By Gregory Daurer | Jan 30, 2020
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Ice cream and frozen desserts
Co-founders Case and Freya Estreller built a boutique ice cream business that began with a single food truck -- "a great, low barrier to entry," says Case -- selling ice cream sandwiches at California's famed Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, held annually near Palm Springs, with its hot, desert climate.
Case recalls, "It was the first ice cream truck ever [at Coachella], and we really changed the game as far as what was possible for being a food vendor there -- to be a more quality-driven food vendor, to be a real brand. So, it was very humble beginnings. We couldn't spend a lot of money to be there. But it really got the brand off the ground." And, she adds, it led to the "viral traction that we've been growing ever since."
Next, came placement in supermarkets: "We really thought we had a brand and a product that had great potential for scale, so we expanded into Whole Foods and incubated the brand there."
Today, Coolhaus utilizes co-packing facilities in California and Utah to supply its pints and ice cream sandwiches to over 7,500 stores nationwide. The company still operates a few ice cream trucks -- a core part of its brand identity -- as well as a brick-and-mortar shop in Culver City, California.
Case describes the Coolhaus brand as "super-premium, artisanal, and very innovative."
The innovation comes not just from unique flavors like Thai Town Crunch, Street Cart Churro Dough, Mo Matcha Mochi, Balsamic Fig & Mascarpone, and Milkshake & Fries (with actual shoestring french fries throughout the pint). It's also partially due to Coolhaus offering non-dairy, ice cream-like desserts made from, according to product labeling information, non-GMO yellow peas, organic whole grain brown rice, organic cocoa butter, and organic cane sugar, in addition to other ingredients. And although sales for the dairy-free are still below 10 percent, Case says, "In three years, we think it will be 50-50" -- owing to changing consumer demands, and because "our dairy free is just so creamy and such high-quality, with such unique flavors."
Mind you, Case already calls the brand's ice cream "creamy and delicious," as well as "the creamiest." She says, "It's very dense in flavor -- but it's not an insane amount of cream butterfat." But the company also goes out of its way to drive home -- befitting its founders' age demographics -- "the millennial thinking about transparency." It embosses its ice cream labels with an array of certifications: "Real Ingredients," "No Bovine Growth Hormone," "Real California Milk," "Cage Free Eggs," "Equal Partner & Organic Chocolate," and "Organic Cane Sugar."
Add "Certified Women-Owned" to that, as well. Case says, "For us, we represent the voice of our generation, especially being women-founded." While Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's -- who Case and Estreller sometimes get compared to within the ice cream world -- represent an older, Woodstock generation, Case says she and Estreller are part of the Millennial generation that's "challenging the status quo" in its own way. Of course, Ben and Jerry aren't married, but Case and Estreller most certainly are.
Case and Estreller met while studying abroad as students in Italy. They ate gelato, they fell in love. Then they started a business that incorporated their appreciation of design and architecture. The name Coolhaus is a partial play on both the Bauhaus and the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas ("He thinks it's a really cool thing" to have been nodded to in naming the company, says Case). Case and Estreller began Coolhaus by making mini-house-like structures out of ice cream and cookies; and they've made a home together (although Estreller has stepped away from management of the business).
Case says Coolhaus pays forward by mentoring younger businesswomen. "We really believe in the power of what we're doing, and that we can help make an impact, not only for our generation, but the one to come," she says.
Challenges: "The growth is amazing," says Case about the company's trajectory. "It's amazing to have a brand that can grow, but it's very capital intensive. So, keeping track of nearly every dollar, and then really investing in the team. I think having a great team -- besides the product -- is the secret sauce to having a great brand."
Opportunities: Case says, "Innovating the novelties, and taking the dairy-free to the next level."
Needs: "The financial side is the most challenging side," says Case. "But, other than that, we just need to execute our amazing plan and strategy that we've laid out for 2020 and beyond." That includes "elevating how we perform" and "[filling] in the brand awareness" among consumers.