A start-up story: How Oppo ice-cream trail-blazed their own supermarket aisle

Written by Emily Leeming
December 13, 2018

Just. Don’t. Give. Up. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the brothers behind low-calorie ice-cream Oppo, it’s that perseverance, with a cheeky pinch of audacity gets you somewhere. Oppo hit the shelves of Waitrose in 2014, and soon after launched a nail-biting crowd-funding push through Seedr, the fastest coining campaign a food and drink brand has ever received. Even Andy Murray got involved. And the campaign was in February. No-one thinks of ice-cream in February. That very same week they featured on the start-up TV show Dragons’ Den. While Deborah Meaden and her fellow Dragons may have been out, 4 million viewers were not, and Oppo watched their sales triple. 

The 'oppo'-site effect

Oppo’s branding is a playful tease on how low-calorie options are often seen as the opposite of indulgent. It defies every cell of my body to admit that a low-calorie ice-cream might taste good. We know that silky cream and ice-crystal-smoothing sugar, well that just is ice-cream. Oppo’s ice-cream however, is made from fresh milk, virgin coconut oil and sweetened with the non-nutritive stevia leaf. Oh, and it happens to contains 60% less sugar and calories than the regular stuff. Can it possibly taste as good? It walked away with a Gold Taste Award in 2016. My prejudice has been schooled, it’s delicious.

It’s that Yin and Yang, the chalk and cheese, that ‘oppo’-site effect, that’s their founding success. Taking the traditional beloved ice-cream and reinventing it without cream or refined sugar was a contradiction. ‘The key for us was that when we started, we didn’t know how to make ice-cream’ says younger brother Charlie. ‘Cue googling, trial and error, and with a knowledge that sometimes not knowing the rules makes it easier to break them’.

The soaring sibling startup

It took 24 long months to get the first three flavours from awful to mouth-watering, inspired by the traditional fruits the two brothers Charlie and Harry had discovered on a trip to Brazil. Charlie was living on Harry’s sofa; testing products, going to talks, reaching out to mentors, and bouncing from start-up grants to keep the project rolling. In 2014, Harry was ready to join in. Quitting his role as Head of Marketing at Squared Online, they officially became the two-man band the Oppo Brothers.

Working with your brother has its ups and downs. ‘We have totally different strengths, so we work well together and come at problems from different angles.’ But Charlie says ‘It can be tough to separate work and personal life. We often find ourselves talking business [at home] which I’m sure the family find a little tiresome.’

A scoop of tenacity

Getting your first supermarket listing isn’t easy. In the development stages, before even the packaging was sorted, the brothers were hawking their ice-cream to suppliers. With maybe a few little white lies they blagged to the supermarket that production was sorted while telling the factories the supermarket listing was in the bag. By telling both sides the oppo-site story, they nabbed a listing with Waitrose, and production began. 

With strong sales and an increasing responsive consumer base, Oppo has seen their business grow 700% year-on-year between 2015 and 2016, and 250% between 2016 and 2017. This year has been a wild one. The Oppo team has evolved from a team of six in 2016, to swelling to a team of eighteen in the last six months. It’s a hectic time. Early this year they finally upgraded from hot desking in a one-bed cramped flat in Stockwell, to the spacious and in-the-thick-of-it office space at the food start-up hub the Food Exchange. It’s here that the community of start-ups act like a supportive web, cushioning blows when the chips are down, sharing tips, support, a cup of tea. That’s the nature of The Food Exchange, helping each other get off the ground, a start-up family. 

What’s next for Oppo?

Ice-cream looks like it’s just the beginning for the Oppo Brothers. With a new range of puds recently on the shelf, and a promise that next year will be their biggest yet for product launches. The brothers plan to transition Oppo to a brand that people can know and trust to give low-calorie alternatives that taste delicious. They want to have products in multiple food and drink categories, each the market leader in their ‘healthy indulgence’ sub-category. The sky’s the limit – watch out. Now pass me back that salted caramel. 

Oppo has six flavours including Salted Caramel, Colombian Chocolate and Hazelnut, Mint Choc Swirl, Madagascan Vanilla, Cookie Dough and Raspberry Nipple which are available in nearly 5,000 stores throughout the UK including Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Holland & Barrett, Whole Foods and Ocado.

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