Dan Kim: The Man Behind Red Mango
With mouthwatering flavors like “Peppermint Dark Chocolate,” “Caribbean Coconut,” and “Tangomonium,” it is no wonder that Red Mango has become a national sensation.
The popular frozen yogurt and smoothie brand offers a wide selection of flavors and toppings in addition to yogurt parfaits and probiotic iced teas. Since launching the first US store in July 2007 in Los Angeles, Red Mango has rapidly expanded to over 180 stores across the nation. In 2011, the franchise was voted the #1 Zagat rated chain for smoothies and frozen yogurt, as well as #1 for Healthy Options.
For Dan Kim, the company’s founder and current Chief Concept Officer, it is Red Mango’s commitment to healthy eating and all-natural ingredients that have catapulted the franchise to success. While various frozen yogurt chains have emerged as strong competitors in the industry, Kim remains confident in the uniqueness of Red Mango’s product quality. Red Mango’s emphasis on natural ingredients “allows us to create a healthier yogurt and delivers a flavor profile that doesn’t taste artificial or chemically created. That really gives you authentic, true, clean flavor.”
“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life adding value to corporations. I needed a forum to really create things, do things that had a much more direct impact on people.”
From Finance to Frozen Yogurt
After graduating from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in 1998, Kim was not planning to enter the frozen yogurt business. He worked first as an investment banker with Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, then as a financial analyst for Deloitte. While Kim was comfortable in the financial industry, he admits, “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life adding value to corporations. I needed a forum to really create things, do things that had a much more direct impact on people.” The financier-turned-entrepreneur worked at a number of start-up companies before settling on the idea of Red Mango
Why frozen yogurt? With a chuckle, Kim says that he’s always been an ice cream and frozen yogurt lover, but the main reason was because he saw an opportunity. “I thought there was a tremendous opportunity to create a brand that met not only the product needs of consumers, but also their emotional needs,” he recalls.
For Kim, the lack of social ambiance and connection with customers was a major problem in frozen yogurt stores. “None of the companies out there really delivered that,” says Kim. “All they cared about was delivering a product that was presumably better than ice cream, but not going beyond that even though people expected it.” Today, Red Mango is focused on creating a casual atmosphere and welcoming space for family and friends to enjoy their frozen treats, rather than a grab-and-go quality. The experience matters as much as the frozen yogurt itself.
From the start, Kim has been dedicated to creating “a brand that is aspirational and means something other than just a product.” To that end, Kim has made substantial use of social media channels in marketing the brand and reaching out to customers. Through Facebook and Twitter, Red Mango has been looking for ways to strengthen its relationships with customers. “I feel that fans believe an authentic Facebook message from a company that speaks about something that their friends are validating over a TV commercial, where you know their only goal is to try to convince you to buy their product,” he muses.
Harvesting More Red Mangoes
Although Kim’s business savvy has been recognized in Dallas Business Journal’s “40 Under Forty” and as one of the “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business for 2010,” he recently returned to his creative roots. Serving as company CEO until August 2011, Kim decided to transition to Chief Concept Officer in order to focus on branding and product development.
“I just found myself not being able to focus on what I’m good at and passionate about,” says Kim. His latest project is a healthier version of the Starbucks Frappuccino® with lower calories and no artificial ingredients, which will be released in a month or so.
That is not to say, though, that Red Mango has not had its share of difficulties. Specifically, Kim pinpoints real estate as a concern for the growing franchise, especially in California. “Picking the wrong location can really set you back,” he explains. “It’s something that took a lot of trial and error for us before we finally got it down.” Despite originating in Los Angeles, several stores in the area have closed down, compared to successful openings in the East Coast.
However, Red Mango’s future remains bright as the company plans to at least triple its stores in the US over the next couple years, as well as tap into international markets. In May 2012, the Dallas-based company entered into an agreement with Mexican theater chain Cinemex to introduce Red Mango products to Mexico. Kim is currently hard at work developing products that will resonate with consumers in El Salvador, Uruguay, and Brazil as well as they have been in the US. And from there, who knows?
With relish, Kim describes his perfect flavor combination as “our peanut butter frozen yogurt mixed with our ‘Honey Badger’ frozen yogurt, then topping that with bananas and chocolate chips.” And in this summer weather, a refreshing taste of Red Mango may be just the healthy treat to enjoy.