LOS ANGELES — This past spring, a team of industry veterans launched Mavericks, a brand of lunchbox-ready cookies and crackers for children. And then the pandemic shuttered schools across the United States.
“Looking back, had we known we were launching a healthy kids snack brand and school lunches and after-school sports weren’t going to happen because of COVID, we probably would have rethought the launch process,” said Christian Quie, president and general manager.
Mavericks is a business of Green Park Brands, the parent company of Hippeas, Ugly Drinks and Reel Paper, founded by Livio Bisterzo. Mr. Quie, a veteran of General Mills who more recently led the US launch of a fruit snacks brand, relocated his family from North Carolina to Los Angeles last year to develop and launch Mavericks following discussions with Mr. Bisterzo and recognizing the market opportunity.
“There is a tremendous amount of innovation in the baby/toddler space, and we are all aware there is so much innovation in the millennial and young adult space, but there really hasn’t been much for the kindergartener through middle school age,” Mr. Quie said.
The brand’s crackers have 8 grams of whole grains per serving and are available in original, cheddar and pizza varieties. The cookies contain 40% less sugar than the category leader, with flavors including chocolate chip, double chocolate and birthday cake. The company uses chicory root fiber to add sweetness while reducing sugar in the formulation.
“One of the insightful pieces of feedback we learned through listening to consumers is there has been a lot of focus and awareness for monk fruit and erythritol as sweeteners,” Mr. Quie said. “Parents are willing to try that themselves but are apprehensive about giving that to their kids, so we wanted to make sure we could find a sweetener that was mainstream and approachable for kids.”
The snacks are Non-GMO Project verified, peanut-free, free of artificial colors and preservatives, and school-safe, meeting the US Department of Agriculture’s “smart snacks” requirements.
The cookies and crackers are shaped like lightning bolts to encourage play. The box contains eight single-serve pouches and features an interactive game inside.
“In our consumer insights group with kids, they would spend the first five minutes playing with the shapes and making designs before eating it,” Mr. Quie said. “We also had learnings from adults who had nostalgia around the cereal box and playing and engaging with it.”
All six products debuted in Whole Foods Markets nationwide in April and on Amazon.com in May. Now, the company is partnering with social media influencers and launching a back-to-school promotion to drive awareness of the brand and products.
“Sixty-six percent of students right now in the US are remote learning,” Mr. Quie said. “That is a hurdle we are trying to navigate, but it is what it is, and we’re committed to the brand, and we’ve got some huge momentum right now behind it.”
In the long term, Mavericks is positioned as a platform brand that may expand to multiple product categories, but the team remains disciplined in building awareness and driving repeat sales of its core products. A challenge is communicating effectively to two consumer groups — the child who will eat the product and the adult who will buy it.
“We want to make sure we are authentic to the kids, and they see us on shelf and recognize us … and mom or dad picks it up and says, ‘This checks the box,’” Mr. Quie said. “The goal is to make sure we’re staying kid-first.”