Startup To Scale

108. Building a Climate-Conscious Ice Cream Brand

April 19, 2023 Foodbevy Season 1 Episode 108
108. Building a Climate-Conscious Ice Cream Brand
Startup To Scale
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Startup To Scale
108. Building a Climate-Conscious Ice Cream Brand
Apr 19, 2023 Season 1 Episode 108

Alec Jaffe, the founder of the climate-conscious and gut-friendly ice cream brand Alec's Ice Cream. Alec’s Ice Cream is the first and only regenerative-verified & USDA organic certified ice cream. On this episode we discuss the regenerative agriculture movement, building an ice cream manufacturing plant, and launching nationally into Sprouts.

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Show Notes Transcript

Alec Jaffe, the founder of the climate-conscious and gut-friendly ice cream brand Alec's Ice Cream. Alec’s Ice Cream is the first and only regenerative-verified & USDA organic certified ice cream. On this episode we discuss the regenerative agriculture movement, building an ice cream manufacturing plant, and launching nationally into Sprouts.

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Alec Jaffe (Alec’s Ice Cream)

Jordan Buckner: [00:00:00] Hey everyone. On today's episode, I am interviewing Alec Jaffe, who is the founder of the Climate Conscious and Gut-Friendly ice cream brand, Alec’s Ice Cream. Alec’s Ice Cream is the first and only regenerative verified at U S D A organic certified ice cream, utilizing a hundred percent A two dairy and tastes really good.

So, Alec, welcome 

Alec Jaffe: to the show. 

Thank you for having me

Jordan Buckner: today. There's a lot that I wanna talk about along your journey, particularly around how you manufacture the ice cream in your cells, the benefits and the problems that come along with that, and then also the retail growth that's come up. But to start, I'd love to hear just your version of, you know, why you started Alec’s Ice Cream and the ice cream brand and got into this space.

Alec Jaffe: Yeah, totally. So, I've been making ice cream since I was a little kid. Taught myself how to make ice cream. In elementary school we had a class project where we had to make something at home, bring it into class to present how we made it, [00:01:00] and for whatever reason, I chose to make ice cream . And also grew up around family members, very involved in sustainable agriculture and food systems.

And as I got older, looking at like, you know, ice cream and thinking, why is there no ice cream that really talks about sustainability and things like that. And if they do, they typically don't taste that great . And so like I didn't want to sacrifice taste for feeling good about my ice cream choice, and that inspired me to start just making ice cream at home for friends and family and neighbors.

Really refining recipe. eventually got to something that people really loved and decided to figure it out how to make that into a business. And so that's, that's what led me to hear 

Jordan Buckner: ice cream is no easy business to get into as you know, when they're living every day. What have been some of the biggest challenges along your journey of giving the company off the ground?

Alec Jaffe: Yeah, I mean, ice cream is a category that people think about as being pretty simple [00:02:00] and you see so many brands and everything like that, you're like, oh, how hard could it be? And it turns out it's just about one of the hardest categories I think you could try to launch a product in. So yeah, I mean there's been a, a ton of, a ton of ups and downs with that and , a lot of good learnings of just how to deal with, for both frozen and dairy, which have a lot of challenge.

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. You know, the problem with ice cream is that you have to make it cold. , you have to ship it cold. It has to stay cold at the freezer, and then from the customer buying it at the grocery store has to stay cold getting home so that they have a good experience. So there's so much that's out of your control.

Alec Jaffe: Exactly. And then the other challenge with all of that too, is if it does ever warm up at any. . It can't refreeze , if the ice cream melts, it's done. Yeah. And so you have so many points beyond ones that leaves your warehouse where the product quality could get completely ruined and then it'll refreeze so no one will know that it was completely ruined prior to them receiving it and then be like, oh, [00:03:00] this ice cream sucks.

Yeah. And this house supposed to be supposed to be, I guess. Yeah, exactly. So there's a lot of Painful homes like that where it's like, oh, I just, you didn't get the product exactly how it was supposed to arrive, but yeah, just one of the challenges of ice cream. 

Jordan Buckner: So being in the regenerative agriculture space with ice cream is interesting because there's definitely been a sustained movement towards.

Regenerative agriculture and sustainable agriculture for a while, since the, you know, even before obviously, but modernly since like, the rise of the organic movement. But it kind of ebbs and flows and consumers are trying to figure out, you know, what value they place on it. So, talk about your experience.

You said you have family kind of in the industry. Why is it important to you and how has that impacted how you make decisions about your product and the brand? 

Alec Jaffe: Yeah, so I mean, It's something that I've grown up around just agroecology and sustainable agriculture and thinking about the larger food system.

And [00:04:00] so, you know, , it's really important to me because , it's our food. It's what we eat. It's like agriculture plays a massive part of everything that goes on with our climate and it felt. in ice cream, , it's made with dairy and then with every other dairy product, , you're thinking about quality of sourcing and sustainability with any animal product.

But in ice cream, that conversation really never happens or happened. And so I felt like there was an interesting opportunity there to show that you could make a really high quality. Dairy ice cream using regeneratively farmed dairy, that can actually have a positive impact on our planet. And so that's just a really big thing for us, is wanting to show, you know, and open up that conversation around responsibly raised and managed cows and dairy and you know, that it doesn't need to be vilified.

Like it, it currently isn't a lot of the narrative going on around climate type. 

Jordan Buckner: So talk about some of the specifics that you're doing to make the product climate conscious. 

Alec Jaffe: Sure. So [00:05:00] it's really all built into our supply chain. We source all of our dairy comes from regeneratively farmed organic sources.

Cows are out on grass rotational grazing. We work with Alexander Family Farms, which is an amazing brand. Group that, you know, is doing everything the right way. Within regenerative grazing the Regenerative Grazing World's a phrase that's not the cow, it's the how. And I think that's a really important framework to think about.

We also source regenerative, organic certified cane sugar so both our dairy and our cane sugar, which are our two biggest inputs when making the ice cream mix, are coming from certified or verified regenerative organic sources. So I mean, that's the biggest thing. And then every ingredient we use, all of our products are U S D A certified organic, so everything we're using is organic.

So when you look at, you know, the biggest way that. As a food company that we can make an impact is through our supply chain. And we're doing everything we can to have the most you know, the best supply [00:06:00] chain that we can, that we cannot. 

Jordan Buckner: Does working in this method end up increasing the cost of the raw greens that you're putting in and end up increasing the price on shelf 

Alec Jaffe: Yeah, I mean, it definitely costs us an increase in our ingredient. . If I wanted to take the easy route, I could find a lot cheaper, dairy and sugar to purchase. But I don't believe in that, you know, I wanted to make our product with the best and. . With that, I'm proud that our shelf price, our suggested retail price is 8 99.

In grocery you'll see a more expensive price on our website because that's, you know, direct to consumer dealing with shipping and handling and dry ice and all that. And we can talk about shipping ice cream around the country by mail . But in grocery stores, our suggested retail prices 8 99, which is right in line with all the other premium ice cream brands.

And To be able to create a regenerative, organic, a two super premium ice cream for 8 99. We're really proud of that.

Jordan Buckner: I love that. I am a believer and supporter [00:07:00] of regenerative agriculture, and I love that. . I'm curious what's been the consumer feedback in terms of, is it something that consumers are aware of, that they're interested in learning about, that they care about when they're making their purchases and choosing products that come from with sourcing with regenerative agriculture versus not?

Alec Jaffe: It's definitely something that is early on the consumer awareness side. , we're starting to have more and more people when we're doing demos or events or whatever come up and say they, they know about regenerative agriculture, but the majority still don't. Of course, once you educate the consumer on that they oftentimes care about it and feel like, oh, that's really cool what you're doing.

But I think it's still really too early to say with like certainty how much of an impact regenerative has on consumers. I think in general though, especially looking at younger consumers they care about sustainability. They care about the impact of and how products are made. Being able to say that , using regenerative dairy and [00:08:00] cane sugar and going above and beyond with our sustainability sourcing, I think definitely does play a part in people wanting to buy our ice cream.

It's been interesting having both regenerative and A two dairy as attributes, which are both at attributes in our product, which are both new trends that are starting to take. And seeing which one has more momentum, which one people have heard about more, and they kind of fluctuate as far as which one's taking the lead in that race.

So it's been interesting just being able to have that kind of comparison with consumers. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. You know, it's tough because with my product TeaSquares, I've talked about this a lot on the podcast. We, one of our biggest hurdles, we're doing too many new things at one time. And someone mentioned this the other day, my new catchphrase is consumer education.

When you hear education, just think money, right? Like, the more you have to educate people on, the more money it costs you and the more money that you need to do that to change behavior or to create that awareness amongst consumers. 

Alec Jaffe: Yeah, totally. And luckily we're not the only [00:09:00] ones creating regenerative or a two products, so there's sort of a cat or industry-wide education happening.

But it still is a ton of education that needs to happen. And so, you know, it requires us doing demos to explain to people why is this ice cream different? And then paying for those demos and demos are expensive. . Luckily for us, we're combining all these attributes into a known quantity that is really delicious ice cream.

So we're not changing up the format or where you're buying it or how you're buying it, but it's really just really unique points of difference. So it does make it a little bit easier, but yeah, you're totally right. Like there's a lot of times where we just won't get the credit for what we're doing from a regular, an average shopper just walking down the grocery aisle.

 They're gonna see our packaging and they're not gonna know what regenerative or a two actually means. So they're not gonna be like, oh, I want to grab that one because of regenerative and A two, if they don't know what it means. So for some people, we're just in a really delicious premium ice cream.

And then [00:10:00] for other people who know the attributes, they get really excited about. 

Jordan Buckner: Let's talk about what it takes to get that really good ice cream onto the shelf. You self manufacture all the product. Tell me about why you decided to go that path and how you've been able to set up your operation. 

Alec Jaffe: We decided to go that path really because it allowed us to fully execute what we wanted to do.

 We looked at co-packing and it was really hard to find a co-packer who would even. Process, just organic ice cream. Awesome. And so then me coming in as a new brand and saying, Hey, I don't want to just do organic, but I want to do regenerative a two, and it's gonna be coming from this one farm, and we're gonna process it, and we're gonna run like only a thousand gallons on your line.

That's gonna take your team like two hours to do. It just finding something to do organic was hard enough. We were kind of at a crossroads, honestly, of at a certain point of just like, what are we gonna do? Because it felt crazy to just start a new factory on its own before we even really had the business going.

We didn't have any customers. But we needed a way [00:11:00] to make the product and got honestly really lucky and found a ice cream factory. in Northern California. I'm originally from Southern California. It was available for sale at a good price. And because it, you know, it wasn't even being used and it just said, let's just try it and see what happens.

And it was a small enough facility that, you know, startup could grow into. If you're a large brand, you wouldn't wanna move , into this facility. And so I just said, let's just try it, see what happens, and took that major jump. And so then moved into the factory. It was me, my younger brother, Zach.

We recruited , a friend of his from college Steven to join as our first employee. And we just started to figure it out. And now we have the factory up and running. We're consistently producing ice cream and you know, delivering it to. distributors and warehouses around the country 

Jordan Buckner: nicely saying was it easy to get that facility up and running or did you have to like buy all new equipment and realize like half the things were broken?

What was that like? 

Alec Jaffe: Yeah a combo of both. We were really [00:12:00] lucky in that the production manager from the prior company that was in there, he was still in the area. He had found another job that was able to, you know, consult for us on nights and weekends and just train us , on how all the equipment worked.

But it took us probably a solid year and a half at least before we, maybe even two years, to where we felt like we were a smoothly run machine. Somebody, the running machine and some of the equipment worked. Some of it had to be repaired, some of it had to be replaced. It was a combination of a lot of different things.

I mean, I remember it was the second or third time we were running and with the production manager and he was like, oh, you should try this thing. Cuz when I was doing it never worked. So you should try this other way to do it. Of course, that instantly, our homogenizer, which is a really critical machine to run our whole process

And so we had to get that replaced and find a used one, and it just was like, okay, , it's starting already. You know, lots of things like that. The ice cream machine that actually makes the ice [00:13:00] cream, the one that they had was made in the 1950s and was really on its last legs by the time we got to.

And so just so many painful days of dealing with that. Luckily, we've since replaced that machine with a much more modern one. But yeah, it was a lot of trial and error and some frustrating days on the production floor. 

Jordan Buckner: I mean, that's a lot more equipment. I remember just. , I've spent probably 25 or 30 hours just trying to fix the low wrapping machine that we had, making TeaSquare and just like any little adjustment, like threw off everything else and it worked for like five minutes and then a gear would slip and then we had to like reset the whole machine.

So it was just like, oh my goodness. Like how could this be so complicated? . 

Alec Jaffe: Oh my God. Yep. So many of like trying to adjust our cup filling machine as we're running cups. Yeah. , because you can't stop fully and like, it's just, there's a lot of those types of moments.

Jordan Buckner: So you've been able to grow from within this facility to selling in Whole Foods and [00:14:00] Sprouts nationwide soon in the coming months.


Alec Jaffe: We just launched in Sprouts and natural grocer. . And yeah, so we'll be in, by the middle of this year, we should be in just over 1500 stores. 

Jordan Buckner: That's really exciting. Where's the future from there? I guess in thinking about growing it in the national presence I'm always curious like, what's your strategy for supporting the education campaign and growth mm-hmm.

across the entire country. 

Alec Jaffe: Yeah. It, I mean, it's tough and.

with the factory, that really is forcing us to take a much more aggressive approach in distribution really growing rapidly. And what we're doing is, like I said earlier, with the demos, that's I think the best way to educate people on what's going on with our product and also get them to try the product.

Our ice cream tastes pretty good , and if you try really good tasting ice cream, that's almost reason enough to buy. And then, you know, telling our story and what all the cool things that we're doing. So we're really trying to be strategic about take picking some top like major metro areas investing in [00:15:00] brand ambassadors and doing demos and really just getting out there and spreading the word about our product.

Jordan Buckner: One thing that I've been talking about a lot recently is the value of good merchandise. in, in store. And so definitely think about that as part of your playbook because I recently s Shipp a story when I launched in like a hundred Mariano stores based Chicago area. We got into store but ended up in five different aisles around the store with our energy bar product.

Which was like a nightmare where it like literally took me 30 minutes in one store to find my own product. And so just making sure the, and ice cream's a little bit easier, but making sure the product is like on shelf, in the right aisle at the right price. And if you're doing any promotions or things like that to get the product moving early.

It's so key because you're right like that education, but then also just trial is so necessary to get things moving and whatever that plan is to get the product selling is, is key. I always say, you know, you should try to turn over your first round [00:16:00] of inventory in any retailer at most, within 90 days, if not sooner.

And so make sure you can do whatever you can to get the product moving. Get into consumer's hands. 

Alec Jaffe: Yeah, totally. I mean, Luckily with ice cream, there's only so many places that you can put the product, but we do have that challenge in that you know, we do have a lot going on with, with our product, and so buyers and retailers sometimes won't know where to place us.

Like, do they put us. With other super premium dairy brands, do they put us with the organic brands? Do they put us with plant-based because we have the A two components, so we have a digestion benefit and they're like, okay, well I'll just put you with the other plant-based because it'll be all the people who are sensitive to dairy.

or sometimes even with the low calorie ice creams because they think we're a functional thing. And so we'll put, it's like, no, we're a full fat indulgent ice cream. The person buying the low calorie keto ice cream is not gonna be too happy when they look at our nutrition panel. So [00:17:00] yeah, we do have that challenge and constantly trying to communicate with our retail partners about, you know, where we think we.

Most successful and our success is their success because, you know, they don't want, you know, product just sitting on shelf not turning. So yeah, it's always a challenge. 

Jordan Buckner: Well, Alec, I'm looking forward to seeing your product show up in stores across this , country soon and wish you the best of luck.

Alec Jaffe: Thank you. Really appreciate it.