Today we interview Charlie and Harry Thuillier, the brothers behind Oppo Ice cream – a UK-based company. I asked them for an interview after testing the product myself. I regularly use Oppo to make delicious kefir smoothies!
What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?
At Oppo, we make indulgent and healthy ice cream. Made using fresh cows milk, virgin coconut oil and stevia leaf, Oppo contains 60% fewer calories and sugars than regular ice cream.
We launched straight into Waitrose and Ocado in October 2014, and are now stocked in Whole Foods, Budgens, Holland & Barrett, Co-Op, two national contract caterers and multiple independent retailers.
The Oppo team has also grown. 18 months ago, it was just my brother (Harry) and I on my kitchen table, and we’re now a team of 9 full-time and 2 part-time.
What inspired you to start this business?
The Oppo journey began in 2011 when my brother and I broke the world record for the longest unsupported kite buggy adventure on land. During the trip, we started living off foods growing along the Brazilian coastline. Deliciously indulgent, they were also incredibly nutritious. This sparked an idea…why can’t the most indulgent foods be healthy? What about ice cream?
Oppo took 25 months to develop. Industry professionals said that it just wasn’t possible, they had tried and there would have to be a compromise on taste. But we disagreed. Product was and is king. Oppo had to be perfect. All natural, healthy and indulgent.
The response has been overwhelming. We were recently awarded a Great Taste Award, were the 2015 Guardian Startup of the Year, have won the Healthy Food Guide Award two years running, and have received multiple 5-star reviews and testimonials from customers and industry professionals alike.
What are some unique challenges to the FMCG industry and how are you overcoming them?
The ice cream market is ultra-competitive, and is dominated by supermarket own-brand and large corporations such as Unilever and R&R. As a start-up operating in this market, we are David against Goliath. But that’s no bad thing. We just have to ensure that our offering is unique.
We are the only ice cream with an EU authorised health claim. We are also one of a small number of ice creams with a prestigious Great Taste Award. Oppo appeals to the customer looking for indulgent ice cream, the parent after a sugar-free treat for the kids, the diabetic searching for an ice cream they can actually eat, and many more. Oppo represents innovation in a category which has always, mistakenly, believed there must be a compromise.
And if innovation which meets customer needs is necessary for us to be able to compete, then that suits us just fine!
What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?
The product is everything. You need to make your product remarkable. ‘Remarkable’ means ‘cool’ to most people, but it actually means ‘worth making a remark about’. As a start-up with zero marketing budget, word of mouth and an epic product is key.
You’re small – great! Remember who you are, and act like David rather than Goliath. Don’t conform to the norm, but excite and surprise. If you’re a David, embrace David. Don’t try to emulate Goliath.
Ask questions and network – I used to go to a monthly branding agency meeting and through this, met some key people without whom we couldn’t have got Oppo to where it is today – one of these people is now our Non-Exec Director. Ask questions. People really do want to help. You’ll never know where a conversation may lead.
What are your future plans for the company?
Oppo is built on a mission. We believe you don’t need to compromise. The most indulgent foods can and should be healthy, and being healthy doesn’t mean less indulgent. We’ve proved this with ice cream, and don’t want to stop here. New product development is a key focus, and we want to bring healthy indulgence to other categories.
How is Oppo healthy? Consumption of foods/drinks containing erythritol and steviol glycosides instead of sugar induces a lower blood glucose rise after their consumption compared to sugar-containing foods/drinks