Stogo, a New York-based ice cream consultant who has spent his career working with ice cream giants such as Häagen-Dazs, is now hoping to achieve success in the super-premium dairy-free category by developing products that are as luxurious as Häagen-Dazs, minus the milk.
After debuting at the Expo West trade show in 2013, DF Mavens tubs and bars are now in around 600 stores in the east coast, a number Stogo hopes will rise to around 2,000 stores by spring 2015 and 5,000 in early 2016, he told FoodNavigator-USA: “It’s still very small by comparison with the dairy ice cream market but I think that the frozen dairy-free desserts market will double or triple in the next five years.
“The barrier - especially for smaller brands - is getting shelf space at the supermarkets, where the category is still dominated by the big dairy companies who pay to keep their shelf space, so the space allocation right now doesn’t really reflect the growth of dairy-free. I’d say retailers have been a bit slow on the uptake with dairy-free although that’s starting to change now.
“Soy is going down but coconut and almond are growing fast. The market has been growing at around 15-20% a year in the last four five years, and for 2-3 years it's been growing at 30-40%.
"There are people that are just looking for something different [than dairy ice cream], but the choice of products for people with lactose intolerance has really grown, that's a huge change. We think there is a lot of potential."
Big supermarkets want to go more upscale and compete with Sprouts and Whole Foods
When it comes to price, while there is a little more flexibility in the natural/gourmet/independent channel, if you go above $6.99 for a pint you can price yourself out of the market, said Stogo.
“We’re at around $6.49 but on promotion it can be $5.99 or $4.99. We’re at the high end of the market and we started in upscale retailers such as Whole Foods but we’re also in more mainstream channels now. We’re starting in Stop & Shop in a couple of months.”
While getting into big conventional retailers with a premium product - and price point - can be a challenge, he said, buyers recognize that they need to allocate more space to artisanal brands that are growing in the natural channel.
“They want to go more upscale and compete with chains like Sprouts and Whole Foods so that’s a positive thing for brands like ours, it just takes a long time to get through all the bureaucracy. And we’re also competing with artisanal dairy ice cream brands. Some are pretty good, and some are terrible.”
Our stuff tastes as close to ice cream as you are going to get without dairy
Stogo, who is preparing to open a DF Mavens branded store in the East Village on December 14 - which he claims is the world’s first dedicated to dairy-free ice cream - is manufacturing the products out of a new 20,000 sqft facility in Astoria, Queens, run by parent company FAL FOODS USA (click HERE), which also manufactures frozen desserts under other brands at the site.
DF Mavens flavors include Alphonso Mango, Sicilian Hazelnut Truffle, Caramel Apple Almond and Peanut-Butter Fudge Mash, and while the competition is hotting up - Stogo is competing with the likes of Almond Breeze, Almond Dream, So Delicious, and Coconut Bliss - he is confident he can carve out a niche by using his formulation experience to offer a unique sensory experience.
“Our stuff tastes as close to ice cream as you are going to get without dairy. Especially the coconut variety.”
So how has he done it?
Said Stogo: “If you look at the ingredients lists for these products, they are not all the same. So for the almond products we use almond butter, and our products have a realty clean taste and there’s no grittiness. And for the coconut ones we use coconut cream, not coconut milk. It’s more expensive but it really makes a difference.
“But it’s not just the ingredients, it’s the process. We have a different mouthfeel and you don’t get the aftertaste you can sometimes get with these products.”
Cashew nut desserts to follow…
So what’s in the development pipeline?
We can expect more no sugar added variants in the spring, and cashew nut frozen desserts in around 8-9 months, said Stogo.
He’s also experimenting with pistachios, peanuts and macadamia nuts (although price is a barrier); products for diabetics; and cookie-and-dairy-free ice cream sandwiches.
But he’s not a big fan of rice: “We’re not going to do a rice-based frozen dessert, they’re just really bland.”
DF Mavens is a subsidiary of FAL Foods USA, which also owns Desserts that Matter, a wholesale ice cream manufacturer; and Brazilia Cafe, a global café chain. FAL Foods USA is a subsidiary of FAL Foods Worldwide, an international manufacturer of natural foods and desserts for retail and industrial food markets.