Anna Richey: Two Chicks Co-founder

University of York alumna and co-founder of Two Chicks, Anna Richey, shares her journey from studying English literature to pioneering the food industry. Anna reflects on falling in love for the first time at York, challenges faced in entrepreneurship and emphasises the importance of resilience, skill diversity and supporting other female entrepreneurs.

“I studied English literature. I was coming up from London so it was quite a big difference. I have really fond memories of my first Christmas there because I actually fell in love for the first time and met my first love, Ali. It was my birthday in January and it was all festive. I remember we’d only just got together and on my birthday we drove to that Tesco outside York and he bought me flowers and a little bottle of champagne. I always remember that.”

Post-graduation, Anna embarked on a dynamic career journey, delving into advertising and broadcast journalism before co-founding Two Chicks, a pioneering brand offering innovative egg white products. Reflecting on her transition from journalism to entrepreneurship, Anna credits her diverse skill set acquired during her university days. Her English literature background equipped her with the precision and creativity needed to craft business plans and PR strategies.

“After York I worked in advertising for a little bit and then I went on to do a Masters in Broadcast Journalism. I worked for a couple of documentary making companies, followed by an internship with CNN which led to a job writing for them on the news desk. When we started the business, my business partner, Alla, said to me, ‘I’m not using my Economics degree, and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got this idea….’ It worked perfectly from there because I wrote the business plan while she did all the numbers. 

Studying English helped me write the business plan and do all the PR when we launched because we couldn’t afford anything so I wrote all the press releases. It worked really well as English can be useful in terms of starting a business: there is a lot of writing that goes into putting together a business plan and PR. It gives you a discipline and makes you quite scrupulous with writing. It comes in useful even now when I’m trying to write content for the website or the wording to go on the packaging.

I never planned to start a business and I never thought I would. I was always thinking I was going to do something in television or journalism. The idea for Two Chicks originated from an idea I had whilst spending some time in the US with family. I was literally having egg whites for breakfast every day. 

When I came back to the UK I genuinely wanted egg whites and couldn’t understand why you couldn’t get them over here. In the US there were about 10 brands there. I thought other people would want them over here. It was becoming quite on trend, featured in various magazines, lots of celebrities were saying they have egg white omelets for breakfast and also the five star hotels were putting it on their menus.

So I started by finding the egg separating plants in the UK (I think there’s about five) and I visited one. From then we just got the Financial Times business plan writing guide and went from there.”

Anna’s commitment to efficiency and health guides everything Two Chicks do. From maximizing every part of the egg, focusing on the health benefits of egg whites which are fat-free and cholesterol-free, making them ideal for low-fat omelets and protein shakes. The yolks are not wasted but are used by cake manufacturers and chocolate mousse companies, for example. 

“The yolk of an egg has all the fat (about 7 grams) and cholesterol and the white has zero fat and zero cholesterol. So if you just cook with the whites then obviously you have a much lower fat omelet.

I’ve heard of people putting it in protein shakes and we had quite a lot of interest from rugby clubs and bulking clubs, because they want the protein of 15 egg whites but they didn’t want the fat of 15 X seven grams of fat. And then you’ve got bakers using it for meringues and pavlovas and not having to waste the yolks.

Co-founder, Alla and I met through a friend in our early 20s in London. We ran into each other in a nightclub and exchanged numbers and were friends from there. When you’re having to make decisions, of course at times it’s challenging and we haven’t agreed on things but on the whole, it’s definitely a much better business model because if one of us is having a bad day, then hopefully the other one feels better and you can pick each other up. I think starting a business completely alone is quite hard. On the one hand, you don’t have someone to argue with a decision over if you don’t agree on something but then you don’t have anyone to bounce it back from and I think it would be quite lonely.”

Through the ups and downs of starting a business, Anna and her business partner, Alla, persevered, fueled by a shared vision and unwavering determination. From navigating funding hurdles to overcoming manufacturing obstacles, the journey was rife with trials and triumphs.

“We encountered many challenges setting up the business. Firstly, we couldn’t find any funding source because we didn’t have any experience in business or food, so nobody wanted to give us anything. We actually went for a government grant and didn’t get that either. In the end, it was a Russian friend of Alla’s who we gave an equity stake for £25,000.  We had to scale back everything that we were going to start off on. We googled a designer to get it cheaply; I did all the PR; Alla was doing all our invoices so before we outsourced anything we just did it cheaply ourselves. 

It was really difficult to find a manufacturer to do everything we wanted as we needed quite a small minimum run. In the end, we couldn’t find anyone to do it so we got a list of everyone who had bought this egg separating equipment in Europe over the past 10 years and went through that list. We eventually found a producer and we now have two producers.

At the beginning there were loads of things we had to adapt to and amend, for example, the producer would supply us in boxes of ten but the supermarkets wanted six because it was too much to buy, but we weren’t a big enough customer for him to switch to boxes of six (he did when we got bigger). One thousand units would come in and Alla and I would sit in this big fridge reboxing the eggs; one of us would make boxes and the other one would pack units into sixes.  

I did all the sales to get us listed everywhere. I’ll never let a sales lead go. I think a lot of people send three emails and stop but I would never, never let it go. I would have them on redial and then if they didn’t want it, I would follow up with a piece of press that had come out or sales having increased for another retailer to give an example of how they’ve gone up.

Educating the market was also really hard because no one knew what egg whites were even when we first met the supermarket buyers. When we got our first supermarket listing we had some advice from a food broker who advised that when launching in Selfridges or Harvey Nichols they’d ask us for exclusivity for three months but give them six weeks and then go to the Waitrose buyer, so then we got the John Lewis Foodhall. After that we got Sainsburys and the other supermarkets followed. There’s always a kick out of getting a big retailer. 

Then we started to go overseas; the UAE was our first overseas market because they came to us.  Now we have France, the Netherlands and Belgium with more countries in the pipeline and new products coming out in the near future.

You’ve got to have a growth mindset as you’re doing absolutely everything yourself. You literally learn about every aspect; one day we’re researching which retailer to approach in the Netherlands; then we’re looking at trademarks, because there’s the legal aspect; then we’re looking at pricing; then we’re looking at production of a new product or tasting new products; attending networking or entrepreneurial events; mentoring other businesses or giving your insights – and that has nothing to do with eggs! Personally, it broadens your horizons. It’s a big risk and reward game.”

Anna and Alla recently got onto EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women class of 2023 – a program that identifies high-potential women entrepreneurs and provides them with the necessary resources to scale their businesses. Amidst their entrepreneurial endeavours, Anna and Alla remain steadfast in their commitment to empowering aspiring female entrepreneurs, initially launching the Two Chicks empowerment fund and more recently Future Females Entrepreneur, set up to inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs and to help ensure that more UK businesses are created and led by women. 

“If you look at the funding statistics, women get far less funding than men for businesses. I think women lack a certain confidence when it comes to starting businesses. It’s good to draw on other women who’ve built businesses. If you can somehow get mentoring or a work placement in a company to see how it’s done, particularly one that has started a business in the field that you want to start in.

When Alla and I began the business it was always our ambition to give something back and I think at the time when we were starting up, it was a very different climate in that there wasn’t the social media and now there’s a lot more women’s groups. There was never that kind of support when we were starting. We began by starting this Two Chicks Empowerment Fund to to help women who want to start businesses.

We knew quite a lot of female founders through these groups so we set up mentoring where girls would apply and then they’d be placed with someone in a similar industry that they wanted to get into and do a work placement. We did that and then off the back of that lots of them then went on to do internships with the companies or even some of them got jobs in the companies.

That then developed into the Future Female Entrepreneur initiative that focused on hosting monthly networking events with a focus on different industries. 

We run these events in different locations, in collaboration with banks and law firms for example, featuring panel discussions and talks with successful female founders and experts in various fields on all things business and entrepreneurship. Each event focuses on different angles, like how to write a business plan. We are running our next event where  female entrepreneurs can pitch their businesses to a panel of angel investors on the 13th of June in London. 

In terms of advice for people looking to start their own businesses, I would say never look around trying to start a business. I’ve met quite a few people that will say, ‘I really want to start a business but I don’t know in what,’ I think, ‘Why do you want to start a business?’ Because it’s such a hard slog, you’ve really got to find something that you feel you (and the world) really can not do without. Whether it’s a food product or it’s a service that you think there isn’t and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, it’s so annoying – why isn’t there this?’ It should come from a genuine desire for a product or a service on your part. That way you really believe in what you’re doing as well. You’ve got to have full faith. I’m sure some people just want to start a business and get an amazing idea but in general, I think it’s preferable that an idea comes to you first.”

The University of York and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) are undertaking research to explore the challenges faced by female founders in York and North Yorkshire.

The findings of the research will be launched on the 12th of June 2024 at the Guildhall. 

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