Noosa Yoghurt is one of the most recognizable brands that sits on the shelves of dairy aisles in grocery stores across the country. Yet, this Colorado-based company differentiates themselves with their unconventional packaging, a library of nearly 40 flavors, a large impact on the local economy and the product’s “Down Under” origins.
Koel Thomae, co-founder of Noosa, and Aussie transplant says that as soon as she landed in Colorado she knew that she “really needed to work in the food industry” and that it’s always been “a passion point.”
Thomae began her first job working at IZZE Beverage Co. in operations, but during a vacation to visit her family in Australia, she experiences a food-based epiphany that shifts her away from sparkling soft drinks and into the realm of fermented dairy.
“[We] were walking back from the beach and we stopped in a little, local corner shop and I spotted this clear container,” says Thomae. “It didn’t have any branding on it but it had this pop of passionfruit puree in it and it immediately intrigued me. I picked it up, discovered it was a local yoghurt and a few minutes later I was back at my mum’s beach apartment having my first taste and it was just one of those… stop you in your tracks, first-taste moments.”
Her prominent food discovery acts as the catalyst sparking “an obsession with this yogurt” that still sticks with Thomae today as she recalls how she “just couldn’t shake this taste.” Upon returning to Colorado, she began her “yoghurt PhD” searching for a similar product here, only to find that something comparable didn’t exist. Two years later, Thomae’s infatuation still lingers and she finally coaxes her mum to connect her with the small dairy farm back in Australia. She promptly flies back to meet them at the local surf club where they chat over some beers and walks out with what she calls “a very loose license to the recipe.”
Thomae comes home full of vigor and ready to unveil her yoghurt company before quickly realizing that she is in dire need of an established dairy partner. While sitting in a Boulder, Colorado, coffee shop she notices a flyer for Morning Fresh Dairy, whom she pitches to partake in her hopeful venture. Thomae somehow finagles yohgurt samples through customs to present to Rob Graves, the fourth-generation dairy farmer at Morning Fresh, who says he too has “one of those moments.”
“It was really two complete strangers who bonded over this amazing taste,” says Thomae.
With Morning Fresh on board and Graves’ “knowledge of what really fresh milk should taste like” they launch Noosa Yoghurt in January 2010, and offers a company nod to Thomae’s homeland, by name.
“Noosa is this really cool little beach on the coast in Southeast Queensland, and basically they’re home to the recipe,” explains Thomae. “As we were thinking about bringing it to the U.S. we wanted to it to have a link back to it’s Aussie heritage.”
Thomae tells us that she would visit the beach often as a kid so it holds a nostalgic, personal representation for her and that the land itself “has a similar ethos to Colorado.”
New partners and co-founders, Thomae and Graves, enter into a predominantly low/non-fat yogurt market in the late 2000’s, but despite being percentages apart from their competitors, they’re able to quickly garner Whole Foods Market as their first large-scale carrier.
“Here we come, storming onto the scene with this giant 8-oz. tub of whole milk deliciousness,” says Thomae. “The whole milk is a big part of what makes us taste so delicious and that velvety texture.”
She admits that they encounter somewhat of an initial negative reaction, not due to Noosa’s content, but instead in regards to their choice of flat and intentionally see-through containers.
“We really wanted to create something that was transparent and let the product speak for itself,” says Thomae. “The freshness, the fruit.”
Noosa Yoghurt also integrates local honey into their product with partners Beeyond the Hive, “another fourth-generation, Colorado family that has been with us since the beginning,” says Thomae. According to Noosa they use “a very specific blend” of the U.S. table grade honey as one of their sweeteners that creates “a really unique flavor profile.”
To make an impression on the surrounding areas of Fort Collins/Boulder, Noosa began to share their products as much as possible, offering tastings at nearby supermarkets and farmers markets to an intensely positive response. By 2012, Noosa finds a foothold in the regional market at King Soopers and City Market, before the big knock comes from Target to test in 250 nationwide locations.
“At that time we were still making the yogurt in five gallon, plastic buckets,” says Graves. “So it was a lot of buckets…”
“It was kind of the Wild West of Colorado and yoghurt making,” laughs Thomae.
Within four months, Target expands Noosa into the rest of their 1,000 stores and Thomae calls it a pivotal point for their production projections and for the company as a whole.
“That’s a big jump and it took us onto the national stage,” says Thomae. “From there the adventure just continues and there’s been so many highs and some amazing challenges through that growth.”
Graves says the transition from small batches “where we cultured and cured” is an experiment that grew into 75, then 600 and on into 1,000 gallon, stainless steel tanks. He voices their valid concerns about consistency issues, much like craft breweries experience as they expand, and says that “we made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot.”
“The Australian to the U.S. consumer are not that different in their tastes and their likes,” says Thomae. “Knowing Rob’s capabilities and that it’s such a special, magic product, I think has allowed us to be unique and relevant outside of our home market.”
Today Noosa lives in 3,000 gallon set tanks derived from the 45,000 gallons of milk that enters their facility on a daily basis. Approximately 25-percent of the dairy still comes from Morning Fresh but today Noosa includes other dairy partners that all operate within 40 miles of their property in Bellvue, Colorado.
Thomae credits Rob with the vision and actions able to transition Noosa from it’s infancy into today’s multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art facility, still on the Graves’ family property, but now with 250 employees.
“That’s no easy feat of growing a food brand and really holding onto the uniqueness of the flavor and the texture,” says Thomae. It’s a brand that launched here and grew up here and a large part of why we’re successful is because of that Colorado support and love.”
Noosa’s latest “new innovation” makes it’s Colorado debut with two sides of complimentary flavors. We rank the Pina colada interpretation: pineapple-coconut; and blueberry muffin-esque: lemon-blueberry as our top picks for summer. Yet, the caramel-apple is our upmost winner as a seasonally-apt choice that transitions into the fall/winter months.
“Literally, we innovate with our own guts, our own intuition,” says Thomae. “We don’t do consumer testing. We have a small group of us that debate until when get unanimous, yep, this is amazing, this is delicious. We’re never going to launch something we wouldn’t eat.”
Additionally, Noosa presents specific flavors just for the Colorado market and recently releases their limited batch summer seasonal: Palisade peach. Firm chunks of the delicately sweet and fuzzy fruit from the Western Slope melts into the consistency of the slightly tart and sinfully luscious yoghurt. Get some.
Noosa surprises us during our visit with their strong local ties, dedication to the surrounding community and the discovery of their diverse background stories. To think, a simple spoonful of yoghurt, nearly 8,000 miles away, is the inspiration for this beloved product, brought to life by Colorado connections and pride.
“Everyone here is such a stickler for bloody delicious food,” says Thomae. “I think that the lens of freshness, the quality of the milk, the fruit, that commitment…I think it’s a combination of all of those things that make it so very special.”