What do you do if you want your kids and family to enjoy ice cream treats but, as caring and conscientious parents, you don’t want them to have too much sugar? Simple: you invent your own ice cream but with no added sugar.
That is what friends and Minioti co-founders Anna-Liisa Boletta and Natasha Dowse did and three years on they are at the helm of a successful growing business.
As young mums Anna, who is a qualified paediatric speech and language therapist, and personal trainer and yoga teacher Natasha, began looking for more healthy options for the kind of foods that children love. What their quest revealed to them was a gap in the ice cream market. ‘We began in the summer of 2014 by sharing our ideas,’ said Anna. ‘It all came from having children who enjoy sweet food like many children. When children taste ice cream for the first time they quickly learn the enjoyment of this treat. It’s not unusual for them to ask for another one soon after and the problem is how to let them have the treats they crave while controlling sugar levels.’
The project began in Natasha’s kitchen and the resulting product was tested on their families. The friends quickly realised, however, that this had the potential to be far more than a cottage industry. There was also the question of a name for their fledgling business to address.
‘We spent a lot of time discussing this,’ Natasha said. ‘We came up with Minioti; the “mini” bit denotes smallness, reflecting both children and the size of our island in which it is produced. “Oti” comes from “probiotics” which we add to the ice cream. ‘It had to be a unique name and that meant research to be sure that it was not already in use somewhere else in the world. We also realised that we wanted to be a family brand so it had to be a product that would appeal to all ages, not just to children.’
Jersey Business warms to a cold concept
With no previous experience of running a commercial enterprise, Natasha and Anna decided to seek professional advice and so they beat a path to the door of Jersey Business.
‘Chris Settle and Nick Steel at Jersey Business have been so helpful with every aspect of the project,’ said Anna. ‘They have been with us from the very beginning. We did our research and then we took our ideas and the initial business plan along to them and asked for advice on the whole thing. They helped us to understand what we needed to do for Minioti for it to become a flourishing business. We were starting with a clean slate and they have such a wide knowledge.’
Anna and Natasha discovered that Chris and Nick provided just the sounding board that they needed and could advise on any aspect of the business. Money was an obvious requirement and Jersey Business began guiding the friends through the financial maze of grants, loans and venture capitalists.
‘They started talking about investment opportunities,’ explained Natasha. ‘In short, they assisted us in understanding the different options to look at.’ ‘We didn’t really understand the next steps to take,’ Anna added. ‘Chris and Nick had that knowledge and were able to guide us on the different choices to look at. We had a lot of thoughts and they helped us to channel them in the right direction. ‘We were just so passionate about it and they ignited our passion even more. Having them overlooking what we were doing gave us the confidence to realise that what we had was really viable.’
Jersey Business also opened up the worlds of manufacturing and product exporting to the Minioti founders and put them in touch with Jersey Dairy, which became a partner in the business and now carry out all the ice cream manufacturing.
Do yourself a flavour
Minioti currently comes in a creamy ice cream range of three flavours; vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. It is made exclusively from Jersey milk. It also contains stevia, a sweetener from natural sources which is a sugar substitute obtained from certain plant leaves and contains no calories. Astonishingly, it is also 300 times sweeter than sugar – but without the harmful effects.
‘We had to do a lot of research into the science of making ice cream as a lot of interesting chemistry is actually needed to make ice cream,’ Anna said. ‘It’s about making sure that you get the right balance of different ingredients which is very problematic when you remove sugar from the recipes’. Jersey Dairy took our ideas and recipes and used their wide knowledge and expertise in Ice cream manufacturing to develop our final recipes.’
Once they were happy with the product, Anna and Natasha set about putting it onto the market. They began with some good old-fashioned leg work; knocking on doors around the Island and selling to shops, cafés and restaurants. With further assistance from Jersey Business, they felt confident to use their sales presentation to perfect their marketing touch. A bigger customer base, however, was beckoning.
‘In November 2015, we went to a trades fair in China with Jersey Dairy and our investor,’ said Anna. ‘The Chinese are very driven by the importance of a healthy diet and there is a push in that country for good quality imported dairy products – especially for their children. We quickly realised that there was a market there for our ice cream.’
Today, Minioti exports not only to China but also to the UK and Finland – as well as supplying Wholefoods, an international food outlet exclusively featuring foods without artificial preservatives, colours, flavours, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats and Jersey outlets, of course. As their company expands, their experience, too, is expanding.
‘We have much more business knowledge now,’ Anna agreed. ‘We have learnt to look at all the different aspects of our business and understand the operational structure to see exactly what we can achieve. We realised that we had to secure the local market first; by getting that right we could then seek to grow elsewhere. We are also fortunate in that we have a great relationship with our partners and clients.’
‘We still use Jersey Business as a sounding board,’ said Natasha. ‘We can share the stresses and strains of the business with them and that helps us tremendously.’
‘They can link us to so many professionals and also other entrepreneurs that are great to network with to share ideas and contacts,’ Anna said. ‘It is so very supportive. It is vital to network and help each other in business.’
And so, a quest initiated by two friends to find a healthy ice cream treat for their children to enjoy has evolved into a product that is now reaching out and delighting taste buds in far corners of the world. But what do Anna and Natasha’s children think of Minioti. ‘They love it!’ said Anna.