With the claim "healthy pleasure", Nolita entered the national market as a brand of products for healthy breakfasts and snacks. From granolas to pancake mixes, but also with a natural sweetener and a prebiotic fiber, all to create "a healthy breakfast for greedy people". In an interview with Grande Consumo, Fernanda Vasconcelos, founder of Nolita, tells the story of this project, which was born in 2019 in her own kitchen and has already reached the shelves of stores in Portugal.
Great Consumption - How was the Nolita brand born? What inspired the creation of this project dedicated to sugar-free breakfast products?
Fernanda Vasconcelos - The brand was born from a need I had, because I decided to radically change my diet a few years ago, after reading several books and studies on the subject, and I found it very difficult to find delicious products for breakfast and snacks that were compatible with my new goals of reinforcing the intake of proteins and fiber and drastically reducing the intake of sugar.
I have a sweet tooth and was not willing to give up taste for health, so I started experimenting with recipes and inventing, adding and removing different ingredients, until I came up with wonderful recipes for bread, granola, bars, cookies, etc. At that time I could not imagine the possibility of dedicating myself to this professionally, but I soon realized that there might be a market opportunity when I saw my colleagues' reactions to the snacks I brought to work.
Years later, I felt that I no longer had any professional challenges and I was still very eager to learn new things and face new challenges outside my comfort zone, so I left my position as marketing director in a group of technology companies to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to this project, Nolita.
GC - How long did it take to prepare this project? What were the main challenges to overcome?
FV - In the first year, I kept my job part-time so I could do some tests and validate the market opportunity. In nine months this validation was concluded, the packaging developed, the product and the online store launched. I was producing at the Hotel School and had no office or physical store, so I had low monthly fixed costs, which drastically reduced the risks involved in the launch.
Shortly after launching the product I realized that there were several opportunities for improvement, namely that the shelf life was too short to work in more distant markets, the packaging was impractical and required a lot of operational work, and that food literacy is still low, so it would be necessary to uncomplicated the brand messages to reach a slightly broader niche market.
The first challenge was the most difficult to overcome, since it involved know-how that I did not have in the areas of industrial food production. Fortunately, I had the help of some of the greatest experts at a national level, always free of charge, help without which the project would not have proceeded and which allowed me to create the 10 new products launched this summer, all of them with many interesting claims for the consumer, such as the organic certification, the absence of gluten, the absence of added sugar or artificial additives, the high levels of protein and fiber. All products are plant-based and natural.
GC - Did the pandemic affect the brand's expansion plans?
FV - Yes, the pandemic affected us a lot. We had just launched the first product and were starting to make contacts to sell in organic and gourmet stores, however, most of the professionals in this area were focused on adapting to the new reality and were not accepting the inclusion of new products in their stores, so we decided to focus all our efforts in the development of the new product line, so that we could launch it in a big way, as soon as the inconveniences of the pandemic were not so strong.
We managed to survive, taking into account that the recurring costs were very low and that we got some support from Portugal 2020.
GC - How has the Portuguese consumer's receptiveness been, considering the maturity of the breakfast products segment in the country?
FV - The receptivity to the first product was very good, but it was concentrated in people with quite high food literacy and who are very concerned about healthy eating.
We decided to extreme our positioning to reach a wider target, starting to work exclusively with gluten-free and sugar-free products. This allowed us to have an offer suitable not only for those who are concerned about healthy eating, but also for celiacs, diabetics and people who are trying to lose weight.
One of the star sellers is our Low Carb granola, suitable for Keto and Paleo diets, among others, as it covers a fast growing customer segment that doesn't have many alternatives in the market.
GC - How is the process and, in general, what is involved in making granola and pancake mixes?
FV - Our products are very little processed, so they involve simple manufacturing processes, consisting of mixing ingredients and, exclusively in the case of granolas, baking. We do the whole process internally, from choosing the ingredients, mixing and heating them, to packaging the final product, and we have some machines to help in weighing and sealing the packages.
GC - Does Nolita use locally sourced ingredients? How are the ingredients selected to be included and the suppliers you work with?
FV - 95% of our ingredients are purchased from domestic suppliers. The ones we buy abroad are not sold in Portuguese wholesalers. The dehydrated fruit powders and freeze dried raspberries are bought directly from a small Portuguese producer. We try to buy from entities that work as close as possible to our production site, as we prefer to favor the local economy.
The ingredients are chosen according to their nutritional value. We look for natural ingredients with very high fiber or protein and very low sugar levels. We favor certified organic agriculture, as it guarantees the absence of pesticides known for their harmful effects on health.
GC - How is Nolita's portfolio composed? Do you have any launches planned until the end of 2021?
FV - Currently we have 10 products: four granolas, four pancake mixes, a zero calorie natural sweetener, and a prebiotic fiber.
The granola, the first product we developed and market tested, is now available in four options: Crunchy (with buckwheat), Nutty (30% nuts), Berry (freeze-dried Portuguese raspberries) and Sporty (grain-free, a good option for those following "low carb" diets, such as Keto or Paleo).
The favorite products of the younger ones are the Nolita pancakes, available in four flavors (Chia, Raspberries, Blackberries and Cocoa). These products have an innovative characteristic in that they are made from lupin flour, an ingredient with high levels of protein and fiber and prebiotic properties. The flavors are obtained with seeds, dehydrated Portuguese fruit powder and low-fat cocoa, with no added artificial flavors.
We have also decided to make available the sweetener we make the granolas and pancakes with, as it not only has zero calories, but also zero sugar and zero glycemic index, making it an excellent option for diabetics, people on low carb diets and people who are trying to lose weight. This sweetener is naturally obtained through the fermentation of corn.
Finally, we also sell a natural prebiotic fiber, obtained through chicory root (with 90% fiber), intended for those concerned with the diversity of the intestinal microbiota, now known to be a fundamental prerequisite for the prevention of several serious diseases.
These products were launched in the summer and are having very interesting sales, so we do not intend to launch anything new until the end of the year.
At the beginning of next year, we will have surprises that, I believe, will greatly please all gluttons who would like to indulge in delicacies that can bring all the pleasure of eating without the guilt that sometimes underlies the consumption of chocolates, cakes, and desserts.
GC - Why was it important for the brand to introduce the natural sweetener Sweety? Is it the philosophy of completely removing the use of refined sugar?
FV - Yes, we want to offer products that can give consumers a break from sugar, which is present in virtually all processed products on sale in the market, whether salty or sweet. Sugar is an ingredient with numerous properties that has been widely used in the food industry, because it not only gives flavor to foods, but also gives them texture and prolongs their shelf life. Sugar is a highly addictive ingredient, since it stimulates the release of dopamine, the same substance released by the use of drugs, such as heroin. This is another "advantage" of using sugar: customers tend to consume more quantity of the products and want to come back to them frequently.
Unfortunately, sugar is quite harmful to health, especially at the levels ingested by most consumers. The World Health Organization recommends that only 10% of calories ingested should be in the form of sugar, yet it is very difficult to find breakfast and snack products that do not heavily exceed this percentage. To prove it, just walk down the cookie aisle in any supermarket and count the number of products with less than 10% sugar. It is an interesting exercise.
So we decided not to limit ourselves to excluding refined sugar from our products. In fact we do not add any sugar - refined or not - nor do we add ingredients that contain huge levels of sugar, such as honey, dates or jellies (rice or agave). All the sweetness in our products is obtained thanks to the natural sweetener that we have decided to also sell on its own, calling it Sweety.
GC - What are the challenges of presenting exclusively vegan, whole grain and gluten-free products?
FV - Vegan products are quite natural for me, as I have a mostly plant-based diet. Additionally, as we produce for breakfast and snacks, it's relatively easy to exclude animal ingredients.
Whole-grain, on the other hand, makes sourcing ingredients very complex, as the supply of 100% whole-grain products is very scarce and they are much more expensive. However, this is a fundamental pillar of the brand, as we refuse to work with any refined carbohydrate, considering that these are the ingredients that are most similar to sugar, causing blood sugar spikes and release of energy that will be transformed into fat if not spent quickly.
Being gluten-free also complicates sourcing and increases the cost of the product, as well as requiring great rigor in the handling of the ingredients and final products.
GC - All the brand's products are certified organic. Why is this guarantee important for Nolita?
FV - Yes, all products are certified organic, since we believe that the levels of pesticides present in conventional agriculture can be harmful to health. In addition, many organic ingredients have a superior quality, in taste and texture, which is easily proven, for example, in fresh fruit.
This issue also has a big impact on the cost of the product, since organic ingredients are much more expensive.
GC - Where can you find the Nolita brand in Portugal? Is it available in physical stores and online?
FV - Nolita products are available in our online store, www.nolitafood.com, as well as in the Casal Mistério's online store and in several national product marketplaces. They can also be found in several organic markets and in the offer of some organic basket companies. We are also present in some physical organic stores and in the El Corte Inglés hypermarkets.
GC - In how many cities do you sell in total? How has the brand evolved and what is your strategy for the national market?
FV - In physical stores we are present in Lisbon, Porto and Braga. In our online store we have sales all over the country. We want to be present in all organic and/or gourmet stores, so we are trying to negotiate with several retailers the inclusion of our range in their offer.
GC - Is there any intention of taking this Portuguese brand to the foreign market?
FV - Yes, exploring the international market was our intention from the very first moment, taking into account that the profitability of a business of this type requires a scale that we will hardly reach with the Portuguese market alone, not only because our country is effectively small, but also because the target public we are targeting has a much larger representation in other geographies.
It was exactly for this reason that we were present at Organic Food Iberia, in September, at Portugal Foods' Portugal Bio stand. We are currently negotiating with several foreign companies to place our products in Spain, France and other countries outside the European Union..
GC - What are Nolita's quantitative and qualitative objectives for the second semester of 2021?
FV - This month, we are going to move premises, believing that we will thus achieve a substantial increase in our productivity and production capacity, to be able to react more quickly to the peaks in demand that we will have. We need to re-evaluate our new production capacity in the new space so that it doesn't become a bottleneck that prevents us from taking advantage of all the business opportunities that arise.
At this stage, we can't make sales forecasts, because we are having an exponential growth since the beginning of September, but we start from a very modest base, so we have to understand which businesses we will be able to keep and which new customers we will be able to conquer.
GC - What are your predictions for the next years, both for the brand and the universe of breakfast products?
FV - Next year we want to celebrate the first month with more than 100 thousand euros of invoicing. We believe that this will be possible in two ways: the increase in the range, which allows us to increase the average basket for online sales and also to grow strongly in retailer orders and to grow in the number of points of sale, both in Portugal and abroad.
We also believe that 2022 will be the first year with sales outside Portugal higher than those made domestically.
As for the universe of breakfasts and snacks, it will continue to evolve strongly. An increase in the number of products available is expected, with major bets on vegetable alternatives to animal products, products with an impact on the microbiota (pre and probiotics), "free from" foods and also foods intended for those suffering from some type of illness (celiacs, diabetics, etc...).
Published on November ,11
Author: Grande Consumo Magazine