Disruption and the New Food World Order
July 25, 2017

By Rhythm Superfoods CEO Scott Jensen

There are a lot of clichés thrown around our industry about “disruption” and the “new food world order” (NFWO). It’s a hot topic, has been for a couple of years and will be for a another couple of years. The week before the Fancy Food Show in New York City this Summer, Amazon and Whole Foods Market announced their new relationship as an Amazon acquisition. This caught almost everyone by surprise. There will be many people that can offer better analyses of the financial and strategic reasons for or against the merger, but what dawned on me was that it was the biggest single concrete example of the new food world order. There are many different NFWOs, but this one event certainly represents the biggest financial move representing the future of how people will shop and take possession of their food and beverage consumables.

As this announcement happened right before the Fancy Food Show timing, I thought I would keep a lookout at the show for those products that appeared to me to be representative of “disruptors”, or products in the spotlight of change in the NFWO (my opinion only of course).

 

  • Refrigerated Merchandising as “New Space” Innovation: The bar category is a giant, but it inexplicably keeps on chugging along in growth. Just when someone says the category is over-saturated with items, you read that segments are delivering 2-4 X the average grocery channel growth rate in revenue. New entrants in the category succeed by segmenting consumers in traditional ways, by eating occasion, lifestyle, diet, gender, and any hundreds of other ways to slice the category and population. So where’s the room on the shelf for the next entrant? I snacked on a Wella Bar at our own booth at the Fancy Food show and it was delicious. But, unlike its counterparts in the regular bar section, these bars are showing up in refrigerated sections of the store. Not unlike another favorite of mine, the Perfect Bar, they both have created delicious products that need some refrigeration to stay as delicious as the day they are made, so they’ve had to blaze a new trail and convert buyers and category managers at retailers to give them space in a new set of a refrigerated section. Suddenly, not so crowded of a merchandising launch with few competitors. Grab and go refrigerated sections are hot right now and are no longer just for drinks and sandwiches.


 

  • Overhauling the Ingredient Deck as “Simplify” Innovation: Simple Mills started disrupting the baking aisle several years ago with gluten free, grain free, soy free baking mixes for breads, pancakes, muffins, etc… you know, the typical baking aisle features. By using clever ingredient substitutes for wheat flour, like coconut flour and almond flour, and coconut sugar for cane sugar, this company has shaken up the baking aisle with delicious recipes that resonate with a lot of consumers. They’ve launched a line of ready to eat cookies and crackers with similar, SIMPLE ingredient decks of alternative ingredients. I tasted a scrumptious chocolate chip cookie that was as delicious or better than most I’ve ever tried. I have to tip my hat to the recipe itself – it’s delicious and textured perfectly, with nothing on the deck that doesn’t make sense. Disruption in a tired category seems like it’s easy, but you have to nail the recipe and that’s not so easy. In my opinion, taste and texture is the most certain predictor for success and this company has figured that out. Ingredient deck as a disruptor is not new but what Simple Mills is doing is resonating with consumers more than most I’ve seen in this category.


 

  • Shelf Stability as a “Make it at Home” Innovation: I’m a big fan of a lot of brands of Hummus; all of them are refrigerated but seem to dry up in my refrigerator faster than I can finish them. Since I like hummus so much, I’m always on the lookout for new flavors or brands. Hope Foods used the HPP technology to create incredible flavor in a refrigerated hummus product, while Lantana (formerly Eat Well Embrace Life) has done a super job expanding innovation in that category with non-Chickpea and non-Tahini based dips like Beet hummus or Carrot hummus…great extension of a dip category. Hummus has been on a tear for the past decade, but never had I seen such a new twist on this product than at the Fancy Food show when I saw the Hummustir concept. Hummustir is shelf-stable until you make it (the cup you buy includes packets of chickpea puree, tahini, spice mixes and a little wooden spoon to stir it up), so you are able to quickly bring all the pre-portioned ingredients together in a quick minute and stir it all up in the cup you buy it with. It’s delicious and incredibly convenient. Shelf stability as innovation! Who would have thought?


 

  • Refrigerated Merchandising as “New Space” Innovation Part II: Cold-Souping is a new thing for me. I didn’t think I’d be a big fan when I first heard about it, but then I tried Tio Gazpacho’s Corn, Poblano & Lime soup in a drinkable cold-pressed plastic bottle (longer shelf life/better flavor) and said to myself… WOW! That’s delicious and totally satisfying for a lunch or a snack. I’ve also seen and tasted Zupa Noma, and saw that the Bonafide and Fawen brands of cold soup were also at the Fancy Food show with new soups to show. Not unlike the refrigerated sets for energy or snack bars, these soup mongers need to disrupt the refrigerated sets to keep their product fresh. Think of how long the canned soup aisle has been around and the type of innovation that has or hasn’t appeared there over the decades. Campbell’s has done well to keep their shelf-stable lines on the shelf with innovation in flavor, soup type, label marketing and can-type, but all of it has been shelf-stable, including the Pacific Foods aseptic cartons of soup that Campbell’s just announced they are acquiring. But these new cold-pressed soups are different. They need refrigeration, taste great, and will be in a completely different part of the store, likely expanding the soup market in total. And possibly extending the seasonal consumption of soups: cold soup in the Summer to refresh while you wait for the winter to arrive to get back into the hot soups.


 

  • “Deliciousness” as Innovation: Finally, “taste” as a disruptor. At the end of our aisle at the Fancy Food show was a company called Anastasia Confections. They were sampling bowls of their three new Coconut Cashew Crunch at all times of the day, so I tried a sample. This stuff is delicious. I couldn’t help but pick up a small square every time I walked by their booth. I started adjusting my walks (for meetings, restroom, lunch etc.) in their direction so I could snag one more crunchy square each time I walked by. I am jealous. I know how hard it is to get taste, texture, salty/sweet balance and inclusion proportions right. It’s really hard and they nailed it. It made me think of how important flavor and mouth feel are. I found out on the last day that the Anastasia Coconut Cashew Crunch with Chocolate Drizzle had won the Product of the Year award from the Specialty Food Association. Only one product wins that prestigious award each show, and they got it. Taste as a disruptor!


 

That’s just a few of the innovators I tried at the show. So many booths with incredible food, it’s sometimes hard to whittle them down to just a few to share. See you at the next show! – Scott Jensen

Winter Fancy Foods Show Round-Up with Rhythm Superfoods CEO Scott Jensen
February 6, 2017

The Rhythm Superfoods team headed out to San Francisco earlier this year for the Specialty Food Association’s 2017 Winter Fancy Food show. Rhythm Superfoods CEO Scott Jensen rounded up his favorite trends and products from this year’s show. Check it out!

I think I hit a 25 year Fancy Food Show anniversary this year attending the most recent one in San Francisco January 22, 23, 24.   The first one I attended was the East Coast version, that year in Washington DC in the Summertime my then Stubb’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Eddy Patterson and I were there to scope out the show to see if it was something we wanted to exhibit at 6 months later in San Francisco.  It was and we did.  This year’s San Francisco show was very different in many ways than the first one I exhibited at but also very similar and comfortable as well.  I’ve made a lot of friends in the Food Industry and I like seeing everyone and catching up on what they’re doing creatively in their current businesses.  This is a very dynamic business, with low barriers to entry so it’s somewhat easy to enter and many do, so every year brings a mass of new entrants into the industry.  This year’s show stats: over 33,000 industry professionals from around the country and world.  It felt like double that, as the aisles were busy the whole time.

Big impression on me this year is the pace of category stratification when a segment in the industry gets hot.  If you were to have developed a hot product 25 years ago, it might have taken someone else 2-3 years to figure it out and then another 2 years to make something that tasted good enough to compete with you.  The data available was not nearly as robust and accurate, nor as quickly available to reveal trends so fast.  If a product gets hot in the current environment, there are 2-4 competitors already showing their line of competitive items at the next trade show 3 or 6 months later, and they’ve already got financial backing to gain credibility.  That’s good for consumers and great for the industry… with so many choices to look for to tantalize your food and beverage consumption experience.  But, that makes it that much harder to rise to greatness and make your dream come true in this industry.  An interesting result of that speed to market and creativity is that it makes us all better as food creators.  We’ve all gotten better and faster at adapting to trends and defining a brand architecture that appeals to a tribe of consumers.

Another impression that follows this thinking laterally is the incredible packaging and booth designs that I witnessed at the show.  I think our packaging and booth represents our brand mission well.  It takes a lot of thought, talent, time and money to get to that point.  When I think about how the technology of design (design hardware and software) has improved it’s no wonder that so many of the booths and product packaging is so good at this and other shows now compared to two decades ago.  If you are planning to start a food company or already have and plan to attend one of the big food shows this year, you better bring your “A” game.  Everyone else will; I can assure you of that.  It’s so good, I would opine that the worst of this year’s Fancy Food Show booth design and packaging design would have been some of the best in the first one I exhibited at.  Our original booth was hand painted canvas and plastic shelves from Home Depot… and man did we thing we were great.  We were!

Finally, some thoughts about products and segments that I thought were clever and had wheels.  Some of you have seen the quick growth of these segments for a year or two, so they may not be revolutionary to you now, however, some of the current offerings of these products are simply much better than what was available just a year ago.

Here’s my list of 5 favorites from walking the entire length of every single aisle before the show opened on Tuesday morning.  If you had a drape over your booth at this show overnight to protect your product, I didn’t get a chance to see what you had so please forgive.

Broth and Bone Broth (1 a & b):  It’s growing and people love it, frozen, Tetra packed or glass Jar.  It’s got a lot of fans and it’s merchandised in multiple locations in stores and is purportedly great for various health forward thinkers.  I tasted a S.F. bay area brand called Nona Lim’s that had the most incredible umami Thai Curry & Lime Bone Broth and Carrot Ginger Soup so flavorful that I could have finished a full pot of both.  Available online and in the bay area at natural food stores.

(2) Color Kitchen Foods: It’s about time someone developed an alternative to the baking decorative aisle’s current offering and Color Kitchen Foods has done just that.  They’re using easy to understand and plant based colors to make sprinkles and cake decorating color additives with sugar, corn starch…and things like spirulina and vegetable juices to make the colors you absolutely need on your cupcakes.  I’m sure there’s a good reason for not launching these USDA Organic, but that maybe that’s next… it would have been flawless in my opinion.

Snack Foods (#3, #4 & #5):  We’re in the snack business so I know how hot and competitive it is.  There are highly creative entrepreneurs making products that simply couldn’t be made ten years ago. Ingredients like pea protein flour, almond flour, chia, amaranth, tsampa and all the legume, bean and pulse ingredients that were simply unknown ten years ago and now are showing up in dozens of new snacks and other products; delivering protein and fiber and vitamins and phytonutrients at levels that were unheard of a decade ago.

(3) Speaking of great snacks, Siete Family Foods just launched a great Grain Free Tortilla Chip… with the lead ingredient being Cassava flour; these crunchy little delights were really tasty and are a great follow-on to their first product launch, the awesome Siete Almond Flour Fresh Tortillas.  Really yummy grain free alternatives to the previous norm of flour or corn fresh tortillas and fried corn tortilla chips.

(4) Arctic Zero Peanut Butter Swirls Frozen Dessert.  Confession: I love peanut butter and my oldest son has severe tree nut and peanut allergies… anything with peanut is an indulgent treat for me when I travel.  We’re all beginning to get our taste buds used to frozen desserts and other “typical” dairy products when they’re not made with dairy or lactose, some are great, some not so great.  But this frozen dessert hits all my triggers, with a delicious peanut butter ribbon swirl and some chocolate bits and pieces in a lactose free base.  Beyond avoiding the lactose, these treats cover the following bases: low-glycemic, lactose-free, gluten-free treats with whey protein, organic cane sugar, chicory root and monk fruit as sweetener.

(5) Beside the fact that I know/love the founders and they’re located in Austin, I found Epic’s new Wagyu Beef Steak Strip delicious and just the right texture for such a snack.  Some folks are struggling to love the texture of a meat bar… it’s something new to their palette.  I’ve gotten over it myself and, although I eat a lot of plant based snacks personally, the new Wagyu meat snack from Epic is truly that: Epic.

So, lots of innovation and variety out there at the Fancy Food show.  “Better for you” snacks, beverages and indulgences show the most velocity of innovation in my opinion.  Many of the new products hitting the shelves in the “Better for you” archetype are actually breaking the rules of what we used to think of as “good for you”.  The FDA and USDA used to have the final and only word on what we could or shouldn’t eat daily, but that’s changed significantly since my childhood.  One week eggs are good for you then they’re bad for you and then they’re good for you again.  Who can keep track?  So, consumers are now seeking their own set of inputs through social media sources and thought leaders that help them make their own decision as to what is good for them.  The lack of a defining authority on what we should all eat daily has left the vacuum for entrepreneurs to fill with creativity and product innovation that is transforming our food culture in this country.  Stay tuned, there’s a lot more to come…and fast.