When Kirsty Dingwall’s son Josh was born four years ago, the Auchterarder entrepreneur realised it was time to take her allergen-free biscuit brand one step further.
From her parents’ kitchen table in Inverness in 2012, Kirsty created allergen-free biscuit brand Angelic.
Living with a gluten intolerance herself, she started off with gluten-free cookies and biscuits. As her snacks started taking off, she left her corporate job at Ernst and Young to focus on building her business.
A few years in to her venture, first-born Rachel came along and in 2019, her son Josh was born. She soon discovered Josh had multiple allergies, as he was very unwell.
She recalls: “He was a very upset, young child who just couldn’t gain weight.
“It was a milk and soya allergy that we lived with, and through that journey, my daughter attended a nut-free school.
“I’ve got friends with children with nut allergies, and it came to my attention that so many parents live with great anxiety sending their children to school.
“I remember one parent said to me, ‘every time the school phones, I just panic. I think it’s the worst case.’
“And I thought, ‘how must that feel to live with?’ That was it, we were off and we’re on a mission to take the worry out of snack time for families living with food allergies.”
Angelic ‘free from allergens’
Living with multiple allergies made finding food and snacks for Josh challenging. Kirsty found that milk-free products often compensated by adding soya, for example.
Furthermore, most products in the supermarket carry warning labels such as “may contain” or “not suitable for people with allergies”.
This could be because the manufacturing site handles ingredients containing allergens, and therefore can’t guarantee the product is completely allergen-free.
Therefore, all Angelic products – including the new Safetylicious oat squares inspired by Josh – are made in a factory that is free from the top 14 food allergens.
“We did a lot of hard work to really ensure that all the controls in place were so safe that we can make the claims,” explains Kirsty.
“It’s very challenging, but the way we manage it is through controlling all the ingredients that come into the site. We check them, we audit, we test products.
“One way in which we can manage that is trying to limit the number of ingredients we’ve got in the supply chain.
“When we’re formulating products, we try and keep the ingredient deck quite clean. It’s a challenging process, but it’s one that we feel we really manage successfully.”
‘It can be fatal’
Angelic Safetylicious oat squares recently launched into Sainsbury’s, and Kirsty is working towards getting more of her products into supermarkets.
The Angelic snacks sit in the free from aisle with a whole host of other products, but according to the mum-of-two not all of them are safe for children with allergies.
“If you go into many supermarkets there are products in that free from aisle which are maybe vegan, but they have so many may contains,” she says.
“Equally, quite a lot of products may be gluten or dairy free, but they don’t cater for the rest of the allergies.
“We’re looking to carve out a position for ourselves because our products taste great and they serve everybody.”
The entrepreneur has taken a lot of inspiration from the free from market in the USA, where there is a bigger focus on food safety in school.
She has noticed a lack of awareness of allergies both in UK classrooms and among parents who aren’t affected. Therefore, Angelic works with Allergy Badge to provide training in schools to raise allergy awareness.
Kirsty says: “Lots of parents just don’t understand the implications.
“In every classroom, maybe there’s one or two children with an allergy. And the severity of those allergies varies, but for some children it can be fatal.”
Growth plans for Angelic
Since starting Angelic 11 years ago, Kirsty has built up the business by herself while raising Rachel and Josh.
The 37-year-old admits it hasn’t always been easy, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“At times it can be very overwhelming. You have to compartmentalise what you’re doing,” she says.
“Ultimately, you’ve got to care about making a difference, and that drives you and gets you through.
“The dinner does get made, and sometimes the house isn’t tidy, but you find a way!”
Since the Sainsbury’s launch, the entrepreneur has been exploring where to take Angelic next. Both in-flight snacks and theme parks are on her wish list.
But first, she hopes to grow the business a bit further.
Kirsty says: “We’re in that classic stage of a small business that’s growing, just at that crunch point where everything’s becoming very challenging.
“In time, we’ll probably need to expand our team out, especially as our footprint increases.
“Equally, it’s still a very challenging market for small food businesses to operate in.
“So, we have to be careful to ensure that we’re making sustainable moves to ensure Angelic grows.
“Being a small business, we have to be quite creative in how we approach growth, but ultimately we’re here to ensure the allergy consumer get the choice they deserve.”