JonnyPops Is Young And Hungry

JonnyPops Is Young And Hungry

Three kids from St. Olaf are shaking up the ice cream industry.

Erik Brust was 19 years old when he and his cousin Jonathon dreamed up the idea of ice cream novelties in novel flavors. But when Jonathon died of a drug overdose, his partnership collapsed. Four years ago, Brust approached friends and St. Olaf classmates Connor Wray and Jamie Marshall, both also 19, to make the idea into a reality. JonnyPops was born.

Named in memory of Brust’s cousin, the company makes ice cream novelties that use only natural ingredients—think fruit, cream, water, sugar and salt—in flavors like strawberry, coconut pineapple, raspberry-blueberry and chocolate with coffee. They’re launching a Minneapolis-themed treat dubbed “Cherry on a Spoon” in conjunction at the Walker Art Center this summer.

“There are treats made out of frozen sugar and water like Popsicles and then the heavy, indulgent and chocolaty ice cream products,” explains Marshall, the company’s marketing director. “We have a smooth, creamy texture but with fewer calories.”

The company remains high-minded in more than just its ingredients, having adopted “A better pop for a better world” as its motto. A portion of proceeds are donated to the Hazelden Foundation in memory of Jonathon, and each pop’s stick is printed with a good deed to pass along.

Four years into the venture, they now sell over 3 million pops annually with distribution in 2,500 locations, including nearly every grocery chain in Minnesota, as well as stores in Chicago, Texas and on the West Coast. A deal was recently inked with Costco that means several million more sales.

“In five years, we want to be a national brand in every grocery store like Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs,” CEO Brust, says. “But we want to remain true to our core values.”

JonnyPops expects to finally be profitable this year and recently completed $600,000 in equity financing for an unspecified stake. Though there have been no formal offers, large local food companies “definitely know we exist,” Brust says. Talenti, a local gelato company in the same niche, recently sold to Unilever in a deal reckoned to be in the hundreds of millions.

Marshall and Brust both say that while they’ve been pushed around a bit by some of the bigger players, they’re enjoying the flexible entrepreneurial schedule and believe youth plays to their advantage.

“People see we’re young and try the product to support us,” Marshall says. “And then they realize what we offer actually tastes really good.” —Andre Eggert