Dan Samson Interview
(Lovin' Scoopful Ice Cream)
Lovin’ scoopful is not just another ice cream company. It’s the churned light ice cream that focuses in an all-natural base product that comes from the milk and cream of cows not treated with the cow growth hormone BST.
Founded in February 2008, Lovin’ Scoopful, the ice cream can be found in nearly 1600 stores spread throughout 22 states. It should also be mentioned that Lovin Scoopful donates 25% of its profits to the Special Olympics international.
The movers and shakers behind the scenes at Lovin Scoopful include Dan Sampson, Angelo Moratti, Maria Shriver and Tim Shriver. CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Dan Sampson spoke with us about Lovin’ Scoopful Ice Cream.
Q - I first saw your ice cream in Price Chopper, but it wasn’t in with the rest of the ice cream brands.
A - Right. Just to give you a little background on ice cream, there’s the super-premium section is like Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, highest butterfat, lowest air content and then the next category is actually the biggest it’s the premium section which if you’re on the East Coast it’s Edy’s, Friendly’s, Hood. They’re all in that category. Then there’s commercial grade which is lower, more air, lower butterfat again and lesser ingredients. The bricks. That’s kind of the commercial category so, in our section, were kind of a subsection of that section. Were a light premium ice cream. So, most premiums in that section have 12% butterfat. It can be from 10% to 12% and then we’re a light premium so we’re half of that. We have 6% butterfat. Sometimes, to get back to your question we get placed in the Good For You section is and sometimes were just with the regular premium ice cream. I have a super-premium background. I had a company called Dankin’s that I sold a long, long time ago. We’re a super-premium, 16% to 20% butterfat base and almost no air in our product. At that time the low-fat or light products couldn’t mimic a good product. Now, with manufacturing capabilities and different things that kind of gourmet or churned style, some people refer to it as light premium product if you taste our product against the full fat premium you almost can’t tell the difference. I tell people all the time if this game was only about quality we would be number one in our category. We’ve kind of combined up super premium flavor profile with the light churned style premium base. I think were the best in the category out there, but, unfortunately it’s about a lot more things than that. It’s about slotting dollars and promotional spends and ad money and all that kind of stuff.
Q - I never realized before I started interviewing guys like you, that you had to pay money to a supermarket for a premium space on their shelves.
A - Absolutely. I won’t name names but we’re finalizing new item form for a presentation we just made and where trying to get in. It’s one of the bigger chains. Were in Walmart. We got in there without slotting. Not everybody charges it we are basically a charitable based company. We send proceeds to Special Olympics. Were a small company. Slotting is not our thing. (Laughs) we have a cause orientation that hopefully retailers can get behind. That’s been the case with chains that we are in for the most part. But, right now there is no way around slotting for this one chain. To give you an idea they have about 700 to 800 stores and if you’re a big guy Unilever who owns Breyer or Nestlé’s who owns Edy’s and dragons on the West Coast and you just pay the slotting, they’re pretty much going to get in that way. $60,000 per flavor. So, even if we want one shelf right now were coming out with a new package on the East Coast this upcoming season starting in February (2014), it’s four units per shelf so just to get in that’s nearly a quarter of $1 million to do it the easy way. We really haven’t ever offered slotting. We’re trying to do it with other promotions and things that will generate sales. So, were up against that, so probably we won’t get in.
Q - What I was getting at is, all ice creams should be together. When you’re ice cream isn’t with the rest, it’s got to be harder to sell.
A - Absolutely. Were the new guys on the block, most of them have been around forever. They are well entrenched. There is different brands in different markets. There’s the few national brands and then there is the prominent regional brands, so it’s a crowded space to try and enter. We don’t get the displays like the big guys. It’s because we don’t have the ads budget. Then we don’t get the best placement. In certain cases a vendor will buy a specific door in a specific spot. We can’t play that game essentially. So that’s the kind of behind the scenes stuff that people aren’t aware of. You’re right. We’re working from a different standpoint. The chain Stop N Shop and Martins, they’re in New England and will now be in the New York area through DC and into Pennsylvania now with Martins, we were in about half of their stores, about 350 stores or so. Now, they support Special Olympics and want to support Special Olympics more. Carrying our product is kind of a way for them to support Special Olympics. They’ve kind of bought in to what we’re doing. They work well with us as a partner. They’re are actually giving us another shelf next year. Our package is changing. We used to be able to have six on the shelf. Now we can only have four. We’re going for 6 to 8 SKUs onto shelves and we did it all without slotting just because they are behind our support of Special Olympics and they love our product. Most of the places we are it’s because of that.
Q - I guess it almost goes without saying you don’t do much advertising.
A - We do as much P. R. stuff as possible. Were actively involved with all the social media. We Twitter and Blog. We don’t do it as well as some people and companies I’m sure. We do Couponing. We’re into that as much as we can. To give you a little background. I went to college with a guy named Tim Shriver whose mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded Special Olympics. Tim has more or less been running Special Olympics either as CEO and Chairman, one or the other for the last 30 years or so. I have done a lot of business in Japan. I owned an ice cream company called Dankin’s which I sold in the late 90s. Tim, when they had the World Games in Japan invited me to go over there because when I owned the company a gentleman had bought rights for our ice cream in Japan. I’m kind of fast forwarding but he was going to open up Dankin’s in Japan, an ice cream store. But then I sort of sold the company as were talking to each other. Starbucks opened up in Japan. So he thought he had to get into the coffee business. This was kind of a young entrepreneurial guy from Japan who found me on the Internet. He came to visit and then I walked him around town. Seattle is kind of the coffee capital of the US supposedly. He chose a company called Tully’s Coffee to license in Japan and I became an original owner of Tully’s coffee in Japan. I was his guy on the ground here negotiating with the parent company. In Japan we grew pretty rapidly more than 500 Tully’s in Japan now and we went public. They’re now private again. It’s been really successful. So, I did a lot of business in Japan. I even sold ice cream to Tully’s in Japan. That’s why Kim invited me to the World Games in Japan. We started talking about going into business. He wanted to do something else but still kind of with his background and his causes in mind. I’m into ice cream and coffee. What do you do? The end result is Lovin Scoopful which we kind of developed as an ongoing revenue source, different vehicle for Special Olympics. Our ultimate goal would be to have multiple consumer products each donating to unique, uplifting causes and really be known as the giving brand. I have a background in ice cream. It’s a difficult category. So, we thought were kind of go big and try to do it in the big competitive category, if we’re going to do anything at all were going to try to do it big. Edy’s had just come out with a churned style light product that was better than it had been in the past. So, we kind of took that and built upon it. That’s kind of where we started things. Special Olympics is a smile proudly organization and ice cream makes people smile so we thought that was a great foundation to build our company on. Obviously Paul Newman has done a great job with that, but some people in this generation don’t even know that he donates to charity. Were co-branded with Special Olympics. We’re the only product that’s permanently co-branded with Special Olympics. There, it’s kind of amorphous. People really don’t know who they’re giving to. So we feel we can be more compelling in that way.
Q - Since you got into the ice cream and coffee business right out of college, what courses did you take to prepare you for those careers?
A - Well, I went to Yale in New Haven Connecticut and there was an ice cream store. It was like a Steve’s with mix ins on site, and I was a pint a night man even though I played rugby, it was a pint of ice cream not a pint of beer. I got to know the guy. He was a young guy out of college who started Ashley’s. I started talking to him. I found a guy who helped set up small dairies and we worked together. I kind of talked to him about machinery. I know I wanted not just the retail thing, it was interesting, but I wanted to be able to wholesale ice cream if I started a business at all. So, I kind of research it that way. I found a miniature of a dairy machine at a dairy show in Chicago. It was kind of unique at the time because it could make smaller batches but with the same quality controls as a dairy. So it kind of became a self-fulfilling thing. To be honest, it all comes full circle. I was an economics and political science major. That’s what I have a B.A. in and I was going to go to law school. I had worked as an intern for Senator Jackson, a prior summer when I was in college. Henry Jackson from the state of Washington. Then I was going to get the legislative assistant job to him for a year or two before I went to law school. I took the LSAT took a semester off somewhere along the line. I had a semester to study and I took the LSAT and I had this job waiting for me the following fall and then I was going to work first Senator Jackson and go to law school but then he died that summer. It sounds silly but I ended up living on my friend Tim Shriver’s couch. He asked me to help with the Special Olympics event in New Haven and I helped him run that. So, I got to know Special Olympics early on. Then I started going to this ice cream place talking to this guy. I had always been interested in business and I was in New Haven for a semester without having to be in school and I put together a business plan during that time and that’s what happened. I got financing for a very small amount from a bank and that’s what happened. So, it’s kind of become self-fulfilling thing. I figured there are enough lawyers in the world and I could probably make more people smile producing ice cream than more litigation.
Q - Senator Henry Jackson was known as Senator. Henry scoop Jackson.
A – Correct.
Q - Then there’s the name of your business Lovin scoopful.
A - Oh. I hadn’t even thought of that. You’re the writer! There ya go. Wow! Interesting that’s funny.
Q - Then you got in with the Shriver’s and you must’ve met the Kennedys.
A - Yeah most of them I would say. They’ve been very supportive of. Maria (Shriver) is a patron in the company too. Maria and Tim are original owners of the company.
Q - Do you have a personal say in what flavors of the ice cream will be developed?
A - I do. Yes. To be honest even the partners have helped with that. For instance, the front of our package has an illustration with the scoop with a heart, then under it there’s two scoops of ice cream. That was Maria’s son Patrick’s idea. Everybody’s been involved in all aspects of the product, Maria even named Cozy vanilla. That was her flavor. I send different samples around to everybody and I get feedback so we all kind of work together. It’s definitely an in house process.
Q - You have how many flavors?
A - We have 12 flavors. We’re going to have eight with our new package coming out on the East Coast and we have 12 flavors on the West Coast.
Q - How did you know there was a marketplace for Lovin scoopful?
A - Just kind of the nature of how health conscious society and the like. You could see that there was a trend towards good for you type products. As I mentioned, in the ice cream category they weren’t good. You could see the development. We got into it right when a quality light product could be made. It’s the one segment of the ice cream category that was growing steadily. It kind of depends on the part of the category you’re in. If you’re out here for instance, if you look at a Dryers because they have a lot of space, it used to be that 85% of it was regular ice cream. Slowly it’s morphed over the last 3,4,5 years and now it’s probably 60% of the churn style formula.
Q - Now you have another problem to contend with. Major Supermarket chains are making their own ice cream and underselling guys like you.
A - Absolutely. Another one of my problems. Actually they have more products and do more at retail with the pricing and they have more margin for themselves, for their own product. I can’t tell a lie. Some of them are doing a good job. So, it’s tough to compete with. We did launch in 2008. I always think ice cream is an affordable luxury which it kind of is even in down times. It makes people comfortable so they’ll still eat it. So, as a category it’s been fine. But the problem is just that in all the vendors, in all the brands, they just throw the deal money in. So, for a little guy like us, new people, it’s very difficult to compete because people are buying what’s on deal. There’s not as much brand loyalty as there used to be. I would venture to say at least 80% of sales are probably are on deal. So, it’s hard to get somebody who’s loyal to your brand that’s going to buy it, if there’s something a dollar cheaper sitting next to it.
Q - Would you be better off trying to sell your product to major hotels and restaurants?
A - Unfortunately we have a co-Packer were not producing our own product. That’s not uncommon. It’s the same as most of the retailers are doing with their product. It’s just really hard to compete price wise in any category. They can get it cheaper from somebody else. But, it is something we might pursue. So, it’s not out of the question.
Q - There are probably days when you wish you were a lawyer.
A - (Laughs). I mean it is funny. I used to think it must be so much fun (the ice cream business). But, it’s business. It’s a cut throat business in a competitive sector of the economy.
Q - Your ice cream comes from the milk and cream of cows. It’s not treated with the growth hormone BST.
A - Correct.
Q - What’s so bad about BST?
A - That’s a good question. (Laughs). I’m not a scientist. I just know it’s not as pure. You’re injecting a hormone. I think people just like to avoid that if they can.
Q - Why don’t other ice cream companies follow in your footsteps?
A - Some do. Ben and Jerry’s are the same. They’re the ones that are conscious of stuff like that.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved