The Rise of Food Renegades David Despain | February 2016, Volume 70, No.2

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Banza pastaDisrupt to Create Trust in the Grocery Aisle
The growing consumer demand for foods from disruptive food companies has not gone unnoticed by major retailers and they are changing their assortments on the shelf to include more products from smaller brands. “It comes down to trust,” says Brian Rudolph, cofounder of Banza, Detroit. “At minimum, we can’t help but be skeptical of the companies that feed us. A few food companies have opted for ingredients that are refined and cost effective. Unfortunately, those ingredients are also often addictive and less filling. Portion sizes and caloric intake are up. Obesity and diabetes rates are through the roof.”

Consumers who are increasingly health-conscious are intrigued about Banza because of Rudolph’s own story. One of Rudolph’s favorite foods is pasta, which most people overdo on portion size. So he started to make his own higher protein, higher fiber chickpea pasta by hand in his kitchen. “At some point it hit me that if this creation in my kitchen solved my desire for a better pasta, it might also solve someone else’s,” Rudolph notes. That’s when Rudolph decided to reach out to his brother Scott, who was an investment banker and broker. They built the new company, complete with Brian Rudolph’s founder’s story on its website, to battle the large pasta brands.

Feel Good FoodsSmall companies also have the advantage of being nimble about their formulation, labels, and packaging. “It’s a luxury that most big companies don’t have,” said Vanessa Phillips, cofounder and CEO of Feel Good Foods, Santa Cruz, Calif., a company that offers gluten-free dumplings and egg rolls. Part of the company’s story is the founder’s own need to go gluten free. “Our story is on our packaging and when customers read it, it resonates with them,” she says.

Chef Tryg Siverson, cofounder and COO of Feel Good Foods, adds, “We are constantly listening to customers’ requests. We respond to each request and take every suggestion into account. For example, our gluten-free dumplings used to contain soybean oil. After getting some suggestions asking for the soybean oil to be replaced by canola oil, we made the switch. Many large food companies use preservatives, have a long list of ingredients, and are not offering restaurant-quality meals to the frozen market. As a new company on the scene, we are aiming to change the perception of frozen food.”

Social Change through Food Ingredients
Consumers’ growing social consciousness and interest in food company ethics are other major drivers of the move from “Big Food” to upstart brands.

Some companies are attracting the attention of engaged consumers through use of ingredients that are attached to a greater ethical mission. In other words, rather than focusing on nutrition or weight loss, they instead talk about social responsibility or a social mission in their marketing such as reducing world hunger, saving the rainforests, or animal welfare.

In some cases, a single ingredient can make up the whole marketing strategy of a product as long as the connection is there to a social cause, particularly one that traditional food companies cannot provide through existing products. Stephen Broburg, general manager of Baobab Foods, Bellevue, Wash., says that one of the reasons customers are interested in organic, raw baobab powder and BaoBites Superfruit Snacks is due to the company’s dedication to help create a sustainable income for women in southern Africa.