Maria Shriver is partner in Islander ice cream biz

Lovin’ Scoopful co-founder Dan Samson is all smiles as the ice-cream company he founded with Tim Shriver, Maria Shriver and Angelo Moratti will be in more than 900 stores throughout the Puget Sound area, California and the Southwest by September. And they are just getting started.

  • Tuesday, September 9, 2008 2:56pm
  • News
Lovin’ Scoopful co-founder Dan Samson is all smiles as the ice-cream company he founded with Tim Shriver

Lovin’ Scoopful co-founder Dan Samson is all smiles as the ice-cream company he founded with Tim Shriver

Lovin’ Scoopful co-founder Dan Samson is all smiles as the ice-cream company he founded with Tim Shriver, Maria Shriver and Angelo Moratti will be in more than 900 stores throughout the Puget Sound area, California and the Southwest by September. And they are just getting started.

Making great-tasting ice cream is the easy part of any ice-cream-making outfit. It is the marketing and negotiating that is hard, the do-everything-you-can effort to get your brand in the supermarket freezer section alongside industry heavyweights Breyers and Dreyer’s.

But if you love ice cream as Dan Samson absolutely does (at one time he put away a pint a day), then you push through the hard part to get to the sweet swirls of fortune. And that’s what the 20-year industry veteran has done with his latest venture, Lovin’ Scoopful Ice Cream.

The ice cream is produced in Turlock, Calif., but Samson runs it out of his Magnolia office and has been on a marketing surge. The company got its first big break this past winter when it made its way into Metropolitan Market, QFC, Red Apple, Thriftway and Town & Country stores in the Northwest, and Lucky, Safeway and Save Mart stores in California. Not easy to do because supermarkets have various rules about what gets put on the shelves, who does the actual stocking, and whether or not a fee is attached for the mere honor of being in the same room with the big brands.

That was the case with Fred Meyer. That store, which is owned by the Kroger Co. of Cincinnati, uses only one direct service delivery company for its ice cream distribution, which happens to be Dreyer’s. On top of that is Fred Meyer’s slotting fee of about $100 per flavor in each store.

“That would be $90,000, a huge percentage of our startup budget,” Samson said. So for now, you won’t see Lovin’ Scoopful in any Fred Meyer stores. However, if Lovin’ Scoopful continues to grow, Dreyer’s may eventually come to Samson.

Samson’s first client, Specialty Frozen Distributing in Lake Stevens, stocks Lovin’ Scoopful at each of the ice cream company’s client locations in the Northwest. It charges no slotting fee and was further sold when Samson said 25 percent of Lovin’ Scoopful’s annual profit, or $50,000, whichever is more, would go directly to the Special Olympics. Safeway Inc. of Oakland, Calif., was also intrigued by Lovin’ Scoopful’s tie to Special Olympics. The ice cream is now available in 256 Safeway stores in northern California.

The co-branding with Special Olympics came about through Samson’s friendship with Tim and Maria Shriver, whose mother, Eunice (the sister of former United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy) brought the Special Olympics to a national stage in the late 1960s. Tim Shriver is currently the CEO and chairman of the Special Olympics.

In between economics and political science courses at Yale University during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Samson was a hooker for the university’s rugby team and played alongside Tim Shriver. Samson even organized a rugby tour in Zimbabwe, where Yale players scrummed with national teams of Africa before crowds of thousands.

The two men have remained friends over the years, even during Samson’s 16-year run as founder of Danken’s Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of premium ice cream in the Seattle area. Samson even had a retail store in the U-District. After Samson sold Dankens and went into consulting for another six years, he began talking to Shriver about starting a new ice cream adventure.

“We started talking about a new venture. I knew ice cream and coffee, and Tim knew about education and the intellectually disabled,” Samson said. “It was hard to figure out something to combine those two things, but the eventual result was Lovin’ Scoopful and its relationship with Special Olympics.”

Then they brought on Maria Shriver as the creative consultant (she purportedly came up with the name “What the Fudge” for one of its flavors) and Angelo Moratti, who specializes as a financial consultant. It was Moratti’s idea to make sure that the company remain a for-profit business. Moratti knew doing so would provide the means for the ice-cream company to make more money, which it would then give back to causes such as the Special Olympics and eventually others.

“The highest amount we saw a nonprofit donate was 13 percent of its profit,” Samson said. “As a for-profit company, we could do more and attract investors.”

Maria Shriver’s involvement has been a plus, Samson admits. The intrigue around her celebrity and her involvement with the Special Olympics has helped attract buyers. In April, she got a spot for the ice-cream company on the national Rachel Ray TV show. Shriver’s children have also come up with some packaging and flavor-naming ideas. And there will be a Lovin’ Scoopful booth at the upcoming Women’s Conference this October in Long Beach, Calif. Each of the four founders get together once a year, usually on the East Coast, and teleconference quarterly.

However powerful Maria Shriver’s celebrity, or Tim Shriver’s, or that of Moratti, who is chairman of Special Olympics Italy and has ties to professional soccer teams in that country, that is not what will sell the ice cream in the long run, Samson acknowledged. The ice cream and the cause come first.

“We were aware that, if we tried to promote this company based on celebrity, it wouldn’t fly,” Samson said. “If I start thinking about any of my three partners as anything other than my business partners regardless of their names, then I’m going to be in trouble.”

The key to the entire company will be surviving this first year, Samson said. So far so good, as second-quarter gross sales were up 46 percent from first-quarter sales. And as Lovin’ Scoopful makes its way through 2008, there are plans to broaden its scope, a la the Paul Newman model.

By next year, Samson will unveil four new flavors: Oh My Blueberry Pie, Mintalicious, Super Duper Peanut Butter Cup and Caramel Chocolate Crispy Treat.

Samson’s children, Alexandra and Max, had helped come up with the Mintalicious idea, which is green mint with mint-filled milk chocolate hearts mixed in. The six original Lovin’ Scoopful flavors are variations on a previous Dankens flavor.

Creative names also play a big part in the success of the ice cream, as with packaging and having a cause like the Special Olympics. Out of This World Chocolate, for instance, was originally titled “To Die For,” but some buyers objected and even Samson’s mom rejected that one.

Should Lovin’ Scoopful enjoy more profitable years — the company expects to make a small profit this year and will donate $50,000, as promised, to the Special Olympics — Samson wants to add more food products to the Lovin’ Scoopful line up. And as the company grows, it will continue to give its 25-percent profit to additional causes.

“Tim is working on that,” Samson said. “By this time next year, we’re hoping to have a second cause.”

Reprinted by permission from the Queen Anne News.

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