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Dairy Free chocolate business is turning out sweetly for Blaydon couple

Thanks to No Muu, rich chocolate is no longer an off-limits Easter or treat time pleasure for those intolerant to dairy, as Jane Hall discovers

Anna Wardhaugh from Gateshead who makes dairy free chocolate
Anna Wardhaugh from Gateshead who makes dairy free chocolate

It was an emotional moment for Anna Wardhaugh and her partner Euan Hay.

They were on the way back to their Tyneside home after a family weekend at Center Parcs in Cumbria when they stopped off at a supermarket in Penrith.

“Mollie (the couple’s youngest child) was about two and she was going around picking up all the chocolate bars and saying ‘Has this got dairy in it? Has this?’ And every time the answer was ‘yes,’” Anna recalls.

“We had a look at the free from range and everything was the same boring, plain bars you get everywhere. They just didn’t look appealing for a child.

“She was starting to get upset and I thought it was so unfair that everything Mollie wanted was filled with dairy. As a parent it was distressing. I just wanted to cry.

“It was at that moment I decided I’d had enough and the time had come to do something about it.”

A selection of dairy free chocolate made by Anna Wardhaugh from Gateshead
A selection of dairy free chocolate made by Anna Wardhaugh from Gateshead

On the return drive to Blaydon, Gateshead, Anna and Euan had plenty of time to chat about launching their own child friendly free-from chocolate range.

They didn’t just talk about it, though. Within weeks the pair had launched the aptly and quirkily named No Muu.

Anna, 34, and Euan, 35, had every reason to want to confront Mollie’s dietary issue head-on.

Unfortunately, she’s not the only one in the family who reacts adversely to certain foods. Both Euan and the couple’s eldest child, Thomas, also suffer from long-standing food sensitivities.

Thomas, six, was diagnosed with a lactose intolerance (an inability to digest natural milk sugar) when he was four months old.

For a time it appeared he might have outgrown the condition, but recently he has been diagnosed with a cow’s milk allergy. This is different to lactose intolerance as the sufferer’s immune system mistakes the proteins rather than the sugar in cow’s milk to be a threat.

Mollie Hay (4), whose mum Anna Wardhaugh makes dairy free chocolate
Mollie Hay (4), whose mum Anna Wardhaugh makes dairy free chocolate

Mollie, who is now four, was diagnosed with her cow’s milk intolerance when she was just six weeks old. But the little girl has gone on to develop a range of other food intolerances too, including wheat, tomatoes and peppers.

“Molly was really bad as a baby,” Anna says. “I was in denial as I didn’t want to admit she had the same problem as her brother.”

Euan, meanwhile, had been identified as dairy averse in his 20s.

It makes Anna the only one in her family who is able to eat any dairy foods. But with cross contamination an issue, it is not a pleasure she often indulges in.

They’ve learned to deal with the dietary issues at home. But what about dining out? It’s been fraught with problems on occasions, but thankfully restaurants are improving. “We have really struggled at times when it comes to going out,” Anna says. “We have found that Mollie is really affected.

“I remember my parents took the children out and Mollie had a really bad reaction. It turned out the chips she was eating had been cooked in the same piece of equipment that had been used for cheese.

Anna Wardhaugh from Gateshead
Anna Wardhaugh from Gateshead

“People don’t realise that even with cleaning foods can linger.

“But things are getting better. If you go to the main chains now everywhere has to be able to tell you what’s in their dishes. We had a brilliant experience at a restaurant at the Metrocentre the other day.

“They handed over the folder with all the necessary information and were brilliant about omitting certain ingredients. We had a great time. And we are so in a routine now that we just tend to get on with it.

“It’s the children’s treats that always bothered us. We always felt upset that they couldn’t enjoy the same fun sweet treats as other kids.

“Treats are a great thing for everyone to have in moderation so why should a dairy-free child suffer with a limited selection of products?

“That’s why we set up No Muu.”

Based in Euan and Anna’s Blaydon home, the fledgling venture was launched in June last year and was an immediate success.

So much so, that the life and business partners are now on the hunt for bigger premises having outgrown their kitchen table operation.

But while they knew there was a gap in the confectionary market for something different, Anna admits No Muu’s popularity has astonished them. “Yes, we have been surprised at the number of people who are looking for products like ours.”

It’s not just allergy affected children who have fallen for No Muu’s range of free-from milk and white chocolate robot, dinosaur, handbag, shoe, horse and mini Lego figure shapes sold in 55g bags.

Thomas Hay, whose mum Anna Wardhaugh makes dairy free chocolate
Thomas Hay, whose mum Anna Wardhaugh makes dairy free chocolate

Adults too have developed a soft spot for the sweet treats which also now include fudge, cakes, boxed chocolate flower selections and white and milk free-from slabs with a variety of flavours such as freeze dried raspberries, marshmallows (vegan are available), orange and mint.

There’s also an Easter range of shapes, rabbits and eggs.

The products aren’t just dairy-free either anymore. They include egg, gluten and soya-free foods as well as vegan brownies.

Anna says it was always important that the range should appeal to all.

“Our aim has always been that whether someone is intolerant or not, they could still enjoy our products. I love it when people try our samples and we ask them if they know they’re dairy-free and they reply, ‘really? We hadn’t realised.’

“It’s amazing too to see a dairy intolerant customer’s eyes light up when they realise all our treats are completely dairy-free. It’s what makes it all worthwhile – even more so when they come back time and again.

“We use really good chocolate from a dairy-free supplier and I’m constantly looking out for different things that we can do.”

Neither Anna or Euan had any experience of working with chocolate before setting up No Muu (the name and eye-catching logo with its cartoon cow has proved a talking point in itself).

Their backgrounds are both in the hospitality industry and they met while working for the same hotel.

While No Muu is growing by the day, it hasn’t reached the point where Euan and Anna can afford to devote all their time to the enterprise.

Euan is the manager of the John Lewis Brasserie in Newcastle, but he has currently been seconded to help roll-out a new till system across the group, which means he is now often away from home.

Anna works part-time as cabin crew with easyJet, which can see her flying between Gatwick and Geneva one day or Malaga on another.

Yet somehow they manage to fit in looking after the children and running No Muu, which now supplies a number of independent shops in the Tyneside area as well as being a regular at the likes of Tynemouth, Vallum and Ryton markets.

Euan is responsible for making the fudge and the cakes while Anna is the chocolatier.

She is self-taught but acknowledges the help and support she has had from, among others, Bev Stephenson of North Chocolates and Steffi Smith of The Chocolate Smiths.

“They’ve been really helpful when I have been struggling. I was having a really hard time last summer and thought it was just me. But they both said it was the humidity due to the hot weather.

“I can remember Bev saying to me that everyone who works with chocolate cries over it at some time or other.

“The two of them have also been great in referring people to me. If they ever get anyone who is dairy intolerant they say ‘just go and see Anna.’”

The hope is with new premises will come new contracts and the chance for at least one half of the Wardhaugh-Hay team to concentrate full-time on No Muu.

With mail order customers in Cornwall and the Isle of Skye, Anna dreams of seeing the No Muu name on shop shelves across the country.

Just over nine months into her new life as a part-time chocolatier what is Anna most proud of? “Of being able to surprise those who don’t need to eat dairy-free products, but who try ours and can’t believe they’re eating something so good,” she says without hesitation.

No Muu products are currently available from Alternative Stores (near Palmersville Metro) and online at www.alternativestores.com; Happy Organic, Front Street, Cleadon; Vallum Farm Shop, East Wallhouses, Northumberland; The Glamorous Owl, Old George Yard, Newcastle; New Market Nibbles, Morpeth; The Meadows Cape, Rainton Meadows; Ryton, Tynemouth, Vallum and South Causey Inn food and craft markets.

The 55g bags of chocolates shapes cost £2; 100g chocolate slabs are £3.75; chocolate boxes containing two layers, £5; Easter shapes, £2; fudge, £2;

For more information of No Muu go to www.facebook.com/uknomuu ; Twitter: @uknomuu or call 07736 233 128.

No Muu’s new website will be launching soon at www.nomuu.co.uk

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