The 23-year-old, who recently graduated from RGU with a degree in Public Relations, said Coco Unai was just an idea last year but now she is bringing her artisan, sugar-free innovation to the chocolate market.
“Coco Unai is unlike any other combination on the market,” she said. “I like to think that I’m standing up for everyone like me who wants to cut down on their sugar consumption. If I can offer something that tastes nice, is sugar free and if it has a positive effect on society and issues we have in the region around obesity then that’s absolutely great - my vision is to promote the UK in a healthier way of living without cutting back on quality or flavour.
“One of my biggest passion’s is sugar free – it is something that I’ve always had an interest in and something that I’ve always tried to cut-out,” Alice comments on how the idea started. “Sugar can be addictive in the same way as alcohol and tobacco and I wanted to create something that felt like a luxury treat but didn’t contain sugar - helping reduce the nation’s sugar consumption.”
Food Standards Scotland nutrition guidelines say most of us need to cut down on the sugar we consume as it’s low in nutritional value. The guidelines state the recommended maximum amount of sugar for an adult is 30g (around 7 sugar cubes) and no more than 24g (around 6 sugar cubes) for children.
“Obesity and sugar consumption is a big issue for the UK and we can’t ignore it,” Alice said.
Alice, who also focused her fourth year dissertation on the obesity crisis, continued: “We are in a world where everything is about convenience but there is so much hidden sugar in convenience food, even things like sandwiches and fruit juices.
“A lot of the sweeteners that are out there are also indigestible so I really had to research and focus on what sweeteners to use – I want to make sure it is all natural. The sweeteners I have chosen allow me to create my products safely ensuring they are naturally sourced and provide a reduced calorie product – the main sweetness actually now comes from fibre.”
Coco Unai is one of 25 businesses to first successfully complete RGU’s Startup Accelerator programme, the only funded programme of its kind in the northeast of Scotland. The accelerator has supported Alice with essential funding, expertise and mentorship to shape the commercial side of her business.
“Through the accelerator I have managed to access and meet a lot of people who have expert knowledge in the sugar-free industry. As I do not have a science background, it’s been great to educate myself and learn along the way,” she said. “Throughout this process I have met with over 18 mentors, nutritionists, dietetic doctors, food science specialists and industry professionals, as well as undertaken sugar alternative research. I feel super lucky to have been accepted on to the accelerator. Five months ago, I didn’t have the answer - I didn’t even have a product - but I was confident I wanted to find the solution that was still sugar free but I was determined to find an alternative that didn’t involve nasty side effects.”
Speaking about the future of Coco Unai, Alice continued: “I aim to expand my artisan baking out-with my kitchen and outsource a specifically designed work space for production and packaging. From there I hope to meet with larger potential suppliers targeting the UK, such as upmarket food halls and cafes and build relationships with specialist retailers and overall strengthening my brand presence and story.
“In the next 5 years, I expect the sugar free industry will soon dominate the market. I see myself as a leading artisan chocolatier, in being recognised for my recipe innovation and understanding customer health. From there, the future of Coco Unai will be an expanding line of product range, and flavours.”