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