Doctor Feelgood’s Rachel Walker talks to Nice Cream’s Rachel Nicholls about the company’s rather delicious creamy vegan product.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for Vegan Nice Cream, rah, rah, rah!
I’m warbling my way to D-list fame as I make a mad dash to the chiller in front of me. I’m here to get my hot little hands on the exotic species of Chocolate & Samoan Coconut Nice Cream. Nutritious, delicious, genius – I’ll take four.
Now, my love affair with these bad boys began the day I spotted them sitting pretty in a local store. They had just recently arrived, and I noticed that unlike their over-dressed neighbours, Nice Cream kept it cool on the packaging front, letting the chilled treats within serenade my taste buds minutes later. And just like that, it was hasta la vista Mr Whippy, and hellllllo to Tommy & James.
The duo are also the masterminds behind Nice Blocks, with the addictive lick on a sticks being the world’s first Fairtrade certified ice blocks with a range of flavours sure to please all.
Vegan friendly, low sugar, with organic ingredients where possible, brought to you by a very small team making a big effort so that all us Kiwis can indulge in some healthier treats.
The team’s Jack of all trades, Rachel, filled me in a little on the company’s background story, especially for the readers here at Doctor Feelgood.
Doctor Feelgood: What’s your name and what is your role within the Tommy & James family?
Rachel Nicholls: I kind of get to make up my job title as I do a bit of everything – I’m the sales and accounts manager, a rep, I organise some PR stuff and most of our events.
DF: Is anyone on the team vegan, or were there other reasons for creating mouth watering dairy-free treats?
Rachel: This gets a little complicated so follow closely… I am a vegetarian who is allergic to dairy (and gluten) so not exactly vegan but nearly. James has gone vegetarian over the last week, his partner Bonnie is a vegan and their children eat a mainly vegan diet.
DF: Why did you personally make the choice to become a vegetarian? Are there parts of the lifestyle that you find challenging in NZ?
Rachel: So many reasons. Ethically, I see no need for an animal to die for the sake of a meal. I also think meat is an incredibly unhealthy food and that our bodies aren’t designed to digest it. Don’t even get me started on how toxic processed meats are! Environmentally, eating meat is unsustainable. New Zealand is very much a meat-eaters society. I never find it hard to not eat meat but I do struggle with the majority of the population’s attitude towards meat. I get worked up about how much land we have in this country, and yet if you go into a supermarket half the produce is imported – let’s turn our farms into organic orchards and vegetable farms (what is the vegetable version of an orchard…?).
DF: On your travels with Nice Blocks, are you noticing that us Kiwis are now more inclined to make healthier food choices? Or are we still foaming at the mouth over a soft serve cone courtesy of the fast food giants?
Rachel: I think awareness is growing but we have a very, very long way to go. We certainly get loads of feedback from people who are over the moon that they can now choose a healthier frozen treat for themselves and their kids. I love hearing this. We hope that we can inspire more people and also companies to change their choices by showing the world that organic, natural, and healthier food can also be delicious and all round awesome.
DF: How does Nice Blocks & Nice Creams hold their own against the bigger industry players that are trying to jump on board the “allergy friendly” food train?
Rachel: To be honest, we don’t spend a lot of time looking at what other companies are doing. We have a strong sense of who we are and what we do and we put our time and energy into staying true to that. I will say though that our Nice Cream is very unique. I’m yet to find any other dairy free or vegan ice cream on the market that isn’t filled with all sorts of weird stuff, not to mention one that actually tastes good.
DF: Being the world’s first Fairtrade Certified ice block, what does this really mean for you guys? Does it bring international enthusiasts to the company’s door, eager to get involved or open some more doors for you?
Rachel: We are first to think it is worth making ice blocks a fairly traded, ethically sourced product. People dig it but I can’t say we have international enthusiasts hunting us down. Yet.
DF: The word “organic” seems to more often than not be used as a marketing monkey as opposed to a true product representation. So when your product packaging says natural and organic, what are we really getting and from where?
Rachel: Confusing and mislabeling is a massive concern to us as well. We hope that all our customers are critical of everything they buy. For a company like us it is simply a way of telling you that everything in our products is 100 percent naturally grown or derived without chemical intervention. All of our major components are organically certified. We give our customers the ability to check our authenticity themselves through a handy key of organic, organic non-certified and certified Fairtrade, in the ingredients panel on the back of our packaging. The core value of our business is that we make not only the most ethical decisions but the smartest. An example would be our citrus juice which to be organically certified would have to be sourced from Canada, but to be grown in the same manner but without certification (spray free and fertiliser free conditions) can be sourced from Gisborne, which to us ticks the most important parts of both boxes. It’s healthier fruit but from a more holistically ethical source.
DF: Several of your flavours are made with highly addictive Samoan Coconut Cream. How did that process in Samoa eventuate and is it still in the bigger plan to take the company back there to expand?
Rachel: We got on board very early with the coconut cream processing project in Samoa. This has meant a lot of development time for their infrastructure as well as a lot of work for us while we wait for the process of the production plant and organic and Fairtrade certifications to be completed. This can take several years but we feel it is well worth our investment in helping to create a local Pacific source of organic and Fairtrade coconut cream, not only for our products but for the next generation of food producers who can tap into this resource. Of course Samoa is not only famous for its coconut but also for its limes and other exotic fruits. We hope not only us but other companies will be able to tap into other certified organic and Fairtrade Samoan ingredients. This will mean we can look to them more often before fruit suppliers further afield.
DF: Nice Block are sitting pretty on renewable bamboo sticks rather than pine. Can you tell us a little about your very own landfill offset initiative in relation to your packaging?
Rachel: This was a real case of trying to find a solution that fitted within the constraints of food grade packaging. All our wrapping is made from recyclable plastic but knowing full well that most of it will end up in landfill, we’ve set ourselves a target to offset that waste mass through a series of investments in ethical enterprises which will roll out this year. This may mean we invest some of this money into garden schemes for schools or communities as well as composting programs for a number of families that will further educate these families.
DF: And lastly, what upcoming festivals and events can we find the Nice Blocks carts at?
Rachel: Things are a bit quiet on the event front being winter and all. We will however, be keeping it real at the Gluten Free and Allergy Show coming up on the 25th and 26th of May.
You can find where both products are stocked here: http://doctorfeelgood.co.nz/index.php/vegan-nice-cream-made-from-coconut/
They’ve also got a spiffy new website that’s worth the trip over. Check it: www.niceblocks.co.nz