At the end of last year, we shared Series 1, Episode 2 of our Young Foodies Blue Plaster Podcast. In this episode our hosts Andy Allen and Young Foodies co-founder Chris Green were joined by former Pudology founder, Lucy Orton, to pick her brains and get an honest perspective on her brand journey…
What was Pudology and why did you start it?
Pudology was a vegan, gluten-free desserts and yoghurts business that I started about 7/8 years ago now. The reason why I started the business was ultimately because I had a passion for working with food and loved developing new products. I had always worked in the food industry so it felt like it was the right path for me.
It’s funny because 10 years ago the market was completely different to how it is now and there was a massive gap in the market for vegan, gluten-free products. Plant-based wasn’t even a thing back then and people on restricted diets always found it difficult to find any products they could actually eat. Based on all of this I thought to myself “this is going to be easy… right?”.
Did you have a clear plan in place when you first started?
Well… I had as clear a plan as I ever plan.
I loved the branding side of things, so getting that right was really important to me. Other than getting the brand right, the plan for me was mainly retail, but I was probably, to my detriment, too retail focus for too long.
What part of your brand journey did you enjoy the most?
Looking back on the journey now, my favourite days were in the kitchen. At the time though it was awful, I felt like I needed 10 of me. We were manufacturing but I just didn’t have time to do all the other bits, which I was actually better at. If I could go back and do it all again, I think I tried to do too much, on my own, for too long. I knew for a long time that I needed other people and other brains and more capabilities. I still don’t know what it was that stopped me. I did eventually bring more people onboard but it was either, they just weren’t the right people, or they were the right people but it just wasn’t the right time and that was the real frustration.
I think part of it was because I knew I had the experience, I had worked in the retailers and I knew where they were coming from but it’s true that the more people you know and the more advice you have the better. It’s really important to think about this and be honest about it – who else do you need and what else do you need?
What were the biggest challenges that you faced?
There were times where we would take a step forward and then take 10 steps back. We heard from our customers over and over again “Where are the products, we love them but we just can’t find them?”. This was a running theme for the entire 7 years, of people wanting the products but not being able to buy them and then they would be on the supermarket shelf and they wouldn’t sell, so they would be delisted. There was this constant frustration of how to build up brand awareness. There were some pockets of the country that would sell super well but then that wasn’t consistent.
I think we eventually realised that in order to make the business a success we needed to make the whole process more professional. We knew we couldn’t do this ourselves. This was a really difficult decision for us because the level of investment that was required would have been a lot. I was always open to looking at external funding but I was always really nervous to give away equity. I think as time went on I became less concerned about that but still didn’t do it. Looking back, I think if we had raised, it might have given us a better opportunity to raise brand awareness.
Was there a moment where you realised that things were starting to unravel?
Every time we lost some business there was always someone to replace it, and more – which kept me going.
In the final year, our biggest customers were Sainsbury’s, Asda and Ocado. I was very conscious of this in the last 18 months as I could see the market changing and more and more competitors were cropping up. I was worried because we were so heavily invested in retail. Foodservice was always something I wanted to do, but I didn’t understand the world of foodservice as well as retail and once again I felt the pressure of their only being 1 of me. I was at this point working with a fantastic sales team who had real strengths in Food Service, but we weren’t getting the traction fast enough to compensate for the loss of the Sainsbury’s business.
On top of that shelf life was always an issue for us. I had finally found something that would increase our shelf life and it was game-changing but we just didn’t get there in time. Had that happened four years ago we probably would have been in a different position.
I think what’s interesting is that over the past few months, I have had the chance to reflect on the past few years. When it came to the end I had completely fallen out of love with what I was doing but I started to remember the reason I had started working in the food industry in the first place and the passion I had for product development.
How long did it take you to make the decision to end the business?
It actually happened quite quickly. We had some potential new listings in the pipeline but we knew we had this huge job to do to make sure that these new customers actually knew our products were there. It was a big job and it takes so much time before you actually get any traction. We were sending loads and loads of samples out and were getting great feedback but things just weren’t budging.
I looked at my finances and for the first time, it wasn’t that we didn’t have enough cash flow, it was that we simply didn’t have enough business. I always thought to myself how bad would this have to get before enough is enough? When I finally realised that this was the case I was heartbroken, it was really really hard. Once I had admitted this to myself, that was when the healing began.
If you had to share one piece of advice to fellow founders in the F&B space what would it be?
It’s important to remember that you are more than your business and you are not defined by your business. I think if I’d have really known and believed this over my 7-year journey I would have been a lot kinder to myself.