NEW YORK — Two childhood friends with roots in the food and beverage sector are building an ice cream brand for the foodie revolution.
Luke Christianson and Avery Henderson last year launched Marco Sweets & Spices, which offers a variety of globally inspired ice creams. With a line of pints featuring different flavor combinations found around the world, from Thai Coco-Lime to Moroccan Honey Nut, the brand is tapping into consumer excitement for unique culinary experiences.
Prior to launching the brand, Mr. Christianson was a mergers and acquisitions analyst. He knew interest in world cuisine was growing and saw an opportunity to translate it into the ice cream category.
“The major ice cream brands that are taking up the vast majority of shelf space are offering the same 6 to 10 flavor profiles they always have,” he said. “They’ve repackaged those profiles in a million different ways and called it innovation.”
An avid traveler and self-professed foodie, he began creating flavors that would appeal to modern consumers seeking more international fare. Varieties include Aztec chocolate, Turkish mocha, vanilla chai, ginger Dreamsicle, spicy PB caramel and Provençal strawberry.
He began testing the ice creams in grocery stores throughout New York City, where they were met with a positive response. That feedback led him to reach out to Julian Plyter, a pastry chef and founder of New York’s Melt Bakery, to help scale the prototypes. Mr. Henderson, a marketing veteran, also joined the team to craft Marco’s brand identity.
“It is designed around the modern epicurean consumer, the individual that is seeking out new flavor experiences,” Mr. Henderson said. “The larger piece of the pie we’re keeping an eye on to make sure we can scale is the individual that’s dipping their toe into the pond of new flavors. They may consider themselves to be a foodie but may not have as many outlets to express that where they live. Ice cream is a really approachable format for them to try new types of food and open themselves up to new cultures.”
Marco originally was intended to debut as a retail brand last summer. When plans to launch in specialty grocers throughout New York were thwarted by the pandemic, the founders shifted gears to direct-to-consumer (DTC). But it was no small feat, given the infrastructure needed to do so, Mr. Henderson said.
“It was Murphy’s law,” he said. “We were launching at the height of the pandemic. It was the middle of the election, so the postal system and distribution centers were struggling. Getting product to people when it was as hot as possible and when logistics systems were overloaded was a comedy of errors.”
Choosing the right partners was key to overcoming those early challenges, Mr. Christianson added.
“I learned not to linger with someone or something that isn’t working,” he said. “Once we found the right partners and worked through some of the growing pains, we realized DTC is a great platform to teach people about the brand.”
The last-minute pivot opened more avenues for customer acquisition and building awareness. The press component that came with the switch to DTC was a part of the brand’s success.
“We garnered more press than if we had a small regional footprint,” Mr. Henderson said. “We took those case studies, built trial around them, built continued endorsement from them and then parlayed that into retail.”
Marco launched in retail early this year and currently is available in grocery stores throughout the Northeast, Texas, California, Utah and, soon, Colorado. The team is focused on expanding its reach in those geographies. National retail distribution is on the horizon.
“We’ve had a lot of success quickly in grocery stores,” Mr. Henderson said. “We had a really bad hand dealt against us when we started the company, but we’re big proponents of the idea that you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. You just have to get in, figure out what’s working and what isn’t and keep improving from there.”