Bonraw’s natural sugars hit the sweet spot for dieters, cooks and sustainable farmers

Bonraw explains story behind its products

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Co-founded in 2019 by former Tate & Lyle employee Elpida Gailani, Bonraw‘s first three products — Silverbirch produced from woody plants containing xylitol, a sweet substance that does not raise blood sugar levels, organic Panela from dried cane juice and Coconut Blossom from the palm’s fresh sap — have got foodies and caterers licking their lips while opening up the options for diabetics and dieters.

Strong on nutritional benefits, there’s been heaps of praise too for the business’s eco-friendly sourcing that translates into income security and fair returns for the thousands of artisan smallholders and growers’ cooperatives in Colombia and Indonesia.

Bonraw’s popping flavours and versatile taste profiles scooped it three Great Taste Awards last year and are driving a re-examination of sugar as food worthy of discerning connoisseurship. 

“We are showing sugar is not just a processed mountain of white stuff, but is far more complex,” chief executive Gailani explains.

Eco-friendly farm in Colombia

Organic Panela: sugar cane grown the eco-friendly way in Colombia (Image: Bonraw Foods)

“Sugar lags behind the recognition wine and now tea, coffee and chocolate receive, but it’s starting to happen.

“People are far more concerned now about food, both home cooking and eating healthily as well as controlling their weight. How food is produced, and the transparency of the supply chain really matter and Bonraw is right at the centre of those.”

It was seeing the attitude changes that made Gailani realise the potential to challenge the mainstream and explore other all-natural sugar and sweet alternatives.

Using her experience in the trade, the young mum supported by her husband and marketing expert Joe spent over a year researching plantations, forging global partnerships and creating sustainable packaging.

Bonraw's product selection

Top tubs: Bonraw’s natural sugar selection (Image: Bonraw Foods)

Sugar lags behind the recognition given to wine and now tea, coffee and chocolate, but it is on its way.

Elpida Gailani, Bonraw’s chief executive

Best seller Silverbirch offers a direct replacement for white sugar, has 40 percent fewer calories and leaves none of the bitter aftertaste associated with alternative sweeteners. 

Panela, which has an aromatic molasses taste with caramel undertones, pairs well with fruits and nuts and is a winner in cocktails.  Traditionally handmade for centuries, dried cane stalks serve as the fuel to heat the raw cane juice making the process one of the most sustainable anywhere.

Deep flavoured Coconut Blossom is the direct replacement for brown sugar whether that is for sprinkling, baking or adding flavour to drinks.  

All three products are shipped in sacks then packed and despatched in 225gm tubs (from £3) from a hub in Leicester.

Now stocked by Whole Foods Market, Holland & Barrett, Ocado and Booths, one of Bonraw’s biggest breaks was getting on Waitrose’s shelves. Gailani recalls: “Three months into launch we met with a buyer and it was one of the most positive meetings I have ever had. Waitrose really listened to what we had to say about sugar.”

Marketplaces such as Amazon are also expected to figure more prominently in future.

Those listings, plus a new range of organic sugars and other natural non-sugar products in development, are leading Gailani to forecast a £3.5 million turnover in 2023.

And after £250,000 of angel investment, Bonraw is going for a £400,000 raise this autumn when it will double its current team of three. 

It should also by then have achieved another ambition – enhancing its credibility by adding B Corps status (accreditation for companies that balance purpose and profit benefiting the planet), to its brand. When that happens it will be the first business in the sugar industry to achieve it. 

The company also exports to Ireland and the Middle East helping it weather Brexit which has added some 20 per cent to overall costs and cope with a three-fold rise in freight charges. 

The proposed sugar tax however could bring more opportunities, reckons Gailani.

Elpida Gailani, Bonraw's chief executive

Good taste: Elpida and a tub of Silverbirch (Image: Bonraw Foods)

As businesses look to reformulate goods and recipes to remove sugars, I think those present new openings for ‘better for you’ sugars to be used by food and drink manufacturers that may not have considered alternative sugars previously,” she explains. 

“This would help move these sources of natural sweetness further into the mainstream and the wider conversation. That’s a positive step in my view, although it should not be the only one to tackle sugar reduction. 

“The tax and any recipe reformulations would act as a much welcome re-education in sweetness, but I also think we need to tackle just how sweet our taste profiles have become. Perhaps it’s a good time for manufacturers to start balancing sweetness with flavour.”

The launch of a new 1kg pack size will enable Bonraw to start targeting coffee shops, pubs and restaurants while Gailani tackles technical challenges such as creating castor and icing sugars that will prepare the way for ready-made products such as buttercreams and frostings.

“Sugar needs education,” she says, “we’re the pioneers reinventing the demon.” 

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