Anna and Alla are two friends who had no previous experience in food or business but possessed the entrepreneurial drive necessary to start a business, and to convince supermarkets to buy into an entirely new product category.
Two Chicks egg white is now available in every multiple in the UK, as well as having listings in France, Holland, UAE and Hong Kong and they are soon launching a new snacking range in the US.
They coach regularly on topics such as women in business, entrepreneurship and trends in the industry such as the gender gap in funding for women-led businesses.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
Alla: I’m a mother of two and co-director/founder of Two Chicks.
I have always been very sporty and health conscious and recently I have got into CrossFit and weightlifting. It is great because it seems everyone who eats our egg white is into weights, so I have lots of people that I can train with and lots of gyms/boxes I can go to through these connections.
Anna and I started our business more than 14 years ago and we are still growing and learning. We sell our egg white throughout the UK and internationally, and our goal is to launch more products that have the same success. Being a director of a small business means my role is extremely varied and involves anything from legal documents, financial forecasts to chatting with influencers on Instagram and new product development.
Anna: I am co-director/founder of Two Chicks.
In 2005 I lived in Los Angeles for a few months where egg white omelettes became a staple in my diet. Egg whites were readily available to buy in cartons in all the supermarkets. When I got back to the UK I was aware that we didn’t have such a product. I talked to my good friend Alla who also agreed that there was a gap in the market, and we went about creating Two Chicks, which we launched in Selfridges in 2007.
As a director of the business I focus mainly on sales – expanding our listings in the UK and overseas. As well as new product ideas, writing copy, and some public relations.
Prior to founding Two Chicks I worked in television news, journalism and PR. In my spare time, I enjoy writing poetry and horse riding. I grew up in London where I continue to reside.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Anna: Not as such. I always just knew that I wanted to write, hence the reason I studied English Literature at university, completed a Masters degree in journalism and worked in news. I never ever thought I would begin a business, or had any previous desire to start one. I simply saw a gap in the market and doggedly followed an idea.
Alla: I didn’t plan this career! I was always interested in finance and economics and from a young age I knew that this was what I wanted to study at university. I thought it would then lead to a career in banking. However, having finished university I found myself working on a couple of business plans, until Anna approached me with this idea, which we turned into an actual business!
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Plenty! Finding the initial investment was a real challenge: neither of us had a background in business or food, and with just an idea, breaking into the multiples seemed like a long shot to potential investors. Finally, a family friend agreed to give us £25,000 in return for some equity.
We had a big job on our hands, not only did we have to convince the buyers to list the product, but we had to actually explain to them what it was and why anyone would want to buy it, as they were all totally unfamiliar with the concept of egg whites packaged alone. We were introducing an entirely new product and we had a whole educational job on our hands.
Then there was the question of in-store positioning and which buyer to approach – in America the eggs are kept in the fridge but in the UK they are not, so there was no obvious place for our egg white to sit.
Starting our business on such a low budget meant that we had to be extremely persistent and innovative in order to get into and remain in the marketplace. It was a question of always thinking outside the box and pushing boundaries – ducking under the red tape at food shows to hand samples to celebrities on stage. When we first got listings in the multiples, we would drive around the country leafleting outside the stores. We couldn’t afford the in-store marketing options so we would go into supermarkets and place our own point-of-sale on the shelves. But this activity came to an end once we were removed by security from a major supermarket chain and got a call from the buyer!
It was a real challenge to find a producer who could meet all of our criteria. We eventually managed to find one, but even then it wasn’t plain sailing. For example, our producer could only supply the egg white in cases of eighteen, but the supermarkets required cases of six, so every week we would sit in a huge fridge at 6am dressed in our winter coats and boots and re-box a thousand units.
At the beginning and for quite a long time we did absolutely everything as we couldn’t afford to pay ourselves, let alone anyone else. But thankfully, we had complimentary skill sets so it worked out really well.
In 2016 we won the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award at the Variety Catherine Awards, set up to celebrate inspirational women in business. And one year after we launched we made the national finals of the HSBC Start-Up Stars Awards, the UK’s premier competition for young businesses. So the challenges paid off!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Creating an entirely new product category in the UK, and getting listed in every supermarket chain without the help of a broker.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
We didn’t perceive failure as an option, not because we didn’t think it was possible, we just didn’t think about it. We simply decided we could do it regardless of any obstacles along the way. The key is to see the challenge as exciting as opposed to risky. And be prepared to do every job yourself, including the more unglamorous ones.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is something we enjoy doing and would like to do more of. We have done it on a few occasions, at events and for friends of friends or acquaintances who want to set up a business. It is a great way to share knowledge. It also makes you realise how much you have learnt along the way, and if you can share this and be of help to other people, then that’s very rewarding. We have also had some invaluable help along the way. When we first set up the business we were introduced to a food broker who advised us on the best way to launch into retail, and also on margins. He also said that we needed to give up our day jobs to make this a success.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
To see more women on the boards of companies.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Anna: To not be so hard on myself (I still have not mastered it!). Though on the upside, maybe that can also be a driving force to an extent.
Alla: I am quite happy with how things worked out. Looking back, I realise that a part of our success was down to never taking no for an answer and just persevering with what we believed in. This came naturally but I now realise that this is a very strong character trait and one that I should have given myself more credit for.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Our next challenge is to make our US launch a success. In the future we hope to grow our product line substantially in the UK and across new territories.