Alarice Rajagopal Senior Editor
For CEO and co-founder Jenn Randall, the idea for a boozy treat came about when she discovered a family recipe for alcohol ice cream that was passed down for generations. Enter PROOF Hard Ice Cream, an artisan company based out of Columbia, S.C., that uses patented formulas and production techniques steeped in molecular science, handcrafted daily with top-shelf liquor as a key ingredient. It creates a savory, high end-product with an unmatched creamy consistency.
“We combine quality spirits and popular ice cream flavors to create a modern, indulgent taste experience for our customers,” Randall tells CGT. “I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember, but I’m also driven by teamwork — I was a former University of South Carolina basketball player. With PROOF, I feel like I’ve found my calling for working with the best of the best to help make this business what it is. Plus, I now have an excuse to live up to my Kentucky roots to put bourbon in everything!”
The process towards PROOF’s e-commerce launch was a long one, but Randall notes that it showed them that they have the tools — and now, the confidence — to scale the business. As an early pioneer of the hard ice cream dessert category, PROOF combines art and science to successfully deliver its desserts to customers across the country.
This is no small feat. Shipments require dry ice to keep product at an extreme -109.3 degrees F during transport. “To successfully deliver desserts, we need to ensure an incredibly short and precise delivery window, required signatures to release products and high touch visibility into the entire shipment process," she says. "One mishap along the way can mean melted treats, unhappy customers and the cost of wasted merchandise."
Randall adds that PROOF is a sophisticated indulgence, and first impressions are everything to ensure customers have the perfect unboxing experience. “Through a partnership with UPS Capital, we’re able to leverage affordable, flexible shipping insurance coverage to ensure products arrive safely. If any unforeseen issues arise, the shipping insurance coverage helps provide best in class service for our customers and fast, efficient online claims handling for our business."
As the brand continues to grow and expand its digital capabilities and online storefront, PROOF is set up for success to meet the needs of customers around the country, both in accessibility to its product and by having an iron-tight delivery logistics and supply chain process, that complete the customer experience.
Worth the Wait
However, the implementation process took longer than expected. PROOF had a WordPress website that was modified to add e-commerce, and then switched to Shopify. Randall explains, “WordPress allows for a more graphically pleasing web presence, but we needed the ‘run like clockwork’ capabilities of Shopify.”
Thus, the new site was launched during the pandemic along with a combination of aggressive advertising and email marketing campaigns. It didn’t take long for its online sales to grow, and they continue to climb. “In fact, we quadrupled our online sales, which grew four times over from January to March alone,” she says.
Marketing took the lead on the process, with an emphasis on creative and digital. Because PROOF is a small company, everyone pitched in with research, best practices, and suggestions. In addition, email marketing continues to drive consumers to its website, and Randall is seeing increases in both the number of first-time and repeat buyers.
Lessons Along the Way
For her CG peers, Randall-Collins offers advice to “start small, and allow your business time to find its footing and stay flexible for necessary modifications or improvements as you go.” In addition to the website enhancements, her team looked to other parts of our business to grow and improve, like the PROOF unpackaging experience and exploring new materials for enclosing dry ice. “We want the PROOF brand to be evident from the moment you enter our website to your first impression of our shipment to the initial taste of our high-quality, perfectly frozen hard ice cream.”
When it comes to launching e-commerce, Randall notes that there are also advantages and disadvantages to being a SMB. “We'd love to have more people helping with production and logistics, but at the same time, our small team gives 100% to everything we do. The guys who pack our shipments take the time to write handwritten notes to our customers. We call buyers, respond to emails, and make a point of thanking everyone who shops with us online. Our e-commerce presence has allowed us to reach more customers, but it has also brought in the many members of our team to help it run successfully.”
Leaning on E-Commerce
The most significant benefit to launching an e-commerce site has been the opportunity to put PROOF in the hands and mouths of more people. Until PROOF’s real estate footprint grows to include more retailers in the U.S., e-commerce is one of its most substantial sales and marketing tools.
“We're benefitting from more profound data collection, direct lines of communication with consumers, and the creation of a robust online community,” says Randall. “We're providing unique experiences via recipes, new flavor releases, and other company news, which helps strengthen our connection with PROOF lovers while increasing revenue.”
“We're benefitting from more profound data collection, direct lines of communication with consumers, and the creation of a robust online community.”
As a result, PROOF has watched its sales climb consistently month-over-month, with a customer return rate soaring to 25%, and 40,000 website hits in 2021 so far. They’re also using data collection from e-commerce to reinforce paid digital ad campaigns.
“Growing our footprint and visibility while not sacrificing the quality of our product is our number one goal,” Randall says, adding that they are now also testing new markets like sporting arenas and catering/entertaining, developing new flavors with various liquors, and having conversations with notable alcohol brands to see where brand alignment creates the most substantial yield.
According to Randall, through good times and bad, two things never come between people and their wallets — alcohol and ice cream. “We want to continue to give consumers a quality indulgence they can enjoy and share with others.”
In terms of what's next for its consumers, PROOF plans on introducing new mixtures featuring innovative taste experiences utilizing global alcohol and food partners. “We're going to take an exciting turn. We've been on a long journey with PROOF, but we're navigating successfully and enjoying the ride.”
Randall reinforces that the most important part of the business is the customer experience. “Our bar is exceptionally high, so PROOF is constantly racing the clock to get our ice cream delivered on time and perfectly frozen. All ice cream melts, so it’s been critical for us to create strong relationships with our shipping carriers and insurance providers to ensure that we can scale from our southeastern U.S. regional roots to reach customers nationwide."