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Blackwood ‘free from’ manufacturer sees record growth

Just Love vegan cake

A Blackwood based manufacturer of free from celebration cakes has grown its turnover by 65% with support from a New Product Development affiliate who joined the company through a Welsh Government and EU backed project.

Established in 2010, the Just Love Food Company sells its range of allergy-friendly celebration cakes to many of the UK’s biggest retailers, including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose. Headed up by Mike Woods, he set up the business when he discovered how difficult it was to buy nut free celebration cakes for his children, who suffer from severe allergies.

Pictured: Mike Woods and Justyna Borowska

Mike Woods, chief executive of Just Love Food Company, said: “Before the Just Love Food Company, there wasn’t a single shop-bought birthday cake on the market which was guaranteed to be nut free. Now, we employ around 100 people and also produce gluten free, milk free and egg free cakes.”

In 2019, Mike saw an opportunity to further grow the business by specialising in vegan, free from cakes.

“We’ve very much come at it from an allergy-based perspective. It guaranteed there would be no ‘may contain egg’ or no ‘may contain milk’ warnings on the product,” said Mike.

To deliver the desired growth in the business, Mike also had to expand Just Love’s technical capabilities and so turned to ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre at Cardiff Metropolitan University for support.

“I spoke to the team at ZERO2FIVE and asked how they could help and when I heard about the Project HELIX Knowledge Transfer Programme, it just felt perfect,” said Mike.

The Project HELIX Knowledge Transfer Programme, which is delivered by ZERO2FIVE, employs part-funded technical or sales and marketing affiliates and embeds them within Welsh food and drink manufacturers with full support from the ZERO2FIVE team.

Mike said: “It’s tough when you’re in the middle of a pandemic; what can you afford when you’ve got ambitions? Could I go out and pay the full going rate for a technical person? No, I couldn’t. The Knowledge Transfer Programme was very much a bridge that enabled us to grow the business in a difficult financial environment.”

In 2021, Just Love Foods recruited Justyna Borowska as a New Product Development (NPD) affiliate. With five years’ experience in food manufacturing, Justyna had previously worked as a food technologist and quality technician for a bakery and cake manufacturer.

At Just Love Foods, Justyna works with NPD manager Lisa Rogers to focus on supplier technical compliance, risk assessing ingredients for the presence of allergens.

Mike said: “If we need new raw materials to develop new product lines then we’ve got to work with suppliers who we can develop trust in and know they’re going to deliver. We’ve also got to be confident that the suppliers who’ve been with us for a long time, can grow and develop with us.”

Since joining the company over a year ago, Justyna has developed a host of new skills.

Justyna Borowska, New Product Development (NPD) affiliate, Just Love Foods, said:

“I’ve learnt a lot about the different stages of new product development and what retailers are looking for when they want to buy a product. I’ve also learnt how important it is to produce cakes which are safe for people with allergies. It’s a difficult process, but it’s very rewarding.”

Justyna clearly sees the benefits of the Knowledge Transfer Programme’s links with the team at ZERO2FIVE.

“I really appreciate the support from the technologists at ZERO2FIVE. I can ask my mentor for advice whenever I need it,” she said.

Justyna’s arrival at Just Love Foods has enabled Mike to deliver the business growth he intended.

“Since Justyna has been on board our turnover has grown by over 65% and it wouldn’t have been possible without those more robust technical structures in place. The Project HELIX Knowledge Transfer Programme has helped the business grow and it’s helped put a foundation down that will help continue growth,” said Mike.