By Jamie Siebrase | Sep 28, 2015
A post-university walkabout -- a common practice Down Under -- brought Aussie expat Thomae to Boulder. "One year turned into three years," Thomae recalls. Before long, she was working in a cubicle for a startup IT company, and simultaneously searching for a more meaningful career.
"My entire life, I've always been passionate about food -- especially eating good food," Thomae says. Luckily, Thomae had stumbled upon "this natural foods mecca," she says of Boulder. She applied to jobs in the industry, and was hired by Izze Beverage Company.
During her tenure there, Thomae learned the ins and outs of the business and, in 2005, she found time to visit her family on Australia's Sunshine Coast. "I was down at the corner shop near my mum's place, and I picked up a weird container," says Thomae. It turned out to be passionfruit yogurt, and the taste was revolutionary. "It wasn't like anything I had grown up with, or like anything I was eating in the United States."
She knew she had to bring the recipe back to the Boulder.
Trying to figure out how to get an all-natural milk supplier in a highly regulated field, though, was more complicated than Thomae had anticipated. Sure, she had natural foods know-how from her Izze days, but she says, "I realized I has zero experience in dairy."
She cold-called Morning Fresh Dairy, and got ahold of owner Rob Graves. All it took was one bite: As soon as Noosa co-founder Graves tasted the first case of Thomae's product, Noosa Yoghurt -- named for its point of origination in Australia -- was born.
From the get-go, Noosa emphasized quality, using whole milk from a nearby and hormone-free family-owned dairy. Consumers can taste that quality: Noosa's 19 varieties are fresh, thick -- "but never pasty," Thomae says -- and creamy, with just a touch of sweetness from Beeyond the Hive, a Loveland company sourcing exclusively from the Rocky Mountain region. For its natural fruit purees, Noosa relies on the best -- and closest -- produce the seasonal market offers.
From its four flavors in 2010 -- blueberry, raspberry, honey, and mango -- Noosa has grown exponentially, and generated more than $100 million company in 2015. Thomae credits Target for creating "that national tipping point in 2012, when it agreed to test Noosa in its superstores."
Today, you'll find Noosa nationwide in more than 5,000 major retailers, including King Soopers, Safeway and Whole Foods Market, along with many independent and natural grocery stores, too.
"It started off very small, and we're very proud of the growth we've been able to achieve," Thomae says. Noosa recently wrapped up its largest expansion to date, a project that grew the footprint to 32,000 square feet. "Space gives us the opportunity to do more creative things," says Thomae.
Challenges: Battling for shelf space. "Early on, it was hard being an unknown product, having to prove yourself against big competitors," Thomae says. She knew she had something special, though, and once Thomae got retailers on board, the brand took off. Even so, Thomae admits, "Shelf space is still a problem five years later."
Opportunities: As consumers replace everything from ice cream to sour cream with yogurt, Noosa explores various eating occasions. The company launched two seasonal flavors -- pumpkin and cranberry apple -- and a classic vanilla that Thomae says is better than ice cream and more flavors, including some dessert-inspired recipes, will roll out in 2016. In the meantime, Noosa has augmented its original eight-ounce package with 24- and four-ounce sizes, and continues to consider new packaging opportunities.
Needs: Talented employees are in high demand at Noosa. "We're a fast-growing company, and we need to find great people to add to our team," Thomae says.