Chicago snack start-up No Denial Foods targets low-sugar shoppers seeking indulgence

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

No Denial Foods designs indulgent snacks for low-sugar shoppers

Related tags Sugar

No Denial Foods Founder Debbie Wood has had a front-seat view of the packaged food sector as a sugar-conscious shopper, having been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 9 and then celiac disease at age 32.

“When I was first diagnosed ​[with diabetes], there was a category of sugar-free, which was basically baked goods with sugar substitutes,” ​Wood told FoodNavigator-USA. “Sorbitol was one example, and my body didn’t react well to the sugar substitutes.”

But she’s noticed that in recent years, there has been increased use of natural lower glycemic-index sugars “and just purer, natural sugars are being used in different ways to make desserts a little healthier.”

Jumping over to the food industry in the spring of 2016 (her background is in real estate sales), she wanted to take part in something she felt passionately about—creating food for low-sugar shoppers—and started No Denial Foods​ as a grain-free, minimally sweetened indulgent snack.

Creating minimally sweet snacks

The first product to launch was a nut mix in 5 oz standing pouches, sold for around $6.99 and available in three flavors: Cinnamon, honey, and maple.

To sweeten her nut mix product, Wood chose sugars such as maple syrup, honey and coconut palm sugar, “which is one of the lowest glycemic index sugars,” ​she said. The amount used is minimal, Wood said, adding that one pouch contains less than 2 teaspoons of honey. 

No Denial Foods founder Debbie Wood.

“You can’t have dessert without a little sugar,” ​she laughed. “So, the key to making the end result is really combining less amount of natural sugar with rich nutrient nuts, and create a rich, decadent, ‘not-to-sweet but really tastes like a dessert’ item.”

She also chose to start with the nut mix as the first product because they are grain free. “Grains get broken down into sugar very quickly,” ​she said. As a diabetic and celiac shopper, Wood pays close attention to ingredient lists to check for grains, starches, and high-sugar fruits. “As someone with Type 1 Diabetes, I know the amount of insulin every type of food requires,” ​she said.

For now, the nut mix products are sold in Chicago coffee shops and cafés, and will hit store shelves at local chain Mariano’s as well as concession stands at sporting venues. She’s recently expanded the brand to include baked goods for the foodservice and catering.

Opportunity beyond eating for ailment maintenance

A strong foundation of No Denial Foods’ conception is Wood’s desire to serve the low-sugar shopper.

“This disease that I have—I have to think about it 24/7, so if I can simplify what I consume and how I eat, it just makes the management of my diabetes easier,” ​she said. “This company really started off with my passion for people like myself.”

Shoppers who use food to manage their ailments are already a large, diverse demographic. Data from Nielsen found that 20% of US households have diabetic shoppers​, with a $60.4bn spend on food. Gluten negative households number 3.6 million with a $15.4bn spend.

But Wood also sees increased interest in low-sugar shopping among consumers with no chronic disease. Surrounding herself with a healthy and active community at her gym—her test market before establishing her company—she realized that more people are looking to reduce the amount of sugar they eat.

“I think sugar is going to be on a lot of people’s radar, whether they realize it or not, but sugar is going to be a thing like gluten was eight years ago,” ​she said. “People are really tuning into that—making sure that they fill their bodies with good nutrients and watch the amount of sugar that they take.”

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