ONE thing that has never been lacking in the Scottish food and drink industry is innovation and ambition – and female start-up duo Emer Bustard and Sally Beattie have both in spades, their Lanarkshire-based Lazy Day Foods business fast making its mark in the burgeoning free-from and vegan markets.
Founded back in 2006 by the friends who were inspired by their own personal and family dietary restrictions, award-winning Lazy Day Foods now operates out of a gluten, wheat, dairy, egg and nut-free bakery in Harthill having invested more than £1.5 million in the business in recent years.
Producing a growing range of cakes, biscuits and traybakes, the company’s products are suitable for coeliacs, vegans, people with lactose intolerance, and dairy and nut allergies.
“We’ve gone from a kitchen table business with a bag of gluten-free flour and tempering chocolate by hand to being awarded our first nationwide contract with Waitrose in 2008 and now supplying all the major UK retailers,” said Dr Beattie. “It’s been an incredible journey and moving to the new, purpose-built premises four years ago has given us both the motivation and capacity to grow.
“From starting in our kitchens and going to farmers’ markets every week to proper premises and then into a 26,500sqft bakery has been an incredible journey and we have ambitious growth plans ahead. We wholeheartedly thank Scottish Enterprise, North Lanarkshire Council and industry group Scotland Food & Drink, among others, for their support and guidance along the way.”
Ms Bustard and Dr Beattie also work closely with food and drink industry veteran David Kilshaw, who chaired the industry strategy group that led to the creation of Scotland Food & Drink. He has been our chairman of Lazy Day Foods for over 10 years and “has been pivotal in leading our board during that time. David has encouraged and supported us through each stage of the business and will continue to play a key part over this next exciting phase of growth”.
Both food scientists who met when they were working at Kerry Foods, Ms Bustard and Dr Beattie could find very few indulgent, high-quality treats suitable for allergy sufferers and were conscious that those with specific dietary requirements were often singled out at functions and events as being “different”.
“When our children were young, going to birthday parties was hard because allergies meant they had to take their own food with them, or when you go out and have to choose from a different menu,” Ms Bustard noted. “When you’re different from everyone else it creates a sense of isolation and if you’re the parent catering for a party being attended by children with allergies – well, it’s a huge responsibility and extremely stressful.”
The Lazy Day Foods solution? To create great-tasting, high-quality, indulgent bakery products that everyone can enjoy.
One such product is what Lazy Day Foods claims to be the first vegan and free-from vanilla cake for the UK market, listed in Sainsbury’s stores in May. Presented in the style of a vanilla sponge traybake topped with a vanilla frosting and decorated with multi-coloured sugar confetti, it’s targeted at the children’s market.
Dr Beattie said: “The key thing is it tastes great and allows vegan and free-from consumers to enjoy cakes like everyone else does. We listen to our customers and are led by what people want – and that’s a cake that addresses a wide range of food allergy issues and is vegan in one.
“It’s really interesting because when we launched the business the free-from sector was still very small and vegan or plant-based eating wasn’t in the headlines the way it is today,” she added. “Some of the advice we got at the time was to embrace your core values and that strategy has really paid off for us.
“Both the free-from market and veganism were very niche and I don’t think either of us imagined that they would become so well developed but we stuck with our core values and our commitment to use only the best possible natural, free-from ingredients in order to ensure the quality of our products, for example, Belgian dairy-free chocolate.”
Indeed, the number of vegans in the UK has increased by 445,428 people (40 per cent) over the past 12 months with vegans and vegetarians set to make up one-quarter of the British population in 2025, according to The Vegan Society and Finder. And with Natasha’s Law requiring food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on foods that are pre-packed for direct sale due to come into force in October, the free-from sector is very much in the spotlight.
Like other businesses, Lazy Day Foods took a hit during the pandemic and had to furlough some staff but everyone is back and “working like crazy” in what is the firm’s fifteenth anniversary year. Covid added a layer of complexity to the business but the upside was freeing up time to recalibrate and plan for the next stage of the journey.
“Our foodservice business fell off a cliff when the pandemic hit but what we did was use that to see where new opportunities are and focus on new product development (NPD),” noted Ms Bustard. “In the last 12 months, we’ve been investing heavily and our plans are to double the size of the business in the next two years.
“We brought in new people to support NPD, sales and marketing, and what the pandemic has also hit home for us is how invested our people are in the business – they understood why they were furloughed and are back with the same commitment and passion that they had pre-pandemic.”
Dr Beattie added: “Our amazing team don’t just meet our expectations but always exceed them – that’s what really drives a business and inspires Emer and I.”