Stratford business woman who's giving sweets a health-kick
BEING pestered by her children at a supermarket checkout gave a food scientist a sweet idea for a start-up.
Louise Carr-Smith, who spent 15 years in the food manufacturing industry, spotted a gap in the market for candy that won’t rot your teeth.
Using her expertise, she came up with a recipe for sugar-free lollipops that also contain no artificial sweeteners.
Thanks to her invention, the Stratford-based entrepreneur’s company Clever Sweets has won a £50,000 grant from government-backed body Innovate UK as part of its Women in Innovation scheme.
Louise plans to use the cash to improve her product, Lou Lou’s lollies, which contain real fruit and come in two flavours – strawberry and watermelon.
The driving force behind Louise’s efforts is what she describes as the “dire situation” of tooth decay among youngsters.
According to statistics from Public Health England, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of five-year-olds have had dental decay.
She said: “I know how it feels to have a queue of people behind you and have your kids nagging you for sugary lollipops at the till.
“As a parent, you don’t want them to have them because they’re bad for their teeth but at the same time you feel trapped and just end up giving in.”
She added: “I feel strongly about the fact that children who are very young are having to go under general anaesthetic to have several rotten teeth extracted, while others are losing their adult teeth just as they come through.
“I really wanted to try and make a difference and solve what is a huge problem.”
The sugar-free confectionery market is already worth more than £1bn a year and is expected to receive a boost after new rules come into force in October.
These will ban shops from running promotions such as buy-on-get-one-free on high fat, sugar and salt foods and drinks and stop them showcasing these items at key areas such as checkouts, store entrances and aisle ends.
After graduating with a degree in food science and technology, Louise joined food giant Unilever. There, she was part of a team that helped develop and produce Magnum and Solero ice lollies and Viennetta ice-cream desert.
A fellow of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, the 57-year-old is also a non-executive advisory board member of international accreditation body Sugarwise.
She said: “I would describe myself as having a foot in both camps – I am a scientist, but I also enjoy project management and I’m leveraging all that time and experience from Unilever.”
Louise, whose children are now 19 and 17, believes the timing is perfect to launch healthier, low-sugar treats.
She explained: “Consumers want transparency and traceability and that particularly applies to Generation Z and Millennials, who are parents to their own small children.”
The business is expanding into the US and other overseas markets and Louise is making plans to set up her own automated factory in the UK to manufacture her products.
Having taken on an apprentice this year, she is also keen to create more jobs longer term.
Meanwhile, she is concentrating on marketing Lou Lou’s lollies, which have a four-year shelf life, to independent pharmacies, health food shops and convenience stores.
Retailers can also order them online through the Lou Lou’s Lollies website.
Before being accepted onto the Women in Innovation programme, Louise was also part of two previous Innovate UK projects.
Urging other women to apply, Louise described the mentoring part of the prize as “phenomenal”.
She added: “The emphasis is on complete authenticity and on being yourself – which is good news for women because it means we don’t have to conform. It really is a great time to be a woman in business.”