Challenger to Watch: Halo Top

For making fun of health

Challengers often have a lofty goal, an ambition that goes beyond the category, that pushes the world forward. Halo Top is simply on a mission to make ice cream healthy, and I for one am all on board with that. What could be a more important objective in 2018?

Halo Top is the miracle ice cream that has found a way to create delicious, flavourful, protein packed goodness that is only 280 calories a pint. Now in its eighth year, 2018 looks like it might be the year the brand goes stratospheric.

In 2010, Los Angeles based lawyer Justin Woolverton bought an ice cream maker on Amazon, and set about looking for an answer to a problem that we’ve all faced: a desire to gorge on the sweet frozen dessert whilst negating the side effects as much as possible.

Halo Top founder Justin Woolverton.

Halo Top founder Justin Woolverton.

In body-conscious SoCal, Halo Top gradually found a movement. Served in health food cafes and stores, the brand was the secret weapon of personal trainers and gym enthusiasts.

This was a pint of ice cream that you could guzzle in good conscience, with almost the same amount of protein as a whey shake.

In 2016, a GQ article about one of its journalists subsisting entirely on Halo Top for 10 days went viral. What was this mythical product coming out of the west? It seemed too good to be true.

You only have to skim weight loss forums and subreddits to see the love that has spread from its California base out into the wider world, the “OMG I LOVE YOU HALO TOP” posts are an indicator of how it managed $50m sales in 2016, expansion into the UK, Mexico, Ireland, Australia and Canada, as well as a substantial purchase offer from Unilever in early 2018.

Expansion is the task for 2018, and I’m eager to see what the move from “secret weapon” to household name will mean for Halo Top, particularly as it’s been hard to predict what the brand will do next.

Halo Top’s flavours are designed to be joyful and decadent

From a marketing perspective, the brand has always leant into a spirit of saintly gluttony, its “280 calories a pint” prominently displayed on the front of the pot, and website splash that encourages you to “forget the bowl”.

Despite its health food credentials, Halo Top's flavours are designed to be joyful and decadent: 'Birthday Cake', 'S’mores' and 'Pancakes and Waffles'.

In contrast to the fun and playful tone struck by the brand’s visual identity, its 2017 cinema ad was, frankly, bananas. Showing ahead of the horror movie, IT, the ad pictured a dystopian future where robots feed human captives ice cream over and over again (perhaps art imitating life, in a reference to that GQ article).

I’m going to be watching Halo Top closely in 2018. And I’m going to have to do a lot of product research, to make sure I’m really on top of it.