Entrepreneur of 2016: Koel Thomae trust in taste: Aussie inspiration led to yogurt sensation.

Author:Ryckman, Lisa
 
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Koel Thomae's entrepreneurial success story reads like a classic dairy tale romance.

Girl meets yogurt. Girl falls in love with yogurt. Girl brings yogurt home.

Everybody falls in love with yogurt.

Eighteen flavors and $100 million in sales later, it's fair to say that Noosa Finest Yoghurt is still the love of Thomae's life, and more people are falling for it every day.

"Our mission was to create delicious yogurt that was like no other on the market," she says. "We've been told by our fans time and time again that after one taste of Noosa, you're hooked."

That's exactly what happened to Thomae.

Born to an American mother and an Australian father, Thomae grew up in Queensland, Australia. She landed in Boulder as a young adult, dabbled in IT and finally followed her love of food and all things natural to soda maverick IZZE. While visiting her mom in 2005, she happened upon a yogurt (spelled yoghurt Down Under) mixed with passion fruit puree that grabbed her taste buds and wouldn't let go.

The Mathewson family, who made the creamy delight in Australia, had no interest in global yogurt domination. But Thomae's persistence ultimately paid off.

Once the recipe licensing was in place, she needed to find someone with the requisite dairy expertise. Enter fourth-generation dairy farmer Rob Graves of Morning Fresh Dairy in Bellevue, just northwest of Fort Collins, who Thomae cold-called after spotting his farm on a flier at a coffee shop.

"After some convincing--and after sampling a taste of the yogurt I wanted to create--he agreed to go into business with me," Thomae says. "I'm so lucky to have found Rob. Milk is not just (his) livelihood but almost a religion. He prides himself on producing high-quality milk, free of artificial hormones, pesticides and preservatives. So he was the perfect match for me, and he was critical to helping get Noosa off the ground and making it what it is today."

In 2010, the pair started making Noosa in small batches--the first four flavors were honey, blueberry, raspberry and mango and landed Whole Foods as their first customer.

"That same spring, we debuted at the Boulder Farmers Market, which was instrumental in creating a loyal following and viral word of mouth," Thomae says.

Noosa's astounding early success caught Thomae and her partners completely off-guard.

"We thought we were being very bullish when we built our first yogurt-making plant, and after only the first year, we were in catch-up mode to keep up with our...

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