Most of us love chocolate but unfortunately we are not all able to eat it. This led University of Cumbria London campus teaching graduate, Laurena Salih, to progress her passion to the next level and develop a range of ‘free from’ chocolate. To find out more read our interview:
Why did you engage with this activity?
After completing my teaching studies, rather than following the traditional route of teaching in a school, I knew I wanted to incorporate my knowledge of health and nutrition into my daily work. Whilst giving talks to adults on how they could reap the benefits of making small adjustments to their diets, the word ‘chocolate’ frequently popped up! As my son is intolerant to dairy I had already been researching and experimenting with different recipes and it was fairly easy to develop a chocolate recipe which met the dietary needs of many, with one recipe. Once people tasted this new chocolate, they started asking if they could buy it and then the decision was easily made to make this possible.
I discovered support was available through the university and from the very first contact I knew that if I really wanted to do this, then the help and guidance was there for me. Oh… It’s also something of a rarity being FREE help and advice!!! J
As a disabled student with various health issues, this was never going to be a quick process as I am restricted considerably due to pain, fatigue and mobility issues. However, the support I received from university was constant, encouraging and with a never-ending supply of patience (thank you Sylvia)!
I was always kept on track, and given advice regarding the correct procedures, to ensure that I would be the best that I can be and that my business would develop at the pace I needed. I have learnt a lot along the way with regards to the health advantages of the cacao plant and other superfoods which we use, and it is great to be able to pass this knowledge on to benefit others.
How has it helped your employability skills and prospects?
The support has ensured that I am able to follow the correct steps in starting a food business, including all of the legal requirements. It has also enhanced my visibility by following recommended guidelines. Without the supervision of the university’s business support, I know I would never have got this far and my business would probably still be something I was thinking of doing!
How has it changed or informed your plans or approach to self-employment or employability?
The constant supervision of the business support has encouraged me to seriously think about, develop and start my own business and given me the motivation to continue and do my best. It helped me to consider all the little bits which are often overlooked or missed.
Would you recommend other students/graduates to engage with this type of activity?
Most definitely and I already have! This is free support and advice to bounce ideas off and a way of ensuring that your dreams become a reality! Great support for gaining momentum and encouragement.
Tell us about your new business?
The business is called ‘Dakin Delights’; we produce 100% natural chocolates and confections. All of the products are free from six of the main allergens (dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, peanut-free, egg-free, and sulphite-free) and contain no refined sugars. We try to source as many organic ingredients as we can and try to use Fairtrade ingredients where possible. All of our products are paleo friendly and suitable for vegetarians, vegans and those following a raw diet.
Who is involved in the running and development of your business?
Currently the business is run as a sole-trader but I have friends and family offering various support – including fighting over quality control when taste testing new lines! I oversee the day-to-day running of the business, product development, product manufacture and product packaging and labelling – the latter with the support of my family. My husband looks after the IT side of the business including managing the online shopping facility and producing product photos.
Who are your target customers?
Health conscious individuals or those following a free-from, paleo, raw or vegan diet. My target customers are adults (male and female) aged 25-55, although the products do appeal to all who enjoy good quality chocolate!
Our next events are the Farmers’ Markets at Snape Maltings on Saturday 1st July and Saturday 5th August. Look out for free samples in goody bags if you're attending any vegan festivals in the coming months!
What are your aspirations for your business in the future?
Our goal is to develop a fixed range of products with a few seasonal specials. We would like our products to be available in a range of independent health food stores and cafes in different counties throughout the UK. Within the next year we would like to present our products to our local Co-op group as part of their ‘sourced locally’ range.
What does your product range currently include?
We have been trying out different flavours to find out the most popular so we currently have a lot of products in the range (we are hoping to narrow this down soon)! We have mint crunch; *chocolate orange; *mulberry bar; *chocolate covered caramels; fruit & nut clusters; coconut; almond drops; *chocolate dipped apricots; chocolate dipped energy balls; almond, goji & raisin bar; brownie bites; skinny squares; cinnamon energy balls, hazel-choc energy balls, *ginger energy balls; *almond butter cups and chocolate coconut fudge. (*=current best sellers)
What new products have you got planned for the future?
We are currently working on a new bar with a nougat type base and a caramel topping. We are also trying chocolates studded with different nuts and dried fruits. Christmas will bring some magic and sparkle with a return of our Christmas pudding bites and a new chocolate log. If you have a burning desire for a flavour you can't find elsewhere, please send us your suggestions so we can look into it!
Where can we buy your products?
You can buy Dakin Delights chocolates by contacting us via our website (www.DakinDelights.co.uk) and from us personally at fairs and markets (keep a look out on the website). If you have a local health shop, farmers shop or vegan café you think would be ideal for buying your Dakin Delights from, please drop us an email and we will check it out!
Student Enterprise Co-ordinator, Sylvia Grainger said “Working with Laurena has been fantastic. From the start she had a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve. We have worked together for nearly 2 years and it is great to see her business idea coming together and producing such a delicious product. I look forward to seeing the business grow and develop in line with Laurena’s timescale and to continue to support her”.