Lake Effect Artisanal Ice Cream: It’s All About Doing Business Locally
I interviewed Jason & Eric for Sirene MediaWorks and thought I’d share their insights with the market community as well, especially since I originally met them at a street festival in Buffalo!
I met Jason Wulf and Erik Bernardi of Lake Effect Artisanal Ice Cream last summer at the Allantown Arts Festival in Buffalo, NY. They are business partners, entrepreneurs, and food innovators, and they are also full-time elementary school teachers. I was first drawn to their Frozen Hot Chocolate ice cream with mini marshmallows. And then I was drawn to their energy and passion for what they do. I’ve been following the growth of their company, and I wanted to know more about how they are building this innovative local food business.
How have you used social media strategically to build your business?
Social media is a very, very powerful tool… if you use it creatively and intentionally. Some of the most influential and well traveled blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook sites all have the same thing in common: they all give valuable information and at the same time entertain. If you just fire off bland, uninteresting updates and don’t include a personal touch people will lose interest very quickly.
You may have 1000 fans on Facebook, but how many of them are active users because you keep them engaged? That’s the trick.
To tell you the truth, social media is much more fun to take on if you adhere to that idea. It’s fun to entertain, to be personal, to see peoples’ personalities come out. People also love to see that you have a personality as well.
How has your social media strategy changed as your business has grown?
Our approach with Lake Effect Artisanal Ice Cream has really only changed in one aspect. We now have to update deliveries and new flavors more often.
Social media has really helped us with inventory. It is amazing how quickly we find out a store may have run out of a flavor, we hear about it from Facebook fans as quickly as it runs out. We love the fact that when we make a delivery and post about it the sales spike because people will go out looking for it. It’s a great and easy way to create a buzz about our products.
Our business was built on making the most of very little. We didn’t take out a huge loan and run on borrowed money. We work late, work our main jobs (as teachers), save our pennies to buy new equipment, and do all of our promotion/packaging/advertising work ourselves. This approach has given us a healthy appreciation for any growth we have. We still appreciate the little things, a new freezer, new fans on Facebook, passing our new flavor samples to our neighbors, stuff like that.
Social media in some ways has leveled the customer communication playing field with larger manufacturers. We have over 2500 fans on Facebook, a larger following than many similar and even much larger companies. Social media has allowed us to excel in one of our biggest asset areas: personal connections. We are a local company, and we relate to our customers in a way that huge companies never could. Social media allows us to stay in constant connection with our customers. It is amazing how fast your business will grow when word of mouth is connected to online media.
Your business is local to the Buffalo area, with the nod to the famous, heavy “Lake Effect” snows off of Lake Erie. How has response been to your hometown messaging?
If we are anything we are a local company that is proud of our Western New York Rust Belt roots. We also see this as one of our biggest advantages. Our growth as a company is kind of a rallying point for many local people and businesses. We live in a historically depressed area and people love to see the “local boy does good” story. We have been surprised by how many people who will drop us an email saying that they love our ice cream and that it is nice to see a local company do well.
We work very hard to keep our honest pro-local foods message. We have doubled our already considerable efforts to incorporate local products in our ice cream. For example we have teamed up with DiCamillo’s Bakery for our “Chocolate Therapy” flavor and are working on collaboration with Chrusciki Bakery from Buffalo’s famous Broadway Market for our next new flavor “Cinnamon Toast.” Some other locally inspired flavors we make are:
Crystal Beach Loganberry – We make this using a popular local drink (Loganberry) that gained prominence in local amusement park named Crystal Beach. This park was closed years ago but is still fresh in the minds of locals.
Ellicottville Chocolate Stout – We pride ourselves on our beer ice cream! We are in the process of making more but this was the one that landed at the top of the heap. We teamed up with a local brewer, Ellicottville Brewing Company, and used their Blackjack Stout to make this unique ice cream.
Queen City Roller Girls Rocky Road – This ice cream was made to help sponsor our local women’s roller derby team, the Queen City Roller Girls! We donate the ice cream to this great group, and they sell it at their bouts. All proceeds go to support them during the Derby season.
A Date at the Zoo – This unique flavor we made to sell at fundraisers for the Buffalo Zoo. It is a coconut and wine reduced date ice cream with Brazil nuts and dark chocolate pieces. Quite amazing how the date and coconut blend into a whole new flavor.
Nickel City Heat – This flavor is our answer to the Buffalo wing! We made it to sell at The Buffalo Wing Fest. It is a chocolate cinnamon ice cream with cayenne for a little kick.
Jason and Erik sell Lake Effect frozen treats locally in the Buffalo area, and they are planning to open an ice cream window at the front of their kitchen in Lockport, NY. So if you’re planning a trip to Niagara Falls this summer, stop by for a scoop of Salty Caramel ice cream!
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