Lauren (left) and Clare say friendship is the secret ingredient to their baking mixes, which are selling like hot cakes. Photo / Sally Tagg
Just two years ago, Kiwi mums Clare Gallagher and Lauren Taylor barely knew each other, but they had a lot in common – both avid bakers at home, the pair were also on the brink of financial disaster and feeling overwhelmed .
The Auckland couple had met through their daughters, Poppy and Lauren, who were friends at school, and after the pandemic hit, the mothers found themselves turning to each other for support.
Clare’s family had recently moved to Devonport from Waiheke Island, where she was known as ‘the village baker’, baking delicious treats for the locals whenever she wasn’t busy running her household. four children. When a Covid-enforced hiring freeze left husband Adrian, 42, unable to find a job, she knew she had to act.
“He was about to take a job at another company, but his current employer offered him a new position to stay,” says Clare, 43. “I remember asking him if he had signed the contract yet and he said, ‘No, I’ll come back to that later. About a day later Covid hit and they immediately froze all hiring.”
Adrian wasn’t worried, but as the weeks passed he realized he was in trouble. With five dependents at home, including Clare, reality began to set in.
Meanwhile, Lauren was a marketing entrepreneur, supporting people in hospitality, restaurants and hotels, and her job dried up around the same time as Adrian’s. Having learned that Lauren was both a cooking whiz and a marketing genius, Clare approached her with the idea of a sauce business to save them from financial ruin.
“If she had asked me to breed camels, I would have said yes,” laughs Lauren. “I strongly believe in opening every door that comes your way because it will inevitably lead to other doors. It’s very scary when you’ve lost your job, your management or your career – it’s a very uncomfortable situation to face.
“A lot of people have been through it over the last two years and we all have different ways of coming to terms with the discomfort, but any time there is destruction in your life it can create opportunity, so my philosophy is to simply say yes!”
And so a company was born. Secret Kiwi Kitchen began in secret in a Kiwi kitchen, hence its name. Once Aotearoa got through that first lockdown, Clare and Lauren got to work creating dessert sauces, which led to brownies and then baking mixes – each recipe was all about flavor and ease .
They spent months testing blends, finding the highest quality ingredients they could get their hands on. The test team included Clare’s four children, Poppy, 15, Finley, 14, Rhoan, 11, and Imogen, 7, as well as Lauren’s daughters, Olivia, 18, and Lila, 15.
However, while New Zealand’s lockdown was over, Covid was not done with families. Clare’s English-based mother and stepfather, who usually visit Auckland three times a year, contracted the virus at an early age and she struggled with the stress of her parents’ health.
“Every time Mom came to visit, she had some kind of bronchial disorder,” Clare shares. “There was pleurisy and pneumonia, so I was always worried about her health. And then she got Covid.
“She didn’t tell me at first because she didn’t want me to worry. But I couldn’t reach her for a few days and then she said, ‘I think I have this thing. that they are talking about.’ And of course, she did! She recovered and was fine, but my stepdad got it too and they’ve had it ever since.”
Meanwhile, Lauren, who grew up in New York, used to return to the United States to visit every year, but border closures caused her to miss weddings, funerals and births.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen everyone and it’s so hard to be away,” she says. “I got homesick and that’s a tricky thing when you’re between jobs. That’s probably part of the reason we dove so hard into Secret Kiwi Kitchen.”
Lauren’s family ran a stall at a farmers market in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, for 40 years. The woman who raised her was Vietnamese and the stall started out selling what were then very exotic Vietnamese rolls. When she was a kid, Lauren suggested they also sell brownies.
“People didn’t know about Vietnamese food back then and the stall wasn’t busy,” Lauren recalls. “So I came up with this brownie recipe to appeal to the kids, thinking the kids would bring the grown-ups and it worked!
“She had the most popular stall in the market after that,” she says. “Ever since she passed, brownies always make me think of her, it’s like that gift from the other side. It’s so funny that my second chance and this new breath of life came through brownies. “
While Lauren and Clare struggled to sell their sauces at local markets, as soon as they started handing out sample brownies alongside the condiments, they started attracting more customers, who were desperate for the secret recipe.
When a second lockdown hit, there was a surge in interest in baking and the pair’s handy baking mixes – containing all the dry ingredients needed for delicious brownies – became an online winner.
“What’s really good about our mixes is that they give people a moment of connection and it’s activity as well,” Lauren says. “It’s great to have the kids cooking and it gives you flexibility. But even after this latest lockdown we’ve been busy – it’s a way to have fresh baked goods that are easy and you know it will be delicious.”
So what sets Secret Kiwi Kitchen apart from other baking mixes? While they
are incredibly convenient – the pancake mix only requires water – their customers all agree it’s the taste.
“When we first got started, we both thought, ‘If we’re going to make baking mixes, they have to taste amazing,'” Clare explains.
“My house is known to local kids as The Brownie House, so I’ve always been a bit attached to my reputation, as has Lauren. We agreed from the start that it had to taste like next level pastry shop. We certainly put on a few pounds in our attempts to make it all right!”
And they are clearly doing something right. Recently, they teamed up with HelloFresh to bring their buttermilk pancake and waffle mix to the meal kit company’s customers, with their product now being sent to thousands of homes every week.
Secret Kiwi Kitchen is also the first baking mix to hit Briscoes shelves – and there are plenty of other business offerings that have catapulted the brand into the foodie spotlight.
“We are now branching out into different products,” Lauren says. “Edible plants are our novelty. We just signed a collaboration with Bombay Sapphire, creating cocktail kits that will be perfect for summer.”
Now a finalist for Product of the Year at the NZ Food Awards, and in talks with two major distributors in Australia and Singapore, the ladies are sure to have their
work cut out for them in the coming year, but neither would want it any other way.
“What matters most is that our customers are satisfied and that they love everything we do”,
Claire said. “And how we love doing it!