Gluten Free B loves the gluten free manufacturers that have a ‘personal touch’ in the way they interact with consumers. This week we’re pleased-as-punch to give you a little insight into our store-cupboard favourites, Isabel’s Naturally Free From. We just love her one-woman whirlwind of gluten-free creativity – especially the way she experiments and shares her latest creations from naturally gluten free ingredients with the online gluten-free community. You can make all manner of goodies from the mixes, including bagels and even a Yorkshire Pudding as big as my husband’s head! (Seriously ;))
We catch up with Isabel herself as she prepares to launch 2 new products, to find out a little bit more about the inspiration behind her fail safe mixes, and about being gluten free in her native Brazil.
What is your background, and how did you come to create a range of gluten free products?
I have been passionate about cooking since I was a kid. Thinking about it, I should have trained as a chef in my youth, but instead I went to work with computers, research data and administration. A few years after I had my first child I started thinking about going back to work. I always wanted to have my own business; whilst I was searching for ideas, I recognised that I had a long standing love for cooking and food science, so I decided to explore that general area. I am an enthusiastic person and thought that perhaps I could share some of my knowledge of little-known foods, ingredients and recipes.
Why did you decide to target the gluten & wheat free market specifically?
Producing gluten free foods just happened naturally – I didn’t choose this area specifically, but naturally ‘landed’ into it because of the knowledge I had of using certain ingredients, through a series of coincidences and circumstances. For example, the first product I decided to produce was by chance naturally gluten free, which is our much loved dough balls mix, or as they are better known in Brazil, ‘pão de queijo’ – literally meaning ‘cheese breads’.
I set up my new factory and started making the perfect cheese breads – to be ready to bake from frozen. Then I came across a major obstacle – the freezer aisles in the supermarkets were in decline and I could not sell the product in enough volume to make the business viable. So I was forced to look closer at the products unique selling points and its format to find another way into the market.
Meanwhile, I was approached by one of the owners of Salvos – the famous Italian restaurant in Leeds. They were looking for some help to create the ultimate gluten free pizza base and so I came up with my second and most popular product. Similar things happened with the other products, and that’s how the Isabel’s product range came about.
But it was attending Coeliac UK Group’s food fairs around the country and meeting many of the people who were using my products that gave me real purpose. I felt personally involved with the gluten free community and inspired to come up with new product ideas. My main objective was to create gluten free foods for everyone in the family to share – be they coeliac or not, and so avoiding cross-contamination and anyone being ‘glutened’.
Tell us a little bit about being gluten-free in your native Brazil?
There are many varieties of gluten free flours available in Brazil, and these flours are all used as much in everyday cooking and baking as wheat flours. Flours such as corn meal, cassava flour, cornflour, arrowroot are some of the favourites. Of these, cassava root starches and flour are the most popular and used extensively to create everyday foods such as breads, biscuit, cakes, and puddings. The cassava root can be used like potatoes, as chips or in stews.
Ironically, perhaps due to changes in eating and cooking habits with the arrival of convenience and processed foods in the supermarkets during the last two decades or so, the number of coeliacs in Brazil seems to be on the increase. But with the lack of gluten free convenience foods or pre-mixes readily available at the major supermarkets coeliac sufferers in South America are forced to go back to basics and cook from scratch, same as their grandparents did.
Which recipe/product are you most proud of and why?
All of my recipes have something unique about them and I feel as though I have been on a massive journey with each one. I’m proud of all the recipes and very passionate about their success. But if I had to choose one, I would say that I’m most proud of the Yorkshire pudding mix. The recipe appeared in my mind like a vision, and when I baked it for the first time I knew I had created something special. A unique synergy that not only makes the puds taste delicious but also offers that gluten-like texture, which so many people crave for. They’re better than a normal Yorkshire pudding – some consumers tell me.
Tell us a little bit about the team/people behind Isabel’s?
We are a very small company and the chances are that if you contact Isabel’s you’ll mostly get hold of me as I still have my fingers on the pulse in every area of the business. I had to learn a bit of every part of the business and do a bit of everything. Our office is based in Bradford; we outsource some of our work such as manufacturing and distribution. But product development is very close to my heart and the part I enjoy the most.
What is the thinking behind the recent refresh of your branding and website?
Isabel’s’ brand is evolving to reflect the company’s position within the competitive ‘free from’ sector. In a modest way my aim from the outset was to help revive gluten free home-baking, offering coeliacs a more exciting and convenient range of home-bake products that are quick and easy to use, healthier and tastier than the usual offerings.
Helped by food branding specialists, my vision for Isabel’s has been translated into a clean brand structure with an injection of personality and informative packaging. The new look has been designed to help strengthen our connection with consumers, clearly highlighting the unique selling points and benefits of the products appealing to consumers wanting better, more natural gluten free solutions.
What can we expect to see next from Isabel’s?
I’m constantly developing new products and coming up with new ideas – there will be some exciting new products free from dairy and gluten coming up around July 2014. Hopefully consumers will carry on appreciating my work and the Isabel’s brand will keep growing and providing more options for families coping with allergies.