Interview with Andy Welch, founder of Seriously Low Carb

Find out how triathlete Andy Welch was inspired to launch Seriously Low Carb because he was “tired of eating salads twice a day”. His Seriously Low Carb products are now sold in 15 countries.

What’s your career background?

I’m yet another blue-chip corporate bod seeking salvation within the altogether more real world of food and drink entrepreneurship. 

In the past I’ve led international change programmes for FTSE 250 clients across such diverse business arenas as defence, telecoms, engineering, law and real estate, in addition to launching seven of my own companies. I’ve made a fair few wrong turns along the way and shed a few nervous pounds in the process.   

That said, they say you have to make 10 investments for one to truly pay off, so I might have got there too early! 

What is ‘ketogenic’?

And there you have it in a nutshell! Keto is essentially a high fat/low-carb regime that induces a state of ketosis by which one’s body efficiently burns fat for energy rather than glucose. 

Such a lifestyle historically meant an onus on unprocessed meats, eggs, nuts, cheese and fatty fish because until trailblazing businesses like us arrived on the scene ‘starchy carbohydrate’ custodians like bread, rolls, wraps, pasta…. were strictly off limits. 

Ketogenic is a fast-growing global food movement (esp North America) that takes a stand against lazy Western diets that are uncomfortably dependent on sugar, lazy grain fillers, synthetic nasties and soulless processed food agendas. 

Simply put, keto is free-from excessive carbs/processed carbs and processed sugars.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

My personal lightbulb moment came when I attempted my first Iron Man race. I was recalibrating my body after overstaying my welcome in corporate, which despite being financially rewarding had been debilitating (both physically and mentally) and taken me to my absolute limits, collapsing on a flight back from Warsaw was my lowest point.

For me keto seemed the perfect way to rebalance and re-energise my mind and body and recondition myself for endurance sports. For others ketogenic was a meaningful turning point in their lives when they started to reverse Type 2 Diabetes whilst tackling long overdue weight loss.  

After all, latest data suggests that there are roughly 4.5m type two diabetic adults in the UK, whilst every year 40% of UK adults find themselves trapped on a ‘going nowhere’ dietary treadmill.   

What’s the thinking behind Seriously Low Carb?

I started the company for like-minded endurance sports people like me but our biggest growth was for people attempting weight loss or managing medical conditions like Type 2 diabetes.  

And your brand name?

At the time there were two critical components that drove the brand name albeit the company name is Keeto Life.

The benefits of a low carb diet, avoiding highly processed carbs and sugars is as popular AND easier to maintain than a keto diet. The NHS recommend up to 130g of carbs per day instead of keto’s more restrictive 20-50g. We wanted to be honest and transparent and so appeal to a wider audience.

We were pretty much first to market in the UK so needed to educate consumers at speed, so we opted for a ‘does what it says on the tin’ approach. That said, we’re in the process of rebranding our company name to tackle a few of the challenges we still need to face:

Our pizza bases are low carb, low sugar and lower calorie. More amazingly they contain more protein than steak. It’s seriously low carb, yet so much more!

Our loyalists, future consumers, retailers and government ‘wise owls’ are more familiar with the low/no sugar category but may not appreciate that high carbs is essentially hidden, tucked away sugars that aren’t declared on the label. Carbs turns into glucose, excess glucose is stored as fat. So we’re on a mission to give customers a craving a low sugar choice, a real low sugar option. 

What our brand name lacks in pithiness it more than makes up for in transparency and get-ability. It was important for our fledgling business that we were fast out of the blocks and the lucidity of our brand name was pivotal to us racing out of the blocks to sell £1.6m units across 15 diverse nations within our first year of trading whilst establish a 250,000 B2B consumer base. 

For our lean fleet-footed business it was the perfect ‘starter for 10’ banner however if you’re asking me if this will be our brand name in five years as keto awareness continues to snowball, I suspect not! 

What have been your biggest obstacles so far?

Anything with a dietary leaning is often treated with a healthy degree of suspicion, which is only to be expected when you consider that poor eating habits have been engrained in Western culture for so long. I would also suggest that the Atkins diet did keto few favours because although it was built on firm dietary foundations it was a very cynically marketed/elitist food movement and keto needs to be for everyone!    

On a brighter note, the healthier living food movement has never been in better shape with growing numbers of consumers willing to challenge and question tired traditional food maxims. 

The growth of vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free…. food minority food movements suggests that more consumers than ever are taking personal responsibility when it comes to identifying and embracing nutritious food fuel; not simply in terms of physical improvements (weight loss, endurance performance, reduced blood pressure, tackling epilepsy) but mental wellbeing, because modern diets are less about losing weight but embracing root and branch nutritional psychiatry. 

You may not be aware but today the NHS employs over 40 ketogenic clinicians proving yet again that yesterday’s ‘blue sky’ thinking is tomorrow’s common-sense agenda 

Whether we like it or not, keto’s long-term mainstream ambition will ultimately be impacted by the notoriously slow-to-evolve bricks and mortar retailers welcoming our flourishing food movement with open arms. Yes, online and B2B success fosters excitement and provides a call-to-arms to well-informed first adopters, but to secure real traction mainstream retailers must join the fray.   

This is one of the many reasons we have targeted historically ‘out-of-bounds’ categories as far as the keto community is concerned. Just because bread, rolls pasta and pizzas have historically been off limits doesn’t mean you don’t cease craving them. We wanted to make headway in everyday food categories that excited move forward-thinking buyers and avant-garde consumers.       

What have been your top lockdown lessons?

There are three main ones that come to mind.

I’m convinced that the UK ketogenic movement was in some ways hampered by Lockdown and International flight restrictions with our ahead-of-the-curve friends in the USA talking about a reduction in ‘shared’ knowledge. 

Like so many fledgling food movements, word-of-mouth is integral to its longer-term success, especially when the ‘positive noise’ emanates from popular holiday/work destinations where keto is already in rude health.

On the other side of the coin, this was undoubtedly a time when stuck-at-home families revisited ‘old-school’ eating habits and wondered whether alternative eating regimes would better equip their bodies to cope with our increasingly full-tilt lifestyles. 

We certainly weren’t the only business to enjoy meteoric online sales over this period, only to realise that nothing lasts for ever and when the world returned to normal it’s critical not to have all one’s eggs in the online basket.  

We are already enjoying significant export success for a business only born in Jan 2020, but there’s no doubt that Brexit, a delusional Putin and spiralling cost of living costs have created a few extra unhelpful bumps in the road.  

What’s your proudest moment to date?

It’s hard to pick out one as there are so many reasons for optimism. Here are some:

  • Becoming the fastest growing keto and low carb bread company in the UK
  • Being hailed across social media as a ‘game changer’ in people’s day-to-day lives
  • Owning Amazon’s best seller fresh bakery slot 
  • Actively exporting to +15 markets 
  • Producing the only bread certified by the wise owls at Sugarwise 
  • A breath-taking conveyor belt of innovation (pasta and wraps imminent) 

But when all’s said and done, I’m proud to be a hard-working dyslexic who has escaped the corporate hamster wheel to work alongside 15 other like-minded souls to build a business that makes us collectively proud whilst making 100,000 regular customers very happy.  

Who’s your ideal customer?

Our low carb legends are an eclectic mob with demanding taste buds and diverse needs. For many the initial entry is driven by weight loss ambitions with an over-lapping 50% using our range as part of their diabetes management. 

Keto is also well recognised to provide a welcome food respite for tackling drug-resistant epilepsy on top of appealing to blossoming numbers of well-informed and inquisitive food experimenters.  

There are in truth many reasons to consider a ketogenic diet, but what binds our increasingly vocal following is the gaping inadequacies that currently exist within the West’s over-processed/sugar-charged diet  

What brand do you admire?

Lego! I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a little behind the scenes and everyone at work is just so happy. That to me in incredibly important – work is work but if you can all enjoy what you do then it makes the day so much more fun.

Also, well, it’s Lego, we all love Lego, the good and even the bad bits when you accidently tread bare foot on a piece! 

What are your tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Starting up: Don’t wait – don’t hesitate – just go for it! If you’ve got a good idea – try it. Chances are you can get customer feedback and test traction for not too much time or financial investment.

Basic building blocks: Do everything yourself at least once, ideally keep doing it until you run out of capacity. Before the internet this would have been impossible – too much to learn and remember. With the internet you can google what you think you need to do and you’ll find a set by step guide. Avoid all the search results of companies offering to do it for you.

You’ll either pay too much or worse – you’ll select the wrong one and realise after three months of paying. Of course, you’ll eventually need real experts running each part of your business but you don’t need any of them from day one.

You’ll save yourself a fortune, you’ll learn all parts of a business and lastly, when you do need to hire someone, you’ll have a much more measured appreciation regarding what you need from them. 

Passion and resilience: Most entrepreneurs will warn you of the resilience you need from the constant knock backs – and although I thought I was prepared I was far from it. In 18 months I went from a profitable business with 20 employees to losing half the team, huge losses and nearly losing my home (and I thought my family would follow). Ending up on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety to help recentre my mind so I could work my way through it.

There would have been absolutely no way I could have caried on if I wasn’t so passionate and objective about the future and how good the business could be.  

Cashflow: Poor cashflow management can kill a profitable business in a matter of days. Cashflow accounting is more important than a P&L. You can fix profit and loss problems over weeks or months.  But poor cashflow can stop a business from trading in a few days. 

Find out more about Seriously Low Carb.