Evelien Coppens from Dilbeek found the range of healthy children’s biscuits harrowing and so she set to work herself. Now that its Lilalou biscuits are in 350 Belgian stores, the Netherlands and France beckon. ‘I am ambitious. I want to reach all parents with my healthy cookies. ‘
Evelien Coppens (44) took her first steps on the Belgian biscuit market eighteen months ago, in September 2019. After almost 20 years in the food industry, where she did sales and marketing for Pepsico, Unilever and Orangina Schweppes, among others, she had been itching to do business herself for a while. When, as a mother of two, she searched in vain for healthy cookies, everything fell into place.
‘Suddenly I knew: this is it. After the birth of my children I was very busy with healthy food. I wanted to give them healthy cookies and snacks, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for on the shelves. Seeing that other parents were also struggling with the same problems, I decided to get involved myself. ‘
Coppens did not come overnight for her Lilalou biscuits, named after daughter Lila. For nearly two years she conducted market research and talked to all kinds of experts, from product developers, dieticians and paediatricians to food technology students at Ghent University. She found that most cookies are unhealthy for a reason. ‘Sugar makes the baking process easier. It is crucial for the taste, shelf life and texture. It was not self-evident to find an alternative for this. ‘
Dips in the morning
Major players are also moving towards healthier cookies, but they often use too much sugar and wheat, which have little nutritional value.
After much testing and trying, she developed three types of cookies: with cinnamon, coconut or chocolate. The cookies are rich in fiber and contain half the sugar than their peers. ‘We have three flavors that are popular,’ says Coppens. ‘Not only with children, I eat them myself against the dips in the morning. And my grandmother, who has to watch her sugar, eats them too. ‘ (laughs)
The picture had to be right for Coppens. ‘Major players are also taking the step towards healthier cookies, but they often use too much sugar and wheat, which contain little nutritional value. I consciously work with richer grains such as oats and barley and I was looking for a good balance between carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We only use organic ingredients and the biscuits are produced locally, in a Belgian bio-bakery. ‘
She started with 100,000 euros and initially focused on Belgian organic shops. Lilalou biscuits are now widespread, also at the bakery, the butcher, in the AD Delhaize and in the Carrefour. ‘We have about 350 points of sale in Belgium. The plan is to double that this year, partly through partnerships with retailers, schools, dieticians and hospitals. ‘
The move to France and the Netherlands should lead to a profit on the counter for the first time this year. ‘We have only just started in the Netherlands. We are concentrating on the organic market and now have around fifty points of sale where the biscuits are very successful. We hope to have about 200 by the end of this year. ‘
The ambition and enthusiasm are great. Coppens does not provide turnover figures, but in 2020 she sold around 120,000 packages of 26 cookies. ‘Even in a difficult year, with the corona virus and school closures. Those numbers can go at least times five, ‘she laughs. ‘I am ambitious and want to bring a healthy solution with LilaLou biscuits. I am also looking to expand the range, whether or not in the biscuit segment. ‘
For the time being, Coppens runs her company with three freelancers and an intern. Her family also determines the course. Her husband Wim De Weghe serves as a mentor and sounding board. ‘During the weekend we regularly sit together and tune the violins. That sometimes leads to lively discussions, but he challenges me like that and that only benefits the business. ‘ Coppens’ children Lila and Wout co-decided on the packaging and sat on the tasting panel. ‘They have tested a lot of cakes. Only when they were absolutely convinced did I go for it. ‘