New innovator: Nüsli
An Irish twist on a Swiss breakfast
Dermot Hanley, who launched Nüsli five months ago following almost two years of intense product development
“Nüsli is fast food, not junk food and it is not just another yogurt. It is a brand new Irish food product,” says former investment banker Dermot Hanley, who launched Nüsli five months ago following almost two years of intense product development.
It was Hanley’s passion for skiing that first brought him into contact with the Swiss breakfast food, Bircher muesli – the inspiration behind Nüsli. “Bircher Muesli is an old alpine recipe that combines oats, yogurt, apple juice and fruit and it really keeps you going on the mountain. I wanted to eat it for breakfast for the rest of the year as well but I couldn’t find it anywhere,” Hanley says.
Most Irish food start-ups tend to begin small and scale up after a few years. Hanley took the view that volume was critical to his success from the off. Rather than wasting time setting up a manufacturing operation from scratch, he found an existing food producer with the expertise and capacity both to supply a key ingredient and make the product for him.
“We teamed up with the Dunne family at Killowen Yogurts in Co Wexford and they manufacture and distribute Nüsli for us. This allowed us to scale production immediately and to respond to demand while maintaining the highest quality,” Hanley says.
This ability to supply in volume undoubtedly helped Nüsli to launch with national listings in Applegreen, Centra, Dunnes, Londis, Mace, Spar and Supervalu already in place. Hanley already has export sales to Europe and North America in his sights and plans to team up with a large partner to access these markets.
Hanley worked in Canada and New York for organisations such as JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Citibank and loved the work. However, he became increasingly aware of the price being paid for the stress and long hours involved. “Working so hard has an impact on your health, how much time you have for your family and friends and how connected you feel to nature. Nüsli is all about doing something to balance that and also fulfilling my dream of running my own food business,” he says.
As anyone who has tried to mix yogurt with oats knows, the combination quickly goes gloopy, looks most unappetising and tastes slimy. With trial and error Hanley solved this problem and Nüsli stays crunchy.
“Nüsli is an entirely natural product. The yogurt is award winning, the apple juice is pure pressed, the grains are grown in Ireland and it contains loads of nuts, fruit, and almost no added sugar,” Hanley says.
“The enthusiasm of post-recession Ireland has been key to the establishment of Nüsli,” he adds. “It represents a ‘coalition of the willing’ – smaller Irish companies (Killowen Yogurts, Ballycross Apples, Flahavans Oats and Kells Wholemeal), food scientists, Bord Bia, Teagasc, Enterprise Ireland, (through the Food Works Programme), University College Cork and other entrepreneurs who came together to make it happen. This level of co-operation is unique in my international experience.”
Adding to the novelty is the packaging. Nüsli comes with its own spoon and the container can be closed and put back in the fridge. It is also designed to fit neatly into a car cup holder. “For the retailer, the distinctive pack has real shelf ‘shoutability’ and can be stacked vertically or displayed on its side,” Hanley says. “Our competition is really all the other choices that consumers make if they are looking for convenience. Our main challenge is to tell consumers that we are a brand new category.”
Apart from a small feasibility grant from Enterprise Ireland, Hanley has self-funded the development and launch of Nüsli. Within the next three years he expects to employ between eight and 10 people in sales, marketing and new product development.