Behold Belinda beaming with business bravado. Belinda Roberts loves alliteration. Blame her mother Wendy Jack – former red top and Herald freelance journalist – for all the word-play dexterity.
Belinda’s latest venture is Marvellous Mustard, which she has set up with her friend and colleague Gill Eastgate. Belinda Roberts is well-known to many across Scotland’s business community as the national treasure behind the creation of WeDO Scotland, one of the most active networks of enterprising people in Scotland. It’s Belinda’s drive that made it happen.
Belinda has had a successful career in recruitment. At 22, she was working in the City of London for the Bilingua Group, recruiting for Deutsche Bank using her Spanish and French skills, before returning to Edinburgh working with Search, moving into the oil and gas sector, working with Andrew Pert.
At 27, she set up a sales and recruitment training business, BJR Consultancy, which morphed into management training business OPT which she later sold. She undertook all the training for Direct Resources, owned by Paul Atkinson, and the senior management interview training in Luxembourg for State Street. Seven years ago she founded WeDO Scotland. Now ‘Rollicking Roberts’ is a practical entrepreneurial inspiration with the creation of another business.
"I’ve always wanted to build a product-based business, as opposed to a service-based one," she says, sitting in the May sunshine outside Tiger Lily’s, the unofficial global headquarters of WeDO Scotland.
"Everything that I have done previously has required me to be somewhere in attendance. I’m a massive foodie and I love cooking, which is how I switch off. My ideal is spending a whole Saturday in the kitchen cooking for friends. I wanted to do something in the food sector, although I didn’t know much about it," she reveals.
Here, the inspiration of another WeDO Scotland success story weaves its magic. In 2012, Ailsa Proverbs created The Big Cheese Making Kit. She was inspired by a TV chef making yoghurt and she went out to find a kit for making cheese. There wasn’t one on the market; so she invented it.
Ailsa was helped by Scottish Enterprise’s Business Gateway and is now making over 7,000 kits a month. She was awarded an MBE for service to the food industry after only 18 months in business. "I saw what Ailsa did with the Big Cheese Making Kit and I thought there must be a gap in the market for some other sort of kits. She has done amazingly well."
Belinda looked to the United States to see what kind of food kits existed, including sausage-making and cooking-kits. "The one thing that struck me was a mustard-making kit. It was ironic, because I was not really a mustard fan."
In June 2014, Belinda phoned Gill, her friend, general manager and ambassador at WeDO, and explained her idea. Gill was interested, undertook her own research and was surprised at the size of the mustard market. Gill felt there was certainly a gap in the UK, as two US firms were making kits that were too expensive to import. Gill was convinced it would work.
Belinda, as head chef, set about experimenting with mustard seeds and vinegar to come up with several kits that would be handy and inexpensive to develop. "It is one of the easiest things to make. You soak your seeds for 48 hours, then add the dry ingredients, put the mix into the jars and it’s ready to use a week later," says Belinda.
They undertook taste trials among friends who thought the tangy fresh mustards were so much better than the major supermarkets. "We wanted to revolutionise the mustard world. We didn’t think having pictures of mustard would enthuse anyone, so we wanted to build a brand with some characters. Also people don’t use mustard so much for cooking in the UK, using it as a condiment. We wanted to encourage people to use it as a key ingredient in their recipes, whether a roast or even cheese on toast."
The original Marvellous Mustard range was based on four characters: Hug Me Honey, Gorgeous Garlic, Cry Baby Onion and Boozy Woozy Beer, overseen by Henry, the head of the family, who is a wrinkly Frenchman.
Belinda undertook a food hygiene course, and they sought food business approval from City of Edinburgh Council and were up and running. "We applied to be on NotOnTheHighStreet.com. The website usually takes ten days to get back, but they got back to us immediately. We didn’t even have our website up and running at this stage. They loved our idea and wanted us to be on their site."
Marvellous Mustard was launched on 17 October 2014 and the couple faced a surge of interest leading up to Christmas. The mini production line soon spread out with Belinda and Gill drafting in active mothers and aunties.
"We sold a lot in the lead-up to Christmas, but we were quite late in getting into the pre-festive gift market. It was all brand-new to us. It was a bit like the blind leading the blind! However, we were quick learners and enthusiastic about what we were doing."
Marvellous Mustard was only a part of Belinda and Gill’s workload: they were still running WeDO, with the entrepreneur’s major awards programme and events, the busiest time of the year. It was all very manic for the budding foodie entrepreneurs.
"Each kit retails at £22, including second-class postage. We were advised in the beginning that the point when an online sale drops off, is when you are expected to add extra for postage. We are also on sale on Amazon now" adds Belinda.
After the Christmas rush, the company has had time to re-assess and has been building its brand, adding two new lines. "Up to Christmas it was the gift market we were looking at, now it is retail which is where the volume is that will allow us to scale the business. We thought honey would be the top seller. But Boozy Woozy Beer, where you add a beer of choice, was the best-seller, especially as gifts for men.
That made us re-think the future flavours. The feedback was that it is difficult to buy presents for men. It’s difficult to get beyond the tie and socks.
Because you don’t have to be a cook to make the mustard, that’s why we’ve been doing well. We decided to go down the beer route, and we launched Feeling Frisky Whisky, which has overtaken the beer."
Since then they have launched Fine and Dandy Brandy, with Pack A Punch Port on the horizon, although Marvellous Mustard don’t supply the alcohol, you buy that yourself. "We have gone down the booze route because that is what has been selling."
Belinda admits the sales are still extremely modest but it has been a great entrepreneurial adventure with room for growth. As BQ Scotland was going to press, they were in discussions about investors helping them expand more quickly.
They have also been given grant funding from Scottish Development International’s Make it To Market Fund, which covered 75% of costs so that it could be taken to international markets. "We will be going to a few trade and consumer shows over the remainder of the year to show off Marvellous Mustard. It’s been a massive learning curve, but a very good one."
But this livewire is not sitting still. She’s collaborated with David Sole, the former Scottish rugby legend and executive coach, on a book called 21st Century Networking, published by Elliot & Thompson in October.