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Entrepreneur Profile: Dr. Lucy Gibney, founder of Lucy's

Dr Lucy Gibney Lucys
Finding delicious inspiration in her mother's kitchen was just the start to Dr. Lucy Gibney's entrepreneurial journey. Here's the story of how she used family recipes and a serious family food allergy as motivation to create a thriving allergen-free baked goods company.

What was the inspiration for your business? What inspires you daily?

Lucy's grew out of my family's experience with food allergies. My son was diagnosed as an infant with several severe food allergies. I grew up eating wonderful baked goods my Mom made, and I wanted the same for my child. My husband and I launched the business to help make life "normal" for people with special diets. My family is my biggest inspiration!

What's been your road to success and critical success factors along the way?

What sets Lucy's treats apart from other gluten-free desserts is our unique combination of flours. Our flour blend is magic! I worked endlessly to find the right balance of starch, fat, and protein while balancing flavor. Lucy's uses the very best ingredients available and has very high standards for taste and texture. At the time that we launched in 2007, no other company was doing anything close. Since then a few brands have popped up with some of the same ingredients, but they aren't exact copies.

Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it?

A common mistake for entrepreneurs is underestimating the cost and time needed to get established. Usually people set cash and time estimates at just enough to get started - and they forget about the stretch needed to get a firm footing for their business. Another start-up trap is growing too fast. We had trouble with both, though endured. Perseverance and having a great product got us through. Perseverance sometimes has meant cutting costs to the bare minimum, sometimes it has meant taking risks, and certainly it has included dogged determination.

What's your best piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

The food business is fairly complex, and there is definitely a learning curve. As an entrepreneur it's ok if the learning period takes some time. Until your product and your business mature, and show staying power, you really don't need to know as much. It's fine to learn as you go. This can be encouraging for an entrepreneur—even if it's a little scary to think about!

Where are you going? What is the vision for your business?

We love the baked treats venture we have going! Our products are nutritious, natural, and decadent at the same time. So we plan to stay on this path for now. We recently introduced a new Triple Chocolate Brownie Crisp, and we're hoping to release a couple more Brownie Crisp flavors this year. Besides that, we're working on a few more products which are currently in the R&D stage. We want to provide even more healthy snack options. Stay tuned!

What did it take to get Lucy's off the ground?

Launching Lucy's required a lot of hard work. The baking challenge was huge. It's very difficult to bake without using certain ingredients—no wheat, butter, milk, or eggs. The process took much trial and error. I was driven to the kitchen because I wanted to impact the gluten-free, allergy friendly marketplace. We wanted to address food allergy concerns in our family, and in doing so, also help others.

Is it difficult to bake allergen-free products? How did you find a manufacturing facility and suppliers?

Our decision to make products in our own dedicated bakery was different from most start-up food companies who use manufacturing partners (co-packers). We decided to do our own production so we could directly control all aspects of product quality and safety. We knew this was important from our own personal experience. It required additional capital, expertise, and management but was worth it considering the risks for allergen contamination. It's really part of our brand.

To support our gluten-free, vegan, and allergy friendly claims, we carefully select ingredients that come from the safest growing and processing environments. If there are any allergen cross contact risks, we test each new lot of that ingredient in our own lab. Since we have a dedicated bakery, we never allow gluten nor certain food allergens.

How did you land your first retail account?

Organic Food Depot, located in two Virginia cities near my bakery, was the very first retail store to carry Lucy's on its shelves! Not to mention, I shop for family groceries at this store weekly. How's that for "hometown?"  Soon after, we started in our first Whole Foods region - the "mid-Atlantic" reaching up to Pennsylvania.

Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers?

Probably not too surprising, but certainly inspiring! I notice how hard they work and how dedicated they are. I see a familiar dedication and excitement—like what I feel about Lucy's. I like being in the business with them!

How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company's story?

One at a time and in person! Truly, I can list stores and chains—and people. In the early days I spent a lot of time sharing facts about the "new" category of gluten-free and allergy friendly foods. Even the CEO level folks were experiencing this as new and they needed to know the basic facts. It wasn't long before our conversations went deeper. Now stores, chains, and managers are leading the way.

What most helped market your product in the beginning?

One of the first steps I took when deciding to go into business was analyzing the market for gluten-free and allergy friendly foods. I gathered statistics on how many people had been diagnosed with celiacs disease, how many were undiagnosed, and how many had food allergies. Quickly I saw that the market was huge and underserved. The business question became focused on how to do it, not whether there was a market. There are many families, like my own, looking for good tasting, allergy friendly food in clearly labeled packaging.

What's a guilty pleasure of yours?

One of my special pleasures is spending time outdoors, whether I'm working in my garden, attending a sports game, or eating a good meal. Getting outside brings me joy! Also, I'm trying to take a little more "downtime" these days.  I tend to be on the go a lot, and always looking for the next task to do at work and at home. This year I want to sit quietly a little more!

What's the inside scoop on yourself?

I like funny little characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss, Peanuts, etc. A few favorites are Snoopy, Linus, Cindy Lou Who, Dobby the House Elf, Yoda, and R2D2. Sweet, humble, inspired—inspiring.

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