The brainchild of entrepreneur Jody Polishchuk, who co-founded cold-pressed juice co The Juice Box in 2013 (sold to Spud.com in late 2014) and created plant-based yogurt brand Yooga in 2015 (“My first failed startup. Made a lot of mistakes... learned a lot…”), Sundays is launching direct to consumer in mid-December, and on Amazon in January.
Each three-cookie serving contains 7g protein, 1g net carbs, 3g fiber, and no added sugar, and is made from a base of almond flour and oat fiber, cocoa, whey protein isolate, RSPO-certified palm oil, allulose and monk fruit.
To place this in context, regular Oreos contain 1g protein, 25g carbs, <1g fiber, and 14g added sugar, and are made with a base of flour, sugar, palm oil and high fructose corn syrup.
‘The world's first zero sugar Oreo’
While there are multiple attributes potentially of interest to consumers about Sundays, including a keto positioning, says Polishchuk, he’s learned from experience to keep things simple and focus on one thing at a time, as reflected by his linkedin tagline: “I created Sundays, the world's first zero sugar Oreo.”
“There's a handful of different value propositions depending on the type of consumer you are,” said Polishchuk, who noted that other players have launched keto-friendly sandwich cookies including Catalina Crunch with 2g sugar and Rip Van (with ‘Leos’ at 3g sugar), but that Sundays stands out with zero grams of sugar.
“We could talk about keto, absurdly low net carbs or the seven grams of protein, or no sugar alcohols, but top of the funnel is we’re a zero sugar Oreo,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
‘Frantic’ call from co-packer….
While it may look deceptively simple, finding a co-packer to make the product was fiendishly difficult, said Polishchuk. “If I wanted to make a zero sugar mini chocolate chip cookie like High Key, I could have brought that to market in three months, but at the time [he started working on it two years ago], there was no development roadmap for a sandwich cookie.”
After a year of bench work and five months of trials, he got a call from his co-packer: “They called me frantically and said all of our workers stopped showing up, we can't do this anymore, sorry, and it took me eight months to find a new plant. If this was a wire cut cookie I would have a list of 200 plants to call. With this product, I don't think there are even 15 manufacturers in the US who could make it, and they’re all manufacturing products at large scale.”
Packaging also presented challenges, he said: “We have an overwrap tray in a box, whereas most sandwich creams are not sold in a box; and in addition we have two allergens [dairy and almonds], so it was extremely challenging.
“I never thought in a million years it would be as hard as it was to get to get the support of a manufacturer with this, but we finally got the green light in February, ran version one in August, version two in September and we're now running full production on version three.”
'We're really leaning into the low carb communities that we feel are going to be early adopters'
Given the high-cost and unpredictable returns of paid social media advertising, Sundays is trying to be strategic in its approach to launching the brand, said Polishchuk, who recently closed a pre-seed round to help support the launch.
“The team is pretty lean. It's myself, a CX [customer experience] lead, an ops lead, a performance lead tee’d up, and everyone else is pretty much freelance.”
He added: “You need to be scrappy unless you just want to pour a bunch of cash into Facebook, which we're not going to do. But we have an influencer strategy, we doing first look unboxings and hosting a giveaway on our Instagram page pre-launch, and we're really leaning into the low carb communities that we feel are going to be early adopters.”
'Many of my happiest and most joyous memories of childhood occurred on a Sunday afternoon'
As for the brand name, he said, ‘Sundays’ is really just a proxy for happiness, with a touch of nostalgia.
“Many of my happiest and most joyous memories of childhood occurred on a Sunday afternoon, playing video games, family, pets, cooking in the kitchen, dunking cookies in milk."
Startup 101: ‘What decisions did I make that made it harder to win?’
Given that this isn't his first rodeo, Polishchuk has also taken some of the learnings from his previous successes and failures in CPG: “With Yooga [his plant-based yogurt brand] I really looked at what decisions did I made that made it harder to win?
“As an early stage founder, you can make what you think is a relatively benign decision pre-launch or in the ideation stage that is going to ripple through your business for years and you don't even know it.
“So for example, just having a perishable product is going to change the trajectory of your business. You can still win, it’s just way harder. Same with launching with four or five SKUs [instead of one]. As you layer on complexities, it just makes things harder.”
The size of the prize
As for the addressable market, he observed, “Back in 2017, there was all this buzz around plant-based yogurt, but the entire category at that time was only $300m, whereas three core Oreo SKUs - do over a billion in the US alone, so it’s a huge category that’s not yet been disrupted with a low carb or zero sugar product.
“If you look at [low or no sugar brands such as] Smart Sweets, High Key, Magic Spoon, and so on, it’s been done just about everywhere where sugar is being used, so Oreo is at the top of that mountain.”