In their enlightening interview with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine, Myriam Jean-Baptiste and Stevens Charles, co-founders of LS Cream, detailed their journey in creating a unique cream liqueur inspired by their Haitian heritage. Originating from the traditional Haitian recipe of cremas, LS Cream was born from familial customs and infused with flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, coconut, and nutmeg. Adapting this ancestral concoction into a commercial product posed challenges, particularly in modifying its density and shelf life to suit broader consumer preferences and comply with regulations. The duo’s strategic approach in introducing LS Cream to the US market as the first Black-owned cream liqueur brand involved leveraging social media and forging key industry partnerships. Their commitment to their Haitian roots is further reflected in their partnership with Hope for Haiti, underlining their dedication to social responsibility. This innovative venture, bolstered by critical support like the FACE loan, highlights their passion and ingenuity in bringing a taste of Haiti to the global stage.
Could you share with us the story behind the inception of LS Cream Liqueur and how your Haitian heritage played a pivotal role in its creation?
Myriam: LS Cream is inspired by an ancestral recipe from Haiti called cremas, a delicious concoction of notes of cinnamon, vanilla, coconut and nutmeg made with high proof rum and condensed milk. We grew up with our grandmothers, our aunts and our moms whipping up batches of cremas every holiday to share with family and friends. A few years ago, while at a family function, we saw a bottle of cremas on the table and thought to ourselves: ‘’what if we took the taste of cremas and put it in the form of a traditional cream liqueur, one that could be found on the shelf next to the other brands that we all know of, ready to drink for everyone to enjoy’’.
We decided to take Stevens’s late grandmother’s recipe as the base of our research into making what is now known as LS Cream. ‘’LS’’ is a mix of Stevens’s initial and his grandmother’s initial as an homage to her.
What challenges did you face in capturing the authentic taste of cremas, as inspired by Stevens’ late grandmother’s recipe, and transforming it into a commercial liqueur product? How did you ensure the balance between staying true to the traditional recipe and appealing to a broader market?
Stevens: It wasn’t more of a challenge than knowing from the get-go that we wouldn’t be able to commercialize traditional homemade cremas in its current state as it wouldn’t pass the necessary alcohol regulations applied both in Canada and the US. To put it in context, one of the first thing that we did after having the idea was to ask my aunt to come to our house so we could do a batch of cremas from scratch using my grandmother’s recipe. She had left it on a handwritten note in a ziploc bag that my family took out whenever they wanted to do cremas. This is where I saw for the first time and reallly paid attention to how much it cost to gather all the ingredients and how long it took in the kitchen to do a small batch of cremas. Because we consumed cremas almost all our lives we already had an idea of how we would proceed to make it more appealing for everyone to enjoy, whether Haitian or not. There were 3 things that we wanted to improve on. First was the high density or thickness of the drink itself which is the result of the condensed milk mixed with the coconut milk. We knew that to make it appealing to restaurants and bars, it had to be more liquid in order to be easily used in cocktails and other recipes.
The second aspect we wanted to improve on was the fact that while cremas is delicious, there was an unpleasant finish in mouth coming from the residues left from the sugar and spices mixed into the recipe. Since cremas is hand-mixed making, it impossible for it to be a homogeneous drink and residues of the sugar are sometimes left on the glass. The third and final aspect was the shelf life. Cremas being a cream drink made with various dairy product had a very short shelf life even if refrigerated. From there, we decided to bring this batch to a friend from university that was having a birthday party at his house. Myriam and I were the only black people there and we took the bottle of cremas, which we had poured in an empty vodka bottle. We put the bottle in the same bucket as the wine and the rest of the alcohol and started observing people taste it. Clearly the guests could see that it was homemade with it being a cream drink in a known brand vodka bottle. The drink was a hit, they loved it! When we asked the guests (that had now become our small focus group) about what they thought of tasting cremas for the first time, they all confirmed what we had predicted by doing this exercise. They all said that it was the best cream they’ve ever tasted but they would prefer it to be less dense or thick making it easier to consume and they would like it to have less spice and sugar residue which left them with an unpleasant finish in the mouth while drinking. That’s why we decided that we wanted LS Cream to become the evolution of traditional cremas. Creating a product with all natural ingredients, gluten free, low in lactose and with a shelf life superior to other cream liqueurs in the market, all while keeping the taste of cremas.
LS Cream has expanded into the US market, which is a significant milestone. What were the strategies you employed to introduce and establish LS Cream in a new market, especially as the first Black-owned cream* liqueur brand?
Stevens: We went and looked for investors and partners connected in the liquor industry. We were able to get the attention of Kenny Burns and Fawn Weaver and they both became investors of LS Cream. With their help it became easier for us to be in the conversation as they we’re able to point us in the right direction and also get us in the right rooms. However, our main driver remains our social media presence which has grown organically since its creation. We’re able to stay connected with distributors, retailers and consumers at the same time, making the conversation about LS Cream relevant 365 days of the year.
Myriam: The Liquor industry is known to be very gated, and there’s not a lot of people in the industry that look like us. It is mainly a white middle-aged men occupied space. This is why when we attend major industry conventions, we make sure to represent the brand at a high level and be prepared to be challenged. We keep participating in Wine and spirits competitions so we have medals validating the quality and taste of the product on top of consumer appreciation. I remember when we learned that we had been awarded the Gold medal for the taste and the quality of LS, without having one bottle sold on the shelves yet. This award proved to us that LS Cream had what it took to be a successful brand in the category and that we also had the ‘’approval’’ of the industry. We then realized that relationships were very important and started to build them by showing up, doing the work, and sharing the journey with our customers through our social media platforms. These initiatives garnered the attention of important players in the industry which led us to our first seed investment.
Your partnership with Hope For Haiti to fund water filtration systems is a notable aspect of your brand’s commitment to social responsibility. Why is this cause is important to you and how your organization plans to continue its efforts in supporting Haitian communities?
We always say that without Haiti, without our Haitian culture, there would not be any LS Cream Liqueur. We owe everything to our homeland and our heritage. When we first got introduced to Hope for Haiti, we immediately felt the connection with their team and their mission to help communities in Haiti. The fit between us was immediate and we want to continue doing everything we can to support this amazing organization. We plan to continue our partnership through fundraising events, sponsorships, sharing proceeds from sales and more.
Looking ahead, what are your future goals for LS Cream? Are there any new initiatives, flavors, or expansions you are currently planning or envisioning to further grow your brand and its impact?
We are working to get into Ontario and other Canadian provinces as well as additional US markets. Can’t share too many details yet, but let’s say we might be planning other flavors and formats 😉 …
Receiving a loan from FACE has been a significant part of your journey. Could you tell us more about how this support has impacted the development and growth of LS Cream? What were some of the key ways in which this funding helped you overcome challenges and achieve your business goals?
The FACE loan came right on time. We were in our growth phase and needed capital to pursue our momentum. The load helped us finance our production and marketing initiatives necessary to support our plans. The FACE loan contributed in our success to quintuple our sales at a time where traditional financing was challenging to obtain.