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goji's a sweet and swirling success story

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Sep 7, 2013



It’s a success story with all the right ingredients: a modern, low-fat, tasty treat mixed with determination and the right partnerships and topped with a significant serving of social media buzz has a Moncton family churning out a business that’s been so successful at serving up something cold, it’s hot on the market.

Carol Wirsz, her husband Bob, Carol’s sister Janette Zacharias, her husband Jeff, and the ladies’ brother Arlan Westrate and his wife Isabelle co-own the four goji’s Frozen Yogurt shops in New Brunswick.

Opening their flagship store less than a year ago in Dieppe, the Wirsz-Zacharias-Westrate clan has now begun franchising their brand across Canada under goji’s Franchising Corporation. By mid-fall they will have eight stores in Canada – seven in Atlantic Canada and one in British Columbia.

The seed for self-self started during a family vacation to Florida at Christmas 2011, when the sisters and their families visited a shop for the first time and were wowed. “We’d never seen anything like that before,” said Wirsz.

While they were eating the treats, Wirsz thought a similar model would be a fun, “empty-nesters’” hobby business to start in Moncton.

With the booming success and growth in less than a year, it’s clear goji’s wasn’t meant to be just a hobby for the families, who still work a bit in their previous residential rentals business.

“I guess little is not what the universe had in mind,” Wirsz said.

After some online research, the team connected with Tom Ostoich, president of Socially Responsible Food Group Inc., a California-based consulting company that focuses on opening frozen yogurt stores across North America.

They starting discussions with Ostoich, a yogurt manufacturer last fall, and opened four locations since this time: the first at 55 Champlain St., Dieppe in December 2012; then at 1435 Mountain Rd., Moncton; then 620 Main St., Shediac; and finally at 1120 Findlay Blvd., Riverview.

In May, they partnered with Ostoich to form goji’s Franchising Corporation and are now franchising across Canada.

“It seems daily we get inquiries from people looking for franchise information and interested in taking the goji’s experience to their local areas,” said Wirsz. “It’s been quite pleasantly overwhelming.”

The first location outside of New Brunswick opens Saturday in Kelowna, British Columbia and is owned and operated by Wirsz’s brother and his wife, Blaine and Shannon Westrate,

Locations will soon be up and running in Halifax (with a Spring Garden Road location opening mid-October and another by the end of November) and Charlottetown (also by the end of November).

With just the four New Brunswick stores the family has created 92 jobs, but their economic impact goes beyond that.

“It’s amazing when you think of the overspill from that — the people we’ve employed to build the stores and to transport the product,” said Jeff Zacharias. “It’s kind of humbling, actually.”

Despite the success, Wirsz knows they didn’t invent the wheel with opening a frozen yogurt shop. Still, she is confident goji’s is the best, and will remain the best as competition moves in.

“Every business needs competition,” she said. “I think that competition is really going to be really vital to us. We have very high standards … it’s going to help us keep those standards. Going to help us keep our focus on what we want to produce and what we want to do.”

“We seriously, honestly believe our product is the best product,” she added. “But, everybody is going to taste and decide for themselves.”

Taste, the overall food product, is certainly one of the major components that helps goji’s stand out. The other is what Wirsz calls “the whole goji’s experience.”

Along with goji’s signature fro-yo flavours, such as goji Tart, Peanut Butter, Chilla Vanilla, Pumpkin Pie and Red Velvet Cake, customers can also swirl out sorbets, such as Mango, Fruit Punch or Raspberry Pom, and gelatos.

There are at least 10 yogurt flavours at each location (with Trinity Drive having more), and with a “twist” of the levers to blend two flavours, there are really more than a dozen tempting tastes available. goji’s also has a steady stream of no-sugar-added, gluten-free and lactose-free options for people with dietary restrictions, and also sells fruit-based smoothies, frozen yogurt pies and take-home tubs of frozen yogurt.

But it doesn’t stop with the namesake ingredient: customers can top of their choices with a “buffet of toppings,” from fresh fruit and cookie crumbles to coconut and hot caramel.

Each serving is weighed at a cost of 53 cents per ounce ($1.87 per 100 grams).

Wirsz says what sets the yogurt itself apart is that they always use premium natural ingredients, and stay away from artificial flavours as much as possible. All yogurts are packed with live and active cultures (probiotics) – 100 million of them in one ounce of yogurt — she adds.

Frozen yogurt is also famously known for being lower in fat than ice cream, as it’s made with milk, not cream, making it a “truly nutritious and delicious,” according to Wirsz.

The goji’s experience starts with the initial walk through the door: owners wanted to create a healthy, welcoming and vibrant atmosphere with their bright green, red, orange and yellow colour palette, comfy sofas and signature horizontal fireplace.

“We want people to have a mini-vacation when they come here — for all their sense” Wirsz said.

“Our customers know there’s nothing average about the goji’s experience and that’s probably why they keep coming back,” she added.

There’s also of course the name, which seemed to be on the tip of every New Brunswickers’ tongue this summer.

“My mother and I were trying to think of creative names that are easy to say,” Zacharias’ daughter Quinn explained. “We were thinking berries … strawberry, blueberry … goji. goji’s!”

Along with the new store openings, goji’s owners want to give back to the community to match the support the community has given them.

This starts with a grand opening at all three Metro Moncton location and Shediac store on Saturday, Sept. 14, with prizes, face painting, and, of course, free yogurt between 2 and 4 p.m. A ribbon cutting will be held at 2 p.m.

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