Making It Big, Keeping It Fresh

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Popsicle entrepreneur Julie Podolec
Popsicle entrepreneur Julie Podolec

They started selling homemade frozen fruit concoctions from a pushcart on the patio at The Old Pottery Place three years ago. Modern Pop, at $3 each, soon became available at Pizza Lounge in Laguna Beach and Bristol Farms in Corona del Mar.

An Indy article of 2013 describes how Laguna local, Julie Podolec, 32, pureed fruit and froze it for her teething son because she couldn’t find a “popsicle” without added sugar in local grocery stores. Next, Rich Dinan, a Whole Foods store team leader contacted Podalec and asked to carry her product in the Laguna store.

With Podolec’s success promoting her product, often outfitted in a custom apron with retro styling, soon expansion was necessary. In three years, she’s moved from home to the kitchen of defunct Thalia Beach Café to a commercial kitchen in Costa Mesa turning out 1,000 bars a day and now to a full manufacturing operation in the Central Valley.

Today, Modern Pop’s founders confront an old-fashioned quandary: making the leap from start-up entrepreneurs to regional suppliers. Podolec this month begins distributing fruit bars to 30 Gelsons stores, 18 Costcos and 30 Whole Foods stores, all in California.

Perhaps the biggest homegrown success story in the snack realm is Have’A Chips, established by founder Larry Dunn in the 1990s. Another made-in-Laguna treat to blow up is Z Pizza, which has franchise locations as far away as Dubai.Keeping it small and successful are Mike Lombardo and Brent Reynard who started the Laguna Beach Beer Company in 2014. They’re content to offer Greeter’s Ale and Second Reef Session Ale at local eateries and bars.

“It’s been a busy couple of years,” says Podolec’s husband and company partner, Brad, who developed Modern Pop’s business model. Modern Pop products, which “are not just frozen fruit bars,” are now made in Modesto, Calif., where the manufacturer sources fresh fruit, some of which is organic, from inside and outside the U.S. They turn out around 200,000 pops a day.

Podolec takes pride in Modern Pop’s simplicity of ingredients, which are 60 percent fresh fruit. In addition to fruit, water and lime juice, the bars get a little extra sweetness from organic agave. Each treat contains just 12 grams of sugar. Her slogan, “Putting Fruit First,” appears on boxes of all three flavors, strawberry lemonade, pineapple and raspberry pomegranate.

While Have’A chips are so popular they can be purchased by the case from Amazon, the Podolecs say they’re content to stay in the Southern California market, not wanting to grow too fast. “Hopefully, we’ll introduce new products pretty soon,” said Brad Podolec. “Maybe a fruit roll-up.”


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