Emma Rawlinson discovers how two pizza lovers created a household name
It’s hard to picture how hosting a pizza party at home could transpire into a hugely successful business. But sharing a love of Italian food is exactly what got the brain whirring for Amy and Chris Cheadle.
The couple, from Lancashire, have been quietly working away to become a big noise on the UK food scene.
In fact, if you buy ready-made dough from any one of 1,000 supermarkets, including Waitrose and online grocery store Ocado, then there’s a fair chance you eat the tastiest and freshest home-made pizza from the Northern Dough Co.
Baking was in the blood for Chris, with three generations of his family founding and developing a bakery business. Having met at university Amy and Chris realised early on they shared a passion for starting a food business.
In 2011, shortly after their wedding, they founded the Northern Dough Co with the aim of taking the hassle out of making authentic pizza at home. The couple also wanted their brand to bring people together so families and friends could share the experience of making pizza.
Chris specifically remembers the build-up to their launch at the Clitheroe Food Festival seven years ago: “We had 10 members of our family helping with our dough and a huge amount of toppings to get across what our product was all about. We sold out of our whole day’s stock in one hour! A quick trip to the bakery to grab more freshly made product and we were back selling our dough but we sold out of that too.
“It was at that point we realised the Northern Dough Co had legs. People went mad for it.”
Chris gave up his day job optimising other peoples’ businesses to start his own. Building a network of small suppliers and farm shops across the North West, the pair appeared at food festivals and farmers markets to spread the word, while Amy also worked as an account director at a marketing strategy agency in London.
Among early challenges of having enough stock to meet demand was the complexities of running a business as a couple.
Amy said: “It’s impossible to understand the full impact setting up a business has on your everyday life. We were like ships in the night, me travelling down to London and Chris investing his time in the Northern Dough Co.”
Soon the brand managed to secure orders from Booths supermarket who were extremely supportive. Amy’s invaluable career experience meant that Waitrose and Ocado followed closely and soon the Northern Dough Co became a shopper’s favourite.
This pattern of success meant that they received word that they were to meet the sales team from Sainsbury’s. Having given birth to their second child eight weeks earlier, Amy and Chris travelled to London with their newborn to the meeting.
“That period of time was such a blur,” recalls Amy. “Any parent will understand that sleep deprivation, plus the upheaval of having a baby can leave you in a bit of a fog.”
“We just didn’t have a better chance to get in front of the team at Sainsbury’s so we had to go for it. I remember breastfeeding my son, passing him to a family member and walking in and switching my brain from mum to entrepreneur in a flash.”
That meeting lasted under an hour but it was a whole year before Amy and Chris were given the news that their dough was to feature in Sainsbury’s stores across the nation.
Since its humble beginnings, the company has grown – it now makes enough dough per week to reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and more than half a million people are using their product across the UK.
However, its roots remain planted in the north of England and there is a huge team behind the scenes. From Chris’ uncle, who heads up the bakery to those who pack the boxes ready for delivery.
This year the company celebrated its anniversary with a campaign of ‘little surprises’ to thank those who have been involved in its success – from free pizza pop-ups at supermarkets to treats for staff and customers.
The next chapter is equally as exciting. Amy who has recently left her full-time job, commented: “We are looking at putting resources into product development within the frozen bakery category, giving shoppers an exciting reason to visit the often-neglected area of the store.”
“Expanding our range while remaining committed to fresh freezer produce is the best way to keep our recipes entirely natural but still deliver convenience.”
Everything Amy and Chris have achieved to date has been a team effort. They co-own, co-habit and co-parent and that’s why the Northern Dough Co, will continue to thrive.
Find the product in the freezer aisle at selected Sainsburys, Waitrose and Booths