19 September 2019

Meet the mum from Bega booming with her low carb baking business

| Elise Searson
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Anna and Lilly Hopkins. Photo: Supplied

The Protein Bread Co caught my attention whilst embarking on the ‘post baby bounce back keto diet’ I set myself 12 months ago.

Most ‘low carb’ flour products leave little to be desired and have you back on the carby sugars before you finish the packet! I can’t claim this bread helped me lose weight but it did allow me to continue eating toast and pancakes for brekky and pizza for dinner leaving me feeling less like a dieting social outcast.

The Protein Bread Co, like every great success story, comes from humble beginnings.

For siblings Luke and Anna Hopkins it starts in Bega with a passion for cooking, health and fitness. Their goal was to create better versions of normally high carb foods by utilising locally sourced high protein and low carb meals, seeds and flours.

I caught up with baker and self-confessed glamper, Anna Hopkins, the lady behind Australia’s first low carb and no added sugar range of baking mixes…

What was it like growing up in Bega?

At the time, I dreamed of living in the city, and loved our trips up to Sydney to go shopping however now I think about my childhood in the country with so many fond memories.

Looking back, growing up in the country really enhanced my creativity, resilience and resourcefulness, all which have been skills that I heavily relied on when setting up the business – and life in general!

Activities like roaming the paddocks picking blackberries then coming home and making blackberry pie and jam, or swimming in the dam on hot summer’s days are my favourite memories from that time.

How did you become motivated and inspired to follow your dreams?

I consider myself very fortunate that my parents were always very supportive of us following our dreams, even if that meant a slightly untraditional path. My childhood dream was to have a cafe/restaurant just like McDonalds but healthier.

I was always taking Mum’s traditional Danish baking recipes and making them healthier by reducing sugar (and at that stage fat).

At school I chose subjects that I felt would give me the skills to achieve this dream, such as food technology and hospitality.

I loved working, gaining experience and earning my own money. When I was 12 I started baking healthy cakes for Bega Health Foods to sell by the slice. Then when I was old enough I started working at Bega Foodworks in the Deli.

The more I worked, learned and progressed, the clearer I became on my vision of my future in business.

Anna and Lily feeding the sheep. Photo: Supplied.

What business support did you have to help you get your bread on the market?

I can’t say we really had any official business support as such, mainly honest feedback and moral support from friends and family!

Protein Bread was a product that I created from my cafe, that was on the menu for my health conscious customers.

Due to regular Facebook posts, I was soon getting demand from all over Australia for my Low Carb Protein Bread.

Being a fresh product, with no preservatives that required refrigeration, sending bread around the country wasn’t an option. This is when my brother Luke came on board and set up our website, and we started selling the bread mix online.

Today the business (now PBCo – formerly The Protein Bread Company) has 12 employees, over 20 natural, low carb, high protein products, and two manufacturing facilities in Marrickville, Sydney.

We sell direct to consumers online around Australia, NZ and the US as well as in leading health food and independent grocery.

We’ve grown and evolved by staying on the leading edge of ingredient innovation, working with our farmers and suppliers to process ingredients to our specs, and listening to our customers.

What did you study after high school?

After school, I was keen to start working and gain experience in hospitality and leadership. I moved to Sydney and started studying business through TAFE.

I also gained a casual position at McDonalds in McCafe. After about 6 months my restaurant manager asked if I’d like to commence a Management Development Program through McDonalds, instead of TAFE, which I did, and went on to achieve my Advanced Diploma of Business, at the same time as gaining real life, hands on experience.

This experience was absolutely invaluable for my confidence and knowledge of business. After a 10 year career in leadership with McDonalds Head Office, I decided to take the plunge and bring my childhood dream to life.

Whole Meal Cafe opened in Darlinghurst, Sydney in 2010.

I ran the cafe for 4 years, then successfully sold in 2014 to focus all my attention on The Protein Bread Company.

I really believe that everyone has something special to offer the world, and the best thing we can do is encourage kids to follow their dreams and forge a path that they are passionate about, then success will come.

The traditional education system has its place for certain careers, however definitely not the best approach for everyone, nor the only way.

Anna Hopkins is the managing director of Protein Bread Co. Photo: Supplied.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

My ultimate goal would be to have the business in a position where we can move back to the Far South Coast, or maybe have even sold and started a new business down there.

My passion is enabling people to feel their best, by making better food choices. As a society, we have made some progress when it comes to health education and understanding of food, and the impact this can have on our bodies, and minds, however, there is still so much work to be done.

People often think that healthy food choices are expensive, hard and not tasty – I try and show people that this does not have to be the case! There is so much focus and attention on exercise, personal trainers, the gym – all of which play a part, however, can also come unstuck if the wrong food choices are made.

Right now my focus is on PBCo and creating our products – healthy foods that people love to eat, however, I would also love to travel around and talk in high schools about food and the power of food to change lives.

Who is your most famous customer?

Guy and Jules Sebastian, Kylie Gillies, Karl Stefanovic and James Stuart have all used our products in their recent transformations, as well as Para Olympian Mon Murphy.

How have your parents supported your dream?

By giving us all the flexibility and freedom to pursue our goals without judgement or expectation.

There has never been any pressure that we ‘should’ go down a certain path, which I am so grateful for. Also asking the right questions to help gain clarity and just bouncing around ideas.

Anna Hopkins is the managing director of Protein Bread Co. Photo: Supplied.

You’re a mother of a 1 year old, how do you get enough sleep to run a company?!!

Mmmmmm very good question, it’s definitely a struggle!!

I’m fortunate enough to have Lily in a great little family daycare place near work three days a week, and then my partner Aaron has her at home one day a week, so I can work four days a week without her.

Re the sleep…. it’s just a matter of doing the best I can each day, some days are better than others depending on how many times she has woken up! I try not to be hard on myself but it’s definitely frustrating when there’s just so much I want to do!!

Apart from that eating the best I can, avoiding sugar/carbs really helps my energy.

How do you spend your time when back in the Bega Valley

My #1 is definitely glamping at Tathra Beachside Caravan Park, which we do about twice a year and absolutely love.

Switching off, being in nature, breathing the fresh air, hearing the ocean and exploring all the beautiful places down there are what I love most.

I now have a 1-year-old daughter who also loves being outdoors in nature and she really loved the last trip we took.

The Far South Coast is just so beautiful and has such a special place in my heart, it’s definitely my go to for holidays and mini breaks.

We enjoyed dinner and drinks at Tathra Pub, the renovations are stunning, and the staff were also very impressive, and we had some amazing bacon & egg rolls and coffee from Wild Orchid Cafe.

It’s so pleasing to see some great business popping up or reinventing themselves on the Far South Coast.

Protein Bread Co. source the ingredient Lupin from Brocklesby in NSW. Photo: Supplied.

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