Qoola CEO on changing the culture of the frozen yogurt biz

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Vancouver-born Qoola is a thriving frozen yogurt company, and their founder and CEO, Warrick Chu, has a clear vision for his company and consumers.

Having recently opened up their first standalone shop since Qoola grew to become more of an “in-mall” spot, Chu is confident his business can really change the culture of frozen yogurt and healthy eating overall.

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SEE ALSO: Free frozen yogurt at new Vancouver Qoola location

Chu walked me through the brand new outpost on Vancouver’s always-bustling Robson Street at the corner of Bute Street, taking care and time to explain what makes Qoola’s self-serve frozen yogurt stand out from the competition, and the delicious details that set the shop’s menu and philosophy apart.

A former tennis player, Chu left his job in finance to launch Qoola a few years ago. A key relationship influenced his outlook on healthy foods, particularly frozen yogurt, and Chu saw an opportunity to turn a sweet treat into a pathway towards better eating.

“Not all frozen yogurt is created equal,” explains Chu. Much like how consumers face the choice of all kinds of yogurts on grocery store shelves (Greek, light, probiotic, and so on) frozen yogurt fans often can choose between variants like dairy-free, low-fat, or low sugar. However, those who choose Qoola are actually selecting yogurt that has a high level of probiotics.

Probiotics are essentially good bacteria that aid in digestion and gut health. Chu is passionate about the power of probiotics, and explains that their yogurt has a whopping 100 million to 1.2 billion probiotics per gram–leaps and bounds above that at a typical froyo shop.

Self-serve froyo (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz)

Self-serve froyo (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz)

Qoola doesn’t use a powder base for their frozen yogurt, either, Chu points out, which is the industry standard. Ultimately, though, it’s all about good food tasting great.

“I’m a yogurt consumer,” says Chu, adding: “My goal is to help everyone from toddlers to grandmas to learn what yogurt is, what a probiotic is.”

Chu, who notes that Qoola’s signature flavour is their original tart yogurt, says that Qoola’s approach to their core product, i.e. their froyo, is more about “changing the way people eat, not about taking shortcuts.” Where they don’t take shortcuts, or veer too far from what many frozen yogurt fans want, is at the toppings bar. You can definitely opt to indulge your sweet tooth with what you pile on your swirled yogurt, should you desire.

Another way that Qoola is encouraging customers to change how and what they eat is via their expanded menu of snacks and meals. Their sandwiches, salads, and wraps are all mayo and butter free; instead Qoola uses a yogurt-based alternative as a substitute. The store also sells frozen yogurt cakes and smoothies, and on-trend drink options like coconut water.

Quinoa salad (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz)

Quinoa salad (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz)

Of the menu, Chu says the “goal is [for the customer] to feel refreshed and healthy,” at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Through partnerships with other purveyors, Qoola is able to offer things like CocoLove coconut macaroons, and Nectar Juicery’s cold-pressed juices.

CocoLove macaroons (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz)

CocoLove macaroons (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz)

Qoola also imports fresh frozen raw açai–a precious commodity at a precious price that many other food businesses opt to bring in powder form. Chu says when you “serve [açai] raw, you taste it clean,” and adds that overly-sweet additions like chocolate distort that taste. Customers can get an açai bowl at Qoola that’s packed with nutrients that aims to keep them filled and energized.

Açai bowl (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz)

Açai bowl (Lindsay William-Ross/Vancity Buzz)

As does any business owner who envisions having a profound market influence, Chu and Qoola are steadily expanding in the Vancouver area, as well as across Canada. The stores are mostly franchised, but Chu emphasizes his commitment to the products tasting good at every store. Next up locally are new locations at Park Royal in West Vancouver and on the UBC campus.

“We want to be everywhere,” says Chu. “We want to be a one stop shop for healthy alternatives.”

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Lindsay William-Ross Lindsay is a Senior Editor at Vancity Buzz, and currently runs the site's Food section. A fourth generation Vancouverite, she spent the last two decades in Los Angeles, where she was EIC of the city's top blog, earned her MA, attended culinary school, and was an English professor (among other things). Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancitybuzz.com
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