Welcome back to our Small Business Spotlight series, where we profile innovative small businesses and startups across the country and identify lessons from their operations, strategies, and growth.
Our newest profile takes a look at Social Ice Incorporated, a North Texas-based company which creates wine-infused popsicles. Social Ice is the brainchild of Michael Seyfried, a former futures trader who left the world of finance to pursue his vision of icy alcoholic treats. Mike debuted the popsicles in 2011 at the Texas State Fair and was so overwhelmed by the response that he knew he had a winning product on his hands.
"Winesicles" sound like the perfect way to beat the summer heat, right? Well, even with a great idea, bringing an alcoholic product to market is always difficult due to advertising regulations and distribution logistics.
We spoke to Mike about these issues, the challenge of running a largely one-person business, and the benefits of using locally sourced ingredients. Mike may sell a frozen product, but he's a very warm person and his enthusiasm for his business is infectious.
Give us your sales pitch: What is your product and why should we be interested?
My company specializes in the manufacturing of wine-infused ice pops. Each pop is 5% ABV (alcohol by volume)—or the equivalent to drinking about one-third a glass of wine—and is made with real fruit and other natural ingredients. My product can be enjoyed individually like any ice pop would be, or paired with cocktails. Social Ice adds a fun new dimension to consuming adult beverages.
How did you choose the ingredients and develop the taste? Was it purely a trial and error process?
Lots of trial and error and working with food scientists. I chose the first four flavors (Sangria Grape, Mimosa Orange, Strawberry Daiquiri, and Margarita Lime) because those are very popular cocktails in the adult beverage arena. I am currently working on other flavors so we can capitalize on current trends in the market and offer our customers even more variety.
What are the benefits of using locally sourced wine and fruit?
We don’t always use locally sourced ingredients but try to whenever possible. We are making pretty large batches now so it’s not always easy to purchase locally in bulk. Having said that, we take quality very seriously and use real fruit, fruit juice, and cane sugar, and no artificial colors or flavors of any kind. Many of our ingredients are organic.
I chose to go all natural because too many products on the market contain fake ingredients that taste really bad, especially in the alcohol market. I want to provide our customers with a quality product and I think we are doing a good job so far.
Is this a difficult product to market?
Yes there have been many challenges growing the company. I tell people all the time that if we were a regular ice pop company or a regular alcohol brand we would be further along. But I knew that would be the case before I got started. The reason it’s been challenging is also the very reason the opportunity is so big.
Popsicles are generally considered a treat for children—does that make advertising difficult?
That used to be the case, but I don’t think ice pops are considered to be only for children any more. There are gourmet ice pop shops popping up all over the country that have more adult flavors. We are very direct in our marketing and make it very clear on our packaging that Social Ice is for adults only.
What role does social media play in your marketing strategy?
Social media is very important for us. We have many things in the works in terms of strategy and content. We primarily use Facebook and Instagram. Up until about a month ago, we only sold at festivals and on-premise accounts, like restaurants and bars. Now we are sold at Spec’s Liquor Stores across Texas so our strategy will change to help support sales in new arenas.
How has your distribution plan changed as your company has expanded?
I have a distributor now who can service all of Texas, which has been a complete game changer for the company.
Do you plan to expand beyond Texas?
What have been the biggest challenges for your business so far? How did you overcome them?
Regulatory issues and the fact that we are creating a new product category in a sense. Traditionally alcohol has not been distributed frozen, and frozen novelties (ice pops, ice cream bars, et cetera) don’t contain alcohol. There are a few similar companies that make a frozen alcohol product but not exactly like us. To me this is a good thing because the concept is just getting more validation.
Social Ice started out as a one-man operation. Is that still the case? Do you anticipate hiring employees in the near future?
When I first started, I was making the product (actual production, gathering ingredients, etc.), distributing the product out of my Nissan Altima with an ice chest and dry ice, handling sales, working as the janitor, everything. Now I have a distributor, can mass produce, and work with several marketing companies for branding and promotional events. In a way, I’m still a one-man show, but I have help with the key components of operations. I have a few part-time workers right now and will definitely hire more people as the company grows.
Before you launched Social Ice, you spent many years working in finance. What made you switch gears?
There were a few things actually. I was really unhappy working in a cubicle in a high-stress job. I also had some really negative things happen in my life that were taking a toll on me mentally. When this idea [for wine-infused ice pops] hit me, I totally immersed myself in the business so I didn’t have time to think about the negative stuff. Everything in my gut kept telling me this could be really big, especially because it hasn’t been done successfully on a large scale.
What is the best business advice you've ever received?
There is no such thing as luck. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
- Company Name: Social Ice
- Website: socialice.com
- Founded: 2011
- Location: Dallas/Fort Worth Area, TX