While our editions here at the Regeneration Weekly tend to focus on promoting on-farm practices, ecosystem service markets, and policies incentivizing a regenerative transition, the brands that both meet existing consumer demand and create new markets for regeneratively produced goods merit storytelling. To that end, I spoke with the founder and CEO of one of the most exciting brands freshly in the regenerative space, Alec Jaffe of Alec’s Ice Cream.
As the first regenerative ice cream brand, Alec’s has committed to working with sourcing partners that have strong regenerative bonafides and made regenerative the focal point of a recent rebranding process. Alec’s uses regenerative organic certified ingredients and was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal in their guide for “reading food labels” and nominated for the NEXTY Awards for Best New Frozen Food category at EXPO West. The average American household spends over $70/year on ice cream, up from $54/year in 2015, making it a niche but growing market that many of us really love. The story of Alec’s will hopefully portend the story of startups and successful brands taking the leap into regenerative branding and sourcing both to appeal to consumers’ emerging preferences and, fundamentally, make a better product.
The Alec’s Ice Cream Origin Story
A former college football player at USC, Alec Jaffe knows the value of good nutrition and a disciplined diet to sustain athletic performance. However, he also knows the need to treat yourself on occasion and achieve balance. He’s been a self-taught ice cream maker since elementary school and has spent significant time at a relative’s dry farm vineyard, Condor’s Hope, in the California Central Valley where topsoil health and biodiversity were talked about as much as the products. Alec realized that we can improve the food system to create products that “taste better and are better for the environment.”
Given his life-long passion for ice cream, Alec decided to dive deep into the ice cream space in 2017 after a few years of doing marketing and brand building for a variety of companies. In doing his market research he realized that while various companies were doing “better-for-you” or non-dairy ice creams, no one was owning the “amazing tasting, premium, actually sustainable” niche of the ice cream market. That’s when his obsession with making amazing ice cream came in: Alec bought a benchtop ice cream maker to make ice cream for friends and family, spending a year developing recipes with his brother, Zach.
As the team was “purposeful with flavor development,” they began to find traction selling locally. Alec’s raised capital to opportunistically purchase a shut down 4,200 square foot ice cream processing facility in Petaluma, CA in 2020. The purchase would allow the company to meet growing demand and ensure processing capacity can scale with sales. Much like with grass-fed beef, dairy processing is a key bottleneck to growth for regenerative and grass-fed producers, so starting with a vertically integrated supply chain proves a savvy move for folks seeking to make a real impact on shelves regionally and across the nation.
The Regenerative Pivot: A Product Better For Your Gut and The Environment
The mission was clear: much like consumers value “single-origin coffee” (or regenerative coffee!), Alec wanted to create a “single-origin ice cream” retail brand you can find nationally. In the fall of 2021, Alec’s began sourcing their milk from Alexandre Family Farm, the first regenerative certified dairy and one of the most powerful brands in the space. Alec was enthralled by how the Alexandres utilize cattle in a regenerative system and as “such a complete shift of what people think about cows in the environment.” Though he had previously sourced from grass-fed dairy programs, he thought it both beneficial and necessary to take a leap into regenerative sourcing.
Additionally, Alexandre provides A2 organic milk, which has the A2 beta-casein protein that is more easily digestible than the A1 version that we tend to find in conventional varieties. The A2 component, as Alec puts it, “is super exciting and innovative” - and a key part of their emerging regenerative brand story. “Dairy better for the environment and better for you is the next new cool thing,” Alec claims. A2 milk has proven to be better for your gut health and digestive system, especially for folks who have experienced forms of lactose intolerance.
Philosophically, there’s a deep point made here about our food consumption habits by utilizing A2 instead of a plant-based or “healthier” alternative. As Alec stated, the rest of the premium ice cream industry is “taking something away to create an experience that is nearly as good,” be it calories, sugar, making it “keto”, and so forth. Alec emphasizes that his product is “truly additive” in not taking away anything from the ice cream experience, but rather “wanting our product to be satisfying and satiating” to encourage consumers to have “just enough and have the best thing you can.” Consumption of A2 and regenerative-sourced ice cream, Alec claims, will result in fewer “food comas” and overall digestive sensitivity that we might experience from a normal ice cream binge.
Overall, this combination will lead to a “real impact on climate” that consumers feel good consuming. However, much like the grass-fed claims phenomenon, management claims on ice cream could prove troublesome without more streamlined standardization. Terms like “grass grazed” are thrown around when they could mean cattle eating graze grown on pasture or silage pellets in a confined animal feeding operation. Alec’s goes above and beyond by enlisting multiple certifications for claims. Alec’s includes three different certifications (Savory Land to Market, Regenerative Organic Certified, and USDA Certified Organic) and can claim that 98% of its ice cream mix is certified regenerative . Utilizing both ROC and Savory EOV provides, as Alec put it, a “sense of trust and verification that at least someone has done the work of verifying practices and results.” Alexandre Family Farms, which has a plethora of certifications, is both ROC and Savory certified. Alec’s sources their sugar from Natíve’s Green Cane Project, the first ROC cane sugar. Much like with dairy, this is a sugar produced that protects biodiversity and does not result in atrophied fields. However, the proliferation of certifications is still a key risk as it leads to obfuscation for consumers and an increased burden on farmers who have to pay for each certification and follow each individual bureaucracy.
Ultimately, Alec put it best: “an ice cream company is a happy product company.” More so than a metrics-driven approach to food, Alec’s focuses on the taste and experience of an ice cream made from scratch and regeneratively sourced. He hopes to leverage the brand to serve as a “happy ambassador for the regenerative movement” by educating consumers and ice cream aficionados on the merits of adopting the regenerative food movement. Additionally, he hopes Alec’s success creates a new revenue pathway for regenerative dairies - especially those producing A2 milk.
I see Alec’s writing the playbook on marketing regenerative products directly to consumers in markets dominated by industrial Ag incumbents and upstart plant-based products. Though it is definitely still early days in this journey, a credible regenerative story can serve as a distinguishing feature for brands looking to make a better product than competitors or, at the very least, claim a better environmental footprint. Alec’s Ice Cream is perhaps the first mover to do so in the ice cream space - but there are plenty of other consumer products ripe for disruption and regeneration.
If you’d like to experience the first verified regenerative ice cream, go to the Alec’s Ice Cream website and use “SOILWORKS15” for 15% off! Alec’s is growing fast and just got on shelves at Fresh Market stores across the country and in Nugget Markets, Harmons, Mom’s Organic Market, and Safeways across California. They are also actively hiring folks passionate about the regenerative movement. I highly encourage you to try the product and compare it to a conventional ice cream experience as well as reach out if you’re interested in working in the space.
Disclaimer: The Regeneration Weekly receives no compensation or kickbacks for brand features - we are simply showcasing great new regenerative products.
If you have any products you would like to see featured, please respond to this newsletter or send an email to Kevin(at)soilworksnaturalcapital.com