Alison Stroh on healthy snacks and living through COVID

Alison set up her health food business in 2012, She had just returned to Ireland, had her first child and was very conscious of the sugar content in snacks. Alison had been looking at the snacks available – they were all kinds of ‘free from’ except sugar. While living previously in Germany she had become aware of an oncologist Dr Johannes Coy who had done research on sugars, identifying rare sugars that are not dangerous to health. So while thinking of her next step, she decided to go into business. She returned to Germany and sought out Dr Coy and persuaded him to join her in a new health food business based on his research.

The research looks at how refined sugars spike insulin levels causing that a rollercoaster high effect and subsequent crashing. Dy Coy identified a sugar that didn’t do that but instead delivered sustained energy.

Alison combined this rare sugar with a really good cocoa, as well as plant-based fibre and vitamin E, and hey presto a healthy chocolate snack had been invented.
The business went live in 2014 and quickly gained traction with regional and national outlets including Supervalu, Centra, Tesco, Dunnes and the product was even available on Ryanair flights before the lockdown. The business employs four people and is a small team.

COVID has impacted her business. First there is the actual stocking of shelves, then their product tends to be an impulse buy, as a treat. And as Alison says people are not really leisure shopping these days.

“Everyone gets in and out as fast as they can, so that has impacted on sales.”
It has also impacted their annual Cr Coys positive living campaign. Previously they set up tasting tables in stores asking happy customers to take selfies with the snacks. Of course, with COVID this is not possible and so the campaign has moved online. People can go online to and order tasting bars.

“It’s all free but we ask people to fill in a survey afterwards and we really love the feedback.”

Using Dr Coys’ healthy products might just be one way of avoiding the COVID stone affecting people who have resorted to unhealthy snacking during lockdown.
On the flipside, the closing of schools has had many negative impacts especially on children from DEIS schools. Not only might they not have laptops and broadband to keep up with their work, they might not be getting enough food. Some children rely on school meals to provide them with proper nutrition which they might not get at home.

Alison teamed up with Dublin business man Denis O’Reilly and his son Billy who are running Good Grub. This project is proving fresh fruit and vegetables to vulnerable families. So far they have delivered 75,000 packages which is amazing. Alison helped by donating Dr Coy snacks.

Finally I ask Alison how she is surviving as a small business in the lockdown and what advice she might have for other SMEs.

“As we were entering the lockdown, I read a lot of reports from advertising agencies saying now is not the time to stop advertising and I took that on board. In addition, I feel we are in the right industry – the health food sector – that will take off again after the lockdown.

“In addition, as with any small business there are always things to be done. Sometimes you are so busy that it is hard to get to the end of the list let alone reflect on things that need doing. So this quiet time has been very busy for us and we are looking for our long term goals – not just the day-to-day stuff.

“Take the time as a blessing to reflect, renew and focus on what matters for your business.”

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