Take a passion for food, stir in a desire for indulgent treats to fit a vegan lifestyle and top it off with a concern to cater for those affected by food allergies and you have the recipe for the success of London-based Heavenly Cakes.

Husband-and-wife team Nzila and Luzolo Ntima have developed a range of homemade vegan cakes, which are free from eggs, dairy, wheat, soya, GM ingredients and nuts. Their products, which all contain coconut oil, include gluten-free cakes for the growing number of coeliacs in the UK and sugar-free cakes made with agave nectar as a diabetic-friendly alternative.

Luzolo, who has produced cakes and cookies for several years using organic wholemeal spelt flour from Doves Farm Foods, says: "When I changed to a mainly vegan diet and was diagnosed with wheat intolerance, I found it impossible to eat cakes at all. I eventually adapted and perfected my cake recipes so I could enjoy them with friends and family."

Given that diagnoses of food intolerance are growing, the potential market is huge and Heavenly Cakes has enjoyed a recent surge in sales, largely through word-of-mouth marketing in the vegan, vegetarian and free-from communities and at farmers’ markets. "Customer comments at farmers’ markets have inspired some recent recipes such as the coffee cake," Luzolo says.

Nzila adds: "Taste is first and foremost. So many people are deterred from eating free-from or vegan foods because of an unfounded preconception or previous bad experience with the taste or texture of a product. We want to reintroduce more and more people to these indulgent treats." n


=== Going it alone ===

Products: A range of cakes including chocolate, carrot, chocolate-orange, lemon and pumpkin seed, hemp, ginger, banana, vanilla, coconut, fruit and brandy and coffee. Other products include creme dessert, dreamily creamily chilled cream replacement and oat and spelt cookies

Finance: self-financing

Customers: Foodies at farmers’ markets in south-east London, and at Innocent’s Village Fete

Distribution: Selected health food stores including leading herbalist G Baldwin and Co as well as trendy food venues such as Green and Blue in East Dulwich and Blue Mountain Cafe in Sydenham

Background: Luzolo was previously a training consultant supplying for trading firms in the City. He gradually scaled down that company as Heavenly Cakes grew

Prospects for growth: Wheat-free products, like Heavenly Cakes, grew by almost 120% between 2002 and 2005 to £48m, according to Mintel, while dairy-free is up 28% to £32m



=== The pros and cons ===

Biggest Challenge: Luzolo: The biggest challenge was actually creating the first recipe. To make a delicious and moist cake with no eggs or dairy is extremely difficult. Then people requested wheat-/gluten-free cakes and ’diabetic friendly’ cakes. Making those cakes while sticking to our ethos was not easy - but we did it!

Greatest satisfaction: Luzolo: It is so satisfying to be able to provide cakes for people who usually cannot eat cakes and to see people taste our cakes and fall in love with them, whether or not they have any special dietary requirements. Children with allergies who go to birthday parties usually cannot have any cake - but some of our customers now freeze cake slices, so that their children can take their own cakes with them.