Taking a creative approach to an age-old dish, Dublin company Nobó has invented a new ice-cream that doesn’t have dairy or additives but which does have good export potential, writes Trish Dromey.
Selling to 300 shops around Ireland, the company recently shipped its first export order to the United Arab Emirates where it is now stocking freezer cabinets in 54 stores. Boosted by a three-star gold medal win in the UK Great Taste Awards last year, Nobó is now talking to distributors and multiples across the channel.
The name Nobó sounds as if it might be Japanese, but, in a combination of English and Irish, it actually means ‘no cow’. “It is the first commercially available ice-cream in the world that we can find using avocado in its base and one of the very few that doesn’t use any preservatives, gums, or stabilisers,’’’ says Brian Nolan who co-founded Nobó with his wife, Rachel, in 2012.
The Dublin couple worked for a few years in New York, him in finance and her in advertising, before deciding to embark on food-based careers. Gaining work experience in an Italian restaurant for a few months, they returned to Ireland with an idea for a new dessert.
Accepted on the Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland backed Food Works Programme, they began experimenting with ice-cream without dairy. “We used only real ingredients, tried a variety of different ingredients including cashew nuts, almonds, and coconut milk. The biggest challenge was not using gums, preservatives, or stabilisers.”
It took 18 months but by December 2013 Nobó had moved into a commercial kitchen in Smithfield and, using avocado, honey, coconut milk, and other natural ingredients, produced three flavours: Chocolate and toasted almond; vanilla with coconut; and fresh lemon. Production was outsourced to an ice-cream company in Wicklow.
Having first tested the products at farmers’ markets the Nolans began selling to healthfood stores . By 2014 the company had grown a customer base which included Avoca, Donnybrook Fair, and local SuperValu outlets. “At the end of the year we got a central listing with SuperValu and are now in 175 of their stores,” Mr Nolan says.
Assisted by Enterprise Ireland, which provided two feasibility grants, the Nolans also received support from the Dublin Local Enterprise Office which gave them a priming grant. So far the company has received €45,000 in grant aid.
At the end of last year Nobó boosted both its finances and its reputation when it won a €25,000 prize for best food start-up from the website Lovin Dublin which included €5,000 in cash as well as PR, marketing, and other services.
During 2014 the company also starred at the Great Taste Awards in the UK. “Lemon Fresh flavour ice-cream won a three-star gold medal and was listed by the judges as one of the top 50 food products in the awards. This has given us a lot of media coverage and has resulted in a lot of inquiries” Mr Nolan says.
The awards also bolstered the company’s social media presence and it now has some 20,000 followers on a variety of sites.
The company intended to make the UK its first export market but Bord Bia arranged a meeting with a distributor to the United Arab Emirates. In March Nobó went on sale there in 50 Spinneys supermarkets and four Waitrose stores.
Research and development is ongoing at Nobó and the company has grown its range to five flavours and launched a 100ml tub in addition to the 500ml tubs which retail at €6.99. Currently employing three part-time staff in addition to the Nolans, the company expects to take on a full-time person by December
“ Our aim is to get in to 400 stores in Ireland this year and we also plan to grow sales to the food-service industry. In the UK we are talking to healthfood distributors and to some large multiples and expect to get a listing with at least one by the end of year,” Mr Nolan says.
With a name that means ‘no cow’, Nobó ice-cream is free from dairy and gluten and offers pots of potential, writes Trish Dromey
The biggest challenge was not using gums, preservatives, or stabilisers
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