An Australian Mom’s Quest To Bring Her Favorite Yogurt To The States

An Australian Mom’s Quest

To Bring Her Favorite Yogurt To The States

Koel Thomae is arguably the world’s biggest yogurt enthusiast. Her ferocious love for the dynamic dairy product and her dedication to experiencing the coveted “taste moments” led her to founding noosa with Rob Graves in January 2010. Noosa crafts premium, creamy yogurt with only ingredients of the highest quality; from Madagascan vanilla and Guittard dark chocolate to raw wildflower honey and fresh whole milk from the noosa farm in Colorado. Plus, noosa does not shy away from decadence, all of their products are full-fat. Thomae happily declines a seat on the ever-popular health food bandwagon—she’s all about flavor, not about counting calories.

“I was working in IT at the time and was literally having the soul sucked out of me...so I did some soul searching and food has always been this sort of common thread in my life and passion point, and Colorado has this amazing natural foods community, so I said, ‘I’m going to work in food, I don’t care what I do. I’m going to break in'"

Why did Thomae choose noosa as the brand name? Well, its namesake holds the charming story of the company’s inspiration. Prior to tying the knot, Thomae brought her now-husband to meet her family on the sunshine coast, and it was at Noosa (the place) that they planted the seed for noosa (the yogurt). “[My now-husband and I] were walking back from the beach and I stopped him at a local corner shop,” Thomae says. “I spotted this clear container—there was no branding on it, but there was a pop of passion fruit puree, so I picked it up. A few minutes later I was having my first taste and thought that it was the best thing I’d ever eaten. That sparked selfishly a desire to eat the yogurt more than once a year.”

Earlier in her “pre-noosa life” (as she likes to call it), Thomae was dissatisfied with her job and seeking out change. She says, “I was working in I.T at the time and was literally having the soul sucked out of me… So I did some soul searching and food has always been this sort of common thread in my life and passion point, and Colorado has this amazing natural foods community, so I said, ‘I’m going to work in food, I don’t care what I do. I’m going to break in.’” Thomae stayed true to her word, doing exactly that upon returning to Colorado. She readied herself for entrepreneurship by extensively researching the yogurt field and soon flew back to Australia to get a loose license agreement for the yogurt that inspired noosa.

Fast forward to a Colorado coffee shop, fated it seems, as it was there that Thomae spotted a flyer about Graves’ dairy farm, just as she was on the lookout for a dairy partner to bring her company to life. “He thought I was crazy,” Thomae says with a laugh, “so I told him I’d come back in two weeks with actual yogurt samples and he’d believe me. My mom shipped the yogurt from Australia. He had that same taste moment. So it’s sort of this story of somebody selfishly motivated by their own stomach, and two complete strangers bonding over a taste moment. And sort of throwing caution to the wind.” 

“What’s made us so successful is being self-manufactured and staying true to who we are and that commitment to quality. When we think about innovation and flavor, it’s always like, ‘It has to taste wow.’ It has to taste as close to the real fruit as possible.”

It’s safe to say the yogurt fanatics of today would not call their stomach-motivation selfish, as they now have a brand they can rely on to pack a flavor punch and excite their taste buds on a daily basis. Yes, they’ve got classic flavors like blueberry and peach, but they also carry unique combos like Blackberry Serrano, Orange Ginger, and Raspberry Lemonade.

Noosa’s latest innovation comes in the form of an innovative packaging, once again thanks to another brilliant female mind at the company. “There were certain flavors we just couldn’t do in our 8 ounce format,” Thomae admits, “so we brought in two really smart, savvy women who divide and conquer on sales and marketing, and our head of marketing was like, ‘What if we created a custom pack where we could do two different flavors?’ So this is taking great combinations and allowing people to either eat one flavor at a time or mix and match. This allows our customers to have their own food adventure and us to deliver it in a way that I don’t think anyone else on the market is doing.” They’ve got Pineapple Coconut for that seaside feel of sipping a tropical piña colada, as well as Caramel Apple for a nostalgic trip back in time to childhood fairs or fall strolls through an orchard.

“When you talk to any entrepreneur, there’s always an element of luck. It was late 2008, the biggest financial crisis, and we were like, ‘let’s keep going.’ And certainly bucking all of the category trends as far as low fat or no fat, and here we come with whole milk, full flavor, big tub.”

"So this is taking great combinations and allowing people to either eat one flavor at a time or mix and match, sort of have their own food adventure"

The eight years since noosa saw the light of day, or the light of refrigerators in select stores across the country has been both challenging and rewarding. At the very start, Thomae was working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet. She’d grown up watching her mother do the same thing—having two jobs, emerging in the entrepreneurial world—so she knew it required nonstop persistence, but that didn’t make it any easier. Thomae recalls feeling left out of her social sphere, “It was a weird time because social media was starting which was great for the brand but on a personal level I was like, ‘I’m working 24/7 and all my friends are having this perceived fun lifestyle,’ so I had to block that out.”

At the end of last year, noosa finished at $220M, the silky smooth yogurt’s popularity skyrocketed. So what’s next for noosa, now that a solid fan base has been built? That would be a “side-hustle campaign”, which will involve choosing five winners to help create noosa’s next innovative flavor. “It’s called Flavor Finder, and we’re opening it up to everyone,” Thomae explains, “so winners will essentially get flown to Colorado and we’ll do a deep dive into how it’s made and the culture. Each of the five winners will get a $2000 stipend for travel or however they’re going to unlock the next big flavor for noosa.”

Ashley Myers

SWAAY's Editorial Associate, Ashley, enjoys writing fantasy, spending time outside, and finding adventures in every corner of the world. This summer she is calling NYC her home.

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