How This 27-Year-Old Took Over a Dairy-Free Ice Cream Brand and Helped It Grow to $12 Million in Sales

Daniel Nicholson took over as CEO of Nadamoo following the company’s founder stepped from the business.

In this ongoing column, The Digest , Entrepreneur.com News Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with food entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to obtain products in to the mouths of customers.

After Daniel Nicholson tasted coconut-milk-based ice cream Nadamoo for the very first time in 2008, he wished to try the startup.

"I was just absolutely impressed that it was something without the dairy," he says. "This is my possibility to just jump in head first to something and begin getting my hands dirty."

First, he introduced Nadamoo to his family, who were so impressed with the merchandise and branding that they committed to the company. Then convinced the business’s founder to let him become its comptroller. 3 years later, the founder made a decision to step away from the business enterprise, leading the then 27-year-old Nicholson to assume the role of the business’s president and CEO.

"Whether because [my family] had an inherent belief in me or simply believed deeply in the merchandise and in its capability to succeed in industry," he says, "I have no idea."

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Nadamoo has grew steadily since, using its products available these days in about 4,500 stores, including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Albertsons-Safeway and soon, Stop & Shop. It saw about 95 percent year-over-year growth in 2017, with retail sales of around $12 million, in line with the company, and estimates similar growth this season.

Nadamoo is part of an evergrowing trend of dairy-free alternatives, which especially includes an explosion of "milk" made out of nuts, seeds or grains. The global dairy alternatives market is projected to attain $14.36 billion by 2022, according to advertise research firm Reportlinker.

Image Credit: Thanks to Nadamoo

Entrepreneur spoke with Nicholson about Nadamoo’s growth, marketing and leadership.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Was it tough to dominate the business following the founder stepped away?

I essentially was the main one who was simply running the nuts and bolts of the everyday operation. [The founder] created this wonderful recipe that people all loved and believed in. I basically saw her role in the picture as a whole as she created the recipe. It’s the IP of the business that we are actually investors in.

I thought to myself, in the event that you do opt to keep this thing going, recognize that you are going to be diving even deeper. You better manage to connect at a straight deeper level with the product and brand. Because by the end of the day you are going to need something to sustain your projects ethic as well as your passion behind the product.

How did the business land its first big distribution deal?

It’s 2015, my partner is our VP of sales, and we are actually off in Thailand visiting our coconut milk supplier. We’d recently finished ending up in the global office of Whole Foods. We knew that there is a chance they might roll it out nationally, but we didn’t feel with any degree of certainty that it had been a done deal.

We were worked up about this trip and connecting deeper with the farmers who are providing us with this key ingredient. We’d just checked right into a hotel. I remember as soon as so vividly. I’m in the shower and I simply hear screams from the bedroom — screams of excitement and joy. My partner Kristen shouts out if you ask me that people landed Whole Foods. That was by by far the big breakthrough moment for all of us.

How did you get that initial ending up in Whole Foods?

We’re based within Austin. Whole Foods was our first customer in 2005, immediately after our founder had created the recipe. She was on a mission to get feedback from the neighborhood community on the merchandise. She had a relationship with the founder and owner of a juice shop and asked him if she could [set up a] pop-up in the shop and [give] samples of the ice cream. It just so happens that in walks among the Whole Foods buyers, and he discovered the ice cream. She basically gets a verbal commitment from Whole Foods to get her product therefore she would go to the drawing board and starts determining everything she must do to put the merchandise in packaging.

We have been able to execute a good job on our end to cultivate some of these relationships that ultimately led us to the opportunity where we got before a worldwide grocery coordinator.

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What can entrepreneurs can study from your experience?

Among the things that I am enamored by in every of the experience is you must put yourself out there. You can not be timid about cold calling people or cold emailing people and putting yourself able to build new relationships and cultivate them. Relationships, by the end of the day, certainly are a huge part of what we prosper as a company, because we value people.

To possess a real genuine care — not only about your product and the things that you’re putting involved with it — but about people. That may create opportunities for you personally. You’re always living your daily life with integrity and putting yourself in positions to create and build upon and cultivate these relationships.

What’s the big challenge in your industry and how can you overcome it?

The largest challenge inside our industry is the degree of money, excitement and energy for this space. I understand that sounds strange. The natural foods space was built upon health and fitness and 100 % natural ingredients first. Now a lot of money has found out that is a good spot to invest.

There could be additional money in this space than is essential to build this industry in an authentic way. When folks are coming into the marketplace even before they have something with deep pockets and the capability to hire former executives from major Fortune 500 food companies, the task is for authentic brands like ours to keep to split up and differentiate ourselves. We have to make certain [this trend is] not moving this natural food industry in a direction that will not serve the consumer and also it will.

Image Credit: Thanks to Nadamoo

What marketing tactic has been the very best for the brand and just why?

Social media did an incredible job of leveling the playing field. In 2008, we were simply using person to person. We were doing demos to get. We were going at it from a guerrilla marketing angle and building the brand one spoonful or one scoop at the same time. We utilize the same tactics now and amplify what we’re doing on social media.

What’s the thing that you’ll want people to find out about the procedure to create Nadamoo?

How difficult it really is. I’m fascinated with the raw material facet of it. To see something result from a tall palm tree, then additional processing where in fact the coconut is cracked, the outer layer is shaved off, you take the raw white meat of the coconut and process that into milk. It’s incredible. We’re starting to approach an incredible number of pounds of coconut milk and all that starts from these individual coconuts in Southeast Asia. That’s just one single ingredient from our seven to eight things that get into our base mix for our ice cream.

What’s your goal for the business enterprise for the next 3 years?

My three-year plan entails additional market saturation within america, where we’re only in roughly 4,500 stores. The full total market opportunity in the U.S. is somewhere within 40,000 and 50,000 stores. You want to close that gap. But almost simultaneously we’re seeking to expand the brand internationally. We have been focusing on our relationships in Mexico and Canada and nonetheless, out in Asia.

The other thing that we’re worked up about may be the strength of the brand allowing us to go into different categories. Nadamoo gets the potential to be one of the primary household names as a dairy-free brand. We’ve plans to spotlight various other categories like yogurt, beverage, coffee creamers or cheese.

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Did you meet your lady before you started working together?

Yes. I didn’t hire her. We dated for approximately eight months before we made a decision to make a difficult decision. My partner actually had some [consumer packaged goods] experience. She’s only a natural salesperson. As we started dating and started learning one another, she loved what I was doing with Nadamoo and had a whole lot of respect and appreciation for this.

At some time as we were dating, my existing VP of sales was entering retirement. She wished to throw her name in the hat to displace him. Of course, that designed for a significant conversation with the family, and it designed for a number of important conversations between me and my girlfriend at that time. We ultimately made a decision to move forward together. It has been nice to talk about in the building of the business. It’s been an excellent partnership.

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