The founder of Bonny Vita, a truffle producer and distributor of artisan foods, sat down with Business Advice to discuss how the idea of pairing the best of Scottish and Italian produce came about, and the difficulty in marketing to a different culture.
Francesco Loretucci is the fourth generation of a truffle hunting family on his father’s side, while his mother came from a fisherman family. Suffice to say food has been a huge part of his life – “as long as I can remember,” he said.
He moved from Umbria in Italy to Scotland in 2007, after working for a number of Italian luxury brands, before starting an MBA in 2012. It soon came to his attention that there was something troubling about his new home. “I realised I couldn’t find a lot of ingredients we had in Italy – even looking at supermarkets or specialist places online, I couldn’t find them.”
Trips back to Italy for the holidays meant his university friends reaped the rewards, when Loretucci came back and cooked them meals with food from Umbria. “They were gobsmacked, and I saw an opportunity to open up a new kind of market,” he explained. While the idea was born during his time at university, Loretucci admitted it was “a journey rather than a eureka moment”.
The aim was to share the fantastic regional foods in Italy that can be tricky to locate elsewhere, and Bonny Vita sources artisanal foods from small producers, while they import truffles straight from Loretucci’s family.
The initial period proved tricky, as although he had a background in marketing at a big agency, Loretucci said it was a real challenge to adapt his Italian culture to British culture, working out what would be appreciated and mesh well. “I had to understand communications and work out how to approach this kind of market in terms of brand identity and social media,” he said.
Loretucci stumbled upon the accelerator programme Entrepreneurial Spark purely by chance – he was driving in a storm last year and had the radio on to help him focus. It could only tune to one station and they happened to be advertising Entrepreneurial Spark.
Having won Entrepreneur of the Moment there, with £10,000 in his pocket he put it to work on a budding pet project – pairing the best of Scottish with the best of Italy.
Loretucci met his business partner Ian McKenzie at university. He was very interested in drink, and their united interest helped develop the idea of meshing Italian produce with Scottish goods.
The award was, he feels, a particular achievement because of the numerous setbacks he suffered along the way – from personal troubles to business obstacles. “It was because I was really stubborn and carried on despite all this that I won the award. They said it signified that entrepreneurial spirit,” and his determination to push on when everything wasn’t going to plan has seen his business idea begin to blossom.
Entrepreneurial Spark provided assistance when it came to cash flow guidance, finding partners from Business Gateway and financially – “so we’ve been able to boost the digital side and get the ecommerce right,” he added
Most valuable from Loretucci’s perspective was the access to specialist food and drink industry experts who were on hand to help develop the brand and provide inside information and tricks, knowing the market inside out. “Our concept was very unique so we needed that expert support,” he said.
He hopes to create his own spread of products, starting by pairing truffles with specific whiskeys, and the cash injection from the Entrepreneurial Spark award has gone towards creating the first batch utilising the winter white truffle.
“A big aim of mine has always been developing my own range of products, so this will be about mixing fresh truffles with the best of Scottish products, like Scottish truffle honey and truffle salmon.”
His turnover last year was in the region of £50-60,000, and a considerable chunk of that came during the autumn and winter months, when the best truffles were available. Loretucci has been quick to analyse this and assess how to provide other offerings to improve the periods where the business wasn’t making as much “by offering other products like saffron and pistachio”.
It has created a more regular cash flow as a result and he feels they know the market much better too. Asked to pick his own personal favourites from the extensive range online, Loretucci plumps for the truffle butter, dry cured sausages from his charcuterie offerings and a pistachio cream “which is like Nutella but better – it tastes like heaven”.
Delivery currently takes between 24 and 36 hours if the product is in stock, three to four days if not, while a very big order can take a week.
The emphasis is very much on the quality of what is being delivered, as well as the focus on fusion. “It’s all about collaboration – both the ethos of the brand and in the approach to business, we’ve been teaming up with a lot of Scottish chefs and other partners,” Loretucci said.
It’s not a push to create a new “food revolution” but rather an aim to make better ingredients more accessible to people so they can have special meals more frequently.
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