‘I put £60 of petrol into the car instead of diesel because I had been working so hard’
Noel Allen was doing research for job interviews when a unique business idea was born. The 33-year-old, from Newtownards, Co Down, was preparing for two prospective positions - one with a craft beer distribution company, the other with a peanut brand manufacturer.
Hoping to move on to a new challenge from his job as energy drink Boost's marketing field manager for Northern Ireland, he spent a Friday night tasting various craft beers and peanuts and realised the two didn't complement one another.
With craft beer becoming more in demand and microbreweries popping up across Ireland, he recognised a promising business venture.
He set up Noisy Nuts - a range of crafted peanut kits with flavoured seasoning that pair perfectly with various types of craft beers.
"At the time, I had a good job working in marketing for a successful energy drink brand," he says.
"I'd had a lot of success with them - when I left we were the number one soft drink in retail, outselling Coca-Cola and Red Bull.
"I'd always had ambitions to own my own business and felt the time was right to move on from the job I was in.
"The thing is, I don't come from money, and it takes lots of money to start a business, so at Christmas 2016 I made the decision to move on.
"I was sitting one night trying some craft beers and peanuts, and I felt like the peanuts were making the beers taste funny.
"You get pairing nights for craft beers and food and gin nights, but after doing some research I realised that there are no pairings for peanuts and craft beers, so I thought that was something I could do.
"As it happened, I was offered a job in the peanut manufacturing company, so I handed in my notice at my other job, but then, for some reason that has never been explained, the job at the peanut company was withdrawn.
"That was about March last year, and basically I had to pick myself up and brush myself off as I had left a good job that was really safe and I was doing well in.
"While I was working out my notice, I was looking for other jobs, but I kept thinking about the peanut idea.
"I had a chat with Ben Stang, a friend who has experience in catering, about my concept.
"He thought it was a brilliant idea and offered me some advice."
Noel decided to take his idea forward and began to look for suppliers. However, he quickly realised that most companies were unwilling to work with a business start-up.
Determined to make a success of his idea, however, Noel pressed ahead with developing a range of flavoured peanuts.
Once again, he turned to Ben to help him progress his concept.
"It was his stag do and, because of Ben's job in catering, there were lots of people there from the industry, so I turned it into a bit of a tasting and feedback session," he says.
"I made a bit of a show out of it and was adding the flavour and shaking it up, and that's where the idea came from that our nuts should be self-seasoning - you do it yourself."
Noel spent more time developing this idea, working with Dr Amy Burns from Ulster University to produce the best flavour possible.
He then turned to his marketing background to come up with the branding.
The product was launched three days before Christmas 2017 with four flavours - pickled onion to go with lager, chilli and lime for IPA, chocolate orange for IPA Orange and chilli beef for stout. Noel worked hard to get the range into shops and pubs in Northern Ireland, the Republic and even London.
Meeting potential clients face-to-face was crucial to success. "I always say that people buy people. I wanted to go out and tell people my story, and I think that's so important in business."
Noisy Nuts has since added two more flavours - bacon jalapeno to go with porter, and Thai sweet chilli for pale ale.
Noel has secured a contract with Lidl, and the range of peanuts will be stocked in 198 stores from September 17.
He remains committed to his original dream of seeing his peanuts on the shelves at Waitrose.
However, he has already achieved one important goal.
"I always said I wanted my product on the shelves of Waitrose and I wanted to employ people with learning difficulties because I am dyslexic and I've always struggled," Noel says.
"I've been introduced to a company in Coleraine, the Triangle Group, who are all people with learning difficulties who are being brought into the working environment.
"They are working with me with packing, and I love it because they have such a great energy. It's a positive partnership."
Noel has had to overcome numerous challenges to get his company off the ground.
Long hours and knock-backs are regular occurrences when starting up a business, but he was determined to make a success of his idea.
"I had a low moment recently when I managed to put £60 of petrol in the car instead of diesel because I'd been working so hard," he says.
"I was going home to start doing accounts and stuff for the VAT re turn, then an email pinged through. It was from a customer who had purchased cases of our nuts and there was a paragraph and a half telling me how amazing our product is and wishing me all the best.
"It is things that like that that keep you going."