They failed and relaunched three times!
A Chicago father-daughter duo’s frozen pudding line is now available at Walgreens, the Walgreens newsroom reports.
Lorenzo and Genesis Bencivenga are the founders of Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding, a business the dad and daughter started in 2011 as a way to bring in additional income. An army veteran, truck driver, and skilled cook, Lorenzo began making the pudding recipes in his family’s kitchen. He started with one Southern-style banana pudding recipe, quickly growing his offerings to 12 more flavors. Together, he and Genesis would drive around the city of Chicago, selling the pudding out of their car. Before they knew it, the business was taking off. Genesis knew her father’s dream was to take the company nationally, pushing him to dream bigger and reach for an international market. She named the company after him in homage.
“My father has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He’s done things to try to create something better than what we had. We hustled hard for everything, but it was fun to be able to create stuff and go sell it,” explained Genesis.
By 2013, the pair had gotten their pudding on shelves at a number of local Chicago retailers, transitioning from their home kitchen to stores in the city. As luck would have it, their success was also their biggest obstacle, and the Bencivengas struggled to keep up with inventory. Genesis ultimately made the decision to narrow down their inventory from 13 flavors to their top three best-sellers: banana, strawberry, and pineapple. However, without the proper business guidance and operations expertise, the two were forced to stop production, one of the most difficult decisions they had ever made.
In 2015, Genesis made the decision to re-launch the business, this time on her own. Her father Lorenzo made the decision to retire, leaving operations solely up to Genesis and her husband. While Lorenzo still served as an advisor, Genesis found herself falling into some of the same pitfalls they had before. The struggle of it all caused her to shut down operations a second time.
“We weren’t selling on the street anymore because we were in about 50 stores between 2015 to 2017. We were handing out samples and doing demos and it caught fire just like it did before. But we couldn’t keep up with demand again. I knew we had a great product that people wanted to buy, but we didn’t have the back-end infrastructure for manufacturing and distribution that we needed so I had to shut it down again,” Genesis told reporters.
During the pandemic, Genesis was determined to succeed with the company she and her father started nearly a decade prior. This time, she was committed to avoiding the same challenges, noting the things that were vital for success. The chief of those was access to capital that would help her scale and a network that would guide her on manufacturing, distribution, and expanding to retail spaces. Before moving forward, she wanted to make sure she had both.
That’s when she got in touch with The Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), a local organization focused on helping women and minority-owned businesses since 1986. WBDC’s director of established business services, Cynthia Johnson, says she remembers her first conversation with Genesis vividly.
“Genesis came to us seeking advice on how to restart her business, and the fact that she chose to do that during the height of the COVID pandemic is a real testament to her tenacity and desire to succeed. I was the first advisor she worked with, and I recommended that she start by conducting additional market research, developing pricing strategies, and creating a business plan to determine how to re-enter the market and sustain profitable growth. I also provided her with information about the Top Shelf program, which I felt would benefit her tremendously,” said Johnson.
The Top Shelf: High Volume Growth Insights program is an eight-week initiative from WBDC that allows consumer goods companies like Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding to become a part of a cohort. They receive training and learn all they need to know to prepare to scale their business, attract large retailers, and get access to retail category managers and buyers. Since the program’s launch in 2019, more than 100 business owners have graduated and, with the added financial support of corporate partners like Walgreens, the program is absolutely free for participants.
In order to be accepted into Top Shelf, participants need to be a consumer-product company selling to retailers, have been in business for at least two years, have a minimum average annual revenue of $50,000, and commit to the full eight weeks. While there is no guarantee that participants will find their products in major retail stores, it is an opportunity to receive the tools necessary for “long-term profitable growth,” and Walgreens says it provides them a pipeline to connect with grassroots businesses they may not have otherwise reached.
“Top Shelf has great impact on emerging businesses and the communities we both serve, and we want it to be a win-win for everyone. New products will eventually develop new markets for us while these businesses get access to Walgreens distribution and the possibility of national exposure,” said Walgreens director of supplier diversity, Tony Billinger.
Genesis graduated from Top Shelf in 2020, crediting the program with helping her overcome the challenges she faced in business during her first two attempts. She was able to receive funding for her business and was one of the successful few who landed her product in Walgreens. The moment she learned of the accomplishment, she immediately took to social media to share the good news.
“What? I’m in Walgreens! Wal-GREENS!,” Genesis said, visibly emotional.
She elaborated in the caption about the significance of the moment, saying she was just a girl from the LeClaire Courts housing project who grew up on the Southwest side of Chicago. Working all these years to finally see her product in a national retailer was like a dream come true.
@lorenzosfrozenpudding I’m from the southside of Chicago,from the LeClaire Courts. I Genesis Bencivenga Sr., has a product in Walgreens. #Walgreens #truereaction @Walgreens ♬ original sound - LorenzosFrozenPudding
“What did I get out of Top Shelf? More than anything it was relationships that are now creating my network. Everybody knows it’s all about who you know, and Top Shelf has really serious players there as advisors to help teach you what they’re really good at,” said Genesis.
Johnson said she’s proud of Genesis’ determination, saying that despite the program’s effectiveness, the Chicago entrepreneur’s own tenacity had a lot to do with her success.
“Genesis is bold, brilliant and highly motivated. The program provided her with access to subject matter experts and retail buyers. And by the end of the eight-week cohort, she was able to pitch to buyers, including decision makers at Walgreens. She certainly didn’t sit still for long after graduating from the program,” explained Johnson.
That determination was a result of how long and hard she worked, to not only fulfill a dream for herself but also for her father. Because of the time she had already put in, she vowed to honor the commitment she made to herself and see it through. Now that she’s made it to national retailers, she’s excited to see what’s next.
“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Why didn’t you give up?’ I mean, how can I? I feel like it’s a life-or-death situation. I love what I do, I know I can do it well and I know that with persistence it will happen…I can’t wait to see how far we go!,” said Genesis.
Get your Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding now, available in Walgreens.
Chicago father-daughter duo’s frozen pudding line is now available at Walgreens. Photo Courtesy of Black Enterprise/Walgreens