During Doozy Pots co-founder Kirsten Sutaria's time at Ben & Jerry's she had the opportunity to work on developing the brand's non-dairy ice cream line in London, England, where she met her husband and now business partner, Karl Sutaria.
"While I was doing that I learned a lot about the science of ice cream, and what makes ice cream this magical combination of chemistry, sensory science, and physics… I really 'nerded out' over ice cream," she told FoodNavigator-USA.
Sutaria left Ben & Jerry's to work at London-based Innocent Drinks doing beverage development, but the whole time was working on her personal ice cream projects in the background.
"A big part of my job is doing ingredients and trends research, and I got really interested in hemp as a crop... It was an incredibly sustainable crop with a very interesting nutritional makeup, and I thought, you could make a really great plant-based ice cream with this because of its nutritional properties," she said.
Karl, who as a former corporate attorney brings a healthy and helpful dose of skepticism to his wife's ambitious endeavors, saw a clear market opportunity for a hemp- and oat-based product in the plant-based ice cream market.
According to SPINS* data provided by the Good Food Institute and Plant Based Foods Association, retail sales of plant-based ice cream and frozen novelties (for the year to Dec. 27, 2020) grew by 20.4% to $435m, making it the fourth largest sub-category of the plant-based foods category.
"As we did more research into it and understood the competitive set we saw where the advantages to a hemp and oat-based product would be," he said, noting how the market was dominated mainly by products using coconut oil or coconut cream as an ingredient (even rising star Oatly's frozen dessert which lists coconut oil as its second ingredient).
"We saw that there was really place in the market for this kind of product," he said
'We really wanted to capture that feeling of wonder'
Working with The GRO Agency, it was important for Kirsten that the brand look and feel different from other products in the ice cream aisle.
"The ice cream category is dominated by a lot of light colors," she said, who worked with The GRO Agency to develop the brand's distinctive color blocking centered around the Doozy Pots character.
"We really wanted to capture that feeling of wonder."
Doozy Pots - which comes from an Italian expression her grandmother used to say, 'Tu sei pazzo' meaning 'You're crazy' - is the first creation born out of the Wonderlab company with more innovations to come, she said.
"The Wonderlab is figuratively my mind and the ideas that come out of it."
Hemp and oats, a winning combination
Recognizing that coconut (oil, cream, and milk) is a versatile ingredient that has sparked a lot of innovation and consumer adoption for plant-based ice cream and frozen desserts, Karl Sutaria notes, "Coconut makes sense for a lot of reasons, but that’s almost generation 1 of plant-based desserts, and we’re looking to push past that," he said.
More technically speaking, Kirsten Sutaria believed she could improve upon additional sensory qualities by using organic hemp milk (water, hemp seed oil, and hemp seed protein) and organic oat instead of coconut oil or cream, which is higher in saturated fat.
"Saturated fats have a very different melt point, and they’re quite heavy on the palate. I found that making a high fat ice cream using coconut oil sort of blocked flavor delivery because it’s such a heavy fat," she said.
Hemp, on the other hand, is a good source of healthy fats and very low in saturated fat. The lower saturated fat profile gives Doozy Pots a more gelato-like eating experience, which traditionally uses milk instead of cream, she adds.
"We’re about 8-10% fat with the product and not having a ton of saturated fat in there allows us to have clean flavor delivery and let those exciting flavors that we have shine," she said.
The addition of oat helps with texture and "scoopability," she adds.
"When you’re developing ice cream, and you’re going from dairy to plant-based you’re not only getting rid of dairy-based fats, you’re also getting rid of dairy-based milk solids. And a lot of early plant-based recipes used things like corn syrups solids to build that texture back, and I found that using whole oat flour and creating basically a hemp and oat milk cream base allowed us to get that great texture and creaminess and scoopability without just loading the product up with sugar.
"And I think we almost hit a stroke of luck that oat milk is kind of taking the limelight right now, so having the combination of a new, interesting ingredient as well as having something that is recognizable to people has been helpful."
Retailers and attitudes around hemp
Despite being a legal food and beverage ingredient, the Sutarias faced a bit of retailer hesitance to carrying Doozy Pots due to its unavoidable association with CBD, which the FDA maintains is not a legal dietary ingredient in foods, beverages or supplements, although several states from Colorado to Illinois explicitly permit its use.
Despite coming from two completely different parts of the cannabis plant, and hemp seed oil containing no CBD but rather a nutritional makeup of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid, and vitamins B and D, Kirsten would often hear from retailers, "We're not accepting any hemp products right now."
"And I said, 'I can guarantee I can walk into your store and fill up a basket full of products that have hemp in it that are not CBD - anything from granola to hemp hearts to hemp milk.' There’s so much education that needs to be done around hemp, and I think that the growth of CBD and the CBD market almost hamstrung a little bit in the last two years because everyone was trying to make CBD foods," she notes.
Luckily, retailers such as Heinen's (in the Ohio and Chicagoland area) and a recent national distribution deal with Sprouts will give Doozy Pots visibility in the ice cream aisle.
"They were super interested in it, and they get the need to diversify the set," she said.