If there’s one thing Justin Woolverton has, it’s ambition: He wants to make his Halo Top brand the best-selling ice cream in America.
And if you think he’s kidding, consider this: Halo Top already has broken the $100-million-a-year mark in sales in stores across the U.S. after just a few years in business. It now ranks as America’s sixth-best-selling brand of packaged ice cream, and in one-third of its stores it’s the best-sellling brand on an absolute basis, besting even iconic brands like Ben & Jerry’s.
To top it off, many customers buy multiple pints of Halo Top, with its distinctive gold-rimmed lid, at at time. They can’t get, or eat, enough of it.
“We’re the first ice cream that people buy eight or nine pints at a time, versus one for Häagen-Dazs,” the 37-year-old founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Halo Top told brandchannel. “This is the first-ever lifestyle ice cream. You can eat it legitimately every day without breaking your calorie budget or making yourself feel bad about it.”
Why? Because the low-cal, low-sugar and high-protein Halo Top is one of those rare “healthy” ice cream products that both tastes like conventional ice cream and satisfies people looking for dietary improvements.
It has about 25 percent of the calories of regular ice cream, thanks in part to its use of sugar alcohol rather than refined sugar, and significantly more protein. It’s also available in 17 flavors and benefits both from fanatical word-of-mouth and an impressive following on social media.
That’s how Halo Top has overcome the potentially ruinous effects of many previous ice-cream-alternative products that flopped. “Mention low-cal ice cream to anyone and what they think is that it’s gross,” Woolverton acknowledged.
We chatted with Woolverton for more insights on how he’s grown the brand—and what’s next.
bc: You’re a lawyer who spent your spare time dreaming up a high-protein ice cream. Why turn your hobby into a business?
Justin Woolverton (right): I would basically blend Greek yogurt or very mild-tasting cottage cheese and add some flavoring to it and stick it in the freezer. And more people wanted to eat like me: limit sugar and increase protein, but not be afraid of fat. I saw how Chobani was storming the country so I said, “Screw it—I’m going to just run with this thing.” It was a fun challenge.
bc: It’s all about that base, correct?
Woolverton: A lot of ice cream manufacturers and local dairies don’t really even know what’s in the base they use, just that it’s a generic ice-cream mix with 16 percent fat. Where they differentiate themselves is flavoring and by over-run—how much air they whip into it. Sugar has a very important functional role—what the heck were we going to replace it with? For Halo Top, erythritol [sugar alcohol] mostly provides body, replacing the functional side of sugar.
bc: Once you landed on the formula and flavors, how did you grow so quickly and get in so many retail freezer cases?
Woolverton: We did a ton of demo-ing just to get people to try the product—free coupons and anything we could do to get it in their mouths. Once they did, they would stick with us. And then the argument was: Why would you eat regular ice cream? Halo Top tastes close enough to that, so why not make it your everyday ice cream? And if you’re really in the mood you can get a Coldstone (Creamery ice cream) every other month.
bc: Why did you choose the name Halo Top?
Woolverton: We wanted an angelic-sounding name to go with the healthy profile of the product, and we had a list of 300 possibilities. We picked the most inoffensive one we could. And who knows what it means? Who knows what ‘Starbucks’ means? But we do have a gold rim around our lids, which reminds you of an angel’s halo.
bc: What’s your growth strategy for Halo Top?
Woolverton: Right now we’re the best-selling brand of any ice cream, in absolute terms, in one-third of the stores where Halo Top is sold. And very soon, we’ll be the best-selling ice cream in the United States.
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