Growing Ideas: High-protein ice cream takes off

Start-up pulls off a ‘Koupe’

Koupe ice cream is much lower in sugar than the regular stuff and contains three times the protein. Thanks to its healthy image and a good dose of marketing nous, Koupe’s products were available in six countries just a year after launch.

Jaco Pieper assumed people would not be interested when he presented his ice cream brand Koupe to other food start-ups in Silicon Valley in 2017. But the protein ice cream was a hit, and it still is. It's now been on the market for a year and can already be found in big supermarket chains in Europe and the Middle East.

In a previous lifetime, Pieper was a marketing communications advisor for big brands. “But it was always my dream to establish a brand within my budget as the ultimate test of my capabilities,” he says. When he made a trip to Greece just before his 40th birthday, he came across a place selling frozen yoghurt with added protein powder. Strategically located next to a gym, it gave him the idea of developing a high-protein low-calorie ice cream.

“I want to be the Ben & Jerry’s of healthy ice cream”

- Jaco Pieper, founder of Koupe

So what is Koupe?

Pieper:“Koupe is an ice cream that is delicious and healthy. It’s available in four flavors, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and banana, and contains 40% fewer calories, 70% less sugar, and three times as much protein as regular ice cream. Nutrition consists of three building blocks: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. The advantage of protein is that it is absorbed more slowly than carbs, which makes you feel less hungry. And protein contains amino acids, which are good for your muscles.

“If you make ice cream with less fat and sugar and add protein, it tends to become very hard. That's why it took me quite some time to develop the product. I finally launched Koupe in April 2017, and it was immediately available in 150 branches of Dutch supermarket chains Dirk and Dekamarkt. Two more chains soon followed. In addition to the Netherlands and Belgium, Koupe is now sold in England, Norway, Lithuania, and Qatar. From the end of May, we can also be found in Germany, at Real supermarkets.”

What was your biggest ambition?

“I want to be the Ben & Jerry’s of healthy ice cream and maybe even of more products. Healthy ice cream is becoming really big in the US and England. During the trade mission to Silicon Valley I went on, the point was made that a new revolution is now occurring in food. I was right about that four years ago, but it also means that the competition is increasing.

“Unilever is now marketing a protein ice cream by the name of Breyers. That does get me worried. On the other hand, it also creates a market that I can piggyback on, since I make the same type of product, but one that is more delicious. As a small start-up, it's not easy to compete with Unilever. But I’ve noticed that supermarkets are on the lookout for small, likeable brands they can offer next to the big premium brands.”

What else do you have planned?

“We are coming out with a new flavor in mid-April. And I'm working on launching Koupe in France. Thanks to my winning pitch at the FoodBytes! start-up event in May 2017, I am now participating in the ShakeUp Factory agrifood accelerator in Paris.

“I am working with great people there who are going to help me launch in France. We need to consider how to position the product very carefully because the French are all about enjoying their food — they're not as concerned about nutrition. So it requires a different approach. That really gets me excited because it's the part of marketing I like most.”

“I told myself to take one step every day, no matter how small”

- Jaco Pieper, founder of Koupe

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?

“I developed Koupe alongside my regular job. At first, a start-up can seem like a mountain that is too high to climb. If you start thinking that way, there is a real risk you become paralyzed. I told myself to take one step every day, no matter how small. It could even be a phone call.

“Because I forced myself to take a tiny step every day for Koupe, each step built on the previous one and became bigger and bigger. It really helped me.”

This article was posted on Rabobank.com and RTL Z on the website of a Dutch business and financial news channel, on April 2, 2018.