Transforming an idea into a product is a home run that entrepreneurs celebrate in the food industry. However, taking a product from one community grocery store into retailers across Canada, is a whole other ball game. We followed up with Screamin Brothers, the makers of gluten-free and dairy-free frozen treats, to talk about just that.
Brothers, Dawson and JR Wikkerink, 15 and 14 years old, started out selling Screamin Brothers desserts at their community farmer’s market in Lethbridge Alberta, where consumers first validated that their desserts were a ‘big deal’ and ‘much needed’. This was their first taste of success, but it was taking their frozen desserts into their first grocery store that felt like a “big milestone,” remembers JR who now manages the company’s production and marketing at food demonstrations and trade shows.
Dawson adds, “We produce our frozen desserts in a facility on our family farm. Our parents had been selling their farm product to grocery stores and restaurants in the area, and through these connections we were able to introduce our product to our first independent grocery store in Lethbridge.”
Dawson’s creativity and strength with numbers makes him a great fit for leading the company's digital presence on Facebook and Twitter, crunching numbers, and managing the books. Launching in one store was a great learning opportunity, and things only continued to grow from there.
“One of my favorite things to do, was join my Dad on his delivery trips to Calgary, when he’d take products from our family farm to restaurants and grocery stores. I love to talk with people. It was on these trips that we made a lot of first introductions for Screamin Brothers,” recalls JR. “We made a lot of cold calls during that time too, which helped us to get the word out about our products. Community Natural Foods was the next three chainstore to take us on. The experience led us to learn that relationships in this business are very important”.
Building relationships is something I garnered these two young men were quite skilled at. Confidence, and passion, emanated from their voices as they spoke about their business and Screamin Brothers products.
“We continued to grow our reach with Amaranth Whole Foods and Blush Lane taking on our products in the next 6 months,” said Dawson. “It was great! The big win for us came when we listed our product with Save on Foods which expanded Screamin Brothers desserts to stores in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer in June 2013. However, it also was not a quick process and came with lots of legwork, paperwork and learning.
We started working with a distributor which helped us take our product outside of Alberta into small chain grocery stores across Canada. We also hired a HACCP coordinator at that time, to ensure we maintained the highest food safety standards in the production and transportation of our product,” explained JR.
These steps took them into the later part of 2014, and with hard work and a wealth of experience to support them they prepared to audition for Dragon’s Den. Just as I had been entranced by their amazing story, the Dragons couldn’t deny the value in these young men’s business model, drive, work ethic, and delicious desserts. The episode celebrating their success aired in November 2014, with an updated feature in early 2015 accompanied by a number of re-runs.
“Being featured on Dragon’s Den was amazing for us,” said Dawson. “It gave us a great deal of exposure which led to meetings with several retailers. Our product was listed with Whole Foods across Canada and we met with Federated Co-op where we recently listed our product in their distribution warehouses. The brand awareness generated by the media surrounding Dragons Den was an important factor in helping us to increase knowledge about our product."
So, what’s on the horizon for this booming business?
“We’re on track to meet the demand for our product,” say JR. “We filled our first Co-op order this spring, and provided Screamin Brothers desserts to their four distribution warehouses and making it available to 250 Co-op stores across Western Canada.”
Dawson shares, "Our goal this year is to continue to grow our reach across Canada and meet the large orders coming in for our products”.
Also admirable, is the commitment that these two young men have shown to giving back to causes that are important to them. They donate 5% of their profits to Right To Play, an organization that is dedicated to teaching children life skills, and leadership skills using sports. JR and Dawson visited their headquarters last summer in Toronto, and felt strongly about the important work they were doing, and decided they too wanted to help. This year was also the third year Screamin Brothers has attended Motionball, a special event dedicated to raising funds for the Special Olympics. Screamin Brothers sold their product at the event donating all proceeds to the cause.
There is no doubt the future looks bright for Screamin Brothers, and with continued growth, the pair expect that there will be more challenges to come. Despite this, it has been learning through their own experiences that has been of the most value as they continue to drive the business forward. By watching and listening to how other companies developed their markets and opportunities, Screamin Brothers discovered that the beauty of business is that there is no cookie cutter approach!
They report that people have been incredibly gracious in sharing their experiences and for that they are truly thankful. Google searches, many podcasts, and for a time, an industry consultant, helped to fill in some of the blanks - and sometimes they joyfully discovered, “we knew more than we thought we did!”
Recently highlighted in Food in Canada magazine's list of Top 10 Canadian food and beverage companies to watch, Screamin Brothers are a true inspiration - and that aside, who can deny a good story and scoop of cool creamy ice cream?
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