LOS ANGELES — Outstanding Foods, the maker of plant-based takes on pork rinds and cheese puffs, has plans to expand beyond the salty snack category. The Los Angeles-based business, whose high-profile investors include Snoop Dogg and Dierks Bentley, is set to debut soft-baked, gluten-free cookies soon and is developing egg substitutes.
“Ultimately, we expect to be a company that consumers can rely on from morning ‘til night, in all meals and snacking occasions,” said Bill Glaser, co-founder and chief executive officer.
A self-described serial entrepreneur and longtime vegan, Mr. Glaser partnered with chef and product developer Dave Anderson, previously of Beyond Meat and Eat Just, Inc., to launch the company five years ago. The first product offering was a bacon-inspired, mushroom-based snack.
“We intentionally had the plan to be a platform food company with an ethos that everything led with great taste and indulgence … but with nutrition and cleaner, health-inspiring ingredients,” Mr. Glaser said. “We chose to go with the snacking category initially, even though we have plans for other product lines in other categories, because we wanted to meet mainstream consumers where they shop.”
Today, Outstanding Foods markets and distributes three product lines — Outstanding Puffs, Outstanding Cheese Balls and Outstanding Pig Out Crunchies — that are formulated with pea protein and a blend of nutrients from broccoli, spinach, kale, pumpkin, sweet potato, sunflower seed, cranberry, chlorella, and maitake and shiitake mushrooms. (The “pigless bacon chips” were scrapped due to operational complexities and high production costs). Flavor profiles range from white cheddar and nacho cheese to pizza and barbecue. Products are sold in nearly 22,000 retail stores, including Sprouts Farmers Market, Walmart and Costco.
“Our products don’t require a new habit,” Mr. Glaser said. “You eat it, you’re going to love it, and you happen to get all these nutrients and protein on top of that.”
In an interview, Mr. Glaser shared an inside scoop of what’s to come from the celebrity-backed snack company.
Food Entrepreneur: What inspired you to launch this business?
Bill Glaser: I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for many years and have been involved in a variety of different companies, but personally I’ve been plant-based now almost 33 years. I had an intention of starting a company to make it easy for anyone to eat healthier foods that are also plant-based and gluten-free, but without making a sacrifice. And for me to pull that off, I needed someone like my co-founder because you definitely wouldn’t want to eat anything that I formulated.
How did you get celebrities like Snoop Dogg on your cap table?
Mr. Glaser: We were very intentional bringing early investors who were celebrities and influencers so that we could leverage them in creating content, in using them in our ads, in getting press…
A lot of people when it comes to food are skeptical, especially something that’s plant-based or healthier. Most people’s experience in trying something healthier is it’s not going to taste as good as what they’re used to.... What we found is the product lived up to the buzz that was created online by Snoop and some of these other personalities.
With any brand, whether it’s food or anything else… celebrities want something that’s authentic to them, something they truly love and something they’re going to use in their day-to-day lives. A big part of that was sending the product out because that spoke for itself. I had some relationships, but a lot of relationships we have in terms of celebrity investors were new, and so it was a lot of effort, a lot of networking, a lot of hustling and finding the right people, sending them the product, and I think for most people if you give them an option to eat healthier but it still tastes as good as what they’re used to, it’s an easy yes… And that’s how we attracted a lot of our celebrity investors.
How do you identify opportunities for innovation in the marketplace?
Mr. Glaser: We were among the first brands that ever did a plant-based pork rind, and we did it with a much higher protein content than any other plant-based brand… We were looking at what are the categories, where are the opportunities and what can we do better, not just in terms of protein and other things, but what can we do better?
The second product we launched … we took a puff, which is a common product in the market … we elevated the protein and added a good source of 20 vitamins and minerals, which nobody had done before. … The back of the label looks like you’re reading a multivitamin. You get things like iron and calcium and vitamin B12 and vitamin D and zinc and all kinds of goodness that are coming from organic fruits and vegetables.
Mr. Glaser: We’re going into sweet snacks. We’re launching Outstanding Cookies early this year. This is essentially a nutritional cookie that tastes like a great tasting indulgent cookie. That’s a paradigm shift for us. This cookie has 5 grams of protein per serving. It also has a good source of 20 vitamins and minerals … but it doesn’t taste like a nutritional cookie.
Most consumers are prepared to make a sacrifice to get the nutrients and protein in a cookie because they love cookies, even though nutritional cookies are understood to not taste as good as indulgent cookies. This one is bringing those two worlds together … it also happens to be egg- and dairy-free and gluten-free.
We’ve also been working on an egg… The egg category, like many plant-based products, are using ingredients that give them texture or help them with a function. Methylcellulose, for example, is one of the core ingredients used in many plant-based food products. It’s a reverse gelling agent used for texture in plant-based meats and to fake coagulation in plant-based eggs. It’s used to create a melting point for plant-based cheeses. We’ve developed (a plant-based egg) without methylcellulose…
Not only is it cleaner in terms of the ingredient deck but performs more like an actual egg. We expect to bring it out sometime in the third quarter. We’ve been working on the manufacturing scale-up and are in talks with big food companies that would be potential partners for distribution of that product.
Initially, we’ll have a liquid egg and frozen patty… We expect to have a shelf-stable one for baking as well. We’re very mindful of consumer behavior, and we want to make it easier for people to adopt our products, not add steps.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in building this business?
Mr. Glaser: I think with any entrepreneurial journey, you have to be adaptive. You have to have a strong sense of persevering, but also persevering doesn’t mean just going down the path that you chose. It means being adaptive to the things that come into your path, including challenges … and challenges if approached with the right mindset are opportunities.
Direct-to-consumer marketing has gotten much more crowded and expensive and harder to attribute sales because of iOS changes. We’ve constantly pivoted.
Have you faced any supply chain challenges like so many others recently?
Mr. Glaser: We’ve navigated supply chain well… We did have one issue earlier in the year with one of our ingredients that was hard to get. We’re constantly trying to prepare and anticipate changes and challenges in the market by being nimble when they come up… In normal times, let alone the times we’ve had now, we’re just being open to embracing and evaluating to figure out what the best solution is and confidently move forward.
Being open to feedback is an important principle… For us, we always put out the best and highest quality product, but we’re open to hearing feedback from our consumers, from retailers, from our team, from external sources… We’re paying attention, and if we hear something enough, we’re going to be quick to make those changes.
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