Braving the Dragons Den

Are you a fan of Dragons Den?

It’s a ‘reality show’ where entrepreneurs face a team of potential investors and try to persuade them to invest money into their business in exchange for a share in the business. Naturally, for it to make good television, there has to be a certain amount of drama… a few completely bonkers ideas, a bit of confrontation, and the occasional good news story.

This weekend, we watched Lisa and Helen, from Sweet Mandarin, pitching to the investors for some money for their gluten free Chinese table sauces (sweet and sour, sweet chilli and barbeque). They wanted £50,000 in exchange for 20% of their business.

Initially, there were some negative comments about the brand not being unique, the margins being tiny, and it being a niche market. The Dragons didn’t seem to understand the significance of the fact that the sauces are gluten free—despite the fact that we were all shouting at them. Don’t they know that we don’t eat Chinese any more because we didn’t think our daughter could? Don’t they see the potential?

Lisa and Helen did explain the size of the dipping sauce and condiments market (£600m per year, growing at 16% per year) and the size of the gluten free market (they said £200m per year, but I think it might be larger).

But it wasn’t until Lisa and Helen explained that Wing Yip have ordered 50 cases per week (50!), and that they are in discussions with big retailers, that the Dragons really started listening. (Wing Yip, for those of you who don’t know, is the biggest and most famous Chinese food supplier/superstore chain in the UK).

In the end, Lisa and Helen had offers from all 5 Dragons, and chose to work with 2 of them, in exchange for 40% of the business. Yay for Sweet Mandarin!

And yay for us too:

  • there are three gluten free Chinese sauces for coeliacs – and the Dragons said they were delicious. They’ve been tested at the Manchester Food Science Laboratories and it is confirmed there is zero gluten. You can buy them online
  • Sweet Mandarin run a Chinese restaurant in Manchester – and 90% of the menu is gluten free (90% ! )
  • they did mention a cookery school, in passing – and it turns out there’s a gluten free Chinese cookery course in November this year.

Who fancies eating Chinese? A good news story indeed.

Gluten Free Wheelin’ and the Open Road: A musicians perspective

Darius Lux is a rock star—and is also gluten free. I asked him how he manages to live gluten free while on the road… travelling at all is often difficult enough for coeliacs, but how does he manage, travelling the world?

Find out more about Darius, and listen to some of his preview tracks too. I really enjoyed No Problem.

Do you pack food from home?

Absolutely, there is no other way unless I know exactly what is available wherever I am going (which is rarely). A lot of festivals and venues very kindly have food for musicians to eat, but even if it’s really healthy food it will still usually have a lot of gluten in it – I used to wing it and kinda hope to find gluten-free foods but after a while you just don’t want glutens in your body for any reason and so prepping at home is the best.

How easy is it to find food in different countries?

Thats an interesting question, it depends on a lot of factors. I think that South East Asia can be good because there are areas that don’t particularly make their food from the traditional (Western) glutenous staples such as wheat or white flour. They will often have rice as the main carb at almost all meals, and often brown rice is available. As much as I grew up loving Italian food, in Italy it was tough avoiding glutens because so much of their best cuisine is pasta or bread based, tho I have to say I found the food in italy a lot less allergenic than here in the US. I think once you know what your restrictions are you get good at finding what you need mostly anywhere you go. The Australian outback is a tough one too, especially when you really get out into the desert – tho that might warrant trying some of the ancient Aboriginal cuisine such as bugs! Bugs don’t appear to be glutenous LOL.

What is the easiest country (in your experience, as a visitor) to find gluten free food?

Thailand – hands down. Almost everything is rice-based and incredibly delish – even the noodles are rice based, coupled with a strong tradition of reverence in the food preparation and Vegan tendencies of the culture. India too if you can avoid the famous breads, there are still countless curry dishes that pair well with rice.

Any tips for travelling gluten free?

Simplest is to make sure you have a strong staple on you, I often like to keep trail mix and dried fruit handy, they satisfy appetite well and are relatively light to pack and carry – you have to make peace with the fact that you probably wont find what you’re looking for a lot of the time.

Secondly, when I traveled in countries that have less English speakers in them, I would find somebody at the hotel or airport or wherever and have them write a sign for me in their native language explaining my food allergy – this helped a lot along the road in more remote areas and saved a lot of confusion.

What food do you miss (and eat first on returning home!)

My favorite is a rice-based pizza crust with tapioca cheese and roasted veggies on it – the BEST!

Thanks Darius!

Yes! You Can

Which gluten free bread are you eating at the moment?

Maybe you make homemade regularly; maybe you get bread on prescription… but if you buy gluten free bread from a UK supermarket, do try the new Roberts Bakery bread, branded ‘Yes! You Can’.

They do white and brown sliced loaves, and they are really very good indeed.

After my earlier posting, when I found the Yes! You Can loaves unexpectedly in my local supermarket, I was contacted within 3 hours by the General Manager at Frank Roberts & Sons (GF Division). Impressive response times!

He sent us some loaves to try, both white and brown: I think we’ve given them an exhaustive tryout, using the bread at a variety of meals, fresh, toasted, and in recipes such as fish cakes, including in packed lunch sandwiches for daughter’s Duke of Edinburgh expedition – yes, they survived without crumbling!

Apart from the taste, which we like a lot, and the texture, which is soft and pliable without falling apart, the bread has been carefully made to be low in fat. We know this is an on-going issue with gluten free products, and I think this is commendable. The loaves are also wheat free and dairy free – and are made without egg and nuts, though eggs are handled on-site, and nuts are handled by suppliers of ingredients.

Notably, the bread was enjoyed by coeliac and non-coeliac alike: yes, we run a mixed household here.

Do try the bread. You can find the loaves in Tesco and the Co-op across the country: our Tesco had more in yesterday.

They’re made at the Davies Bakery near Chester, which is a dedicated gluten free bakery, and which was bought specifically so that the Roberts Bakery could enter the gluten free market.

There are plans for other products… I’m looking forward to finding out what those might be!

Going for Silver: Gluten Free Expedition

So our coeliac daughter has set off on the first of her Silver Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. She has to do two, each involving 3 days walking and 2 nights camping: one practice, and one for real.

I’ve been watching—with some trepidation—the flash floods, massive thunderstorms and golf-ball-sized hailstorms that much of the country has been dealing with recently. You just have to love England in the summer. I dropped her off this morning in the Peak District and drove off leaving her standing in the rain…

She did the Bronze (two days) last year, and perhaps she’ll do Gold in the future (four days/three sleeps). But whichever the level, the girls have to carry everything they’ll need, including tent, sleeping bag, trangia, fuel and food for the whole of the hike, and navigate for themselves between points.

So what has she packed to eat? Always a key question for coeliacs, and I thought you might be interested to know what she’s chosen:

  • Warburton’s white bread rolls (found in Tesco)
  • Roberts Bakeries Yes! You Can brown sliced bread for sandwiches, with a variety of potential fillings (tuna/cheese/hummous) – Tesco
  • a variety pack of miniature cheeses, each individually wrapped
  • cucumber and satsumas
  • Sakata crackers – because they pack down nicely, which crisps don’t (and Pringles are a no-no these days) – Sainsburys
  • Look What We Found sachets of chili con carne, which will only need heating through – Sainsburys
  • Part-cooked express rice sachets (because they’ll only take 3 minutes to cook)
  • Tesco Belgian Chocolate Wafers
  • plus jelly babies and chocolate

Not ideal nutritionally, but it should keep her going for three days.

Another Northern Baker Enters Gluten Free Market

Just in from a quick dash to Tesco again (I seem to have been to one supermarket or another every day this week) where I found:

  • Genius pains au chocolat (more on these when we’ve tasted them)
  • Roberts ‘Yes! You Can’ brown bread

It’s interesting that yet another mainstream baker has joined the gluten free providers. Roberts Bakery is a northern brand (Cheshire, Staffordshire, the Midlands and North Wales) and is probably Frank Roberts & Sons primary bread brand. One of their newer acquisitions (2010) was P&A Davies, from Chester, now known as Davies Bakery, and which specialises in gluten free products.

Curiously, the new gluten free bread is branded as Roberts Bakery bread, not Davies Bakery.

I haven’t managed to find much online about this new bread—not much more than a trademark submission from the Intellectual Property Office in early 2012. The Products/Gluten Free page of the Roberts website is blank, and I haven’t found any press releases. I wonder if the bread on the shelf in my local Tesco is part of a trial?

And… don’t you think it’s interesting that this is the second major northern baker to offer gluten free bread? I wonder what Allied Bakeries and Premier Foods are working on?