This is a follow up story for Dream Pops. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 5 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is David Greenfeld and I’m the CEO and co-founder of Dream Pops. Dream Pops is a plant-based, vegan ice cream company, leveraging proprietary technology, a 3-star Michelin chef, and plant-based ingredients to rethink the ice cream category. We aim to become the Willy Wonka of plant-based confections starting with our first product the Dream Pop and extending into adjacent better-for-you desserts, including our newest item, Dream Pops Bites.
Not only are all of our products vegan, but also they have less than 100 calories, less than 7g of total sugar (mainly derived from coconut blossom sugar; no cane sugar), and are gluten, dairy, and soy-free.
Before jumping head-first into vegan ice cream, I spent quite a bit of time in the finance world. I previously was an investment banking analyst and associate at Houlihan Lokey in their TMT and Consumer Retail divisions. While there, I was able to grasp an understanding of how businesses were built, capitalized, and operated. I decided to leverage this skill-set to pursue my dream of building my own business.
But why ice cream? It’s kind of a funny story and begins in Cartagena, Colombia. After a rocky break-up, my closest friends from college convinced me to go on a boy's trip to Cartagena. During that trip, I came across vibrant paletas shops and stands and was intrigued by the ice cream category.
With some inspiration from the booming pressed juice market, I wondered why the same model couldn’t be applied to frozen novelties and plant-based ice cream. By chance, my firm offered me the opportunity of a lifetime to move to Milan as an Associate investment banker and I was exposed to the birthplace of ice cream. I managed to come across my partner on an obscure food blog covering the future of ice cream in Europe. After reading about him, I left him multiple voicemails to which he finally answered and agreed to let me visit his lab in Berlin. After I had tried the product he developed, I knew he was onto something and convinced him to partner with us and launch what is now known today as Dream Pops in August of 2016.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
I get asked a lot why Dream Pops doesn't go the traditional CPG marketing route AKA what I call the 'CPG marketing playbook.' If you go on Instagram and search for Food & Bev brands, oftentimes you'll find Instagram grids with very bright colors, lots of still product photos, catchy quotes, giveaways, UGC, and lots of paid social ads on FB & Instagram and most recently TikTok. And while I do think there are paid strategies that are fantastic (UGC is one of them), we've seen a lot more success by investing in an omnichannel organic content strategy. We also are very hands-on, and enjoy experimenting with new platforms aggressively. 2 years ago, we started posting TikToks every day on our Dream Pops channel. Very few brands were doing this, and we eventually found our voice and became one of the larger brands on the platform. I remember many folks telling us that we were wasting our time and that TikTok was for Gen Z and dance videos, 2 years later, most brands are now investing in contextual TikTok content strategies.
Since we last talked, here are some recent performance highlights:
One of the fastest-growing plant-based ice cream & novelty brands in the US
Differentiation: Proprietary flash freezing technology for Dream Pops & Dream Bites products (patented processes & designs which mimic the texture of dairy) and unique pouch & slim cup packaging
Launched new brand refresh, packaging, and product suite in February 2020
Dream Pops was included in the Forbes 30 Under 30 class of 2020 for the next generation of Food & Beverage brands to watch
Closed over 3,000 doors since June 2019, including Whole Foods, Krogers, Wegmans, etc
Added 3 total Whole Foods Regions (Sopac, Rocky Mountains, Southwest) since June 2019
Avg. 10-12 U/S/W/SKU across the current distribution network
First to market vertical freezers available for stores/marketing support
Vertically integrated supply chain & factory
Just launched new product Dream Bites in Berry Dreams, Vanilla Sky, Birthday Cake, Cookie Dough, and Peanut Butter
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
As a CEO, days can be full of challenges, failures, and fire drills. There is a famous phrase by William Shakespeare that reminds me of what it can be like some days launching a brand and creating something that can withstand the test of time “Though this is madness, yet there is a method in 't.
Know your why, believe in your brand, and don't be afraid to try a million different ways to illustrate your brand's story on social, because one day, it will get the right consumers to start listening, and little by little, you'll build a tribe around your brand.
So I wanted to pass along some advice -- or methods I've learned the last 5 years about looking beyond the madness and getting to the next level:
Think in 5-year increments. Building a CPG brand takes TIME. Stop reading the headlines and put in the work. You need to build your brand, community, and business one product, one customer, and one interaction at a time. Roll up your sleeves, and get going! (Read Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz. He talks about building Starbucks one cup of coffee at a time. This is the mindset if you want to build a legacy brand.)
Sometimes losses ARE wins. We had early No's from retailers, investors, and foodservice partners -- who at the time seemed like they'd change our business. Had we gotten some of these wins, we actually may have gone out of business / not had the ability to support them. Perspective is everything.
Tell your story. EVERYWHERE. We are living in the golden age of CPG and have access to stadiums of eyeballs through supercomputers in the palms of our hands. FIND THE ORGANIC REACH -- and optimize for your medium. Are you strong on video? Audio? Are you great on podcasts? Are you funny? Can you dance? Are you a great writer - Linkedin? Push for the volume of content, test and learn, share your narrative (consistently) and start now!
Your margins don't have to be perfect when you start. Your product, however, needs to be. Don't try to optimize for gross margins at the expense of the integrity of your product early b/c of investor pressure. Make sure THERE IS A PATHWAY to 40% - 50% gross margins - but remember that economies of scale play in as you gain distribution, buy more raw materials, and scale the company.
Don't forget to have fun.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Build the next Hersheys, Mars, but all plant-based.
Build the willy wonka of plant-based confectionary.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Some of my favorite books in general:
- Startup Playbook
- Invisible Influence
- Zero to One
- Creativity Inc.
- Perennial Seller
- Dear Founder
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Building Next-Generation Brands
First, you need a story. Without a story, you're just another ice cream company, protein bar, or chocolate bar brand. When we started Dream Pops, we didn’t imagine a spontaneous trip to Colombia and a chance encounter with a vibrant paleta stand would offer penetrating clarity into the future of food. But, through the vessel of frozen fruit pops, whose appearance and flavor hypnotized us, we were inspired to brighten the confection world. Ice cream has remained irresistibly delicious, but there's no question that most options in your frozen freezer aisle at the grocery store are undeniably unhealthy. Our goal was to create a healthy, vegan, plant-based indulgence so your household didn't have to compromise health and taste.
The second thing a brand needs to have is a face. When I say face, what I mean is that humans connect with humans, not the packaging, typography, or word-marks. If you're a founder, team of founders, etc., -- show your face, or at least give transparency, if you can!
Third, consumers want brands with authenticity! Consumers value authenticity when deciding which brands they support. They expect brands to have a consistent, genuine identity throughout every aspect of the customer experience, from marketing and advertising to customer support. This authenticity can transcend all facets of social media: on Tik Tok, show the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day processes, on Instagram, show your team's faces and behind the scenes, and on LinkedIn, get raw about your failures, your victories, and what's on your mind. Consumers want to feel like brands are building a relationship with them as individuals, not just as consumers.
I'll leave you with a few final thoughts on brand building. Know you're why, believe in your brand, and don't be afraid to try a million different ways to illustrate your brand's story on social, because one day, it will get the right consumers to start listening, and little by little, you'll build a tribe around your brand.
Choosing Hero Product:
When we initially launched Dream Pops we started with 5 SKU's: Chocolate Lion, Vanilla Matcha, Berry Dreams, Coconut Latte, and Mango Rosemary. These initial hero products were frankly chosen because they were our favorite products that we could make -- and we all enjoyed consuming them. 3-5 SKU's is typically what I would recommend for any brand starting. Often when you go above that number, you start overwhelming the customer and can have SKU cannabilization - as opposed to incremental sales.
There's a fantastic Malcolm Gladwell Ted Talk from his book "The Tipping Point" called Choice, Happinness and Spaghetti Sauce - which I highly recommend watching. It goes into detail on consumer psychology, and how customers hate having too many options. K.I.S.S. or Keep it simple stupid - might be one of the best pieces of advice here. Something most people ALSO don't talk about is that EVERY SINGLE SKU is its own supply chain. When you begin thinking about innovation, remember that every time you add a new SKU, there are new raw materials, inputs, costs, and manufacturing processes associated with these SKU's. I've heard many stories of brands going out of business because the founding team wanted to be everything to everyone. Less SKU's = simpler supply chains.
An even bigger win is when those new SKUs all have similar foundational recipes - hence there are only a few additional ingredients to each base, making for an easier innovation pipeline. So how did we land on these new flavors? DATA + GUT. We started pulling data from retailers, explored top-performing items across all indulgent categories, and also thought about a commercial appeal for the masses. Additionally, we went to our local favorite ice cream chains and kept asking what the top sellers were. Eventually, our new flavor selection was staring us right in the face. We ran a few initial tests, and after tasting the samples knew we had our winners!
Where can we go to learn more?
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