Helen Adshead is the owner of Weddell and Turner, producer of luxury gluten-free and dairy-free cakes and bakes. Here she explains how she has gone from selling at farmers’ markets to moving into the Broadland Food Innovation Centre on the Food Enterprise Park, near Norwich
Helen Adshead has had allergies ‘before it was even popular to have allergies.’ The owner of Weddell and Turner, producer of luxury gluten-free and dairy-free cakes and bakes now based at the Food Enterprise Park to the west of Norwich, recalls: ‘I was diagnosed with a dairy allergy at 14 and by the time I was 19 it was very bad. My diet was restricted, and my nan was a coeliac, so her diet was very restricted. Birthdays, Christmas, special events…we essentially missed out on all the fun things – I never received food as a gift,’ says Helen, 48, from Tivetshall St Margaret.
She spotted a gap in the market after years of not being able to enjoy celebrations, because she couldn’t eat the food on offer or didn’t enjoy the gluten-free and dairy-free alternatives provided. In 2009, she went to an allergy and free from show, and noticed was that there was ‘nothing in the luxury or gift market – there was nothing to make people feel particularly special.’
Helen decided that once her daughter started secondary school, she would develop her business idea – her daughter, now 19, and a son, 21, both have allergies. Weddell and Turner was founded in 2015. ‘I spent a year researching,’ she says, ‘before the free from aisle even existed.’ Applying her biochemistry background and working with professional chef and close friend, Daniel (who has a fish allergy) they set about developing and testing cake recipes until they were producing results that are both delicious and look appealing.
‘I launched in 2016 – with a hamper made up of different products’ – some were produced in-house, and some were white label products. The first recipe we wrote together was for gingerbread. Since then, we’ve got 170 different recipes – although we don’t sell them all at once!’
Nowadays, Weddell and Turner make gluten-free and dairy-free luxury cakes, biscuits, gingerbread and confectionery. ‘Everyone deserves a treat,’ says Helen, ‘they are all 100% free from gluten and dairy.’ Helen is all too aware about how serious allergies can be. ‘After I launched my business, I realised I also had coeliac disease.’ A couple of years later her dad was diagnosed.
In 2018, the team attended the BBC Good Food Show, and the interest in their products was ‘overwhelming’. Setting up stall at the Asparagus Festival and Food Fair at The Tacons Farm Shop in Rollesby then led to a change in direction: Emma Tacon expressed an interest in selling Weddell and Turner products in the farm shop and encouraged Helen to start selling business-to-business. ‘She started selling our gingerbread and biscuits and gave me so much support. At the end of 2019 we decided to go more B2B.’
Then lockdown 2020 happened and Helen made the decision to close the kitchen. ‘Six of us were working together as we went into Covid – there are three of us now: me, Daniel and Holly.’ By September they were back, taking orders.
Helen’s association with the Broadland Food Innovation Centre project started when she met the Food Adviser, based at the Centre, benefitting from bespoke growth advice and guidance. The £11.4m Broadland Food Innovation Centre is a business hub for new and growing food and drink enterprises. Developed by Broadland District Council it opened in September 2022 and consists of 13 food-grade units, sensory and test kitchens and meeting spaces. Other tenants include Farmyard Frozen, Prep King, Old Rectory Preserves and Norfolk Spirits Company.
Other opportunities included attending Food & Drink Expo 2023 in Birmingham as part of the delegation and showcasing product at the Nourish Food and Drink Innovation Conference in March 2023 at Barnham Broom. At the ‘Summer Snowcase’ event at the Centre in June, Helen was a keynote panellist and Weddell and Turner baked and constructed the ‘Gingerbread Food Innovation Centre’.
Helen adds: ‘Moving into the Broadland Food Innovation Centre is such an exciting step for our business. It’s ideal as we are constantly innovating, and developing new bakery products that are both gluten-free, dairy-free and, most importantly, so delicious that everyone loves them regardless of their dietary needs. The Centre will give us the professional space to test new ideas and produce much greater volumes to meet our orders.’
She is still keen for Weddell and Turner products to have the handmade touch. ‘All our gingerbread is hand decorated and our cakes are hand finished. So, if you are in a coffee shop or wherever, your carrot cake will have a hand piped carrot on it. Everyone deserves a treat – and that is what Weddell and Turner is for.’
Featured image (left to right): Helen, Daniel and Holly, the Weddell and Turner team