‘Bitterly disappointed. Shell-shocked. Devastated.’
Lucy Woodhouse, the co-founder of Claudi & Fin, is summing up her feelings about Brexit. Her frozen yoghurt lollies brand has been hit hard by the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The London-based business buys the bulk of its ingredients from Europe and then manufactures its products in The Netherlands. With the fall of the pound since the referendum, Woodhouse’s costs have gone up by more than 10%.
‘We’ve looked at making our frozen lollies here in Britain but there are very few UK manufacturers; most of them have been bought by the likes of Nestle and Unilever,’ says Woodhouse. ‘Brexit shrunk our margins overnight. We’ve tried to scrimp and save where we can but there’s only so much you can swallow up.'
Woodhouse – who started Claudi & Fin with friend Meriel Kehoe – says the company will start trading in Europe to offset the costs they’ve incurred in the UK.
Woodhouse and Kehoe came up with the idea for Claudi & Fin in 2012 after struggling to find healthy frozen lollies for their kids in the supermarkets. After a year of trialling their own recipes, they entered their lollies – made with Greek-style yoghurt and fruit – into Pitch Up with Sainsbury’s and won a contract to supply 250 stores nationwide.
Then came pair’s first big mistake; they’d failed to trademark their brand in time. ‘We were originally called Yolly,’ explains Woodhouse. ‘After we won the Sainsbury’s deal, we tried to trademark the name but realised that Kerry Foods had pipped us to the post five weeks earlier. We’d spent ages working on the Yolly brand but suddenly it was shot to pieces so we had to scramble to find a new name.’ Inspiration came from the names of their children – Claudi and Fin.
After launching in Sainsbury’s in 2014, Woodhouse and Kehoe went on to clinch deals with Waitrose, Ocado, Tesco, Wholefoods, Wetherspoons and Pizza Express. Asda and Boots are next on the list.
They are now based in a Workspace office in Park Hall in West Dulwich, where they employ a team of five (and have seven freezers). ‘There are around 200 other small businesses here so there’s lots of collaboration. If I need an accountant or a designer, I can just walk down the hall and find one.’
All of her staff work flexibly. ‘From our 55-year old business development manager who often works from his holiday home in Spain, to our PR manager who brought her newborn baby to the job interview – everyone sets their own hours. I trust them implicitly to get the job done.’ But Woodhouse admits that flexi-working can be a double-edged sword. ‘I have two children and my juggling act can be pretty messy! I was up until 1am working on new product designs so I could make the school concert this morning. I often think I’m not doing anything particularly well – but I think most working mums feel like that.’
Woodhouse grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Her grandfather and father ran a fruit and veg business supplying hospitals, schools, markets stalls and shops. ‘When I was little, I’d help to sweep up the back of the lorry or wash celery. I loved nothing more than the buzz of the market.’ Her father went on to run Flower World, supplying fresh flowers to supermarkets. After a career in marketing with the Telegraph, Nickelodeon and TalkTalk, Woodhouse joined her father’s business in 2006. ‘He wanted to exit by the time he was 60 so we gave ourselves five years to sell the company. In 2011, we sold it to Morrisons; we completed the deal six weeks after I gave birth to Claudi.’
She has similar ambitions for Claudi & Fin. ‘We expect to sell a majority stake in the next few years,’ she says. ‘We’d like to see Claudi & Fin become a global brand but, for that to happen, it needs big backing and manufacturing support.’