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Noisy Snacks boss Noel bangs the drum for people with disabilities

'If someone with a learning disability does the same job thousands of times, they won't make one mistake'

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Noel Allen

Noel Allen

Noel Allen Noisy Snacks feature. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-07-2020

Noel Allen Noisy Snacks feature. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-07-2020

Noel Allen

When he was diagnosed with dyslexia as a teenager, Ballygowan businessman Noel Allen vowed he would do everything he could to support people with disabilities and learning difficulties.

But when lockdown threatened to derail the launch of his luxury snack business Noisy Snacks' new range, the 35-year-old, who lives in Co Down with his wife Sarra (31), had to come up with a plan B very quickly.

"We had advance orders for the new product lines. A lot of people were interested in buying and selling our products, having sampled them at food fairs," Noel explains.

"Lockdown happened the week after the launch and lots of businesses had to cut back, which was very difficult for us, especially with new products."

Fortunately, Noel had been working with Invest NI to develop the company's website, which allowed him to quickly set up an online selling option.

"We were lucky as this was part of the plan anyway, but we had to speed the process up," he says.

"The online business was launched at the beginning of June, resulting in a 540% increase in sales that month.

Noel, who previously worked for a successful energy drinks brand, founded Noisy Snacks in 2018 and spent the next two years doing extensive market research at national food fairs to develop a new range of snacks.

Now, despite the teething problems caused by lockdown, business is booming, with production flat-out since the introduction of Covid-19 restrictions.

Noel, however, is motivated by more than creating a successful business. He's also passionate about including people with disabilities in his company - and he wants other firms to do the same.

He's convinced that everyone has a skill they excel at. It's just a matter of finding out what that skill is.

"My mum's a teacher and I struggled through primary school. She tried to highlight this to the school and wanted me to be tested for dyslexia," he says.

It wasn't until he was in high school that he was finally diagnosed, in the meantime finding ways to cope and focusing on what he was good at.

"To this day I still misspell words. It just happens. I used to put a disclaimer on emails which said, 'Give me a break, I'm dyslexic' when I started out in my career," he explains.

While it was a struggle at the time, the experience has since become a source of strength for Noel, who describes himself as "head noisemaker" for his company and who since 2018 has worked with the social enterprise Alternative Angels, which works with young people with learning difficulties.

In the early days of Noisy Snacks, Noel set up a production line and employed young people to assemble the tubs his products come in.

While production has since moved to Great Britain, thanks to expansion there's more work than ever.

"It (helping people with learning difficulties) is quite a personal thing for me," Noel told Sunday Life.

"We still work with Alternative Angles, which is a support system for young adults with learning difficulties or special needs.

"It creates skill-based exercises, enabling the young people to work, and places them in cafes or in supermarkets.

"I started working with Alternative Angles in the early days of the business, teaching the young adults the assembly process, setting up colour-coded production lines and different work stations and getting them uniforms."

Noel's ultimate aim is to set up a Noisy Snacks manufacturing base here, but in the meantime business relationships with the likes of Amazon are keeping him busy.

"I say when I first set up the business my number one goal was to go out and make some noise and prove I could do this," he says.

"I want to employ someone with a learning difficulty because I'm dyslexic.

"That's why it's great to be working with these young people."

Noel started making tubs for the snacks in his dining room, setting up the business two years ago after selling the products in a trial run at St George's Market.

The Noisy Snacks name is a reference to how the product works as shaking the pouch, and therefore making noise, releases extra flavour into the nuts, corn, chickpeas or broad beans.

He explains: "Noise is our secret ingredient because every time you shake a Noisy Snack, you activate the extra flavours at the bottom of the bag. Most snack companies use 4% flavouring but we use 8%."

This has become a unique selling point and Noisy Snacks has been a huge hit at food fairs around the UK.

To spread the word, people at fairs were encouraged to have a go on a specially designed Noisy Snacks drumkit - with mixed results.

"We'd get some fantastic drummers and it was an X Factor moment when they played, whereas others were just having a laugh," Noel says.

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Noel Allen Noisy Snacks feature. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-07-2020

Noel Allen Noisy Snacks feature. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-07-2020

Noel Allen Noisy Snacks feature. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-07-2020

Since launching, he has made important changes according to his customers' desires.

All tubs are now 100 percent recyclable and there's a range of flavours to suit every taste.

"I wanted a snack that offered a fun, memorable experience," Noel told me.

"I've great memories from childhood of products like Lucozade and Iron Bru which, were great products with great advertising."

With its combination of noise, flavour, smell and visual appeal, Noisy Snacks caters to the more sophisticated consumer.

The new range includes dry-roasted peanuts, roasted broad beans, coated chickpeas and crunchy corn, all of which are designed to appeal to particular lifestyles and can be paired with everything from beer, to gin and prosecco.

"I want people to try adventurous flavours like our red curry and coconut corn, peri-peri mango chickpeas and beef brisket broad beans," Noel says.

With products now available in Spar and Applegreen and one created specially for Aldi, Noel wants to share the spoils of his success and is an advocate for inclusivity when it comes to the benefits of employing people with disabilities or learning difficulties.

"Everybody has their own skill that they can be the champion of. These young people remind me how good everybody can be," he says.

"You can ask a young adult with a learning difficulty to do the same job 1,000 times and they will do it without ever making a mistake because of their learning difficulty - they can't fail.

Noel Allen

"Most of us would be lucky to get the task right 60 times out of 1,000.

"I could encourage everyone to find their skill, find out what they're really good at and find a role that will cater to that."

Noel also wants Noisy Snacks to be on the shelves at Waitrose.

While the products aren't currently stocked there, he almost achieved his goal - kind of.

"I was in London and put a tub of Noisy Snacks on a shelf in Waitrose because I wanted to see what it looked like, so technically I have achieved my dream," Noel (left) joked.

"We're a fun brand. Of course, we are trying to sell products and make money, but the message is: don't to all the noise - go out and make your own noise.

"That's what we live by in the business."

Noisy Snacks are available from Spar, Applegreen, Amazon and www.noisysnacks.com. For a 20 percent discount, use the code 'NoisySundayLife' at the website. For more information about the work of Alternative Angels, visit www.trianglehousing.org.uk/employment


Belfast Telegraph