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  • Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture
  • Cornell AgriTech
Vêsucré, an Upstate New York-based producer of plant-based frozen desserts, is rapidly growing across the region, one cup at a time.

After Sarah Hartmann adopted a vegan diet in 2020, she ran into a big problem: she couldn’t find a vegan-friendly frozen dessert she liked. 

So Hartmann, who built a career in non-profits and sports marketing, got to work developing her own. What she created was more than just a delicious dessert – it became an emerging business that continues to give back to Hartmann’s hometown of Oneonta, New York. 

With the help of a friend in the frozen food industry who came onboard as an advisor and several rounds of development and testing, they came up with a frozen oat-and-sesame-based dessert that’s sweetened with dates and is free of dairy, soy, gluten and refined sugars. 

She initially named her creation “Salty and Sweet Frosty Treat,” but the long name proved to be a mouthful. Simply calling it “vegan ice cream” didn’t do it justice either. 

That led to calling the frozen dessert “plant de crème” and naming her company Vêsucré. Designed to evoke images of French pot de crème or crème brulée, Vêsucré is sold in individual cups and topped with a variety of sauces and toppings, such as toffee and brownie pieces made with the spent oats used to make the base of the creamy dessert. 

Growing in Upstate NY

Vêsucré was a hit. The business officially launched in October 2022. Within a few months, the products were picked up by Sunflower Natural Market in Woodstock and Rhinebeck and became mainstays at farmers markets and other pop-up events around the Catskills and beyond. 

With the help of a $35,000 microenterprise grant from the city of Oneonta, the business continued to grow. Vêsucré is now carried in more than 35 locations, spanning from Albany to New York City. Hartmann said they added the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn and Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany to the list of stores stocking Vêsucré and plan to set up at the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market this summer. 

“This startup kicked into high gear quicker than anything I’ve worked on before,” Hartmann said. 

She also attributed that growth to participating in the Fall 2023 Food Spark cohort, offered through the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech (CoE) and the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park (Tech Farm)

Through Food Spark, Hartmann completed the eCornell Food Product Development certificate program. She said she program was not only highly educational but lent a great deal of credibility to her business. Hartmann said the company made several critical changes in their processing because of lessons learned in the Food Spark program that made Vêsucré products taste better and have a longer shelf life. 

“Food Spark was absolutely essential to our growth and our story,” Hartmann said. 

Hartmann and Operations Manager Charlie Shaw, whom Hartmann called the “heart and soul” of their food production, visited the Cornell AgriTech campus in Geneva at the conclusion of the program, where they toured the Cornell Food Venture Center and learned about the resources available for food entrepreneurs. 

“Having the support, tutelage and guidance is so important. Having that hotline is a tremendous gift for a food startup,” Hartmann said. 

Serving the community

Part of the Vêsucré story is providing opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The company works with a rotating group of around 10 people through a partnership with The Arc Otsego. Hartmann knows the importance of creating meaningful opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Prior to launching Vêsucré, she served as a director with the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes and helped form the US’s first blind soccer team to compete in the 2028 Summer Paralympics games. She also previously served as executive director of the IRONMAN Foundation.

Vêsucré is growing, but the mission is staying the same. Hartmann said the company is currently in talks with several large supermarkets, including Price Chopper, Hannaford and Sprouts. They’ll be at the CNY Regional Market in Syracuse and hope to expand to Rochester and Ithaca soon. 

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think those words would be coming out of my mouth,” Hartmann said. 

To supply the increasing demand, Vêsucré is expanding into a new facility through a partnership with Springbrook, another Oneonta-based organization that provides support and opportunities to individuals with disabilities. Vêsucré’s new production facility will be located inside the Springbrook Community Campus in Oneonta. 

Along with the frozen desserts, the new facility will also produce a new line of baked goods the Vêsucré team is gearing up to launch. Called “Vert” (French for “green”), initial offerings will include chocolate lava cakes, mini oat cakes and protein truffles. 

In March, Vêsucré was honored with the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s 2024 Breakthrough Award, recognizing the company for “shattering barriers, pushing boundaries and pioneering work in innovation.” 

“It’s a really exciting time to be growing a start-up food brand in Upstate New York,” Hartmann said. 

Jacob Pucci is the marketing and communications coordinator for the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech. 

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