#SWAAYthenarrative

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

Business

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.”

5 Min Read
Featured

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top

You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.