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For Jon Flint and his firm Polaris Partners, winning over an Icelandic dairy company came down to appreciating the culture. That’s both the cultures used to make Icelandic skyr, a dairy product similar to yogurt, and the culture of Iceland itself.
"At first, the team here was very apprehensive," said Ari Edwald, CEO of MS Iceland Dairies, a cooperative of more than 600 family-run dairy farms. "Who is this American? Does he have any knowledge of bringing this tradition that is so rooted in this country?"
Polaris — which has invested in companies including Akamai, WordPress and LegalZoom — already had a reputation in the small island nation because of its investment in a local genomics company. Still, it took two years until MS agreed to partner up.
"They’ve never done a partnership with anyone," Flint said. "We convinced them what the market opportunity was over here (U.S. yogurt sales are around $9 billion, but have started to decline as more options have appeared) and that with our experience building entrepreneurial companies, we were the right guys for them to partner with."
That was mostly due to Flint and his team putting in the work, Edwald said.
"We felt that there had to be a huge cultural difference, but after seeing Jon and his team over and over again, in our offices, in our factories, asking questions, wanting to know about us and our history, we knew he was authentic and it just started to feel right," he said. "He wasn’t some ordinary businessman, he had vision and soon became an Icelander by proxy."
The two partners formed a company called Icelandic Provisions to make and distribute skyr — which the company says is thicker, creamier and has more protein and less sugar than yogurt — in the U.S. Its products launched at the end of 2016 and can now be found in 6,600 stores. Its best sellers are its Vanilla, Straw Ling and Coconut 5.3-ounce containers. It just debuted a new whole milk skyr product called Krímí.
"Skyr is unique in that it is a simple recipe that starts with milk from family-owned farms and very special heirloom skyr cultures," Edwald said. "While we’ve adapted our methodology for making it with new, modern equipment, the recipe itself hasn’t been tinkered with. Entrepreneurs can learn the simple lesson of not messing up a good thing when you have it. In Iceland, we have a saying: ‘petta reddast.’ It means, basically, that it will all work out in the end. It’s the motto many Icelanders live by and it goes a long way in business."
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April 15, 2019 at 09:20AM