How plant-based ice cream startups are navigating national expansion

Amid growing interest in plant-based products, vegan ice cream startups are eyeing nationwide distribution.

Plant-based food sales grew 6% year-over-year to $7.4 billion in 2021 – and three times outpaced average food sales growth – study finds of SPINS and the Plant-Based Foods Association. Vegan ice cream, in particular, is expected to grow by 11.1% in 2021 according to Future Market Insights. In turn, many small-batch vegan creameries are increasing their sales and receiving outside funding. With this influx of cash, these companies are expanding direct-to-consumer delivery and expanding their presence at retailers.

Last week, vegan ice cream brand Sunscoop announced that it had both closed a $2 million seed funding round and, in turn, would be relaunching its DTC site. Sunscoop was launched five years ago in Smorgasburg Los Angeles and has since expanded to over 700 retail partners, including Whole Foods and Erewhon. Last year, Sunscoop increased its sales by 142% year over year.

“With our distribution growing and many opportunities ahead, we really needed to raise significant capital,” said Sunscoop founder and CEO Carli Blum. “We will use this capital to develop distribution.” Sunscoop has also stepped up its hiring, hiring a vice president of sales earlier this year.

Sunscoop – which sells coconut-based ice cream – had previously piloted DTC shipping in 2020. But the company halted the service last year after a nationwide shortage of dry ice, said Chelsea Fisher, manager. research and development at Sunscoop.

“Shipping ice cream online isn’t easy,” Blum said. “We have found a new partner.” However, some changes had to be made; “This year, we’re not going to have to build your own pack. We are going to have more pre-bundled packs.

With this latest funding, Sunscoop has hired a public relations team and invested more in marketing. The idea behind the relaunch of this website is to invest more in digital marketing opportunities. For example, Sunscoop plans to create an affiliate link program. “Our main focus is still retail to increase retail sales, but it will be really great to have DTC and see the ROI of some of the marketing campaigns that we will be working on,” Fisher said.

So far, Sunscoop has centered its retail strategy primarily on healthier, more expensive grocers like Whole Foods, Erewhon, Gelson’s and MOM’s Organic Market. The company plans to continue its retail expansion this year, but hopes to enter more traditional grocers in 2023.

To broaden its appeal, the company is working to expand its low-cost items.

“Our product was generally more upscale,” Blum said. “It currently ranges from $7.99 to $9.99, but this year we will be rolling it out nationwide at $7.99.”

Sunscoop is also launching new products beyond the pint this year, including a novelty product in August. Traditionally, novelties are all pre-packaged frozen treats like bars, cones or popsicles. Blum declined to share exact product details on the new release, but said the company is talking to both Kroger and Target about the new release for potential placement next year.

“Newness is a great way to penetrate conventional retailers as well,” Blum said. “It’s easier to get a no from a pint, but when you introduce them to something new, you’re more likely to get a placement because it’s something totally unique that they’ve never had before. seen before.”

Like Sunscoop, LA-based vegan scoop shop Dear Bella is also launching a DTC site that will go live in early May. Dear Bella sells alternative coconut and oatmeal ice cream, often with Taiwanese-inspired flavors, in a single storefront.

Dear Bella co-founder Alice Cherng said demand and sales had outgrown the storefront, but she and co-founder Belinda Wei wanted to avoid brick-and-mortar expansion. Instead, Dear Bella decided that focusing solely on its direct-to-consumer channel would give it more ownership and control.

However, shipping cold perishables presents many obstacles. Cherng explained that it was initially difficult to find the packaging in which to ship the product.

Traditionally, ice cream is shipped in Styrofoam to keep it cool. But the plant-based creamery grew concerned about the environmental impact of the material and instead landed on a multi-ply paper product. “We really wanted to find another option,” Cherng said.

Securing enough dry ice to launch the national expedition – and a secure container to store it – also proved difficult. Dear Bella first sourced dry ice independently, with Cherng even going to stores like the Smart & Final Food Warehouse to pick up dry ice herself. Now the company is bringing in a partner to secure the material and store it in a container that took five months to arrive due to supply chain issues.

Meanwhile, other vegan ice cream brands are successfully growing through partnering with retailers.

Holding company Jaback Group last week launched almond-based ice cream brand Klimon through a retail partnership with Walmart. The launch will begin in select Walmart stores, but a nationwide release is expected within the year.

In a press release about the launch, Jaback Group CEO and Founder Alex Cotraviwat said he hopes the launch of Klimon will help Jaback Group “continue to make its mark on the plant-based food revolution. “.

As companies like Sunscoop, Klimon and Dear Bella consider national expansion, they are also looking to attract a new set of customers. Cherng said while many of Dear Bella’s customers are vegan, she believes there are growing opportunities for the company to tap into “flexitarians” and people with allergies and intolerances. lactose.

“There is definitely both an increased awareness of the effect of dairy products, as well as an increased overall acceptance of plant-based ice cream,” Cherng said. “It certainly wasn’t the case, I would say, five years ago.”

About Thomas B. Countryman

Check Also

Despite a bumpy road, New Haven ice cream shop opens on Orange Street

NEW HAVEN — It was a rocky road to get there, but after being pushed …