Didi and Tim Deane are the dynamic duo behind a rapidly scaling business that brings joy to customers (young and old) and showcases all the delicious fruit and ingredients we are so lucky to have here in South Africa.
Their sorbet and ice cream brand POPCO has grown rapidly since its inception in 2018 and is now stocked in more than 150 outlets countrywide. And the volumes being snapped up equate to someone enjoying a POPCO popsicle somewhere in the country every minute!
So how did a chemical engineer and a retail exec with a Yale MBA end up founding SA’s coolest new brand?
“When we were on holiday in South America, we discovered the real-fruit sorbets and ice-cream popsicles sold on almost every corner. We couldn’t understand why there wasn’t an equivalent with the same amazing taste and light, smooth mouthfeel on the SA market. Tim and I had been looking to take our 20+ years of experience in the corporate world and start a business together… we realised that this was it!" says Didi.
What followed, Tim explains, was a great deal of research, business plan refinement and projections. The couple also flew back to Brazil to learn recipe development and to procure the required equipment and machinery.
Back in Cape Town, they got to work using Didi’s kitchen blender and fresh fruit bought at the local market. “The study became our prep kitchen, the dining room table - our workspace, and there was fruit everywhere you looked. Once, when watermelon stocks were about to run out, Tim returned from the market with half a tonne of them!”
Within just 8 months, volumes and demand had increased to such an extent that the business moved into a professional production kitchen in Salt River.
Any start-up has its challenges, and the couple had been building a strong following at the Biscuit Mill and other local markets when the pandemic struck. Agility is often cited as a success predictor and enables companies to adjust to market shifts. Fortunately POPCO’s founders were able to very quickly pivot to retail and direct-to-customer sales.
The growth has been impressive. With over 150 stockists, from SPARs to cafes, POPCO is actively building out their presence nationwide. “To achieve a national footprint, we focused on building key distribution partners to ensure our popsicles could reach stockists across the country,” says Tim.
“We love our stockists – they have been such a great support. And we’re thrilled that we can tell our fans that POPCO is coming to more stockists near them. Of course, thanks to our incredible team and the distribution network Tim set up, you can always order via our website and get pops delivered right to your door – fast and frozen – anywhere in Cape Town, Jozi, Pretoria or Durban,” Didi adds.
Despite the exponential growth, POPCO has stayed true to its founding principles and hands-on values. The pips of those watermelons and the eyes of every pineapple are still removed by hand. The old blender has now been retired, but the ice creams are still handmade and packaged one by one, by hand, in clear wrappers – “we want our customers to know that what they see is what they get,” Didi explains.
“We use only high quality, natural ingredients. We do not use any preservatives, artificial colourants or flavourants, and we try to keep the sugar content to an absolute minimum.”
As delicious, guilt-free treats go, POPCO really does have the edge. Everyone is catered for in their three ranges: Creamy Decadence range, Fruit Sorbets and Creamy Vegan (made with oat-milk or coconut milk). All are lower in calories and sugar than other options on the market and there are sugar-free options too. Nuts are not used in any of the popsicles.
No time to chill
While POPCO is proud of being a small-batch producer, orders coming direct via the website and from the ever-growing list of stockists mean that theirs is now a 24-hour operation.
The company has filled corporate orders for 1000s of pops for functions and events. “Our clients absolutely love seeing the reactions to these little gifts of joy!”
Looking ahead, Didi says she and Tim “just want to continue growing a proudly South African brand. We want to be South Africa’s best-loved ice cream.”
To their legions of fans, POPCO already is the coolest ice cream around.