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Gail Brown started her natural food business, Thornleys, in May 2013 with the help of a Start Up Loan.

Thornleys provide a range of gluten and wheat free powder sauces and are suitable for people with coeliac disease. Gail talks to us about the challenges with finding suppliers and the importance of integrity in a business.

What does your business do?

We manufacture, package and distribute a blend of high grade ingredients, 100% natural, dry powder sauces. All of our sauces are certified wheat and gluten free.

What inspired you to start your business?

Both my daughter and I are coeliac (an autoimmune disease where gluten can damage the small intestine). On a trip to America in 2011, I noticed that gluten free food was widely available. My daughter said she felt normal there and in every restaurant we were handed a gluten free menu. After she tried an amazing pasta bake, and when I couldn’t find the same recipe back home in the UK, this inspired me to start Thornleys.

What research did you do when starting up?

I did a lot of research into how to make the dry powder sauces and I was fortunate that a family friend conducted a study into the rise in cases of coeliac disease to look at our target market. I wasn’t from the food industry and had to learn how to blend the powders and received some help from Manchester Metropolitan University with this.

How did you go about starting the business once you had the idea?

The first thing was to start perfecting the recipes which took around 12 months and I started doing this from my home. I sent the resulting mixes for testing and to be coeliac approved. This delayed the process of starting but it was important to me for the recipes to be certified. After the recipes were completed, I began designing a logo and packaging. To ensure that the label content was correct I approached Trading Standards. This was a priority as I didn’t want to take the final product to market until it was correct in all aspects.

How do you market your product?

In the last 12 months we have increased our social media presence and I have also changed the Thornleys website so that it is responsive over all platforms. The website is a great advert for the brand and our first website was not mobile friendly. I organised a lot of website testing to ensure that customers could easily purchase the product when online. I also regularly call dieticians and let them know about our products. From doing this we have managed to get our leaflets into the packages that are given to recently diagnosed coeliac patients in more than 90 hospitals. In addition Thornleys has featured in many British food magazines.

What is the Unique Selling Point (USP) of Thornleys?

We only use 100% natural ingredients and all of our products are mainstream as well as being certified gluten and wheat free so are suitable for people with coeliac disease.

How did you find suppliers for your business?

A big challenge when trying to get the recipes right was communicating with larger companies to get the ingredients for the powder sauces. Many of them wouldn’t listen to us as we were a start up and they only accepted orders for very large quantities. This meant that it took a long time to perfect the recipe. Eventually, I was able to get through to companies who would supply more readily, but it did take a lot of research and perseverance.

What is one piece of advice you would give to others wanting to start a food business?

My advice would be believe in yourself but make sure that you go to the correct companies, in particular suppliers who can offer you traceability. It was important for us to work with people from Environmental Health and Trading Standards, for peace of mind but also so that your customers trust you and know that you are reputable and have integrity.

Published on 16 June 2016

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