PERK!ER™ foods are one of the new kids on the gluten free block, but have achieved enormous amounts since their launch in late 2012 – with listings for their breakfast products and treats now in many of the major retailers.
As big fans of the brand, Gluten Free B was pleased to catch up with one of the founders, Ann Perkins, about her perspective on the gluten free market, the hard work that goes into bringing a home-grown brand to the high street, and what goes on behind the scenes at the mysterious ‘Yummery’!
PERK!ER founders, Steve & Ann “bringing delight to gluten free eating”
You’ve had a very successful year or two, what have been the highlights?
By far the response from our customers and fans to the brand and product range, especially the banter on Twitter and Facebook, as well as the personal messages and the people we meet at shows.
We set out to do something different, to bring delight to gluten free eating. Steve and I quit our jobs to do this, with the aim of trying to offer something unique so it’s great to see when we’re getting it right.
The response from the 3 major retailers who now stock PERK!ER™ products (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda) and Whole Foods Market has also been fantastic, as well as the online retailers (Ocado, Amazon & Goodness Direct) as it gives us national availability.
Getting the fans involved: I show off one of my PERK!ER purchases from the Allergy Show
What changes have you seen in the gluten free market since launching PERK!ER™?
The market changes from week to week. The range of products has expanded with new things like wraps on the market and different brands, which as a gluten free consumer (Ed: Ann is a diagnosed coeliac) on the market is great.
It’s important for us to be unique though, and we still feel we are unique with PERK!ER™.
Our consumers come from all kinds of backgrounds – vegans, healthy eaters, sports professionals, people who are gluten-intolerant, and of course coeliacs like me.
Increasingly people who want to eat healthily pick up our products as the cereals are low-sugar (less than half what’s in Special K). That low-sugar flavour isn’t what most people are used to, but it will be interesting to see if the current focus in the media on reducing sugar in your diet has an impact on what people eat.
There’s still a lot to be done on people’s perception that gluten free products aren’t as tasty or that the texture isn’t there. It’s not the case with our treats, as we’ve been told that non-gluten-free snafflers like them just as much! Our core market is people who need to avoid gluten, for whatever reason, but of course we want to produce things that are the most delicious on the market, full-stop.
Products developed with a ‘Guinea Pig Network’ – who feature on the packaging!
Where do you look for product inspiration?
We look in many places for new product inspiration – by listening to our consumers and fans, as well as new people coming across PERK!ER™ for the first time.
Steve and I never switch off from PERK!ER™ – whether it’s looking online, in shops, cookery books or tips from friends and family – inspiration can come from anywhere.
We are quite harsh on ourselves when we make a new product – is it truly unique or a ‘me too’ product? PERK!ER™ is a self-funded start up so we have an added incentive to make it a success – we don’t want to put things out there that aren’t going to work, as it’s our savings!
The first ideas and prototypes for new products are made in the ‘Yummery’. We check these out with our ‘Guinea Pig Network’, as well as testing on friends and family. The next stage is to find a partner who can produce this at scale, and to our specification.
What do you think the secret ingredients are to gluten-free high street success?
Having professional high-standard partners has been an important factor in success with retailers. We need to make sure our products still bring delight and enjoyment when they are produced at scale, but also from a food safety point of view, as you’d expect, we take making sure things are definitely gluten free very seriously – all of our products are tested.
With both of us having experience in the industry, we have been able to talk the right language to retailers, and have an idea what they are looking for and can respond to those needs.
We’ve continued to push quality – making sure there are generous portions of fruit, or gingerbread in the breakfast products for example, but producing gluten free food is a costly business – the ingredients are expensive, processing is labour intensive. We always try to produce products at a price people can afford, and it helps that we keep overheads low – we still work from home. In fact we work 7 days a week and late into the night!
How have things changed since PERK!ER™ hit the supermarkets?
We started market testing at the Allergy & Free From Show in 2012 – at that point our treats were all handmade in the Yummery and Steve baked the bread! We hand packaged everything, were cutting out labels with nail-scissors and my mum spray-painted the crates with our logo. When Tesco initially approached us we had to admit we weren’t quite ready to scale!
PERK!ER™ is still very much a home-grown business, but how we spend our time has changed. I manage social media and the relationships with our retailers and partners. Steve manages orders and suppliers. We are both continually coming up with new product ideas, and still have to get down in the details – if samples are needed I might be taking them in my car!
Are there any compromises you have had to make?
Some products just haven’t been good enough, and we’ve had to be honest about that, so they haven’t been launched, and when we first produced the treats they had a very short shelf life, which just won’t work for gluten free in a supermarket, so we’ve had to change the products slightly (Ed: notably the ‘popping’ has had to go from the tiffin!); but other things haven’t changed. The gingerbread is still very much a labour of love – the pieces in the porridge are still handmade in the Yummery to our original recipe.
Expanding the range: new Golden Syrup Porridge launched in 2014 “perfect for on the go”
What are your future ambitions for the brand?
Growing of course! We are still very small, it is still just Steve and myself. We are not yet as widely available as our fans ask us to be. It’s also going to be a good year for new products – so look out if you’re part of the Guinea Pig Network! We want to continue to bring delight to gluten free eating. It’s early days but we’ve had a fast, amazing start.
And finally, Gluten Free B loves breakfast – when you’re not munching porridge, what’s for breakfast?
I’ve just discovered Alpro hazelnut drink – a massive bowl of our Red Berry Flakes with that is delicious and very healthy. That would be my product of the week!
PERK!ER™ products can be found in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda; or bought online from Amazon, Ocado, Goodness Direct, or direct from PERK!ER™.
Why not check out how the new PERK!ER™ porridge pots fared in our ‘Bread to Bread’ challenge?