A Yorkshire baker is appearing on BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den on December 23 in a bid to secure the backing she needs to make her premium cakes a national brand.
Allison Whitmarsh will ask the Dragons to invest £50,000 in her high-end cake business ProperMaid. The funds will enable her to upscale her equipment to supply the increasing demand for her cakes.
Whitmarsh told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We’ve just got a contract to supply cake to the business lounge at Manchester Airport and they also take a lot of biscuits off us. It’s very labour-intensive having to cut everything into portions by hand when you’re producing 1,000 units a week.”
Securing the backing of the Dragons is about more than money. Whitmarsh is also hoping to reap the rewards of their business contacts.
Whitmarsh said: “It’s about the connections they have and the people they know, which could open doors for me. My business is well known in Yorkshire but I’ve always wanted to run a business with a national brand. Having the Dragons behind me could give me national recognition.
The success of Levi Roots
“My business is all about ladies who bake so I’d love to have the female Dragons Hilary Devey or Deborah Meaden on board. But Peter Jones was instrumental in the success of Levi Roots and Theo Paphitis is very influential in Huddersfield, so they all have something to offer.”
The star of her pitch will be her Christmas Dinner Cake, which includes key ingredients of the Christmas dinner: carrots, parsnips, cranberries, chestnuts and Christmas spices.
Since founding ProperMaid cakes in 2006, her cakes’ unusual ingredients have caught customers’ eyes. Popular cake varieties include courgette and lime, chocolate chilli and fudge, and liquorice.
“People want to be more adventurous,” she says. “They love traditional home baking but they want a twist so they’re willing to try different ingredients.”
Awards Whitmarsh has racked up include the Gold Star at the 2012 Great Taste Awards for her Dandelion and Burdock cake, the Confederation of British Industry-backed Local Business Accelerators Initiative 2012 and the winner of the Forward Ladies in Business Awards 2011.
Development chef for Northern Foods
She has an 18-year background in food manufacturing, having worked as a development chef for Northern Foods and a sandwich production manager for Greencore.
“I got a real buzz working in manufacturing,” she says. “The background has really helped me, together with all the knowledge I acquired in my seven years as a dinner lady when I was batch baking for children.”
She hopes this investment will give her room to manoeuvre so that she can reach a bigger market. Having secured a contract to supply the coffee shops of Fenwick’s department stores, she’s now set her sights on John Lewis, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges.
“I’ve only looked at small scale so far but the things I want to achieve are still out there. After Christmas we’ll be looking for more staff to help us upscale operations. If I don’t get the funding from the Dragons I’ll find another way.”