White Rabbit-free flight from Italy to Oxford, via the pub |  The big interview

White Rabbit-free flight from Italy to Oxford, via the pub | The big interview

Chef Matteo Ferrari can’t tell his family about White Rabbit, the Italian food company he set up in 2015. “My uncle, he used to remove me from the family,” he says.

The case is one of the patterns. While Ferrari grew up working in his family’s restaurants in Bergamo near Milan where “there was always delicious pizza… he had to always be very strict with tradition”. On the other hand, he wanted to innovate.

His opportunity to do so came while working as a cook at the White Rabbit pub in Oxford. Along with his now business partner Nick Croft Simon (pictured) who worked behind the bar, Ferrari began experimenting with gluten-free and vegan pizza after realizing there was nothing there they felt about to scratch. “It was all like flatbread,” Ferrari says. “Not even pizza. There was no dough lift. There was no crust. The rule was really the key at that point. This was the main dividing factor.”

After a year of experimentation in the pub’s little kitchen, the couple launched the White Rabbit: “Delicious gourmet pizza that just so happens to be ‘free of,'” as the slogan goes. Moving to a 700-square-foot bakery in Oxfordshire, Ferrari made pizza out of a small pizza oven, before The inclusion of their first major roster with Sainsbury’s in 2017 enabled the duo to quit their jobs and commit to White Rabbit full time.

White Rabbit’s promise is that it breaks down cartoonish stereotypes of other gluten-free pastas to offer a product that can rival regular gluten pizza. The couple explained that this only happened because they had invested in their own manufacturing process, creating a production line specifically designed to produce gluten-free food. “All the big manufacturers see it as a break-away from the rest of the business. So they don’t invest a lot of technology in that,” Ferrari says. This, he adds, is especially a problem for gluten-free products, which are in dire need of proper machinery to avoid dough turning into a cardboard sheet.

In addition to the “artisanal” machines, the couple has gone to great lengths to try and get plant-based ingredients to match the dairy alternatives. Cheese, for example, is made near Ferrari’s hometown of Bergamo. “It’s expensive, and it’s hard to apply to an automated line. It’s just something the major manufacturers won’t touch. And this is just one of many examples that have prompted us to do it our own way,” says Croft-Simon.

Keeping their production “in-house” also allowed the couple to innovate quickly with their new products. “We were the first brand to have vegan and gluten-free pizza at a major retailer. We were the first to make sourdough in a gluten-free state. We were the first brand to make a proper prominent crust on gluten-free dough. As far as we know, we are the first calzone.” Absolutely in retail,” says Simon Croft proudly.

Noun: Matthew Ferrari

Role: Co-founder/CEO

Potted CV: A 13-year-old cinema worker. She started making pizza at a nearby restaurant. Moving to Oxford for a bioethics thesis, he met Nick and came up with the first idea for the White Rabbit.

Your best pizza: Cold Margherita for breakfast on top of a mountain with your best friend. The real Dolce Vita!

Even after the product has been sorted, there are still questions about what to do with it. “There is a question the broader industry has not yet answered,” Croft Simon says. “And this is where people want to shop? Do they want it in the parent category or do they want a custom bay [for free-from]? “

The benefit of sitting in the pizza aisle with the rest of the class is much higher turnout, shoppers who may not necessarily be vegan or gluten-free but dip in and out and might pick up a White Rabbit because it looks so good on the shelf. By contrast, when you’re in a custom bay, Croft Simon explains, “Full-time shoppers are unique, so they actively look for brands like ours.”

After several years of experimenting across different retailers, it still seems that there is no clear answer as to which is the best place to be. “I honestly think it’s six out of a dozen other,” Croft Simon says.

But for other similar brands considering the same question, he has some advice. “Timing is really important. If you try to transition into the parent category too soon, there is a risk that you will get lost in the noise as it is more driven by promotion and value. If you really want to gradually grow your brand and grow that loyalty, starting with dedicated venues, Although the scale will be smaller at first, I think it’s probably better overall and there is more continuity.”

new money

At least the White Rabbit seemed to be slowly beginning to mix it up with the big boys dominating the refrigerated pizza aisle. The company’s sales are expected to reach £6.5 million this year after a 70% annual growth. This comes after 100% growth through the coronavirus which took their sales to £3.7m in 2021.

Recently, the duo have sought to move beyond their pizza “heart” and into other Italian products like gluten-free pasta and dough balls, and just last week, the ocean aisle debuted with risotto.

Noun: Nick Croft Simon

Role: Co-founder/CEO

Potted CV: Go on for a day at a temporary job in the office. She became a hostess at Jamie’s Italian in Oxford. He studied history in Bristol and started the White Rabbit soon after.

hobbies: Reading, playing poker and trying to give any kind of affection to my cat

Your best pizza: Teo, of course.

“My dream is to become a production-free reference point in the UK,” says Ferrari. “So ideally one day we’ll expand our product line and really embrace a lot of exports, a lot of food service.”

Investors pick up on the scent and in April, they invested £1.1 million in the company to help with its expansion. The money goes to get the White Rabbit out of stores and into food services, a mix of selling directly to restaurants and newly opened dark kitchens. “We want to go back to where it all began in a restaurant and pub,” says Croft Simon. By the end of this year, the pair plan to try out two of London’s darkest kitchens, train chefs to make dough from scratch and blast off at Deliveroo and Uber.

The investment will also help expand the export arm, which currently accounts for just 5% of sales. The White Rabbit has already been sold in Norway, Singapore and France, and will soon move to Ireland, the Netherlands and other European countries. If they can match the growth rate observed in the UK, they may be able to return to Italy to see the family.


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