Vegetables. They’re not just a problem for children, according to a new study published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 1 in 10 adults meet federal guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake, which amounts to a recommended 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.
The timing couldn’t be better for Kay Allison and Michael Senackerib, the founders of Farm&Oven Snacks, Inc. A pair of food industry veterans with a combined 50 years of experience, Ms. Allison and Mr. Senackerib are launching the brand’s first product range, Bakery Bites, featuring 40% of the recommended daily vegetable intake per serving, plus probiotics to support a healthy immune and digestive system. Flavors include Beet Dark Chocolate, Carrot Cinnamon, Pumpkin Maple Pecan and Zucchini Lemon Poppy Seed.
The products are currently available on-line at farmandoven.com and will be sold at Amazon.com in the coming weeks.
“I’m a market researcher by background, and I found that 72% of U.S. adults say the No. 1 food or ingredient they intend to eat more of is vegetables,” Ms. Allison told Food Business News. “I looked at all the protein bars and nutrition bars and thought, there’s a real gap in the marketplace here, and if we made something that’s a really delicious bite of a familiar bakery treat in which vegetables already exist, then isn’t that a natural way to take care of the deficiency?”
Bakery Bites were inspired by Ms. Allison’s autistic daughter, who “wouldn’t let a vegetable cross her lips,” she said. Ms. Allison tried to sneak butternut squash and spinach into her daughter’s diet in various ways before discovering an easier solution in a traditional holiday treat. Pumpkin bread — with extra pumpkin.
“I’ve done enough new product development work for big companies to know when you put vegetables in places where they don’t sound appealing or they don’t naturally belong, consumers think of it as ‘Frankenfood’ and they really want no part of it,” Ms. Allison said. “’What in the world is microencapsulated zucchini doing in my pudding?’ for example.”
Ms. Allison is the founder and former chief executive officer of The Energy Infuser, a consumer insights-based innovation consulting firm where she “used market research as a base for helping big companies generate new product ideas, new business model ideas and revitalize some of their dustier brands.”
Her former client, Mr. Senackerib has served in numerous leadership positions at Nabisco, Kraft Foods and the Campbell Soup Co., where most recently he was senior vice-president, Global Brands and chief strategy officer.
“We had reconnected over a business opportunity that I presented to Campbell’s in January 2016,” Ms. Allison recalled. “He left there in August 2016 and contacted me and said, ‘I’m thinking about getting into a smaller company in the natural products space.’
"And I said, ‘Do I have an opportunity for you.’”
After testing the concept on-line with hundreds of consumers, who demonstrated “inordinately high purchase intent,” Ms. Allison tapped a recipe developer to create the first samples.
“Quite frankly, the first ones we tasted were so amazing,” Ms. Allison said. “That’s how I got Mike to join me. Not only did I send him the concept and the business case, but I sent him a sample, and he called me within a minute saying, ‘I want in.’”
The products are made with grains from Bob’s Red Mill, coconut syrup from Wildly Organic, and beets, carrots, pumpkin and zucchini from Van Drunen Farms in Illinois. There, the vegetables are air-dried and added to the formulation in place of some of the dry ingredients such as flour, Ms. Allison said.
“Like with most product development, we tried… ‘What if we had three servings of vegetables?’ ‘No, that doesn’t taste great.’ ‘What if we did these gluten free?’ ‘No, that’s really dry.’ ‘What if we did these sugar free?’ ‘No, that tastes horrible.’ ‘Maybe it’s better if we had one serving of vegetables?’ And Mike and I said, ‘No, that’s not meaningful enough.’
“We tried variations, and that’s what took six more months.”
Each serving contains up to 35 grams of fiber and one billion probiotics, which are supplied by Ganeden.
“We know gut health is a really important trend overall in the food industry and the supplement industry,” Ms. Allison said. “Our assessment based on years of experience is this is burgeoning trend. It hasn’t crested yet, and we want to be in early on that trend.
“From a personal standpoint, one of the hallmarks of people with autism is gut health issues. As part of that as a complete picture having high fiber and probiotics in our products is very important.”
A portion of sales supports Autism Society, a cause close to Ms. Allison’s heart.
For the foreseeable future, Farm&Oven Bakery Bites will only be available on-line, an insight Ms. Allison derived from years of experience in the industry.
“We really like the on-line go-to-market strategy because it allows us to have a one-on-one relationship with our customers, which I think will be a benefit for them because they’ll get the personal touch, but also for us, because it allows us to have a treasure trove of information, which big mass market companies don’t have access to…” she said. “When you interview consumers, who are always, to me, the arbiter of what the right strategy is, they say ‘we order everything on-line.’ I’m a Prime member, and Amazon comes and visits me multiple times a day sometimes. According to our consumers that I’ve interviewed and researched, that’s the way to go.”
Still, she said, the business is “imminently scaleable.”
“Mike and I are both big company people, and that absolutely is the goal,” Ms. Allison said. “Our commitment is to stay with ingredient providers that match our standards and are as personally invested in what they’re doing as we are.”
Consumer insights also have guided the brand to stay firmly within the snacking category.
“If you look at consumer trend data, snacking is becoming much more of an everyday, day-long phenomenon,” Ms. Allison said. “Consumers snack almost as much in the morning as they do in the afternoon, and we think that’s an untapped opportunity, hence our initial offering are things you’d eat along with a cup of coffee as a snack at 10:15 a.m. A lemon poppy seed muffin is normal breakfast/morning behavior. Mike and I are big fans of snacks as a growing category. We know that the presence of vegetables in a snack is a really meaningful benefit to most consumers.”She added, “What we learned from big companies, our big company experience, is we have a tremendous sense of business acumen, business skills, analytical tools, and the ability to look at opportunities not just from a 'what’s right' perspective but from a 'where is there wide-open opportunity and no competition?' Where can we create a segment or a category rather than making another nut butter?”