In 2017, when we met Red Mango, the frozen treat and healthy food chain was celebrating its tenth anniversary. We recently caught up with Red Mango’s Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President of Franchise Development Jim Notarnicola, Public Relations Manager Jonathan Reistad, and Director of Marketing and Product Development Nicole Taub, and asked about its progress since then.
Red Mango has traditionally appeared in strip malls in sites of 1,200 to 1,500 square feet but has seen much success with non-traditional locations. It also has master agreements with major food companies like Compass, Aramark, Sodexo, and HMS Host, as forty percent of its locations are in college campuses, airports, office buildings, and hospitals. That segment continues to grow through the contract food companies.
“Along the way, we began receiving contracts from independent convenience stores interested in adding the Red Mango concept. We struggled because the space limitations were so small, and a lot of times the operations were not particularly conducive to a health-oriented brand,” says Jim.
Luckily, a New York company, Bolla Food Marts, contacted Red Mango. It operates convenience stores under the Bolla Market name and has eighty stores in the New York metropolitan area. Bolla Market wanted to have the full product line with frozen yogurt, fresh juices, smoothies, and acai bowls as part of its offerings at some locations. At other locations, it wanted to have a smaller presentation of just frozen yogurt in a self-serve format.
“We decided to concentrate on the convenience store model and have just opened our fourteenth location with Bolla. They are thriving, and the economics are good for Bolla because capital investments are low. They already have the labor and are paying the rent, so the volumes, although modest compared to the average Red Mango volumes, the flow-through and [return on investment] is attractive,” says Jim. Red Mango is working towards perfecting that model and beginning to promote the shared space idea to smaller chains and other quality convenience operations.
Red Mango has a total of 170 locations, so if it catches the eye of a convenience store chain interested in putting up forty to fifty locations, this would make a huge difference for its growth. That said, it is a privately-held partnership and is not looking to go public or sell the company, but is building a business for the future. It is focused on sustainable growth.
Nicole heads up the product development team for Red Mango, and although there are quite a few new products to mention, she is most excited about the Fro-No line. It is a delicious range of frozen treats that are dairy-free, gluten-free, and contain no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. The products are vegan and made with real ingredients.
“That was an important part for us to innovate within a line of clean frozen treats. As well as being vegan and clean, Fro-No also features our special probiotic: GanedenBC30® (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086). It is a unique probiotic that makes it through your digestive system and has a maximum health benefit when compared to a lot of other probiotics,” says Nicole.
GanedenBC30 is also found in its other frozen desserts and many of its smoothies. This line has been going through several innovations over the last two years, and now boasts a wide variety. It is quite successful. The franchisees like it, and there have been many positive responses from customers. People who are not vegan or lactose intolerant but may be trying a dairy-free lifestyle also find that the flavors are rich.
The company has fruit purees and other flavors that are a bit lighter. There are also rich flavors that eat like an ice cream, and one of these is the pumpkin spice Fro-No, coming for the fall season and made with real pumpkin and ground pumpkin spices.
“This is an innovation we introduced that is wildly successful, and we keep innovating within the line to expand that. We find that having non-dairy options is more inclusive than just traditional dairy-based yogurt. It appeals to those vegan and dairy-free customers and those that want a lighter, healthier alternative,” says Nicole.
Two years ago, an acai bowl range was introduced and has become a valuable healthy meal option on the menu. These bowls are made with real, organic, acai purees and are topped with granola, fresh fruit, nuts, and shredded coconut. Red Mango came to market with three signature flavor profiles and the acai bowl became a natural fit.
The acai bowl enables Red Mango to tap into another type of customer: one who was not looking for a frozen treat on a summer day, but wanted to eat something for breakfast, lunch, or an afternoon snack. It is gaining popularity with teenagers looking for a hearty snack after school.
“We have been building a marketing campaign for the bowl program over the last two years. We are on the cusp of introducing an expanded, evolved line of the bowl program that include not just acai, but many base flavors that are super foods or hearty meal options,” says Nicole.
The new line is being tested in a few locations, using base flavors like pitaya, also known as dragon fruit, which when blended becomes a beautiful hot pink superfood bowl. Avocado and other flavors are also being tested. This builds on what Red Mango does well by offering more healthy options for its customers.
These product lines are all pioneering efforts. Some competitors are dabbling in what this company is doing with the acai bowls or dairy-free frozen yogurt. Red Mango responds by innovating and staying on the cusp of new trends, but in a high quality, better-for-you version. A competitor may have a dairy-free option, while Red Mango serves a vegan, dairy-free option that is all natural and uses fresh or whole ingredients such as real fruit puree or fruits and vegetables.
“There are franchise concepts that just do bowls, and we do ours in a different Red Mango way (which is to say cleaner and healthier), at the same time broadening our menu appeal to different customers and use occasions, which helps the concept become a more attractive business model for our franchisees and more versatile for our customers,” says Jim.
Customers choose Red Mango for the value and food choices that are better for them. After it established to consumers that it had the best frozen yogurt, it expanded into smoothies and then came fresh juices and now nutrition bowls.
“Over our summer campaign, we had blended whole fruits and vegetables into our frozen dessert base to create an entirely new sensation of a healthy treat. What we are doing is not only innovative, but elevated,” says Nicole.
And the company needs to stay fresh as its competitors also work to stand out in the market. However, one of the main challenges is a move back to indulgent ice creams as customers choose more high-fat, high-sugar and not particularly healthy treats. It is paying attention to those trends and asking the right questions.
“A lot of consumer interest has swung back in counter trend to indulgence. We are innovating our lines in response to that. For instance, although we have some great zero-fat, lower-calorie dairy-free, fruit-flavored items, we also have flavors that use whole fat coconut milk, bringing items like peanut butter and dark chocolate,” says Nicole. This response will include treats that are rich and indulgent while existing lines are following these trends with that unique Red Mango spin.