Nice-cream pioneer Hakuna Banana, Totes Oats rebrands as Must Love to test broader distribution

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Must Love
Source: Must Love

Related tags: non-dairy ice cream

The co-founders of the fast-growing banana-based Hakuna Banana and oat-milk based Totes Oats nice-cream brands are bringing their better-for-you pints and bars under the new umbrella brand Must Love to better communicate the company’s core values, leverage the individual brands’ successes for collective growth and provide room for future innovation in new categories.

Along with the new name, the startup adopted a new look, which co-founders and best friends Mollie Cha and Hannah Hong say will help the product pop on shelf and evoke the products’ taste-appeal for a one-two punch that they hope will drive strong sales as the company expands distribution nationwide and explores new channels.

“It is a pretty big change, and we love the Hakuna Banana brand and name. It is always going to be our first baby. But having two different bases with two different brand names was a little bit challenging for us to leverage each for growth for both brands,”​ Hong said. “So, it was something strategic we’ve been thinking about to bring Hakuna Banana and Totes Oats together.”

She explained that the new brand name – Must Love – comes from the core value of the company, which is the friendship Hong and Cha share.

“Mollie and I have been best friends for 16 years, and the name ‘Must Love’ really comes from that place of friendship and love we have for each other and for nice-cream,”​ Hong said, laughing that it “sounds really cheesy,”​ but noting that the “pinnacle of branding is to be able to evoke a feeling in consumers that goes beyond the product attributes, such as no refined sugar or plant-based,”​ and the ideas of love and friendship for most people trigger positive feelings.

The brand name also brings together and yet distinguish the two lines of nice-cream by appearing in bold lettering above either bananas or oats at the top of the pints or boxes of bars.

Bright colors, photos add fun & taste appeal

The bright colors and playful imagery on the packages reinforce the happy emotions the brand strives to evoke and further identify the base of each nice cream. For example, the banana-based ice cream features a small polka-dot pattern made from bananas and the oat-based option similarly use an oat instead of a classic polka-dot.

As for the colors, Cha says they serve two purposes: “setting the flavors apart and increasing appetite appeal, which are basic things that all packaging needs to do.”

But, she adds, “the vibrancy of the colors also make it very fun. We have contrasting colors with a lid and a flavor versus the main pint to evoke a nostalgic, youthful feeling.”

Most of the colors on the new packaging are different from the previous branding, except the duo kept the vibrant yellow of the flagship banana-vanilla product to help consumers connect the new name and look to the product they already know and love.

Cha also notes that the new packaging features photography, rather than the previous line-drawings, which she explained was more expensive but which “all the big boys in the business do because they know it evokes a lot of taste to be able to see that ice cream cue”​ of a scoop or a bar with a bite out of it.

“When you look at the scoop, you can imagine yourself taking a bite and we want you to see that imagine yourself really enjoying it, which is easier to do with photography,”​ she added.

New branding provides flexibility

The new brand name “Must Love” also gives the company more flexibility to create products with different base ingredients beyond banana or oat or in different categories, but which still meet the startup’s basic tenet of providing “plant-based, everyday indulgence,”​ Cha said.

“We’re really focused right now on frozen desserts, and we see a lot of potential growth-wise there, but for a brand … there is a lot more potential with this brand as we continue to grow the company in the future,”​ Cha said.

Expanding nationally

The new look and branding come as the company expands its distribution nationally at all Sprouts locations and is exploring additional retailers across the US to add this spring.

“We started with Sprouts in 2018 regionally, just in California, and have been growing slowly with them both SKU-count wise as well as store count. But then this year, we are finally ready with the rebrand and with our distribution network to go national with them. And we are so excited to partner with them on this, and finally be sold across the country. It is a huge milestone for us,”​ Hong said.

Making the jump from regional to national can be expensive, and was made possible in part with a $50,000 no-strings-attached grant from the organic shake and bar brand Orgain​, which this year donated $150,000 to emerging brands that share its values and mission.

Testing the waters outside the natural channel

Partnering with Sprouts to expand distribution helps Must Love target its “pinpoint”​ consumer, who gravitates to better-for-you products with natural ingredients and minimal processing, Cha said. But she added, their bars and pints have appeal beyond this core demographic, which is one reason why the company is exploring partnerships with retailers in other channels.

For example, the company recently partnered with Costco to pilot a family-sized box of 10 bars at select stores in California, which Cha said “performed extremely well”​ – selling out quickly.

“What that proved for us is that the product and proposition can work in mass retail, in a large format size, and really solidified for us that this product is for families,”​ Cha said.

Hong added that being in multiple retailers and channels, even in the same region, is “more powerful”​ because consumers shop multiple outlets for different reasons – and the more times they encounter a brand the more times the brand has a sale opportunity.

Partnering with a mass retailer, like Costco, isn’t for the feint of heart, Cha acknowledged, noting that “the volumes are totally different.”​ But, she added, the buyers at Costco with which Must Love worked helped them every step of the way to ensure they were prepared.

“They were mindful of working with brands of all sizes. Even just to test with a partner and see what we can handle, learning their systems and learning how to supply to them or anticipating demand. They gave us a enough cues upfront that we could work with them confidently,”​ Cha said.

Looking forward to the rest of the year, Hong and Cha said the company’s primary focus will be supporting the new branding, helping consumers who knew Hakuna Banana and Totes Oats understand that Must Love is the same product they enjoyed but with a new look and name.

They also will focus on supporting their expanded distribution at the store level and through digital marketing.

“That’s priority one right now, but we have a lot planned for the future,”​ Hong said.

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