January 2021

The Caroboo adventure

The Caroboo team on launch day

Little did they know it, but a family trip to Australia in 2017 would prove the start of an adventure into the land of chocolate that Charlotte (Biology 2010) and Darran Miller (MSc Advanced Clinical Practice 2016) didn’t see coming.

But since launching their first bar – Caroboo – in 2020, people have been buying golden tickets to this tasty snack all around the UK.

Described as “everything you want in a choc, it’s just not!”, Caroboo is gaining popularity as a healthier alternative to chocolate. Made using carob – a brown, chocolatey-tasting pod that grows in the Mediterranean – the bars are 45 per cent lower in sugar than regular milk chocolate, they are gluten and dairy free, and contain no refined sugar. Carob has a naturally sweet flavour, and is both caffeine-free and high in fibre.

We caught up with the Yorkshire-based couple to find out all about their time at Leeds, their chocolatey ideas, and the steep learning curve of launching a confectionary product – during a global pandemic, to boot. 

And if you fancy trying some Caroboo, enter our competition to win Caroboo bars by replying to our social media post.

Thanks for joining us, Charlotte and Darran. Let’s go back to the start. Can you tell us about your time at Leeds and what you did after graduating?

Charlotte: I came to study Biology in Leeds in 2007. I absolutely love the city of Leeds – it is such a perfectly sized place, especially when you can’t drive! Single best memory of my Uni days: the biology field trip to Robin Hood’s Bay!

After working in a few different roles on graduating, I soon learned that I really wanted to be my own boss, so in 2012 I started my outdoor wedding planning business called Eden & Eve. I ran this business for six years until I decided to move onto bigger things. I think it’s really easy to single-mindedly follow a certain path in terms of career, but because I was open, it has led to so many more adventures and opportunities!

Darran: I attended Leeds as a mature student so I had a completely different experience to Charlotte! All the graft and none of the fun! I studied an MSc in emergency medicine and became an Advanced Clinical Practitioner in Emergency Medicine. It was a great course, with really useful attachments to Leeds Teaching Hospitals. I went to work as one of the first wave of advanced clinical practitioners in A&E in Harrogate.

So now we get Caroboo. How did the idea come about?

Charlotte: On a trip to Australia in 2017 on a very very rainy day in Sydney, we were sheltering in a health food store and I picked up a carob-based product. I didn’t really know what carob was at the time but I was interested and it tasted nice. A seed was sown in my brain that day. I could not shake the idea of bringing a product like that to the UK and making it mainstream and so the early Caroboo idea was born.

One of the motivations for me personally to start a new business in food was that I loved the potential scalability it had. I was completely naïve though because I knew absolutely nothing about the food industry and so let’s just say it has been one heck of a rollercoaster so far.

How did you go about perfecting the formula?

Charlotte: When we returned from Australia, I bought the ingredients from the back of the packet that I had kept. I melted and mixed a bunch of ingredients together in a bowl over some heat and seemed to think that it would make some delicious product – well it didn’t! It was grainy and gross and so I went back to my research. I wondered, "how on earth do chocolatiers make smooth chocolate when they don’t own a chocolate factory?" The answer is table top refiners!

I ordered a second hand one from eBay and started experimenting. I had a notebook where I recorded absolutely every detail; the temperatures, the weight of the ingredients, how it tasted, if it was smooth etc. I think we are now on our 45th version but all the hard work with our trials meant that when we actually found our manufacturing partners, the recipe hasn’t actually changed much at all and the intellectual property of the recipe belongs to us!

The products are made and moulded in the UK but our ingredients are a bit more exotic – our coconut products are sourced from sustainable farms in Indonesia, our carob is sourced from Europe (but it’s a secret where exactly!) and our cocoa butter is mass balanced Rainforest Alliance Certified, which means the farmers get paid fairly..

What challenges have you faced in getting your dream off the ground?

Charlotte: Oh my goodness! What challenges haven’t we faced?! In the early days, the biggest challenge we had was not only finding, but convincing the factories to believe in our product as much as we do. Our factories have ‘free from’ capabilities but most factories that have this ability are owned by brands that we would be in direct competition with. We did look at the costs of starting a factory but they are huge, and so we decided it was a better route to market for us to have someone else make it using our recipe.

And of course, the C word. How did Covid-19 affect things?

Charlotte: We met with a well-known high street retailer in January last year and they liked the opportunity we presented. We were due to launch with them in July 2020 but it wasn't possible because of Covid-19 restrictions and then shortly after, our moulding factory had to temporarily close.

We have also changed our plans for going to market. We have now developed our website so we can sell direct to consumers, we are targeting the big retailers and we are hoping to flood as many independents as we can in the next 12 months! Watch this space.

Darran: Obviously Covid-19 has presented a lot of extra workload in A&E both mentally and physically, and so it has been tough coming home at times and focusing on switching heads into business mode. But Caroboo makes a nice change, and is such a different challenge for us both.

Can you give three top tips to entrepreneurs looking to get their own product out into the world?

  1. You really need to understand the market you are going in to – ask people who are in it if they can spare time to tell you about their journeys and learn from the mistakes of others.
  2. If you want to bring a food product to the world then join Bread & Jam – it’s an online resource of seminars and food industry experts who we have learned an immense amount of information from!
  3. Be tenacious! It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of rejection and a lot of hiccups along the way but if you believe in what you are doing and you keep moving things forwards you will eventually get there!

What are your plans going forward?

Charlotte: We have big plans for Caroboo – if someone says the word carob, we want people to automatically think of Caroboo. We want to bring carob to the masses and become a known brand for healthier indulgent snacks! Like choc, but not!

Want to win some Caroboo of your own? Enter our competition to win Caroboo bars by visiting our social media post.

If you are interested in learning more about what's happening at Caroboo, follow on Instagram, Facebook, or visit the website.