Foodpreneur Highlight #3: Luciana Esteves, Founder of Le Smart Cake
Bonne année, FoodHackers and welcome to our Foodpreneur Highlight serie, where we interview Swiss food startups that we love.
Starting your own business can be tough.
Especially when you've just moved to a new country and don't speak the language.
Add the fact that you have zero experience in the field.
You'd have to be crazy to try and start something...right?
But, our guest speaker today, Luciana Esteves, did exactly that.
Luciana is founder of the popular Le Smart Cake, based out of Pully, Switzerland.
What makes her cakes so great?
Le Smart Cakes are gluten-free, lactose-free, conservatives-free and instead packed full of nutritious superfoods.
Essentially it's a guilt-free treat that still tastes delicious.
We've been fans of Le Smart Cakes since the moment we discovered them at our local coffee shop.
Since then, Luciana's been a good friend of ours at FoodHack and we've been able to find our more of her inspiring story to success.
We sat down with Luciana to find out more about what it was like to open her business, the struggles she faced and her advice to other passionate food entrepreneurs.
Tell us a bit about your life before moving to Switzerland?
Before moving to Switzerland, I was living a completely different lifestyle in Brazil, where I was born and raised. I spent most of my life in Rio de Janeiro, but I experienced my first move when I switched the sunny and relaxed Rio way of living to work in São Paulo, for Conde Nast International.
It was an amazing experience, professionally and personally, that lasted 4 years. To be in charge of the Digital Advertising Development of Vogue, Glamour, GQ and afterwards to lead Casa Vogue Business Team was a great accomplishment of my career.
What was it like when you first moved to Lausanne?
I would say moving to Lausanne was a smooth process. I came to visit Bruno, my husband a couple of times, so I knew how the city looked like.
Of course, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to get used to opening hours of shops and restaurants, for example. But I was quite excited to live abroad, met new people, and get to know a completely different culture.
On top of that, I took advantage of moving to take a sabbatical – I had decided to rethink my career to find more balance between work and personal life. Well… it didn’t last too long (laughs).
How was the idea of Le Smart Cake born?
Looking back now, I would say the idea was born because I had free time to do what I like!
Right after moving to Lausanne – which I strategically did in summer – I was enjoying the lake, discovering the charm of exploring street, hunting the best city spots… In short, I had more time to do the things I like.
This meant I had some time in my kitchen as well, cooking my favourite recipes - something I didn’t have time to do in Brazil, when I used to work at least 10/12 hours a day.
I must say I’m not good in following recipes…I’m more into getting-creative-while-baking, substituting ingredients, adjusting quantities, and usually I do that with more nutritious options. In one of my baking sessions, the Smart Cake was born. Me and Bruno liked it so much that I started baking the same chocolate cake almost every other day!"
What did the earliest versions of Le Smart Cake look like?
"The earliest versions were a bit different. The Smart Cakes were 10 times bigger! Then we realized that it would make more sense to focus on individual portions that people could eat as a snack, a healthy cake to-go and we changed to what Le Smart Cake's are now."
At what point did you decide to make this your business?
"The decision came after a brief market research where I couldn’t find any similar product.
There were many cereal bars and cookies, but all them full of sugar, preservatives and some unpronounceable ingredients that I would never have in my kitchen. I wanted to create something natural, healthier, nutritious but still delicious!
Moreover, because of the ingredients used, I knew Smart Cakes were free from gluten and dairy, but very different from most of “free-from” cake versions – that are usually not healthy.
I need to open a parenthesis here, because I believe many people don’t understand or get confused with the real meaning of organic, gluten-free, vegan etc., but this is a subject for a full article (laughs). So, getting back to the question, we confirmed the nutritional potential of Smart Cakes with a specialist in Geneva, and decided to move forward."
Can you briefly tell us more about Superfoods and what makes them so great?
By definition, superfood is a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. Isn’t it amazing that food can do much more for us then shut up our stomachs? (laughs).
Now we can cleverly choose ingredients to boost immunity, help to focus, reduce cholesterol etc.
I started adding some superfoods to my diet around 10 years ago, when I went for a week in the Maria Bonita Spa, in Brazil, and became aware of the benefits of some foods to my well-being.
Currently, flaxseeds, chia, berries, quinoa, dark chocolate, almonds and green tea are part of my daily diet. But the list in huge and there might be a lot people eating kale and lentils every day without knowing how powerful they are.
How Have you scaleD up the business?
"Actually, we are still trying to do so (lol).
Besides me and Bruno, there are no investors behind the business and I’m the only fixed employee, but we are growing in a good pace, and consistently.
That means that I have been increasing the demand by opening new selling points and looking for new places to produce more and more.
Our model is very particular: we don’t have our own facility, so we sublet bakeries – or outsource production – to keep scaling up.
It took me only a couple of months to stop baking at home and start in my neighbourhood’s bakery. One year later, we are already looking for other bakeries to increase the volume even more."
What were some of the key challenges faced & how did you overcome them?
"The challenges are endless!
When you think you solve one, there’s a new bottleneck!! (laughs).
I think the first challenge was to understand the market regulation and get the temporary authorization to bake at home. We talked with some other food entrepreneurs who gave us important tips.
The clock was ticking and we had to find a place to bake if we wished to sell to retailers.
So, we were lucky to find a baker in our neighbourhood who opened the door of his kitchen to me. He was so kind! We started baking together and thanks to that partnership I was able to increase the volume.
Another big challenge for me is the fact of having no experience in the F&B market.
I do things instinctively, test, research and then learn continuously. Moreover, as a foreigner, I didn’t know the suppliers, who is who, who does what, I had no friends here!
Again, Universe played on my side and I had the chance to be surrounded by good people, that little by little introduced me to more people, and helped me to build my network. But as I said, everyday there’s a new challenge and some are still difficult to overcome, such as the language... but I feel really proud of my progression in French :-)
Who were some crucial partners & people who helped you grow?
"As I always say, I have to thank maaaaany people who are helping us in this journey.
Marc Hempel from Le Pie, was crucial when inviting me to join him in his stand at the Paleo festival. He made me get out of my kitchen and find a place to bake for real. And he is still a mentor, someone who helps me a lot with contacts and advices.
Monsieur Eric Bezuchet, and his wife from the bakery La Huche à Pain in Pully, which were really important to allow me to scale up the business in the first moment.
The list of friends who helped me spread the word about Smart Cake is huge, I owe a special thanks to Sara Dubler (from Sara’s Healthy Kitchen), Bruno Correa (from Les Toiles and What Would Miranda Say) and you guys, Arman and Camille, from FoodHack, that were so enthusiastic of my products since the beginning - I wish I could list all the names!"
"Every single client that believed in us since the beginning means a lot to me. I remember when I first ran into Epicentre, an organic grocery store in the University of Lausanne, and they said yes to my approach of selling Smart Cakes there!
My very first client! And I could barely speak French at that time…
And last but not least, Ana Salac, a friend that started helping us and who is becoming my right hand."
What advice would you have to other foodies looking to start their own business?
"The most important and practical advice is to understand the market and its singularities before investing money on it.
Passion is crucial but don’t let it blind you.
Although we think Smart Cakes are a very good product, the distribution is a challenge, as they should be kept refrigerated (no preservatives!) and due to its short shelf life.
So, it’s not easy at all.
Don’t think you’ll work less because you’ll be your own boss.
Creating something from scratch is very fulfilling but it’s hard work. No weekends, less sleeping hours, a lot of hard work. But if you do something that you truly believe in, it’s worth it.
Surround yourself with good people, be good, do good. You’ll see that there’s nothing like sharing love through food. I had no words to explain what I feel when someone smiles and has the eyes slightly closed while enjoying a Smart Cake."
What is next for you and Le Smart Cake?
"In a short term, we would like to expand to Zurich and other regions, but there’s still the delivery issue to be solved. We have also some new products under development, and I would love to have a larger portfolio of healthy snacks, to make people’s life easier.
But I’ve never been one to make many plans. Life has given me so many opportunities that I was not expecting, that I’d rather keep on being surprised by what’s about to come. "
Thank you Luciana for your time, it was a pleasure to learn more about Le Smart Cakes story and we're happy to have you part of the FoodHack network!
Find out more about Le Smart Cake and where you can grab one here.
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