Forecast turnover is £2.4million for next year and £4.5million in 2024 for the company which, after £1.5million of investment, is currently in the throes of a new £1million raise. Founded by nutritionist Ella Rauen-Prestes and her husband Lucien Butler in 2018, it began as a kitchen table startup with the first-time entrepreneur aiming to create healthier sweet treat options.
A Brazilian now living in the Cotswolds, it was the guilty relationship she noticed friends and gym buddies had with cake that prompted her to whip up something different.
“In Brazil healthy substitutes such as stevia or coconut water are the norm so I mixed some whey protein and natural sweeteners into some low-calorie bites and mini muffins and Fitbakes was born,” she explains.
“My background is in IT and selling directly online with social media promotion the orders poured in. What was a side hustle became so busy it turned into a full-time business.”
“Making indulgent but healthy foods in smaller portions is our unique selling point.”
Currently producing cakes and bars in nine flavours, its most popular products are the Millionaire Caramel Cake and Belgium Chocolate Crunch bar while a new Birthday Cake flavour, topped with low-sugar raspberry jam and white chocolate, joins the pack this month.
Customers used to be women in the 25-44 years age bracket, but “the audience is getting younger, awareness about healthy eating has a lot to do with that, and there’s also a lot of male customers since launching with the Tesco Meal Deal last year,” adds Rauen-Prestes.
Now Fitbakes, which international authority Sugarwise has certified as the UK’s first Low Sugar Bakery, has created key rural jobs for eight staff and employs 30 more indirectly.
Strengthening the management team has helped Fitbakes secure listings with Waitrose and Holland & Barrett as well as Tesco and Selfridges.
“We’re ready if restrictions on high-fat sugar, fat and salt foods are introduced at their key locations such as checkouts,” Rauen-Prestes declares.
Outsourcing production since 2019 has reduced costs by 40 percent. It has however required immense cooperation with the company working with manufacturers to ensure their procedures could cope with Fitbakes’ different ingredient formulations.
Chocolate without sugar behaves differently to the standard tempered varieties confectioners primarily use.
To produce Fitbakes process changes had to be made to mixing speeds and temperatures along with new training for staff.
“We were still comparatively small, but our partners saw our potential and took a chance on us,” reflects Rauen-Prestes.
“We’ve overcome lots of hurdles. We don’t use butter because it contains saturated fat, but steadily we’ve found alternative ways to improve texture and flavours.”
After pulling out of Europe because of red tape and VAT complications the business is now selling in Dubai and hopes to return “one product at a time” to Germany soon.
Creativity was called on again when lockdown restrictions drove Fitbakes’ manufacturer. The crisis came at a key moment for the company too which was seeing online sales rocket.
“We begged it to stay open and just for us it did. A husband and wife bubble handled the packaging and we delivered to doorsteps.”
“We will never forget how that support saved us,” says Rauen-Prestes.”
But this experience and that of more recent shortages caused by the war in Ukraine, which have had a knock-on effect increasing the cost of the rapeseed oil which Fitbakes uses, have been profound and unforgettable, leading her to make lasting changes to secure the company’s supply chain.
“We lost a protein powder shipment because of bombing in Ukraine. We switched to a different protein powder but maintaining supply meant we also had to change the recipe,” she explains.
“Cakes are fresh products that require fast and optimised logistics so stores are supplied but we avoid waste. Now we are in the process of duplicating every supplier so we will keep going no matter what.”
“We’ll keep our balance between online direct sales, which are good for cash flow, and those in supermarkets that provide faster growth but are more cash intensive.”
“Bread is known as the top-selling product or “golden aisle” in stores. This area is dominated by a very few giant companies, but we want to be there too and we will be.”
“The important thing is for us to prepare properly – something we are now starting to do.”
“We’ve survived the impact of Brexit, Covid and the upheaval in Ukraine. At work I’m known as the “supply chain procedure psycho” and I’m happy to be the overkill that works.”