From a walkway overlooking their new 80,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Elk River, one thing is clear to the founders of JonnyPops: They're a long way from the St. Olaf dorm where the frozen fruit and ice cream company got its start a decade ago.
"People look at food businesses and think it's an overnight success, but for us it's a 10-year overnight success," said Erik Brust, co-founder and chief executive of JonnyPops. "This facility is a huge investment in our future and a re-commitment to Minnesota."
The company and its 80-plus employees, now based in St. Louis Park, will be moving its headquarters to Elk River later this year following renovations and improvements at the new site.
JonnyPops has seen enormous growth since its early days selling at farmers markets. The ice cream bars and fruit pops can now be found in nine out of every 10 Minnesota grocery stores, co-founder and chief financial officer Connor Wray said.
"We're a top-10 brand in our category here, and we're thrilled with that growth," he said. "Still, there are lots of people who've never tried a JonnyPop before."
That leaves room to grow the brand now that it has room to grow production.
JohnnyPops bought a former food manufacturing facility for $6.5 million last month. The company is not disclosing the precise total investment in the new headquarters and production plant, but said it's eight figures.
"We're going to continue to invest and bring in more equipment, more employees and continue to grow," Brust said. "We'll be doing more of what we've been doing the past couple of years, and the numbers are going to keep getting bigger."
Since moving into its current St. Louis Park facility in 2014, the company's production volume has increased 40-fold, Wray said. Walls have been knocked down several times to accommodate that growth.
"The last time we expanded, a year ago, we knew there would be no more walls to move," Wray said.
Ice cream and ice pops are crowded markets, and early on Brust was told "we had no business nosing around in it."
"There's so much competition in the marketplace," he said.
JonnyPops has positioned itself on the premium end of the shelf, where consumers are increasingly spending money across a wide range of products.
"Superior quality products have become a popular choice among health-conscious Americans due to the presence of high-quality ingredients," Fortune Business Insights wrote in a recent ice cream market report.
About 40% of ice cream makers are seeing an increase in premium products, the International Dairy Foods Association reports, and "retailers say premium ice cream is most popular with their consumers."
The key to JonnyPops' success, Brust said, is "a brand that promotes not only wholeness in terms of ingredients but good deeds printed on the center of every stick," a reference to the positive messages printed on its products.
JonnyPops also found a way to give their summer treats some dependable winter business five years ago — making mini-JonnyPops for schools. It was a dependable source of revenue, that is, until the pandemic.
"That's a business that has changed a lot for us over the past 24 months," Wray said, as schools were closed and reopened. "It was strong and growing to nothing, to coming back on a bumpy road."
The company has also partnered with Lifetime Fitness to offer members a poolside frozen treat, Wray said.
"We're always figuring out new ways to bring the pops to the people."