Stern Alumna Reimagines Ice Cream With New Smoothie Company

Caroline Tseng, Stern ’09, combined entrepreneurship with healthy habits to create a superfood smoothie blend.

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NYU Stern alumna Caroline Tseng’s all-natural plant-based smoothie freezes from her store Sweet Nova located on 265 Canal Street. (Photo by Tomer Keysar)

By Elif Kesikbas, Staff Writer

Fashion blogger, brand industrial strategist and food entrepreneur. Whether she’s blogging about the fashion scene at NYU and casually reaching 17,000 page views per month, overseeing new marketing strategies for big brands like Suave and Clinique as a Strategy Director or founding Sweet Nova, her own smoothie freeze company, Caroline Tseng has always had a flair for creativity.

Even while at Stern — she graduated in 2009 — Tseng did not fit into the usual finance-driven mold, preferring the excitement of creating and building businesses. Entrepreneurship classes helped her explore her passion to a deeper degree.

“I took this amazing class called Entrepreneurship 2.0,” Tseng said to WSN. “The metric was that if you could get one customer for your business, then you got an A for the class.”

Determined to get that A, Tseng started her own — now retired — street fashion blog, street-spotted.com, inspired by fashionable NYU students. In the pre-Instagram world when blogging was not an everyday thing, Tseng gained a lot of experience creating online content. She even continued her blog for a year after graduation, transforming it into a social platform that collaborated with brands like Kate Spade. Her deep understanding of social media platforms caught the attention of advertising agencies.

“Social media was so new,” she said. “It was the beginning of that era where social media agencies began their social department within traditional agencies that did TV commercials.” 

Ironically, Tseng’s career did not take off through her social media platforms, but in a more traditional way. She got her first job through an elevator pitch — literally.

“In the elevator going to my internship, I see this woman coming in, and behind her the sign Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners,” Tseng said. “The reason why I knew this name was that a gentlemen from that agency had come to speak as a guest speaker in one of my classes.”

Eager to learn more about the glamorous and eventful world of advertising, she introduced herself to the woman. By the time Tseng reached her floor, she had the contact for HR at Kirshenbaum, who was expecting her resume. Shortly after, she started as a social marketing intern in an entrepreneurial environment.

“I ended up really understanding the process of creating creative ideas,” she said. “What you learn at the agency is that there is a structure that allows and fosters great ideas to happen. You balance the openness of what creativity is and then the guidance and focus of what structure gives you. That’s how ideas happen.”

By the time she was 30, she had already made her way up to Strategy Director at Carrot and ACE Content. While she was very successful at her position, Tseng felt like she hit a ceiling.

“In that world, your destiny, no matter how talented you can be, is to be controlled by someone else,” Tseng said. “I had a moment of clarity and I was turning 30. It’s time for a transition. I have been on this path and I am learning and growing, I am at a level where I am very confident at what I do and I’m really good at it; I wanna feel scared again, I wanna feel like a beginner again.”

Tseng’s inspiration for a smoothie freeze company came to her after working long hours at her job and realizing she had no time for sit-down meals. Batch-made smoothies did not satisfy Tseng’s stomach due to their short shelf life, and she was getting tired of peanut butter straight out of the jar. Following her dream to found her own business, Tseng took on developing the perfect snack as a side hustle.

“What if I could have this format, easy like a peanut butter jar but then the whole blend of plant-based ingredients in a smoothie and combine that?” she said.

This was where the idea for a sweet superfood smoothie freeze — which Tseng’s LinkedIn calls “reimagined ice cream” — was born.

Sweet Nova smoothie freezes have the sweet taste of ice cream while providing nutritional benefits from whole ingredients. They are 100% natural, plant-based, gluten free and made with less sugar than an apple, as stated on the website. The single-serve sized cup helps with portion control, and limits the calorie intake to less than 200 calories per serving.

As of now, Sweet Nova has three flavors: “Pitaya Blueberry Boost,” “Sunflower Protein Power” and “Lean Green Machine,” with three more launching soon. The “Pitaya Blueberry Boost” gives the acai bowl taste a fun twist and “Sunflower Protein Power” boasts after-school banana-chocolate spread snack vibes. The “Lean Green Machine” features matcha-kale notes reminiscent of the salad from Sweetgreen. All the flavors are priced at $6.50 per cup.

Tseng’s personal favorite is her first-born “Lean Green Machine.”

“You cannot find leafy greens in a snack form,” Tseng said. “And it reflects my personality; must be perfect, must do all the things.”

Inspired by Pinterest recipes and driven by her perfectionist personality, she tested over 100 food combinations from August to November 2017 to optimize nutritional value while minimizing sugar content.

“There is this constant battle between health and taste, because when you have too much of one, you have too little of the other,” she said.

She reached her goal by using the natural sugar found in fruits themselves. However, Sweet Nova uses a little amount of maple syrup for texture and flavor in “Lean Green Machine,” which is considered an added sugar in the most unprocessed form.

Gallatin sophomore Yotam Ponte tried Sweet Nova and thought that the “Lean Green Machine” was too heavy. Taste was sacrificed for health in this case, as he thought the kale and spinach overpowered the matcha. He preferred the “Pitaya Blueberry Boost” and “Sunflower Protein Power.”

“I wouldn’t swap it for a meal, but Sweet Nova seems like a really good way to fill yourself up in between meals in a healthy way that doesn’t make you feel gross,” he said.

In November 2017, the first batch of Sweet Nova found its way to Smorgasburg. The food festival, as well as other pop-up events, gave Tseng the feedback she needed to improve her smoothie blend through numerous reformulations and experimentation.

Sweet Nova began selling locally in New York City in April last year and officially launched in May. Tseng is hoping more and more people will share her love for this healthy snack.

“I think the scary part for me is, will enough people get it, love it and appreciate it,” she says, admitting that she is taking a career risk by leaving the stability of her old job to take on this new one.

However, she is positive about the work that she put into her product and her marketing experience to pitch it to the people.

“The way I’d like to articulate this snack is the overachieving snack for the overachieving person,” Tseng said. “It does so much stuff: it is super healthy, lasts forever, it’s whole ingredients, it’s nourishing and it tastes good.”

Sweet Nova is currently available at Canal Street Market and by delivery through Postmates.

A version of this article appears in the Monday, April 1, 2019, print edition. Email Elif Kesikbas at [email protected]