They say when things seem too good to be true, they usually are. This certainly doesn’t seem to be the case however, when it comes to what is arguably one of the most exciting new brands to come out of Durban.
Creating a product that would change people’s lives and take the sugar replacement market by storm was not exactly what Freesweet founder, Deborah Good, had in mind when she first started experimenting in her kitchen.
But, with the carb-free, all-natural product now in more than 2000 stores countrywide, just four months after launching (and set to double by January 2020), it seems this is exactly what she and her team have done.
“We have ended up creating more magic than I could ever have imagined,” says the Umdloti entrepreneur and mother of five.
Born-and-bred in Durban, the strikingly attractive Deb went straight into modelling full time after school, determined to support herself financially. At the age of just 18, in 1989, Deb competed and placed third in the Miss SA pageant. “It was a wonderful experience. Modelling was really fun back then,” she smiles.
But, of course, there was also a lot of pressure to have a certain body type and Deb was careful about what she ate. “Healthy living was always a priority for me, but it became even more important when I became a mother.”
A natural entrepreneur, Deb thrives on working for herself and has had a number of successful business ventures over the years, often using the money she made buying, renovating and selling properties to fund her new projects. At the age of 30, Deb decided to follow her dream of going to university where she studied Philosophy, English, marketing and media.
When she discovered her love and skill for photography and a deep passion for the African bush, Deb spent eight months travelling across Africa compiling a beautiful coffee-table book called Journey. The photographs and book did exceptionally well and she exhibited in both South Africa and the UK. After returning to South Africa, she started running photography courses and turned her focus toward herself, her children and her health. “I am passionate about holistic self-growth and self-improvement. I think that’s part of the success of Freesweet . . . money is not my motivation. I see this as a way to really change people’s lives and help improve their health.”
The real catalyst towards the formulation of Freesweet, Deb says, came about five years ago when she and well-known SA musician Ard Matthews opened the trendy iwantmycoffee coffee shop in Umhlanga. At the time both Deb and Ard were trying to cut sugar out of their diets and they came up with a range of sugar-free flavoured syrups for the coffees, which were a massive hit. After doing some research, Deb says she started realising the damaging effects sugar was having on society and wanted to find a replacement for herself and her children. “I couldn’t just tell my kids to stop eating sugar without offering them a delightful, delicious alternative. But it had to be a stand-alone replacement that tasted so good that they would choose it for themselves.”
Deb sold the coffee shop and put all her resources and focus into developing a 1:1 natural sugar replacement. At the same time she worked on another product, a range of sugar-free vodka coolers called Skinnylove. “A few people suggested I meet with Grant Rushmere, the creator of BOS Ice Tea, because of his experience with creating and taking iconic brands to market. He was excited about both products, particularly the sugar replacement, and we became partners.”
Deb says it was the sheer demand, both in South Africa and worldwide, for a healthy sugar alternative, that caused them to shift their focus entirely towards Freesweet.
Once the recipe was refined, Deb worked hard at conceptualising her brand, including coming up with the iconic butterfly logo. “The butterfly has seven elements, reflecting seven ingredients used in the product.”
The business grew massively when one of SA’s largest branded food distributors, Pioneer Foods, collaborated with them, thereby opening the doors to the country’s leading supermarket chains.
Deb admits she’s had to hone her business skills in the past few months. “I was determined to learn every aspect of the business myself before bringing in people with the right skill sets to fulfil each role.”
It tastes great and bakes beautifully but, Deb says, the real beauty of Freesweet is the difference it can makes in people’s lives. “When you look at what goes into kids’ lunch boxes today, there are so many hidden sugars – and the knock-on effects are devastating. The fact that we have been endorsed by Diabetes SA is the greatest badge of honour for our brand.”
YUMMY CHOCOLATE CAKE (made with Freesweet!)
INGREDIENTS FOR CAKE
200g self raising flour
75g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp coffee
125 ml milk
125 ml water
2 tsp vanilla essence
25g cocoa powder
3 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius. Cream the butter and Freesweet using an electric whisk. (The Freesweet will fly around due to its lightness but will settle so don’t worry).
• Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
• In a separate bowl sift in the dry ingredients.
• In another bowl, mix together the coffee, milk, water and vanilla essence.
• Beat alternate halves of the dry then wet ingredients into the creamed Freesweet and butter. Do the same with the remaining halves until the mix is well incorporated.
• Divide the cake into two tins and bake for 30-35 minutes. Insert a toothpick to check doneness of the cakes and leave them to cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
• Melt butter in a pot and add cocoa powder. Stir until well incorporated.
• Transfer the butter and cocoa mix into your mixing bowl, add icing sugar and beat with an electric whisk.
• Add milk, one tablespoon at a time until smooth and glossy.
• Ice your cake in the middle, ice the sides and then decorate as desired. (I used strawberries and dark chocolate shavings, we’re being healthy remember!).
Text: Leah Shone | Photo: Chris Allan photo | Location: 14 On chartwell