|Halo Top Creamery president and COO Doug Bouton poses for a photo with tubs of ice cream after an interview with The Korea Times at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Seoul, Aug. 21. Courtesy of Halo Top Creamery|
By Kwak Yeon-soo
Halo Top Creamery, the best-selling low-calorie ice cream brand in the U.S., arrived in Korea in July with an aim of bringing a disruptive change to the nation's ice cream market.
Although Halo Top is now a multibillion-dollar ice cream brand, it started in the founder's kitchen with a simple question, "Can ice cream ever be healthy?"
The company was founded in 2012 by Justin Woolverton, then a lawyer who has always loved ice cream and found comfort in eating it.
It was in 2011 when Woolverton started experimenting at home to create ice cream that had less sugar, was healthier and still tasted good.
"Halo Top was started by Justin, in his home kitchen with a $20 ice cream maker," said Doug Bouton, president and COO of Halo Top Creamery.
"Because he had low blood sugar, he wanted to make an ice cream he could eat a lot of and not feel terrible."
Thanks to Woolverton's countless trials and winning recipes, the company started to gain exposure on social media, which led to growing sales.
Bouton, Woolverton's friend and also a former lawyer, joined the business in 2013 to manage the fast-growing company.
In 2017, it surpassed the Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs brands in popularity and was named one of TIME's best 25 inventions across the globe, alongside the Tesla Model 3, iPhone X and NASA Mars Insight.
Bouton recalls that was the best press piece in the company's history.
"When I read that report, I was like 'Oh my God, I cannot believe it. I need to tell everybody,'" he said.
The company chose Korea as its first country in the Asian market. "Korean fans requested Halo Top more than in any other Asian country," he said.
Bouton is confident that Halo Top ice cream will be a hit in Korea because it offers unique and creative flavors and packaging to target millennials.
"Our product aligns with younger Korean female consumers," he said. "I'm aware that beauty is a huge market here. We have plans to collaborate with beauty spaces, like hair and makeup salons, and cosmetic brands."
The COO mentioned that the brand is hoping to benefit from the health and wellness trends that are prevalent in Korea.
The year 2019 has seen a variety of ice creams hit supermarket shelves that, despite using milk and cream, contain about 60 percent to 70 percent fewer calories than regular brands.
The majority of ice cream brands have been moving to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and cream without compromising texture and flavor.
"I think Korean consumers would enjoy our fun names and slogans. For example, we have a flavor called 'New Year's Resolution' and the slogan 'Keep digging,'" Bouton said. "We always want to keep people curious about our products."
During the interview, Bouton revealed that Halo Top is looking to turn Korea into a manufacturing hub that can deliver its products to other Asia-Pacific regions. The company is planning to launch its products in Japan, Singapore and Indonesia next year.
"We want to localize our products and bring down the costs," he said.
A pint of Halo Top ice cream is sold at 10,800 won ($9.12) in Korea, whereas it costs just $5.40 in the U.S.
Bouton said Halo Top chose Dongsuh Foods as its partner in Korea because the company already has "a great relationship with Red Bull and Starbucks Coffee."
"We thought the partnership could be mutually beneficial for us both," he said.
"As for the sales distribution channels, we have partnered with GS Shopping, Lotte Mart, Coupang and Kakao. We will expand our partnership with other local distributors."
When asked whether Halo Top has any plans to open an ice cream store, Bouton said that offline stores are another big focus.
"We have a few of them in Los Angeles and we have a partnership with Subway in the U.S. We are considering doing the same thing here in Korea, maybe next year," he said.
Regarding concerns that advertising "low calorie" and "healthy" ice cream can be misleading, Bouton said "We want to be transparent about this. We're not encouraging binge-eating. We're just trying to give people better options when eating an ice cream."
The COO shared plans to roll out fruity flavors in near future, citing the team's market research on Korea.
"We found out that Koreans prefer fruity flavors over creamy ones. The most popular flavors were strawberry, mango and blueberries, all of which are coming," he said.
There are currently three flavors available in Korea: Birthday Party, Peanut Butter Cup and Sea Salt Caramel.
"There is a team of about eight people who are constantly working on renovation for current products (improving flavor, texture, ingredients) and entirely new products," he said. "We are also developing stick bars in key markets."
Bouton said that innovation is the lifeblood that enables the company to stay ahead in the competitive market.
"We want to continue to lead, not copy other ice cream manufacturers," he said. "Our goal is to focus on us and make sure we are constantly challenging ourselves, reevaluating ourselves, and doing what we do best at."