March 19, 2012

Mark Gabriel and Erik Durr have never strayed from challenges. Rather, the two have coupled their engineering backgrounds and entrepreneurial passions to create a product that’s generating quite a buzz around the country – an alcohol-infused whipped cream.

As tenants in The Louisiana Business & Technology Center, Gabriel and Durr founded New Orleans Whipped Cream Co. in 2008 to make the best whipped cream on the market. Marketed as Whip-C, the product was sold at local grocery stores and used fresh cream from a well-known local dairy. But, Whip-C customers wanted more.

“We got request after request from customers to add alcohol to the product for the fun aspect,” explained Gabriel, a 2008 LSU biological engineering alumnus. 

Although the customers’ request was simple, Gabriel and Durr faced many challenges including how to infuse the alcohol into the cream, how to develop a package that was competitive with existing brands but innovative enough to be able to offer different sizes, and how to market the product.

Gabriel and Durr relied on their engineering backgrounds to work through these challenges and create Whipsy, a play on the original product name that was voted on by their friends.  Currently available in three flavors – Ooh-La-La Original, Hazey Hazelnut and Loco Cocoa – and distributed in 11 states, Whipsy is made by slowly adding alcohol to the cream before it’s packaged.

“We looked at the opportunity and decided that the best way forward would be to use a light tasting citrus wine so as not to take away from the color and texture of the whipped topping,” Gabriel explained.

The key to Whipsy’s success is making the product in small batches. Working with the LSU Dairy Science department, the two were able to help refine Whipsy’s formula, so that the cans don't have to be refrigerated. Gabriel and Durr tout Whipsy as “every bit as good as Whip-C with less calories and the added touch of 13.5 percent alcohol.” According to the product’s website, “For scientists: 27 proof which means 13.5 percent alcohol.
For you: Enough to make your slice of pie equivalent to two beers.”

Gabriel and Durr also had to conceptualize a package for Whipsy that stood out from their competitors’ – which resemble familiar packaging for hair spray and car-cleaning products.

As of now, a 12.7 ounce bottle sells for $9.99, but Gabriel and Durr identified a way to package the product in smaller bottles, which will be sold for $5.99 for one or two for $10. Smaller packaging will allow Whipsy consumers to try the different flavors and make the bottle easier to transport. 

“The 187mL (approximately 6 ounce) bottle is a big deal because we used our engineering brains to develop a product that is competitive with other brands, but also innovative in product size offerings,” Gabriel said. “Offering the product in different sizes offers logistical and technical challenges that we have solved.”

Gabriel and Durr also knew that marketing the product was an essential part its success. Thinking of additional ways to make Whipsy stand out from its competitors, the two took the extra time to develop a formula that had other uses – including ice cream – taking the product to a whole new level.

“In four years, I would be proud to have Whipsy Ice Cream shots in bars around the US, Canada and other select countries,” Gabriel said. “I would feel like it would be a more established brand. At that point, I would hope that we could begin making new beverages and push the limit once again." 

Capitalizing on the recent digital couponing fad, Gabriel and Durr recently sold Whipsy through Groupon. Twelve thousand cans of Whipsy sold in five days across thirty-six states. The company is using the demographic data Groupon collected to gain additional information about its key market.

“Considering the challenges we face, I think engineers are naturally good at filling this role by solving problems and making logical decisions. Especially at the pace that business flies, there isn't much time to second guess a decision or to do something over again,” Gabriel said. “Everyday in business we encounter problems and issues, but our creative side kicks in and finds solutions that clearly accomplish our goals. We've used our engineering background to successfully make a complex product available to customers in 36 states, but we have many challenges ahead of us.”

Despite the challenges, Gabriel and Durr will continue to “whip-up” innovation one bottle at a time while relying on their engineering background to make them successful entrepreneurs.

For more information about Whipsy, visit drinkwhipsy.com.

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For more information, contact Cassie Arceneaux, College of Engineering, carcen6@lsu.edu or (225) 578-0092.



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