As summer approaches, everyone is thinking about warm-weather delights and ice cream is very much at the top of that list. Yet this ultimate summer treat isn’t always the healthiest option to reach for, especially if you’ve have food restrictions. But now you can “re-think” your frosty options.
George Haymaker III of Re: THINK Ice Cream has come up with a way to indulge your sweet tooth without any guilt. Created in Napa Valley in 2018, Re:THINK is keto-friendly, diabetic-friendly and contains no sugar alcohol. It’s also made with whey protein, green tea extract and prebiotic fiber, giving you some nutritional boosts with your craving.
We chatted with George about how Re:THINK came about, what’s in it, how it’s “good” ice cream (hint: a food scientist was involved!), and what’s coming up next (packaging delights abound!)
You started Re:THINK Ice Cream after recovering from pain pills and alcohol addiction. What inspired you to go with ice creams versus another different kind of sweet indulgence?
Ice cream was a childhood (and adult) favorite. I’ve always wanted to indulge, but now as an adult, I wanted to do so more responsibly. I searched for a healthier ice cream that still tasted like ice cream, but I couldn’t find one. So, I felt like there was an opportunity to create a business around it in addition to personal enjoyment.
How do you manage to find this “better for you” combination of healthy ingredients without sacrificing taste? Are there any unusual ingredients or techniques that make this different than other ice creams on the market?
Well, if I told you that, that would give away our secret! That is the challenge, it’s very difficult to reduce sugar and fat in ice cream, and still create authentic taste and texture. Making ice cream is like baking, it’s very finicky, and ingredient balance is critical. The magic of ice cream is in the base mix, not the actual flavoring, although using high-quality flavorings is a must if you are seeking premium taste. The base mix is 98% of the volume in a flavor; it is the same generally across all flavors, so that is where all the work must be done to deliver great taste and texture.
You used a food scientist to create Re:THINK can you elaborate?
Yes, we did. A food scientist is needed to understand how ingredients relate to one another in the ice cream manufacturing process. Finding a food scientist that works specifically with ice cream is also important since it’s unique. When creating Re:THINK, I determined the taste and texture we wanted to deliver, and guidelines for the health attributes we want to provide, and the food scientist helps make that happen through the recipe design process.
When did you decide to start selling your product?
We went to market in July 2018 but it was a “soft” entry, meaning we didn’t really start to gain store presence until May 2019. At that point, we had over 200 retail locations selling our product, today there are 450 locations.
What were the early days of business like?
It was a slow and steady build. I had never run a CPG brand before, so there was a lot to learn as far as what it takes to create awareness, trial, and conversion with the consumer. There’s a lot of marketing that goes into taking a consumer from not knowing about your brand to being a loyal customer. It’s time-consuming and not inexpensive.
What has been the hardest part of launching a product so far?
As most entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s raising capital to keep going and getting to scale—the same story with us. I have self-funded to date, but now we need capital from others to keep going towards the next threshold. The other challenge
was realizing we needed to tweak some things about our product and packaging, which we have just done and will be launching soon.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
From a sales perspective not at all really. We have the advantage of selling our products at grocery stores where people are still shopping, so that has been fortuitous for us. It has however had an impact on our marketing strategy. We decided to try and turn a very difficult situation into a positive one by donating 100,000 single-serve cups to hospital workers, we are about half-way through doing so at this time. Being a healthier ice cream, we wanted to partner with the health care industry anyway, so the pandemic has served as the impetus to do so in a deeper way. We hope to sell our ice cream in hospital cafeterias and have it on patient menus.
What has been your proudest moment as a founder?
The best moments are the little ones, like hearing from someone that really loves your product. One of our ice cream’s many health attributes is that it’s diabetic- friendly, meaning it’s much safer for diabetics to consume than traditional ice cream because we use a low-glycemic sweetener. We hear from many diabetics who are so happy that we made an ice cream that they can enjoy. Bringing joy to people through our ice cream is the best part of this business.
How do you maintain balance between work and life?
I’m in recovery for addiction, so daily balance is what it’s all about. I take life one day at a time in attempt to keep things simple and focused, and making each day as good as it can possibly be. This business is also my spiritual pursuit, I created it as a platform to give back and help others on a large scale someday. Helping others is a cornerstone of recovery, as it makes us feel really good about ourselves. The better we feel about ourselves the less likely those of us in
recovery feel the desire to use a mind-altering substance.
What advice do you have for other early-stage food and beverage entrepreneurs?
Oh boy, there’s a lot! Make sure of the following:
- Your idea has a compelling case for the consumer, and unique differentiation from the competition (i.e. why are consumers going to buy your product over a competitor’s).
- Make sure the packaging pops off the shelf and has simple clear messaging as to the product’s unique attributes so that the consumer will quickly and easily know what your product is all about. (Read Foodboro’s story about trending nutrition call-outs here!)
- Make sure you have enough funding to get to the threshold where a P/E firm will invest a Series A round ($3M annual net sales). A
- Lastly make sure, absolutely sure, that you are the type of person who is suited to be an entrepreneur, look deep and hard in the mirror, it is not for the faint of heart. I could go on and on….
What can we expect next?
We are launching our new product reformulation and new packaging soon! This is the result of being in the market for over a year and realizing our product could and needed to be better, so we swallowed hard and recreated the product and packaging. We are about as excited as we can be because I honestly feel (and I know people may chuckle) that our reformulated product is the most innovative ice cream product in 50 years, and we can’t wait to share it with people. You can
look forward to seeing it in stores in July!