From home baker to award-winning manufacturer

Anna Hopkins was awarded Excellence in Manufacturing at the 2018 Women in Industry Awards.

The winner of 2018 Women in Industry Awards’ Excellence in Manufacturing award, Anna Hopkins, was managing her own café in 2010 when she noticed the difficulty of finding healthy baked products in the market.

A health enthusiast herself, she started experimenting by baking low carb protein breads in her studio apartment and was soon selling the cling-wrapped loaves at her cafe for $20 a pop.

Seeing the high demand for the product – which was flying out the door when people started travelling from all over Sydney to purchase the bread – she and her brother Luke teamed up to manufacture and distribute the product on an e-commerce site, driven by a strong social media presence.

Anna co-founded The Protein Bread Co in 2012 alongside her brother and business partner Luke Hopkins and CEO Aaron Wallace. With the increased demand for the products, Anna sold the café in 2014 to concentrate full-time on the new venture.

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Today, under The Low Carb Living Group umbrella, with a team of 14 and a manufacturing facility in Marrickville, Sydney, the company offers 16 bake-at-home products under its two brands: The Protein Bread Co and Anna’s Low Carb Kitchen. The products are sold around Australia, New Zealand and the US direct to consumers online, as well as through health retailers across Australia.

Since winning the award in June, The Low Carb Living Group has also ventured into ready-made baked products by launching their new low carb muffins at more than 200 Muffin Break franchise stores, a national food retailer that owns bakery cafes across Australia.

“All of our products are manufactured in-house. Our products are all gluten free and we get as many of our ingredients as possible directly from Australian farms. For example, we spent last weekend near Albury and looked at their crops. We love working directly with the farmers,” Hopkins told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

The manufacturing facility in Marrickville has a maximum production capacity of 25 tonnes per week, but the plant is not running at full capacity yet. “Whilst we’re not quite at full capacity, we’re definitely heading in that direction and are excited to commence more food retail partnerships in the coming months,” Hopkins said.

Making healthy choices

Anna said the inspiration for expanding her brand comes from her desire to bring healthy baked products to as many consumers as possible.

“There is such a growing demand for healthier baked goods everywhere. Partnering with retail groups such as Muffin Break helps us deliver our products to consumers across hundreds of stores. Up until this point, all of our products were sold as baking mixes. But having a ready-to-eat product in the stores means more convenience for the consumers and will encourage more people to buy and consume healthy products.

“It makes me so happy that people will now be able to have a healthy option to pick from. We have similar plans to offer the whole range of our products, including the muffin, pancake and bread mixes, as ready-to-eat products through the retail stores,” she said.

The journey has had its challenges, but Anna has learned to get past them by relying on her instincts and pushing for growth.

“Finding the right people has always been the number one challenge for us. We’ve tried hiring senior people and that hasn’t necessarily worked out because they often come from larger companies that have an abundance of resources. In a small business, you have to be very creative to achieve the result with minimum resources. So, we now tend to hire mostly junior people that are just passionate about health and fitness and understand what we do. I then train and coach them to get to the level of performance that we need,” Anna said. “I think you can train anyone if they have passion and energy and share your vision.”

Connecting with customers

Anna said that maintaining a strong social media presence has been an important part of her business’s growth success, as it helped the company get direct feedback from the consumers.

“Unlike the traditional manufacturing companies, we are very lucky in the sense that we have such a strong social media following, so that we can talk to our consumers directly online. We get bombarded with feedback every single day. This includes good feedback, bad feedback, ideas or suggestions. We see what the customers are doing with our products. They take photos and they tag us, so we really have a direct relationship with the end consumer that guides us in our decisions,” she said.

Trusting her instincts and simplifying the processes within her business are two factors that have helped Anna keep the brand growing, while also managing a work-life balance.

“I make a lot of the decisions based on my gut instincts. We like to go with what feels right, rather than hiring external consultants or senior people to tell us what they think we should do.

“Another thing that we are going through is simplification. We have so many different projects going on simultaneously. Having a baby means that I have limited time.  But sometimes less equals more. We are currently going through a process of simplifying our work and getting the basics right. That’s been a massive learning,” she said.

In the next five years, Anna plans to be exporting The Low Carb Living Group’s products and signing deals with big global retailers in the US and the UK.

“I’m really passionate about building these food retail commercial partnerships, because I think that’s how we can make the biggest difference in people’s lives by providing the ready-made products to a larger audience,” she said.

Recognition through awards

Apart from winning the Excellence in Manufacturing award this year, The Protein Bread Co had also won both the Best of the Best and the Best Packaging Design awards at the 2016 Food & Beverage Industry Awards.

Anna said winning industry awards has helped boost the team in their endeavours and given their business higher credibility.

“Winning industry awards is always great for credibility and to provide that extra strength to your brand. It provides us credibility when we interact with companies that are so much bigger than us. It also gives us and the team that extra boost of confidence to win,” she said.

“What we are doing is new and sometime you can get a bit down when people don’t get the value of what you are doing. Winning an award like that gives everyone a boost.”

The Women in Industry Awards, jointly supported by the Australian Mining, PACE, Manufacturers’ Monthly, Logistics and Materials Handling, Prime Mover, Trailer and Diesel magazines, recognises the inspriring women that are driving change in their respective industries.