Best New Business 2019
Davina Steel … Baking the Difference
We talked to our Best New Business Winner 2019, Davina Steel, about her business and what made her enter the Best Business Women Awards.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I am a scientist and nutritionist. As a young child I hid bread under the bed, toothpaste in the freezer and a collection of worms in an old jam jar, to name but a few. Why? To find out what would happen to them. In the case of the latter, it was to see which end mud went in and other stuff came out (or, indeed, whether that mattered to the worm). At the age of ten, I made my first Sunday roast, watched over by Dad, even though the gravy was grim the family demolished the lot. From then on, cooking became a passion! I learnt to make bread with my Mum, and we created two loaves each Sunday afternoon. My Godmother gave me book tokens each birthday and Christmas, and I bought biology, chemistry, and cookery books. From that time, all I wanted to do was learn to teach others about how they could keep healthy.
I went on to get a Double First-Class honours degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry, with Clinical Nutrition. Soon after, I was an R&D graduate in the team that invented the first glucose biosensor for diabetics.
That’s when the bad times came and I was diagnosed with a brain tumour, I was to spend the next year undergoing intensive and invasive treatment. I survived and thrived against the odds. Partly due to the fantastic NHS treatment. But also due to my determination and knowledge of foods that heal.
Once recovered, I knew that I should use my qualifications and knowledge to help others more directly. So, I started working with people in need of nutritional advice.
Twenty-five years later, I would find myself under the curse of the “BIG C” once again. This time it was an aggressive and invasive breast cancer. Thanks to the NHS and my defiant attitude, I began calling myself a cancer THRIVER.
There’s one after-effect that I haven’t been able to shake off, and that’s my huge intolerance to gluten, and this was the reason I created my business. I couldn’t find anything I liked, so my husband set me the challenge of creating something myself. I knew I had the skills to do this but never thought it would turn into a business!
How I started my business
Following cancer treatment, I became severely intolerant to gluten. Missing the beautiful, artisan bread I’d loved since childhood, I embarked on a quest to create a replacement for gluten that would allow me to make amazing loaves of bread just like the ones I’d always eaten. The only gluten-free bread I could find was dry, sweet, crumbly and tasted of chemicals.
I came to realise the reason for this: it was just too difficult to make gluten-free bread without adding fat, sugar and an array of additives to recreate the structure of “normal” bread. Or was it? After trying every recipe; read any paper and book I could find and finally went back to basics to discover the structure and function of wheat and gluten so that I could emulate it using only natural ingredients.
After a few months of intensive research and baking creating things even the birds wouldn’t eat, I finally discovered the Holy Grail of Gluten Free. This was a beautiful bread that tasted so good you wanted to eat the whole loaf and then ask for another!
There is something magical about fresh bread. Our culture is pretty bread, obsessed. Whether we eat it at every meal or have to avoid it, bread shapes our lives. If you are gluten-free, it creates a fixation to find tasty alternatives. I believe it’s about time that those that can’t eat gluten have a seat at the family table to break bread together with everyone else.
From bread awards to a business!
I entered and won “The World Bread Awards” three times and gaining 31 medals to boot. These wins fired me up to share these artisan beauties with the world and start a business.
With 15 million people in this country avoiding gluten (due to Coeliac, intolerance or lifestyle choice) I realised that there was a sizeable market for GREAT gluten-free bread. My drive was to save the world from cardboard loaves.
That’s why my new team and I now create “The World’s Best Gluten-Free Bread”: no compromise, no chemicals … just delicious, award-winning bread packed with health-giving ingredients.
We created home bake kits for retail and launched these in October 2018. Having tried the kits, everyone asked when we would start producing baked products in volume. We sought investment to set up a commercial bakery to produce the in-demand products that hotels, restaurants and coffee shops wanted. Our award-winning focaccia, cantuccini, croissants, scones and savoury gluten-free snacks were sought after.
Why did you enter The Best Business Women Awards?
After winning the bread awards, we knew our bread was good enough. These awards were excellent in terms of the proof of the delicious taste. We had started to get our product’s into farm shops, hotels, coffee shops and smaller retailers. But we were struggling to get noticed by the major retailers because they wanted validation about us a business. There are so many small food businesses, and the big retailers need to sure you can deliver large orders and that you have robust procedures in place. So, we needed to show how strong we were as a business
Our awards strategy in 2019 was to enter a local and national business award. We decided to enter The New Business Category in the Essex Business Awards which we went on to win! For our national award we entered The Best Business Women Awards New Business Awards and were delighted when we won this as well.
After the award wins, the larger retailers started to take notice of us. It proved we had been externally judged as a business and led us to gain contracts in Co-Op and Waitrose. I do feel the awards made a real difference. We have other exciting plans in the pipeline.
What is your advice about entering awards?
Treat the entry the same as you would if are writing a business plan. Take time over your entry and make sure you get help from your accountant if you need it. My accountant helped me with the forecasting, which was very useful to us as a business as well as for awards entries. We made sure we created detailed evidence and wanted to ensure the judges had all the information they needed. We included our market research, detailed testimonials, and information on our products. We also included our figures which we knew would be critical in any awards submission.
Although entering awards is time-consuming, it is worth the effort for the benefit it brings to your business. My advice to anyone is just to it!
Check out the website and the products which you can buy online – great for anyone who wants tasty food gluten free.