Sheereen Price and Gabrielle Mustapich started Hardpops in 2019
The creators of the boozy freezies say they have no choice but to head south
How many theoretical businesses have been launched by two friends sipping alcohol on a patio? Most of those ideas fizzle or are forgotten the next day, but Gabrielle Mustapich and Sheereen Price never let go of the light bulb that was Hardpops.
“We were sitting on the back deck, it was a hot summer night, and we wanted a popsicle and thought it would be cool if it were a boozy popsicle,” Price recalls. “And we just decided to take the idea a bit further and actually do it.”
The Vancouver duo launched a company in June 2019 for about $20,000. They recouped that sum in a month by selling their grapefruit and yuzu plum vodka freezies.
So why haven’t you heard of Hardpops? Probably because you don’t live in Alberta. That’s the only Canadian province to allow sales of the product, thanks to its more relaxed liquor sales regulations.
In B.C. and elsewhere, “the social responsibility rules make it difficult for things that either appeal to kids or don’t come in a can or bottle,” Mustapich explains. “And fair enough, it could appeal to kids if they were unsupervised or something. But Snapple makes spiked vodka that looks exactly like the juice. And you can buy spiked root beer and vodka cream soda.”
Hardpops are available in some 130 stores in Alberta, though Mustapich notes that “you only get two months of sales because of the weather.” The untapped potential in Canada is clear. “We see where this could go if doors were open to us,” she says. “We get emails all the time asking where can people buy this in Vancouver or Ontario.”
Instead, Mustapich and Price, who make the freezies themselves, are preparing to move down to Los Angeles permanently. They’ve already secured US$800,000 in funding and are launching stateside in less than a month with two new flavours: mojito and yuzu mango.
“There are no barriers to entry there,” Price says. “But I think ultimately, we’re disappointed and a little bit sad that we have to do that. We’re Canadian; we’re Vancouverites; I personally don’t want to move to America and do this. We’d rather make Canada proud with a cool, local business.”
There are a couple of competitors in the ice pop category (the American terminology), but “nobody has done it the way we’re doing it with the brand and quality of the product,” Mustapich says. “That’s the feedback we’ve gotten from investors, too. That’s one of the reasons they love it.”
Mustapich and Price, who are leaving the door open to a Canadian return, believe that if their business were a slightly bigger fish, it might have more negotiating power.
“If you look at Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Palm Bay, they have these slushy pouches that make it look like Capri Sun,” Mustapich says. “And they created an exception for that, so one could assume that maybe if we were coming in with a bit more street cred, things might be easier.”
Adds Price, “We hope to come back to Canada. And be the Canadian business we should’ve been.”