New generation food innovators inspired by Pasefika heritage

The almond milk ice cream, AL ICE is the brainchild of three students from Auckland who spotted a gap in the non-dairy frozen dessert market in New Zealand.

The young food innovators drew their inspiration from the Pacific and formed OLelei, the home of New Zealand’s best almond products.

According to the 17 year old Managing Director Matt Billington since OLelei is two-thirds Pasefika, they thought that it would be a good way to pay respects to their heritage.

“By using the word (Samoan) 'OLelei' with the rough translation to 'good' we believe this stands for all our products. Not only do they taste good but they are good for you,” Billington said. 

The other two directors of OLeilei are Buster Milani, who is responsible for marketing and Operations Director, Marion Noovao McCamish.

All of the directors are Year 13 students at Henderson High School.

OLelei was formed under the Young Enterprise Scheme where the students developed and successfully brought to market the AL-YO.

AL-YO is New Zealand’s only almond milk-based yoghurt. It’s 100% dairy, gluten and preservative free.

Billington said the successes and recognition from AL-YO led to them bringing to market another New Zealand first - AL-ICE.

“The idea came about when we realised the shortage in dairy-free alternatives. At the time, the market was saturated with Coconut and Soy alternatives. We decided to be innovative and bring to the New Zealand market something that hasn't been done before,” he added.

The journey for the students has been one of many obstacles that challenged their perseverance.

“We have lost members and financially struggled, “Billington said.

However, with the support of their teacher Yasmin Gray and mentor, Maria Fastnedge they have managed to overcome these hurdles to create a company stronger than before.

​Since 2015, the company has won several awards starting with third place in the 2015 Young Enterprise Awards for the almond yoghurt.

AL ICE won them second place in the 2016 Young Enterprise Awards.

OLelei also received the Pacific Peoples Excellence in Business Award.

​Billington said being recognised on the national level has meant that they are able to share their vision and story to a wide audience.

“This has meant that we are able to gain the backing and support of many large and popular influences. We have been able to share our journey and prove to our generation that anything is possible, all you need is a dream and a little hard work,” he added.

Last year the team won the inaugural Pasifika Business Expo Dragons Den and exhibited at The Auckland Food Show.​

Later this year the company plans to launch more exciting products sourcing ingredients from Pacific island countries.

​“We are sourcing KoKo from Samoa and Vanilla Bean from Tonga. We believe that by sourcing the ingredients directly from the islands, we are able to connect to our heritage and better express our vision of creating healthy and great tasting dairy-free alternatives,” Billington said. 

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Rita Narayan