Local Noms: Nora’s Ice Cream With Cofounders Katherine & Tyler
Before when you took a stroll around the freezer section of your neighbourhood grocery store, you often saw them filled with big-name ice cream brands.
Brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen Dazs, and Nestle.
But these days, it is becoming more common to see smaller and more local brands get their fair share of space in the freezers.
One local ice cream brand that is making waves is Nora’s Ice Cream, which is 100% plant-based and made from cashews.
We caught up with Cofounders Katherine and Tyler of Nora’s Ice Cream about how they got started, what makes them different, and what they would say to those who never tried their items.
Can you tell us a little about Nora’s Ice Cream and your backgrounds?
Katherine: Nora’s is our brand of plant-based ice cream. We make it in Vancouver using cashew cream and coconut milk instead of dairy, and it tastes very similar to dairy ice cream in terms of taste and texture.
We started the brand because I became vegan a few years ago and we couldn’t find any plant-based ice cream that we actually enjoyed eating. It was always too coconutty, too icy, or it contained weird, artificial ingredients, so we set out to create the plant-based ice cream that we wished we could find.
Before we launched the brand in 2017, I was working as the HR Manager at a luxury auto group, so it’s been quite a career change! In 2017 I also decided to go back to school and became certified as a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.
Tyler: My background is in sales and brand management. My most recent role before we started Nora’s was Brand Manager for a protein bar, and that’s where I learned the ins and outs of the consumer packaged goods (CPG) and grocery business.
How did this all get started? What was that moment that made you two go “ah, we should start an ice cream business”?
Tyler: Because I was already in the industry, Katherine and I were always walking the aisles of Whole Foods and brainstorming new food business ideas. We knew that the demand for plant-based food was exploding and, with Kat being vegan, we wanted to create a plant-based brand.
Our original idea was to create vegan pasta sauces and ready-to-eat simmer sauces, but we were never excited enough about those ideas to actually follow through.
Katherine: When we landed on the idea of vegan ice cream, we felt that excitement. You often hear entrepreneurs say that they created something that they were looking for themselves; they wanted to solve a problem in their own life. In my case, I really missed good ice cream! There were non-dairy options available but none of them satisfied my craving.
We knew that there was room in the market for a better, creamier, more classic-tasting plant-based ice cream option, especially one made in Canada since most are made by big US corporations, so we bought a high-speed blender, a little ice cream maker, and started recipe testing at home. We then designed packaging, found a commercial space to make it, and launched into stores around Vancouver about 10 months later.
And who exactly is Nora?
Katherine: Nora is actually our cat. We adopted her a few months before I went vegan and she helped me to make the connection between the animals we keep as pets and the animals we consider to be food.
She has a cute name and we thought it worked well for an ice cream brand!
Can you explain what is plant-based ice cream, how using creamy coconut and cashew milk is better and what the deal is with palm-oil?
Tyler: Plant-based ice cream is completely free of all animal by-products. It’s great for vegans of course, but it’s also great for those who are trying to cut back on dairy, either for the environment or because of the way dairy makes them feel.
Cashews are a very neutral-tasting nut, and when blended with water, they create super creamy cashew milk that can replace the cream in traditional ice cream. We also use full-fat coconut milk and coconut oil which replaces the fat from dairy.
Katherine: We follow similar ingredient ratios (fat, solids, liquids, etc.) as traditional dairy ice cream and we use the same machinery. There is still air whipped in during production that creates the decadence and creaminess of traditional ice cream, we just use vegan ingredients instead of dairy!
We feel strongly that plant-based ice cream is easier on the environment and more ethical than using dairy. The dairy industry is inherently wasteful. If you think about how many inputs have to go into growing a cow and keeping it alive, it’s a little shocking. For example, the USDA reports that a dairy farm with 2500 cows produces about as much waste as a city of 411,000 people, and 1L of milk takes about 1000L of water to produce.
There’s also the ethical consideration of taking milk from a cow that’s meant for her newborn baby…it’s not fun to talk about but it’s the truth about where dairy comes from and I think it’s important for people to know so that they can make informed decisions.
Tyler: Dairy can also be really hard on peoples’ stomachs and many people these days experience dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance. We hear from a lot of our customers that they’re not vegan but prefer our ice cream because it doesn’t hurt their stomachs, it leaves them feeling lighter and less weighed down than traditional dairy ice cream.
Making ice cream is actually a labour-intensive process. Can you give a quick rundown of what goes into the work of a pint?
Tyler: There’s a lot of mixing involved. Cashews and water are blended together to create cashew cream, then mixed with the rest of our ingredients and pasteurized before being run through industrial ice cream machinery.
Our pints are individually filled using an automated filling machine, then the pints are put into a blast-freezer as quickly as possible to reduce the potential for ice crystals to form. Then the ice cream is off to our distributor to be sent to our retail partners around BC and AB!
Congratulations Katherine! You were recently honoured with being part of the BC Business 30 under 30 list.
In your post you talked about taking a leap of faith in leaving your 9 – 5 to start Nora’s and some of the hardships you and Tyler went through at the start – like hand-labeling tens of thousands of containers.
Can each of you share 1 memorable story – could be a “oh my god this happened” story or one that was really heartfelt in your first year of business?
Katherine: Thank you! It’s very humbling and exciting to receive that recognition. There have definitely been a lot of ups and downs, especially in that first year.
One of the most memorable moments for me was actually the day we launched, which we did at a BC Food Processors Association tradeshow in downtown Vancouver. Basically all day, we had a lineup of people at our booth waiting to try our ice cream and we had many coming back for seconds and thirds, bringing their friends back with them to try it.
Before that launch, we had had our close friends and family try our ice cream but this was the first time that strangers were trying it and giving us feedback, and the fact that everyone genuinely loved it so much just made it such a special, inspiring day that I won’t ever forget. It felt like “Wow, we actually have something really unique and special here, and it has a lot of potential.”
Tyler: The first thing that comes to mind is our first day producing in a commercial kitchen. We had prepared a ton and were confident that everything would run smoothly since we had made batches in our home kitchen so many times. We even brought our nice camera in, thinking we’d have lots of time to document the experience.
However, on our very first blend of cashew milk, the blender lid flew off and cashews went all over the room so we had to clean up before we had basically even started! Later in the day, once we had hit a bit of a stride, we dropped a whole 20L batch on the floor. Keeping in mind that it was taking us about an hour to make each batch, that one really stung.
Needless to say, it was a chaotic day that had us both wondering if we were in way over our heads. Luckily we’ve come a long way since then and are able to look back and laugh now.
What’s the next year or two look like for Nora’s?
Katherine: We’re looking forward to launching new flavours and expanding into new markets. Right now we’re just available in BC and AB but we’d love to expand that in the next couple of years.
Lastly, what would you say to someone who is standing in front of the ice cream freezer at Whole Foods and is clearly paralyzed by choice?
Katherine: Try a plant-based ice cream!
You may be surprised at how deliciously creamy it is and how great you feel after you eat it. Also, look into which ice creams have been made locally in your city and consider supporting them, even if the price point is a little higher.
Tyler: Skip the “diet” ice cream. Most of the low-calorie ice creams are filled with questionable ingredients and sweeteners, and probably won’t satisfy your craving for ice cream anyway.
The pint should feel heavy in your hand – that’s how you know it’s a premium ice cream instead of a lesser quality ice cream that’s mostly full of air. Go for a decadent, full-fat option made with real ingredients and enjoy your indulgence. It’s dessert! Nora’s will work nicely.
For more info and where to get your very own pint of Nora’s, head over to their website and follow along Katherine and Tyler’s journey on their Instagram.
Local Noms is all about spotlighting and introducing local B.C. food brands that are outstanding and worthwhile to try. Know a local food brand that should be featured? Contact us and let us know!