Niclas Lutman cracked the code to diet-friendly desserts that taste every bit as good as their sugary counterparts. He’s known as a leading innovator in the food space, but that wasn’t part of his original plan. An engineer by trade, Niclas borrowed $700 from his mother in 1990 to start selling audio equipment. Before long, business was booming — that little loan turned into $40 million in annual revenue.
Years later, doctors told Niclas and his mom that they’d have to give up sugar. They listened, but they weren’t happy with their diabetic sweets. That’s when Niclas — a self-described “serial entrepreneur” — launched N!CK’S. Today, he’s delighting dessert lovers everywhere with rich ice cream that can go scoop-for-scoop with any traditional pint.
Recently, we caught up with Niclas to learn more about his journey and hear his advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
01 Why did you start N!CK’S Ice Cream?
The decision to start N!CK’S was based on a personal need for an ice cream that was compatible with the diet and lifestyle of myself and my mom. My mom was always one of those people who could eat whatever she wanted without gaining a pound. But, when she became diabetic, that changed. It was painful to see her not be able to eat the foods she always loved.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with the same condition. Being pre-diabetic forced me to change my own diet and educate myself about nutrition. I started a strict low-carb and anti-inflammatory diet and that’s when I realized that something had to be done. I had a large sweet tooth, just like my mother, so we both needed a better-for-you option that didn’t sacrifice taste or quality.
I come from a family of science people. When we encounter a problem, we try to solve it with science. I grew up in Sweden with a background in mechanical engineering and I was fortunate to connect with some of the most qualified food innovators in the world. After thousands of experiments, we began making mind-blowing new discoveries, utilizing Swedish food technology.
02 What obstacles did you face along the way?
At the start, we were mostly focused on making our products incredibly healthy, since I believed health was more important than taste. That was wrong. We need our products to taste just as good as the sugar-packed, calorie-loaded brands. Otherwise, we don’t have a chance of competing against them. It took a while to understand that while getting the flavor, texture, and ingredient statement right!
When it comes to traditional ice creams, the fat creates that unmistakable rich, creamy mouthfeel. When you remove all the fat, you get an icy, hard, and light ice cream. As I mentioned, it was incredibly important for us to perfect the texture element, making a light ice cream that is as creamy as the real thing, so consumers don’t have to compromise flavor for healthfulness. Through food science and innovation, N!CK’S has created Swedish-style ice cream, the first truly creamy better-for-you ice cream that stays soft and is never icy.
03 What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?
In a start-up, you have to wear a lot of hats. As an entrepreneur, you’ll be the project leader, the marketer, the sales manager, the production manager, the head of R&D, and then some! Ask yourself if you really have it all in you. If you don’t, bring in people that can support you in the areas where you need help, and do it as early as possible. Realize you won’t be an expert at everything. In my case — I’m not good with lawyers and paperwork, so I found people to handle that for me.
04 What’s on the horizon for N!CK’S?
In Europe, where we are more of an established brand, we offer about 70 different products! We only launched ice cream in the U.S. in 2019, so we have considerable growth ahead of us. Continued expansion in the U.S. and Germany will be a big focus for N!CK’S in 2021. We plan to bring more of our European products to the U.S., including great chocolate bars and snacks! They’re all low on carbs and calories with zero added sugar. Plus, we’re also working on a new production facility in Europe.
As far as ice cream goes, we are poised to upgrade all of our products in multiple ways. Expect to see some new launches on shelves this spring. Additionally, we just launched a vegan ice cream line last month, in collaboration with Perfect Day. The new flavors were made possible by Perfect Day’s unique animal-free dairy proteins. They are keto-friendly, low calorie, creamy, and free of added sugars. All seven flavors will be available this spring.
05 How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?
There is no balance. I haven’t taken a vacation in five years, but I have the God-given gift of being able to sleep whenever and wherever I want. When I do, I dream about ice cream!
I’m driven by my passion for healthful foods that never compromise on taste. That alone works for me.