UK gluten-free specialist Genius Foods has experienced phenomenal growth since its inception three years ago. Genius has become a leader in the UK’s fast-growing gluten-free sector and is set on expanding its presence further. As part of this drive, it plans to buy out venture partner Finsbury Food Group. Michelle Russell spoke with Genius’s CEO Roz Cuschieri to find out what opportunities the deal offers the firm and its plans for expansion.
just-food: How significant is this deal for Genius?
Cuschieri: It is truly momentous. We are in the process of creating a world-class global food business that’s based in Scotland and this announcement is just another step on our journey in delivering that. It is a very natural evolution of the joint venture relationship we had with both of the [Finsbury] bakeries.
just-food: Genius had a joint venture with Finsbury, with an option to buy the unit at a later date. For you, was the acquisition inevitable?
Cuschieri: Yes. Genius founder Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne created something really remarkable four years ago in the form of great tasting fresh gluten-free bread. The [Finsbury] United Central Bakeries facility near Edinburgh was the bakery that produced the very first loaf and has continued to produce it since that really important day. It made a lot of sense for us to make the move we did.
just-food: The deal includes production facilities: a capability Genius did not have previously?
Cuschieri: That’s right, the UCB bakery in Edinburgh and the Livwell bakery produce the majority of the Genius products for us in the UK. We supply our bakery breads and morning goods throughout the UK. We also export into Spain and we have a partner that produces for us in America.
just-food: Genius has made no secret in the past of its ambitions to expand geographically. Is this still the case, and will this deal enable you to accelerate those plans?
Cuschieri: Yes, it absolutely will. Through the own-label products that the UCB and Livwell businesses produce, the new total business supplies into a great number of European countries. It supplies into Australia and also the States. Genius has always had ambitious international growth plans and through this acquisition we can realise them at pace.
just-food: Are there any markets in particular Genius has its eye on that it may not yet have a presence in?
Cuschieri: We’re interested in all of the markets that UCB and Livwell are already in.
just-food: So your focus will be Europe and beyond?
Cuschieri: We are an incredibly ambitious company. We have created the fresh [free-from] bakery market in the UK and we know we can do the same internationally. Europe is absolutely important to us, but as is any country or continent where bakery plays a really important part in the consumer’s lifestyle and diet.
just-food: How easily transferable are your products into other markets? Is there a growing market and appetite for gluten-free products beyond the UK and even beyond Europe?
Cuschieri: The most established and developed market is that of the States and Canada. I think we, in the UK, are about five years behind the US and Canada from a development perspective and I think Europe is again some way behind the UK. So, if we are able to create in Europe what we’ve created in the UK, which is our ambition, there is tremendous growth to be had through the brand and through the business. What we would always do though is to be very sensitive to local tastes and local consumer wants. If we have products within our range that we know would work well in various international markets, then we’d look to translate them. But equally, we will need to develop products that are fit for market, wherever that market is. That is where Lucinda works her magic. She is a true product innovator. She created this space in the market and has got lots of new ideas ready to commercialise.
just-food: Genius has talked in the past about stretching the brand into new categories. Where are you at on this and what are your future plans here?
Cuschieri: There are some core staple categories that we’re investigating very actively. Some it’s very difficult to get great tasting gluten-free food in and those are the ones we would look to develop. The markets where it’s really difficult for the consumer to make great tasting gluten-free foods themselves, we want to make life easier for them.
just-food: Gluten-free products have always occupied a specialised area in supermarkets in the UK. Do you see this changing with those products integrating into the mainstream as the category grows?
Cuschieri: I think it’s part of the natural evolution of the category. For a great number of consumers, having their own dedicated area in store that they can very comfortably and safely shop in is something that is very important to them, so I do think that will continue for some time in the UK. I also think though, when you look at where the growth in the market is coming, which is from consumers looking to choose a lower gluten lifestyle, then having products next to their gluten-rich products, would also very much work.
There are a number of retailers that are looking to trial that concept. We have the top three fastest-selling bread products within the Genius range in the shape of the white, the brown and the seeded loaf, and a number of [UK] retailers are looking at dual-siting trials, which I think will be very interesting to be a part of.
just-food: Private label is not an area Genius has previously operated in. What opportunities will this deal open up for you in this category?
Cuschieri: Genius is a fully branded business but through this acquisition we are looking forward to supporting and growing our own-label business. We will clearly be looking to develop, at pace, the Genius branded business but we will also be looking to further develop the Livwell brand that we’ve acquired as part of the transaction.
just-food: Competition in the UK gluten-free space has increased significantly in recent years. In particular, Warburtons has said it wants to become the number one gluten-free player. What is Genius doing to ensure it stays ahead of the competition?
Cuschieri: What today represents is a truly focused gluten-free business investing heavily in truly focused gluten-free production. Genius was the first of its kind and is a brand that is based on absolute genuine need and trust. We are not distracted by anything else. Gluten-free is our business. Through the marriage with Genius, Livwell and own label, we’re offering the consumer and the customer the ultimate choice and I think it’s really good news for the category.
just-food: Can we expect any more acquisitions from Genius in the branded or own-label space in the near future?
Cuschieri: We’re going to be pretty busy with the acquisition we’ve just made. We’ve got a very intensive capital investment programme that we’re looking forward to putting in place, which will allow us to increase capacity and also increase the kind of products that we make. So I think we’re going to be very focused on making the business we’ve bought even better.
just-food: What are your long-term ambitions for the business?
Cuschieri: This business was born in 2009 and in three years we’ve delivered a CAGR of 134%. We are very fast growing and we’re growing in a part of the market which is still pretty embryonic but also showing phenomenal growth and we’re driving that. Our ambition is to continue to do that. We see huge potential both in the UK and also internationally. We think, in the shape of the Genius brand, we’re best placed to deliver against that and to drive that.