Our Tent Talk guest this week is Neal Gottlieb, founding twin and CEO of Three Twins Ice Cream. Neal shared with us the story behind his ice cream empire, the value of staying in farmers’ markets while also operating brick & mortar locations, and how giving back is part of the Three Twins brand. In this episode you’ll learn about what it takes to scale a product from farmers’ market to national grocery chains. 

Adventures in ice cream

Neal is a pretty adventurous guy. As a young man he moved to Morocco to work with the Peace Corps, and later became a contestant on Survivor. He’s also known for staging political stunts on the top of mountains and frequently wearing brightly-colored pants decorated with ice cream cones. But probably the most wild ride Neal’s ever been on is the adventure of starting Three Twins Ice Cream.

In 2005, Neal, having just returned from his stint in the Peace Corps, was living with his twin brother and his brother’s then fiancé (who is also a twin) in an apartment they’d dubbed “The Three Twins”. Neal was itching to start something of his own with some money he had saved up.

Unable to face the idea of working in a cubicle, Neal dreamed of a job that combined two aspects of his personality. “There’s the part of me that loves business and capitalism and brand-building,” said Neal “but at the same time I wanted to do something meaningful and I wanted to do something green and earth-friendly and facilitated a lot of creativity.”

So he set off on yet another adventure: building the next great American ice cream brand!

That farmers’ market sweet spot

Three Twins ice cream had a rocky start. Neal’s first scoop shop in Marin was in a less than ideal location. He had a great product, but no one knew about it. Frustrated with the slow days at his scoop shop, Neal applied for a spot at the Berkley Farmers’ Market and got in. Eventually his booth at the market could pull more revenue in one day than the scoop shop could get in 5 weekdays.

In addition to revenue, the farmers’ market was a great opportunity to test new flavors, give samples, and provide knowledge about his product. Neal learned quickly that farmers’ markets were a way, without much additional investment, to build brand recognition.

For these reasons, Three Twins stayed at the Berkley Farmers’ Market while also opening additional brick and mortar locations and expanding into a national brand. Also, Neal’s parents took over the farmers’ market operation so Neal didn’t have to wake up early every Saturday morning. Mr. & Mrs. Gottlieb worked their final farmers’ market in December 2017!

Building his ice cream empire

In the years since opening his first scoop shop and popping his tent at the Berkley Farmers’ Market for the first time, Neal has built a national ice cream brand. It’s been quite the adventure, but Neal is nowhere near finished. Now Three Twins has two factories, three lines of ice cream, and supplies grocery stores in all 50 states!

To what can Neal attribute his success? “First and foremost you don’t become a national brand by accident,” says Neal, “you really have to aspire and work hard for it.” He also believes that Three Twins’ commitment to sustainability and giving back has positively impacted the growth of his company.

“There are so many products out there right now, so if you’re going to contribute something to that crowded field, if you’re going to become a national brand, you need to offer something that makes your brand really compelling,” explains Neal. “You have to be differentiated, you have to be relevant, you have to be a brand people hold in high esteem, and you have to build knowledge.”

Three Twins’ Ice Cream for Acres program has done just that. In 2011, they launched a land conservation initiative to help protect rainforest land, sensitive habitats, and other significant spaces. Now, that’s a great excuse to eat more ice cream, if you ask me!

Where can I listen to Neal’s full episode of Tent Talk?

There are many ways to listen to Tent Talk. You can stream directly from our website or by clicking the player below. You can also easily listen on a mobile device via iTunesStitcher, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes!

Do you have a farmers’ market question you’d like us to answer on air? Got an idea for a future episode topic? Is there someone you think we should interview? Please let us know!

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