QUINCY, MASS. — Inspired by the phenomenal growth of Greek yogurt, childhood friends Drew Harrington and Amanda Klane in 2011 launched Yasso, a brand of frozen Greek yogurt novelties, which today may be found in more than 16,000 stores nationwide. The company has achieved a compound annual growth rate that’s “north of 60%” since its debut, Mr. Harrington said.
|Drew Harrington, co-founder of Yasso|
“In the dessert category, no brand was really fulfilling the best of both worlds in terms of clean ingredients and a healthier nutritional profile while delivering on taste,” Mr. Harrington told Food Business News. “There were brands out there that delivered on the promise of diet, but no one was ever truly better-for-you, and from day one we’ve never considered ourselves a diet brand. We’ve always considered ourselves better-for-you and delivering on the taste profile people expect from a dessert offering.”
The latest spate of innovation from Yasso includes the first-of-its-kind frozen Greek yogurt sandwich, featuring dark chocolate wafers, in vanilla and mint varieties. The brand also expanded its lineup of stick bars with three new flavors: toffee caramel chocolate chip, black raspberry chocolate chip and s’mores. Each of the new products contains 120 calories or less with 5 grams of protein per serving.
“Our premise is ‘dessert with benefits,’” Mr. Harrington said. “We feel there are a lot of new exciting opportunities with innovation and concepts with new products, forms and flavors that we have barely scratched the surface on when it comes to the dessert category as a whole. That’s how we view all of our innovation moving forward, in terms of being able to provide more dessert with benefits to more people.”
In a recent interview, Mr. Harrington shared business insights, challenges and advice for entrepreneurs in the food industry.
Food Business News: What inspired you to introduce a sandwich format?
Mr. Harrington: What we were hearing from consumers at our sampling tours and on social media was that they were loving the bars, and we were continuing to grow our consumer base, but I think people are looking at Yasso to be a one-stop shop for all of their novelty needs. That led us to expand from the stick bar offering to add other novelties to the portfolio. We added (frozen) candy bars in the portfolio in 2015, and 2017 was our opportunity to launch the sandwich.
It took us a solid two years to get comfortable with the product that we wanted to launch. We didn’t want another “me, too” offering. We homed in on the wafer, and that’s really what makes it unique. When you look at our offering in the market, it doesn’t sacrifice on taste. It really delivers a lot of indulgence for 120 calories. What allows us to do that is a unique, innovative wafer that is more like a standard cookie rather than a traditional ice cream wafer. And that’s a consumer insight that we saw through a lot of innovation studies and questionnaires that we did.
What’s the secret behind your incredible growth?
Mr. Harrington: Even with all of our growth, we run it like family business. We go out and talk to consumers in the street. We have a national sampling tour where we give away products. We’ll give away over a million samples this year alone in markets like New England, New York, Miami, Chicago. We enjoy being that close and always tied in to the consumer … that’s always inherently been part of our business.
We’ve always kept an open ear to the consumers. When we launched, we had fruit flavors, like strawberry, blueberry and raspberry, and people enjoyed them, but in going to the events we heard people when they would come up to the truck as Amanda and I were handing out samples, and they would ask if we have chocolate fudge. The two of us went back to the office and said, “That’s a great idea…” And the next year we launched mint chocolate chip, and all of a sudden the brand just exploded.
Since Yasso launched, a number of emerging brands have introduced better-for-you frozen desserts. How do you stay competitive?
Mr. Harrington: We truly believe we pioneered the better-for-you frozen dessert category. We were the first on the market before any of those brands. Competition is a good thing. I think it allows us all to get better and serve the consumer.
We’re increasing repeat rates because the brand delivers overwhelmingly on the promise of dessert. For us, that’s our use of inclusions like chocolate chips and sweet and savory swirls in our sea salt caramel products, and with our sandwiches, the use of the chocolate wafer. It delivers on the taste profile you would expect from ice cream. The difference between Yasso and those other brands is our use of real Greek yogurt, which allows us to have a great nutritional profile and a creamy, tasty product.
What is your advice for entrepreneurs in the food industry?
Mr. Harrington: Whether you have a partner or you don’t, I think you need to keep an open mind and be open to advice from others. That’s something that Amanda and I actively seek not only from each other but from other mentors in this space. We have surrounded ourselves with good partners, whether they be suppliers or manufacturers or investors. We’re always asking people their advice, consulting them on their ideas, asking what they think of our ideas. Just gathering that information and not just operating in a vacuum.
At the end of the day, you always have to trust your own instincts because that’s what got you here in the first place, but I think when you take the approach to be a little more collaborative with your partners or investors or your own consumers, I think you end up with a better product that suits the needs of more people. When I look back at all the years and all the trials and challenges, I think we got through the hardest parts with help of other people. I think when you go at it alone, it makes it that more difficult.
What challenges do you face?
Mr. Harrington: For us, the challenge is always around growth. … For us that created challenges around manufacturing because we couldn’t keep up with demand. How do we work with our partners to increase production time at factories to create more products? How do we reasonably bring in more money to fuel growth and work with investors in a sensible way so we can introduce the brand to more consumers on a national level? How do you get the right people on the team?
We’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have really great team members who have worked in this space, whether they have C.P.G. experience or knew how to build out supply chain or knew how to build out the financial organization and accounting mechanisms that come with a fast-growing C.P.G. brand.
You also faced challenges while developing the initial recipes.
Mr. Harrington: It took Amanda and me about two years. We tried to start on our own, and we actually went to ice cream camp. Believe it or not, that’s a real thing. … But one thing we realized when we left there is we weren’t good at making ice cream, so we then took what we had at that point and worked with the University of Nebraska and developed formulas with them.
Now as we’ve grown we’ve brought our research and development and our food chemist in house, and we have a great team member, Katie Mason, who developed all the new items for this year and has been a great addition to the team.
Probably the most fun Amanda and I have all week is every Tuesday when we sit with Katie, and the three of us do an innovation meeting. We look at the Yasso brand, what’s happening in the market, we look at recent consumer feedback we’ve gotten on Instagram and emails and whatnot, and depending on the project we’re working on, we’re always gearing up for new launches.We enjoyed in the early days working with different consultants in the lab, but when we started to bring innovation in house in 2014 is when we started to accelerate growth. I think it’s important as a food company to have innovation in house; it allows you to be nimble and react more quickly.