Dublin company Nobó launched its ‘Frozen Goodness’ dairy-free and gluten-free ice-cream almost ten years ago.

Since then, it’s won a bunch of prestigious awards and is distributed nationwide. You’ll also find it in stores across the UK, at a handful of Canadian markets and in Kibsons in Dubai.

A few years into their startup journey, Dublin.ie spoke to the husband and wife team behind the Nobó brand – Rachel and Brian Nolan. Here’s what they had to say about their startup experience.

Innovating an age-old cuisine

Nobó isn’t just a marketing gimmick. Its recipes are a real innovation. “Definitely, it is in terms of the ingredients,” says Rachel. “There are other dairy-free ice-creams on the market. Where we’re different is that there’s no gums, there’s no stabilisers”.

Nobó’s vanilla flavour only has four ingredients – and they add avocado to give it that all-important creaminess that makes it so good. “I haven’t seen anything in the world that replicates it,” she adds.

From passionate foodies to successful startup founders

The couple always knew that if they ever launched a startup, it would be food-related.

“I think pretty much since we met that our common area of passion has been food,” says Brian. “When we were living in New York… every spare cent that we scrounged together, we’d save up to go to some restaurant that we’d spotted”.

“We used to like to try and find the hidden gems,” Rachel chimes in. “We took the search so seriously. We’d walk around for hours looking for them.”

We’d always had this dream of going to Italy.

The pair love food so much that they even thought about opening their own restaurant. And that led them to Italy to get some culinary experience.

“I was working in Condé Nast and it was a great job, but I just really didn’t want to be in that world any more,” says Rachel.

members of the nobó team wear white chef coats and pink hair nets in the kitchen

The Nobó team

At this point, Brian had already moved back to Ireland and, since Rachel was ready to leave her role in New York, they decided the time was right to pursue a fantasy of theirs.

“We’d always had this dream of going to Italy,” Brian explains. “Our lives up to that date had been standard: do your leaving cert, do your degree, do your masters. Rachel worked in an ad agency and I worked in the finance sector. It was… quite structured.”

So they went to Tuscany for five months to work at an authentic Italian restaurant. And the experience certainly lived up to their expectations.

You can actually have more control, you can do things you’re passionate about.

“Going to Italy definitely opened my mind,” says Brian. “It was like ‘wait a second, you can actually have more control, you can do things you’re passionate about and not spontaneously combust!’ You realise that people don’t really care what you do!”

“We learned that we have choices,” says Rachel. “We have control over our lives. That was very liberating.” And that’s what gave them their startup spirit.

However, after hearing about an Irish startup initiative, their attention moved away from owning a restaurant and towards manufacturing.

Their food startup experience

Rachel was always interested in nutrition and healthy food options. However, in Ireland, the offering in this area was limited.

“In New York, there were so many healthy options available,” says Rachel. “So when we came back from Italy, we thought it would be amazing if you could make something that was a treat or an ice-cream replacement, but from whole foods like avocado and honey and using nothing bad. That was the seed of the idea.”

Then, around the same time, a friend of Rachel’s sent her an application for the Food Works accelerator programme, which was developed by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc.

They even put us in touch with our stockists in Dubai.

“They were looking for high-export potential product concepts that they could help to develop,” explains Brian. “So we put in the application, got called for an interview and then we were like… ‘Uh-oh! We’d better find a way to make it!'” Luckily, they managed to do exactly this and got into the course.

At the same time, the couple started doing farmers markets to test the concept.

“We were getting amazing reactions which, again, was very encouraging,” says Brian. “Because, I suppose, strangers were paying money to eat this crazy concoction!”

How does Dublin compare with other cities?

The two Nobó founders have worked in New York, Sydney and Tuscany, as well as Dublin. So how did their experiences between cities compare?

“I can’t imagine us having got off the ground as quickly in another country,” says Rachel. “There’s a lot of support for startups. We always feel there’s people we can call on and Bord Bia have been brilliant for export markets. They’ve offices all around the world and they’ll go out and do store audits for you, clue you in on the fit for your product in different countries. They even put us in touch with our stockists in Dubai.”

Brian gives a nod to the Local Enterprise Office too: “When we were getting going… The structured support was amazing, but even the whole mindset around startups, the whole culture, that’s great too.”

rachel, brian and their son sam wear pink hairnets and white chef coats

And then there’s the supportive stockists and helpful business community.

“SuperValu were big for us as well, because they’ve been encouraging smaller businesses to get on their shelves,” says Rachel.

“We’ve a great little community of other food producers that we’d meet for lunch too. And it’s nice because you need a bit of support,” she adds.

While the Nobó founders are delighted to be in control, sometimes that’s also the hardest part of running their business. “You feel like you should constantly be doing more, enjoying it more,” says Rachel, “but it’s great. I’d find it very hard to do anything else now.”

Thanks to Rachel and Brian. You can visit Nobó’s website to find out more.

Last Updated: 11th October 2022
Laurence is a writer, cyclist and gardener. He’s always finding new things to like about Dublin, the city where’s he’s spent most of his life.

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