The Scoop on ProofFeb 06, 2020 11:18AM ● By Leigh Savage
How do you splurge when it’s time to unwind and indulge? For many, ice cream and liquor top the list—and thanks to Columbia-based company PROOF, you don’t have to choose between the two.
Proof Alcohol Ice Cream, founded in 2015, was the first alcohol-infused ice cream to hit the market, and is now expanding its footprint into regional and national retail outlets. With flavors like Caramel Bourbon, Pistachio Rum and Strawberry Moonshine, customers get the flavor of their favorite top-shelf spirits in ice cream form, complete with 7 percent alcohol by volume or 14-proof—similar to many craft beers.
Jenn Randall-Collins, a former University of South Carolina basketball player, founded the company and serves as CEO. After graduating with a business degree in 1995, she moved back to her home state of Kentucky, where she worked in marketing and as a business consultant.
Then a recipe for alcohol ice cream caught her eye. “It was the basis for a recipe that had not been perfected,” she says. “It was the first iteration, an idea with some ingredients but not a finished product.” Called JB’s Proof, it was named for the man who had created the original family recipe.
It sparked her interest and created a promising business opportunity, so she started strategizing. “It was this idea of combining two of life’s best indulgences, at least in the adult world,” she says. “But we had to get the taste profile right. It was an art and a science.”
Randall-Collins moved to South Carolina to build her business, in part due to her connections from her college years and in part because of an easier-to-navigate regulatory environment. She says dairy and alcohol are two of the most highly regulated businesses in the nation, which has created some challenges.
She teamed up with Dirk Brown, a mentor who became her business partner. Randall-Collins serves as founder and CEO of Liquorem Holdings and CEO of Proof, while Brown, the faculty director for the McNair Institute for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise at the Darla Moore School of Business, serves as chairman and cofounder.
“He’s the scientist and the buttoned-up suit, and I’m the one with the genesis of the idea and the vision for marketing and growth,” Randall-Collins says. “It’s been so cool to get to go to market with my mentor.”
Disrupting the space
One key to Proof’s success has been finding creative ways to overcome regulatory barriers. “In the state of South Carolina, you can’t have any food in a liquor store environment,” she says. “That’s why you have liquor on one side and beer and wine on the other. And they regulate this as a food product, not a beverage.”
After extensive research, she realized she could use the Palmetto State’s liquor-bakery license provision, which allows a bakery to use alcoholic beverages as ingredients in food items that are manufactured and sold at wholesale. “We were the first to execute on this,” she says. “We disrupted this space.”
The artisan company keeps things small-batch, with permanent flavors like Mocha Chocolate Moonshine. Others are rotated seasonally, including Apple Pie Moonshine in the fall and Chocolate Cherry Bourbon in the winter.
Patents are pending for the products’ formulas and production techniques, and all products are Certified SC and are manufactured on the Enterprise Campus at Midlands Technical College. “There is a binding system that we utilize at the molecular level,” she says. “There is a lot of science involved.”
Though competitors have followed Proof to market, she tells her team of 10 that competition is not a bad thing. “We’re different, and we don’t compromise on taste, product integrity or mouthfeel,” she says. “We’ve done the testing, and it’s a very indulgent product that really elevates festive occasions. It’s meant to be enjoyed and bring a smile.”
Proof recently was named winner of the Product Innovation category at the S.C. Branded Awards, presented by the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and The Brand Leader marketing group. After winning the honor, Brown says the company was “poised for significant growth in 2020 and beyond, and we certainly want everyone who enjoys our products to know where they come from.”
The pints are available online and in retail outlets across North and South Carolina, including a new partnership with Lowe’s Foods and another with Total Wine, a national chain with 206 locations. So far, Proof is available in the Carolina outposts, though she hopes to be expanding that partnership in the near future. “It’s moving like crazy,” Randall-Collins says. “We can’t keep it in stock.” She’s looking at strategic partners on the West Coast, and hopes to partner with restaurants and more stores such as Harris Teeter and Publix.
While year-over-year increases have risen above 90 percent, and her team forecasts double-digit growth for 2020, she wants to make sure the company expands intelligently. “The biggest challenge is not growing too fast, not overextending ourselves,” she says. “We just have to keep our eye on the ball, strategically mapping growth, making sure it’s sustainable and making sure we are taking care of our consumers and clients.”
In the meantime, she hopes more people find the product in stores and give it a try, either right out of the container or as part of desserts and concoctions that stand out at parties or special events. For a cold winter night, she suggests an affogato: a cold scoop of bourbon caramel drowned in hot espresso. “These products always get a great response if I just give people a sample,” Randall-Collins says.