Setting up your own bakery seems a perverse choice for someone whose memories of birthdays growing up are scarred by upset tummies from eating birthday cakes. It was only in adulthood that Emma Killilea discovered she had been suffering from an acute wheat allergy and she is now on a mission to replace what she sees as the bland cardboard often passing as a gluten-free alternative with her own taste-oriented products.

"There are some very long-life products out there which taste really bad," she laments. "They’re very heavily preserved. I was speaking to a diet consultant recently, one of whose patients hated the ’coeliac bread’ she tried so much that she threw it out to the birds. Even they wouldn’t eat it!"

Conversely, her wheat- and gluten-free loaf won a gold in the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards. "We’re trying to give people real alternatives rather than a second-class offer," she explains. "People can’t believe it’s gluten-free. We actually have to supply our clients with certificates to show them that it really is gluten-free!"

Killilea stonewalls a question on how she achieves this quality with a "trade secret" brush-off. But the loaf was no one-off. Exhibiting at IFE in March, her Mini Ginger Loaf won the Fresh Ideas accolade.

The only complications have come from distributing the unpreserved products further afield; they are now supplied in frozen form nationally while some bread products are gas-flush packed. Meanwhile, she says foodservice distributors need to get up to speed on the scale of the free-from market.

"It’s a necessity for hotels etc to have this product - even if they don’t need a huge amount of it," states Killilea. "One hotel in London I supply, that does afternoon tea, gets 12 out of 120 people a day who are avoiding wheat - either as a lifestyle choice or because they are coeliac. The volumes are there." n


=== Going it alone ===

The firm: Delicious Alchemy, based in Sheffield, trading since December 2006; production is outsourced after products are developed by Killilea

The brief: supplying gluten-, wheat-, and lactose-free cakes, bread and cereals that are indistinguishable from standard products

Supplies: hotels, catering companies and restaurants; national distribution from September through Ritter Courivaud; own-label supermarket supply under consideration

Background: Emma Killilea used to develop video games, then decided to set up a gluten-free food company. She trained in food marketing management at Sheffield Hallam University

Finance: £25,000 from various awards; the rest is self-financed


=== The pros and cons ===

Biggest challenge:

I don’t eat wheat so I didn’t have any experience of baking. Even when I was growing up, I would steer clear of birthday or Christmas cakes because they would upset my stomach. So learning how to bake has been the biggest trial - and gluten-free baking is a whole other ball game. Getting the products right, especially the cakes, has been really difficult. There’s no substitute for perseverance.

Greatest satisfaction:

Winning the awards. For somebody who’s never baked, to achieve, within two years, products that top people in the industry are awarding top prizes to - I find that amazing! What I’m finding is that if you have a quality product, it’s just not hard to sell.