What's a bored, hypoglycemic lawyer to do? Start a natural label, low sugar ice cream company, of course!

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

'Recovering lawyer' enters low sugar ice cream market

Related tags Ice cream Nutrition

For Justin Woolverton, founder and CEO of premium ice cream brand Halo Top Creamery, life had become too sweet and too sour at the same time.  A dissatisfaction with his career path and a dietary restriction landed him in the freezer aisle.

Woolverton had soured on the legal profession (he’s a self-described recovering lawyer) and was looking for something else to do.  Ice cream fell easily to hand because he was dabbling in low sugar formulations to deal with his severe hypoglycemia.

“I was increasingly unhappy as a lawyer, and it was just one of those fortuitous events,”​ Woolverton told FoodNavigator-USA. “I originally formulated the recipe because it was something I wanted for myself. I was an ice cream hobbyist, you could say.

“I couldn’t eat a lot of sugar because of my own dietary restrictions. I have hypoglycemia and my roller coasters got a little higher and a little lower. A few times I’ve actually fainted in public,” ​he said.

While he learned to cope with his condition through his diet, he never learned to like having to avoid some of the foods he craved, Woolverton said.

“If you are eating an extremely low sugar diet it’s hard to eat anything that looks like ice cream,”​ he said.  “I needed something sweet because I was so sick of eating low sugar.”

Choice to go for top shelf ingredients

Woolverton said so much of low-calorie products on the market still didn’t meet the needs of a hypoglycemic. And in his opinion, many of the products out there were not of especially high quality. He said it seemed that manufacturers were taking the stance that consumers looking for low label positioning were deciding based chiefly on that attribute, whether it was low fat, low calorie or what have you, and so the rest of the ingredients weren’t all that important.

So when developing the brand, Woolverton and his associate, Doug Bouton, who serves as Halo Top’s COO, decided to go with premium ingredients all the way.  They started with their choice of sweeteners:  organic stevia and erythritol.

“When we started out making it we did it ourselves and it was so unsophisticated. I ended up ordering five cases (of a stevia/erythritol table top sweetener blend).  They are still sitting in my living room,”​ Woolverton said.

Woolverton said he chose the organic stevia because he thought it tasted better. And, while the Southern California-based company does not make an organic claim on its products, he thought the organic claim on the stevia made for a cleaner ingredient overall.

“We like to use organic ingredients when we can and we thought the organic stevia had a much stronger claim when it came to natural label positioning,”​ he said.

The erythritol was chosen to help make up for some of the missing sugar, he said.  Not only did it provide bulking properties but it also avoided some of the gastrointestinal issues surrounding the use of other sugar alcohols.

“We picked erythritol specifically because of its dietary tolerance.  It stands apart from the other sugar alcohols.  It is an expensive ingredient, though,”​ he said.

The company’s ice cream, which in comes in four flavors, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla bean and lemon cake, also uses growth hormone free milk, cage free eggs, and chicory root both as a bulking agent and as a booster for the fiber claim on the label. (The company’s products claim 7 grams of protein, 70 or 80 calories and 4 grams of fiber per ½ cup serving.)

Chobani offered a case study

The recent upheaval in the yogurt category provided some clues for how to both formulate and position the product, Woolverton said. The brand Chobani is often credited with opening up the Greek yogurt category, but Woolverton sees its success a bit differently.

“We see a direct parallel with our stuff and with what Chobani saw with the old fruit on the bottom yogurt. Chobani came along with something that was natural instead of artificial and flipped that sugar and protein thing on its head so now instead of being all sugar it was all protein and low sugar.  And I think if you look at the studies that is why Chobani took off.

“We are also offering a natural alternative that is high protein and low sugar and we have been getting a really good response,”​ he said.

Halo Top makes its products with a Southern California copacker and formally introduced the brand to the wider natural channel audience at the Expo West trade show in March, where the distribution picture started coming together, Woolverton said.

“After Expo West, we got picked up by UNFI. We’ve got a good natural footprint now and we need to manage that carefully.  We want to stick with the natural channel for the first year,”​ he said.

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