Sweet Scoops owners say yogurt tastings are best form of advertising

Sweet Scoops owners say yogurt tastings are best form of advertising
By Natalie Otis, [email protected]

Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire)

BRENTWOOD – Nine years ago, Brian Murray stopped at a café in Exeter
with a sweet tooth and came out with a business plan.

He had ordered a frozen yogurt and was raving about the treat when
the café owner lamented that the small yogurt maker he was buying
the stuff from was closing up shop.

A software company employee with a plan to one day own his own
business, Murray had been on the lookout for a good business idea. He
also knew his father, Wayne Murray, a retired attorney, was looking
for an investment. The two agreed that the next day Wayne should go
talk with the yogurt maker in Salem, Mass., about his business.

Brian~Rs discovery in Exeter quickly dropped him and his father
into the part-time frozen yogurt business. The maker of the frozen
yogurt in Exeter was none other than the man whose family founded,
and eventually sold, Colombo Yogurt – Bob Colombosian.

Colombosian~Rs family started a non-frozen yogurt business in the
1940s, and eventually sold to General Mills. With the sale, Colombosian
retained the rights to make frozen yogurt and focused on the frozen
offerings under the Sweet Scoops name.

Sweet Scoops, the company Brian and Wayne Murray bought from
Colombosian, started with operating the single shop in Salem,
Mass., and supplying yogurt to a few customers buying wholesale. It
now employs a dozen workers and is delivering to New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island.

The first year, Sweet Scoops sold about 12,000 pints. It now sells
that much in a week and is prepared to keep 50,000 pints in a new,
12,000-cubic-foot freezer at the manufacturing facility in Brentwood.
The buzz in the stores is a “sweet treat with half the calories and
half the fat.”

The company must deal with the giants such as Stonyfield Farm and Ben
& Jerry~Rs that offer similar frozen products. However, Sweet Scoops
has made a move in the past three years to transform the product into
something 100 percent natural.

The step was to attract niche customers. The business knows it can~Rt
compete for space in the main freezer aisles offered up to global
companies with the backing to pay grocers to place their products in a
prime space, so Sweet Scoops is going after the natural foods sections.
These sections are becoming more popular in stores and even have
their own freezer sections. This is where Sweet Scoops believes it
can grow its business.

Brian Murray~Rs notion is to grow the business slow like it has all
along, with no intention for now to take it national. The short-term
goal is to focus on getting the products in stores in Vermont and
New York in the next five years and from there, who knows.

Atop the Sweet Scoops business now sits, not Wayne – he has retired –
but Brian and his sister Brigid, who together run a friendly family
business where they take it day-by-day in awe of how well things
typically work out for them.

Change, change, change

Brian jokes that every time the business has had a profitable year,
it makes some decision to remodel, add new freezer space, create more
storage or buy new equipment.

“That is just they way it is,” he said.

Some of the pivotal changes have come in the past two years, such as
taking on more production space, expanding the freezer capacity and
launching a new package design to save on time.

As the business has grown, the time-consuming task of hand-labeling
the pints was becoming a burden.

“Before you can fill an order for 9,000 pints, you had to label 9,000
pints with three different labels – you can imagine what that takes,”
he said.

Two years ago, the business began working with Easter Seals to employ
workers with special needs to help with the labeling.

“It has worked out great for them and us,” he said.

However, the greatest timesaving move thus far is the new
packaging. The business is now paying to have the popular flavors
pre-printed on pint containers instead of hand-labeled.

Ginger, French Vanilla, Black Raspberry, Mudslide with Chocolate
Chunks, Mint Chocolate Chip, Dutch Chocolate Chip, Coffee Cookies
and Cream, Peach Mango and Strawberry Banana all have pre-printed
containers that can be grabbed and filled at a moment~Rs notice.

“We just got the packaging back last month and are really excited
about it,” Brian said.

He admits how naive he was about the yogurt business in the early
years. He thought it would be easy; it~Rs yogurt, right?

“It is way more than that,” he said.

Like any small manufacturing business, the company is about working
day-by-day and order-by-order. The Murray family looks ahead, realizes
where the market is, and is planning to get bigger one client at a
time, one sale at a time.

The company believes all people have to do is try it, and it will have
a customer. This is why the only form of advertising it has done is
to go out into the community and let people try it.

“We do tastings every weekend and I lay it on thick,” said Brian,
who often goes out himself. “People say no thank you, and I say,
~QI made it myself.~R How can you resist that?”

He said most who try it, buy it.

People have preconceived ideas about yogurt, that~Rs the business~Rs
greatest hurdle.

Their business is growing in a declining market for yogurt. According
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, frozen yogurt only makes up 4
percent of the frozen-foods market. And, that number has been dropping
the past two years.

However, for Brian that means the glass is half-full. If his business
is growing in a declining market, it means his product must be one
of the best.

Buyout offers

Murray doesn~Rt spend his days worrying about the giants running him
out of business.

Nevertheless, the company has fielded buyout offers, and when it
comes to hearing from rivals, the brother-sister team shrugs it off.

“We go to the same shows as (they do) and they come over and they
taste our product,” Brigid said.

She has noticed a change in the “big guy” offerings recently, as some
have responded for a demand for low-calorie treats.

“We have always been half the fat, half the calories,” she said.

But this year they couldn~Rt help but notice some big brands going
after that market.

“We thought it would take from our sales, but it really hasn~Rt,”
she said. “We know they see us. We were hoping to fly under the radar
of the big companies for a bit longer, but it~Rs OK. We are here and
it~Rs OK.”

As for the yogurt giant they bought from nearly a decade ago, Brian
says Colombosian occasionally pulls up to the facility in a Mini
Cooper with a cooler and occasional advice.

“He and my father became good friends during the sale and he comes
here and visits us,” Brian said. “I would like to think he is proud.”

At a glance:

Sweet Scoops Where:191 Crawley Falls Road, Brentwood Phone: 642-4111

Where to buy it

Tuttle’s Red Barn, Janetos Market, and Care Pharmacy – Dover

Durham Marketplace – Durham

Convenient Grocer – Exeter

Caffe Fresco – Hampton

Applecrest Farm Orchards – Hampton Falls

Newfields Country Store – Newfields

Joe’s Meat Shoppe – North Hampton

South Street & Vine, Philbrick’s Fresh Market – Portsmouth

Red Ginger – Rye

Golden Harvest – Kittery, Maine

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