How I Started an
Artisan ‘Free-From’ Food Company
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Shari-Leone Fryer and I’m the owner and Founder of Heavenly Free From. We are an artisan free from food company specialising in gluten-free and vegan food products.
All of our products are free from gluten, wheat, oats, dairy, egg and soy.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I think my love of food started with my grandmothers. I used to love watching them cook, using produce grown from their gardens.
I’ve now been in the food/catering industry for over half my life. I began with my first part-time job working in Burger King as an ‘almost’ 16-year-old. A few years after leaving Burger King I completed an NVQ working in the kitchen of my father’s pub. This is where I first had the opportunity to get creative with food and I loved it!
During this time, I had some personal matters affect me, and the stress I put on myself resulted in the lactose intolerance I had as a baby returning. Fast forward a few years and continued stress, I became reactive to dairy as a whole, rather than just lactose, so no more goat’s milk or sheep’s cheese. This, over time, progressed to Gluten, then Eggs, then Oats, then Soy, and so much more.
Because of the development of these reactions, some being mild, some being quite severe, and some being allergic reactions, it led me down a different route of learning. Gut health, different ways to use different products, vegan cooking, gluten-free baking. These were all incredible learning curves! I also went through a period of study, learning about Nutrition, Herbal Science and a lot more.
I began to join lots of groups on Facebook and noticed a lot of people also had similar food sensitivities, and that a lot of gluten-free food wasn’t vegan, or if it was, it contained soy. Or, if it was free from a lot of allergens, it just didn’t taste that great, or the texture was a bit ‘off’’.
I’d always wanted to have my own food business, but I just wasn’t sure what, until I realised that I could provide an answer to so many peoples’ problems!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
During the start of forming Heavenly Free From we faced and overcame many challenges. One of our first challenges was to create products that would incorporate a longer shelf life.
Another challenge was the sourcing of ingredients. When you are not a limited company it can be difficult to source ingredients on a small(ish) scale for the best price – you have to do A LOT of shopping around.
Our first major issue was Gluten-free pastry. The supplier would not sell to us directly as we are not a limited company. The only other way was to visit every supermarket market in the local (and not so local area) to buy up the stock that was on the shelves to meet our demand. As you can imagine the fuel and time taken was quite great until Ocado came to our rescue! Daily, we could have 99 boxes of pastry delivered to our door as long as we ordered in advance.
Our biggest issue that we face right now is space to grow. We are artisan company, starting out home baking and taking our product to market – quite literally ‘to market’ as we attended over 35 events in 9 months to begin making ourselves and our brand known more widely.
As we have grown to accommodate the demand for our products, we have now taken over a large part of our house and living space. It can be tight from occasion to occasion. We have rented a small lock-up off-site for additional storage, as well as being allowed use of a friends business premises for additional storage too.
Space and figuring out our next move/up scale is definitely our current problem! But not such a bad problem to have!
Who is your target market?
At Heavenly Free From our target market are coeliacs and individuals with other dietary requirements. I would like to add that our products are all vegan friendly, with many of our products being refined sugar-free too!
With myself, the owner of Heavenly Free From, having many food sensitivities, I understand the struggles faced finding food to cater for you and, more importantly, food that actually tastes good and you can enjoy. Hence our company slogan “Free From Food Should Never Be Tasteless”.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Last year, we used social media, events, cookery demonstrations and promoting our local stockists as great methods of gaining new customers and getting our brand known and our name out there.
Our current marketing methods are unpaid social media marketing, linking up with bloggers in our niche and general word of mouth. However, paid methods of advertising is something we are now looking into.
Any special offers we run get posted into various niche specific groups on Facebook.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Since the launch of Heavenly Free From we found that attending events and food shows, marketing our brand in a ‘direct to customer’ manner worked really well. We grew a support network of local customers who would pay attention to our social media, looking to see where they could find us next and come buy some more goodies.
Also, the health food shops we sell in we have developed many return customers and demand for other products through this path.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We are a very small team right now, just myself, the owner, and my partner, Michael.
I bake, design and manage the website and interact with customers. He helps with packaging, transport to and from events, event set up and at the moment, he is also helping with local deliveries. We have previously had a couple of ad- hoc workers that helped when getting ready for large events.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We only really use SumUp for in-person payment processing and Square and Stripe for our online payment processors. We will be looking into Quickbooks/Xero for accounting, and other CRM software to help us with customer follow up etc.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Honestly, I’m not sure if we would do anything differently. Each step we’ve taken has been an important learning experience. Had we not have gone through that learning, it may have impacted how we worked, or not worked.
I still struggle with timekeeping and planning how long something will take me etc, but, as I said, everything is a learning curve, and that learning is always ongoing.
Mistakes have been plenty! Not booking in orders for pick up and not realising how much something was going to cost to post (32KG parcel going to Glastonbury on a next day delivery – costing over £65!). Not buying enough of an ingredient! Disposing of an ingredient as it wasn’t used before its ‘best before’ date and losing out on money! Not having the website up and running sooner… but if you’re learning as you go, you should also know that you’re probably being too hard on yourself, so give yourself a break!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being able to dictate my time to some extent.
When you have no set hours, one day you could be working 12-16 hours just to catch up, or so the following day you can take a bit of a step back, enjoy the sunshine and have a much more chilled day.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Doing EVERYTHING. When you start out, you’ll rarely have the funds to employ someone to help, so you’ll have to get to grips with the fact you’re ‘on your own’.
Juggling social media, baking, packing, delivering, product development and so much more can feel like a never-ending battle, but you’ll climb the mountain and realise you’re capable of more than you knew.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
We are mostly self-inspired. Due to my own dietary requirements, I have found it extremely difficult to find places to eat when I am out. It can be frustrating for myself and many others in the same position, thus leading me to figure out weird and wonderful ways of using different ingredients to create something that’s quite similar to being ‘normal’
A book that I have found to be a great help for us is “Sell Your Specialty Food” by Stephen F Hall.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In 2-3 years we would love to be set up in our own premises with a few employees and have a larger scale of production.
Although I can still see us attending food festivals and events promoting our business too. We enjoy them and like to believe we add a fun aspect to food festivals. We enjoy conversing with each and every individual person we meet and having long conversations with them where possible.
During these events, we not only grow our following and sell goods, but it is also a great way to research and hear from people their dietary problems they are facing, gauge an idea of how we can solve these problems, and produce more and more exciting products.
This is something we are passionate about, growing our business and educating others that free from food shouldn’t be free from taste. We aim to share this sentiment with many and pass on knowledge of different dietary requirements and how to help people with differing requirements.