The only thing that differentiates you is what attracts people to you in the first place: the brand, the packaging, the promise.
After 25 years in the film industry, it was time for a change for Craig Jackson (aka Jacks). He and his partner, Mel Bridge, are dedicated foodies with a passion for sustainability. Their vision was to create a quality food product that would make people feel good.
The pair first tried to develop a fermented probiotic drink, but they encountered several set-backs – like struggling to keep the probiotics alive. “We gave up on the drink. We couldn’t make it work,” Jacks says.
But you never know when a fresh angle might bring an idea to life. “Some mates came over with their kids. Mel stuck the drink we’d been making into some popsicle moulds in the freezer and pulled it out. It was kind of a eureka moment.”
Jacks bought some popsicle-making equipment online that night, and the Dr Feelgood frozen pops adventure was underway.
Getting all the ingredients right
“We were very naïve when we started. We’d never run a food business,” Jacks says. On top of that, the business has been privately financed. “We’re not made of money. It’s all done on our mortgage. We don’t have any investors.”
It's been a home-grown business, right down to developing popsicles in the kitchen. “We had this large, stainless-steel industrial popsicle-making machine in our kitchen for six months while Mel did all the recipes. I think 50 or 60 different recipes later we came up with our initial six.”
Jacks and Mel developed the Dr Feelgood brand at the same time as the recipes, and even hand-cut the boxes for their first sample pops.
Then Jacks hit the streets, looking for stockists. “I went out on the first day with my little box of ice creams knocking on doors,” he says. At one of the first stores he visited, Jacks offered all the staff a free frozen pop. “That got us in there, because once you try it, you tend to keep coming back for more.”
Three-and-a-half years after launching in January 2015, Dr Feelgood is stocked in a couple of hundred outlets around the country. And Jacks has personally sold thousands of frozen pops to customers at markets.
Getting the ingredients for the business right has taken some time.
The trick was talking to people with the right expertise. “I’ve got really good people around me,” says Jacks. “I’ve got a couple of mentors – some know the ice cream market, some know the dairy market, others know business.”
The 'feel good' philosophy
A ‘feel good’ philosophy underpins every aspect of the business.
“Our mission statement is: ‘Feelgood isn’t just a name, it should be the outcome of everything we do’,” Jacks says. “It goes through to our relationships with suppliers, retailers, and customers.”
For customers, the packaging is where the ‘feel good’ promise is laid out. For example, each frozen pop is packaged in compostable cardboard rather than plastic. “There’s a certain nostalgic anchor to it. In the olden days, ice cream used to come in cardboard,” Jacks says. “It’s a reassurance that there are some traditional, old-fashioned values around our product.”
The cardboard is also sustainably sourced, and traceable through the PEFC Chain of Custody. “We could go back to where the tree was grown in Whakatane,” Jacks says.
Of course, the crucial moment is when a customer takes their frozen pop out of its packaging and tries it. “The product pays off, the promise is delivered: you feel good,” Jacks says. The magic is in those carefully considered recipes. “It boils down to: no weird stuff whatsoever. We’re very transparent about the ingredients we use.”
A trustworthy trade mark
The name ‘Dr Feelgood’ was decided on early, and reflects the brand philosophy. “‘Doctor’ – trust me,” Jacks explains. “And ‘Feelgood’ – well that’s the desired outcome of buying our product.”
By chance, Jacks met a senior lawyer specialising in trade marks at his child’s agriculture day. She helped register the ‘Dr Feelgood’ word mark in New Zealand.
A word mark is a trade mark that only uses words. ‘Dr Feelgood’ was the most essential element of the brand to protect, Jacks says. “Yes, you can knock off our logo, but it contains the name ‘Dr Feelgood’.” A word mark also provides ongoing protection if the logo or other branding elements change down the line.
If Dr Feelgood sounds familiar beyond frozen pops, the name has been used before, including for an album by Mötley Crüe. Did that prior use pose a problem?
“I had concerns that there would be potential conflicts,” Jacks says. “But as it turns out, that wasn’t the case, because it’s all about industry categories.” In this instance, ‘Dr Feelgood’ is registered in the category of goods and services that covers confectionery, ices, and sweets.
The same lawyer is now helping to register the trade mark ‘Dr Feelgood’ internationally, using the Madrid Protocol. This allows the international trade mark applications to be based on the one first filed in New Zealand through IPONZ.
IPONZ provides trade mark searches and preliminary advice for a fee. Or as a quick and cost-free starting point, the ONECheck search tool identifies trade marks, company names, website domains, and social media handles that are the same or similar to the one you have in mind. A great trade mark is distinct and unique.
The value of a strong brand
Most consumables are easy enough to replicate, Jacks says. Beyond the product, “the only thing that differentiates you is what attracts people to you in the first place: the brand, the packaging, the promise.”
A compelling brand has real business value and that’s worth protecting, he adds. “Right from the beginning, we understood that if we build something that we like – and other people like – if it’s not protected, it’s fair game.”
Jacks has seen first-hand how much the Dr Feelgood branding resonates with customers. “Say at a market, I sell someone an ice cream. They open it up, they pull it out – and I’ll go, ‘Here, give us your rubbish, I’ll throw it away.’ And they say, ‘Oh, no, I’m taking this home with me!’”
While other elements of their brand are harder to protect, “a lot of it is incredibly hard to copy,” Jacks says. “No-one can copy me dressed as Dr Feelgood in my Dr Feelgood suit charming 5-year-olds to 95-year-olds.”
The ‘feel good’ brand is central to development plans for the business. “People make up their own mind, and they go for what they know: nostalgia, honesty, transparency,” Jacks says, of what drives the growing Dr Feelgood fan-base. “You get that with small producers like us – artisanal – and with people like me who stand up behind our product.”