If you’ve recently ventured to the ice cream corners of your local supermarket, you may have been dazzled by a certain newcomer, OPPO. The world’s first healthy ice cream that doesn’t taste horrendous. In fact, it’s scrumptious, and we’re proud to say that one half of it’s founders, Charlie Thuillier, is pure Peligoni alumni, manning the bar in 2010. Since then he’s achieved a staggering amount, so we caught up with him to get the scoop on how he made nutritious from naughty…
Back in the summer of 2010 I was very aware it was my final summer of university life before joining the real world, and so I had better make the most of it. Options consisted of travelling, working (to pay for the travelling), and being sensible and interning to gain valuable work experience and an idea of what I wanted to do after uni. Being a rather uncompromising chap with massive FOMO (fear of missing out!) I wanted to do all three. My friend had holidayed at Peli for many years and suggested doing a season could be a beautiful mix of everything I was looking for.
I spent the summer of 2010 working as assistant bar manager at Peli. A job which then led me to work for the alcohol drinks giant, Diageo, after my university days. Alas my time at Diageo only lasted 13 months, but more on that later!
Peligoni was a mix of very hard and intense work, with stunning memories. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to live on a Greek island for the summer, spending almost every afternoon windsurfing before my evening bar shift, and met people I’m close friends with to this day.
ON LIFE CHANGING ADVENTURES
I had just finished university and had 8 weeks before starting the Diageo grad role. My brother, Harry, managed to get the same amount of time off work, and we started plotting what we would do. We love windsurfing, so picked the windiest place in the world to windsurf – a village in the north-east coast of Brazil. Upon realising it was 1000km from the nearest airport, we started to investigate methods of getting there under our own steam. No roads, no maps, few facilities, and just one long stretch up the coast line. This place was incredibly remote.
This is where things got slightly out of hand. After seeing a YouTube video we chose to kite buggy the distance (think go-kart with no brakes, steering wheel or seatbelt, powered by an enormous kite), and raise money for Centrepoint charity. Upon speaking to experts we realised this would be a world record for the longest distance travelled by kite on land. Most companies refused to work with us as we hadn’t ever done the sport before, had no medical / supply back up, and generally lacking in experience. But we managed to get a few kit sponsors and after talking our way through excess baggage in Heathrow (with only £20 to pay for 150kg of gear) we arrived on a remote beach in Brazil.
ON THE POWER OF SUPER-FRUITS
Frequently we couldn’t kite – for example if there were mangrove swamps, trees or other obstacles preventing us from launching the kites. Therefore we would have to drag the 75kg buggies along the sand for over 30 miles each day to get the record. Unfortunately, we quickly ran out of food and I lost 8kg of body weight in just 2 weeks.
It was then that we turned to what foods were naturally growing along the Brazilian coastline. These tasted phenomenal (probably because we were so hungry, but go with it..) yet at the same time were incredibly nutritious. Health and taste in one.
We broke the world record, returned home, and I started work for Diageo. But the idea had stuck – I have always been fed up with why indulgent foods are unhealthy. The opposites between health and indulgence. I wanted to change that, and Brazil was the inspiration, so I picked the most indulgent category I could think of (aside from alcohol!), quit my job and set out to transform it healthy. Ice cream, but good for you.
ON THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF STARTING A START UP
As with starting any company, starting Oppo was tough. I didn’t know how to make ice cream, let alone the healthy variety. Cue googling, much trial and error, and persistence. I was adamant that Oppo would be perfect; great tasting and healthy. But sometimes not knowing the rules means that it’s easier to break them. Industry professionals told me healthy ice cream wasn’t possible.
But in October 2014 and following 25 months of research, 3 different factories, 2 specialized food research centres, and 4 grants, I had a scalable recipe and launched into Waitrose and Ocado. My brother then joined, and the team grew from there.
Since launching, we’ve had just as many bumps as successes. It’s part and parcel of growing a business. The key is turning each bump into an opportunity and each success into a celebration. And why not? We’re not stuck in a corporate 9-5, we’re doing something which no-one else has done before and we’re enjoying the ride.
ON BEING THE GUARDIAN’S START UP OF THE YEAR
Luckily for us Oppo is unique and highly relatable – who doesn’t like ice cream which lets you indulge without looking like you have?
Free from added sugars, all natural, and made using premium ingredients. We are Europe’s only ice cream which can legally be called ‘healthy’, and we have received Great Taste Awards. I think it was the speed of growth and fresh idea which pleased the judges. Also probably our willingness to make mistakes and stick our neck out! We have a sign on the front door of the office simply saying “good morning David”, in an attempt to remind all employees they need to act like David every day of their lives at Oppo. The moment we act like Goliath means we will lose. Whatever it was though, receiving the award was humbling, surprising, and much appreciated!
ON HANGING OUT WITH DAVID CAMERON
Ha yes that was rather surreal. Within 2 days of receiving a call from Number No.10 I was on board the Queen’s jet along with 3 other start-up founders, the British and Italian Ambassadors, and David Cameron. Best commute so far..
They wanted to showcase the best of British innovation so the government took us to the Milan Expo. So in our case that meant selling ice cream… to the Italians (I think that was the main reason we were invited!)
ON THE FUTURE
Oppo isn’t an ice cream company. We are a food tech company – we flip expectations and make indulgent categories healthy. Ice cream is indeed the start, but we have new releases launching end of 2017 into further categories. Exporting is also key, and we hope to be in 6 different markets by the end of this year. We’re focused on democratising health, and ensuring as many people as possible can indulge without compromising their health.
However, in the meantime, we have just launched our new Colombian Chocolate and Hazelnut ice cream (basically, Nutella ice cream!). Made from the world’s finest Cacao Fino de Aroma, we’re excited to get people trying it. Launching in Waitrose, Wholefoods, Amazon Fresh, and Ocado this week, and our other retailers (Co-Op, Holland & Barrett and Budgens) shortly after we hope!
Gosh, get us to the shops now.
If you want to start where Charlie began, head to our jobs page.