NUU Alimentos – Brazilian UN Best Small Business: Good For All
Sustainability is one of the main ingredients in Rafaela Gontijo’s recipe for building NUU Alimentos – the name is a tribute to the classic Minas Gerais expression “nuu,” an abbreviation for ours, and also portrays a natural product, without gluten, dyes, flavoring, and no rush. The venture that began in Patos de Minas - MG, one of the birthplaces of Brazilian agribusiness, started in 2015 when Rafaela decided to change her position in a large company and undertake. Inspired by the flavor of the cheese bread named "pão de queijo", which appeared at the table on her raising farm, she made her company synonymous with quality and zeal for nature.
The business that started small, with the sale of "pão de queijo" at product fairs in Rio de Janeiro, gained more and more customers and conquered large markets, chains, and coffee shops in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Espírito Santo. In a short time, the tapioca stick, made with just three ingredients – milk, flour, and cheese – was added to the main recipe.
Startup part of Conscious Capitalism the company won a UN award and recently entered the selection of the 50 companies in the world to have the title "UN Best Small Business: Good For All." "When I had my twin daughters, I realized that I needed to build a business that would leave a better future for them. Climate change is already there, and their generation will be the first big affected by global warming. We know the food industry is part of this problem, but our purpose is to understand how we can be part of the solution."
The recipes developed in partnership with chef and partner Erik Nako refer to preparations that we would have liked to have made at home but didn't have time. On the packaging, developed by designer Ian Lenz, Rafaela's husband, the list of ingredients highlighted with the slogan "Ingredients, or rather, protagonists of our history," such as cheese, milk, eggs, starch, water, butter, salt, and only.
NUU is carbon neutral, and to assist in calculating greenhouse gas emissions, Rafaela relied on the knowledge and expertise of Way Carbon and Amigos do Clima. The way to reach the result is from the gases emitted by dairy farming to the oven where the cheese bread finishes in the consumer's home. The total was 585 tons of gases by the end of 2021, which have already offset preserving the Amazon Forest in Paragominas, Pará.
The expectation is for the inauguration of the new factory in September, also located in Patos de Minas, with a production capacity 500% greater than the current circulation (100 tons per month). To raise the structure in sustainable ways and put the production line in full swing, the mining company invested 3.5 million reais. The new headquarters has 210 photovoltaic energy boards (210 modules of 445 wp - 93.45kWp, savings of approximately 1,8 thousand euros/month in energy), rainwater collection of 10 thousand liters and a concrete floor for water absorption, cesspool filter for effluent treatment, glass windows for natural light, thermo-acoustic tile to keep the temperature 8 degrees below the external area and compost bin on land for organic waste, in addition to having 100% compensation for packaging by the "Eu Reciclo" seal.
The choice of suppliers is also a fundamental part of the process. The farms are a maximum of 40 kilometers away from the headquarters. "As we work with a chain of small rural producers, we have four points for eligibility: legality, proximity to the factory, product quality, and sustainability," reveals Rafaela Gontijo. The company has a supplier development ranking made in partnership with Invista Foods. The model requires a primary analysis and a checklist. If the small producer has a score above 70, he can be a partner of NUU and go through a training program to adapt to sustainability principles.
The training projects reached Embrapa, the Brazilian public agricultural research corporation. NUU has passed the Sustainable Rural program funded by White International Development and will select a raw milk cheese farm to transition from traditional, uncertified production to certified, low-carbon, regenerative production. The idea is to replicate the model farm in over 2,500 properties in the Cerrado Mineiro region. "Being sustainable in capitalist culture is challenging because it involves having suppliers that are also sustainable (or developing from scratch). From soil to plate. But I don't see any other way of eating, working side by side with nature, and not against it", adds Rafaela.
About Rafaela Gontijo
Born into a family linked to agribusiness - her father is a forestry engineer and her mother a lawyer in the sector - Rafaela Gontijo usually says she grows with the earth under her fingernail. She has a degree in International Relations and has held executive positions in large companies for years. Her flair for entrepreneurship came from her cheese bread passion, which she only enjoyed on her parents' farm. The idea of taking a rustic experience, inside a bag, to as many people as possible made NUU come to life. The brand that has women in its body of employees primarily has been outlining a model of the regenerative industry - neutral carbon, appreciation of small producers, a factory with the circular economy, packaging compensation, among other highlights. "I strongly believe in holistic management, in companies that heal. This vision of care is characteristic of the feminine. We arrived as a society was a sum of mostly male decisions. In addition to relying on women's eyes to build conscientious companies, I believe that as a female founder, I must provide opportunities for more women to have the voice they deserve in the job market", concludes Rafaela.