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Hot four under 40: James Oliver, Holy Moly

To celebrate our 40th issue, we found four smarties under 40 each doing their own thing. Here's how they did it and why they're choice.

To celebrate our 40th issue, we found four smarties under 40 each doing their own thing. Here's how they did it and why they're choice.

No, not Jamie Oliver, but close. Ice cream and gelato aficionado James Oliver trained in Italy in the craft of sweet treats and has taken the joy to the masses. 

The Holy Moly ice cream founder first came to our attention when he arrived at Idealog HQ with an ice cream cart full of the stuff. With creative flavours and nifty names such as Meringue A’tang, Mellow Pops and Waffle On, Oliver found himself surrounded by hungry people demanding the goodies.

He came up with the idea for Holy Moly in 2007 when he was working on Zest Ice Cream, another successful brand. Realising early on that to create a retail product, you’ve got to take your time and get some decent capital, Oliver focused on hospitality.

“Once I had restaurants, caterers and hotels throughout the country taking our products, it gave me time to focus on our retail offer,” Oliver says. “I started brainstorming on what was missing in a heavily populated premium ice cream category and after five years of research and development I was finally in a position to turn dreams into reality.”

The ice cream is the dreamiest of realities.

Oliver says it’s “all about the chunks, the ripples, the super creamy ice cream and the edgy attitude”.

“The goal was to create a product that not only sounds amazing, but has flavours that stand up to the description on the carton.”

His mum was a pastry chef and he acquired a passion for sweet treats from an early age.

The entrepreneur discovered gelato on a trip to Europe, at a time when such a thing didn’t really exist in New Zealand. Through family friends he was able to travel back to Italy and learn the craft of gelato.

“It was a fantastic trip. I discovered how to create great ice cream and importantly the basics of what people are looking for in a frozen dessert.”

Next up was sorting out the seven flavours that make up the Holy Moly portfolio.

“Through many messy meetings and way too many bowls of ice cream, we whittled the list down to nine. From there it was really hard to get to just seven. A whole team of tasters decided the final favourites.” (Tough gig.)

Finding the right people to work on Holy Moly has been a challenge, but Oliver says he’s incredibly proud of his team, which he believes has the passion that larger companies lack.

“And building the production side of the business to cope with demand is always going to be tricky in a fast growing manufacturing business. We have had to take on larger premises and put in place good forecasting procedures. We also have plans in place for when we outgrow our current capacity.”

Multiple parties are involved in the brand, in which Auckland entrepreneur Colin Gallagher is the majority shareholder.

How do you bring something like this to life?

“You need the ability to create thought-out practical plans that are easily executable and the willingness to do what it takes to see each idea through to fruition,” Oliver says. “Also being on your feet and in step with your customers gives you the ability to think and react quickly.”

Do it yourself

“Starting small, like the classic roadside lemonade stand or mowing the neighbour’s lawns, is all great experience. It teaches you relationship-building through hard work, gaining people’s trust and dealing with situations that don’t always go to plan. I often hear complaints that there are no jobs at the moment for young people – well, why not go and create your own business? Choose something you’re passionate about, start small, you never know what opportunities it may bring.”