Neal Gottlieb, a contender in the 2016 season of television show Survivor, founded Petaluma-based Three Twins in San Rafael in 2005. The company grew fast, with revenue now at $15 million, he said. Two new ice cream lines introduced this summer and fall will likely augment revenue with substantial growth. After an interview with North Bay Business Journal, Gottlieb jumped on a jet to Tokyo to arrange for a Three Twins launch in Japan.
Cornell-educated Gottlieb, 40, is a smart, savvy entrepreneur who grew up in New Jersey in a family where ice cream was part of a regular ritual. He connects to the product emotionally, and thrives on cultivating new flavors with nuances that make big differences in a crowded market against the likes of Breyers, Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs. The U.S. market for ice cream is roughly $5.5 billion. Those top three players each scoop nearly half a billion dollars in revenue.
Maxine’s, a new Three Twins brand named after Gottlieb’s thrift-minded mother, brings lower pricing that he calls “family-friendly.” The tubs are bigger than pint cartons used for Three Twins premium ice cream, and the new product has higher content of air.
Ice cream makers use the term “overrun” to refer to the amount of air incorporated into ice cream. Three Twins premium ice cream has about 50 percent overrun, or a third air. Maxine’s, launched in June has 90 percent overrun — a bit more than 47 percent air. “The flavors are a bit mellower” than Three Twins premium, he said. “Vanilla and cookies and chocolate are very expensive. By changing formulation somewhat, it allows us to offer a compelling price point. Less-expensive to make, it’s still really rich. You don’t have to be rich to live richly.”
Maxine’s, priced at about $7, will compete with one other company that has 1.5-quart organic ice cream containers: Alden’s. “It has 100 percent market share,” Gottlieb said. Three Twins premium pints sell for about $5.
Both products contain organic ingredients. Gottlieb looks forward to more shelf space with the new lines, and possible sales to new untapped food-store chains.
His mother and father moved to California more than a decade ago. Until recently, his dad did deliveries for Three Twins, and both parents still sell ice cream at the Berkeley farmer’s market. “Neither of my parents is entrepreneurial,” Gottlieb said. Total payroll includes about 100 employees, with nearly 60 full-time equivalents.
The other new product is Slim Twin, a brand with seven flavors all low in calories, at 240 to 320 calories per pint, roughly a third of the calories in the premium brand. Flavors include mint chip, lemon cookie, cookies and cream, and cardamom. The brand launched in September.
The company owns four stores in San Rafael, San Francisco, Larkspur and Napa, plus three licensed stores in Berkeley, Santa Monica and at the San Francisco airport. Three Twins opened a store on Fisherman’s Wharf. “It was a disaster,” Gottlieb said, “on the wrong side of the street.” He closed the unprofitable shop within a year.
A business partner in Japan will bring Three Twins ice cream into that new market starting soon. “We’re working on packaging printed in Japanese,” he said. “They love American dairy products.”
The company already sells ice cream in South Korea, shipped on boats. “It’s a very efficient means of transporting product,” he said, much cheaper than refrigerated trucks.