Jel Sert has high expectations for its newest brand, the SLIQ line of alcohol-infused freezer pops.
Innovation Takes Other Forms
The anticipated success of SLIQ promises to change the composition of Jel Sert’s business by increasing the portion of sales that comes from the company’s own brands. That figure is currently about 70%, but Jel Sert also has a contract manufacturing unit that accounts for 20% of revenue, with private-brand products representing another 10%.
“All of the areas are growing, but SLIQ is going to change the ratio,” Wegner asserts. “Our business is unique in that we have our owned brands, such as Fla-Vor-Ice, Otter Pops, Wylers and Royal, and we also have our functional brands, such as All Sport, Super C and Pure Kick. But on top of that we do a tremendous license business with brands from Mars Wrigley, like Skittles, Starburst and Dove; from Hershey, like Jolly Rancher; and from Coca-Cola, we license Hi-C. And we have a major licensed product launch right now with Coca-Cola, a freezable form of Power-Ade.”
When the company does license brands, it turns loose its research and development team and testing lab to get formulations right, leverage its manufacturing capacity, and work directly with retailers on sales and merchandising initiatives.
“No one hands us a secret formula and says, ‘Use this in your product,’” Wegner notes. “We literally are buying products and flavor matching. We are as good as any R&D lab in the world at being able to flavor match.”
When it comes to flavors, Jel Sert looks for those that are trending up, which is the same approach it takes with licensing.
“When we look at licensed opportunities, we look at brands that are becoming increasingly relevant,” Wegner says.
For example, Hi-C was a big brand that was doing well, but it wasn’t growing significantly. However it enjoyed a resurgence after McDonald’s began serving it in restaurants as its orange drink. The company is now working with Welch’s on a powdered version of a passion fruit drink, has introduced a watermelon lemonade under the Wyler’s brand, and is also launching a lemon ginger tea. “Ginger is an ingredient people are interested in,” Wegner observes.
Beyond flavors, functionality is having a major impact in many categories, with immunity being a key benefit. “We are taking functionality into the dessert mix category with All Sport and Super C,” Wegner points out. “No one else has done it. Functionality has encroached into so many categories; we looked at the dessert mix category as a white space.”
Passing the Torch
Wegner is 58 and has been president of Jel Sert for about 15 years. A fourth generation of the Wegner family, sons Gavin, 27, and Spencer, 26, lead other key areas of the business and are poised to follow a path similar to their father. Gavin leads marketing efforts for the new brand SLIQ, and Spencer works in the marketing department on licensed programs, at the family-owned company with roughly 1,000 employees.
“We’ve been very blessed that we’ve all gotten along very well,” Wegner says about working with his brothers at the age of 25, after his father had passed away unexpectedly at the age of 58. “Businesses can be very tense and difficult, but we all have the same desires and goals. We are very passionate about this business, because it has been in our DNA, and we are very focused on the service levels we provide customers, whether they are a single store or a major chain.”