No Grit, No Glory

March 09, 2018

Wouldn’t it be great to have delicious guilt-free ice cream? If you are like the many who have devoured a bowl, or maybe even a pint, of your favorite frozen treat this thought has probably popped into your head. While this is what ice cream eaters have dreamed about, big corporations have continued to churn our cartons of the same calorie-laden recipes. They tried low sugar or low fat concoctions, but nothing quite like the real deal. Which is why when Halo Top Ice Cream founder, Justin Woolverton, brought a healthy, protein-packed and tasty ice cream that boasts 280-360 calories a pint to the market, he disrupted the industry.

Halo Top is a David and Goliath situation where the small dominates the big. With no experience in the food industry, Woolverton founded a company that has scooped up 5% of the US ice cream market and in 2016 it grew 2,500%. So, how did this company pop out of nowhere and triumph in a market with giants like Unilever and Nestlé? The answer is grit—a mixture of courage, passion, and perseverance—a quality that so many start-up founders have, but that big companies tend to lack.

If you look at Woolverton’s story, he had the necessary courage, passion, and perseverance. Like so many people in L.A., Woolverton went on a diet, but still wanted a sweet treat without indulging. After lots of experimentation, he came up with a recipe that he loved and thought that others would love it too. He knew he came upon something great and didn’t let anything stop him—not $150,000 of credit card debt, a law suit over his company’s name, an original recipe so thick it would destroy any ice cream machine, or even a near death experience from a dry ice incident. He did not let obstacles get in his way because he had grit.

Big ice cream companies missed this opportunity to lead the market. Now, Halo Top outsells Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs and Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s. This phenomena is not just happening in the ice cream aisle, but with all consumer packaged goods. Boston Consulting Group reported that $22 billion dollars of spending has shifted away from large companies towards small ones that recognized tastes were changing and acted quickly.

Now, to make up for their tardiness, big corporations are buying up the little guys who have risen to success. Just two examples are, Nestlé has bought third-wave coffee maker Blue Bottle and Unilever has bought specialty gelato producer Talenti. But, these companies could have easily been able to create these products with their resources, however they lacked grit. Delicious yet healthy ice cream for so long was an impossible oxymoron. Companies tried coming out with new low-calorie or low-sugar options, but they lacked the passion, courage, and perseverance to crack the code of a perfect recipe.

This happens a lot with companies once they reach a certain success and size. They get complacent with business as usual and integrate changes slowly and cautiously. But to move into the future they need to recapture the grit their founders had when they started. They can’t just acquire products the newcomers are bringing, but need to merge into their practices the energy and entrepreneurial spirit these fresh companies bring. Just like Woolverton embarked on his journey with Halo Top, they need to fervently and nimbly approach challenges like they have nothing to lose because it’s true that with no grit, no glory.