Noo Chocolates is an artisan chocolate company located in Ballina in County Mayo. We use locally produced ingredients to create our unique and exciting chocolates. In our chocolates we combine the best of everything: finest Belgian chocolate, freshest Irish cream, liquor to name a few which create a completely unique taste of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Coast. The name Noo, comes from my nickname as a child. It an endearment term used for small children in South Africa (my parents lived there for a few years before I was born).
What was your inspiration for starting your company?
I’ve always had a huge interest in food and food production, especially high-quality produce. I have always from a young age wanted to own a food company, but never felt like it was ever the right time (there was always something else to be done first). Back in 2010 my 3 sisters bought me a voucher for a half day chocolate making workshop as a birthday present (they’d already bought me every other food related item imaginable, and this was the only thing they could think of). Myself and my husband went along to the workshop, where we learned the basics of hand chocolate making. We learnt how to temper chocolate, how to make simple truffles, ganache sauce, and how to pair flavours combinations to complement the palate.
We then started practicing at home, making gifts for family and friends, and accumulating more and more chocolate making equipment. Finally, in 2017, the company I was working for offered some redundancies, this was when I decided this was the perfect chance to follow my dream and start what is now ‘Noo Chocolates’.
What is your background in (education and qualification)?
My background is in science with a degree in Microbiology. Business has never been something I loved in school and have no background in it whatsoever. My previous career was based around quality assurance with a focus on food safety and most recently in the beverage industry.
Where is your company based out of?
I have a small production unit based at the Quay, in Ballina Co. Mayo. Where I prepare, make and package the chocolates in a regulated area.
How do you make your product?
My product is fully handmade. I buy high quality couverture chocolate from Belgium, that I prepare by hand tempering. I make all the fillings myself, using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible (creams, liquors, sea salt). I also pack each chocolate by hand, I will be taking on some help for this very shortly as it’s the most time-consuming part of the process. However, its one of the most important steps as appearance and presentation are one of the first things judged by a consumer before tasting or buying chocolates.
What is your target audience/who do you primarily cater to?
My target audience is initially a local audience, mainly women who have an interest in locally made high quality produce. I also cater for the tourism market, by supplying a product that gives multiple tastes of Mayo in the same box.
As I’m expanding into retail outlets outside Mayo, I find that the audience, while still mainly women, are more interested in the high-quality Irish made aspect (i.e. the Mayo local ingredients are less important outside of Mayo).
What are your future plans for your company?
Future plans include taking on some help (probably part time) to help with packing initially, and then manufacture of the chocolates. This will then allow me to keep expanding the product into more retail outlets further afield, and also to concentrate on accessing the corporate market.
How did having mentors influence your company?
Mentoring had a massive part to play in where I am now. They gave me the business knowledge and develop a structure for my fledgling company to put in place. I had no business knowledge previously, but my mentors had experience in all the aspects of setting up from their own business’s. This meant that I was able to proceed with a level of confidence I wouldn’t have otherwise had. In addition, the networking and support from having a likeminded mentor to learn from has been huge for me. They were on hand to offer a bit of advice or help and sometimes just to have a cheerleader. These aspects are really important for those anyone like me who mainly works alone. In business I find my own thoughts and isolation are my two biggest challenges in being a food entrepreneur.