Brian and Rachel Nolan of Nobó

We talk memorable brand names, Great Taste Awards and the importance of celebrating small wins with the husband and wife team behind Nobó, Brian and Brian and Rachel Nolan of NoboRachel Nolan.

Nobó (www.nobo.ie) is a young Dublin based food company dedicated to creating the world's finest dairy-free, healthy, and supremely delicious foods. 

They recently launched their first product, an award winning dairy free alternative to ice cream, into the Irish market. Nobó Frozen Goodness is the world's first ice cream alternative made from avocado and coconut milk, and sweetened with pure honey. All of their products are handmade in Ireland in small batches.

How did your ‘start-up’ journey begin?

Food has always been a passion for both of us. After living in New York working in Advertising and Finance, we decided to pursue our dream and move to Italy to learn more about food.

We worked in a professional kitchen for six months while living in the Italian countryside. It was a ‘dream come true’, and after returning to Dublin we were determined to start our own food business.

We applied to the Foodworks programme run by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teasgasc with our concept for Nobó which gave us the knowledge and support we needed to get started.

What skillsets do you both bring to the company?

Brian holds a Masters in Management Consultancy, and has a background in Finance with nearly 10 years’ experience in financial roles in Dublin, Sydney and New York.

Rachel has a Masters in Advertising, and over eight years’ experience in advertising and marketing, with key professional experience in digital marketing when working for Condé Nast Publications in New York.

Our complimentary skillset has been invaluable in getting our business off the ground. With the areas of finance and advertising so important when starting a business, it was really a stroke of luck that we were well covered from that respect. Allied to this, we also recognized early on that our strength was as a team and having a shared vision on things helped us greatly. What we lacked was food experience and this is something that we have worked hard to overcome with the help of LEO Dublin City and invaluable mentors, such as James Burke and Brendan Chambers.

Tell us about your unique brand name – where did ‘Nobó’ come from?

We wanted our brand to say something about who we are and what we do. So, for us, it really had to communicate our Irishness and also something about being free from dairy. On a drive down to Connemara we started coming up with ideas. Surrounded by fields of cows we thought – No-bó! And our brand name was born. We often have customers telling us about their ‘Ah-ha’ moment when they say it out loud and realise it means ‘No Cow’.

What makes Nobó different to what’s already on the market?

Nobó Frozen Goodness is an entirely unique product. We believe that real food comes from real raw ingredients that grow on trees and in the ground which is why all the ingredients we use are recognizable whole foods like coconut milk and avocado.

To date, we haven’t found a commercially available ice cream anywhere in the world that uses avocado in their base. We also wanted to ensure this was a truly pure product without any additives, gums or other nasties which are almost always present in ice cream.

Consumers are paying more attention to ingredient lists and want to know exactly what’s in a product, which is great. They are looking for healthier treats they don’t feel bad about eating. Each of our ice creams only has 4-5 ingredients. In saying all of that, it also has to deliver on taste. That has always been a priority for us, so we work hard to make sure it tastes even better than ice cream and we’re delighted that our customers regularly tell us it does.

We were also delighted to win a gold star for each of the two flavours we submitted in last year’s UK Great Taste Awards.

Our ice cream alternative also contains no refined sugar (we use pure honey as our sweetener) and no cholesterol and the fats in it come from plant based sources. It is also lower in calories than its dairy ice-cream counterparts.

Tell us about the Food Academy Start Programme with SuperValu, Bord Bia and the Local Enterprise Offices?

The Food Academy is a recently-established programme that gives new food businesses mentoring and support in order to help develop their food product. The programme runs over a number of months with regular workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions. The ultimate goal is to secure a trial listing in a number of local SuperValu stores. It’s a fantastic programme as it gives you direct access to SuperValu buyers and store managers. They provide honest feedback on what stage they feel your product is at, what needs to be done to get it to the required level, and any suggestions or insight they might have. We were delighted to secure a trial which begins in the next few weeks.

What are you own ‘Top Tips’ for new start-ups?

Ask for help:
We’ve received so much help, support and advice from people and would advise any new start-up to seek help. You can learn so much from speaking to people who have been through the process and should never be afraid to ask for help. We have found the LEO Dublin City extremely helpful in their mentoring and financial assistance. They are also involved in great networking events like the Dublin Food Chain which gives you the chance to meet other business owners and make great connections.

Trust yourself:
There are times when your ideas and vision will be challenged. You need to know when to stick to your guns and trust your gut. In the early days, for example, we were advised several times to change our brand name but we were adament to keep it. Looking back we think it would have been a huge mistake and it’s something that customers regularly tell us they love and connect with.

Test your idea/ concept:
If you have an idea or a dream – explore any way you can to make it a reality. If at all possible, test it on a small scale first at the likes of Farmers Markets. Friends and family may tell you what you want to hear but a paying customer will tell you the truth. We spent over 18 months’ trialling our product and getting feedback at every step of the way. It’s also a good idea to meet with shop owners and have them taste your product and look at your packaging. Getting feedback from retailers at an early stage is invaluable as they know exactly what their customers are looking for, and will set you up well for when the time comes to launch into stores.

Celebrate the small wins:
It’s very easy to get caught up in all that you still have to do and ignore the smaller wins along the way. It’s a long road and there will be many bumps and challenging times so it’s essential to take time to acknowledge and savour the high points and successes.

Do you have any plans to expand Nobó (at home or abroad)?

Absolutely! We are working hard to further expand our reach across Ireland. We are currently in 90 shops around the country and our goal is to be in over 200 by the end of the year. Looking beyond that, we are exploring the potential to export Nobó overseas and are currently looking into a number of different markets.

What can your customers expect in the year ahead?

We have lots of exciting things planned for the next year. We will be introducing two new flavours, along with a smaller 100ml tub. We also have lots of other flavours we want to try so we will be doing limited editions to keep it fresh and exciting. We have also begun work on other dairy and gluten free product offerings outside of frozen desserts so there are lots of exciting developments to come.

Which food company do you admire most and why?

We take great inspiration from other Irish brands like Keoghs Crisps and Glenillen Farm, both of whom represent Ireland so well overseas. They have created such strong Irish brands in a very short period of time and successfully export their high quality, artisan product around the world. We hope to someday follow in their paths.

Our thanks to Brian and Rachel for taking part in this case study.
For more information about Nobó and to find your local stockist, please visit www.nobo.ie  

 

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