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Entrepreneur Profile: Koel Thomae, co-founder of Noosa Yoghurt

Koel Thomae
Get the story behind the success of Aussie-style yoghurt brand Noosa, straight from the source. 

What was the inspiration for your business? 

In a nutshell, I wanted to be able to eat delicious Aussie style yoghurt more than the once a year I visited my family in Queensland. My family and the simple pleasures in life inspire me daily (which does include a serving of Noosa Passion Fruit yoghurt!).

What have been some critical factors on your road to success? 

Noosa’s road to success has been a combination of a unique and great-tasting product, good timing (the yogurt category was exploding), and having some early key retail wins with both Whole Foods in the Rocky Mountain region and King Soopers. This allowed us to continue to grow in both the natural and conventional arena, which many specialty premium brands have a hard time doing. This is obviously changing as most good retailers are recognizing the growth and strategic value of the health and wellness arena.

Our next big tipping point was when Target approached us in 2012 to test in their SuperTarget stores. Within four months they expanded us nationally into their PFresh stores, and we have been trying to keep up with capacity growth ever since. We also have an amazingly passionate and talented team of people who make this a reality. 

Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it? 

Noosa had an opportunity to expand to the New York market in our first 18 months, and it turned out to be too far too soon for our young brand. We ultimately pulled back and re-focused our efforts to key regions closer to home, where we could dedicate the appropriate resources to build retail relationships and brand awareness.  

What’s your best piece of advice for your fellow entrepreneurs?

Be true to your passion, and accept that you can't be all things to all people.

Where are you going? What is the vision for your business in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? 

Noosa has created a new indulgent category in the yoghurt set which is getting recognition from retailers, consumers and competitors alike. Our goal is to continue to lead this trend and push the boundaries of best-in-class flavors, and look to expand beyond our core line with new innovation. We’ve been so busy keeping up with the growth of the brand that it's been hard to look too far out in the future. 

Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers? 

This is my first time heading up sales, so the nuances of all retailers has been new to me.

How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?

Noosa has created its own sub-category in the yoghurt set so we’ve had to forge our own path and position ourselves as a healthful indulgent product. Every retail channel has its unique way of positioning your product as far as where you will find us in their sets, but we certainly help guide those decisions when possible. As a perishable product, we have not pursued the online channel. 

How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company's story?

We’ve been fortunate to have launched our product during a time when there has been so much growth and attention in the yoghurt category, and savvy retailers have been looking for the next trend in yoghurt. Our sales team is small, but we knew from the beginning that having a personal connection with retailers and their buyers versus just having a brokered relationship was going to be critical. This has been very important for our success, as we have a passion for our product that can’t be duplicated, and I think having a co-founder as part of sales presentations allows us to tell our story in a very genuine and authentic way. 

What most helped market your product in the beginning?

The amazing taste and being a farm fresh locally produced yoghurt. We also embraced grass roots marketing such as the Boulder Farmers' Market to help with trial and word of mouth. 

What's a guilty pleasure of yours?

Eating a whole lemon tart from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Every time I visit the Bay Area, I try to plan my schedule so it includes a stop there!

Give us an inside scoop on yourself.

I took tap dance lessons until I was 17 years old. Ginger Rogers, eat your heart out!

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