MEET BELLANY: How a gourmet ice cream brand used agile innovation to survive the crisis
Before the pandemic hit, premium ice-cream brand BELLANY was performing highly in their home market of Vietnam and sales were skyrocketing. Then COVID happened. We all know what came next but for BELLANY, and many other businesses around the world, fast decisions had to be made on what direction to go in so as to survive the impact of the global lockdowns that were upon us.
Agility and resilience were the key words for 2020, especially among businesses who had strongly relied on the hospitality and tourism industries which have been two of the most heavily impacted areas during the pandemic. COVID forced many brands to pivot their business models and strategies in varying directions in order to survive. Only one certainty was clear and that is that brands who have been able to remain agile during this time have been able to find opportunities amongst the many challenges, and will be stronger for it as we return to normality.
One of those brands is BELLANY, a premium ice cream company based in Vietnam who had previously relied very heavily on the hospitality and tourism sectors for business and were therefore in danger of losing their business to the pandemic. Let’s take a look at how they were able to adapt to the new normal and find opportunities during a difficult time.
BELLANY: The 5* Hotel Ice Cream
The BELLANY brand as it is known today started when the CEO, Jean-Marc Brutus, combined his distribution background and network with his idea to start an ice cream business in 2007. Jean-Marc purchased the necessary equipment and began to create ice-cream with help in the sensory development area from his Vietnamese wife, who was able to adapt the ice cream they created to better suit local tastes and consumer preferences at the time. This resulted in an ice cream recipe that contained less fat, less sugar (15-20% max.) than traditional ice cream and more natural fruit.
In the beginning, resources were tight and challenges were frequent. Routes to market in retail were complicated and expensive which meant choosing a different strategy for BELLANY if they wanted to be able to scale quickly.
“In Vietnam, most brands would have been built around parlours in the beginning, but due to cost we had to choose between investing in local stores or building a national brand leveraging premium restaurants and hotels” - Jean-Marc, CEO of BELLANY.
Deciding to go down the distribution route was not the easiest option but with Jean-Marc’s background in that area, it made sense as he understood how to take advantage of the opportunities and possibilities. BELLANY now owns 7 distribution depots across Vietnam from where they can deliver ice cream to all clients on the same day. This is a unique advantage in a country such as Vietnam where efficient road infrastructure and frozen distribution is limited. After seven years of developing a strong distribution network, BELLANY became the ice cream of choice for the top 4* and 5* hotels in Vietnam.
Focusing heavily on customer service and client-support, BELLANY insist that they are not selling to hotels but rather helping hotels sell to their customers. They provide a very customer-centric approach, showcasing how to use their premium products in various usages or applications, from desserts to cocktails, or even as a welcome gift to clients of the hotel.
The BELLANY portfolio of natural ice creams includes a variety of choices for customers from 3* hotels all the way to 5*. Their product range focus on the inclusion of real, natural fruits grown in Vietnam and do not contain any chemicals or flavourings.
Innovating with "Paletas"
The newest addition to their portfolio are the ‘Paletas’ (Frozen Fruit Sticks) which are available in a variety of flavours including coco banana, coconut, passion-fruit, strawberry, mango, and lime. In-demand product types in recent years have included vegan alternatives, low-sugar, to name a few. BELLANY tries to incorporate these long-term trending tastes into their products while maintaining the premium quality and taste that their high-end customers expect. With this in mind, they also have more new product developments coming in the near future. Overall, their range of paletas will include 12 different flavours in 2021, covering Asian tastes (think Durian or Red Dragon Fruit) as well as more Western preferences (i.e. Pineapple, Chili or Lime/Cucumber).
Paletas have done so well because they tick a lot of boxes when it comes to what consumers want as they are considered healthier than a regular, typical ice cream product. According to the brand, operating in close proximity to where the fruit used is grown also helps to create an impressive and memorable taste experience for customers who receive the end-product.
Growing the fruit domestically also increases the level of food safety, traceability and quality along the supply chain which is appreciated by clients and customers. It also allows them to remain highly agile and flexible when it comes to production and larger order quantities.
How COVID Has Changed Things
With approximately 95% of their distribution channels made up of hotels at the end of 2019, the brand’s agility was tested in 2020 when the impact of COVID began. They had to redirect their sales focus and resources towards retail stores, switching focus from foreign tourists to locals and expats. This new direction required substantial changes with regards to the packaging, format, and price point but BELLANY understood that in order to survive, adapting these elements to suit new customers and consumers was essential.
The BELLANY brand is now featured in over 60 retail stores with 180 new ones pending in 2021 which CEO Jean-Marc admits, likely would not have happened if not for the pandemic. They are also confident that the demand for Premium Ice Cream will return, and at a higher rate once tourism reopens post-pandemic. They have prepared for this by introducing new machines which allow for a significant production increase for their Paletas. Their agility has been the key to their continued success so far and they aim to remain as agile as possible as they move into a new heavy growth stage.
Currently, the Paletas are selling in retail in single-serve packs with two available sizes (55ml and 110ml) to suit consumer preferences. In the 110ml format, they have incorporated slices of natural fruit which are frozen into the stick. This is done through a complicated process involving two freezing stages. This extra level of work is designed to create a more visually aesthetic product to encourage more organic word-of-mouth marketing and customer-generated content on social media.
Export is the next big thing
The importance of localisation in their product development processes is key for BELLANY when it comes to working with customers around the world. What works well in European markets will often be completely different to the flavour and textures that are popular in Asian cultures and the brand tries to reflect local customer’s expectations when creating products for new markets. For example, for their Japanese clients, BELLANY offers flavours like wasabi or black sesame, while their American or European clients will turn towards flavours like Mango, Lemon or Strawberry.
BELLANY will be able to apply this localisation know-how and experience to any new export partners they collaborate with through the INNODELICE ecosystem. They have specifically expressed their interest in collaborating with companies or distributors in the HORECA sector, or ice cream parlour chains who may be looking to add new fruit-based SKUs. They are also open to conversations with convenience stores on the retail side.
The brand is already Halal certified and will be receiving their HACCP certification to comply with international standards in June 2021.
If you would like to be introduced to the BELLANY team, we would be happy to facilitate that introduction. You can learn more about the BELLANY brand on the INNODELICE website here, and if you are interested in discussing potential opportunities for your brand, please reach out to Nicolas on firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrea on email@example.com.
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Founded by former executives in the Ice Cream industry, INNODELICE aims to create a worldwide ecosystem of solutions within the frozen dessert industry. Thanks to the relationships fostered by INNODELICE, manufacturers, brands, importers, distributors and suppliers can discover, buy and sell solutions to GROW their business. These solutions include co-manufactured and branded products as well as innovative and competitive ingredients, packaging and services. Our collaboration model generates lower costs and fewer risks for our participating partners while optimising their time to market. To learn more about INNODELICE, contact Nicolas MARIE (firstname.lastname@example.org), Andrea MONTREUIL (email@example.com) or visit www.innodelice.com.