The nu company is the social food start-up from Leipzig, Germany, that is transforming the way people eat and bringing sustainable change to the food industry. As a purpose-driven company, founded in 2016 by three industrial engineers, the nu company has created healthy, plastic-free, and climate-positive snacks. We caught up with the guys to find out about their own journeys to veganism and how their backgrounds have helped them to forge a new career path. 

Nucao founders Mathias, Christian and Thomas

Nucao founders Mathias, Christian and Thomas

Why was it important to you and your brand partner up with Eden Reforestation Projects?

Eden Reforestation Projects works with local communities in various countries to plant forests on a large scale, creating local jobs and protecting ecosystems. We’re chocolate with a conscience and therefore Eden was a natural partner for us. We share the same goals and vision.

For every bar sold, the nu company will plant a tree in partnership with Eden. With over 10 million trees planted to date, our goal is to plant one billion trees by 2030 - and we are well on our way.

By the end of 2021, we had already managed to plant more than 10 million trees. In addition, last year we were able to start two new reforestation projects with Eden in Nepal and Mozambique, which are supported exclusively by us. With this concept, we bind 675% times more CO2 than we emit with one nucao chocolate bar.

But the reforestation project does so much more: not only are forests replanted on a large scale, but local jobs are created in the communities and ecosystems are protected. In this way, our commitment makes a major contribution to mitigating climate change: by the end of 2021, we could sequester a total of 3.38* billion metric tonnes of CO2 and create 109,000 jobs.

*As measured by the average CO2 levels of a mangrove over its lifetime.

How challenging was it to create plastic free packaging for your product and should other companies be doing the same?

This is vital to us and it was an exciting and meaningful adventure to embark upon. It is our mission to make every beep at the checkout a signal for a healthier and greener world. We believe that consumption can and should have a positive impact on the planet, and that other companies should all look at ways of contributing towards protecting the environment.

Since the company’s inception, we have always committed to improving packaging options. Our packaging is 100% plastic-free, made from home compostable cellulose film, a thin cover of starch blend and paper.

Our wrappers can also be placed in home composting bins and we hope, in the future, organic waste bins, but the existing infrastructure won’t permit this. Where you don’t have home composting, you can dispose of the packaging in general waste, where it will be burnt; in this process it leaves a tiny bit of carbon but no toxic gases, so it’s still a better variant than regular packaging.

Why was it key to create a snack that was vegan, organic and natural?

The nu company was founded in 2016 by us - three friends (Mathias, Christian and Thomas) - when we were all studying engineering together at university.

Growing up, Mathias suffered from stomach pains, which impacted on his daily life. Eventually, he realised he had to prioritise his personal wellbeing and transitioned to a healthier, vegan lifestyle and now he feels much better.

Like Mathias, Thomas suffered from illness for much of his youth, which took him on a quest to find out more about nutrition. During his studies, he realised that superfoods and nutrition made more sense to him than the technical engineering topics he was studying. Food start-up crystallised.

In the university library one day, we started talking about how we wanted to find a snack but all we could find was junk food. There had to be an alternative which met all of our criteria. We soon found there was nothing available which fitted all of our criteria in terms of being organic, sustainable and plant-based.

That’s when we set about trying to create a healthy snack which was kinder to earth we live in too.

Are you all vegan? If so please tell us why! 

Yes, we are. We all started to follow plant-based diets at different stages in our lives, predominantly due to health reasons, but also our desire to minimise our carbon footprint.

What’s more, at our head office in Leipzig, Germany, we treat our staff to a free lunch every day, which is plant-based, of course. The whole world is realising that food doesn’t have to contain animal products to be tasty and nutritious, and that’s something which is evident in all aspects of our business.

Please tell us about the journey from the idea through to selling the product in Sainsbury's

Six years ago, in 2016, we were all on course for a promising career in engineering, until we had our lightbulb moment in the university library. The next thing we knew, we had purchased a chocolate do-it-yourself kit and were testing it out at the kitchen table. That’s how it all began.

Fast forward to a year later, with several failed recipes behind us, we decided to start manufacturing on our own in Dresden, Germany. Right from the beginning, we focused on organic and plastic-free packaging.

Come 2018, we gained a foothold in our first organic shops in Germany, but decided we couldn't continue with producing on our own and found a co-packer. That’s also the year in which we entered into a partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects and launched our ‘one product = one tree’ principle.

The team was growing and so was demand for our products. We then set our goal of planting one billion trees by 2030. In 2021, we started distribution in the UK, resulting in our first listing in a leading supermarket – Sainsbury’s.

There are many bars that offer free from credentials, so what sets yours apart from the rest?

Our recipe is different. We wanted to do something new and ingenious. It’s vegan chocolate the nu way - no compromise on taste or the planet.

nucao is made from organic chocolate with hemp seeds and roasted hazelnuts. Plant-powered by nuts, seeds and acerola (a cherry-like berry with several health benefits), we sweeten with just a pinch of coconut blossom sugar. There’s no milk powder, yet our bars are still unbelievably creamy.

It’s what it doesn’t contain that’s also of interest. nucao has 65% less sugar than other comparable chocolate bars. We rely solely on sustainable, natural, unrefined sugar; coconut blossom sugar. Coconut blossom sugar is low on the glycaemic index and has key nutrients including magnesium and zinc. It is not lower in calories than industrially produced sugar but is generally less processed.

Hemp con is one of the most nutrient-rich foods in the world too. Hemp seeds have around 20-25% protein content; in comparison a steak has 25% protein. They are also rich in omega-3, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc and vitamin E. Hemp fields can also bind astonishing amounts of CO2 and do not drain the soil or require artificial fertilisation.

Combine this with the fact that nucao is organic, we ethically source our ingredients and plant a tree for every bar sold, and it’s a win win!

How did your combined industrial engineering background benefit your business?

In mid-2017, Christian completed an internship programme at a German car manufacturer. Stuck in a job which he was told would be good for his CV, he was contacted by his fellow co-founders, saying they had an idea they wanted to develop and needed more hands-on deck.

He strongly believed that if he could develop a product for people to promote healthy nutrition, it would mean so much more to him than helping a luxury car manufacturer with a facelift.

So we used our engineering degrees to create a vegan chocolate kit around the kitchen table. There is no doubt that our combined engineering expertise was useful, but vegan chocolate is a million miles away from what we had intended to do with our lives! And we are so glad we took the plunge - three friends on a mission to do something worthwhile together.

In 2017, we began manufacturing the nu company products in Germany, with a focus on organic ingredients and plastic-free packaging from the start, and the rest is history.

Was offsetting your carbon footprint a goal right from the beginning?

Yes. It is deeply anchored in our business model. We believe in positive consumption. That’s one of the reasons why we partnered with Eden and now we aim to plant a billion trees by 2030, having already planted nearly 11 million to date.

Wellbeing and being ethical is at the heart of everything we do as a company. We operate a holacracy company model at the nu company; an organisation run with a totally flat structure. That means we have a decentralised management and organisational governance, where people form distinct, autonomous, teams to accomplish tasks and company goals. Our colleagues take full control and ownership of their areas of responsibility and how they deliver.

As well as free, healthy plant-based meals being served at our head office in Germany, we have yoga & mindfulness classes provided, as well as sport sessions.

Once a year, we also plant trees as a team event. In 2021, we helped plant 2,400 young trees with local initiatives in Germany.

What is next for you and the brand?

Our current focus is building awareness of the nu company, our movement to plant 1 billion trees by 2030 and attract more and more consumers to our business. We continue to focus on making our recent grocery listing of our nucao vegan chocolate range, in Sainsbury’s a huge success, whilst continuing to increase sales in Holland & Barrett and Planet Organic and on our nu ecommerce site.

As a relatively young company, our key focus will be on supporting the success of nucao, our chocolate bars, and from there we’ll see…there’s a lot more around the corner!

RELATED: Vegan pretzel founder shares why we shouldn't compromise on snacks for our family 

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