Two years ago we brought you the success story of Neale’s Sweet N' Nice Ice Cream when the company landed a major distribution deal at Sobeys grocery stores in Ontario. We’re excited to learn that the Caribbean flavoured ice cream brand is expanding to 53 stores from the Loblaw group including No Frills and Real Canadian Superstore and 44 stores in Metro starting in July. We checked in with one of the founders Andrew McBarnett.
Congratulations on the expansion. This is coming right on the heels of COVID19, how was your business affected by the lockdown?
COVID19 delayed our planned launches into Metro and Loblaws as well as other plans to enter the foodservice sector selling our 5.7L sizes into the restaurant industry. This of course impacted our revenue and cash flow. In addition, we had huge summer marketing plans to push brand awareness with instore pop-up tastings, summer events including working with Toronto Caribbean Carnival events.
Did you change anything about your strategy or marketing post COVID19?
Yes, definitely we had to pivot our marketing plans during COVID19. We've focused on social media channels to drive engagement. We did a "Joy" campaign with influencers around the city delivering free ice cream to help brighten lives while we were all stuck at home. We also focused on messaging around small and local businesses like ourselves and did a collaborative social media campaign "grocery bag giveaway" with other small local businesses. Also in order to drive greater brand awareness as we have not been able to do instore demos, we have extended marketing by exploring areas such as Spotify radio ads and paid social media ads.
What kind of work happened behind the scenes to secure the expansion?
A lot of time was spent focusing on a couple of key areas - maintaining our existing Sobeys grocery partnership by supporting the stores, doing product sales/marketing within the stores while doing targeted customer marketing to ensure that we stayed on shelves for future growth. At the same time continuing engagement, multiple meetings with product presentations, discussions, and persistent communication and follow-ups with potential vendors to win new shelf space - this took over a year or more. Lastly and critically we spent a lot of time hunting for additional funding to support expansion. While we were self-funded since our inception, our growth plans required additional investment; we were lucky in that after presenting to multiple angel groups across the GTA (which didn't work as they didn't understand our company or product) we were able to secure investment from a Black-owned investment group which is headed by Wes J. Hall, Chairman at Kingsdale Advisors. Working with Wes and his core team has been great as we’ve not only received financial support to push the business forward but also felt like we have someone in our corner who cares about our business, pushing us to take the business to the next level and wanting us to really succeed.
A Calgary ice cream brand recently had to pull one of their products off the shelves after being accused of commodifying the BLM movement. What do you think of brands that have been trying to get in on the #Blacklivesmatter conversation?
I think brands should get involved but in a way that promotes long term change not “jump on the bandwagon” impulse actions and Instagram posts. Brands need to focus on changes in their recruitment processes, changes at senior management levels, and changes in their procurement processes to show true support to the Black Lives Matter movement. Check out BlackNorth.ca an initiative headed by Wes Hall focused on long term change in corporate Canada.
Sweet N' Nice carries five flavours: coconut, rum and raisin, mango, guava passion fruit, and pineapple coconut. Any new flavours in the works?
Yes, we do. We have a banana chocolate that will be released over the summer. Our ice cream will be made of a blend of cocoa including premium cocoa from the Caribbean, which is regarded as the world's finest cocoa hybrid.
Neale's Sweet N' Nice is availale in Sobey's, Frescho, No Frills, Sobey's Urban Fresh, Coppra's Fresh Market and Foodland.
Camille Dundas is the editor-in-chief of ByBlacks.com.