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From Lawyers to Entrepreneurs: How Lawyers Created Halo Top Ice Cream

Photo by Fábio Alves on Unsplash

Halo Top ice cream is the buzzworthy brand known for its fun flavors and ice cream pints that only contain around 300 calories. A staple of the frozen foods sections of many grocery stores, Halo Top has revolutionized the frozen dessert industry and has proven that ice cream can both taste good and be healthy.

The Halo Top leadership team deployed a savvy business and marketing strategy to rapidly grow the brand. What may come as a surprise is the fact that Halo Top was co-founded by two former corporate lawyers.

It is not uncommon for lawyers to transition into entrepreneurship. Many of the skills lawyers develop from their legal training are useful for transitioning out of purely legal jobs. Observing the journey Halo Top’s co-founders made from full-time attorneys to entrepreneurs can provide many lessons for lawyers seeking to make a similar career transition.

The Early Days of Starting an Ice Cream Company

Justin Woolverton is a former lawyer at renowned global law firm Latham & Watkins in Los Angeles. He found inspiration for the idea behind Halo Top ice cream in 2011. To satisfy his craving for ice cream while not consuming thousands of calories, Woolverton whipped up Greek yogurt with fresh berries and stevia. Woolverton liked his creation so much that he began to experiment with healthy ice cream creations in his home kitchen.

Ice Cream Halo Top
Photo by Daniel Cabriles on Unsplash

The idea dawned on him that perhaps he could make healthy ice cream into a scalable product. Many people purchase ice cream from time to time as a guilty pleasure but consuming an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen-Dazs would be unhealthy and likely result in weight gain.

While still employed as a lawyer, Woolverton experimented with a variety of ingredients in his kitchen. His initial recipes were based on Greek yogurt, but he eventually shifted to using egg whites and skim milk.

More Than a Year of Experimentation

After over a year of self-experimentation, Woolverton reached out to independent manufacturers. He wanted help to produce the ice cream at a commercial scale. They eventually settled on the perfect combination of ingredients for creating an indulgent, high protein, and low-calorie dessert: milk, cream, egg whites, thickening agents, and a stevia-erythritol mixture. Each pint of Halo Top ice cream contains around 300 calories, 20 grams of protein, and only 20 grams of sugar. Additionally, every pint of Halo Top ice cream contains approximately a three-quarters cup of air. In a process known as overrun, the ice cream is spun with air to reduce its calorie content.

Woolverton partnered with Douglas Bouton, a corporate lawyer at another large law firm called Proskauer Rose LLP. At first the two lawyers worked on Halo Top, originally under the name Eden Creamery, while maintaining their day jobs. In 2013, they gave up law to devote their full attention to Halo Top.

Halo Top Took Off

Halo Top struggled to gain traction during its first few years. Woolverton and Bouton took out large personal loans to sustain the startup. On top of that, both had massive student loan debt.

By early 2013, Halo Top had raised $500,000 from family and friends. They had a small breakthrough in 2013 when a couple of Whole Foods locations agreed to carry their products. By the end of 2015, they had raised around $1 million from angel investors.

Despite early success getting Halo Top on some store shelves, the startup was struggling financially. They often had to offer a certain amount of free products or pay a slotting fee to land new deals. For large retailers, this amount could be substantial, and hit the company’s cash flow. In addition, they initially struggled with the temperature sensitivity of the ice cream. This created quality control issues, where some batches lacked the ideal smoothness.

2016 as Halo Top Crossroad

The year 2016 was a defining year for the company’s survival. As they became more cash strapped, they started resorting to more unique strategies. They reached out to Instagram influencers who were fitness enthusiasts and asked them to market Halo Top in exchange for ice cream coupons. The word-of-mouth effect led to some lucky breaks.

A Hollywood fitness trainer published an article on GQ.com entitled “What It’s Like to Eat Nothing but This Magical, Healthy Ice Cream.” The article detailed his journey of eating nothing but Halo Top ice cream for 10 consecutive days. The personal trainer lost almost 10 pounds because of his 10-day diet experiment.

Halo Top demonstrated that being healthy does not mean compromising on flavor. Some of Halo Top’s most popular flavors include chocolate chip cookie dough, birthday cake, pistachio, pancake and waffles, and lemon cake. Other competitors in the low-calorie frozen dessert space include Skinny Cow, Yasso, and Enlighten.

Today Halo Top is one of the best-selling frozen dessert brands in the United States. The company generated $347 million in sales in 2017, a number that has been on the rise. Halo Top also has a growing international presence. They are launching new products like Halo Top pops: 60-calorie fruit flavored ice cream popsicles.

Lawyers to Ice Cream Makers

The skillset of being former lawyers came in handy through the startup founders’ journey. They literally brought their ice cream recipe from their kitchen counters to grocery store shelves, to celebrity Instagram pages. Their hard work and perseverance as lawyers translated to success in the business world. Additionally, their negotiation skills and legal knowledge helped them establish new partnership deals and navigate the regulatory complexities of the food industry.

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