Alex Jenkins talks Oat Pantry

Alex Jenkins is the founder of Shropshire breakfast business Oat Pantry. She talks to What’s On about “conquering the oat market”...

Oat Pantry is a breakfast delivery start-up for all your granola and porridge needs - and it’s based right in the heart of Shropshire.

With a subscriber base that spans the length and breadth of the UK and a little bakery in Wem, Oat Pantry is championing local produce and Shropshire’s entrepreneurial spirit nationwide.

“Currently, we’re focused on porridge and   granola,” says the start-up’s founder, Alex Jenkins. “It was a year’s-worth of experimenting with flavours to come up with our current selection. We have five core flavours for granola and five for porridge. For granola, there’s Cherry Bakewell, Maple & Pecan, Peanut Butter & Chia, Dark Chocolate & Cherry and Cinnamon & Raisin. For porridge, there’s Carrot Cake, Cinnamon & Raisin, Cherry Bakewell, Simply Nutty and Dark Chocolate & Cherry. But we’d also like to do limited-edition ones, such as Cranberry & Pumpkin Spice for Halloween and autumn times, and a Chocolate Orange one for Christmas. Our subscriber base is key for this. When we come up with new products, we can include free samples in their boxes to get feedback off our existing customers.”

So how can we get our hands on the latest batch of Oat Pantry’s unique flavours?

“We’re currently selling subscriptions online, but we’ve also just launched our online shop so people can buy one-offs. You can fully customise your subscription box though, so you can go from one bag to as many as you want per month. We’re also currently in the process of getting our products into local        delis and farm shops on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. You can find us at Battlefield 1403 in Upper Battlefield, The Allotment in Coleham and Moor Farm Shop in Baschurch. We’re starting local with any selling that isn’t online and then looking at branching out in the future. We’re also hoping to have a gift-box selection in time for Christmas, which will feature the limited-edition flavours, a little overnight oats jar and some wooden pegs to reseal the bags.”

All of Oat Pantry’s products are also suitable for people with a range of dietary requirements, as they’re free from gluten and dairy.

“My partner is a nutritionist, so he’s the one who helps us keep the sugars lower in our products. From my experience of eating granola, I know that a lot of brands can be over 30g of sugar per hundred. We’re around half that, but often even lower. We don’t add any refined sugar and all our ingredients are natural, suitable for vegans and gluten-free. So we get our ideal taste and then work backwards to see how low we can take the sugar without compromising the taste. It took a long time to perfect our cherry bakewell flavour to make sure it came through properly. There’s definitely a delicate balance between getting it sweet enough - people want that little bit of a sugar kick in the morning - and still keeping it healthy.”

And what about the company’s impact on the environment and our purses?

“There’s such a wealth of small, local suppliers right on our doorstep in Shropshire, so I had to take advantage of that. We use Bennett & Dunn cold-pressed Shropshire rapeseed oil, we source our British oats from an oat miller in Crewe, and then we use Neil France, who’s based in Wem, for things like dried fruits.”

“I was really passionate about trying to reduce plastic waste. All our bags are 100% plastic-free. They’re made from a paper-based material with a plant-based lining to keep the product fresh. Even the tape we use to seal the boxes and the stickers on our bags are paper-based, so you can either recycle it with your paper recycling or compost it in your green bin. We wanted to give people more than one option for recycling because we know that not all varieties of recycling and composting are available to everyone, so having more choice makes it more likely to happen. We actually found a company based in Telford - so again, local - and they’re doing some really cool and innovative things with packaging.

“We wanted to shake up the breakfast market because no one has really got into going completely plastic-free yet. We felt like our packaging is the best for customers. It’s more expensive than normal plastic, but we want to be a premium brand. Our price point is a little higher as a result, but we feel like the reduced impact we’re having on the environment and the quality of our ingredients justifies the price. It’s £4.99 for a 400g bag, so we’re on a par with other boutique brands in your local shop. But they all have plastic packaging, so we’re definitely bringing something new for the price. Also, no one is really experimenting with the kind of flavours we are, so that’s definitely our unique selling point.”

Although originally from Shropshire, Alex had been working in digital marketing down in London. So what inspired the career change?

“I suppose I’m technically a chef now! We bake once a week, and then I make sure I’m doing all the admin for the business for two days. The rest of my time is split between my family’s businesses at Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury, and the New Inn in Baschurch. I think I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial - even as a child, I’d be setting up strange little businesses. Alongside my degree, I also had an online jewellery shop. Seeing how everyone is shifting their mindset towards healthier eating really inspired me. There are so many recipe boxes out there - like Hello Fresh - who are doing the dinner side of things, but no one had attempted the breakfast side, so there was a gap in the market. With my connections to Henry Tudor House and knowing the chefs there, I was able to get help bringing my creations to life. I knew what flavours I wanted; I wanted my granolas and porridges to have great flavour without the high sugar content. But I didn’t know the starting point for actually making anything, so the chefs were amazing with their help.”

Oat Pantry is certainly on the up, but Alex is fully aware that there remain many possibilities for the business that she’s yet to explore…

“We’ve been thinking about making a more complete breakfast set by introducing local teas and coffees into our subscription boxes. We’re looking for people who might want to work with us on that. We’d love to go as big as possible. The near future is getting us into as many local stores as we can. Then we’d be looking more at the Waitrose and Ocado side of the supermarket world.

“We’ve got more ideas with the range too, like branching out into porridge-to-go and granola bars. We’d be tapping into a clear appetite for convenience products. It will be a range available for all those with busy schedules and hectic mornings, allowing everyone to get a nutritious start to the day. We’re literally looking at conquering the oat market!”

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By Lauren Cole