Ross Sklar is an entrepreneur and innovator dedicated to turning the consumer goods category on its head. Starco Brands, the publicly-listed company he spun out of his manufacturing business Starco Group in 2017, has a track record of reinvention in product categories where innovation has been in short supply. The business already has several hits on its hands, but Sklar hopes its next big idea, WhipShots, will be the biggest success of them all – not least thanks to a eye-catching collaboration with the rap star Cardi B.
Sklar’s background is in chemicals and aerosols, and it is this expertise that has underpinned Starco’s innovation. “Our mission is to develop behaviour-changing products and technologies,” says Sklar. “That’s our North Star.”
The company’s launch product, Breathe, was the first and only aerosol-powered cleaning product to secure accreditation under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice criteria. Next came Winona, a range of flavour sprays for popcorn, predicated on consumers’ longstanding frustration that traditional salts and sugars end up at the bottom of their bags. A third product, Honu, is a reef-friendly sunscreen that comes with a wand to help you apply it to parts of the body that are difficult to reach.
Now Sklar and Starco Brands are unveiling WhipShots, a whipped cream with 10% vodka content. The product is the culmination of four years of research and development work at the company, initially comes in three different flavours – caramel, vanilla and chocolate – and can be kept on the shelf, rather than requiring refrigeration.
Sklar sees people consuming the product in all sorts of different ways – everything from a luxurious adornment to your cocktail to an addition with a kick to your dessert. “Ultimately, this is an innovation in celebration,” he says. “It’s a food spirit – it will sit behind the bar or on the shelf in the restaurant kitchen.”
That is not to overlook the technology built into the product. If Sklar is excited about the concept of WhipShots – he describes it as “a trojan horse into all other drinks” – he is just as proud of the engineering that was required to create it. “There is a tremendous amount of intellectual property built into the formulation and manufacturing of WhipShots,” he adds. “We are the only business in the US with a license to manufacture aerosols in a distillery.”
Starco Brands has big hopes for its new venture – and Sklar argues that a marquee product launch requires a marquee name to front it. Hence the decision to bring Cardi B in as a brand ambassador.
“We spent more than a year thinking about who would be the right ambassador for WhipShots, but Cardi is perfect,” says Sklar. “She’s a perfect fit for the celebratory and aspirational tone we’re seeking – she’s got huge passion and enthusiasm, and she is so engaged with her fans.”
Cardi B herself appears to be equally excited. “WhipShots matches my style—over the top, sexy, unique,” explains Cardi B. “Together we’re completely innovating whipped cream and giving it an extra pop. WhipShots is Cardi in a can.”
In addition to promoting WhipShots across social media channels, the rap star will have the opportunity to talk about the product at a series of launch parties planned for mid-December. A weekend of events in Miami will presage the formal launch of the product in store, with goods shipping from October onwards.
Not that Sklar is focused only on the young demographic that accounts for much of Cardi B’s fanbase. “We see a very wide range of consumers for WhipShots,” he says. “Everyone from youngsters in the bars to mom’s book club – and to diners in restaurants adding a shot to their key lime pie.”
With such a broad customer base in its sights, Starco Brands hopes it is adding another product with mass market appeal to its range. The launch is another vindication of Sklar’s decision to launch the business in 2017, after years of manufacturing new products for big-name customers, rather than for his own brand. “It was clear we were leaving a lot of value on the table,” he reflects.
Sklar was also determined to structure Starco Brands in a different way to Starco Group, opting for a public company status that reflected its consumer-facing product sets. “We have a direct relationship with consumers and if you like our product enough to become a customer, we hope you’ll be an equity owner too, so that you’re sharing in the wealth creation story,” Sklar says. If so, what better way to toast success than with WhipShots?