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Off The Wheaten Track is an Award winning Gluten Free Deli based in Altrincham, South Manchester.

Opening in April 2019 they had just under a year and then the pandemic changed everything for everyone in hospitality and retail.

In our in-depth interview we chat to Hayley about marketing a unique business and doing it with a huge dose of humour.

Q: We have thousands of readers a week. For those that aren’t aware of Off The Wheaten Track, do you want to give us a little intro to the business in terms of why you set the business up, how long you’ve been running for and how the business changed / developed during the pandemic
Off The Wheaten Track is a dedicated gluten free deli. We bake all our sweet and savoury products in a completely gluten and wheat free kitchen. Our mission is to create an environment for our core customers to eat in confidence and to have anything from the menu without the need to explain their requirements. The idea to set up Off the Wheaten Track Deli was inspired by the fact my husband Dave is coeliac. We wanted to create a safe haven for people with specific dietary needs, in particular gluten free. We will celebrate 4 years of opening in April. The business has evolved quite a lot since opening. We started the business as a deli/diner, but when the pandemic hit we had to completely remodel the business in order to remain open.

Q: We start all our interviews with this question. When we’re training businesses on social media we aim to improve their social media in the following areas. Understanding Of Platform; Follower Growth; Idea Generation; Quality Of Content; Consistency / Frequency; Engagement; Analytics; Sales. Which would you say you’re strongest on? And which would you say you’re weakest on and why
We are definitely the strongest on Instagram, it’s a very visual platform, so we are share lots of pictures of our sweet and savoury products. Nothing beats a picture of a pretty cake to tempt customers in. The weakest platform is LinkedIn, it’s a good place to seek out business contacts but finding time to keep on top of all social media forums is another full time job in itself, so I have cherry picked the forums that work best for my business.

Q: Let’s go back to the beginning of your business. You’d previously worked in the music industry so obviously had some understanding of marketing. Do you feel this knowledge helped you when launching the business or was it so different you were very much a beginner?
Working in the music industry and also before that at the BBC certainly enabled me to have a good understanding of marketing. Although it was a very different style, the skills were transferrable and have definitely defined how I market my own business. I will say that corporate marketing does have a different feel to the marketing that I do as an independent business. There is a bigger budget to play with in corporate, but the negative side is that other entities will have an opinion and too many cooks can spoil the broth.

Q: Gluten Free Deli. In terms of marketing is this a blessing or a curse? And what challenges does it present whilst running a business?
It is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is we have a dedicated demographic of customers that we can target and who come to us week after week. Customers seek us out, because we are niche and we can offer them what no one else can within. We are lucky to sit within being a local independent business and a destination business. People will travel literally hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to visit us, because it’s so difficult to find somewhere that can offer what we do.
The curse? Some people will simply walk by our deli without even considering us, because the word gluten free means, tasteless, dry, weird food. It won’t taste the same as food with gluten!

Q: Being based in Altrincham I see you as a local business, but you have a UK wide and international customer base. In terms of “customer profiles” and “customer avatars” do you have a profile of customers you aim for and how does this change how you approach your marketing?
We automatically aim for customers that are coeliac or have an intolerance to gluten. We have no specific demographic as our target market is based on following a gluten free diet. However, we try to target customers who don’t have dietary requirements, but may know someone, have a partner or a child with the condition. We also approach our marketing in a way to show that our venue and products are for all to enjoy.

Q: When I see your content it always makes me smile. When did you decide to make humour a big part of your social media?
I’ve always had a wicked sense of humour, but never really had the confidence to transfer it onto social media. I’d say that having training with you gave me the confidence to change that. My social media had become a bit stagnant and I felt that as the face of my business, people needed to see the person behind the products. It’s also more fun creating content when you can have a laugh.

Q: In terms of humour on social media – has anyone reacted badly to it and negatively commented. And how did you react to it?
I can’t think of an instance when I’ve had a negative reaction to any of my posts. I think someone who had never been in the shop or knew what we were about once commented on the price of our tuna sandwich! I’ve had off the tangent comments about how Altrincham is only interested in Artisan/overpriced food, so not specific to me. If I choose to reply to a ‘troll’ I always do it with a closed statement like ‘Thank you for your feedback,’ ‘ You’re entitled to your opinion’ ‘Sorry you feel that way’. Something I learned in the music and media industry is never give more fuel to an antagonist.

Q: Another huge part of your content is your face. How do you feel putting your face to the business has helped? And what tips would you give for the majority of people who feel scared putting their face on camera?
I wholeheartedly think putting me face to the business has helped enormously. It personalises what you do and who you are. People respond to a face. Don’t get me wrong, the first few times I did it, I was really scared, worried about how I looked, how I sounded, would people get it? My advice to anyone scared of putting their face to camera, is to start with something you’re comfortable with, keep it short, then build from there. Don’t focus on being too perfect, the majority of the time your viewers like the imperfections more than a fully edited and perfect video.

Q: You use Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and Twitter to promote the business. How do you manage 4 social media platforms whilst still running a business?
I wake up very early. I prepare most of my social media content before I get to the deli. Mr H always laughs and says, ‘Are you Speilberging again?’ Planning is key. I always have an idea in my head and sometimes I think of something and then it goes straight into my story.
Because we make most of the products we sell, I have to plan what and how much I am making each week and so the social media is usually focused around that. IF I’m bringing out a new product that will be the focus of my content.

Q: I want to touch on Twitter briefly. You’re one of the few B2C businesses that uses Twitter in the area. That is despite around 25% of the UK population using it. What does Twitter give you that other channels don’t?
I like the instant nature of Twitter, I like the chit chat element and the fact I can build relationships with other businesses and people. It’s a great place to find out information. I also have some customers that don’t use Facebook and Instagram, so Twitter is how I let them know what I’m doing. It’s just another string to the bow.

Q: B2B Marketing. As well as having your own deli your pies are stocked in various pubs, cafes and restaurants. How does social media support the B2B side of the business?
I’m a massive champion of businesses supporting each other. Some of the businesses we supply probably aren’t as prolific on social media, so I tend to highlight that our products are available. The ones that are prominent, like The Dunham Barn and Taste of Honey, we share posts and promote each other.

Q: What is your biggest social media marketing success story for Off The Wheaten Track?
That’s a tricky question to answer, but I would have to say our biggest marketing success hasn’t been on social media, but rather via our Newsletter which people can subscribe to via the website. We started a monthly Supper Club in July 2021. It started as a very small affair, just 8 covers on the third Thursday of each month. Over a matter of months, this has grown to two nights with 14 covers per night. We advertise how to subscribe on social media to generate interest in our website and Newsletter. The supper club itself sells out usually within an hour of me posting the Newsletter to our audience. It’s becoming the not so secret, secret Supper Club. Many of our diners don’t even have dietary requirements, they simply enjoy good home cooked food in a warm and friendly environment. For those with specific dietary requirements, they can dine in the knowledge that the kitchen is free from cross contamination.

Q: What is your biggest social media marketing failure for Off The Wheaten Track? And what did you learn from it?
I don’t feel I’ve really had a marketing failure as such, although the one thing that I did think would do better than it did was our decision to sell a range of vegan cheese. Sadly the clientele that wanted it was too small for us to continue and no amount of marketing really changed that. What I’ve learned from this, is to stick to the products that I truly know and understand and these are the ones I make.

Q: If you started Off The Wheaten Track again would you have anything different with your social media marketing?
I don’t think I would change anything. Maybe I would have started adding the personal side sooner. I don’t tend to work on ‘what if’s’ social media is very fluid and repetition is key to get the message out there. It’s a great tool for marketing your business and all businesses should use it to generate interest.

Q: You’ve been on our social media courses and follow our content. What’s your biggest social media marketing lesson from Altrincham HQ?
Always have an action plan of what you want to post. Don’t post too much too often, although, I am sometimes guilty of that if I have a lot of new cakes to share. Most importantly communicate with your followers.

Find out more about Off The Wheaten Track here

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Alex McCann

Author Alex McCann

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