Interview: Edrick Chua for Popaganda

How did you come up with the idea for Popaganda?
Valerie and I both started out in advertising and brand consulting. So I guess the itch to create our own brand from scratch, with the ability to shape every facet, was never too far off. Personally, I’ve always been inclined towards a healthier lifestyle, thanks to very health conscious parents, so I’ve always been drawn to health-related concepts and have also spent a fair bit of time toying with different health food-based ideas. Valerie shares a similar interest. In fact, that’s how we met, at a permaculture workshop at Green Circle organic farm in Kranji.

How long did it take from coming up with the idea to selling your first ice pop?
Once we narrowed down our scope to frozen desserts, things moved fairly quickly and it took us about six months to launch at the Loewen Gardens Farmers Market. It would have been sooner except as Murphy’s Law would have it, after pulling a very harrowing all-nighter, we finally had to throw in the towel and call up the organizers rather sheepishly at the last minute to drop out of our first market day because we couldn’t get our pops to freeze properly using our brand new machine. Thankfully, the organizers were very sympathetic and didn’t charge us for the booth. So we didn’t have to deal with the double whammy of also making a loss before we even started!

What were the biggest challenges you faced in starting the business?
Getting past our own fears.

How did you get word out about your ice pops?
We started out with fortnightly pop ups at the Loewen Gardens Farmers Market plus a few events here and there. From there we progressed on to home deliveries and larger scale events. Along with Facebook, these avenues garnered us some publicity as well as precious word-of-mouth from those who tried our ice pops.

How do you come up with ideas for flavors?
We find inspiration from everything around us. We’re always keeping our eyes peeled for new ideas on our travels, in books, over meals, watching TV, surfing the net, at the grocery store…But typically, we always start with a base ingredient that we want to feature and then we look to see whether we should add anything else to enhance or complement its flavor. More often than not, we’ve found that less is more, so we try to keep things simple, relying heavily on the quality of the ingredients.

How often do you come up with new varieties and what has been your personal favorite flavor so far?
In the beginning, we were launching new flavors almost every month. Less so nowadays. Perhaps every quarter. But it’s a continuous process of evolution as we’re actually spending more time revisiting old flavors to improve on them.

I don’t have a favorite as I go through phases. But I’m partial to the more refreshing, fruitier flavors, especially the tangy ones, like pineapple-passionfruit. I also really love Really Orange. I think it’s our most refreshing flavor to date. Unfortunately, it tends to get ignored when placed alongside our other more unique flavors. Most recently, I’ve been cooling off with a lot of Watermelon Gazpacho. We had a lot of fun developing this “summer” flavor and I’m really proud of it, although admittedly we get a lot of weird looks when we tell people that it’s also got bell peppers, cucumbers and celery. But happily, most people actually like it when they try it.

Why ice pops?
Because they’re a great vehicle for our health and sustainability message. You can do lots of things visually with an ice pop and who doesn’t love desserts? 

If you didn’t make ice pops, what would you make?
Something else healthy. Valerie would probably want to farm bees and make honey!

Why was it important to you to use all natural ingredients and organic herbs?
Our goal from day one was to create our own health food brand. Popaganda was always meant as a platform to promote healthy eating. Anything less wouldn’t have cut it.

What are some other local food businesses you admire?
I really admire Tea Bone Zen Mind. They’ve got both style and substance. They really know their trade and I dare say they’ve elevated it to an art form. Their attention to detail is impeccable. Try their cucumber sandwiches and you’ll know what I mean. They don’t do anything half-heartedly and we always leave inspired. I like Real Food a lot too. I admire them for their passion; for not compromising on their ideals. I believe that really pays dividends.

Is the community of local food makers close knit?
If you’re talking about local food makers who share the same ideals as we do, then yes, we’re a pretty small, tight-knit community. Interestingly, we come from different walks of life. Everyone’s pretty friendly with each other. But having said that, most SME owners are, as we often have plenty to commiserate with each other about! 

Order ice pops at the Popaganda website.