Interview with Caroline Barton, founder of Nooj

Find out how Caroline Baron has created Nooj, soon to become the UK’s first-to-market nut milk concentrate (initially available in almond or cashew). Nooj is a creamy, eagerly anticipated alternative to the array of pale, translucent plant milks that are made with only the lightest dash of plant matter (2-4% nuts) and a load of needlessly shipped from pillar-to-post water.

As a wholesome, dairy-free plant milk that lets the consumer decide what depth of ‘nut intensity’ they desire, this is cutting edge innovation whose usefulness extends far beyond drinks, smoothies and shakes to meet all manner of fast evolving baking and cooking needs.

In ballpark terms a 150g pouch makes roughly 1.5L of sublime nut milk, although it’s for consumers to determine what level of nut density suits them! 

What were you doing pre-Nooj? 

I could be termed a ‘foodpreneur’ outsider as pre Nooj I completed an MA in ceramics and glass at the Royal College of Art and then lectured in 3D Design at the University for the Creative Arts (Surrey), where I taught Foundation level Art & Design and Ceramics on the BA hons course.  In the same time-frame I also completed a couple of public art commissions before having a family and embarking on a serious career re-think. 

It’s fair to say that I’ve always been a passionate foodie and healthy eating advocate and with young children needs sitting at the heart of any decision-making process, I was keen to set up a disruptive food business for myself; having taken the decision not to return to teaching or pursue an artistic career (my first love, but with insufficient access to enough monies). 

The idea for Nooj came about almost by accident, however the creation of the brand, it’s unique sensibilities and guiding principles and the difficulties associated with scaling up to a viable level are curiously akin to working with various precious materials in a studio: lots of boundaries, limitations (heat, moisture content, texture, fluidity) to work through to meet meaningful goals. Creatively speaking, ‘real’ category innovation is a genuinely satisfying pursuit.

What lessons have you learnt so far as an entrepreneur? 

So many! There’s no escaping making mistakes but there is no alternative because no-one knows your product like you, so just have to trust your instincts, grit your teeth and rely on common sense. 

Bringing a new product into the world is a bit like bringing your own offspring into the world. if you believe wholeheartedly in the idea, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

Do you deem this to be pioneering innovation, and why is the moment now?

It is (I guess), although it really shouldn’t be, because it’s a fairly obvious idea (well to me anyway). The moment is ripe now because ‘dairy alternatives’ are no longer alternatives! The next alternative should already be just around the next corner and that’s the idea we should be backing. 

Nooj presents that alternative next thought, especially as growing numbers of us seek to eat an increasingly plant-based diet that doesn’t compromise on flavour or texture. Nooj is a product idea that meets that challenging aspiration head on.

How have you dealt with knock backs and failure? 

Every day is a school day and sometimes the best way to learn is from setbacks. Even the ‘experts’ we worked with (despite their staggering daily rates) are unable to solve all our problems.

Why are your plans for the next two years? 

To establish Nooj as the go-to dairy-free hero and essential fridge item for all food-obsessed, healthy minded UK consumers. 

In time I’d like to extend the Nooj family with some exciting-can’t-wait-to-get-out-there, you’re-going-to-love these products that once again solve daily, dairy-free conundrums, seeking out new markets further afield… other words a lot to do!

What’s been your biggest decision to date? 

Taking that leap from dipping my toe to jumping right in, from kitchen production to scaling up and everything such a bold notion entails.

You operate in a highly competitive food category. How will you be able to stand your ground and grow? 

Being a ‘first mover’ will certainly help however maintaining the integrity of the product, and continuing to streamline production efficiency to aid costs and shelf prices, leading the way with product uses, transitioning into ‘next door’ markets like food service while developing new generation products will hopefully build upon Nooj’s initial success.

What’s the most important question entrepreneurs should be asking themselves?

What are my products USPs and are they truly distinct enough? Are they solving a genuine problem? Can my product be manufactured at scale and are production costs, retailer margins and profit margins aligned?

What’s your most important business alliance forged so far? 

A friendly and flexible manufacturing partner; they need to be committed and willing.

And finally, what’s one compelling reason to believe in Nooj? 

You won’t know until you have tried it how much you need it! 

Find out more about Nooj.