Food and lifestyle brand Nomu is disrupting the business of bland with spicy innovation

How Nomu’s passion for innovation, packaging and quality turned it into a leading brand.
The creators of the Nomu food and lifestyle brand have brought spice and excitement to kitchens since 2000, starting out in business with just under R13,000, and a passion for flavour and innovative products.
Despite not having a budget, especially not for luxuries like marketing, their product, commitment and timing were spot-on, which helped build Nomu into a brand that went from big back home to (relatively) big in Germany. Slovenia, too. And about 10 other countries.
Despite starting out in business with no budget, it helped that Nomu was set up at the right time, in the right place.
At the end of the 1990s, South Africa was still buoyed by Madiba magic, the sheen of the rainbow nation and an influx of tourists. It was a more glamorous time, filled with excitement, optimism and hope.
Craving novelty
Cut off from the international community for decades, South Africans were hungry for new experiences and new flavours, brought by multinationals and local operators alike.
Independent producers such as Nomu experimented with flavours, sold at markets, malls and festivals, and often bootstrapped their businesses by pouring their own resources and passion into products.
Founded by self-taught caterer Tracy Foulkes, who started off in her cramped kitchen in Oranjezicht in 2000, Nomu (initially inten­ded to be a mostly vegetarian deli with no or little red meat, hence “no moo”) has grown into one of South Africa’s leading independent food manufacturers, building its reputation on innovative spice rubs, stocks and, especially, hot chocolate.
Foulkes, who brought her then boyfriend (he later became her husband) Paul Raphaely into the business five months later to help with brand promotion, remains in charge of product innovation, while Raphaely does their marketing, mostly via a playful and “slightly bonkers” newsletter, written by him and featuring Foulkes’ recipes.
“We had no idea what we were doing at first and were pleasantly surprised by the outcome. That is still our business model. As a brand, Nomu isn’t afraid to be different and to try new things,” says ­Raphaely.
Spicing things up
The local spice business, when they started, was the opposite of spicy, says Raphaely. “It’s been our primary function for 20-odd years: we’ve brought a little bit of spice and excitement to whatever category we’ve chosen to get into.”
Being small and not competing in the same space as big brands such as Robertsons or Nestlé meant ...