Q&A: The Protein Bread Co.

This week ISB speaks to Anna Hopkins, founder of The Protein Bread Co., a venture that started in a kitchen at home that now sells healthy bread products through over 400 health-food shops and their own website.

ISB: When and how did the idea for The Protein Bread Company come about?

AH: I was running a wholefood cafe in Darlinghurst in 2010 and running private PT sessions on the side. Many of my PT clients were talking about cutting carbs out of their diet and the café clients were eschewing the menu options with bread.

My goal was to produce a bread with one gram of carbs per slice, a 90 per cent reduction on usual breads. I started experimenting in the café with low-carb bread ingredients, and it transpired that the best options were all gluten free. I offered customers samples during the day and then went in at three in the morning to bake new options based on their feedback.

ISB: And how did you turn the concept into a viable enterprise?

AH: I was posting about the low-card breads on Facebook and I started getting inquiries from around the country. As, up until that point, I had been making fresh products that, therefore, had a limited shelf life so I started making dry bread mix at home and sending it to people as they ordered it.

My brother Luke had been running his own marketing consultancy, but he shares my passion for healthy living and healthy food, so he joined me. Luke built our website, to spread the message as far and wide as possible, and we registered The Protein Bread Co. as a company.

ISB: You have now well and truly outgrown running the business from your kitchen at home, when and how did it grow to what it is today?

AH: For a while we carried on as we had started, while still running the café. However, in 2014 we had got to the stage where we were making nine fresh loaves a day (the maximum volume the ovens would allow), three times a day, seven days a week to meet demand from customers coming from all over Sydney to buy the fresh product.

So, I sold the café and found a run-down retail bakery on Gum Tree whose lease had been given up. We bought all the equipment in the bakery for $8000, renewed the lease and set up as a wholesale bakery, baking 150 loaves a week, which grew to over a thousand a week within 12 months or so as more and more cafes and retailers started to buy our bread.

Today we have a production facility and warehouse in Marrackville and focus on the baking mixes which we send them all over Australia and New Zealand, 70 per cent to direct customers and 30 per cent through health-food distributors. Only five per cent of our output is fresh loaves – the majority go to health-food shops in Sydney and some that go to Melbourne in a refrigerated lorry.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the business profitable and sustainable?

AH: Getting the balance between food costs, nutrition and taste. Generally, you have to compromise on nutrition or cost to get the best taste, so we invest heavily in food-tech research and resources so we don’t have to compromise.

The other issue is manpower. When we first took the lease we only had two employees – a baker and someone focusing on distribution. Today we have 17 – seven in production, four in marketing, one in finance, two in R&D and the rest of in logistics. Luke now looks after all our equipment.

ISB: Finally, what is the biggest lesson you have learned you could pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?

AH: Having a passion for your product and what it is aimed at achieving. I started this venture as a solution for people to eat more healthily. “Your first sale is to yourself” – you need to believe in what you are making. I also believe in trusting your gut – you know what the right thing for your business is, no business coach or consultant knows better than you what you are trying to achieve.

And never lose sight of why you’re doing it. Our mantra is “eat well, feel great” and mission is to get 10 per cent of Australians to be making better, healthier food choices by 2020.