Aubry, who also calls himself the ‘Christian Dior of sugar-free confectionery’ lays claim to having pioneered the sugar-free confectionery sector in Australia and New Zealand over 50 years ago, and now has his eye on doing the same in Singapore.
“I first created the Sugarless Confectionery (Sugarless Co) in 1969 when I was 25, and the sugar-free market was extremely small, very tiny and nothing at all like what it is today,” he told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“As a small business at the time trying to kickstart a new category, I was going on what I call the comet theory – a small business without much money to work with needs to position itself at the head of the comet, so companies in this position must work with products that do not exist so may be harder to sell but bring high profitability.
“At the time, in the Australian confectionery sector, this was sugar-free products, which were next to non-existent here. I decided Sugarless Co would focus our efforts on achieving a complete portfolio of sugar-free confectionery and then started off by launching one of the first sugar-free chocolates containing essences or fillings, and have not looked back since.”
According to Aubry’s comet theory, the ‘head’ of the comet essentially covers start-ups or capital-poor firms, the ‘body’ of the comet is where big brands like Coca-Cola and Cadbury sit (no longer blazing at the forefront but have huge profits in a market that is shared with other brands), and the ‘tail’ of the comet is for non-innovating, mostly investment/acquisition sorts of companies that have capital to spare.
“We then moved on to launch in New Zealand and did the same thing there to pioneer the market – because Sugarless Co has been in these countries for many years and we basically created the markets, these are still our best-selling locations till this day,” said Aubry.
“Now we’re looking further and seeing the same thing happening in Singapore too, as every month our sales are improving and even right in the midst of COVID-19, we managed to achieve our best month of sales ever in May 2020 – it’s funny how these things work out.
“Singapore is special because when we tried to enter and import chocolate with stevia a few years back, we were stopped by the government who told us drinks were okay but not food. We were just a small firm at the time, but tried to approach the government about this - and after a year, we got approval to import, and now food with stevia can be imported there.
“So Singapore is known for being very strict, but it is also helpful to businesses, and the market there has been very good for us.”
The firm’s retail strategy is somewhat different in Singapore as compared to Australia and New Zealand where it normally goes down the pharmacies and health food shops route – mostly because Singapore pharmacies are ‘too small’ to accommodate a Sugarless Co stand.
“Singapore is a small country, and pharmacies are very small so we can’t put in a stand and display our products properly,” said Aubry.
“A stand is absolutely crucial for Sugarless as the way it works for us is that we have a huge sugar-free range, the largest in the world, and we put all of it on a stand so consumers can go and choose and pick what they want, then usually end up buying multiple packets.
“Since this cannot be done in Singapore, we have opted to sell in various supermarkets and via RedMart here instead, as it wouldn’t work otherwise.”
New sugar-free development
Even at 78, Aubry has no intention of slowing down his involvement in new sugar-free product development and already has many creations currently in progress.
“Very often consumers will choose chocolates with filling when choosing from a selection, so I am launching this in a block format with flavours such as praline, coffee, dark mint and dark strawberry,” he told us.
“There will also be a biscuit with hemp – hemp is currently very successful on the Australia and New Zealand market, and a lot of people are producing confectionery with hemp, but I have not yet seen any sugar-free hemp biscuits or wafers, so we are working on this.
“And because Sugarless Co is all about innovation and market firsts, we are also launching sugar-free ginger sweets which will be one of the first on the market, and the first no-added sugar strudels enriched with 15% protein in the market too.”
Aubry also told us of his consternation at the fact that his sweets are extremely popular with Japanese tourists in Singapore – but he has not had any luck contacting a distributor there so far.
“In tourist spots in Singapore and even Australia, Japanese tourists come and buy half a dozen to a dozen packets each, wiping out the entire stand, which Is quite incredible - but so far I’ve not had any success when trying to contact Japanese partners to sell there. It’s really strange, no one picks up,” he said.
“We will market the sugar-free protein-enriched strudels in multiple languages on the packaging, especially in Singapore – maybe this will attract the attention of tourists who are potential partners to come and contact us!”
That said, Sugarless Co already has presence in Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa, and Kenya, and is launching into Tanzania, Zambia, Portugal and Canada next year.
“We expect great things especially from Canada – but basically for every country we enter, we are number one in the sugar-free category,” said Aubry.