Maker Journal #1: A Plant-Based Ice Cream Company Finds Its Way
Welcome to the first edition of Maker Journals, a new series from Foodboro, in partnership with Streetlight Ventures, that follows the journey of an early-stage food business in real time. Told in the maker’s own words, these stories will be familiar to anyone who has undertaken the wild, scary, all-consuming and thrilling process of building a business.
This time around, we’re following Neil Goldberg, a Vermont-based first-time entrepreneur. Neil is dipping his toes into the startup world with a plant-based ice cream business called Noix. If you’re a food entrepreneur or just business-curious, share in Neil’s highs and lows on our blog. He’ll be telling the story in his own words. Along the way, we’ll also get input from experts in the field on Neil’s strategy and decisions. And we want to hear from YOU! Share your comments, warnings, and advice for Neil on the blog!
The Origins of a Business
I grew up on dairy. Milk, cheese, and ice cream were the building blocks of my diet. It was the 90’s: peak “Got Milk” campaign. And in my home state of Vermont, we devoured pints of Ben and Jerry’s.
In my mid 20’s, after a decade of working in restaurants, eating everything, and feeling bad, I realized that dairy and I just didn’t get along. In the fall of 2018, I finally had an epiphany. While in Seattle I tried Frankie and Jo’s, a plant-based ice cream shop. I was hooked at first lick; it was better than any dairy ice cream I had ever tasted.
In between bites, I jumped on Amazon and purchased a small ice cream machine, shipped it to my Burlington apartment, and decided I was going to bring dairy-free ice cream to a dairy-obsessed state.
State of the Startup
I’ve been iterating on flavors for months, testing them on friends and family, but I want to go bigger. I’m currently preparing to launch a small scoop shop project. Having worked in the food industry for so long, I’m able to utilize friends’ existing storefronts and restaurants as a beta test of Noix.
For the moment, I’m self-funded. I made the leap and left my full-time job, but I’ll be working part-time to pay the bills for now. My friends and family are already planning to help with production and scooping, and I have a friend helping me with photography and social media. My next project is to make a logo.
Building a Brand, Not Just A Product
I know branding is uber-important, especially in food. Also, labeling is tricky: you can’t use the term ice cream to describe a product made without dairy (thanks, dairy lobby). At this point, I don’t want to call the ice cream “vegan” or “non-dairy”. I consider it an artisan ice cream experience, that just happens to come without the digestive or moral issues. I knew the logo had to say “ice cream” without using that verbiage.
I initially tried to make a logo myself, but after a brutally honest marketing woman told me it sucked, I decided this was a project to outsource. She mentioned I should look on Etsy for affordable designers, so I hired a woman there for $250 after browsing some of her previous work.
I started the process with a few words I thought would help guide the design: Modern, comfort, classy, minimalist, unity, nostalgia. Here’s the first iteration.
Noix is the French word for ‘nut,’ and Nwa is the phonetic spelling. Originally, I chose Nwa because I was worried people wouldn’t know how to pronounce Noix. But Nwa might be even harder to understand – I think we’ll scrap it. Vermont has French origins, after all.
My gut is that it’s not there. I didn’t pay much for these, and I’m relearning the “you get what you pay for” lesson.
It’s too busy, and I think the square has too much utilitarian/authoritative feel. Honestly though, I think the biggest issue is that I still don’t have a clear enough picture in my head.
Design isn’t a topic I ever thought too much about. I learned to express my self verbally, but never really thought much about the power of symbols and images. I read almost all the content on Foodboro, and that helped frame my thinking. I’m also starting to read some books on design. With all this new information, I’m going back to the designer with feedback.
We asked packaging and logo designer Jan-Jan Tayson to weigh in on Neil’s logos. Her comments on each iteration are in italics:
“The Nwa curled decorative font is reminiscent of a French brand. This is strong because you can do so much with the iconographies and illustrations – you can take these elements and apply them to other types of packages or lines! I do like the frame, and I could see that in collateral design or package design. But as a logo, it’s too much. You want to be as simple as you can.”
Got the new designs back. Here’s what they look like:
I’m not sure about these. I asked friends for some feedback, and they suggested that the ice cream logo makes the word less readable. They suggested switching to an ice cream scoop over the i, and I’m going to pitch that idea to the designer.
At this point I feel like I’m just throwing spaghetti at the wall, but maybe that’s part of the process. However, I’ll admit I’m worried I might be testing the limits of how many logo drafts $250 gets you!
Jan-Jan says: The bottom one has that classic look to it. I love the two dots on the end, and an ice cream cone for the i. I think that’s really ownable.”
The designer hasn’t killed me yet. Here are the latest. Now we have a tagline!
I like the ice cream scoop over the i. This helps it keeps its integrity as a wordmark, while also symbolizing a familiar product. The tagline “Scooped Differently” reinforces the ice cream association, but differentiates Noix as unique.
I think it’s pretty close to being finalized! And to be honest, it has to be. I need to start using something. One more tweak, and then we’re good to go.
Jan-Jan says: “I love that there’s a tagline, because you need to have some sort of definition to your brand. But in terms of design, it doesn’t jump out as much.”
I’m happy with this final version. I think it’s a good start, and I’m already talking with people about how it can eventually evolve further. But for now, we’ve got to start using something.
Next, I’m ordering branded stickers to go on the ice cream containers and ice cream sandwiches. I’m also making a large custom decal of the logo to put on the scoop cart. We’re launching soon, so I’m about to be consumed with operational concerns and preparing for the big day.