Meet the producer: Kathryn Bumby, The Yorkshire Pasta Co.
A farmer’s daughter and a former project manager in confectionary, The Yorkshire Pasta Co. founder Kathryn Bumby has put her values, experience and determination into becoming Britain’s only purveyor of dried pasta.
What were you doing before you started the Yorkshire Pasta Company?
I worked for Nestlé in confectionary. My last role was KitKat project manager.
How did The Yorkshire Pasta company come to be?
We were on holiday, chatting away as family and I said, ‘I wonder why no-one makes pasta in Britain?’
When we got home, I did some research: I took days off work to drive around farm shops and delis thinking I would find something, but I didn’t.
The options were always cheap, imported, mass-manufactured pasta versus high-end imported premium pastas. I saw a gap for something that sat in the middle, that wasn’t packaged in plastic and used British ingredients.
Then we went to Italy and learned what we could from small producers and traditional family artisans. We went around factories looking at the manufacturing and we visited restaurants making fresh pasta.
What challenges did you encounter when you set up your company?
One of the biggest challenges for us was how to source the ingredients. Typically, pasta is made using Durum wheat, but there isn’t a commercial supplier for this in the UK because of the climate – it’s not a viable crop to grow here.
At Nestlé I had worked with flour a lot, so I was able to go to millers with a specification to match semolina flour with something that was available here.
How long did it take you to develop the final product?
The pasta took just over a year – with a lot of help. We had the Italian producers we’d met on speed-dial, helping us with our drying process, because it’s so different depending on temperature and humidity.
The packaging took another year. I knew from Day One that I wanted something sustainable and after doing some research I realised people didn’t understand recyclable plastic. The one thing that was coming on top was paper.
We went through 45 different manufacturers to find someone who could make the bags. We had to come up with something durable that we could print on, so it took a lot of perseverance.
Then we had to seal the bags, which was another issue, because we didn’t want to use a plastic sticker or a solvent glue. We saw other packaging with the eyelets, which had come from what you would use for your laces on your dress shoes.
Once your product was ready, how did you bring it to market?
In March 2020, we were umm-ing and ah-ing about whether to attend the Fine Food Show North because I didn’t have a physical product ready to sell. We knew we could make the pasta but we didn’t have samples from our line, just ones I had made in the garage and air-dried in the sunshine.
We took the decision to go and take pre-orders. It was a perfect platform to launch. Plus, none of us knew at the time that it was a fortnight before lockdown. If we hadn’t taken that gamble, we would have missed that window and we would have been launching completely cold.
What has your journey been since then?
We’re stocked up and down the UK now, which is crazy, because when I did my business plan at the beginning, it was almost “will attend farmers’ markets and try and get into some local farm shops”, so when we realised we wanted to become the British pasta brand, we knew we had to go for national distribution.
In the summer of 2021, we quadrupled the size of our manufacturing. We’re expecting to grow into that capacity by the end of 2022.
Are you worried about companies trying to compete on the British dried pasta scene?
I was really secretive when I first left my job and while we were developing the product because it felt too good to be true, but the more I understood about the process and the hurdles that we got through, it was almost impossible. If someone else wants to give it a go, credit to them, because even learning how to dry pasta is a skill of its own.
What are your expansion plans in terms of who you are looking to sell to?
We’re working with wholesalers who are helping us with the independents and then a big part of this year is looking at high-end restaurants and getting ourselves on some menus.
We also want to grow the online side of the business and we’re looking into launching a subscription model.
In terms of retail, we’re at the 450 listings mark and we know that there’s still 3,000 shops to go for, so I’d like to get into all of them.
What about product diversification?
We want to extend the range. I’d love to go into long pasta – like tagliatelle, spaghetti, linguine. Once you get into it (the packaging, the handling, the drying) it’s so different but it’s something that we know is there to do when we’re ready.
Where can retailers buy your pasta?
We sell direct to retailers, as well as via The Cress Co., Diverse, Mahalo and Crofters.
Interview by Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox