Ice cream truck alternative
Mountain View's Little Bee Pops creates organic frozen treats
When Mountain View resident Liz Snyder said no to her 6-year-old daughter's request for a treat from the ice cream truck for the "umpteenth time," her daughter took a stand.
"Mom, why don't you sell your pops at the park?" Snyder describes her daughter as saying. "Then moms and kids could be happy."
A little over a year after this frustrated suggestion, Snyder's daughter now finds herself with the title "Chief Tasting Officer" in Snyder's new frozen treat company, Little Bee Pops. A devoted advocate of sustainable, local and healthful food products, Snyder had always refused to buy commercial treats due to their chemically enhanced ingredients.
After pondering her daughter's idea to sell her own treats, she decided to start a company devoted to creating all-natural Popsicle-like treats using only locally grown produce. Upon successfully raising its $15,000 startup goal on the business-funding website Kickstarter, Little Bee Pops had its first sale in April of this year.
The company's three owners, Snyder and her friends Lilia Schwartz and Melissa Patel, all collaborate on creating various flavors using seasonal produce. The pops vary each week depending on what produce farmers' markets are offering, and aside from the staple ingredients of organic fruit and honey, they often include various vegetables not usually found in desserts. One current flavor, "Raspberry Flash," is made from a mix of organic raspberries, raw honey, lemon juice, flax and spinach.
"Putting spinach in a smoothie is kind of a mom trick," Snyder admits. "Spinach has this amazing ability to just absorb into a smoothie and be flavorless, so we're boosting nutrition and fiber content without changing flavor. We're always looking for what tastes really wonderful and is really nutritious, so we can have something as a company where parents can finally say yes."
Snyder says that the most popular flavor is currently the Ninjaberry, which she describes as a "dark berry" treat with honey, lemon juice, and flax. Depending on the availability, the pop can contain any variation of blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, olallieberries and loganberries. At the commercial kitchen in the East Bay where the treats are prepared, she and her co-owners are also experimenting with fig pops and watermelon-basil pops to appear later in the summer.
Snyder says she, Schwartz, and Patel usually go through three or four iterations of pop-making and tasting in order to perfect a new flavor.
"We found that because we're using fresh ingredients, you really have to taste every batch," Snyder says. "We all have to familiarize our palates with what the pops taste like. Sometimes your lemons are more tart; sometimes the fruit is more sour."
After the establishment of a successful flavor, the pops go on sale at the Sunnyvale Farmers' Market and the Campbell Farmers' Market, both of which run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday. Snyder has applied to sell at the Mountain View Farmers' Market, which she says has a wait time of one year due to its popularity. Aside from selling at farmers' markets, Little Bee Pops offers event catering and currently sells its "Strawberry Avenger" ice pop at the Palo Alto grocery store Country Sun. Strawberry Avenger, which contains organic strawberries, raw honey, lemon juice and flax, has a slightly tart yet refreshing strawberry flavor — similar to that of a frozen strawberry smoothie — that successfully masks any trace of flax seeds. According to Snyder, the pops will be sold at Ava's Downtown Market and Deli in Mountain View starting Thursday of this week.
Snyder estimates that the company makes 1,000 pops per week.
A seasonal item, ice pops can be sold only into October, Snyder says. She and the other owners have already begun looking into other organic, local products to sell during the rest of the year. Honey-sweetened jam is in the works for this fall.
"Melissa, our kitchen manager, is an avid jam maker," Snyder says. "The honey-sweetened pops have such a wonderful flavor to them, so we thought, 'Why not a honey-sweetened jam?' We're converting all our popsicle flavors into jam right now."
Little Bee Pops has a light-hearted feel to its quest to support sustainable agriculture. Snyder's business cards say "Queen of Pops" rather than CEO, while Schwartz and kitchen manager Patel are referred to on the website as Pop Goddess and Chief Whip-Cracker, respectively. Yet behind her playful nature, Snyder has a focused approach to sustainability in agriculture and healthy eating. With a background in nutritional anthropology, she is a co-founder of Full Circle Farm, an 11-acre educational nonprofit farm in Sunnyvale. This experience introduced Snyder to many of the farmers she now buys her pop ingredients from.
In order to avoid wasting produce, Snyder often buys the very ripe fruit necessary for pops from farmers who would not otherwise be able to sell the produce at the next market. Little Bee Pops works hard to ensure that its pops remain as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible, she says.
"The most challenging part is just staying true to our mission, being local and trying to be sustainable," Patel says.
Snyder stresses the need for a wider evaluation of our current agricultural and food supply system in order to reduce the use of chemical products and support local farms.
"We have this really profoundly broken food system," Snyder says. "Part of repairing it is just eating healthier, but also creating a new network of supply."
Little Bee Pops will be at Eagle Park in Mountain View on Friday, July 27, from 6 to 8 p.m. Eagle Park is located at 500 Franklin St. More information is at littlebeepops.com.