Two Melbourne dads landed a deal with both Woolworths and Coles worth $1 million before they had even sold one of their products.
Dad-of-two Seong-Lee Ang, set out to solve a problem with his business partner, after an experience “threw” his family’s “world upside down”.
The 45-year-old’s children both have severe anaphylactic food allergies.
Both are allergic to nuts but his four-year-old in particular is impacted by a range of foods.
“My daughter is allergic to dairy, egg, whole nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish and citrus seeds and that’s just the list we have tested so far,” he told news.com.au.
“It’s been pretty awful and it’s been a real challenge having such severe allergies. Eating out is really difficult, we take our own food for our daughter as no restaurant can cater to her allergies from her.
“We have had multiple close calls, hospital visits and ambulances called and as she was heading towards school age it was most frightening thinking about her being at school with hundreds of other children eating lunch around her.”
So in the middle of Melbourne’s long string of lockdowns when visiting the supermarket was a treat, Mr Ang realized apart from Vegemite and jam, every product in the spread aisle of the major supermarkets contained nuts.
“I guess we were thinking what is an easy thing to pack into school lunch boxes and it’s a sandwich but the spreads are really limited. There are hundreds of spreads in the spreads aisles and most contain nuts,” he explained.
“There are ‘no nut’ policies across the country where children can’t take peanut butter or Nutella sandwiches to school. It became our mission to solve this big problem, so it’s not just for allergy kids but all the children who would love to take a peanut butter sandwich to school and can’t.”
This is where their business called Buddee was born, with an aim to create an “inclusive” spread for all children and adults.
But Mr Ang and his co-founder Rodney Chieng knew they were in for a challenge as allergy-free products are “notorious” for tasting terrible, gambling around $400,000 from their own savings to make it happen.
Both also wanted their product to end up in the mainstream aisle, rather than being relegated to the health food aisle.
Dad-of-three Mr Chieng drove the product development, which took 60 versions of their first chocolate spread to get it right, with the early types tasting “awful”, Mr Ang admitted.
“Most of the first ones were disasters, in truth because of my children’s allergies I really wanted to make something that my daughter could eat and she’s not just allergic to nuts … so it was very limiting in terms of the ingredients we could use as we really wanted it to be allergen friendly,” he added.
His daughter was one of the chief taste testers and by version 30 she really started to like them rather than scrunching up her face, he said, and now absolutely loves it.
“Pretty much every day my children want a Buddee sandwich or the spread on toast or to dip carrots in. They eat it daily so they are going to put me out of business,” he joked.
Chickpea is the main ingredient, which presents problems initially on the taste front as well as with its water content.
“We got around it and roasted the chickpeas and that gives the nutlike flavor of the nutty spreads,” he said.
“It still tastes very familiar to people who still like nut spreads and people who do blind taste tests cannot believe it doesn’t contain nuts.”
The business partners were “shocked and over the moon” when both Woolworths and Coles wanted to stock their spreads before they had “sold a single jar yet”, Mr Ang said.
The deals will see Buddee Chocolate and Smooth spreads available at Woolworths supermarkets nationwide from August 15.
Meanwhile, Buddee Chocolate and Crunchy spreads will be available at Coles supermarkets nationwide from September 2022 and will retail for $6.50.
“It’s a testament to the need for this product and there is nothing like Buddee on their shelves,” Mr Ang said.
“There are so many spreads on the shelves but all contain nuts, so there is a big gap in the market we are filling and the supermarkets needed it even though we haven’t sold a jar yet.
“We are trying to find a solution for Australian families and children at school. We want school playgrounds to be inclusive and no one to miss out but instead they can take Buddee and don’t harm the kids next to them.”
But he said adults can also enjoy the spreads too.
Compared to other conventional spreads, Buddee contains less sugar, less saturated fat
and is free from palm oil as well as being entirely free from the top 10 allergens
including nuts, wheat, soy, dairy and sesame, according to Mr Ang.
Having been in “scary” situations where EpiPens have had to be used on his child in a restaurant, Mr Ang said Buddee is “so personal” to him.
”It’s been pretty tough the last six years with both our children having allergies,” he added.
“I have been in business before but this is why this business means the world to me. It’s actually creating change in the community, that’s why it’s so meaningful to me.”
Mr Ang said the duo have huge plans for the brand with future allergy-free products beyond the spread aisle.