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Doug Rowe (MBA 2008), Director at Nookie

Whether it’s artisan bread, designer popcorn or organic chocolate, high-end food is big business. Could brothers Doug (MBA 2008) and Marcus Rowe’s handmade and healthy Nookie snack bars be the next trend?

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It took a relationships expert to get brothers Doug and Marcus Rowe to see how their different strengths could work together: their mum. “Marcus is the creative one, I’m the business-minded one,” says Doug. “Mum said: why don’t you start a business together and see what happens?”

Doug & Marcus Rowe

Doug & Marcus Rowe

Doug is a keen sportsman who played rugby for the US national team and has a background in project management within the sports sector. He wanted to run his own business. Marcus is a food fanatic who’s been “messing about with chocolate for years,” says Doug.

The logical result was Nookie: healthy snack bars which taste great but are still good for you. As well as appealing to those who want to eat cleaner, Nookie bars are also a perfect fit for the growing ‘free from’ market – they’re both gluten- and dairy-free.

In 2011, Doug’s father lent the brothers £10,000 to start up, and they began creating the bars in the parental kitchen. The first year-and-a-half found them facing unexpected challenges.

“At first we wanted to create a bar that’s completely covered in chocolate – it’s known as ‘enrobing’,” says Doug. “But it was impossible to find anyone who would do it in the small quantities we needed. We spent a year chasing leads and doing market research. Then Marcus invented a chocolate, hazelnut and raisin bar. It didn’t require enrobing, and suddenly we had a product we could pitch that could be made much more quickly.”

In January 2012, Nookie landed its first big account supplying Pod, a healthy fast-food company with 23 outlets in the City of London. Marcus created two more flavours: peanut butter and milk chocolate chips; and almond butter, spirulina and dark chocolate chips.

Nookie now sells around 5,000 bars a month. It’s outgrown the family home, and the brothers currently rent an industrial kitchen, although the bars are still all made by hand. Doug and Marcus also package and deliver all the bars themselves, as well as chasing new business at food festivals and events.

The big challenge now is taking the business to the next level, which means either finding a factory prepared to deal with the relatively small quantities that Nookie requires (considering that the average factory produces 80,000 bars in half a day) or investing in their own machinery.

“We believe, judging by the quantities we sell, that there’s a following out there,” says Doug. “People out there are eating them. If we could get them produced, we could free up time to get out there and grow the business.

“It’s hard. But we’re not giving up. We’d love to get into the likes of Planet Organic and Whole Foods – customers who are looking for products like ours. First, we hit people who know what they’re looking for. Then, once we’re big enough, we’ll be educating people.”

Doug is interested in hearing from…

…a business mentor. “Neither of us has worked in food and beverages before, so we’ve been thrown in at the deep end. I’d love to meet anyone who’s founded a food business or has been involved with taking a small business to the next level.