While HumanCo's Coconut Bliss is well known for its premium plant-based ice cream and frozen treats, HumanCo Founder and CEO Jason Karp knows it isn't for everyone.
Research into the ice cream segment revealed to him just how few people regularly buy and consume plant-based ice cream. More than 97% of all ice cream sold in the U.S. is dairy-based, he said.
And while the 17-year-old Coconut Bliss brand has a line of clean label and environmentally conscious ice cream, Karp said that not everyone is going to eat it. However, he said, many of those dairy ice cream consumers are interested in clean-label, sustainably sourced options too — but few dairy ice cream brands meet those standards.
Taking all of this into consideration, HumanCo is rebranding Coconut Bliss as Cosmic Bliss. The line's legacy plant-based flavors will still be available, but the company is adding a new premium dairy line of ice cream made with 100% organic, sustainably-sourced grass-fed milk.
It's an unconventional change at a time when many manufacturers are working to produce better plant-based options, but Karp said it's HumanCo's way of trying to meet all consumers where they are.
"We believe that it was a better strategy to try to provide a better solution for the 97% than to try to force everybody into a one-size-fits-all kind of mentality," Karp said. "That's the why."
Finding that just right dairy-based bliss
HumanCo, which acquired Coconut Bliss in 2020, has been looking into this change for about a year.
Karp said that he noticed that many dairy ice cream companies were launching plant-based varieties using over-processed ingredients, which he referred to as "synthetic." And while consumers were trying these new varieties, sales figures indicated they were not making a permanent switch to plant-based. Karp said that what consumers seemed to be wanting was better quality dairy ice cream — one with less processed ingredients that came from cows treated humanely and raised in a more sustainable way.
So HumanCo set out to make a clean-label organic ice cream that used milk from 100% grassfed cows. Karp said it needed to do quite a lot of research to find suppliers that fit the company's needs and could produce at the scale needed. The ice cream also had to use all "real" ingredients: no sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners and nothing genetically modified. And no soy or gluten.
Karp said he believes dairy Cosmic Bliss is one of the few ice creams to be made from grassfed dairy and to be certified organic.
"The fun part of this is that when you're using full-fat 100% grassfed dairy — it's very creamy and it's very delicious, actually," Karp said. "So it actually wasn't as hard to make something that is incredible."
Because the new dairy ice cream is super-premium, the cost per 14-ounce pint is much higher than other ice cream brands, with a suggested retail price of $8.99 each. Karp said HumanCo has worked hard to create flavors that matched the caliber of the dairy ice cream, and wasn't setting out to make a slate of offerings to match the brand's plant-based product line. Dairy-based Cosmic Bliss is first launching in seven flavors: Twisted Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter Blitz, Hazelnut Fudge Crunch, Strawberry Lemon Shortbread, Banana Caramel Flambé, Vanilla Bean Nirvana and Chocolate Euphoria.
Economics also played a role in the decision to rebrand and create a dairy ice cream line, Karp said. But it was a much more general look at the ice cream segment and not specific to Coconut Bliss sales or profitability. More people want to buy dairy ice cream, so creating a dairy line means that there will be a larger audience for the brand, Karp said.
When HumanCo took its majority stake in Coconut Bliss, previous owner Lochmead Dairy kept a minority stake. Lochmead, a family-owned dairy in Oregon that makes dairy ice cream along with other dairy products, was invaluable in helping design the new line, Karp said. One of the leaders of the ice cream brand who is a member of the Lochmead family "was a big proponent with us in creating this because it didn't exist," Karp said.
Treats for all
When rebranding, HumanCo chose to call the brand "Cosmic Bliss" for a few reasons, Karp said.
Cosmic not only can be used as a euphemism — the taste and composition of the ice cream could be deemed out of this world by consumers, Karp said. But, he noted, it also can be used as a descriptor for who the ice cream company is now targeting.
"We need to be a brand that includes everybody, and not just those who only eat plant based," Karp said. "So that's why we chose 'Cosmic Bliss.' "
And while all of the pints will be changing their names from "Coconut Bliss" — even the plant-based staples that have been with the company for nearly two decades — Karp said he doesn't think that the brand's superfans will get confused. Karp said the company will not be walking away from plant-based and will continue R&D to make improvements in the product.
There's something more fundamental, Karp said, that links the legacy Coconut Bliss to the new Cosmic Bliss brand.
"Consistent with the original Coconut Bliss and consistent with the guardrails of HumanCo, this is a very clean-label ice cream that uses ingredients that are sourced from farms," Karp said. "...We look to nature and farms, and wanted to make wholesome, sustainable practices more accessible to pretty much everyone."
Karp said that HumanCo will look at other products in its portfolio the same way. It will consider what the segment looks like, where there is growth, and where there is a need for innovation. And if that means creating a dairy version of a previously dairy-free product in a way that pushes HumanCo's values of clean labels, quality products and sustainability forward, they will do it, Karp said.
He also hopes that this move will give other ice cream makers who are making plant-based treats he sees as overprocessed — and ultimately lacking — a reason to press pause on their product development. After all, Karp said, the segment should give consumers what they want.
"I believe that it's important that that there are options for all of those people because everybody wants to do better for the Earth," Karp said. "Everybody wants to do their part. But not everybody wants to give up dairy."