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A display of Zepice products

Zepice - Fusion Spice Blends

How joining the Highland Food & Drink Innovation Network has opened doors for Zepice

Three tins of spice blends

The Highland Food & Drink Innovation Network

The Highland Food & Drink Innovation Network (HFDIN) was set up in 2020 to inspire and assist the amazing array of food and drink companies based in the region. This Northern Innovation Hub project, delivered by HIE, brings together businesses and industry experts to improve productivity, promote collaboration, and identify growth opportunities.

One of its members is Leyla Nellan, who moved to Inverness from Essex in 2017 in search of a better work/life balance. As head of department in a high school, Leyla was working long hours, and she was eager to make a change that would allow her to spend more time with her family and live at a less frantic pace. But Leyla is clearly not somebody who sits still for long. Having made the move, she got a job working as a Home Economics teacher in Glen Urquhart High School and in 2018, she launched Zepice (zeh-peace), an artisan producer of award-winning fusion food that includes gourmet chilli pastes, curry powders, rubs, seasonings and spice blends.

A portrait of Leyla Nellan outdoors
I always dreamt of having my own business but I thought it was just that - a dream. Did I think it would go this far? No.
Leyla Nellan, Owner, Zepice

Leyla Nellan from Zepice cooking a curry

Background

Leyla was inspired to set up Zepice by her Mauritian background, where curries are part of everyday family mealtimes - but not how most people understand the word ‘curry’ here in the UK. Unable to recreate the dishes that she was used to eating, Leyla realised there was a huge gap in the market. 

“If you say curry here, most people think of spicy Indian curries”, explains Leyla. “In Mauritius, our curry doesn’t have chilli in it. Instead, we add spice via pickles and condiments. This means the whole family can enjoy it. I’m a busy mum - I don’t have time to cook different dishes for my four kids. I want nutritious, tasty food that is quick to get onto the table and that we can all enjoy together.”

Zepice was born when Leyla started buying whole spices and grinding them to recreate the dishes she loves, sharing them with friends and family. The curries are inspired by the exoticness of Mauritius - flavours like coconut, pineapple and lemongrass are common - and everyone who tasted them said she should make a business out of it. She decided to take her spice blends to some Christmas markets in 2018, and she hasn’t looked back since. A significant proportion of her business comes from repeat customers hooked on the quality and unique flavours of her products.

An aerial view of Zepice spices on a round tray

Sourcing Support

Setting up her business in the Highlands has been hugely beneficial, according to Leyla. Here she has found an incredibly supportive business community and network of support. She found out about the newly-formed Highland Food and Drink Network in 2020 from a business contact and immediately signed up. “People are so willing to help. And they don’t ask for anything back! They believe in you what you’re doing”, explains Leyla. 

Since then, she’s received support to develop her digital offering, attended a couple of online trade shows and joined a consultation to help steer the direction of a new food and drink TechHub being planned for the Highlands. She was also signposted to the Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards, at which her Coconut, Lemongrass & Kaffir Lime Gourmet Curry won a Highly Commended Award. With so many awards out there and entries often requiring a significant time (and cost) investment, Leyla appreciated receiving advice around which ones to focus on.

When asked what she would say to a business considering joining the HFDIN, Leyla says, “Do it! What have you got to lose? Make the most of it - there’s so much help out there, you just have to ask. There’s such a network for businesses both big and small, and we’re all willing to help each other.”

As well as making business contacts, Leyla talks about another benefit she’s experienced. “I made a friend!” she exclaims. Thanks to the HFDIN, she’s become close with another local business owner - Highland Cracker’s founder, Donna Peacock.

16721 Zepice 018 SMALL
Do it! What have you got to lose? Make the most of it - there’s so much help out there, you just have to ask.
Leyla Nellan, Owner, Zepice

Spices being ground in a pestle and mortar

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Leyla plans to grow Zepice in a sustainable way, to support her ambition to have more time with her family. Despite this, she has her eye firmly on international markets such as Dubai, Australia and Germany. 

Leyla says, “I always dreamt of having my own business but I thought it was just that - a dream. Did I think it would go this far? No.”

Find out more about the Highland Food and Drink Innovation Network, including information on how to join, using the signpost below. 

ABOUT THE HFDIN

The Highland Food & Drink Innovation Network is a Northern Innovation Hub project run by HIE that supports food and drink companies across the region to promote and develop new collaborations, identify opportunities for growth, improve productivity and access new markets.