By Alicia Cunningham | Apr 14, 2017
Salt Lake City
Industry: Food & Beverage
Product: Gourmet frozen popsicles
In 2012, Tomkinson was at a crossroads. She could either apply to medical school or exchange medical scrubs for an apron. After talking with her husband, she decided to give herself one summer to see if she could form a life outside of medical school.
"I kept getting a nagging feeling that medical school was not what I really wanted to do," she says. "I loved to bake cakes. I thought it would be so fun to open a bakery café. I thought about trying out the local farmers market for the summer, but they wouldn't let me in. They had enough bakers. Every day I called and begged to be let in. Every day they said no."
While eating a popsicle, Tomkinson had an idea to create a gourmet frozen pop. This was an idea the local farmers market was excited to let in.
"I wanted to take all of the flavors from baking and put it in a popsicle form," Tomkinson says. They had to be all-natural. The flavor combinations had to be unique. I refused to Google recipes because I wanted everything to be mine. In four crazy days, I was ready for the farmers market."
Today, Tomkinson still sells her gourmet pops at local farmers markets, but she has also moved into Harmons grocery stores and her product will be sold at Whole Foods in 2017.
The growth has required Tomkinson to move from her kitchen into a factory, pick out retail packaging, and contract with a distributor. Each experience has come with significant growing pains.
"When we started with Harmons, we were small enough that we only had a few SKUs and it was easy to do our own distribution," Tomkinson shares. "But last year it was too overwhelming. We needed help. But it's hard finding the right partner. These things melt! We worked with one company that delivered our pops all melted. It was a nightmare." And Tomkinson originally only paid $500 for her first packaging design. "It was horrible. The design was primarily polka dots and people thought we were selling gumballs. We had to overcome that and put in the time and money into new packaging. It paid off, though," she says. "Sales went up because people actually understood what we were selling."
Moving beyond the farmers market also means that Tomkinson now manufactures year-round. "I was looking forward to a break," Tomkinson laughs. "But now, we’re doing flavors to keep customers interested all year -- pumpkin in the fall, candy cane over the holidays, chocolate-covered cinnamon bears for Valentine's Day. We have actually discovered ice-cream products have a higher sale rate in the winter than the summer. And just because it's on a stick does not mean people don’t want to eat it year-round," she says.
Tomkinson looks to source all of her ingredients locally, though she does have to look outside the state for mangos, bananas, and other fruit. "When it’s available, we try to get everything as local as possible," she says.
Challenges: Keeping up with demand. When she started, Tomkinson could make 600 gourmet pops a week. "In our new factory, I can make 10,000 a day," she says. "But I still do the flavors and mixes in small batches. This is our decision to do it this way. It takes time, and time is money. But it's who we are. It's all hands-on, and that makes us unique."
Opportunities: Moving into Whole Foods. "Getting in the door was a rigorous, strenuous process," Tomkinson admits. "We were inspected twice. It was the scariest experience of my life. After the first inspection, my soul took a beating, but we were able to get their approval and certification. It was worth it."
Needs: Talent and money. "We need solid, amazing employees and the money to buy, for example, thousands of dollars of mangos," Tomkinson says. "Every dollar we make goes right back into the business, but getting that money is a hurdle."