Nothing but collaboration: The Nothing Else muesli bar giving universities something to chew on

A healthy muesli bar development at AUT is opening doors for all kinds of collaboration, across academia and industry. 

“There’s so much talent sitting around in these universities. They are all in their silos,” says Dave Brown. As a lecturer and creative director in Ad Creativity at AUT he is going against the grain, developing the Nothing Else brand from a collaboration process involving nutrition professors, food manufacturers and creative agencies.

The latest product, Low GI Bar, is the result of four years of product development involving PHD student Mary Yan and Mangere bakery AB Foods. It was a rigorous research and testing process, including specialised blind taste testings and glycemic index measuring before they “finally cracked the code”.

The bar with eight natural ingredients achieved a 4-star health rating and can last 9 months on the shelf. It is poised to reap the benefits of an increased demand for low GI foods, which is currently a keen interest in food technology and nutrition circles.

It is currently sold at AUT cafes but the next, and most exciting, stage is to see how Brown’s students will build a platform for commercial entry outside of university. It’s a completely real world experience. “Something that has not be done before, as far as we are aware globally.”

Partner AB Foods was Nothing Else’s first supporter and is willing to fund the best promotional ideas the students come up with. There has also been some funding from Callaghan Research Group and AUT Enterprises Ltd (AUTEL), a commercialisation arm of the university. And Nick Worthington of Colenso BBDO is keeping an eye on the project.

“When we do projects, we normally do them for brands under the umbrella of some other brand agency. So they’re never really real,” says Brown. “Ad agencies judge them by how creative their work is. But to have something where they can actually create something and have them as one example in their portfolio . . . that are showing good, intelligent creative thinking is a new area no other course can provide.”

Advertising a real product, in collaboration with real brands, has potential for students’ work to be measured on how they affect sales. Since May the unprompted sales at AUT’s cafes have averaged 110 bars a week and Brown is excited to see how far the bars will go with clever promotion.

The latest assignment is for students to develop a website so customers can buy the product direct online. The end goal is to be distributed in supermarkets – “the final battle ground”. With AB Food’s experience with big FMCG brands, Brown sees this as a realistic end goal.

“We believe we can always give it a go. We feel like here is no reason why we can’t knock on the door.”

Brown hopes the brand will be placed in the university curriculum, with assignments for each stage over academic years – whether that is developing new products, technology or social media tactics.

With no budget there is an emphasis on creative ideas. An earlier Nothing Else product, natural nuts, took on a guerilla-esque marketing campaign when students “crashed” into lecture theatres, handing-out products in underpants with  ‘Real Nuts’ and “Nothing Else’ written across them.

Other Nothing Else products, including Anzac biscuits and bottled water, have proven that product projects work well across disciplines, including PR and food technology. With AUT’s Culinary Arts school there is already a food culture in place to cultivate this kind of learning. In particular Brown has partnered with Elaine Rush, an AUT Professor of Nutrition.

Although he says there is “absolutely” scope for other universities and projects to work in real world collaboration it isn’t always easy. “You have to get people working together and to try and be flexible.”

And it’s the working with others that has helped develop a genuine brand identity for Nothing Else. “There is quite a lot of trust that can be engineered behind the bar because it’s all about being upfront.”