Tech Humans of Dublin: Alison Stroh, Dr. Coy’s Health Foods

Mapping Dublin’s tech ecosystem, one human at a time.

I first met Dr. Johannes Coy in 2013.  He was a biologist and researcher at the Cancer Research Institute in Heidelberg, and had spent many years exploring the relationship between cancer cells and sugar. He pioneered the use of a new type of sugar, galactose, which provides valuable nutrition without causing insulin spikes or feeding the cancer cells. He used it with his cancer patients but never brought it to the mass market for general nutritional use.

At the time I had a small child and was puzzled about what snacks to give him. I approached Dr. Coy in 2014 about collaborating and developing a range of children’s chocolates.

I had never worked in the food industry before. My background was international marketing, helping Irish tech companies find a foothold in the US. When I moved back to Ireland, I believed I could use those skills in developing my own business.

My brother Aaron joined me early on in the journey of creating the business. We researched tastes and flavours, and assessed the demand for the products and their potential audience. We came up with the brand, packaging, design, and messaging: “Dr. Coy’s, a guilt-free chocolate.”

I entered the DIT Hothouse “New Frontiers Programme” in 2014. I was the only female, and we were the only food company who took part. It was incredible to listen to the other tech founders and mentors about funding, scaling, and building a team. Within the food industry, there is a lot of support available in terms of branding, packaging and getting products on a retail shelf. But there is very little on scaling the business and getting funding for it. In those months I listened carefully and took everything in.

I applied for the Enterprise Ireland “Competitive Start Fund” and was accepted to the Food Academy Program. The sponsors included Bord Bia, the Local Enterprise Office Network and Supervalu who introduced Dr. Coy’s chocolates to their stores.

Everything was going great until June of last year when my brother rang to tell me there had been a fire in the warehouse.

“Everything will be fine,” I told him and myself. Then he sent me photos, and I thought, “It won’t be fine, it’s horrific.” We lost all of our stock.

We didn’t give up, and managed to get back on our feet. Supervalu was incredibly supportive all along. The day after the fire, one of the directors called us to say they were going to keep our shelf space and offered us warehouse space and any help we needed.

That sort of support has marked the whole journey, from the Dublin Food Chain and the Local Enterprise Office to all the like-minded health stores and fellow food companies. We are now listed nationwide in 220 Supervalu stores as well as Irish independent health food stores, Lloyds Pharmacies, Applegreen Service Stations, Brown Thomas and FRESH Supermarkets.

Our next steps are to enter the UK market and introduce new products, including children’s chocolates. Personally, I would love to get Dr. Coy on the Late Late Show. I think he’d blow people away.

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