two children, and my eldest is dairy-free and my middle one is gluten-free, and my youngest can eat everything. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I don’t want to be running a café, cooking everyone different food’. I [then] wrote a book called How to Cook for Food Allergies, which teaches people how to do that.
“I spent three years developing gluten-free bread recipes – very difficult, because gluten is the scaffolding in bread, it’s what gives bread that bubbly, chewy texture and what keeps the moisture in it over its shelf life. It’s absolutely integral. I had to find a blend of different starches and fibres and gums, and various things that would imitate that behaviour. I carried on developing it beyond the book and commercialised it by taking it to a local bakery – the largest gluten-free bakery in the country, which happened to be in Scotland – and we spent another year commercialising it, and scaling it up from my Magimix recipe to the 200-kilo batches we now make.
“It was a really, long, drawn-out, obsessive project to create this bread. And that’s where Genius started. We launched in 700 stores nationwide from a standing start. We’ve been brand leader in the UK for a long time, but we also sell in France, Germany, Holland, Australia and America now.”
Why is a strong brand so important?
“You need to give your product an identity and a reason for consumers to believe, so they pick it up for the first time and then continue to pick it up once they’ve tried it and loved it. The product is a big part of it, and then you have to package it up and give it a character and give it a human connection. You need to have a team of marketeers and commercial people and obviously the founder and probably key investors to sit around the table and think about what the brand stands for; what the story is thus far, and start to create that through the brand name. You have to really think about it right at the beginning – what you’re wanting your brand to be, and then coming up with a name is key, so that it’s globally understood – and summarising the story in a really engaging way.
“The brand story changes, because obviously over time, the brand story evolves. You need to ensure that the values of the brand remain true and don’t change, so that people can trust it and know what they’re buying. Getting that first branding right is key, I think, and then it evolves from there. It’s important not to stay static in any element of your business, including your branding.”
“We only have one life, and if you see a gap in the market, and you think you can really make a difference to people, then why wouldn’t you try and get out there and do something about it?”
What are some of the biggest challenges for female entrepreneurs?
“I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of time with my family to build what I have. That’s the hardest part, is actually keeping the family happy and well looked after while you are travelling around the world or doing very long hours or spending lots of time in the bakery. I think as a woman, going into business with quite an ambitious approach, you have to accept that you are deciding that you will sacrifice quite a lot. It’s for the good of the family in the long run, because without me working, we wouldn’t be able to live where we live, and we wouldn’t have holidays, and they wouldn’t be going to the schools that they go to, but it’s also doing something for the greater good; that makes a difference outside the family, and I think that’s the way to look at it, because otherwise, we just beat ourselves up, and it would stop most women doing anything at all.”
How can programmes like Women in Innovation help overcome those challenges?
“I do think that women do tend to lack self-esteem quite often, and they feel they can’t do things, because we tend to be perfectionists, I think – we like to do things really well. We expect huge amounts of ourselves, and we like to feel confident about what we do before going out there and sharing an idea with the wider community. I think we doubt ourselves; we doubt what we bring, in a way that possibly men don’t so much. I think that does hold women back. I wonder whether, because women do multi-task, they feel that they need to be doing it all, rather than thinking, ‘Actually no, I can’t do this, what I need to do is get a team around me’.
“This programme plays a really important part in bringing the role models together as a group, and allowing people to share their journeys together – for them to see, ‘That’s completely normal, to be feeling like I am, and to be dealing with what I’m dealing with’, and I think that’s super important.
“I don’t think we have any excuses any more – I think we should all go for it. We only have one life, and if you see a gap in the market, and you think you can really make a difference to people, then why wouldn’t you try and get out there and do something about it? And if there are lots of women out there saying, ‘Yes, it’s possible, look at me, I’ve done it; look at this group of women, they’ve done it’, then that helps, doesn’t it?”
-Interview by Katharine Rooney
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