Everyone knows that ice cream cones are standard fare in the summertime, but rivaling cones in popularity is the frozen pop. The icy delicious treat-on-a-stick is no longer relegated to orange and raspberry flavors; in the time of artisan pops, anything is possible.
Jon Mills started Lunapops as a family business that sold artisan pops in two stores in Surf City and Wilmington. But as the popularity of the pops grew, he decided to switch to producing boxes of pops intended for grocery store shelves. He moved production to right here in Orange County, at the Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center (PFAP), a facility that made his business possible by providing shared equipment he could not have afforded on his own.
Jon’s team of pop makers does everything in small batches, by hand, from blending ingredients to filling molds, chilling them in an immersion bath, removing racks frozen pops, and sealing pops in wrappers and boxes. What the team does in six weeks would only take eight hours in a mainstream factory. “It’s important for us, we think, to make things by hand: to taste, to check, to see how things are,” says Jon. “It’s the human touch, it’s very different in artisan pops…. It doesn’t make sense to do things in big ways and call it ‘artisan-style.’ You need to touch it, you need to feel it. It’s love, to make your product.”
On Friday Flavor Days, a group meets to develop new pops, working with a weekly theme (like “lemonade pops”). Jon wants flavors people love; he’d rather have a flavor score a few 10’s, showing that some people love it, than score a slew of above-average 7’s or 8’s. Each pop that Lunapops makes is special; the Cookies and Cream pop has a whole cookie frozen into it. Other favorites are Raspberry Chocolate Chip and Sea Salt Caramel. His favorite? Whichever pop is in his hand at the moment. “I’ve got the best job in the world. I have three or four pops a day!”