Some of America’s most successful businesses originated on a college campus. One such venture, Frutero Ice Cream, started right here in Philadelphia on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. The 100% all natural fruit flavored ice cream pulls inspiration from Asian and Latin America cultures and is one of the nation’s fastest growing ice cream brands. The company is the brainchild of Mike Weber and Vedant Saboo, who met on their first day of class at Wharton.
WHYY host Priyanka Tewari spoke with Webber and Saboo.
Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Let’s talk about the journey. From idea to fruition, no pun intended.
Weber: We actually met on the first day of class, both of us. We came with a mission of starting our own business. In January of 2019, I was actually taking a trip to India where Vedant grew up, and he recommended that I try this tropical fruit ice cream over there. I thought it was just phenomenal.
By the way, I’m curious, which ice cream store did you take him to in India?
Saboo: In India there is a chain of ice cream stores called Naturals.
Yes, I remember I used to eat there in Delhi all the time!
Saboo: Exactly! And you know, their claim to fame is all about these tropical flavors. You know, we found that ice cream is the most loved dessert of the U.S. and we were surprised that there was no tropical fruit ice cream in the U.S.
Weber: And we thought this could be something very interesting to bring, bring these fruits to people and bring this tropical joy to people.
How did you come up with that name?
Weber: So Fruitero in Spanish means a fruit vendor. And, you know, he is really someone that you can really trust to give you the best quality fruits, fresh and the best tasting produce. That’s what we’re all about.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced when you guys were starting out or even now, and how did you overcome it?
Weber: As a new company … I think the biggest challenge is getting, you know, customers to give you a chance. When we first got into this business, we had never approached a grocery store before. And actually the way we learned how to sell products was the first summer that we had fruit every day and I would load up samples in a little cooler with ice. We get on our bicycles and we actually just ride our bikes really store to store in Philadelphia, some folks might know. In South Philly, places like South Square Market, that was one of our first stores. Actually it was really the Philadelphia community that enabled us to get those early wins. Our very first customer was Gopuff. We sent a cold email to the CEO and they were very nice to respond to us. We also, through Drexel University, got in touch with Giant and they just gave us a shot and we just really focused on success at a small scale.
How are you supporting the region’s local economy with this business venture?
Saboo: All our operations continue to be in Pennsylvania. 60% of our product is dairy, which is sourced from the Lancaster area. Our co-packer, who sources the dairy for us and manufactures ice cream, is again in Pennsylvania. Beyond that, we partner with retailers in Pennsylvania and around the tri-state area. We also have our warehousing logistics R&D. Our R&D actually is done in Drexel University. So all our immediate operations just got in through shadow to where we are today, all in Pennsylvania and support the local economy.
When you’re thinking of starting a business and you’re working on figuring out, you know, what kind of product that you want to sell or work on, how do you differentiate yourself or stand out from the crowded shelf in your case, in the freezer?
Saboo: I think that’s a very good question. There are two parts to it. See, the reason we started ice cream is because we found that wide space. I’m not here to compete with Ben and Jerry’s, but if you want passionfruit ice cream, Frutero is the one who makes the best. So I think differentiation is very important. But, I think the second part is getting to know your initial customer and their reaction to the product is super, super important. Mike and I visited almost 1400 bodegas in and around the Philadelphia, New Jersey area. We got a reaction right away in front of us ..that was significant in kind of formulating the product, getting the right product, and later on gave us insights on how best to market the product.
Nice. So what’s next for you guys? What are you looking forward to?
Weber: We have a lot of expansion happening, so we’re very excited that over the next few weeks we’ll be expanding to over 100 giant stores. Whole Foods decided to expand to over 140 whole food stores from New Jersey all the way down to Florida.