From Cheesey Wotsits to coconut macaroons…
As a bright young Economics graduate, back in 1986, Jeremy Woods
Three years of selling ingredients proved to be enough and in 1989 Jeremy moved on to Golden Wonder Crisps, at that point owned by the Dalgety UK, where he found himself marketing the much loved ‘Cheesey Wotsits’ and,
Cheesy Wotsits and the coeliac community
However, it was the ‘Cheesey Wotsits’ that proved to be the more useful brief as ‘Cheesey Wotsists’ just happened to made maid of maize (corn) and therefore, gluten free and one of the few snacks that coeliacs could eat. Constant contact with grateful, ‘Cheesey Wotsists’ munching coeliacs gave him an insight into how desperate coeliacs were, especially back in the early 1990s, to find anything vaguely reasonable to eat. More importantly, thanks to his training in ingredients, it allowed him to understand the problems faced both by coeliac consumers and by those hoping to manufacture foods for them as so many snack foods, even if their base ingredients were wheat/gluten free, used refined wheat flour as a carrier for their flavourings.
Meanwhile, Dalgety had sold its brands to the US giant CPC/Knorr – and Jeremy was having a ball. ‘Mr Cheesey Whats its’/Pot Noodle, took on the roles of Mr Knorr, Mr Marmite and Mr Bovril, in due course becoming head of UK marketing. At which point his American bosses transferred him to New Jersey to join the global marketing team. His take on the transfer was that he was shipped in as a relatively youthful (significantly younger than the rest of the US team) Brit to shake and stir – which he did very happily for a further two years. At which point CPC/Knorr was sold to Unilever – who already had plenty of young shaking and stirring Brits of their own.
Stiletto Foods, Fanny Craddock and coconut macaroons...
Meanwhile… back in London, a small company called Stiletto Foods was manufacturing biscuits, including a coconut macaroon which just happened to be gluten free. They were selling them in the London area under the brand name of Mrs Crimble’s. In fact, Stiletto had been in business since the early 1980s when they made home recipe biscuits (not GF) endorsed by TV chef Fanny Craddock and to her recipes.
And then Tesco...
Then, in 2002, along came Patricia Wheway of Tesco fame, desperately searching for freefrom products to launch the new Tesco freefrom range – and found the Mrs Crimble’s macaroons. They were an immediate success and a year later, when Jeremy returned from New Jersey seeking pastures new, Stiletto were struggling to meet the demands of dealing with larger, more technically hungry retailers and so the company was up for sale.
Remembering his experiences with coeliacs and the ‘Cheesey Whotsist’ and seeing Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s new interest in freefrom as a portent of things to come, Jeremy bought Stiletto Foods – and got in touch with his old friend Angela Mumby from Lucas Ingredients days and Mark Speller, a local friend with a background in sales, printing and packaging.
The new Stiletto Foods
The new Stiletto Foods launched with six Mrs Crimble’s products (three coconut macaroons – all gluten free – and three Dutch apple cakes – wheat (but not gluten), egg and dairy free) and four big ideas, three of which, at least, they have managed to stick with.
'No compromise on taste'
Remembering how desperate his ‘Cheesey Wotsits’ coeliacs had been for ‘nice’ food Jeremy decided that the primary requirement for any product they sold was that it should taste good – the secondary requirement was that it should be freefrom. Thus in a single move he took Mrs Crimbles’ products from being ‘special diet’ into the main stream – which is, of course, where the macaroons had started life. The two mantras of the company which remain as relevant today as in 2003 are:
After years marketing international brands, Jeremy also understood how importance of design. It must not look ‘special diety’ but appeal to a main stream shopper while offering reliable freefrom credentials. Clean, simple, attractive, unfussy and strongly branded.
Aware of how high a premium was (and still is) carried by many freefrom foods, Stiletto decided that as far as was humanly possible, they would keep the prices of their freefrom products within a maximim 10% of those of the non free-from equivalent – and so far, with the exception of their new fresh bread, they have managed to do so.
Free of what?
The fourth big idea was to create a bakery range which included products suitable for all allergies (not just gluten free but dairy and egg free as well) but, although many of the Mrs Crimble’s products do not contain dairy as an ingredient, they have found themselves increasingly channelled into, and recognised for, gluten free.
From 6 to 40 proudcts in 7 years...
So, 2003 – two products sold in Tesco’s freefrom fitment and a few shops around London; 2010 – 40 products available countrywide in supermarkets, health food stores, delis and corner shops and, increasingly, on garage forecourts, service stations and, as individual wraps, in cafés. How did they get there?
They started at the Food and Drink Expo (Grocer) trade show where even their six products attracted a lot of interest. By 2004 Angela, now working on a consultancy basis for them, had developed gluten-free peanut cookies and brownies. So in November 2004 they took a stand at the BBC Good Food Show – and were mobbed; then the Bath and West Show – mobbed again. Six years later they cover 35 consumer shows a year at all of which they talk to customers, allow them to taste the range and sell all the products they can get onto the stand. That is virtually all the marketing that they do.
How successful it is can be judged by the fact that Mrs Crimbles’s products are now stocked by all major supermarkets, all major wholeasalers, corner shop groups such as Spa and Nisa, Shell garages and Asda cafés.
Meanwhile, under Angela’s guidance, the range has grown from six products to 40 including a wide range of mixes, savoury snacks, rice and corn cakes, crackers, cookies, muffins, the original macaroons and apple cakes and, this year, a fresh bread – winner of the FreeFrom Food Bread award in 2010.
Manufacturing and production
Mrs Crimble’s does all of their own product development and ingredient sourcing and ensures all products meet their very specific and tight requirements thus retaining absolute control over both recipes and production. Their current range of 40 products are made in a number of specialist bakeries, some large, some small.
So, where next?
True to his roots Jeremy sees the big opportunity in freefrom in snack foods both savoury and sweet. They are already packaging many of their lines as single portions, or minis and want you soon to be able fill yourself with a Mrs Crimble’s snack every time you fill your car with petrol, go to the cinema, or the zoo – or anywhere else where you might fancy a snack.
Free of more than gluten and wheat? They would like to be dairy and egg free but until some industry standards are set for dairy and egg free (such as the 20 parts per million for gluten which has now been agreed worldwide as a maximum for a product to be classified as gluten free) this is unlikely to happen.
Organic? No, as desirable though it may be, it would make the product too expensive.
Meanwhile, watch this space – and buy the products!
For details on the full range of Mrs Crimble's products
First Pub;lished in June 2010