Baked by Mel Brings Bara Brith Online
In episode #009 of The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show I talk to Mel Constantinou, owner and founder of Baked by Mel, which is based in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, UK.
In the show Mel talks about how she spotted the opportunity for setting up her food business, what led her to focus on mail order and online sales, her approach to attending markets and food fairs and how she got listed in Fortnum & Mason. She also describes how she secured a great domain name for her online business.
Listen Now to the Episode with Baked by Mel
How Baked by Mel Reimagined Bara Brith
Bara brith is a traditional Welsh specialty that doesn’t fit neatly into one food category, being at once a bread and a cake. Most, if not all food cultures have a version of bara brith in their repertoire.
For example, the Irish version of bara brith is known as barmbrack and the Argentinian version is torta negra.
One feature common to these different iterations of bara brith is the austerity of the ingredients used: some dried fruit, sugar, flour, egg, black tea, yeast (or not), a little spice. We’re not talking, in other words, about luxurious ingredients like butter or nuts or chocolate or expensive booze.
And this is the whole point of bara brith. It’s a humble product that, traditionally, was made to ‘use things up’; it was a means to an end and not the end itself, like an indulgent sachertorte would be.
Maybe this is why bara brith and its international cousins was taken for granted just a little bit. Maybe there was a hint of it being the supporting player on the table and not the centrepiece.
But humble ingredients don’t equate to lack of deliciousness and this is why Baked by Mel has done something interesting with bara brith.
Baked by Mel has literally and metaphorically repackaged a traditional humble food product — even given it a brand identity.
As regards the literal bit, Mel commissioned beautiful bespoke boxes for her bara brith — each box a perfect fit for one bara brith. These are the boxes customers receive through the post when they order on Mel’s website. They make ideal gifts too — and isn’t sending a gift a way of sending an emotion?
The other part is the branding of her boxes. Like all good branding Mel’s makes a promise about what’s inside the box. In other words, she uses her branding to market her bara brith on its authenticity, a broad term that’s a mash up of features like the product’s clean ingredients, the traditional cooking techniques used, and the product’s ability to be every bit as delicious as the best sachertorte, despite its unassuming ingredients.
But beautiful packaging and irresistible branding are nothing but empty promises if the product itself doesn’t deliver. At least customers don’t have to take Mel’s word for the deliciousness and quality of her bara brith because she won two gold stars for it at the Great Taste Awards.
Ultimately, therefore, Mel has repositioned bara brith as a centrepiece on the table, enabling the highest of high teas with family or friends.
Audio Not Your Thing?
If audio isn’t your thing, you can download the transcript of the episode with Baked by Mel. You can also find the full transcript of the show at the end of this post.
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Key Points from the Show
- What’s your strategy for getting web traffic for your online food or drink business? This will largely determine how you choose a domain name. Is your strategy discoverable or brandable?
- If you plan to sell online, traffic from search engines will most likely be important to you. Your domain name should reflect the words and phrases customers use to buy your product.
- If the .com extension is not available for your chosen domain there are workarounds and you may be able to use a different extension.
- It’s a good idea to test your product idea before launching your food or drink business. The best scenario is to test on people who will either give you money for it or who will give you honest feedback (friends and family may be too subjective).
- Good food or drink branding isn’t about a cool type face or cute packaging. It has to convey your product promise and position your product in the marketplace. So, what’s your product promise and how are you positioning your product in the market?
- It’s important to cherry pick food fairs and farmers’ markets. Make sure it’s financially worth your while to do them.
- If you set out making a product that doesn’t inspire you, you might not be able to do it long term.
Very Sounds Bites from Mel Constantinou
Check out the infographic below for some direct quotes from Mel during the show.
Thanks to Mel for so generously giving her time to come on the show and talk about her food business success. To connect with Mel online and to find out where you can buy her bara brith check out the Links and Resources section next.
Links/Resources Mentioned in the Show
- Baked by Mel website
- Baked by Mel on Twitter
- Baked by Mel on Facebook
- Fortnum & Mason
- Abergavenny Food Festival
- The Rudry Kitchen
- The Preservation Society
- Great Taste Awards
- In Business (BBC Radio 4 business programme)
- Designed for Life
Thanks for Listening
Thanks for listening to the show. If you are a food or drink producer, or industry professional who would like to appear on the show (it’s free!), don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by using the Contact Form on this website or by tweeting me @FoodDrinkShow. To hear when each new episode of the show is released simply sign up for my newslsetter.
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Transcript of the Show
Catherine: Hello and welcome to Episode #009 of The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show, the show where artisan producers tell their brand story and share the secrets of their success. I’m your host, Catherine Moran.
Before I introduce you to my guest on today’s show, I want to thank you for your support for the show. I found out, in the last few days, that the show is featured in the New and Noteworthy section of iTunes, in both the overall ‘Podcast’ category and also in the ‘Business’ category.
I understand from the podcasting gurus that this is a big deal for spreading the word about the show. So thank you for listening and subscribing and reviewing and rating the show in iTunes. I appreciate it very much. And if you haven’t yet left a rating and review on iTunes please do, it takes only a minute.
Let’s move on now to today’s guest, who is Mel Constantinou, the Mel in Baked by Mel and the woman who has literally and metaphorically repackaged bara brith — that’s b-a-r-a b-r-i-t-h — a traditional Welsh specialty, that is at once a savoury-ish cake and a sweet-ish bread; a culinary hybrid, I suppose you could say.
Mel has a fascinating story to tell about her artisan food business. She describes how she started out with just 15 quid’s worth of kit, which included a mixing bowl and a few wooden spoons, how she spotted an opportunity to sell her bara brith via mail order throughout the UK and how she became an approved supplier of Fortnum & Mason in London. As you’ll hear on the show the Fortnum & Mason connection has to do with an incognito buyer at the Abergavenny Food Festival. Here, now, is my conversation with Mel Constantinou, owner of Baked by Mel.
Welcome, Mel, to The Artisan Food and Drink Business Show.
Mel: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Catherine: Oh, it’s an absolute pleasure. You’re based in the Vale of Glamorgan?
Mel: Yes, that’s right. I’m in Llantwit Major.
Catherine: You’ve got a very interesting, sort of, culinary heritage and family background in food. Before we talk about your business, would you mind telling us a little bit about that?
Mel: Well, my mum’s East End London and my dad is Greek Cypriot, and they met in London where I was born and bred. My mum grew up in East End London and it was quite mixed — cosmopolitan, I guess.
She has a lot of Jewish influence in her food background, but when she actually met my dad, she wasn’t really into cooking much. She couldn’t cook. My Grandad then had a butcher’s shop on Brick Lane and she [Mel’s mum] had a green grocer a couple of doors down. When she met my dad, the Greek nanny couldn’t believe, ‘An English woman, you’re going to get married and you can’t cook. How on earth are you going to feed your family? What do you mean you’re a woman and you can’t cook?’
She started an intensive course, if you like, learning some Greek dishes, and my mum fell in love with cooking. So fortunately, for us, we were brought up on all the traditional British staples like fantastic roast dinners and shepherd’s pies, and liver and bacon with onion gravy. And then, also, all of the wonderful Greek foods: salads with everything, moussaka, stuffed vine leaves, and baklava, everything. We had that kind of mixed thing, and then in the background as well, Jewish cheesecake and bagels and chopped herring. It was always homemade, it was plentiful, and it was a focus really. It was always an important thing.
Catherine: It sounds like you had the best of many different culinary worlds.
Mel: Yeah, we did. I grew up not knowing that it was unusual, of course, but in those days … I was born in 1970. We see Jamie Oliver on the telly now, splashing around the olive oil and putting on the hummus that you can get on the supermarket shelves. I remember being small, my dad had to go to Green Lane in London; he’d bring the olive oil back in a big tin drum from the Greek shop. Otherwise, you could only buy it in the pharmacy. It’s amazing how it’s all come around to be more inclusive.
Catherine: And so can you tell us what you did before setting up Baked by Mel because yours is a relatively young business, isn’t it?
Mel: Yeah. It’s very young. I trained as a teacher, and I taught secondary school children; not for very long. For about five years, I think, when I qualified. And then I moved around a lot, and I did a lot of supply. Before I had my children, I was working as a supply teacher in Cardiff. After the babies, which I had very close together, there was no way I could foresee how I could fit in a teaching job and take care of these young boys because I’m far from my family. They’re 200 plus miles away, and logistically it was a complete nightmare. I just thought, ‘I don’t know how this is going to work’.
So, I had my babies; I was on benefits. I was looking for work. How could I fit it in? But even supply, and getting up in the morning organising the family, and trying to get babies to child minders; it was a nightmare, and really costly. There’s no structure there for women. If you’re single and you don’t have that safety net of an auntie that can have the children for an hour, or if you don’t have that in your locality, it’s quite tricky.
I realised quickly, ‘It’s going have to be, whatever I’m going to do, I could do something from home’. I had at the time… there was so much baking from home going on. This is a cottage industry revolution, isn’t it? So I thought, well, I’m just going to have to go at that. I think that’s going to work.
And that’s how it began, really, with The Rudry Kitchen. So, I was very local to Rudry then, just a mile and a half away, and a flyer came through the door advertising the Rudry Kitchen. It was exciting because it was a group of women that regularly had home-grown stuff, local things that were made and they’d swap it and what have you.
They decided to set up this market, a rural market, focusing on quality items that had been homemade. It so happened they had a vacancy for somebody selling cakes, so I started off there with cupcakes. I had a one-hit wonder, sold out, I thought it was great, and I went to a job centre and I said, ‘I want to do this’, and I took it from there.
Catherine: Wow. Absolutely amazing story.
Mel: Yeah, and I have to say that it was down to that woman in the job centre that was so 100% enthusiastic on my behalf. There’s a lot of possible pitfalls; you’re worried about so many financial things and, ‘How am I going to do this? Where am I going to get my customers from? How do I manage from being dependent to having this income?’ It’s a lot of stuff to consider. She was so great at her job that it gave me a lot of confidence to go forward and have a go, really. It was great.
Catherine: The Rudry Kitchen. That a cooperative, isn’t it?
Mel: Yes, it started it as a cooperative. A foundation of women that all wanted to start this, and it’s in its fourth year now. It grew to be a successful market with other producers coming in, and craft people. We try and focus on having entirely handmade and locally produced stuff on offer.
Catherine: That’s obviously, sort of an outlet for you; a source of sales for you, and that’s an on-going thing, The Rudry Kitchen. You mentioned your cupcakes, and that’s what you started off with, but you don’t just make cupcakes, do you?
Mel: No. I started off with cupcakes because I realised that they were manageable, and I could house them, move them. You have all these physical considerations, how you’re going to do this. But I realised you can sell them; you have to take them somewhere, and deliver them to the customer or deliver them to a café or you have to rely on those types of sales. I really wanted to do something in my home that I could post out and have an online business that required less trawling around looking for private customers.
Catherine: Which is really expensive, isn’t it?
Mel: It’s expensive and the time, now that I understand, the time you spend on deliveries or out of the house, you’re not producing if you’re a one-man show, you’re not producing, you’re not making your next order. It’s not just the time; it’s the time it takes away from what you’re doing as well. I felt if I had something I could post out, that would be fantastic. I could send out from the door.
The bara brith story came about a little bit by accident, as these things do. When my mum was visiting, she wanted to take back some presents for the bloke who’d looked after the cats or something. I said you should take bara brith from Wales because it’s so lovely, and it is a really iconic Welsh treat.
So off she went, and she came back with one from the supermarket that looked a bit uninspiring, and she said, ‘Surely you don’t mean this, do you? I said, ‘I’ll make you one that night; let me make one.’ Off she went with her bara brith. Why can’t you go and buy a fantastic bara brith? I looked online. How easy is it to buy one? Say I just want to send one to my auntie. It’s not easy. You have to buy it in a supermarket and it’s a mass-produced item. I thought, ‘I think that’s what I’m going to do.’ I’m going to look into Bara brith, and I want one that is really made at home, so it’s exactly the same product as if you came to my house and I gave you a piece with a cup of tea. I want to be able to post it out. That’s what I want to do. That’s how I took my business in that line.
Catherine: We need to establish first what bara brith is!
Mel: It’s a traditional Welsh tea loaf, and there’s a big divide whether you have the yeasted kind or the non-yeasted kind. I make the one without yeast, which is more cake-like, I think. The one with the yeast is a little bit more bread-like. A tea loaf that has no fat in it and all the fruit is steeped overnight in tea and I put orange juice and other things. You’d find this kind of item up and down the country. Everyone sort of got their own version. The Irish one, I think, is a barmbrack.
Catherine: It is indeed, yes.
Mel: That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about. It’s a humble, rustic thing that’s been knocking around for hundreds of years. Every family will have their own variation on the recipe and say, ‘Oh no! That’s not like my grandma’s bara brith!’ That’s fine. Everyone must have their own take on it, you know? I’m delighted of mine. I’ve come to love it so much. I’m really quite proud of how well it’s done.
Catherine: I think you’re right about it being not only rustic, but humble. Even though it is very humble, it’s delicious. Isn’t it?
Mel: I can’t believe … I was really strict about not adding preservatives or artificial things to it because as soon as you do that, you may as well buy something off a supermarket shelf because the taste is gone. When I look at the ingredients, it’s pure alchemy. How do you put just those few things together, and it’s so lovely? It tastes so lovely. Yeah. It is amazing because it’s come from its history of women that might have had a little bit of cold tea, and so, ‘We’ll use that’. Not wasting anything, put in some raisins, put in some currants. A little of this, a little of that, and they have something lovely. I do like it.
Catherine: Frugality and, strangely, luxury meet and something marvellous is created out of it. You actually won two gold stars with the Great Taste-
Mel: I did!
Catherine: … which is blooming marvellous! Absolutely, stunning.
Mel: When I peel off the little stickers and put them on the box, I still have a thrill. It was such a highlight of my year. I entered the Great Taste Awards. I tried not to think of the 10,000 other people that enter; that’s how well-attended it is. I thought, ‘Right, I’m going to send in my Bara brith. The worst that will happen is you don’t get anything. But, Angharad [Underwood, owner of The Preservation Society] she said, ‘You should enter your bara brith because at least you get feedback and they’re really rigorously tested and tasted by people that have a discerning palate. You get good information back.’ I sent it off with that in mind really. Well, when I won not one star, but two, you should have seen me doing the victory dance in the house.
Catherine: Just totally over the moon.
Mel: I was over the moon. It gave me an assurity because I was coming to the Abergavenny Food Festival. It was my first appearance.
Catherine: This September?
Mel: This September was my first time at Abergavenny. To me, it’s the crème-de-la-crème of food people out there. They taste everything, and you’re there at the food festival, and they don’t let you in unless if they taste it on the panel, apparently. They approved me, so I was delighted to be going, but to be going with the Great Taste Award win and a logo on my bara brith, I felt like I’d arrived!
Catherine: I can imagine.
Mel: I felt like I’d arrived and I was really proud to be there.
Catherine: It’s a great validation, isn’t it?
Mel: Yeah, because when you cook, and it’s a natural part of my day. I’m cooking; I’m baking. It’s ingredients, it’s just what you do. You’re eating it all the time, and your family are eating it; they’re used to it. So, when people say ‘Ah, this is lovely’, you think, ‘Well, it is really lovely if you only ever eat or shop bought things’. So, you don’t really know. When you send it off to a competition, and you know that people are tasting it, they are good at discerning, and they are able to tell the difference between things. That is a fantastic feedback that you can get as a food producer.
Catherine: A great achievement for a first product entered. Well, it’s a difficult question to answer, perhaps. I was going to ask what impact it had on new sales, but course if it’s a new product, you may not have noticed particularly.
Mel: When I’m doing face-to-face sales, I do appear at some food markets and venues. And when I have the sticker on there, and I tell people, it makes a difference. Psychologically, I think. ‘She’s won a prize; it must be good.’ Some people are already, positively, aligned to the idea that your bara brith is going to be good. I give out tasters and they like it, and it’s good.
I don’t know if it made a difference, but because I was at Abergavenny, my first appearance in September, I did have a customer. I still don’t know who he was because I can’t remember out of all the hundreds of people I saw, but he was a buyer for Fortnum & Mason’s, or he is a buyer for Fortnum & Mason’s. I’m on their approved supply list, now. That’s something that’s coming for 2015, I’m thinking. He perhaps was drawn to the stall because I had my Great Taste bunting out. I don’t know.
Catherine: It could also have been the sort of sheer provenance of the product as well — in combination with the award, it’s just a magical mix, I think. That how does that work then, the approved supplier list, do you know?
Mel: For me, in the case of Fortnum & Mason’s, I had no idea who he was. He was one of many customers. I still can’t recall him. He ate some bara brith; he took a loaf home. He emailed me afterwards, ‘I want this in the store. Are you interested?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ I said. His technical team contacted me requiring a lot of … all my documentation — everything. All the testing the bara brith had been through, all my heath certificates, et cetera, et cetera.
Once again … I sent if off … it was so much; it’s a little bit disconcerting, you know. It’s so in-depth. So I sent off everything I had, and lo and behold they replied, ‘You’re approved. You’re on our supplier list.’ So now I’m waiting for them to put in their first orders, and I’ll be going to Fortnum & Mason’s to do taster days and things. Something for January. It’s not like I embarked on that path per se, but it has occurred.
Catherine: One of these odd but wonderful twists of fate.
Mel: Yes. I’m very lucky like that; it happens a lot.
Catherine: Oh, right.
Mel: I do think that since I’ve been into my little food business, I’ve just been so fortunate. So lucky. Met absolutely wonderful people; supportive people. It’s been great. It is fabulous.
Catherine: Yeah. That’s wonderful. It’s interesting you did mention Fortnum & Mason because the CEO [Ewan Venters] was on the radio, on BBC Radio 4 business show [In Business] very early, maybe a couple of days ago. He was talking about, well, their results had just been released, their financial results, and they’re actually doing very well. So hopefully you’ll be able to ride that wave along with Fortnum’s. It’s all good stuff, isn’t it?
Mel: Yeah, that’ll be nice. That’ll be nice. Great.
Catherine: You mentioned the Rudry Kitchen, and you also alluded to some other markets that you do. I’m wondering what other sales streams you have.
Mel: The thing I want to develop the most is my one-to-one sales online. That’s coming in 2015 for the bara brith. I also do some cupcake workshops, which I really like because they’re very sociable. And I do pick very carefully the markets that I like to attend. I really love… I really love that face-to-face customer thing, but it’s a very time-consuming way of getting your product out there because on top of all the production —hand-made items take time to make — so on top of all that, you do have to go and be there. It’s always a long day, even for a short market. It only works when you’ve got support with your family. Luckily, I’m not a single parent anymore, so I do have that, but that’s why I’m careful where I go. It has to be worth the return for my time. So, I do pick. Yeah, I pick carefully.
Catherine: I was going to say you’re looking critically at your options and weighing them up.
Mel: Very much so. Very much so. It depends on how well established the market is, and what the footfall is like, and who else is selling there, and what people would be expecting to buy. You can go to some really huge events, and you think you’re going to sell loads of stuff, and you can come home with it, you know? It’s quite surprising. You only learn that from experience.
Catherine: From the experience. Of course, some of the events are very expensive, aren’t they-
Catherine: -To do.
Mel: Wow! I’m so shocked at how much it costs to go and do some of this stuff. Yes.
Catherine: Actually, I used to do farmers’ markets and shows and stuff. Some of them, really, it’s like going down to your nearest betting office, and putting on a punt like a million-to-one. Really bad odds. If you had bad weather, or there was some big sporting event, well, you could hang your hat on getting any decent sales that day. So, that’s, I think, a fundamental weakness of going out doing a lot of markets.
Mel: Especially in a country like ours for the weather… It doesn’t matter what day of the year you pick, really, you’ve got to be prepared that maybe the weather is going to not be as you’d hoped. Yes, I really enjoy doing them, and I’m very careful which ones I pick. It is something to factor in, but I really do like them. What I didn’t anticipate when I started on this, I didn’t anticipate quite how isolating it can be when you work for yourself, and you’re producing it yourself, and going out and selling it yourself. You spend quite a lot of time by yourself. I quite like doing the markets so you see other people. It’s nice.
Catherine: The camaraderie is really important, isn’t it?
Mel: Yeah, I love it. I think that’s why… I’m a strange mix of all technically so backward, but I love social media because of the social side. I’m all over Facebook and Twitter and what have you because I really like interaction. I’m not so much the techy person at all. So I don’t always know how best to make it work for me, but it does work. I do like it.
Catherine: That’s actually one of the things I wanted to ask you about, which was how you use social media. For example, Twitter, Facebook, and all the other platforms, to market your products.
Mel: The way I feel about my latest product, the bara brith, I’m selling something which is entirely homemade by hand. So I want people to have a window into my life, and how that product comes about. So when they have it, when they arrive from my house to the door, they feel an affinity to me that they know I’ve made it. It is baked by Mel.
When you use social media, I can take pictures of the ingredients; I can take pictures of the fiasco in the kitchen or what have you, and people have a little insight into that. They know they’ve had something entirely hand-crafted. It is a truly artisan product because they’ve seen little snapshots of how it’s come to be in their house. I’m sure if the same is done for all kinds of other products, there’d be a lot of things we would not want to eat. Social media lets you reach those people if they want. It’s a wonderful thing and I really like it a lot.
Catherine: Yeah, I think it has revolutionised the way people can do business, really. Particularly with artisan food, customers are interested, you know, in the story behind the product and the producer’s own story. This is a great way of telling your story, I think. Isn’t it?
Mel: Yeah, it is. It is. It’s true.
Catherine: I see you have a lovely website which is www.barabrith.co.uk.
Mel: It’s just .co, but yeah.
Catherine: .co, right. How have you managed to get that URL? It’s a stroke of genius, isn’t it?
Mel: Yes. My lovely other half is good at all that tech stuff, and when I first had the inkling of bara brith. I have to tell you, nothing has happened fast. It all bubbles away and simmers in the background, and you have this little idea. Gosh, it was so long ago, but when I mentioned it to him, he searched for that name straight away and got it. So, he said to me, ‘I’ve got this. I’ve got barabrith.co. I went, ‘Oh, good. That’ll be nice.’ He said, ‘You don’t get it! Really! So, great!’ I went, ‘Oh, thank you! Thanks. Thanks! It’s going to be great.’
Catherine: It’s more than nice. More than nice.
Mel: Now, we’re so much forward down the line, and it’s happened. It’s working. I’m going to put much more time into my website in 2015. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s just lovely. I do love it. I love it.
Catherine: It’s done really nicely. The graphics are lovely. It’s got that real handmade, artisan feel. Mel, is this going to be your focus now, do you think? The bara brith, and developing that whole product. Developing… getting it out to customers?
Mel: Yes. People have been so excited about it, and I’ve had such good feedback about the bara brith. I think this is linked to having the packaging professionally designed because it turned a homemade product … Now, there’s thousands of people who can cook and bake and make lovely stuff, but you won’t know about it unless you’re able to buy it somehow. So the packaging gave me that access to people, and straight away, even mums in schools when I go and get the kids, ‘Ooh, have you got a Bara brith on you? I’m going to see my father-in-law and it’s the perfect thing to take.’ It’s just readily… people are more interested in it than they ever were in cupcakes. I know that sounds strange because the cupcakes have their place, but this is what I was hoping for. I have one product that has a professional feel about it, yet you know it’s homemade. And I think that is where I’m going to put my energy, into developing that, and having it reach more people. That is what I’m into.
Catherine: I’ve seen photos on the website of the packaging, and the packaging obviously is designed to not only protect the product and look nice and communicate your messages, but also to go through the post, I suppose?
Mel: That’s right. That was the primary function. I thought, ‘Right, I need a package that I can post this bara brith and it’s going to hold up.’ And bara brith is great in the post because it’s robust and the shelf life, despite not having any artificial added in, is still sixteen days. So you get your Bara Brith, and it’s none the worse for wear in any way, shape, or form. It’s great.
I loved working with the designer on the packaging. He really took my abstract ramblings and got them into a package which conveys a message. I wanted a no-nonsense, no-fuss kind of functional thing that still has appeal. And I think he did a great job and I love sending them out in the post. I love it. I think it’s nice; it works really well.
Catherine: Did you use a local designer for the packaging?
Mel: I did. I applied for a grant from somebody called Creative Rural Communities. They said to me, ‘If you apply for this grant, you need to get in a few quotes for your packaging, and we’ll look at those.’ I got in a few quotes, and I got a quote from Designed for Life. That’s Alex Jenkins. I knew him vaguely and he was local, and I said to him, ‘I need to put a quote in. I want to do this project,’ and he sent me in a quote. I got two more quotes from other Cardiff-based designers. That in itself is very interesting when you see what you’re paying for broken down like that. Your logo, and your identity and your brand, and your packaging. He was really excited to work on my project. It really worked out well.
Catherine: It lifts the whole thing to another level. Up to the next level, doesn’t it? It gives you that professional look, but at the same time keeping the handmade ethos. That’s really important, isn’t it?
Mel: Yeah. He really grasped that and I wanted it to be straightforward. The boxes arrived. They arrive flat-pack and they’re ready printed. I didn’t want it to be too arty and clever. I just wanted it to reflect the product, really-
Catherine: I was going to say…
Mel: Quite rustic and humble.
Catherine: Yes, yes. Because bara brith is not arty and clever, but it’s got this authenticity hasn’t it about it?
Mel: Authenticity. That was my key. I said that’s really important to me. I love the boxes. I absolutely love them. I couldn’t be more pleased, really.
Catherine: That’s fantastic. You mentioned that really, you need to have the passion to make the business sustainable. Would that be your advice for somebody taking the plunge and setting up business as food or drink producer?
Mel: Yeah. I would say if you’re thinking of going into it, pick something that you like. If you think, ‘Well, I’m quite good at cooking, but I think I’ll make burgers with a twist and do it.’ If you’re not really into meat, don’t do it. You have to have a genuine love for what you’re doing and a passion and interest. And you care about it.
Equally, though, if you produce something like, I don’t know, jam, peanut butter, chocolate cheesecake, and you love it and eat it all the time, don’t assume everyone else is going to receive it so well. Yeah, I would say it has to be something you have an affinity for, definitely. Because there will be times in your business when you feel like you’ve hit a standstill and a brick wall. There will be times you think, ‘Oh God, is this worth it? Is it going to work? I wonder what’s going on.’ It’s in those dark moments, really, when your drive, your passion is what will fuel it. You’re the best person to advertise the thing that you love and the thing that you like to make. So, it has to be genuine, I think. If you’re thinking of doing it, jump in and have a go. That’s what I would say.
Catherine: Or regret it forever, perhaps.
Mel: Yeah. I was in a very fortunate position of having nothing to lose. When I started Baked by Mel, I had no investment. I didn’t have to put my house on the line and take the money and start a business. I didn’t. I remember starting. I went to the local store; I bought three plastic mixing bowls and some new wooden spoons, a few cupcake trays. Honestly, fifteen quid later I was ready to go. I didn’t really have anything to lose. For me, I was very fortunate. I didn’t have to research and think about if it’s going to work, and how can I go about it. I started very small.
Catherine: I think from what you’re saying potentially about big customers picking you up and listing you in London, you’re definitely somebody to watch. It’s going to be a ‘watch this space’.
Mel: Watch to space! I am thrilled. I am thrilled about it. I’ve been so fortunate and although I’m a one-man band doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a ton of people helping me on the way. I’ve had so much support. I’ve worked with fabulous people. It’s just been — all of it really — a bit of a blessing. The way things have come together for me. I realise I’m a very lucky person, indeed.
Catherine: Absolutely. Mel, thank you so much for your time, and I wish you the very best. I hope to catch you at the next Abergavenny Food Festival in September.
Mel: Oh, yay, please! That would be great.
Catherine: If not before then.
Mel: Aww. Thank you so much. It’s been lovely to chat.
Catherine: You, too, Mel. Thank you very much, indeed.
Thank you, Mel, for taking the time to come on the show and for sharing your artisan food business insights. You can buy Mel’s award winning bara brith online at www.barabrith.co. And you can connect with Mel on Twitter; she’s @BakedByMel. If you’d like to have a transcript of my conversation with Mel just go to myartisanbusiness.com where you can download it for free. I’m on Twitter as @FoodDrinkShow, so please follow me there.
That’s all for this week. Until the next episode of the show, happy cooking, happy brewing, happy fermenting and thanks for listening.
You can listen to the podcast episode with Mel at myartisanbusiness.com/podcast.