Founder of RIPE, Bennett Reck, has always been obsessed with food. Cooking it, smelling it, eating it, sharing it. Yet, somehow, his diet was always bad. He would inhale gallons of hummus and jars of peanut butter in one sitting. He never went for the nutritious options, instead choosing whatever looked best.
As Bennett got older, he started researching whole food nutrition, but quickly became confused. Fake food was bad, but which real foods were good? Was dairy the devil in disguise? Is coconut oil a cure-all or an arterial destroyer? Bennett decided to try them all out and see how he felt. Plant-based eating won out resoundingly, and he’s been eating a plant-based diet ever since.
But Bennett’s always had a sweet spot and there was no way he was going to give up ice cream. How could he?! So he didn’t. He created RIPE, the high-protein, low-calorie, avocado-based gelato. RIPE ice cream can be found in three flavors (cacao, golden milk, and salted maple) at Union Kitchen Grocery.
We sat down with Bennett to learn more about how he’s combined his love for ice cream and healthy living:
Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?
Absolutely not. Despite the fact that I come from a family of entrepreneurs, I hadn’t considered starting my own business until after I graduated college and started working. In my post-grad job, I encountered entrepreneurs and envied the passion and dedication they so clearly held for their work. I wanted that. But I knew that I wouldn’t be able to devote the effort required unless I actually cared about what I was doing — it had to be food.
How did you pick gelato?
If health was the only thing I cared about, I would just give people advice to eat the rainbow, enjoy dry salads with serene mindfulness, and we’ll all see each other in a hundred years at the gym. But I care about food, not just health. And food should be delicious. We all need to eat, so why just eat? Why not crave, savor, and indulge our hedonistic urge? That’s why I created RIPE. Gelato is the ultimate indulgence, & when I realized I could create that indulgence without the detriments associated with dairy & sugar, there was no other path I could take.
What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced to date?
Our largest obstacle has been the need to work around an industry based in dairy. Ice cream equipment & processing facilities are built to work with the qualities of dairy (or non-dairy bases loaded with additives to mimic dairy), but RIPE’s base does not act like dairy. Luckily, we have been able to tap into the knowledge of experts who have helped us develop a recipe that can run on this type of equipment without compromising our ingredient standards.
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up every day at 4:30am and drink STRONG coffee. Pretty much no one else is up at 4:30, so I use the time to exercise, write and respond to emails, and plan out what I need to get accomplished that day. From about 5:00am — 7:30am I send emails to everyone I need to speak with that day to schedule phone calls. I am still working a full-time job during the day, so I’m in that office from about 8am to 6pm, then run to any RIPE meetings or catch up on RIPE calls/emails. Whenever I get home, I give myself 30 minutes to cook without interruption. For the rest of the night I plan longer-term schedules, such as demos, production runs, & social media posts.
If you had to start all over, would you do it again? What would you do differently?
Without a doubt I would do it again. If I could go back, I would invest more upfront. It is always tempting to go a less expensive route when starting a business, but there have been multiple times early on when I chose the cheaper or faster option, only to come away with a low quality outcome — and then start the process over. A piece of advice I recently heard was, “Invest an amount appropriate to the potential sales of your product, not to your product sales today.”
What does success look like to you?
Success is reaching the point where anyone can enjoy a pint of RIPE. I want RIPE to become an access point into plant-based eating, as an easy-to-find example of a plant-based product that is as delicious as its dairy counterpart.
What was it like pitching your first buyer? Any tips/advice?
Pitching for the first time was much more casual than expected. It was not a formal presentation; in fact, we ended up talking while walking around their central office. My advice would be to roll with the punches. I expected to go in and give a formal pitch & be hammered with questions, but it was clear that buyer was not interested in that. If I had tried to steer the encounter back towards my expectation, I think it would have made a poor impression.
How do you encourage repeat sales? Do you demo? Use social media? Events?
We are very focused on demoing & social media. A lot of early feedback we have received is along the lines of, “When I tried it I LOVED it, but I’m not sure I would have tried it on my own.” We are using demos as a way to get over that hurdle so customers become very aware of the great taste. However, we know we can’t reach everyone at a demo, so we are focusing on social media so those who have tasted RIPE can spread the word.
To ring in Spring, we are featuring a different plant-based entrepreneur every week! Check back in next week to hear from another Union Kitchen maker (or two!) about their philosophies, struggles, and successes.