How gluten-free bread has turned into a multi-million pound business for Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne. Picture: Kate Chandler

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne. Picture: Kate Chandler

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The scene is a homely kitchen in Trinity, five years ago. Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne has gone through a frustrating series of cookery experiments to get close to this point, now she is about to feed her son his first taste of what all the rest of us take for granted.

The bread emerges from the oven. It looks good, the ingredients are right – the all-important question, then, is what will middle son Robin think it tastes like?

Today, as Lucinda recalls those early efforts, the endless tweaking and shuffling ingredients, the disasters and the “not quite but nearly right” efforts, it’s from the very comfortable position at the helm of a £20m business.

Her bread has certainly brought in the dough. If you can bear some more dreadful puns, we can talk about how she used her loaf to cook up a way to earn a crust by giving consumers their daily bread – including a 
grateful young Robin.

“It’s been a very busy time,” she smiles, reflecting on how her journey began in 2007 with a cookbook to help, among others, parents like her deal with a child who happens to be gluten intolerant and has led to the busy mum-of-three becoming one of Scotland’s leading businesswomen.

“It’s also been a wonderful time. The really great thing is that it has actually transformed people’s lives.”

She’s talking about the fifth member of her family – alongside her and husband Hew, their three sons Angus, who happens to have a dairy intolerance, Robin, and Otto who is strong as an ox with not an allergy to brag of at all, is Genius, the gluten-free bakery company that has grown from the kitchen of their home into an international concern.

What began as her kitchen experiments, now feeds gluten-intolerant consumers across the UK, parts of Europe, Canada and, most recently, America with Genius breads and a growing range of other treats.

Yesterday Lucinda, 41, unveiled another element to her booming business, when The Scotsman Hotel in the city centre announced a new “gluten- free” afternoon tea service, with Genius bread sharing the menu alongside a string of sweet bakery treats. That comes just a week after she found herself dashing across London to attend two awards events – the judging element of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and then the PWC Private Business Awards, both in recognition of the Edinburgh-based business’s relentless march towards gluten-free product domination.

Trained chef Lucinda could hardly have imagined it might all lead here when she found herself with two children with different food allergies to handle. Angus, now 12, was still a baby when Lucinda and Hew, 41, an IT business specialist, discovered he had a severe dairy allergy, the kind that meant he only had to touch cheese for weals to appear on his face.

Throw in a problem digesting potatoes, and Lucinda was already faced with having to put her talents in the kitchen to the test.

Middle son Robin brought his own set of food issues. Being gluten intolerant ruled out wheat-based products like pasta, bread and cakes.

Others might crumble. But 
Lucinda is a member of the family that owned the famous Lyons Corner House and bakery empire, and a respected food writer – she co-wrote Leith’s Techniques Bible. Add to that the fact she had run her own catering company and as a trainee had sweated at top London restaurants like Terence Conran’s Bibendum and worked with Roast Chicken and Other Stories’ author and top chef Simon Hopkinson.

She had already written How to Cook for Food Allergies, aimed at helping families torn apart by food intolerances to still eat together.

So surely churning out a loaf wouldn’t be too tricky?

“I found what gluten-free bread was on the market was absolutely awful,” she recalls. “But it was two or three months of trial and error.

“Being a professional chef, I knew about wheat and eggs and dairy and what to do with them, but cooking without them was an entirely new challenge. I was learning on the hoof,” she admits. “I knew there was a big gap in the market for a decent cookbook and that people needed help because they were living with a restrict diet.

“Things gradually expanded from there.”

Inspired by the reaction to her new gluten-free bread, she founded 
Genius in 2009, supported by an investment from the gluten-intolerant boss of Cairn Energy, Sir Bill 
Gammell.

Now the firm has just launched the newest editions to a growing range of at least 20 products – as well as bread, Genius makes pizza, lemon and raisin pancakes, croissants and pain au chocolat. It’s taken on business high-fliers to grow the company and sights are set on the day when virtually every bakery product going will have a Genius gluten-free 
alternative.

At home, Genius – which is 
produced in Bathgate – dominates the gluten-free bakery section at the supermarket, but one of Lucinda’s biggest headaches has moving her products across the Atlantic. “We made our bread for the US market in Montreal, Canada,” she explains. “I took it for granted we could take the recipe we use here and reassemble it there, but the water there is different and has a different mineral content so it behaves differently with the other ingredients. It’s been a quite a challenge.”

Still, with a multi-million 
business growing at speed, she should at least be able to enjoy her success. Yet while weekends are sacrosanct family time, as brand ambassador and product guardian, she remains hands-on’ overseeing products and development, often in the kitchen.

“It’s getting easier to juggle as the children get older,” she concedes. “And they feel a sense of ownership over the company. It was originally Robin’s bread that helped him, and the children feel very 
involved.

“They taste all the new products and give their feedback – it works, it’s fun and they feel they’re part of what is happening.”

But with so much going on, it’s sometimes difficult to find time to simply take stock of it all. “I’ve lived and breathed it for so long, spent so much time working towards this without realising it was going to come together the way it has,” she 
reflects.

“When you’re involved day in and day out, seven days a week, you don’t give yourself the space to reflect as much as you could on just how far you’ve come.”

As for enjoying all the trappings of wealth that come with creating a £20m company, Lucinda has not exactly let it all go to her head. The family still live in the same Trinity house where she first began tinkering with gluten-free recipes and developing her Genius range five years ago.

“And you know what,” she says with a laugh, “we haven’t even got around to painting the kitchen since then. Things are really just the same.”

• The Scotsman hotel gluten free afternoon tea costs £16.95 per person and includes Genius bread sandwiches, gluten free cakes and tea and coffee. For more about Genius products, go to www.geniusglutenfree.com

One in 100 suffer from condition

Gluten is a protein found in wheat. Obvious gluten products include bread, pasta, flour, cereals, cakes and biscuits.

Genius products are entirely gluten-free, which means people with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance or sensitivity can consume them without adverse effects.

Around one in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, a condition which means the body’s immune system reacts to gluten in food, making the body attack itself and damaging the gut.

Symptoms include bloating and abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, tiredness, headaches, mouth ulcers and skin problems.

Some suffer from depression, weight loss, recurrent miscarriages, joint or bone pain and nerve problems.

Despite being relatively common, many suffers go undiagnosed.

Others can be gluten-sensitive or intolerant. Symptoms are similar to coeliac disease, but without damage to the gut.

For further information, contact Coeliac UK on 0845 305 2060 or visit www.coeliac.org.uk.