It’s early days for the Solero brand – which launched on March 6 and is already in upwards of 10,000 stores - but all the evidence suggests they could be onto a winner, says Hochschuler, who says Solero fruit bars – in regular and organic varieties - deliver a shorter, cleaner label without compromising on taste and texture.
“We really wanted to take a shot at fruit bars and we also wanted to launch an organic line, as no one has really attempted this on a national scale before.
"I can't share syndicated data yet, but anecdotally we’re getting a lot of great feedback," added Hochschuler, who started making gelato under the Talenti brand in 2002 and hooked up with Gill (Solero's co-owner) in 2008, when the brand really started to explode.
Shorter, cleaner label
While most fruit bars contain fairly lengthy ingredients lists including colors, flavors and juice from concentrate, Solero bars contain only four basic ingredients: water, fruit, sugar, and gums (carob and guar) with the addition of lime oil or lemon juice in a couple of SKUs. Calories range from 45-60 per pop and 80-120 per bar.
But why not just freeze crushed fruit, for the ultimate clean label?
Because it doesn’t deliver what consumers are looking for on taste or texture, he told FoodNavigator-USA. “Try it at home. Just slice some strawberries in half, freeze them and try eating them straight from the freezer. They turn into bullets.
“Sugar [sucrose] is there for flavor, but also because it suppresses the freezing point, water adds refreshment. Adding lemon juice in some formulations is a bit like adding salt, it brings out additional flavor from certain fruits.”
The gums – used in very low levels – are critical for texture and mouthfeel, he said. “You can get a more velvety smooth mouthfeel and avoid some ice crystallization. I’m a big fan of gums, which are completely natural [carob – also known as locust bean gum – is from carob seeds; while guar gum is from guar beans].”
He added: “We don’t add any colors or flavors, natural or otherwise, however, because they are not essential to the formulation and I don’t think consumers want them. We spend the money on the best fruit and that delivers the color and flavor, without using additives.”
Does the world need another frozen fruit bar?
While consumers are looking for better for you, simpler, options in every aisle of the grocery store, the failure of Fruttare – a frozen fruit bar brand launched by Unilever in 2013 but discontinued in early 2017 after disappointing sales – proves that success is by no means guaranteed, however, even for a company with pockets as deep as Unilever.
So what makes Hochschuler think the world needs another frozen fruit bar?
Hochschuler is reluctant to pass comment on other brands, but stresses that the texture of Solero is very different to Fruttare: “They made a real attempt to make it a success, but when it comes to texture, Fruttare had gone for a softer texture and I didn’t think that was a good decision, so we’ve gone for something with higher solids, more fruit, less water and a shorter ingredients list, which goes back to our Talenti days when we wanted to keep the deck as short as possible.”
And retailers, he says, have been exceptionally enthusiastic. “Novelties in general are flat, but fruit bars is where the growth is and I think the category is ripe for innovation. Outshine [fruit and veggie bar brand owned by Nestlé] is doing hundreds of millions of dollars in sales but we think the potential market is a lot bigger than that.
“Certain retailers have made us their flagship product for novelties.”
What’s in a name?
While some consumers might be forgiven for thinking that Solero is being launched by Unilever (which produces frozen treats under the Solero brand in Europe and some other markets) there is no connection to the multinational except the name, which Hochschuler is using under license, he explained.
But given the current enthusiasm for edgy small brands, is picking a brand name that at least some consumers will associate with a multinational a good plan?
“I knew the name Solero from Israel but I know it’s also well known in the UK (pictured left) and I love it and I think people familiar with the brand from overseas will love it,” said Hochschuler, “So we said we would love to use the name and Unilever agreed, so we ended up licensing the name.
“But that’s the only connection. Unilever is not manufacturing it, or involved with it in any way, although we’re hopeful that at some point we’ll be able to convince them to sell some of our bars in their little [branded] freezers, but we’ll obviously have to earn the right to do that.”