“We were ahead of the curve on this trend but now we’re seeing more people come in with whole milk products,” added Thomae, who found a sweet spot in the market by offering a product with a thick, velvety texture that wasn’t as sweet as many traditional US yogurts or as tart as Greek.
“Unlike a lot of brands that spend years in the natural channel before they get into conventional grocery, we got into some big grocery chains very early on in our lifecycle and we grew very fast.
“We are on track to reach $100m in revenue in 2015, but there is still so much white space, so many opportunities to increase brand awareness,” she told FoodNavigator-USA.
Noosa was sold to a private equity firm last year but Thomae retains a 'sizeable' stake
While Noosa has grown explosively under its own steam, it needed a significant cash injection to help it move to the next level, and selling to private equity firm Advent International late last year has enabled it to build distribution, expand its manufacturing capabilities and develop new products, said Thomae.
“Advent is now the majority stakeholder in Noosa but both Rob Graves [president of Morning Fresh Dairy in Bellvue, CO, where Noosa manufactures its products] and myself have retained a sizeable stake in the business and remain committed to being involved in taking Noosa to the next level of success.
“Our Aussie counterparts, the Mathewsons [Paul and Grant Mathewson, who developed the yogurt recipes in Australia], saw this as a good opportunity to liquidate their holdings and focus on their Australian operations.”
“We’re investing upwards of $20m in the latest expansion [which began in early 2014 before Advent got on board and will be completed this summer] so we can aggressively increase our distribution, particularly in the east coast, where I see the biggest retail distribution opportunity.
“We’re also doing a lot of fine-tuning; making sure we have the right assortment on shelf in the right accounts.”
The new product pipeline
Bringing in former Nestlé USA exec Frank Higgins as CEO in January 2015 has also enabled Thomae to take on a more strategic role and focus on the innovation pipeline, she said.
“We tested a seasonal pumpkin yogurt with Target last fall that has been such a success that we’re adopting it as one of our core flavors this year. We’re also launching a seasonal cranberry apple flavor plus 24oz honey, plain and vanilla varieties.”
The introduction of 4oz (half the size of regular Noosa) four packs in tart cherry and blueberry flavors has also been a success, bringing in new consumers and getting Noosa into the snacking market, she said. “We were missing an opportunity for parents to put Noosa in their kids’ lunchboxes. They have done incredibly well.”
Longer term, she is also exploring taking the Noosa brand in new directions, adding: “We’re exploring everything including frozen yogurt, but it has to fit with the brand. There are some natural adjacencies we’d explore before getting into the cereal aisle, for example!”
Interested in new dairy trends? Register below for FoodNavigator-USA's LIVE 60-minute online Dairy Innovation Forum on July 29.