Sometimes the most random things spark lasting business ideas. Charlotte Miller popped into a shop to take shelter from the rain while on holiday in Australia. A bite into a carob bar she picked up was a revelation and became the inspiration for a new venture. By the time she was on a plane home, she was cooking up a vegan business idea: Caroboo!
In the first of our interview series where we meet vegan business owners who inspire us, Charlotte told us more about the beginnings of Caroboo, challenges faced along the way, and a handy piece of advice for newbie entrepreneurs.
Welcome Charlotte! Tell us more about the story behind Caroboo…
Charlotte: Before I started Caroboo I was a high end wedding planner and worked on some amazing events, but I was beginning to feel the itch for a new challenge and something that meant I could work with a team around me all the time. My husband and 1 year old daughter (at the time) went on a family trip to Australia in 2017 and we were just very open to the possibility of finding our next business venture. One day in a health food shop in Sydney when it was absolutely bouncing it down with rain, I picked up a carob bar for me and my daughter. I had never had carob but it looked interesting and it really got me interested. It had a familiar taste yet was different to chocolate and to be honest the idea of bringing a product like that to the UK just really wouldn’t leave me alone and so I acted on it.
When did you start operations?
Charlotte: We went live in May 2020 – when I say live, I mean we shelled out a hell of a lot of cash to fund our first mega production run and let me tell you, it was terrifying, ha!
Tell us what’s unique about Caroboo…
Charlotte: I think with a lot of vegan and plant-based businesses coming into the market, it isn’t unusual to see small challenger brands trying to do the ‘right’ things early on. We for example, were absolutely insistent on using home compostable wrappers for our products but it hasn’t been easy. We also use sustainably sourced and/or organic ingredients too! I do think our ethical standing makes us unique but really the star of the show is the superfood ingredient, carob. Grown in the Mediterranean, it’s like a pea pod that is dried, roasted and ground into a chocolate-y flavoured powder. It is slightly more earthy and is just as rich in minerals and vitamins as cocoa.
How about the challenges of COVID-19… How did you adapt?
Charlotte: Our whole business model was originally based purely on retail and wholesale but because of Covid we absolutely knew we needed to have an online presence. Covid has definitely shaped the way we have launched and what we have been able to achieve so far, but all actually in very positive ways.
Tell us how you imagine the vegan food industry in 5 years time…
Charlotte: I think the vegan food industry in 5 years won’t be so ‘vegan’ and what I mean by that is that the products will just become (hopefully) part of normal everyday life. It won’t be so polarising and hopefully there will be a huge conscious shift into using and eating less animal products.
Do you have some advice for vegan entrepreneurs looking to start a new business?
Charlotte: Work out the commercials of bringing your products to market as early on as you possibly can! It totally does depend on where you want your business to go but I absolutely would have loved to have had more advice early on about where margins need to be and how to effectively scale up. We have challenges ahead of course as every start up does but I might have made some slightly different choices up until now.
What else would you like to share with us?
Charlotte: We can only speak from the point of view of being a food and drink business but it is a really supportive community to work in. We have met a whole bunch of awesome people so far and we are very much looking forward to meeting more people face to face once life can resume a bit more to normal and at a minimum real life meetings!