A Righteous mission to bring gelato to the American masses

It seems appropriate that a complete rebrand for Calgary-based frozen dessert company Fiasco Gelato Cafes began with a cold call.

Don Saynor, partner and chief creative officer with The Jack Russell Agency in Toronto, says that one of his old bosses at Cossette, Ian Saville, always urged employees to reach out to brands they loved on the off-chance they might be able to recruit them as clients.

An avowed fan of Fiasco’s Dark Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt flavour, Saynor uncovered a Gmail address for company founder and CEO James Boettcher (pictured above) and sent him a note.

“A huge part [of our business] is prospecting and getting new clients; we do it all the time,” says Saynor. “We talk to people we know, people we used to know, and I often will reach out to people I don’t.”

Saynor’s timing in this case turned out to be perfect. Fiasco was readying itself for a move into the U.S. through a new partnership with Whole Foods, and was contemplating a name change to avoid a trademark conflict with a brand out of Maine called Gelato Fiasco.

“I told [Boettcher] that I had always thought you should reach out to brands you like, are interested in and use,” says Saynor. “I said ‘I’m assuming you have an agency, but if you don’t I’d love to talk to you. If you do, just keep making that flavour.'”

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“He emailed me back, and I was like ‘Holy shit!’ he says, laughing at the memory.

The two men would engage in a spirited back-and-forth, during which Saynor discovered that Boettcher was no stranger to the cold-call himself—having reached out to countless grocery retailers in pursuit of a listing.

It helped him grow Fiasco from a small single-scoop ice cream shop launched with just $1,800 into a national brand with a diehard following and a presence in some 2,000 grocery stores coast-to-coast.

Fiasco formally engaged The Jack Russell Agency as its first agency partner last fall, tasking it with overseeing a rebrand that would yield a new name, Righteous Gelato, as well as a new visual identity and design system.

The effort is intended to not only strengthen the brand in Canada, but help it find a foothold in America’s massive (US$8.1 billion) frozen dessert market. Righteous Gelato will make its U.S. debut in 22 Whole Foods stores across the Pacific Northwest on June 1.

Research firm Mordor Intelligence describes frozen desserts as a “highly fragmented” category in which companies must compete on numerous factors—from price to packaging to flavours—to gain a competitive advantage.

And while the category is dominated by multinationals like Unilever and Nestle, Saynor says that Righteous’ decidedly non-vanilla approach, not only to its flavours (which include unconventional offerings like Matcha Green Tea Honey and Earl Grey Lavender London Fog) but to its business and branding, will distinguish it from its competitors.

“None of them are old-school CPG marketers,” he says of the Righteous team. “They’re all kind of scrappy kids that started this on their own knowing nothing, so they don’t have a lot of time for the quintessential MBA thinking.”

Jennifer Taylor, Righteous’ marketing lead, describes the new identity as a “grown-up version” of the brand as it moves into its second decade. There was some discussion about retaining the Fiasco name in Canada and launching a second brand for the international market, but they ultimately decided it made good business sense to go with just one.

The Righteous name was selected, she says, because it embodies the brand ethos of presenting customers with “the right choice”—both through its commitment to small-batch production and its status as a Certified B Corporation.

The new packaging also features some “easter eggs” that aren’t obvious to the casual consumer. The banner containing the product name, for example, sits at an 11-degree angle, which Taylor says is the optimal temperature for serving gelato.

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The jars feature a representation of the “shaka sign” (also known as the hang loose sign) that Taylor says is an embodiment of the company’s relaxed attitude. Shaka is also the name of the company’s doggie mascot.

“They’re kind of a free and easy type of brand, so this chilled-out surfer vibe was really where we found a lot of inspiration,” says Saynor of the branding elements.

While virtually every aspect of the brand was up for discussion, the one element that remained resolutely off-limits was the company’s distinct transparent jars. “We have built such a loyal following across Canada, but so few people knew us by our branding and brand name,” says Taylor. “But they really recognized that transparent jar with the big text on the front.

“We didn’t want to deter anyone already shopping [for Fiasco] from having to buy into and love a new brand,” she adds. “We wanted to showcase that same great company, with a new name.”

The rebrand and U.S. expansion is being supported by a marketing plan that Taylor says has “shifted pretty significantly” because of the COVID crisis.

The original plan was for extensive experiential marketing via pop-up shops, events, etc. (“you’ll try it, you’ll love, you’ll buy it,” has been the company’s traditional approach to marketing, says Taylor), but it has adopted a more digitally focused approach with an emphasis on social and influencer marketing.

The brand has recruited Canadian influencer Jillian Harris, who has 1.2 million Instagram followers, to promote its new Dairy-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Sorbetto flavour, with additional support planned for its new line of plant-based, gluten-free and nut-infused products. “We’re really leaning into the digital space,” says Taylor.

The rest of the year remains uncertain at this point says Taylor, with the company having adjusted all of its plans and revenue expectations to account for the impact of the COVID crisis on its business.

“It’s shifting week by week, month by month,” she says. “We feel very blessed to be in the grocery industry, which is the one place where consumers can continue to experience our brand.”

The only hope now is that Americans are ready to catch Righteous Gelato’s tasty wave.

Chris Powell