A London entrepreneur defied her business tutor’s advice that her range of free-from treats would “never take off” to build a £1 million company.
Olivia Wollenberg, 30, launched Livia’s Kitchen in 2014 having grown up with several food intolerances and finding there was little choice of “indulgent treat” she was able to eat.
Despite studying to become a neuroscientist, completing a degree at UCL and two Masters in the field, she turned her back on the profession and started developing recipes in the kitchen of her parents’ East Finchley home.
Within 12 weeks, Selfridges had stocked her range of gluten, dairy, vegan and sugar-free “superfood crumbles” and because she had “never done anything like this before”, she embarked on a short business course.
Ms Wollenberg added: “We had to do a pitch for our idea on day one of the business course in front of the director. No one had heard of superfoods, let alone a superfood crumble. So he totally shot it down.
“He said, ‘That sounds horrible’ and ‘It will never take off.’ So I brought him some in the next day.”
Ms Wollenberg added: “To be fair he held his hands up and said it was amazing when he tried it and you’d have no idea it had no gluten, dairy or sugar. But still, it was a very different industry four years ago. It was nowhere near as big as it is now.”
Livia's Kitchen Raw Millionaire Bites (Livia's Kitchen)
She ran production from her parents’ home for 18 months before acquiring a north London factory in 2016. Within months, Ms Wollenberg had launched her range of Raw Millionaire Bites in three flavours.
Her “Nugglets”, bite-sized chunks of dough covered in chocolate, and her “Biccy Boms”, or a biscuit with date centre, and other products soon followed. Next month she is launching “Dunx” which consists of three oat cookies and a dip.
She stopped making her original crumbles due to shelf-life issues.
By 2017, she was stocked in 30 high street retailers, increasing that to 2,000 in 12 months. Livia’s Kitchen can be found in Tesco, Ocado, WHSmith, Planet Organic and Wholefoods Market. The company has seen growth of 153 per cent year-on-year, with turnover hitting well over £1 million last year.
Olivia Wollenberg (Livia's Kitchen)
Ms Wollenberg admitted her brand was launched “at the right time”, with the free-from market surging 40.1 per cent in 2017 to the value of £806 million in the UK. She added: “I am the boss of 11 people now, which is mad. I am just delighted it has all taken off.”
Research from the UK’s largest hospitality job board, Caterer.com, found a 123 per cent increase in vegan-related jobs on their site since 2017.