NAPA VALLEY, CALIF. — In recent years, a number of healthier frozen desserts have hit supermarket shelves, promising higher protein and fewer calories than traditional ice cream; however, none sated serial entrepreneur George Haymaker III’s cravings. As a recovering alcoholic and pain pill addict, Mr. Haymaker drew comfort from his favorite sweet, creamy treat, but he quickly discovered his new habit was not a healthy one.
“I was eating a lot of sweets, eating a ton of ice cream, and I realized this was not sustainable because I was just transferring an addiction,” he said. “So I looked around for healthier treats that still tasted good and gave me the full satisfaction, and I couldn’t find an ice cream I really enjoyed, so I decided I’d make one.
“To me, if I don’t see something in the market satisfying what I feel is a need, then maybe it’s a business opportunity.”
Within the ice cream category — an $11 billion industry, according to the International Dairy Foods Association — brands marketed as healthier can be “rather icy or chalky or airy in taste and texture,” Mr. Haymaker said.
He partnered with a food scientist and personal trainer to develop a recipe for a better better-for-you ice cream, based on personal preferences and focus group insights. Two years ago, he launched Re:THINK Ice Cream, with less sugar and saturated fat and more protein, fiber and antioxidants. Most importantly, the taste and texture matched that of conventional ice cream, he said.
Recently, the company reformulated the product line to include additional benefits. Months of in-store demonstrations and event tastings led to an observation that many consumers avoid dairy products due to digestive discomfort. The new lineup is made with “tummy-friendly” lactose-free A2/A2 Dairy.
The revamped recipes also contain collagen, a trendy functional ingredient associated with beauty benefits. Sweetened with a touch of low-glycemic organic agave nectar, the ice cream is diabetic and keto-friendly, gluten-free and contains no sugar alcohols, Mr. Haymaker said. The addition of ghee delivers a decadent texture, he said.
Available online and in more than 500 retail outlets in California, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Oregon, Re:THINK Ice Cream varieties include almond with chocolate flakes, black cherry vanilla, cardamom pistachio, chocolate orange with almond butter, chocolate, coconut matcha, coffee hazelnut, lemon poppy seed, mint with chocolate flakes, strawberry with chia seed, turmeric ginger and vanilla. A serving size contains roughly 170 calories, 11 grams of fat, 7 grams of protein, 9 grams of sugar and 9 grams of net carbohydrates.
“The thing consumers don’t want to do is sacrifice on taste and texture,” Mr. Haymaker said. “They demand we give them the full satisfaction first, and then healthier is great. That’s the challenge with ice cream is to create an authentic experience that the consumer is looking for, and yet do it much more responsibly.”
Relaunching a product line during a pandemic is tricky. Trade shows and other sampling opportunities, ordinarily a reliable marketing strategy, are canceled. Shoppers are limiting grocery store trips and discovering fewer new brands. Mr. Haymaker adjusted to the current environment and devised a more effective solution for marketing the brand — by donating hundreds of thousands of servings to hospital workers in California and Oregon.
“A big part of our mission is to give back and help others,” Mr. Haymaker said. “I just drive up and down the highways and give ice cream to hospitals. What I determined was, I can sample 5,000 to 10,000 people a day by dropping off these cups at hospitals. Why would I pay 30 brand ambassadors to go out to all these different grocery stores and sample them, 50 to 60 at a time? It just occurred to me that I can sample much more quickly this way, plus we’re partnering with the health care industry and trying to get into hospital cafeterias and patient menus to provide patients and health care workers a healthier treat than they would otherwise get.”
Re:THINK Ice Cream announced its reformulation and repackaging as National Ice Cream Month kicked off July 1.
“To reinvent your product in the first two years of being out there is a big deal,” Mr. Haymaker said. “It’s painful; it’s expensive. But it’s a whole new look and feel. A whole new experience.
“Beyond that, we’re just trying to tiptoe through this thing, being very mindful that it’s not just the pandemic, it’s Black Lives Matter, too, so how much social media advertising is appropriate? When is it appropriate? What style is appropriate?
“We’re just feeling our way as everyone else is, trying to grow our brand awareness in the midst of this because we can’t stop. We’re a fledgling brand that needs to keep the momentum going.”