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With its creamy range, Denada proves it doesn’t need sugar to be classified as ice cream. Two-thirds of the team, Charlotte Haygarth and Sophie Lawrence, spoke to Doris Prodanovic about going against the grain in the better-for-you market. This article was first published in Food & Drink Business September/October 2020

There is an ice cream in the freezer aisle with Spanish manners, calling out “you’re welcome” each time one of its six sugar-free flavours makes its way to a new home: Denada.

The ice creamery was founded in Perth in 2017 by three friends and entrepreneurs – pastry chef Charlotte Haygarth; ex-Hockeyroos player Jayde Taylor; and branding expert Sophie Lawrence – all with the mindset that no one needs to be consuming sugar, but everyone deserves a dessert.

Denada’s dream team (L-R): Charlotte Haygarth, Jayde Taylor and Sophie Lawrence.
Denada’s dream team (L-R): Charlotte Haygarth, Jayde Taylor and Sophie Lawrence.

While many of its competitors in the low sugar space usually fall into the frozen dessert category, the Denada team were adamant in going through the process to enter the freezer aisles with a creamy classification, based on guidelines from regulatory body Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

“Early on when we were first creating Denada, we were about one gram off the mark from being classified as an ice cream,” Haygarth told Food & Drink Business.

“When it came to deciding whether it should be a frozen dessert, we realised that Denada being an ice cream was quite important to us and the brand, so we altered the recipe. It helped us to differentiate from what was going on in the category, which was low calorie, frozen desserts.”

Denada’s proposition is no added sugar or sugar-free ice cream, says Lawrence, and the goal for every product made in the future is “to be a simple swap for the full sugar version out there”.

But to take out sugar from an ice cream recipe is no simple feat. For Denada, its replacement is the natural sweetener Xylito, found in birch bark and corn cob, which is combined with pure ingredients such as fresh cream, coconut cream and almond milk before being churned into smooth ice cream.

“If you take sugar out of ice cream, it’s rock solid. Sugar acts as an anti-freeze, if you take it out, you have to replace it with something else, and in our case, something natural, which is really hard to do,” says Haygarth.

“One of the most challenging things for us as a small business has been developing and diversifying our products at the speed we’d like – we have long lead times and finding the right companies to work with to make sure the recipe can be scaled into a larger production and keep the quality, is really important.”

Denada has grown from 800 tubs with a small Sydney producer to 60,000 tubs of ice cream a month at a “one-stop-shop” contract manufacturer in Melbourne, to meet the growing demand to be stocked in 1300 independent retailers and Coles stores nationally.

“When Coles first approached us [in March, 2019], we weren’t sure if we were ready yet to be in one of the majors,” Lawrence told F&DB.

“Coles found out about us through our packaging designer and from day one, we’ve had such a great relationship with them. We went in to the first meeting thinking we’d be in twenty stores exclusively, and then they said they wanted to have Denada in ninety-five per cent of stores, and we thought, ‘Wow, okay, let’s do it’. So, we’ve been really lucky.”

Trending taste

In April, tubs of Denada took on the world too, entering its first export agreement with Middle East supermarket chain Spinneys where the range is now available in 25 Spinneys and Waitrose supermarkets across the United Arab Emirates.

The combination of growth among the better-for-you, premiumisation and indulgence trends are not only aiding the success of Denada’s products, but they are driven by consumer demand, Lawrence says, which is no longer as niche as it once was.

“The better-for-you trend is happening across multiple categories, not just in ice cream, and we can see more products now that may be dairy-free, vegan-friendly, or include functional foods,” she says.

“With Denada, we want to be the healthier, better-for-you brand without all the typical ‘health’ cues. We believe in our product so much that we would rather look delicious than cue health, so in some ways, we’re going against the grain of what’s out there.”

The bold, colour-blocking packaging for Denada’s range has worked in its favour. Clean ingredients on the inside meant a clean design on the outside, says Haygarth, and removing the clutter from the packaging helped the products standout on shelf.

Designed by Melbourne-based Jo Cutri Studio, Denada’s packaging borrows cues from outside the FMCG category, such as beauty, helping to break Denada away from the crowded ice cream aisle, “which was critical in catching eyeballs of both customers and category buyers,” Haygarth says.

Berries and beyond

In October, Denada will add two new flavours to its ice cream line up – the brand’s first fruit flavour, Raspberry Ribbon, “as berry was the most requested flavour,” says Haygarth, and also Caramel Choc-Flake, a vanilla ice cream with chocolate flakes and caramel ripple.

As Denada continues to grow its export markets, production line and diversify into new products, this women-led, team of three is changing the perception of sugar-free ice cream one tub at a time. 

“Every product that we make we want to ask, ‘Does it match the taste, and does it live up to the experience of full sugar?’ And yes, it might not be as sweet but it’s about the quality,” says Lawrence.

“There are about seventy per cent of packaged foods out there that have added sugar, and ideally, we want to see that flipped on its head. Finally, companies are catching up with the trend and we’re excited to be part of the movement that people can eat less sugar without compromising taste.”

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