Meet the co-founders of The Northern Dough Co.
Hi Amy, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to get an inside peek into your brand and journey. Could you firstly, tell me a little bit about yourself?
I co-founded The Northern Dough Co in 2011 with my husband Chris. We’d always wanted to start a business together after meeting at university, and I always dreamed about the idea of developing my own brand. Since we launched the business six years ago, I’ve combined working for NorthernDough Co at various points with a full time job based 200 miles away, and having two babies. So I’m a lot of things, a wife, a marketing director, a Mum, a brand owner, but at the heart of everything I’m a food lover and my favourite thing to do is make recipes in my kitchen and throw flour around (nowadays with my oldest sitting on the worktop ‘helping’, which makes it messier, but lots more fun!).
Massive congrats as you’re now stocked in Waitrose and Sainsburys, two of the most popular supermarkets in the UK. How did you go about creating these amazing partnerships?
Thank you, we were incredibly excited when the news of the listings came in each time, there’s nothing like the feeling of making a major breakthrough with a national supermarket when you once worried about making sales at the smallest of Farmer’s markets! We very much built up to approaching the major supermarkets, as we wanted to grow our business organically and not take on investment and grow too quickly. It was often tempting to grow fast, but in hindsight building through smaller retailers and learning lessons has set us up really well.
With Sainsbury’s, we initially applied for a Dragon’s Den style event, where 10 new brands were shortlisted and had to cook and present to a panel of senior Sainsbury’s team members. We unfortunately didn’t make it onto the shelves at that time, as they were looking for brands who had yet to launch, and we were a little more established, but we kept in touch with the buyers from the day and were persistent until we managed to secure a further meeting and create another great pitch opportunity.
How do you tackle the expected competition in your market? What do you think sets you apart?
We’ve enjoyed being the only frozen pizza product in the UK since we launched, and initially created the infused and wholemeal products to make sure customers knew that our products had a real point of difference and allowed them to create exciting pizza recipes at home.
How did you go about choosing the right manufacturer, that not only creates the right product, but fitted in with your brand message?
This was an easy choice, as Chris’ family have been involved in baking for generations, so we’ve been able to work with them to create our products having full confidence in the team and the quality of the ingredients and production methods. It’s part of our brand message that we have heritage, and we love to be able to shout about the fact that we’re continuing a family tradition.
What is the one thing you find true that most people may disagree with?
That it’s possible to work with your partner! Most people I meet are surprised that Chris and I work together, and I hear ‘I couldn’t work with my other half’ a lot! While we have our disagreements, and it can be challenging to find a line for where the business stops and family life starts on a daily basis, I can’t imagine a better situation. Most people find a work/ life balance difficult as work takes them away from their family, whereas we work from home and co-parented our way through the first years with our two children while we each took turns to work in our home office.
Most entrepreneurs or business coach bangs on about finding the right niche. How did you find your niche and when did you know it was the right one?
It was truly a lightbulb moment, we’d spent years knowing we wanted to start a business, and coming up with a million crazy ideas. The family bakery have always made pizza dough for restaurants, and we’d take some home and make our own pizza, and have pizza parties with friends. We were sitting eating our home made pizza one evening when we suddenly realised that not everyone can do this, making dough is time consuming and the results can be a bit hit and miss, the world needs ready-made pizza dough so everyone can do this at home!
How has your target audience responded to The Norther Dough Co so far?
Our target audience has responded incredibly well, we initially thought it would be young couples who’d be our key market, but we soon realised that families loved it as kids like to get stuck in to making pizza too. We have a fantastic social media following, which is my favourite part of the job as people write to us daily to share their pics of them and their families enjoying making pizza together. It never gets old, each and every one of those emails and pictures makes me smile and sets me up for the day.
How did you build such an amazing consumer culture around your business?
We started off at food festivals and farmers markets, so we’d see people week after week, and in some cases year after year coming back to buy our products. We’ve never done an event where we weren’t there in person, chatting to people and cooking up samples, so from the start our customers knew all about our story and really bought into supporting us. In between events, they’d write to use via social media with what they’d done with thedough and how much fun they’d had with their families. It meant that everything we posted on social media was about sharing and fun and getting together, which in turn creates so much response. Our customer interaction makes it all worthwhile, sometimes when I’m having a challenging day, an email will get me back on track and makes me focus on why we created the brand in the first place.
I’ve used The Northern Dough Co before, for an amazing pizza making night with the kids. I’m curious about the story behind the brand; what inspired the creation of The Northern Dough Co?
That’s so great to hear! It’s exactly why we set up the brand, because we started sharing pizza parties with friends, and realised there was no quick and easy product on the market. It was important for us that our dough was exactly as you’d make it yourself at home, with ingredients that people would recognise from their own kitchen cupboards, but getting to the fun part that bit easier. Six years on and the same friends who used to come over for pizza parties have helped with everything from serving pizza samples at big events, to pitching up to do store sampling and always being there to test new recipes or be involved in a photoshoot. It’s been about family and friends from day one for us, that’s what inspired the product, baking is in our family heritage and we still have people over for pizza today, just cooked in a wood fired oven that we invested in over the Summer!
What would be your top tip for other entrepreneurs wanting to get into the food industry?
Be prepared to dedicate your life to your business, at least for the first few years. Chris and I combined full time work with launching, working through the night at the bakery to pack products when we got our first supermarket order, taking holiday to attend food festivals or pitch meetings. One Winter we worked 30 days straight, most of them in the freezing cold at markets! Have a vision of what you want to achieve, but always be flexible when opportunities present themselves. You might think that something is right for you or your business, but what your customers want is always more important, so be flexible enough to accommodate where the market takes you.
Packaging makes a massive difference for any product, what was that process like for you?
Creating the brand and the packaging was one of the best stages of starting the company. We worked with a personal friend who’s an incredibly talented designer, and still works on all the creative elements of the brand today. We sat down at our dining table and had a huge conversation about what we wanted the brand to be and what it would represent, and took several weeks of creating visuals and chatting them through and the brand was born. It’s one of the first things the retail buyers comment on and they are always hugely positive.
What plans do you have for The Northern Dough Co over the next 12 months?
We’ll be focussing on a really strong launch in Sainsbury’s, and generating awareness of the brand to as many people as possible. We’re working hard on social media to encourage people to share their experiences and recipes and creating lots of content of our own to inspire people. We’re always working away in the background on new products and expanding the brand to new retailers, while always making sure that the business we have remains strong and well looked after, we have fantastic relationships with our retailers who have been incredibly supportive of what we do, and we look forward to launching new products with them in the near future!