Sarah Hedger and Mike Cowlin are another couple who have moved to Nelson so they can be close to the outstanding mountain bike tracks in the region and they have found it to be the perfect place to grow the fledgling food business they started in Wanaka in 2014
Under the YUM brand they produce a range of grain-free breakfast cereals including Granola, a dark chocolate Granola and Bircher that are gluten-free and dairy-free as well as grain-free so are prefect anyone looking for a delicious way to add nourishment to their breakfast, as well as for coeliacs, those who want to avoid gluten or want a paleo friendly cereal.
Cowlin is originally from Wellington and while Hedger migrated to New Zealand from California several years ago they reconnected in Wanaka where Hedger was working as a chef at the Whare Kea lodge; located next door to Rippon Vineyards she says “the views from the kitchen were simply stunning”.
She was hired as the breakfast chef and baker at the lodge “I loved baking, they needed someone to prepare breakfast and I got the job but soon there was an opening for the sous chef role and began a busy season being mentored by head chef James Stapley. While she had always had a fascination with granola but was never able to digest it, the ingredients were good but didn’t agree with me”, her recipe continued to evolve to one offered to guests at the lodge, with them asking for ways to take it home with them after their stay.
Hedger started looking at recipes and understanding just what at a great granola could be as well as being one she could eat.
While working at Whare Kea Lodge Hedger reconnected with Cowlin through a joint love of mountain biking and he became her chief taster “I just ate it and loved it so kept tasting it”.
Hedger says no matter what it is made of, a great granola has to taste good.
Cowlin is a marine biologist by trade and worked for the Ministry of Primary Industries in fisheries management and starting a company producing a breakfast cereal may seem a huge step but he has been able to use his science skills in the development of YUM products.
Over the space of a couple of years Hedger fine-tuned her granola and people loved it so much they asked if they could buy some to take home so the couple started producing it commercially, originally from a commercial kitchen in the community hall in Wanaka before relocating to Nelson.
They moved to Nelson just a few months ago because Wanaka was a bit small and they were into mountain biking not skiing says Cowlin, “We were looking for somewhere with plenty of sun, great mountain biking tracks and that was close to the sea, an added advantage of Nelson is that it is really central and that has turned out to be great for the business.
“We love the outdoors and our bikes go everywhere with us and there is a great community of mountain bikers in the region and we take every opportunity to get on our bikes and head for the hills with Scotch who is a labrador springer spaniel cross and simply full of energy.”
For YUM the move also meant much cheaper and more convenient shipping, for both receiving ingredients and sending orders, orders that have grown by almost 300% in the last year.
Producing an ethical product was also important to Hedger and Cowlin so they put a lot of effort into sourcing ingredients that are organic where ever possible and as local as possible.
The hazelnuts and sea salt come from Marlborough, the honey comes from Nelson Honey and almost everything else is bought from Ceres Organics including sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and currants that come from California.
“The coconut oil we use is imported by a couple in Christchurch who work closely with individual growers in the pacific islands, so we know the grower is getting direct benefit from us using his product while we can rely on the high quality which in turn means we can produce a quality cereal that has integrity” says Hedger.
As well as selling their YUM products in packets they also sell it in bulk direct to customers “people can turn up to our stall at the Nelson Market with their own containers and because we don’t need to provide packaging the saving is significant, about $6 a kilo cheaper.
Our very first batch was 12 kgs and we bought various ingredients from the supermarket so they were very expensive but now we have scaled production up to about 200kg per batch it is much cheaper to produce and has made it cheaper to sell.”
They only produce enough to meet orders each week meaning the cereal is always fresh in true artisanal style and while all of the packaging they use is recyclable it isn’t just cheaper to buy the loose, unpackaged product is always the freshest batch.
So what is the difference between granola and bircher?
“Basically granola is toasted muesli with honey added as a natural sweetener while bircher is completely raw with no honey” says Hedger
“We have three different blends of granola – a dark chocolate one that a lot of people eat it as a snack, it fulfils the 3pm chocolate binge, is higher in healthy fats and proteins and tastes so good as it is you don’t need to add milk or yoghurt as you might do for breakfast.
“We make our own chocolate using coconut oil to blend with the cacao powder so it is dairy-free “
And this artisan, hand crafted breakfast food is proving very popular, as well as selling it online and at the Nelson Market it is stocked in about 60 stores around the country including all of the Raeward Fresh stores, most New World’s in the South Island with North Island stores stocking it soon.
Locally you can buy it at the Fresh Choice Nelson and Richmond, Upper Moutere Old Post Office, Benge & Co stores, Nelson Organics, Mean Green Grocers and the Mapua Country Store too as well as the Nelson Co-op Green Grocer on the corner of Tasman and Grove St who have it in bulk so you can refill your own container.
An indication of the quality of the product is the fact a number of luxury lodges buy it in bulk and have it on their breakfast menus including The Sherwood in Queenstown where they put it in guest rooms in reusable glass jars.
With other products in development this is shaping up to be another outstanding Nelson producer that will be gracing breakfast tables around the country.
Check out www.yumnz.co.nz to find out more about these delicious products or visit Mike and Sarah at the Saturday Market in Montgomery Square.