A fresh approach: interview with Charlie Thuillier

In the latest issue of yu magazine, we spoke to three successful young entrepreneurs who all started out at the University of York. Here we ask Charlie Thuillier (Applied Social Sciences, 2011) of Oppo Ice Cream the questions that wouldn’t fit in to the feature.

Update – September 2016: Charlie recently gave a TEDx talk:

Why did you choose to study Applied Social Sciences?

Mum was a probation officer and the degree sounded interesting – I wanted to know how the criminal justice system worked. It was completely fascinating but I also chose it because it had no exams!

You came up with the concept of using superfoods while travelling in Brazil – what prompted your trip over there?

At York Uni ran the travel society and used to take people abroad and go on adventures. I’m a big windsurfer, for example, and took groups to Egypt a few times. I had a couple of months between graduation and starting work and wanted one last big adventure.

So Harry and I chose to travel 1000km across Brazil using wind power. This meant kite buggying. We hadn’t quite worked out just how difficult it would be and how much energy it would take out of us. I lost a couple of stone fairly quickly and when supplies were running out, we stocked up on coconut and local meats. The energy they gave us led me to start thinking hard about how we could harness these superfoods in convenience foods back home.

And that’s how the idea was born.

How long did it take to get the product right?

It took three years, four factories, one government grant and one Entrepreneur Award from York University. It was a long process and involved a lot of trial and error. I wanted to create a really luxury product that didn’t compromise on taste or experience, using only natural products and no sugar. There is no other product out there like it and I’m incredibly proud of what we have created. We’re still working on different flavours and have exciting news soon – but I can’t reveal it just yet!

Tell us about your crowdfunding experience in more depth.

I was handing out samples in a coffee shop near my flat – I think it’s the best way to get immediate and useful feedback. One woman was so keen that she came back and asked for more to take to her husband. I didn’t think a lot of it but it turned out that she was married to the CEO of Seedrs, a crowdfunding site. An hour later I found myself having a meeting with him and we launched on the platform.

We originally wanted to raise £100,000 and smashed through that target within minutes. The final amount was over £300,000 and it was the fastest any food or drinks company has ever reached their target.

What’s next for Oppo Ice Cream?

For now we’re very concentrated on our clients and are pouring our love into Waitrose and Ocado. At the moment we are in 117 of the 350 Waitrose stores across the UK and within 12 months aim to be stocked in all of them. We’re developing the team, recruiting more staff and developing our flavours.

Lots of start-ups get carried away thinking they’ll be on a yacht in five years’ time, my approach is to take it steady, carry on doing what we’ve been doing and continue our success. Our way.

Most importantly, which flavours do you have and how much is your ice cream?

Madagascan vanilla and baobob – combining vanilla pods with the grapefruit-like flavour of South African baobab.

Salted caramel and lucuma – From Peru, the lucuma is nature’s caramel and is full of antioxidants and vitamins. It’s combined with maldon sea salt.

Mint chocolate with spurlina – Using thick cacao and peppermint, along with the pritein rich spirulina, it’s an adult upgrade of your childhood favourite.

All cost £5.49 per 500ml and all are sugar free.