From operating a catering service to owning India’s popular plant-based ice-cream brand, here’s the journey of the founders of Mumbai-based Nomou Vegan Gelato - Samir & Hemali
Summer is already here and the season is just incomplete without one indulging in lip-smacking ice-creams. And vegan ice-cream brand Nomou is leaving no stone unturned to satiate the taste buds of the health-conscious millennials, through its assorted flavors.
The Mumbai-based brand has carved a niche for itself in the Indian vegan dessert segment. More than an ice-cream, Nomou is actually a plant-based, handcrafted artisanal gelato. Its makers, wife-husband duo, Hemali Gala and Samir Pasad, like to define their product as ‘No-Moo’ – meaning no to cow’s milk.
Having been born into a vegetarian family, Samir and his father decided to turn vegan overnight, about two decades ago. “It all started after we attended a yoga conference in 1992 and learned about health and environmental issues caused by dairy and animal-based products. We bid adieu to milk, curd, ghee, honey and sweets, which were part and parcel of our diet. My wife Hemali wasn’t a vegan initially, but owned it up a few years later. We’ve raised our daughter and son – 18 & 15 years now – vegans. We’re a proud vegan family,” Samir told AYUVE.
Well, it wasn’t an easy journey for Hemali. She turned vegan after her daughter Svea Aariyeh was born. She depended on dairy alternatives like soy milk to meet the additional demand for nutrition during her second pregnancy. Her efforts paid off and her son Aarav was born healthy. Despite having the choice of consuming dairy, the children decided to be vegans.
While Samir is a computer graduate, Hemali is from finance background and a trained chef. They turned entrepreneurs in 2013 by co-founding Vegan Bites, a meal delivery and catering service, and served a wide variety of plant-based cuisines to their customers; everything except desserts and ice-creams, since milk forms their key ingredient.
“My son’s friends used to mock him for not eating ice-creams. An upset Aarav once requested us to make ice-cream an exception in his diet and this made us to work on the vegan dessert. Our 15 years of experience in food and beverages industry came in handy for us and we created our gelatos in 2016, using plant-based milks,” he explains.
Hemali started experimenting with dairy alternatives like almond milk, soy milk and coconut milk. She went for natural sweeteners like jaggery and restrained from using preservatives, artificial flavors, colors and GMOs. And bingo, she came up with the best plant-based, dairy-free, sugar-free, creamy, artisanal gelatos that every vegan and lactose-intolerant would love to binge on, that too guilt-free.
Initially, the couple offered the products for free in their catering service and to the buyers at farmers’ markets, to get genuine feedback. Later, they sold the desserts under their ‘Vegan Bites’ brand in Mumbai and Pune. They launched Nomou in 2020, after the plant-based vegan gelatos became a huge hit with ice-cream lovers, thanks to the public and social media.
“All the flavors are made in small batches to minimize processing. We don’t use more than 3-5 ingredients in each flavor. The raw ingredients are sourced from local markets and organic farmers, to lessen the carbon footprint during transit. Also, our manufacturing facility is 100% vegan and there won't be any traces of milk, nuts or soy in our vegan gelatos,” Samir informs.
Asked about the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, Samir agrees that the sales did drop during the lockdowns due to logistical issues and manpower crunch. They have a team of nine employees now and are planning to expand the business, to meet the growing vegan market demands.
Currently, Nomou offers 22 flavors including Bourbon Vanilla, Saffron Pistacho, Fresh Mango, Cacao Nibs, Paan and Notella. Thandai and Mix Berry Blast are the new additions to their menu, this Holi season. But, salted caramel has been the bestseller since November-December.
“Our plant-based vegan gelatos are priced a bit higher than that of our competitors. However, given our popularity, the high-quality ingredients we use and the uncompromising taste, people are willing to buy and re-buy our ice-creams. Surprisingly, our customers include more flexitarians than vegans, which only means that we're successfully bringing about a change in the eating habits of Indians - all the while satisfying their cravings for sweet foods, but without the guilt,” he hastens to add.
Nomou's plant-based gelatos are available on their own website and on e-commerce sites like Vvegano, Wildermart, Greend and Urban Platter in 500 ml tubs. They are also available in retail stores in Mumbai, Pune, Surat, Goa, Jaipur, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Indore and Kolkata.