Entrepreneur news: Ice Cream as Health Food? This Bar Comes Close
Since then, Enlightened — promoted as the “good for you” ice cream — has been doing impressively well. Sales of the bars, which are said to have one-third the calories, 75 percent less sugar and twice the protein of regular ice cream, hit $1 million in 2013, and more than $4 million in 2014. About 4,000 retail outlets, including Whole Foods Market and A.&P., now sell the brand.
Mr. Shoretz, who runs Enlightened through his Beyond Better Foods L.L.C., is hoping for sales of $15 million to $20 million in 2015 and $75 million to $100 million by the end of the fifth year, in 2017.
While those may seem like lofty goals, he insists they are realistic. Enlightened is adding three flavors (bringing the total to 10) and expanding into salty snacks, with the introduction of low-fat, high-protein crisps this month. Mr. Shoretz recently reached an agreement with JetBlue to serve the crisps on its flights.
The timing could be right. “People are focused on freshness and health like never before,” said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting and investment banking services firm in New York. If a company can take a calorie-rich treat like ice cream and make it healthy, it could be sitting on a gold mine, he said. Enlightened “is in the right area at the right time, and this area could be explosive.”
That said, the ice cream market is a tough one and the big question is whether Enlightened can compete in the long term with the big brands backed by conglomerates. In 2014, the top six ice cream companies, which include Nestlé and Unilever, accounted for 62 percent of all sales, according to the market research firm Mintel.
Adding to the challenges is the clear preference in the United States market for regular ice cream. Right now, 81 percent of ice cream consumers choose the higher-fat versions, according to Packaged Facts, a unit of Market Research Group, based in Rockville, Md. About 22 percent eat low-fat, calorie-reduced ice cream in addition to regular ice cream. But only 11 percent eat the healthier version most of the time, while even fewer — 3 percent — eat fat-free ice cream most of the time.
Still, production of low-fat ice cream has been on the rise, climbing to 466.6 million gallons in 2012 from 377.2 million gallons in 2008. During the same four years, production of regular ice cream declined to 889.4 million gallons from 942.5 million, according to Market Research Group.
Despite these statistics, Mr. Shoretz’s journey has not been easy. From the start, there were lower-calorie frozen treats, like Skinny Cow, already on the market. But Mr. Shoretz bet that consumers would look beyond calorie count to sugar levels, fiber, protein and other nutrients on the label. So, with $80,000 in his pocket, he set out to create a healthier ice cream.
Mr. Shoretz, 27, grew up in a three-bedroom loft in Manhattan, where his father still works as a certified public accountant, and his mother was an adjunct sociology lecturer. (She is now president of the ice cream company.) His passion for fitness and nutrition came in 2005, when his father was found to have diabetes. “It was a wake-up call,” Mr. Shoretz said. He watched as his father had to monitor blood sugar levels and weight. He wanted to learn more.
So, he enrolled at Brandeis University, where he graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in health policy. While at school, he took up Olympic weight lifting and honed his fitness skills. In 2010, he was certified as a strength and conditioning coach, and took a job as a personal trainer at Sitaras Fitness, which caters to the Wall Street crowd.
But Mr. Shoretz also had a sweet tooth for ice cream. After spending nine hours a day training clients at Sitaras, he would go home and indulge. “Ice cream was definitely one of my weaknesses,” he said, laughing. He longed for a healthier form of his guilty pleasure and knew his clients did, too.
So, in 2010, he picked up a Cuisinart ice cream maker at Bed Bath & Beyond and began experimenting in his kitchen with different formulas. Since he is not a chemist or chef, he scoured the Internet for information, analyzed the ingredients in protein bars for ideas, talked to nutritionists, and even called ice cream companies for advice. He used natural sweeteners, such as erythritol, which is found in grapes and pears, and monk fruit, as opposed to artificial sweeteners like aspartame.
Sometimes, the protein and sugar levels were ultrahealthy, but the taste was horrific. With each new prototype, Mr. Shoretz would invite friends and family to test it. “We had at least 50 variations,” he said.
He acknowledged that some people were bewildered by his preoccupation with developing the ice cream. “Some eyes rolled,” Mr. Shoretz said. And he heard the whispers: “It’s just a phase. He’ll grow out of it.” But this just made Mr. Shoretz even more determined to succeed.
By the summer, he came up with the right mix, but could not get a manufacturer to produce it. “I was turned down by over a dozen factories over a three-month period,” Mr. Shoretz said.
When he did find a factory, the protein mixture was too thick to get through the pasteurization system. “It nearly blew up the factory,” he said.
Then, in late 2010, he met Tammy Shaw, who had been developing ice cream products for big companies, such as Nestlé, at her family’s ice cream factory for more than 15 years. Initially, she discouraged him. She had seen many starry-eyed entrepreneurs lose a lot of money in the past. “You seem like a nice kid — why do you want to do this? Find something else,” she said she told him.
Undeterred, Mr. Shoretz pressed ahead, talking up his business plan. Ms. Shaw was impressed. So she mentored him, fine-tuned his formula and, in 2012, joined his company as a partner.
Back at Sitaras Fitness, Mr. Shoretz would chat up his Wall Street clients, asking them for business advice and tapping them for financing.
In 2012, Keith Rubenstein, founding partner of Somerset Partners, aprivate equity firm in New York, and five other investors took equity stakes in the start-up.
Next hurdle? Getting retailers to stock the ice cream. “I’d make 100 calls and emails a day,” Mr. Shoretz recalled. Fresh Direct was the first to sign on. After that, Whole Foods, West Side Market, HEB, Food Emporium and Sprouts Farmers Market, among others, agreed to carry the bars.
Mr. Shoretz said his ice cream was not just “better” for you, it was actually “good” for you. “Our customers eat it for breakfast and after a workout,” he said.
Francisco Carreño-Gálvez, a health, nutrition and exercise consultant in New York, acknowledges that the protein, carbs and fat content make it a healthier alternative to regular ice cream, but not for breakfast.
“Treat it as ice cream: It’s for those special occasions, not every day,” Dr. Carreño-Gálvez said.