Apprentice winner Alana Spencer was, in her own words, “totally mortified” when Food Standards Agency officials ordered her to recall cakes and bars over labelling inaccuracies earlier this week.
In her first interview since the FSA issued its health warning, Ms Spencer, from Ceredigion, tells how she has coped with the crisis and what her mentor and business partner Lord Sugar had to say about it.
“It’s been a hell of a week,” Ms Spencer says with a heavy sigh.
“I feel terrible because I know I have let my customers down, I’ve let Lord Sugar down and, worst of all, I’ve let myself down.”
She is sitting in her publicist’s office in central London, while 200 miles down the M4, in Cross Hands, Carmarthenshire, 45,000 of her products are rolling off the production line each week under her Ridiculously Rich by Alana brand.
Ms Spencer’s business has come a long way since this time last year when she and her boyfriend were baking cakes in her mother’s kitchen in Aberystwyth to sell from market stalls at weekends.
Success for her enterprise seemed assured when, in December 2016, she won the 12th series of BBC reality show The Apprentice, which came with a £250,000 investment and a 50/50 business partnership with Lord Sugar.
But an email from her local Trading Standards officer threatened to bring it all crashing down.
“I was at home early in the morning reading emails and there was one from this Trading Standards officer telling me he’d bought a box of my products online and there was a labelling issue which needed to be corrected right away,” said Ms Spencer.
The matter was reported to the FSA who immediately issued a health warning on seven of the eight products sold by her company throughout the UK.
The warning related to allergens not listed on food labelling and others “not correctly declared”.
Ms Spencer insists the inaccurate labelling only applied to products sold online, but the FSA website makes no such distinction.
But, she added: “No excuses, this was 100% a mistake. It should never have happened and I am truly sorry that it did. I’m totally mortified.”
But how did she break the news to the sometimes volcanic Lord Sugar?
“He was not happy, obviously, but if you’re honest with him, tell him what’s gone wrong and what you’re doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again, he will support you.
“Initially, I sent him an email to explain but he phoned me straight away and asked, ‘Is it sorted?’.
“Then he gave me a list of things I needed to do and at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘Ok Alana, do not let it happen again. Now move on.’
“The labels are all correct now and we’re recruiting a food technologist to take care of this side of the business in the future.”
This new recruit will be only the fourth member of staff at her company, joining Ms Spencer, her boyfriend and a close friend who are currently the only members of staff.
“We’ve outsourced our production in Carmarthenshire, Lord Sugar’s team handle accounts and us three take care of the rest at our base in Ceredigion,” she said.
“In two or three years that will change because I hope to bring production back in-house. I’ve hardly touched the £250,000 I won because that will be needed then to buy equipment.
“It’s been a whirlwind year and lots of hard work, but I’ve enjoyed every single second of it. Almost.”