LemonGold.com has relaunched as a dual site in time for a Christmas bonanza. Andrew Don talks to MD Ruby Spolia

A YouGov survey in September commissioned by Alliance & Leicester showed that internet shoppers each spent an average £770 in the last year. The Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), a membership organisation that works to advance the online retail industry, predicts that online retailers will rake in a record £3.5bn in sales this month and next.
No wonder then that Ruby Spolia, MD of LemonGold.com and a former food industry PR, wants a share of the action from the growing numbers of consumers shopping online.
LemonGold, a name she got from a description of sunlight in Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass (she was originally going to call it Go Go Latin Bandit!), is a food site with a difference. It sells more than 300 products she estimates are, on average, two years away from launch in the UK.
Until last month, LemonGold offered a trade service for independent retailers, cash and carries, bars and clubs. It has been relaunched with a separate home shopping facility for consumers, with an offer to supply baskets or elegant boxes for people to create gift hampers.
Spolia says: “My site provides a meeting place for suppliers that want to launch products to consumers and to businesses looking to source new, innovative premium products. Many of my products should be in the supermarkets but they are not volume lines and supermarkets won’t take them on board, so the public misses out.
“The public is always looking for something unusual, premium, the perfect dinner party product, aspirational, speciality products that are hard to get hold of.”
Spolia seeks innovative specialist premium food and drink by visiting trade fairs and exhibitions around the world and by direct contact with suppliers. Most are small and have not yet taken the step of seeking listings in UK supermarkets. “My pastas you won’t see anywhere. They are premium outstanding products from Australia and the products that will go with them are all premium.”
Products include Pain is Good hot sauces, cinnamon stirrers, a hot chocolate with chilli and pepper that is drunk like an espresso, Booja-Booja Champagne truffles, Montezuma’s white chocolate with raspberry, and sticky organic banoffee sauce from Hawkshead Relish Company.
Then there are Wine Nuts that have been soaked in Merlot, Chardonnay and Margarita Mix with the alcohol burned off. Selfridges sells them for about £7.99 but she offers them to retailers for £4.99. They, in turn, can charge anything from £5.99 to £6.99, she says. It’s difficult to argue with the economic rationale. Spolia reckons there is opportunity to make 40% to 100% margin compared with “the average retailer working on a mark-up of 18% to 25%”.
Each supplier will detail their own terms and conditions regarding their products on the site. Some suppliers take three days to make a delivery and require minimum orders of £200. Spolia is talking to C&Cs, including Bestway, about providing links from their sites to hers, offering commission on each sale. She has a warehouse in Slough from where products are dispatched straight to the consumer, but suppliers can send direct by courier.
Five years from now, Spolia can see the business model she has created working internationally. “Indian producers looking for a way into Europe and those looking to source products around the world will come to LemonGold,” she says.
There is sadly a sting, however, to what is an otherwise upbeat story. When Spolia first touted her idea to get backing at the peak of the dotcom bubble, she says she was offered £500,000 for a 35% stake. She turned it down, preferring to go it alone. She got a bank loan a few years later and LemonGold first went live as a trade site a year ago.
“I would slit my wrist for that money now,” she admits.