Scottish Entrepreneur podcast - Chris Van Der Kuyl

Wednesday, 04 November 2021 15:29

Scottish Entrepreneur: Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne - Using her loaf

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Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne has changed people’s lives.

The woman behind the Genius range of gluten-free products has revolutionised a category which barely existed before her recipes hit the shelves.

“I saw there was a gap there - in terms of quality, that gap was enormous,” she told ScottishEntrepreneur.com last week.

The catalyst for the physiologist and Michelin-starred chef to act to fill that gap was seeing first hand the effect of gluten on her son, who has a severe intolerance.

“I was a determined mum but I also had a unique skillset to solve the problem of a decent alternative to bread,” she said. “I became quite compelled, it was like the ultimate challenge. A loaf of bread is incredibly complex, when you take out gluten you could drink the mixture, there’s no structure. So I spent 18 months creating that structure, making 14 loaves a day. I broke two ovens and a magimix!”

There was no single ‘aha’ moment, rather 12 memorable points when she realised a change had brought her closer to the final recipe. It was her son’s comment, “Mummy that was delicious can I have some more?” that signaled she had done it.

“Children don’t lie – they are still amongst my chief tasters!” she joked.

A further 18 months were needed to develop the recipe into a commercially viable product in partnership with a local gluten-free bakery – and then fate stepped in.

Her son’s schoolfriend’s dad tasted the bread and very quickly told her she had something special and he wanted to invest. Sir Bill Gammell – the entrepreneur behind independent oil and gas exploration company Cairn Energy - remains involved in the company to this day and was instrumental in its success.

“My plan had been to start locally, build up a marketing story and take it to the national retailers at some point,” she said. “Bill said, no Lucinda, you have something groundbreaking here and you need a team right now to build it into a strong brand – before someone else does it.”

It’s a lesson Lucinda learned early on, and one which she passes on to any would-be entrepreneurs she meets – take advice and investment from people who are as passionate about what you’re doing as you are. She also quickly accepted that a successful entrepreneur knows where their strengths lie.

“I don’t really think I have a big ego, I’m quite a matter-of-fact person,” she said. “All entrepreneurs have some talent that’s brought them to where they are – you have to give the other areas of business to people who are much stronger than you. I always knew I could bring value to the company working closely with the product team and also taking on a kind of ambassadorial role. I’m the best person to tell the brand story. It’s about being comfortable with what you bring.”

She also embraces her multiple roles as entrepreneur, role model and mother. She feels passionately that women should act on their business ideas, using one of her favourite quotes: “An adventure is a crisis you accept” to inspire them. Her sons inspire her – they feel a real sense of ownership with the Genius brand, given how it came into being. Her husband is a source of endless support – “He can and does pick up the pieces,” she joked.

Scotland has played its role too. Originally from the south east of England, she says she has been ‘bowled over’ by the support of the business community here.

“It’s easy to meet people with huge experience behind them,” she said. “The Scots really celebrate success and want business to thrive. Scotland has been very kind to me.”

Although the company grew quickly, turning over £23m within three years, the focus is very much on quality. Gluten-free bakery is difficult in practice, the benefit being that it’s difficult for competitors to copy them. However, recipes behave differently in different countries. Licensing the products to Glutino, the American gluten-free company, meant doing a lot of work with quality control, and this experience has taught Lucinda that expansion cannot be at the expense of taste.

“Decent gluten-free bakery has only really been around for six years or so, we’re learning on the hoof, we’re completely pioneering,” she said. “We have millions of consumers who are incredibly vocal about what they like and what they don’t like. There’s a burgeoning Genius community but there’s also a wider gluten-free community watching every move we make as a business, scanning online and on shelves for new products.”

The Genius range is currently available in the UK, Australia, the Middle East and the US. The market in Europe has huge potential; Lucinda reckons they are ‘about five years behind’ when it comes to gluten-free products.

“We don’t benchmark against other gluten-free products, we benchmark against mainstream,” she said. “We want to see all of our products as good as or better than the mainstream alternative because then we really are normalising people’s lives. We will really have done a great job when the availability of our products is as good as any other mainstream brand both in retail and in food service.”

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