Genius gluten-free bread proves a clever move
Couple strong motivation – in this case, a personal gluten-intolerance – with the determination to improve on the over-processed gluten free breads already on the market, add in a touch of good luck, and you get a product that’s rocketed in just three years to become the UK’s ninth largest bread brand overall, with 11% annual growth, and an eye on international expansion. This case study is from New Nutrition Business, August 2012
You might think calling your brand ‘Genius’ would be asking for trouble. Pride, after all, comes before a fall. But in the case of Scotland-based Genius, the gluten-free bakery brand, the name seems quite appropriate.
Since it was launched just three years ago, Genius has grown to take 51% of the UK’s free-from bread category. It boasts overall brand retail sales worth more than £20 million ($31 million/€25.5 million) and is currently enjoying annual growth to the tune of 11%.
Its flagship sliced bread, which accounts for 50% of sales, was the UK’s ninth largest bread brand overall in 2011 with sales of £10 million ($15.7 million/€12.7 million) according to The Grocer’s most recent Top Products Survey.
Launched initially only as a bread, the Genius brand now encompasses a range of more than 20 products, which are sold nationwide in all major UK supermarkets. Further, Genius has carved out a market in North America and has its sights set on a rollout across Europe.
The brains behind Genius is Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne (left), the mother of a son with an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and which, as a result, is found in a range of popular foods including bread, pasta, cakes, pastries and breakfast cereals. Gluten is a valuable component in food because it helps binds it together – it is, for example, responsible for giving bread dough its distinctive elastic quality and structure. However, it is also associated with health problems.
A small number of people have coeliac disease, which means they are unable to eat gluten at all because it can irritate and damage the lining of their stomach, preventing the absorption of essential nutrients. A larger – and growing number – of people consider themselves to be gluten intolerant. They believe gluten is responsible for a range of health side-effects, including bloating, constipation, fatigue and headaches.
The story behind Genius begins in 2007, when Bruce-Gardyne, with a science degree behind her, published a cookbook titled ‘How to Cook for Food Allergies’, which explained how to replace common allergen ingredients in popular recipes so those with allergies could enjoy them. Five years after publication, the title still ranks in Amazon’s top ten of books about food allergies.
In spite of this success, Bruce-Gardyne still wasn’t satisfied that she had found the perfect freefrom recipe for a food that, for millions of people, is an everyday staple – bread.
“The more of a recipe you have to substitute, the harder it is,” she explains. “Bread is 50% wheat flour. If you remove the wheat flour you’ve got water, a bit of yeast and some salt and sugar, and that’s about it. It’s much harder to replace all of the properties and characteristics that wheat flour gives bread.”
Bruce-Gardyne subsequently dedicated herself to creating a gluten-free bread that was as good as normal bread – and therefore good enough to be sold in supermarkets. Why this level of dedication?
“You eat bread all the time,” she says. “You eat bread for breakfast, you eat it for a snack mid-morning, you have a sandwich for lunch. Without it, life becomes very hard.”
There were, of course, already glutenfree breads on the market. However, she says, these fell far below the quality she was seeking. “I knew there was a huge need for a decent gluten-free bread out there because I simply couldn’t find one. I looked everywhere. It was all very dry, crumbly and sandy – and quite often smelled and tasted strongly of chemicals because they would paste it together with gum. It had a long ingredients list, with lots of unfamiliar-sounding chemical names on it. It was unfit for purpose.”
She continues: “I felt that if I could come up with something we enjoyed as a family, then there would probably be lots of other people out there who would also enjoy it. I wanted the ingredients list to be as short as possible. I was very much on a mission to take the bread to market, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do it.”
Enter a fairy godfather
In the end, good fortune played a role. Bruce-Gardyne’s children attended the same school as a businessman called Sir Bill Gammell, who is gluten intolerant. The two parents would often discuss Bruce-Gardyne’s project at the school gates and he urged her to drop some bread round to him when it was ready. She did – and he loved it.
But Sir Bill – as his knighthood suggests – wasn’t just any businessman. In 1988 he had founded an oil exploration business. The company is now one of the UK’s largest companies and Sir Bill is one of Britain’s wealthiest men. His response to Bruce- Gardyne’s gluten-free bread was to get involved, as she recalls: “He said: ‘Let me get people around you who can help you build a brand, so that you can support this project properly’.”
|Ingredients for Genius' Original Brown Bread|
Water, Cornflour, Potato Starch, Rapeseed Oil, Tapioca Starch, Dried Egg White, Rice Bran, Treacle, Yeast, Cellulose, Stabiliser (Xanthan Gum), Sugar Beet Flakes, Salt, Millet Flakes, Preservative (Calcium Propionate).
With Sir Bill’s financial backing, Bruce-Gardyne was able to hire a branding expert and a team of people experienced in negotiating with retailers. The brand was well placed to launch swiftly because even before Sir Bill’s involvement, Bruce-Gardyne had been working with bakery manufacturer Finsbury Foods, at its gluten-free factory in Bathgate in Scotland, to ensure her bread recipe could be produced on a commercial scale.
“I had already got the bakery in place and it was a case of: how do we take it to market? And that was the team Bill put around me, to do that.”
To achieve differentiation on the market, Bruce-Gardyne had formulated her bread in a way that minimised the use of gums to bind it together. “We came up with a soft, fresh bread that smelt and tasted natural because I had stripped out as many of the ingredients as I could. It is a very finely balanced recipe that relies on all of the ingredients to have a very important role in the recipe. Together they produce something that doesn’t rely heavily on gums.”
Bruce-Gardyne researched the bread among consumers to gauge their reaction. It was overwhelmingly positive. “People were crying as they ate it, saying: ‘Oh my goodness I haven’t tasted bread like this for 30 years!’”
The first retailer to agree to meet Genius was Tesco. The buyer, says Bruce-Gardyne, was “blown away”. In April 2009, the bread went on sale in 700 Tesco stores and, from there, things “snowballed”.
She recalls: “The consumer response was massive. People would queue up on the days they knew it was delivered into store to buy six loaves for their freezer because they were worried they wouldn’t be able to find it again.”
Further listings followed, and now Genius products are available in every major supermarket chain across the UK. Since launch in 2009, the number of products marketed by Genius has risen to 22 and includes gluten-free cakes, pizzas, pies and – just launched – croissants and pain au chocolats.
The gluten-free consumer
Genius has achieved penetration in the UK market of about 7%, but Bruce-Gardyne believes this could grow to become as high as 30%. She says Genius has segmented its consumers in four groups, as follows:
• Have to's – “Our core consumers who have been with us right from the beginning. These are people who are diagnosed coeliacs and people with gluten intolerance, who absolutely have to avoid gluten.”
• Better to's – “They know they feel better without gluten but haven’t been diagnosed. They might have arthritis or poor skin, or they might suffer from fatigue or bloating.”
• Like to's – “People who like to reduce the amount of gluten they have in the diet, not because of serious health reasons but because they feel better being off gluten, or eating less. It might be for sports reasons – they feel it helps their training. They tend to be quite healthy people.”
• Considerers – “A great big group of people who are considering a gluten-free diet. They dip in and out.”
To market Genius, the company has used a mix of techniques. It aired a TV commercial in 2010, which increased sales by 50%. It employs a dedicated digital brand manager to engage with consumers online through Facebook and Twitter.
Its latest marketing campaign is “The food that loves you back”, which is running through its own websiteand in conjunction with UK newspaper the Daily Mail.
Bruce-Gardyne says: “It’s all about the fact that our food makes you feel better. It doesn’t make you feel bloated or tired – all the things that you get with wheat products.”
Another key marketing strategy, says Bruce-Gardyne, is simply to have products in as many relevant categories as possible in order to increase visibility in store. In most cases, however, Genius bakery products are stocked by supermarkets in the gluten-free aisle.
Bruce-Gardyne says this isn’t a problem in terms of attracting existing free-from shoppers to the brand. However, she adds: “Retailers may benefit from siting some leading gluten-free products within their mainstream categories to draw in new shoppers to the category.”
As a result of the success of Genius, others in the bakery industry have cottoned on to the opportunity offered by gluten-free.
A watershed moment was undoubtedly the entry into the category of market-leading bread brand Warburtons. Bruce-Gardyne says this was a positive development. “With every company that comes into this space, awareness grows.”
If there is one thing currently holding back Genius products, and others in the gluten-free category, it is certainly price. A 535g loaf of Genius sliced brown bread retails for £2.90 ($4.55/€3.70) in Tesco – or £5.40 ($8.47/€6.90) per kg. This compares with £1.35 ($2.12/€1.73) for an 800g loaf of conventional sliced brown bread from Warburtons – or £1.70 ($2.66/€2.17) per kg.
But rising awareness will help reduce the price of gluten-free bread, says Bruce-Gardyne. “The more awareness there is, the more gluten-free products need to be made, which means we can then address cost issues.”
Genius bread has won numerous awards, and recently Bruce-Gardyne herself was named Ernst & Young Scotland Entrepreneur of the Year. The brand is also making waves overseas and plans to take its products into any country where wheat is a major component of the diet and gluten intolerance is an issue.
In Canada, Genius has already teamed up with a bakery called Glutino, which makes its products under a co-branding licence for the US and Canadian markets. In Europe, a division of Finsbury Foods is marketing Genius products in Spain. Genius is also in the process of developing a gluten-free baguette as part of a bid to crack France.
In spite of its ambitions, Bruce-Gardyne says Genius will always remain in touch with its roots – and this will be key to its success in the face of increasingly stiff competition.
“One of the reasons we’re so different is our relationship with our consumers. People identify with the fact that the founder lives with gluten intolerance on a daily basis.”
Quality will also remain paramount, she adds. “We will only take products to market that are as good as, or better than, the mainstream equivalent. It’s really important to us that we are not just another poor quality gluten-free brand. I live with it at home on a daily basis and I know what people are going through on these restricted diets. There is no point in disappointing people. All of our products are designed to thrill.”
First published in NNB's August 2012 Newsletter
About New Nutrition Business
New Nutrition Business is a London-based research, publishing and consulting company which specialises in researching, analysing and forecasting developments in the business of food, nutrition and health around the world.
The strategies and success factors it has identified in the 1990s have become the benchmarks for strategy development and brand positioning in the worldwide nutrition business. It works with companies all around the world, from the United States to Australia and from Sweden to South Africa.
New Nutrition Business is headed by executive director Julian Mellentin (right), one of the world’s very few global specialists in the business of food, nutrition and health.
He is the editor-in-chief of New Nutrition Business and Kids Nutrition Report, the only industry journal in the world on the rapidly developing kids’ nutritional marketplace. See