On becoming one of six British food and drink entrepreneurs to win £60,000 in investment funding and a place on Grocery Accelerator’s business mentoring programme, the founders of Polar Pops– ice lollies made from fresh, whole fruits and vegetables – talk to Produce Business UK about why using fresh produce was a “no brainer” and how they aim to get both kids and adults eating more fresh, natural and healthy ingredients
It sounds simple – 100% natural, healthy and tasty ice lollies made from fresh fruit and vegetables with no added sugar or common allergens. So simple that no one has done it before, and now it’s bang on trend as consumers increasingly strive to meet their five-a-day quota, while still allowing for a treat here and there.
The motto behind Bristol-based Polar Pops is “We pick. We squeeze. We freeze” and that’s the concept co-founders Susie D’Andrea and Emily Fletcher plan to bring to the retail market once they’ve participated in Grocery Accelerator’s six-month scheme to raise awareness of their brand.
“Polar Pops are healthy and delicious ice lollies, handmade from the freshest fruit and veg, with no added sugar, artificial flavouring or colouring,” explains Fletcher, pointing out that this simple concept is also the product’s unique selling point.
“Simply put, we blitz fruit and veg and freeze it,” adds D’Andrea. “Our pops are dairy free, lactose free and gluten free too. Because it’s just fruit and veg, one pop also counts as a five-a-day portion for children or as a contribution towards an adult’s five-a-day serving. We’ve just sent some samples for testing to get the exact nutritional value confirmed.”
D’Andrea and Fletcher set about establishing Polar Pops after taking career breaks to have children. D’Andrea, who was a freelance location caterer for 20 years in the events and entertainment industry, and Fletcher, a former fresh produce retail buyer for Somerfield and ex-commercial manager at Tesco, both noticed a gap in the market when they sought to give their kids a treat that wasn’t full of sugar.
“There’s a need for this type of ice lolly that doesn’t contain sugar or a list of unpronounceable ingredients,” notes Fletcher. “Until now, children who wanted lollies only had access to sugary lollies. Fruit juice-based lollies have been around for a while, but there are no lollies made with whole produce that include vegetables.
“We’re not sure why it hasn’t been done before. No one has thought about it or whether vegetables would work and taste nice in a lolly – usually lollies are very sweet. But it’s really quite simple and it could’ve been done a long time ago.”
Fletcher says retailers, shopkeepers and café owners lack anything in their ranges that “comes close” to Polar Pops. “It’s a unique product that really delivers on taste and quality,” she claims. “We started with a test market in Bristol and our research shows consumers want it.
“It’s a great sales opportunity and we think it’s complementary to other products, so it won’t take sales away from other ranges. It’s a product mums and dads could buy to keep in the freezer (we are currently developing a four-pack for the retail market) as they are handy for when kids want a quick treat. It serves a wide range of age groups as well, which another product might not be able to fill.”
Before starting the business, D’Andrea says she used to make natural lollies for her own family and wanted to offer a similar product when they were out of the home – a demand she saw from other parents too. Recognising a strong combination of skills by teaming up with Fletcher, the duo decided to launch their artisan natural ice lolly company in January, 2015.
Promoting fresh-produce consumption
Basing the product on fresh fruit and vegetables was a no brainer, according to the duo. “We both use fresh produce and we both love it,” says D’Andrea. “We want to say fruit and veg is great to eat; it’s so healthy and fresh, so choose it and celebrate it.
“A strawberry ice lolly should be made from strawberries, with no added water or nasties. Our lollies taste like the names of the products they contain, and the colours are so amazing and so natural – you don’t need artificial colours!
“We’re offering flavours that you don’t usually find on the market either – our green superfood pop is definitely not anywhere else. The pops are all quite unique, which is refreshing for consumers.”
As such, Polar Pops believes its product can definitely help to increase fruit and veg consumption, particularly among children who may less inclined to try vegetables which aren’t as sweet as fruit and therefore less palatable for kids. “We all try to introduce vegetables to our kids as much as we can, so why not give it to them as part of a sweet treat?,” points out Fletcher
During one focus group, Polar Pops asked six- and seven-year old school children what they thought about eating fruit and veg in general and as part of a lolly. Their responses contradicted each other, according to D’Andrea, proving consumption among children is all about perception and colour.
“We asked the children whether they eat vegetables; they said no,” she explains. “We also asked if they would ever eat veg in a lolly; and again they said no. Then we let them try Polar Pops and when we asked if they liked it, they said yes and used words like ‘delicious’. So it just goes to show that a young child doesn’t care if it’s healthy; they want a colourful, sweet experience. Polar Pops are totally guilt free.”
Indeed, D’Andrea says the red Polar Pop for kids contains beetroot, which a child wouldn’t readily be able to detect. “After a while a parent could reintroduce that product and it would be a familiar, friendly flavour,” she points out. “We choose complementary fruit and veg, and not all will work, of course. The vegetables we use are generally sweet – you’d find them in baby purée. They complement fruits like oranges or mangoes.”
The pops can be eaten by children as young as six months old and the company claims some parents are already using them for weaning or to encourage their kids to eat different fruits and especially vegetables.
So far, the range far includes four flavours that are colour-coded for children. Red pops, which are predominantly strawberries with bananas and beetroot; orange pops, which contain oranges, butternut squash and carrots; and green pops that feature apples, bananas and kale. Plus, a ‘traffic light’ pop, which is a combination of the three.
For older children and adults, there are more sophisticated flavours; including a strawberry and pomegranate pop with whole arils; an orange, mango and raspberry pop with whole raspberries; and a green superfood pop that contains kale, chia seeds and spirulina.
Polar Pops has also worked out a price that it believes is competitive for the quality of the product. Currently, a small pop has a recommended retail price of £1.50, while a bigger pop sells for £2.
“Compared with a Magnum ice cream, which can cost up to £2.50, with Polar Pops you’re getting pure fruit and veg,” says Fletcher. “While the rest of the ice lolly market offers a product where the amount of water or flavouring is quite high, ours is minimal. It’s a brilliant offering.”
The range is currently sold in Bristol at two independents natural food stores (Wild Oats and the Better Food Company), a burger restaurant called Three Brothers Burgers, an independent cinema, a garden centre, a children’s play centre, two city farms and a local park. Polar Pops can also be found at local food markets, festivals and cafés where even more adventurous flavours are on offer.
Next, D’Andrea and Fletcher say they obviously want to target nationwide retailers. “We’d love to get listed at Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Ocado,” says Fletcher. “We’ll start with the more premium retailers as we feel that’s the shopper demographic we’re more suited to. The people who like Polar Pops are those who shop at the independents and whole food type markets. Then, it would be great if Tesco and Asda sold them too.”
Already, Polar Pops has had a “fantastic reception” in Bristol. “It’s such a refreshing change for people,” says Fletcher. “One of the independent retailers came to us wanting to stock Polar Pops because they’d tasted one in a café and they loved the idea. It shows the need and want to have this type of product.”
While consumers become more aware of the brand, D’Andrea and Fletcher are focusing on their eight core fruit and vegetable ingredients, which they source from Mack Multiples via Bristol Fruit Market.
“We’ll be looking at our sourcing strategy over the winter,” says Fletcher. “We’ll need to branch out and build more direct relationships with growers. “We’re looking for full traceability obviously, good quality, different varieties and suppliers that are willing to work with smaller businesses and be flexible”
Indeed, in time, the company plans to introduce new flavours to its range, which will require a broader sourcing plan. “We’re always thinking about new flavours – there are millions out there and we know what works well together,” points out D’Andrea.
“For now, our focus on the more interesting and bespoke flavours is on a smaller scale for markets like festivals, but once those flavours become established we’ll bring those into our range too.”
Already, D’Andrea says the bespoke Thai Mango Polar Pop has been an instant hit with consumers at events in and around Bristol. The lolly features ginger, galangal, chilli, lime leaves, lemongrass and mangoes; unusual lolly flavours but ingredients that complement each other.
“It’s very different,” she notes. “People loved it. It’s sweet but also hot, and it’s such a refreshing combination. Those who tried it loved the sweet aftertaste. If you can have a Thai Mango salad, why not a lolly version too?”
Being a chef by trade, D’Andrea understands which flavours would complement each other in a lolly, and she believes adding herbs and spices is a definite next step.
Now the company is part of the Grocery Accelerator programme, D’Andrea and Fletcher say they are gearing up to evolve the business from its test market into a bigger retail opportunity.
“It’s now all about developing our brand from a small brand to a big brand,” says Fletcher. “Combined, we have retail and chef/food experience but neither of us has owned our own business before. Through Grocery Accelerator, we are tapping into that expertise. Plus, it gives us a good network of other small businesses (we are one of six) from which to gain support and share ideas.”
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