Blue Marble Ice Cream
Based on a mission of offering a product that made "taste buds happy and hearts feel good," Jennie Dundas (favorite flavors: sea salt caramel, green tea and vanilla) and Alexis Miesen (favorite flavors: mint confetti, honey peanut and strawberry) started Blue Marble Ice Cream, the only certified organic ice cream brand native to New York City.
Inspired by the iconic photo of Earth taken on the 1972 Apollo 17 trip to the moon, Blue Marble is based on a business plan that includes eco-conscious elements (biodegradable cups and spoons and reclaimed and otherwise "green" building materials) and a focus on supporting sustainable, responsible agriculture.
Elementals - flavors using what is found in nature such as vanilla and strawberry - are complemented by seasonal favorites such as chocolate raspberry truffle, maple walnut, pumpkin, eggnog, green tea and key lime pie (all mix-ins are organic). The ice cream recipes continue to evolve. "Ice cream is a mix of science and magic," said Miesen of the culinary creativity led by Chef Billy Barlow.
In its first year, Blue Marble started with a scoop shop in Boerum Hill (later moved to Cobble Hill) and expanded to a second location in Prospect Heights. The Cobble Hill location was the first shop on the East Coast to offer certified organic soft serve and continues to enjoy business from neighborhood families and children. The Prospect Heights location has built a strong trade in coffee sales for commuters in addition to a brisk ice cream trade from neighbors.
Busy summers would give way to slow periods during cold weather months, leaving Dundas and Miesen with no staff and having to scoop ice cream, without taking salaries. To offset slow winter sales, Blue Marble entered the wholesale scene in 2010. Soon after, sales to restaurants and retailers in the New York metro area exploded and included prime placement at foodie favorites Bareburger, Harlem Shake, and Danny Meyer properties including Gramercy Terrace. "Business is so much about the relationships and building partnerships," said Dundas. "Launching the wholesale division was so exciting and seemed the next natural stage in Blue Marble’s evolution."
With distribution deals set with food co-ops and specialty retailers, in addition to the roster of popular restaurants, a deal with retailer Fresh Direct was a happy call to action. Dundas and Miesen knew that they had the systems in place, but to serve the long view and for their expansion plans to be successful, they needed capital.
NYBDC provided a $350,000 loan for machinery, equipment and working capital to expand Blue Marble’s wholesale operation and to help launch the next phase of growth, manufacturing.
"When I first met Alexis and Jennie, I was taken by their professionalism, how well that they were able to articulate every aspect of their business and how easy they were to work with," said Christina Lopez, NYBDC assistant vice president (favorite flavor: chocolate raspberry truffle.) "As a company, NYBDC is solutions-oriented; we want to help meet the needs of the borrower while protecting our investment. Blue Marble was a complicated loan because there were a lot of moving parts, but Alexis and Jennie had already done a great job of building a strong customer-base and reputation for business practices that are meaningful to New Yorkers."
In 2012, Blue Marble started cranking out its award-winning, certified organic ice cream at New York City’s only certified organic ice cream plant located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a historic industrial complex originally built in 1895. Industry City, with tenants ranging from manufacturers and wholesalers to visual and performing artists, was a natural fit for Blue Marble. "There is so much of Brooklyn embedded in Blue Marble’s identity," said Dundas. "Manufacturing in New York City is staging an exciting comeback, particularly in the artisanal food realm. We are thrilled that our manufacturing facility is part of the revitalization of this area."
In 2012, Blue Marble was part of All Good Things, an experimental European-style marketplace in TriBeCa. Also in 2012, Blue Marble, in partnership with Levy Restaurants, a concession management company, began offering ice cream at the high-profile Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Blue Marble has enjoyed incredibly rapid growth. It started with four employees, and now has a workforce of 30. With little formal outreach, the wholesale side of the business will bring in close to $1M in revenue for 2013. Manufacturing is churning more than 2,000 gallons of ice cream a week to meet retail and wholesale demands (during peak season). Dundas and Miesen have even found a way to pay it forward through Blue Marble Dreams, a nonprofit initiative they started to support communities in need through the unlikely medium of ice cream. Through this program, Dundas and Miesen partnered with a group of women in Rwanda to help them open Sweet Dreams, their country’s first-ever ice cream shop. To learn more about this special initiative, visit http://www.bluemarbledreams.org.
Next up for Blue Marble? The opportunities are plentiful. Dundas is interested in ramping up the wholesale side of the business and exploring ecommerce possibilities with an online scoop shop. Miesen is looking to reassess the retail configuration and is considering either an experiment with micro-retail footprints in keeping with New Yorkers’ grab–and-go mentality or going in the opposite direction and launching a new large flagship retail center. While both Dundas and Miesen are committed to their Brooklyn home base, there is a possibility of creating a larger presence in other boroughs or looking to opening outlets in additional cities in the Northeast. "We’ve experienced a lot of serendipity. And we've found ourselves at crossroads and come out the other side, in a positive way. We want things to happen organically," Miesen continued with a smile.