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Newport baker has all the ingredients for success

From banana bread to sourdough loaves, many people found baking to be a comforting hobby during lockdown.


Among those getting creative in the kitchen was former Newport Girl’s High School student Sophie Franklin.

Nearing the completion of her PGCE course, she found the start of the pandemic a very anxious and unsettling time.

To take her mind off her worries, the University of Edinburgh graduate turned to her hobbies and began to bake.

Over the next few months, Sophie spent a lot of time perfecting some of her favourite recipes and documenting her baking successes - and also failures - on social media.

Spurred on by a new-found passion for baking, she decided not to pursue teaching but instead launch a business that would enable others to also benefit from this soothing pastime.

The Very Happy Belly Co creates baking kits that aim to give people, young and old, the opportunity to take time for themselves, slow down and focus on one thing at a time.

Sophie wants to inspire people to love baking

"We started in November 2020 after a lot of frantic baking in lockdown when everyone was really stressed. I love baking and it really helped to slow my brain down a little bit and be a bit more present.

"It started as a hobby-based business. We really expanded in our first year when everything opened up again and Christmas went really well for us. It's been a really exciting time," says Sophie, who grew up in Shropshire.

The Very Happy Belly Co offers a range of 15 different kits, including dedicated kits for adults - Big Bellies - and children - Little Bellies - as well as a number catering vegan and gluten free diets.

"It was about giving people the tool to find a bit of time for themselves. It's also a nice gift - you're not just giving people cake, you're giving people an afternoon of baking or an afternoon of fun with their kids."

Recipes include triple chocolate brownies, bakewell blondies and cookie dough pizza as well as mini unicorn swirl biscuits and chocolate and banana muffins.

"I've not trained as a chef, but my step-dad, Peter Roberts, is a trained pastry chef so I picked his brain a bit. We tested a lot of recipes together." says 24-year-old Sophie.

"Our brownies went through more tests than they needed," she adds, laughing.

As well as standalone kits, The Very Happy Belly Co also offers baking kit subscriptions which send a monthly baking box straight through your door.

They vary every month and over a period of 12 months, these will cover cake, traybakes, scones, doughs, biscuits and pastry.

The business, which is now based in Leek, Staffordshire, is currently undergoing a relaunch to refine its products, add new features, and introduce more eco-conscious packaging designs.

Sophie with her team

Many of the ingredients in the baking kits will be in paper bags and the gift tags will have wildflower seeds that can be planted plant once used.

The popular Little Bellies Subscription will include new mascot, Nibbles, marking the start of an exclusive line of illustrated children's books. The other subscriptions, which include Fresh and Fruity and Chocolate Lover's, will include added surprises too.

As well as giving customers the opportunity to fall in love with baking, Sophie says the kits also aim to be educational and help people to learn new skills.

"We wanted them to be more than a mix where you just add the wet ingredients. All the ingredients are weighed but they are separate and there is a recipe to follow so you're learning along the way.

"People can see their kids learning from them rather than just making a lot of mess in the kitchen," says Sophie, who will be attending the BBC Good Food Show.

Kits can be ordered with some of the fresh ingredients like butter and fruit also included. The only things home bakers need to add are eggs and cream.

Customers need basic equipment- tins, bowls, spoons but anything that they might need as extra such as biscuit cutters and decorations is included in the boxes.

The children's recipes are traffic lighted so parents and carers know when to step in and when to let little ones have a go by themselves.

Feedback from their customers has been very encouraging and the team enjoys seeing photos of people's sweet and savoury bakes.

"We have so many people that message on social media saying: we got one of your kits and this is what we made," says Sophie.

"We've had a couple of people who had one of our Fresh and Fruity subscriptions saying it's give them the chance to start a new hobby. It's really heart-warming for us because that's one of the reasons we do it."

Sophie, who is now working towards getting her products stocked in shops, has received a lot of support from her family and friends while setting up and expanding the business.

"It's definitely been a challenge but I'm really grateful it's going the way it is. We're trying hard to build on the success of last year," she says.


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