Developed by veggie box delivery business Boxxfresh, the family firm’s new trademarked brand has now launched nationwide as a gluten-free, wholesome alternative to the daily staple. Although fewer Brits eat bread today, down 3 per cent from 99 per cent in 2010, the market’s still huge.
However, with 16-to-24 year-olds half as likely to reach for a slice compared to over-45s, and growing demand for other options from carb-dodgers, free-fromers, vegans and the like, the chance loomed for a business with a revolutionary recipe, say Boxxfresh founders Jon and Kelly Barfoot.
“We are a challenger product, a veg-packed powerhouse that offers better nutrition for the calories,” explains husband Jon.
“Boxxfresh helps people to be smarter about eating healthily and our Vegbred is an extension of that mission.”
The couple’s home-based weekly delivery service in Hampshire takes produce from local farms and distributes them across the county.
Kelly started developing Vegbred a couple of years ago and began offering it with the boxes.
“I was looking to include something nutritious and tasty for the whole family,” she explains. “But demand has been so positive, for example customers tell us how they love a toasted slice with a cup of tea, we knew it had the potential to stand on its own feet.”
All roads led to the sweet potato, a versatile, sweet-spicy flavoured root vegetable and one that retail expert Jon knew well from his experience managing super-markets’ exotic veg divisions. Extensive trialling of recipes followed.
“Vegbred outperforms many others on the wellbeing shelves and freezes well so there’s no waste,” she adds.
Vegbred’s sweet potatoes are imported from a community farm that Jon has long known in Senegal. The growers are part of the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of companies, unions and voluntary bones improving conditions for working people worldwide.
Originally, the baking was done in Boxxfresh’s kitchen at the family’s farm, but is now outsourced to a local food manufacturing firm, whose green energy comes from an anaerobic digester that uses Vegbred’s potato peel as feedstock.
From selling directly online and to grocer Planet Organic, Jon sees scale-up as taking the loaves (from £5.50) into supermarket stores and the food service sector.
“Our sales forecast for Vegbred by 2019/20 is £900,000 to £1million,” he adds. “But without Boxxfresh none of it would have happened. We’ve produced the website and imagery ourselves, and learnt how to deliver fast turnarounds.
“Vegbred’s strategy is based on least cost, differentiation and growth. Both businesses are giving us brand credibility, but as an independent we can never risk getting carried away.”
As well as providing a valuable sales channel for fruit and veg farmers, the business contributes to the rural economy by employing six full-time and “flexi-hours staff, many of them mums coming back to work,” says mother-of-three Kelly.
Backed by £200,000 of personal investment, the next move for the pair will be to look at structuring Vegbred as a separate business and developing more food products from its unique recipe formulations.
A new plan is being drawn up to present to potential funders this autumn.
“Energy from the carbohydrates in vegetables is preferable because it is slow release and lasts throughout the day,” says Kelly.
“There is a generational change under way in our dietary habits and in how the food sector operates. That has become more sweeping and profound than we expected.
Vegbred has arrived just at the right moment.”