An Australian Mom’s Quest To Bring Her Favorite Yogurt To The States


Koel Thomae is arguably the world’s biggest yogurt enthusiast. Her ferocious love for the dynamic dairy product and her dedication to experiencing the coveted “taste moments” led her to founding noosa with Rob Graves in January 2010. Noosa crafts premium, creamy yogurt with only ingredients of the highest quality; from Madagascan vanilla and Guittard dark chocolate to raw wildflower honey and fresh whole milk from the noosa farm in Colorado. Plus, noosa does not shy away from decadence, all of their products are full-fat. Thomae happily declines a seat on the ever-popular health food bandwagon—she’s all about flavor, not about counting calories.

“I was working in IT at the time and was literally having the soul sucked out of me...so I did some soul searching and food has always been this sort of common thread in my life and passion point, and Colorado has this amazing natural foods community, so I said, ‘I’m going to work in food, I don’t care what I do. I’m going to break in'"

Why did Thomae choose noosa as the brand name? Well, its namesake holds the charming story of the company’s inspiration. Prior to tying the knot, Thomae brought her now-husband to meet her family on the sunshine coast, and it was at Noosa (the place) that they planted the seed for noosa (the yogurt). “[My now-husband and I] were walking back from the beach and I stopped him at a local corner shop,” Thomae says. “I spotted this clear container—there was no branding on it, but there was a pop of passion fruit puree, so I picked it up. A few minutes later I was having my first taste and thought that it was the best thing I’d ever eaten. That sparked selfishly a desire to eat the yogurt more than once a year.”

Earlier in her “pre-noosa life” (as she likes to call it), Thomae was dissatisfied with her job and seeking out change. She says, “I was working in I.T at the time and was literally having the soul sucked out of me... So I did some soul searching and food has always been this sort of common thread in my life and passion point, and Colorado has this amazing natural foods community, so I said, ‘I’m going to work in food, I don’t care what I do. I’m going to break in.’” Thomae stayed true to her word, doing exactly that upon returning to Colorado. She readied herself for entrepreneurship by extensively researching the yogurt field and soon flew back to Australia to get a loose license agreement for the yogurt that inspired noosa.

Fast forward to a Colorado coffee shop, fated it seems, as it was there that Thomae spotted a flyer about Graves’ dairy farm, just as she was on the lookout for a dairy partner to bring her company to life. “He thought I was crazy,” Thomae says with a laugh, “so I told him I’d come back in two weeks with actual yogurt samples and he’d believe me. My mom shipped the yogurt from Australia. He had that same taste moment. So it’s sort of this story of somebody selfishly motivated by their own stomach, and two complete strangers bonding over a taste moment. And sort of throwing caution to the wind.”

“What’s made us so successful is being self-manufactured and staying true to who we are and that commitment to quality. When we think about innovation and flavor, it’s always like, ‘It has to taste wow.’ It has to taste as close to the real fruit as possible.”

It’s safe to say the yogurt fanatics of today would not call their stomach-motivation selfish, as they now have a brand they can rely on to pack a flavor punch and excite their taste buds on a daily basis. Yes, they’ve got classic flavors like blueberry and peach, but they also carry unique combos like Blackberry Serrano, Orange Ginger, and Raspberry Lemonade.

Noosa’s latest innovation comes in the form of an innovative packaging, once again thanks to another brilliant female mind at the company. “There were certain flavors we just couldn’t do in our 8 ounce format,” Thomae admits, “so we brought in two really smart, savvy women who divide and conquer on sales and marketing, and our head of marketing was like, ‘What if we created a custom pack where we could do two different flavors?’ So this is taking great combinations and allowing people to either eat one flavor at a time or mix and match. This allows our customers to have their own food adventure and us to deliver it in a way that I don’t think anyone else on the market is doing.” They’ve got Pineapple Coconut for that seaside feel of sipping a tropical piña colada, as well as Caramel Apple for a nostalgic trip back in time to childhood fairs or fall strolls through an orchard.

“When you talk to any entrepreneur, there’s always an element of luck. It was late 2008, the biggest financial crisis, and we were like, ‘let’s keep going.’ And certainly bucking all of the category trends as far as low fat or no fat, and here we come with whole milk, full flavor, big tub.”

"So this is taking great combinations and allowing people to either eat one flavor at a time or mix and match, sort of have their own food adventure"

The eight years since noosa saw the light of day, or the light of refrigerators in select stores across the country has been both challenging and rewarding. At the very start, Thomae was working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet. She’d grown up watching her mother do the same thing—having two jobs, emerging in the entrepreneurial world—so she knew it required nonstop persistence, but that didn’t make it any easier. Thomae recalls feeling left out of her social sphere, “It was a weird time because social media was starting which was great for the brand but on a personal level I was like, ‘I’m working 24/7 and all my friends are having this perceived fun lifestyle,’ so I had to block that out.”

At the end of last year, noosa finished at $220M, the silky smooth yogurt’s popularity skyrocketed. So what’s next for noosa, now that a solid fan base has been built? That would be a “side-hustle campaign”, which will involve choosing five winners to help create noosa’s next innovative flavor. “It’s called Flavor Finder, and we’re opening it up to everyone,” Thomae explains, “so winners will essentially get flown to Colorado and we’ll do a deep dive into how it’s made and the culture. Each of the five winners will get a $2000 stipend for travel or however they’re going to unlock the next big flavor for noosa.”

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
6 Min Read

Working Moms Open Up About Their Greatest Struggles

Motherhood, no matter how you slice or dice it, is never easy. Running after small children, feeding them, tending to their physical and emotional wounds, and just taking the time to shower them with love— that's a lifetime of internal resources. Now add a job on top of all of that? Geez. We spoke to 14 working mothers to get an open, honest look at the biggest day-to-day challenges they face, because despite what Instagram portrays, it's not all dresses on swingsets, heels, and flawless makeup.

1. “Motherhood in general is hard," shares Rachel Costello. “It's a complete upheaval of life as you once knew it. I have a 22-month-old due any minute and a baby. The hardest part is being pregnant with a toddler — chasing, wrangling, etc., all while tired, nauseous, and achey. Then the guilt sets in. The emotional roller coaster punctuated by hormones when you look at your baby, the first born, knowing that their life is about to be changed."

2. “I'm a work-from-home mom," shares Jene Luciano of TheGetItMom.com. “I have two children and two stepchildren. The hardest part about parenting for me is being the best mom I can be to someone else's children."

3. “I joined the Air Force at 18 and had my first child at 20," tells female power house Robyn Schenker Ruffo. “I had my second baby at 23. Working everyday, pumping at work and breastfeeding at lunch time at the base, home day care was rough. Being away from my babies during the day took a toll on me— especially the single mom days when they were toddlers. I had a great support system of friends and military camaraderie. The worst was being deployed when they were 6 months old, yes both, and I was gone for 90 days. Not seeing them every night was so depressing."

4. “Physically, the hardest part of the parenting experience (and so far, I'm only six months in with twins) was adjusting to the lack of sleep in the very beginning," shares Lauren Carasso. “Emotionally, the hardest part is going to work everyday with anxiety that I'm going to miss one of the twins' firsts or other milestones. I know they are in good care but potentially missing those special moments weighs heavy on my heart when I walk out the door each morning," she continues.

5. “The hardest part of being a parent is social media, actually," says Marina Levin. “Shutting out the judgmental sanctimommy noise and just doing what works best for you and your family in a given moment."

6. “Trying to raise a healthy, happy, confident and self-respecting girl, when I'm not a consistent example of those qualities is the hardest for me," explains Adrienne Wright. “Before motherhood I was a pretty secure woman, and I thought passing that onto my daughter would be a piece of cake. But in the age of social media where women are constantly ripping each other to shreds for the way they raise their kids, it's nearly impossible to feel confident all of the time. Nursing vs. formula, working vs. stay at home, vax vs. anti-vax, to circumcise vs. not, nanny vs. daycare— the list goes on and on. We're all doing the best we can with the resources we have. We should empower each other to feel confident in the decisions we make for our families."

7. “The hardest part is the sense of responsibility and worrying that comes along with it," says Orly Kagan. “Am I feeding my kids properly? Are they getting too much screen time? Are they getting enough attention and love? Are they developing as they should be? It goes on and on and on."

8. “For me, by far the hardest part of motherhood has been managing my own guilt. As many triumphant moments as there may be, the moments when I feel like I did badly or could have done better always stick out," confesses Julie Burke.

9. “Balancing work and doing all the mom things and all the home things and all the husband things are not the hardest part of motherhood (for me, anyway)," shares Zlata Faerman. “The hardest part of motherhood is trying to figure out just how to deal with the amount of love I have for my son. It can be super overwhelming and I'm either alone in this sentiment, or not enough moms talk about it."

10. “The hardest part for me is giving things up," shares Stacey Feintuch. “I have two boys, an almost 3-year-old and almost 7-year-old. I have to miss my older one's sports so I can watch the little guy while he naps or watch him at home since he will just run on the field. I hate that other parents can go to games and I can't. I also really miss going out to dinner. My older one can eat out but we rarely eat out since my younger one is a runner!"

11. “I think if I'm going to be completely real, the hardest part to date has been realIzing that I chose this life," shares Lora Jackle, a now married but formerly single mom to a special needs child. “I chose to foster and then adopt special needs, as opposed to many parents who find out about the special needs after their child is born. It's still okay to grieve it sometimes. It's still okay to hate it sometimes and 'escape' to work."

12. “I'm a work-at-home mother doing proofreading and teaching 10-20 hours a week. The hardest part for me is not yelling. I took the 30-Day No Yelling Challenge and kept having to restart. I love my kids, don't get me wrong," says Michelle Sydney, exemplifying the difficulty of balancing work with family.

13. “I'm a full-time working mom of a 2.5-year-old," shares Anna Spiewak. “I bring home equal pay, keep the apartment clean and take care of dinner. Still my male partner gets all the praise for being a good dad and basically sticking around. It's mainly from his side of the family, of course. What I do is taken for granted, even though I'm the one who still changes the diapers, bathes her and wakes up in the middle of the night on a work night when she cries. I wish all moms got credit for staying on top of things."

14. “I am a stay-at-home-mother and currently working full-time from home on my start-up clothing brand, Kindred Bravely," says Deeanne Akerson, founder of Kindred Bravely, a fashion line devoted to nursing, working mothers. “The hardest part of my parenting experience is the constant feeling of never doing quite enough. There is always more to do, meals to make, laundry to fold, kids that want my full attention, errands to run, or work in my business. And since there really always are more things to do it's easy to feel like you're failing on nearly every aspect of life!"

This piece was originally published July 18, 2018.