Strawberry, watermelon, chocolate-dipped cherry: whatever the flavor, Elk River, Minnesota-based JonnyPops aims to create a better, kinder world with each frozen pop. “Twelve years ago, my cousin Jonathan and I came up with the crazy idea to make a frozen smoothie on a stick,” said JonnyPops co-founder and CEO Erik Brust. Although Jonathan passed away due to a struggle with addiction shortly thereafter, Brust and co-founder Connor Wray made that idea a reality.
“We bought a blender and we started making them in the basement of our dorm,” said Brust. They named their treats “JonnyPops” to honor Jonathan and used a handful of simple ingredients including fruit, heavy cream and cane sugar. Initially they sold the frozen pops at farmers markets and eventually launched into grocery stores. Today, JonnyPops are available at thousands of stores nationwide.
JonnyPops’ product line has expanded significantly. In addition to creamy fruit pops like Summer Strawberries and Raspberries & Blueberries, there are nostalgic flavors such as root beer float and chocolate fudge, chocolate-dipped pops, dairy-free oat milk pops, and eye-catching, rainbow-hued organic water pops.
“Growing and maintaining quality is the most challenging thing in food,” said Brust. “We’re very picky about what we put in our products. That was easy when we were small, but as we’ve grown we’ve had to fight hard not to compromise our products. They’re still made the same way today as when we first started, and we make them unlike anyone else…We are a small manufacturer compared to the Nestle, Unilever and Blue Bunnies of the world. We’re just 150 people in Minnesota.”
It’s not only the simple ingredients that set JonnyPops apart from other frozen treats. Each JonnyPops stick is printed with a good deed like “Share a favorite recipe” or “Give someone a handmade gift.” Brust explained that it reflects the company’s kindness-centered culture, and the messages have made a difference in customers’ lives, many of whom contact the company to share their stories.
“We’ve had people make big life decisions, like deciding to go to college in Alaska or taking a long solo hiking trip, because they got the stick that said ‘Take the road less traveled,’” he said. “Multiple people have proposed with custom sticks we’ve made for them.”
“There are also people who say thanks for reminding me to take time to play with my pet. It’s nice to know we got that pet some quality time. Those acts, big and small, become the why, and that’s what gets you excited every morning.”
Looking to the future, Brust is excited to continue to expand the JonnyPops team. “That’s the part I didn’t expect: how awesome our team would be, and how fun. It’s great to be growing, hiring and investing in our people and culture.”
Although many things have changed in the past decade-plus, one thing hasn’t: Brust has stayed true to his original favorite flavor. “I’m still in love with the Raspberries & Blueberries! It was one of our first, and it’s the least sweet. I love the tartness, there’s a lot of flavor depth,” he said. “I have memories of eating those under farmers market tents when it’s raining out. They’re nostalgic for me, and they bring me back to the beginning of the business.”
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