A new company boasting organic, Fairtrade treats is taking on the big boys
The story of the Niceblock
For most of New Zealand, this has been the summer that never quite happened — but for new company Nice Blocks, this is the summer when everything started. Possibly the best day of them all was the Laneways Festival in January. “We sold thousands of ice-blocks that day,” says Tommy Holden, co-creator of the organic, Fairtrade-certified Niceblocks. “Retailers have been saying it’s been the worst summer ever, but we’re doing well on it.”
Holden, who started the company with his friend James Crow in a garage while they were both employed elsewhere full-time, says that as well as selling around 5000 frozen treats a week, Nice Blocks is averaging three to four new accounts a week. Their small branded freezers are now popping up at cafés, organic shops and delis throughout greater Auckland and further afield. Not bad for a five-month-old company with a first packaged product dropped only on December 15 last year.
The future business partners met five years ago through their romantic partners, who are also best friends. Holden’s parents had one of the first organic stores in New Zealand, and did the catering for international bands playing here between the 1970s and 2000. Crow, amongst other things, produced an organic skin balm and tattoo after-care skin cream derived from an old family recipe.
While they had always floated the idea of starting a business, nothing clicked until Tip Top temporarily stopped making grapefruit Frujus: “We were talking about how much we missed them, so that gave us the idea,” says Holden. “Ice-blocks were a logical choice for us because we didn’t want to mortgage the house just yet!”
Obviously, they faced some stiff competition from the ice-block establishment, especially in hot spots such as Piha beach or events like the Big Day Out.
“We had to go in at a different angle to the big companies,” says Holden. “We haven’t priced it high, we’ve just priced it at what we need to produce it. It’s not a gourmet, super-premium product — we wanted to go down to the shop with our kids and give them a treat we didn’t feel bad about, without palm oil or corn syrup. That was the big thing for us.”
The six flavours were inspired by popular one-manband kiosks in Spain and Mexico producing inexpensive, fresh ice-blocks from local fruit. Holden develops each in his kitchen and tests them on his friends, throwing in the occasional limited edition flavour — such as the lemon, lime and bitters that proved so popular at Laneways — to keep it exciting.
Nice Blocks ingredients are sourced ethically and, for the most part, locally. Where they have to go further afield, the company makes sure the supply chain operates in an equally sustainable fashion. “For example, our coconut cream comes from Samoa.
“We phone the order in and the guy is literally going out and picking the coconuts off the trees. It must be the freshest coconut cream in the world.”
James Crow and Tommy Holden of Niceblocks. Photo: Ted Baghurst.