As a child, Wink’s CEO and creator Gabe Wollf loved ice cream. But when Gabe was 17 he met his worst nightmares — Celiac disease and a dairy allergy.
Shopping with food allergies is tough, and not being able to enjoy ice cream was the hardest part of all. He was already using pea protein in his diet and realized he could cover the taste with natural flavoring to make a healthier version of his missed treat. In addition, Gabe wanted to keep out fat, sugar, and artificial ingredients out of his treats, so everyone can enjoy Wink. We recently spoke with Wink’s creator in this month’s Meet the Newsmaker.
What where you doing before Wink? Did you have foodservice experience prior to starting the company?
I had just graduated a year before starting the company, and began trading stocks out of my New York City apartment. I helped manage my sister-in-law’s thrift shop part time during the afternoons. Wink has been my first endeavor in the industry.
What makes Wink Frozen Desserts a healthy alternative to ice cream? What sets you apart?
Its calorie count and clean ingredients. There are no animal byproducts or sugar. It is only 100 calories for the ENTIRE PINT. It’s the healthy dessert you can eat everyday without having to worry about your waistline.
What are some of the key ingredients you use to craft your desserts that meet the needs of consumers with food allergies?
Pea protein serves as our base, because of its neutral flavor and low allergen profile. We then use fiber from organic agave (not the sugar) in order to give it some sort of mouthfeel. Lastly, we use organic stevia and monk fruit extract to sweeten Wink, in order to make it the most diabetic-friendly product on the market.
What goes into the process of creating and choosing flavors?
We like filling gaps in the market. If certain flavors are performing super well in the conventional ice cream space, but has not been done (or has been barely executed) in the “better for you” ice cream market, then we’ll go for it. We like to provide those fun flavors people want to eat, but cannot because of all the negatives of traditional ice cream.
Where is your production facility based out of, what were you looking for in terms of real estate? And what are some of the key pieces of food service equipment used at the facility?
Our production facility is out of Milford, CT. We were looking for a manufacturer that we could not only grow into, but with. We’ve gradually increased the volume. Our production runs over 300% since starting with them, and in the process have helped in their hiring of three new additional people. It’s a real symbiotic relationship.
Talk about your team. Whether it’s operations, marketing, or sales, what does the Wink team bring to the table each day?
I handle all of our finances and product manufacturing. My fiancée, Ani, manages our customers/accounts/calendar/me….basically everything. Jordan is in charge of our marketing and artwork. He’ll probably produce 15 different images or video files each week and then manage our ad campaigns. Last, but not least is Kunal, our Head of Sales. We call him a pitbull in human form; he’ll chase a lead for 10 months straight until he gets a meeting.
Where is Wink currently being sold in Metro New York and who are some of the local distributors you’re working with?
We’re currently available at Whole Foods Market, Fairway, West Side Market, Foodtown, Wild By Nature, countless natural food stores, and select ShopRite locations. We work with Rainforest, UNFI, KeHE, and C&S to cover the majority of the area.
Are Wink’s desserts more expensive to produce over typical ice creams? How do you price your desserts to stay competitive?
Actually, our costs are right in line with the majority of products in the space. Each pint retails for about $5, which is as much as a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in most places. Our philosophy is that if we price our products as competitively as we do, then we eliminate any excuse for someone to not try our healthier alternative at least once.
Sounds like Wink’s offerings would make for a great dessert alternative on a restaurant’s dessert menu. Is Wink Frozen Desserts currently available for foodservice?
We’re launching two new sizes for foodservice this year. One 4oz. single serve “25 calorie cup” and 2.5-gallon restaurant sized cans of our Wink+ brand (our base with sugar for a more decadent experience). They should both be fully available come this July.
What are some of the challenges and benefits at starting off as a small business owner?
The challenge is trying to define my personal identity and self worth from the business. It’s incredibly difficult to not second-guess myself or my worth when things don’t go exactly as we had planned them. We try to at least take a few hours each week where we’re able to go off and enjoy our lives without Wink being the main topic of discussion. The benefits are the emails and posts on social media we receive each day from people whose lives we’ve had a positive impact on. There’s seriously nothing better than hearing about someone who’s been able to enjoy ice cream again because of Wink.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs thinking about starting a foodservice operation?
Grow a thick skin. If we listened to everyone who said we wouldn’t succeed, we would have closed up shop three years ago. But, we knew what we were doing would help people, and held our chins up high.