Most people love sweets. But with the prospect of weight gain, bad skin, and diet-related diseases, many of us decline that extra piece of chocolate cake. One entrepreneur, former triathlon athlete and dessert-lover has created some surprisingly sweet alternatives. Belgium-based Valerie Deraedt is the founder of VALI Sweet but Different. She is on a mission to make vegan and refined sugar-free treats the future. Innovation Origins sat down with Valerie to find out more.
What motivated you to start VALI Sweet but Different?
I love sweets, I have a sweet tooth. But like so many people today, I want to eat less refined sugar. All the sugar-free options that I tried weren’t enjoyable, so I started to experiment myself. My mission was clear – I wanted to create something healthier without compromising on taste or on the look of a sweet. Appearance is just as important too! As I started researching, creating recipes, and talking with others, I realized a lot of young people were also looking for high-quality alternatives. At that point, I could see a solid business case for raw pastry and raw snacks.
Talk us through one of your favorite products …
I really love chocolate ganache cake. It has a rich chocolate flavor that melts in your mouth. And with only four ingredients – cacao powder, coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla – it’s so simple. The crust is a crunchy mix of pecans, almonds, and dates. It’s delicious and healthy with no animal products.
Eating healthy is a form of self-esteem. What do you mean by that?
I would prefer to say that eating well is more a form of self-respect. You have to take care of your body and mind. This starts with good food – you are what you eat. If you eat well, you will have a good body. Not only a good looking body but also a body that functions well. The same goes for your mind. Good food has a positive impact on the mind, body and soul. More people need to realize this and I hope we can make a difference with the work we do.
Who is your market?
We have a range of customers. Generally it’s anyone who wants to enjoy sweet foods in a more health-conscious way. Our products are made for vegans, vegetarians, and those with gluten or lactose allergies. We’re selling directly to businesses in Belgium, although we’ve just created special take-home boxes for consumers to buy online too.
Do these healthy products, like organic food, cost more for consumers?
Yes, our products do cost more because we use nuts as a core ingredient, like in our raw pastry. Some nuts cost over €10 per kilo. If you compare this with traditional base ingredients like flour or milk, our product ends up costing more to make. It’s a challenge to make healthy products with high-quality ingredients more affordable and therefore more accessible, especially for low-income households. We’re working on it.
With so much information about the impact of eating bad foods, why are there so many people overweight who have health problems like diabetes and heart disease?
For a long time, large FMCG (f) companies have used artificial ingredients in products such as cakes, sauces, crackers, and ham. Consumers gradually become addicted to sugar this way – because sugar is an addictive ingredient. This is what has caused so many health issues such as obesity and diseases. In parts of Europe, we tend to eat more meat and dairy over fruit and vegetables. But this is slowly changing. People are becoming far more conscious where food is concerned. We see that this shift is only growing. As I said before, ensuring all levels of society have access to good, healthy food and education is vital – not just for those who can afford it.
How can huge consumer organizations like Nestle and Unilever make a real difference with regard to public health?
By creating more vegan and other healthier alternatives. Promoting a vegan orientated diet is a great solution for human health and the planet! They have the marketing funds to do this. They should lead by example in advocating good health. These companies should do more to redesign their products so they are healthier, and contain less sugar.
Should governments impose some sort of tax or restriction in the future on sugar/fat concentrations to help promote healthier lifestyles? For kids in particular?
100% YES. Especially a sugar tax for refined sugars. Just as they do for cigarettes nowadays. And restrict the advertising of sugar products, definitely the ones that are geared towards children.
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