Rachel Geicke unwittingly started Snow Monkey in her college dorm room when the cravings for sweet but healthy treats came on. Now the dairy-free, all-natural, plant-based ice cream is sold in 1500 different locations around the US and has become a major health food contender. Rachel takes us through the ins and outs of running an all-female business, growing a ‘tribe’ of consumers, what it means to identify as an ‘everyday athlete’ and how ice cream became an easy vehicle to spark better habits.
Snow Monkey began in your college dorm, how do the original creations that got all your friends hooked compare to the blends you stock now?
The OG batches were made on a food processor that I picked up at the appliance store on campus. Those batches had to be eaten immediately once created, I couldn’t refreeze them and consume them later. The recipe and nutritional panel resulted in a blend that would freeze into a solid block when refrozen (if anyone has made ‘nice cream’ at home, they’ll know what I’m referring to.) Snow Monkey’s current products can be treated like any traditional ice creams; have a scoop, pop it back into the freezer, have another scoop the next morning and the texture maintains. Ingredient wise, our production volume has allowed us to partner with top tier fruit and seed suppliers around the country. The OG batches were made with supermarket ingredients and contained a higher fat and carb content because they contained nuts and dates. The current blends are much leaner but maintain the same ‘creamy’ texture, plus anyone who has a nut allergy can indulge too!
You’ve been in the entertainment and hospitality industry, what experiences in those trades helped you make Snow Monkey what it is today?
Snow Monkey is reinventing staple favorites as delicious fuel for a healthy life, we started by reinventing ice cream. Our vision is to grow into a nationwide health lifestyle brand that inspires people to fuel their bodies intelligently. Therefore, our team is hyper focused on building our ‘Tribe’ of consumers through experiential events, community engagement and placing our all-female leadership team in the spotlight. My years spent in the entertainment and hospitality industries shaped this strategy because both are highly customer centric. In both industries, the teams I worked on consistently made decisions based on customer values, feedback and anticipating their needs based on evolving trends. There was a heavy emphasis on creating unique experiences, exceptional customer service and showcasing our offerings in a lifestyle context. These strategies have been highly effective at Snow Monkey, we’ve built a Tribe that loves to engage with us beyond purchasing.
“I prioritize a health and fitness focused lifestyle so that I can suck the juice out of life.”
You were born and raised in Hong Kong, now living in LA, two drastically different places, how would you compare the two health and fitness scenes?
I’ve observed a big difference behind the core motivation that people in HK and LA have to exercise and eat clean. People in HK tend to be motivated by vanity and hot fitness trends from the western world. Whereas people in LA are constantly referring to their body as a machine that requires proper fuel and recovery. Members of LA’s health and fitness scene are also obsessed with mental health, often deeming it more important than physical exercise. Which results in strong mindfulness practices, decreasing stress and spending time outdoors. Based on these varying motivations there are far fewer natural, nutritious and allergen friendly food options in HK. Recently, many healthy eateries and better for you products have been popping up on HK’s streets. Times are changing and it’s exciting to see HK develop a more wholesome philosophy towards health and fitness, however it’s still a couple years behind LA’s scene.
What do you do to keep a balanced, active day-to-day lifestyle?
I workout every morning, religiously. I need endorphins to stimulate my mind and body before conquering the day ahead. On weekdays I do a combo of HIIT and strength training. During weekends I’m in nature as much as possible whether it’s hiking, biking, swimming or diving. My recovery game is just as important to me, I frequently go to infrared saunas, cryotherapy and acupuncture. Lately I’ve been hyper focused on improving my sleep quality as that’s essential to my professional and athletic performance. I eat my last meal 3 hours before bed, wear blue light blocking glasses after sunset and try hard not to check my email after dinner.
Between being diagnosed with celiac at 20 and sticking to strict nutrition plans in your college athlete days, how has your relationship with food evolved over time?
I cut gluten out of my diet the minute I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my mental clarity and physical stamina quickly increased. This experience showed me how drastically food affects my mind and body. From that point onwards I was obsessed with experimenting with different diets, macro plans and natural supplements to optimize my health. I started making versions of my favorite dishes and desserts but with superfoods and low carb ingredients, eventually that’s how Snow Monkey was born. I’ve developed gut problems and additional food allergies recently, so I continue to experiment with different diets, herbs and holistic cures. My relationship with food will continue to evolve to support my health needs and desire for optimal fitness.
Nowadays, there’s a greater focus on where food comes from, and what we put in our bodies – do you think health food companies are therefore inherently more socially responsible?
Yes and no. The increased focus on ingredients and transparency has created room for food startups to enter the market with offerings that are high quality, nutritious and sustainable. These young companies are greatly appreciated by consumers that vote with their dollar, are educated about nutrition and believe that food is key to great health. However only a portion of consumers value these attributes.
The majority of global food CPG is still dominated by big corporations. Many of these corporations have launched ‘healthier’ options that don’t actually deliver higher nutrition, quality or transparency. They are revenue incentivized products aiming to monetize on food trends and the fact that many consumers lack a deep understanding of healthy eating. For example, countless gluten free product variations have launched because many consumers believe gluten free equates to healthier. Whereas many of these gluten free variations are actually nutritionally inferior to their glutinous counterparts. Or take a look at ‘cauliflower’ pizzas, lots of people assume it’s healthier because it’s made from a vegetable, but read the ingredients and you’ll realize it’s predominantly made of flours, starches, cheese and gums too. Cauliflower based carb alternatives are everywhere, they aren’t necessarily better for you just very on trend.
“I cut gluten out of my diet the minute I was diagnosed with celiac disease, my mental clarity and physical stamina quickly increased. This experience showed me how drastically food affects my mind and body. From that point onwards I was obsessed with experimenting with different diets, macro plans and natural supplements to optimize my health.“
Where do you think the future of health food is headed?
In two vastly different directions. 1) Wholesome, natural and primal products that deliver optimal nutrition, great taste and functional benefits. Created by companies with a mission beyond profitability that are deeply engaged in the community. 2) Lab grown products created by biotech companies with motivations ranging from the environment, animal rights, solving world hunger and of course profitability.
From a consumer perspective, I think people will continue to develop a deeper understanding the relationship between food and longevity. Which will inspire them to eat based on what personally feels best in their body versus following a fad diet.
Snow Monkey has grown rapidly in a short amount of time, being sold in over 1500 stores in 30 states, how did you and your team have to adapt as you scaled?
We made it a priority to ensure that we implemented the infrastructure to support our rapid growth. So, we analyzed the internal strengths of our team then outsourced experts to fill the roles where we lacked experience or a passion for. We are extremely selective with internal hires, at Snow Monkey each of us play an integral role in creating culture and are a direct reflection of the brand. Every member of our team embodies our mission, vision and values which ensures that we are always working towards a common goal.
Once our scale increased, we started to receive sales data which has been key to optimizing our promotional spend, prioritizing accounts and deciding which states to roll out to next. When we started out, we solely followed our gut, now we can pivot quickly with factual verification.
There’s no doubt about it, ice cream is fun, does that makes Snow Monkey a gateway into healthier eating?
Yes! We started with ice cream as it’s an easy vehicle to spark change. Everyone loves ice cream and we’ve taken away the guilt factor from the consumption experience. We’re showing people that nutritious and delicious can go hand in hand, which inspires them to find options across other product categories that deliver the same attributes.
What does the term ‘everyday athlete’ mean to you and how does it resonate with you?
When my national and D1 athletic career came to an end, I struggled with my athletic identity. I didn’t feel right calling myself an athlete anymore. But then I realized that athletics have and always will be core to my identity, it’s in my blood and my heart. I prioritize a health and fitness focused lifestyle so that I can suck the juice out of life. In my books, that makes me an ‘everyday athlete.’
Photos by: Christina Choi