We're excited to announce our investment in Go Zero, a new-age better-for-you ice cream brand founded by Kiran Shah, who spearheaded operations at Apsara ice creams from 2014 to 2022. Go Zero is on a mission to deliver the best-tasting guilt-free ice cream. Their product portfolio comprises zero sugar, high protein, and low-calorie ice creams.
Apsara is an iconic ice cream brand that was launched over 50 years ago and remained a single-store operation until Kiran joined the business. He was instrumental in scaling Apsara to over 100 outlets. We are bullish on the long-term prospects of the better-for-you ice cream and dessert categories. We believe that the low-sugar theme will play out in most categories of packaged food. Go Zero has the opportunity to become the category-defining brand, led by a missionary founder with strong product capabilities and a proven execution track record.
Why are we excited about better-for-you ice creams?
Healthy snacking is a core investment theme at DSGCP. We have seen the growing demand for healthy snacks in our brands like Epigamia, Farmley, Pip & Nut, and Kind Kones. Within the ice cream category, consumers have demonstrated a clear inclination for claims such as 'low sugar,' 'low calorie,' 'high protein,' 'high fiber,' and 'dairy-free.'
According to our proprietary consumer study of ice cream consumption, 44% of respondents said they would switch to an ice cream brand that uses low-calorie sugar alternatives. India, being the diabetes capital of the world, shows a strong demand for a low-sugar alternative in the ice cream category.
The Indian ice cream market is worth INR 100,332 million (US$1.2 billion) and is well poised for explosive growth. Currently, India's per capita ice cream consumption stands at 400ml, compared to 22,000ml in the US and 3,000ml in China. We expect the market to quadruple over the next decade.
We have strong reasons to believe that the better-for-you ice cream segment can comprise ~10% of the overall category by 2030, reaching INR 40,000 million (US$500 million). For context, in developed markets like the US, better-for-you ice creams make up around 4% of the overall ice cream market. Go Zero has the opportunity to be a leading brand in this category with a significant market share.
The evolving distribution channels in ice cream
The market can be segmented according to their distribution as follows:
- Affordable indulgent ice creams with CPG led distribution (Amul, Kwality Walls, etc.)
- Premium brands with scoop-shop-led distribution (like Baskin Robbins, Haagen-Dazs, Naturals and Apsara)
- Premium brands with CPG led distribution (like NIC, Papacream and Magnum)
- Better-for-you brands with CPG led distribution (an emerging segment with brands like Get-a-Whey, NOTO, Brooklyn Creamery, Good Fettle and Go Zero)
Our consumer study uncovered how purchase behaviour, and therefore brand discovery, is changing. According to our survey, 73% of consumers purchase <200ml single-serve ice creams (cups or sticks) in a single purchase, for immediate consumption (on the same day or the next day).
Moreover, nearly 40% of the consumers we polled stated that they purchase ice creams on quick-commerce and food delivery platforms. It is no surprise that ice cream is an important category for third-party delivery channels like Swiggy, Zomato & quick-commerce channels. These channels already account for a 5% market share. The power users of these channels are the core target segment of brands like Go Zero. The quick-commerce and third-party delivery channels serve as great channels for insurgent brands to drive customer acquisition and sampling.
Critical Success Factors in Packaged Food Brands: Taste & Distribution Capabilities
The taste of the product and distribution capabilities have been the most important success factors in all our packaged food & beverages brands like Veeba, Sula, Epigamia, Chai Point, Raw Pressery, Sleepy Owl, Farmley & Go Desi.
1. TASTE TASTE TASTE
One of the most important drivers of success in packaged food is the taste of the product. This presents a harder challenge, especially in the 'better for you' segment. For instance, low-fat or baked chips and better-for-you savoury snacks often lack the crispy texture and rich flavour of full-fat versions. Low-calorie or sugar-free beverages, such as soft drinks or fruit juices, don't retain the original flavour or sweetness of their regular counterparts.
Although numerous emerging brands provide low-calorie or zero-sugar options, achieving a comparable taste and texture to that of indulgent brands has proven to be challenging. There are several challenges in cracking the taste profile in “better for you” ice creams:
- Sweetness: many better-for-you ice creams/frozen desserts use different types of sugar substitutes to reduce the amount of added sugar. These sugar substitutes have a different taste profile and sweetness level compared to regular sugar, which often alters the taste of the ice cream.
- Creaminess: Traditional ice cream is made with a high-fat content, which contributes to its creamy texture and mouthfeel. Most ‘better for you’ ice creams use lower-fat ingredients making them less creamy and icier in texture.
- Flavour: The lower sugar content in ‘better for you ice’ creams may affect the intensity of the ice cream's flavour. Manufacturers may use different ingredients or flavourings to enhance the taste and compensate for the changes made to the recipe.
Our conviction in Go Zero’s potential to become a category-defining brand is rooted in how competitive the product is on taste and texture while offering a cleaner, better-for-you alternative.
Navigating the cold chain distribution challenges in India is one of the most difficult aspects of this category. Brands often face challenges due to logistics and retail participants cutting corners in maintaining the stringent standards needed in ensuring the product is transported and stored in the requisite temperature range. Many brands in the past have had to invest in their own proprietary distribution to address this challenge. This has led to capital inefficiency.
The good news is that the infrastructure is improving with every passing year. We believe the key is to have a founder with strong execution capabilities to navigate the challenges in cold chain. Kiran has spent almost a decade in the sector and has experience running a large-distributed operation in a capital-efficient manner.
The advent of quick commerce and third-party delivery platforms is a huge boon for the category. We believe that quick commerce will be a significant channel in the first few years for Go Zero. It is a channel that a new brand can be built on without overreliance on GT in the initial years. It is a great channel to introduce customers to the brand and sample the products.
Learnings from Successful Insurgent Brands in the Category
This sector has seen multiple brands emerge and achieve significant scale across geographies. Focus on health has been the core proposition of brands like Halo Top and Nick’s in the West. In India, NIC is an example of an insurgent brand which has grown in a capital-efficient manner riding on the cold chain infrastructure of third-party delivery platforms and focusing on preservative-free and natural positioning.
The US ice cream market is dominated by Unilever and Nestle with 19% and 10% market shares, respectively. At present, low calorie ice cream brands have 4% market share in the US and Halo Top is the leading brand in this segment with 50% market share (in the better-for-you ice creams segment). It is also noteworthy, that India's e-commerce penetration for ice creams is at 5% and that of the US market is at 6%.
Halo Top launched commercially in 2015 with "light ice cream" that has 280-360 calories per pint (470-500ml). The brand started with 4 flavours. In Aug 2017, Halo Top became the #1 selling pint of ice cream in the US.
Halo Top's positioning: Halo Top ice cream is not only low-calorie but also the kind of low-calorie for today’s consumer: high in protein, low in sugar and fat while maintaining a decadent taste. Their products have nearly 1/3rd of calories vs indulgent brands.
Halo Top was bootstrapped until 2015-16 when they raised US$1 million from Fort Ventures, One Degree Ventures and CircleUp. It is an extremely capital-efficient brand. They achieved US$337 million in revenue, at their peak. In 2019, Wells Enterprises, owners of Blue Bunny ice cream and other frozen treats, acquired Halo Top.
Niclas (Nick) started Nick's ice cream in 2016 when he was diagnosed as a pre-diabetic. Nick is a mechanical engineer and self-taught food engineer. Nick's launched commercially in 2016 with "Swedish-style light ice cream". The brand has 14 patents for its formulations and processes. They use evidence-backed ingredients in product formulations. Their products have 220-360 calories. They started with ice creams and then expanded into indulgent categories like protein bars, ice cream sticks and cookies. Nick's was launched as an online-first brand with a direct-to-consumer website alongside distributor E-tailer, who also worked with major ice cream brands like Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs. They have now expanded offline and are available across 6,700 stores in the US and 14 international markets (outside Sweden and US).
Nick's positioning: Nick's makes indulgences guilt-free, across categories: ice creams, protein bars, ice cream sticks and cookies. They classify their products as "permissible indulgences" or products with fewer calories and low carb content that still deliver on taste and texture. Their products use unique ingredients like monk-fruit sweetener and EPG (modified plant-based oil that cuts down 92% calories of each unit of fat replaced without compromising taste and texture).
Nick's achieved US$40 million revenue in 2020. The brand raised US$130 million from marquee investors like Temasek, Kinnevik and Khosla ventures.
NIC Ice creams
Jeetendra Bhandari (ex-division CFO at Coca Cola and Walmart) and Ameet Pahilani (ex-Café Chokolade food services) started NIC in 2016. The brand makes preservative-free, premium ice creams. NIC is focused on indulgent ice creams and was one of the first Indian brands to leverage third-party delivery platforms (Swiggy, Zomato) as a salient channel for business. In a category like ice creams, which has been a restricted, regional play, NIC started their own manufacturing facility in Pune and controlled 100% backend integration. They were able to build a true pan-India ice cream brand. Within 6 years of launch, NIC is at a scale of US$25 million and operates 2 brands: NIC ice creams and Grameen Kulfi.
NIC's positioning: NIC makes preservative-free, premium, indulgent ice creams. They aim to provide the best-tasting, highest-rated product to consumers at their choice of grocery purchase channel.
As demonstrated in the above case studies, we believe there is an opportunity to build a category-defining, best-tasting better-for-you ice cream brand.
What we love about Go Zero
Mission-driven founder with a track record of solid execution and domain experience.
Kiran spearheaded Apsara’s expansion from a single scoop shop store to 100+ stores without raising external capital. His family has run Apsara since 1971. He is passionate about ice creams and is mission-driven to build the best guilt-free ice cream brand in India!
Fast-growing market and ability to build a category-defining brand
The Indian ice cream market is expected to double by 2026 and quadruple by 2039 to INR 410,398 million (US$5.1 billion). This represents a CAGR of 15%. The market is ripe for innovation. New-age brands which are sharply positioned and have high-quality ingredients are the preferred choice of ice creams for the evolving consumer. The better-for-you ice cream market is expected to be worth US$500 million in 2030.
Best tasting Product
The Indian consumer prioritizes taste over health benefits; this is a tough barrier to overcome for better-for-you products. The Go Zero products match the indulgent ice cream products on the taste profile. Kiran has a razor-sharp focus on creating products with the best taste profile.
Strong, capital-efficient growth
Go Zero is in its 12th month of operations and managed to deliver solid growth in a capital-efficient manner. Go Zero operates in a category which has thus far been led by scoop-shop models. This model is extremely capital-intensive for COCO (company-owned and operated) stores or often lacks quality control in franchise-led models. This model restricted ice creams to a regional play. The advent of quick commerce and third-party delivery channels have enabled ice creams to have a digital presence pan-India in a capital-efficient manner. Kiran is a founder who believes in building the business frugally as he had done at Apsara.
We’re excited to partner with Kiran on his mission to change the way Indians enjoy their ice creams and build a category-defining better-for-you ice cream brand!
 Euromonitor – Ice cream and Frozen Desserts in India
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