Food Disruptor of the Year: Halo Top
The frozen treats maker started its business in 2012 and has rapidly grown to become the #1 seller of pint ice cream in the U.S., beating out iconic brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers.
Amount of ice cream sold in 2016:
13.5 million pints
Calories in a pint:
Halo Top — the ice cream that seemingly came out of nowhere to dominate the industry through its promise of fewer calories, less sugar and higher protein — is forcing its big-name, deep-pocket competitors to take notice.
After launching in 2012, Halo Top has experienced tremendous growth, including a 2,500% increase in sales last year. The ice cream maker, which posts the calorie content prominently on the front of its packaging, has benefited from consumer demand for products that contain clean and simple ingredients they're familiar with. It sold more than 17 million pints in 2016, and recently became the #1 selling pint of ice cream in the U.S., beating out iconic brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers.
Justin Woolverton, Halo Top's founder and chief executive officer, was as surprised as anyone by his product's success and the impact his company has had on the industry in such a short period of time.
"We’ve created a new category in ice cream. Stores have had to make more room for us in the storage freezer, same with our distributors. Our manufacturing partners have had to do some creative things," Woolverton said in an email to Food Dive. "And now that the multinational corporations are getting involved in something a little podunk Los Angeles company came up with, I think it’s safe to say we’ve disrupted some things."
Unilever's Breyers brand launched its low-calorie, high-protein line called "Breyers delights" in August featuring labeling and packaging similar to Halo Top's — a relatively quick market introduction for such a large company. While the Breyers brand wins easily on price — one pint of sells for about $4.29 at Harris Teeter, for example, compared to Halo Top’s $5.49 — it hasn't been enough to stop the slide for Unilever. The company, which also owns the cult favorite Ben & Jerry's, has lost 1.5 share points to Halo Top.
By the numbers
Devilishly good at disrupting ice cream
Halo Top ascends to become the top selling pint of ice cream in the US
Halo Top melts market share away from Unilever
Company says it never paid for a social media post, but the #HaloTop hashtag has been used nearly 100,000 times.
Halo Top owner explores potential sale of brand
"The battle with Halo Top in North America, that proposition has built a 5% share position very, very quickly," Graeme Pitkethly, Unliever's chief financial officer, told analysts during the company's recent earnings call. "We have responded very quickly with Breyers. We’ve gone in six months and taken us to get rights, the license in the marketplace, that’s very quick compared to where we were, that’s the benefit of the new organization."
Woolverton seems bemused by Unilever's decision to emulate his product. "It’s definitely flattering, but I hope that if more competitors come into the category, they go for a little bit more diversity in terms of aesthetic, packaging, ingredients, etc. Right now things are a bit repetitive," he said.
Besides word of mouth and mainstream media coverage, Halo Top has excelled in social media. It has almost a cult status on Instagram — the #HaloTop hashtag has been used more than 167,000 times, and the company's account, halotopcreamery, has nearly 591,000 followers to date.
"I've very rarely used the term 'brilliant' and the term 'marketing' in the same sentence, but these guys are marketing a product that touches on all the right words that capture many, many people," Darryl David, an ice cream consultant with Darryl's Ice Cream Solutions, told Food Dive. "If you really look at the label, it's saying some very good things."
The company recently launched a line of vegan and non-dairy pints, responding to what Woolverton said was the top request from fans of its ice cream. And Halo Top opened its first brick-and-mortar scoop shop last month in a California mall featuring a new soft-serve product, different cone styles and several topping choices. More scoop shops are planned to offer customers the Halo Top experience.
According to an April 2017 Mintel report, ice cream and frozen novelty growth remained “solid if not spectacular” last year, with sales reaching $12.8 billion in 2016. That growth — up 3.6% from 2015 — is expected to continue, particularly for premium brands featuring natural ingredients and innovative flavors. Halo Top is expected to be right in the mix.
I've very rarely used the term 'brilliant' and the term 'marketing' in the same sentence, but these guys are marketing a product that touches on all the right words that capture many, many people.—Darryl David, Ice cream consultant, Darryl's Ice Cream Solutions
Eden Creamery, Halo Top's Los Angeles-based owner, was reportedly considering a sale of the company this summer for as much as $2 billion, according to Reuters.
A sale would continue the trend of hot upstarts being added to the portfolios of big corporate giants. In 2000, for example, Unilever struck a $326 million deal to buy Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont ice cream maker known for quirky flavors like Chubby Hubby and Cherry Garcia. In addition to Unilever, potential suitors could include Nestle, which sells Haagen-Dazs under license from General Mills in the U.S. and Canada, or General Mills itself.
Woolverton quashed such rumors. "We feel that it’s very important that we stay authentic to our fans, and rolling up under a multinational corporation would stifle our voice," he said. "It would change who we are."
As the company opens its first scoop shop in Los Angeles, watch for Halo Top to continue trying new things. New flavors, new partnerships and new products all may be in store for 2018.