A Long Beach company is betting that consumers will have enough curiosity over ice cream flavors that they will take a chance on a product intended to make it easier for people to blend their own desserts.
The Curious Creamery, the brand name for New Direction Foods’ first foray into retail stores, has been on retail shelves since May, company chief executive Jareer Abu-Ali said. That’s when New Direction announced BevMo shops in California, Washington and Arizona had agreed to carry the product.
“Our push is that our product is all about freedom, and that includes alcoholic ice cream,” said Ron Tan, the company’s vice president of business development.
That freedom, however, is also tied to the upstart company’s biggest obstacle. Among the company’s two products, ice cream mix and ice cream cake mix, the former is designed as a flavorless powder. That means consumers can add any flavor they want – be it berries or bourbon – but have to put forth some effort to produce something that usually comes packaged as a finished product.
“Ice cream has been done the same way for so long,” Abu-Ali said.
How it works
A customer who purchases a The Curious Creamery’s ice cream mix gets a tub-shaped package that looks like a standard container of ice cream. Inside, however, are two packages of powdered mix and directions on how to use the product. Each package provides enough powder for one batch of ice cream and it’s up to the consumer to decide what to blend with the powder. Someone going for a more traditional ice cream flavor may choose the likes of cream or pureed fruit.
The manufacturer’s recommendations call for using ice cold liquids in the combination, and coffee or alcoholic beverages are also possibilities. Many beers can be provided into the mix as-is, but directions suggest anyone making a dessert with wine or harder stuff (the founders like to use Rumchata for product demos) add water to cut the alcohol content down to about 6 percent ABV.
The buyer has to stir the powder mix and ingredients of choice together using a power mixer, then leave it all in the freezer for four to six hours.
Abu-Ali and Tan said their proprietary mix enables consumers to make ice creams that have more nuanced flavors than store-bought competitors.
“You can take a coffee from Peru and you can take a coffee from Sumatra,” Tan said. “You can make an ice cream out of them, and you can taste the differences.”
How the founders work
Abu-Ali’s spent more than a decade working in various positions in what some would call the world of Big Food. That part of his career ended however, after he filed what he called a whisteblower case against Pinnacle Foods, the New Jersey company with brands that include Vlasic, Duncan Hines and Mrs. Butterworth.
Abu-Ali alleged in his lawsuit that Pinnacle fired him for raising objections to his former employers’ handling of pickle products, a Law 360 article published in January 2013 reported. According to that article, Abu-Ali’s filing alleged Pinnacle Foods fired him for trying to call attention to such problems as pickles being kept in storage beyond the time when the products could have been used for food.
Abu-Ali’s attorney, Damian Christian Shammas, said in an interview a New Jersey judge dimissed the case in Pinnacle’s favor in late 2015. He is appealing that decision.
Pinnacle Foods said in a statement that the firm does not comment on pending litigation.
Whatever the ultimate outcome, Abu-Ali said his decision to go to court ended his career in the established food industry.
“People that used to know you, don’t know you anymore,” he said. “It’s a huge industry, but it’s very incestuous.”
Abu-Ali said that after leaving New Jersey, he joined his wife in Thailand where they established a consultancy called ASEAN-American Industrial Food Consulting Center at Naresuan University.
Thailand is also where Abu-Ali met Tan, the latter of whom grew up in Long Beach. Tan said he also worked in the food industry, he was then involved in exporting products from Southeast Asia, and while overseas the future collaborators bonded over experimental juice blends before deciding to open an ice cream business in Southern California.
For now, New Direction Foods’ business offices are in Bixby Knolls and the product itself is manufactured in Commerce. The company currently is looking for more spacious offices.
New Direction Foods has raised some $3 million from investors backing its ice cream mix venture, Abu-Ali said. He aspires to start additional, similar companies that may one day include a firm that sells what he calls whole-food ice cream – or pre-manufactured ice cream with a high percentage of natural ingredients.
Besides BevMo, New Direction Foods also has deals to sell The Curious Creamery products in Walmart stores and Ralph’s spokeswoman Kendra Doyel said in an email that most Ralph’s groceries are likely to carry the products in October.
And although Abu-Ali’s days with big food companies are over, he held forth the possibility that if New Direction Foods is successful, his new company’s work may influence larger manufacturers.
“If this company is successful, I think you’re going to see the big guys produce this kind of product,” he said.