Founder Focus: Katherine Backman, Co-Founder of Nora’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream

Continue reading Founder Focus: Katherine Backman, Co-Founder of Nora’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream

In 2016, while Katherine Backman was working in human resources at an automotive company, and her partner, Tyler Bothwell, was employed at a protein-bar start-up, they started spit-balling ideas for a venture they could run together. Soon after, his company went out of business, and she switched to a plant-based diet, which resulted in a very delicious moment of synergy.

“We were trying all the ice creams on the market, and we were really underwhelmed with the options available,” says Backman. The two splurged on a Cuisinart and blender, ripping through recipes found online, and eventually settled on the cashew-cream base that fans of Nora’s Non-Dairy might recognize today. (Ed. note: Nora is their cat, not a culinarily skilled maternal grandmother.) Today, the Vancouver brand can be found in roughly 250 western retailers, including Whole Foods and Nesters Market. Here, Backman shares the surprisingly radical mandate behind the brand’s sweet beginnings — and, of course, her go-to Nora’s flavour.

My why: “When I moved to Vancouver in 2013, I became a lot more interested in the environment, partly because there’s so much nature around. I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy, which outlines how animal agriculture is affecting the climate. It really opened my eyes, because most of the general rhetoric is like, ‘Recycle!’ or, ‘Turn your water off quicker!’ It made me realize that one thing we do have control over is what we eat, and it hit me that I was really not living in line with my environmental values. We’re seeing this huge movement in the consumer-packaged goods and grocery industries towards plant-based foods, and I think it’s really inspiring that these giants have to listen to what the consumers want. In looking for more transparency and sustainable food options, we’re driving change.”

My blue-sky goal: “I saw this massive opportunity to be a part of the shift towards fewer animal products on shelves in the grocery space. I wanted to meet that demand, but also to create a product that is very similar in terms of taste and texture to what everyone already knows and loves. Ice cream is so nostalgic, and it’s something that no one really wants to give up. The problem is that they can’t find an alternative that they like as much as the real thing. So that’s kind of been my mission.”

Early challenges: “Our most challenging issue is probably production. At one point, we were so small that no co-packers would talk to us, but then others didn’t want to work with us because of the possibility of allergenic cross-contamination from our cashews.”

My proudest moment: “Hearing customer feedback like, ‘I have Nora’s in my freezer at all times!’ and ‘I’m not vegan, I just like it better than regular ice cream.’ That is the ultimate in satisfaction.”

My best lesson: “Find meaning in the business you are creating (read: don’t get into business solely to make money). The honeymoon period will wear off eventually, and it’s the meaning that will drive you forward when things inevitably get tough along the way.”

My greenest habit: “Probably eating fully plant-based. Obviously, I recycle and compost and try not to drive too much, but my diet makes the biggest impact.”

My unique strength: “This sounds cheesy, but my natural tendency towards compassion and empathy. I’ve always been a very empathetic person, and that led me to adopt a vegan lifestyle and start this mission-driven business. Focusing on my core values allows me to be a better leader and business partner.”

My late-night preoccupation: “How we differentiate our brand and our products from all of the competitors out there. Literally every ice-cream company now seems to have their own plant-based options — some at lower price points than us. From a personal perspective, I’m always trying to work on my mindset, because if my mental health is lagging then my business [is, too].”

A sustainable brand I love:Mala the Brand, which makes sustainable soy candles that come in a recyclable vessel. They plant one tree for every candle purchased.”

My favourite Nora’s flavour: “I love our chocolate peanut butter. To me, that’s just a perfect flavour.”

  • checkmark icon


  • checkmark icon


  • checkmark icon

    Made in Canada


This site does not contains affiliate links to products. We will never receive a commission for purchases made through links.