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Going bananas for non-dairy frozen dessert

A family-owned business that started as an experiment in the kitchen is set to expand nationwide
Author: Anushree Dave
Photographer: Syx Langemann
7 months ago
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It all started at the dinner table two and a half years ago.

The business idea came to Claire Lysnes and Andrew Kinnear, the co-founders of Yellofruit, when they were experimenting with different recipes to make mushed bananas tastier for their kids. The trial and error led them to wonder if it’d just be easier to buy something with a banana base and a nice taste at the grocery store. 

But there was nothing like it on the market. That’s when Lysnes and Kinnear knew they had something unique they could offer to the world.  

Despite being busy parents with two toddlers and a baby on the way, the idea quickly became a side project for the couple. With their combined expertise—Kinnear is a marketing consultant and Lysnes worked in project management at PwC for 10 years—the couple began product development when Lysnes went on maternity leave. “[We started with] figuring out how we could make a dessert that was non-dairy,” says Kinnear. “I liked the idea of a banana base because it was novel. And we wanted something we could feel comfortable feeding our kids. We didn’t want any chemicals or weird things you couldn’t pronounce in the ice cream.” 

To learn about the science of frozen desserts while figuring out the ice cream business, Kinnear signed up for a weeklong ice cream technology course offered by the University of Guelph. The school’s Department of Food Science (previously known as the Department of Dairying) has been around since 1885, and the ice cream technology course has been offered since 1914. The first half of the course focuses on the science of ice cream making, and the second half of the course offers insights about the ice cream industry and market. It’s open to manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and is also suitable for anyone interested in working in ice cream manufacturing, whether they have previous experience or not. 

Kinnear had no formal background in the industry before taking the course and he learned quite quickly that ice cream is complicated. “A lot of people ask me questions that are kind of scientific like, ‘Is this a sorbet?’ I have to start with explanations about the science of ice cream. I’ve almost had to build that into my sales pitch because it’s interesting and it’s a real differentiator when it comes to features of the product,” explains Kinnear. By the end of the course, he had the training, knowledge, and network to get their product off the ground.

In the fall of 2018—almost two years after their initial idea—the couple had a completed recipe and a brand. The frozen dessert, packaged like ice cream but with a banana base instead of cream or milk, was called Yellofruit. “I started selling full time around [the fall], and by January I had stopped taking on consulting clients because we had started selling into grocery stores,” Kinnear says. “In order for this to work, we have to sell a lot, so in between production runs and finding manufacturers and distributors I was really trying to sell to every grocery store—both independent and chain. By March 2019, we were doing our first production run.” 

Tasty mango YelloFruit frozen treat

By April, the product was available in 100 stores across Ontario. By Canada Day, Yello-fruit was available at Loblaws. “It happened fast once it started rolling out.” 

One key factor that contributes to the brand’s identity is their unique social media marketing campaign. The posts feature a big, yellow banana car that’s touring across Ontario. Kinnear found the banana car online and reached out to the owner, Steve Braithwaite, to ask if they could use it for a marketing campaign. Braithwaite, who builds custom cars, responded positively to the request. “I knew people would love the car, smile, and take pictures with it, and eventually make the connection between the Yellofruit brand and the banana fruit car they’re seeing in all these photos,” says Kinnear. “If there was some guy with an apple car it wouldn’t have made much sense. But Steve’s banana car works very well.” The tour started in London, Ontario, and will travel across Southern Ontario to Toronto.  

At the moment, Yellofruit is available in three flavours, which are named after their three kids. Holly, who just turned three, has “Holly’s Favourite Mango” named after her. The strawberry and chocolate flavours are respectively named after five-year-old twins Monty and Eddy. 

One of the goals of the company was to create a tasty product that the co-founders would feel comfortable feeding to their own kids. Therefore, each ingredient was carefully selected, with a science-backed reason for selecting one ingredient over another. “When people ask me, ‘Why do you have to add sugar to your product?’ I tell them honestly that to make a good frozen dessert you have to use sugar. And they say ‘what about no-sugar ice creams?’ And I say they have things like polyol, which is a sugar alcohol. Those are essentially chemicals. If you can’t make them at home do you want to put that into your child’s body? It would be great to have a zero-sugar ice cream but I would rather give our kids a little bit of sugar and treat it like a moderation thing as opposed to putting some unknown [ingredient] in our product.” 

The taste, branding, and ingredients are helping the brand stand out from the competition. Kinnear explained the product in bigger stores is available in the natural food section, which sets them apart from most frozen dessert products. The brand also appeals to individuals who have a specific need, like a dairy or nut allergy. 

After a long two-and-a-half-year journey of learning, development, testing, and implementation, the co-founders of Yellofruit are thrilled Canadians across the nation will finally get to enjoy the fruits of their labour. The upcoming plan for the company is to keep adding stores to the list of places where the product is available. In September, they’ll be rolling out into No Frills in Canada. In October, they’ll start to move west into federated co-op stores. “We’re going to keep building the business with scale,” says Kinnear. “Our most important thing is that we want to make sure people like the product and that it tastes good.” 

website: https://www.yellofruit.com/

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook: @yellofruit

Guelph course: https://www.uoguelph.ca/foodscience/ice-cream-technology-short-course