ANAHEIM, CALIF. — “You either love beets or you hate them,” said Scott Jensen, chief executive officer of Rhythm Superfoods, a maker of plant-based, nutrient-dense snacks. The latest innovation from the Austin, Texas, company is a line of Beet Chips in three flavor varieties: original, sea salt, and cinnamon and coconut sugar.
|Scott Jensen, c.e.o. of Rhythm Superfoods|
“When we look at products we do, we try to process it in a unique way that preserves the nutrition but allows us to differentiate the product from how everyone else is doing it,” Mr. Jensen said in an interview with Food Business News at Natural Products Expo West, held March 10-13 in Anaheim. “Very few people are doing anything with beets, and no one is doing the format we’re doing, which is dehydrated with a special proprietary process, which gives it a great crunch. If you dehydrate it alone, it’s almost too hard to bite. You could break a tooth on it.”
Founded in 2009, Rhythm Superfoods also offers Kale Chips, Broccoli Bites and Roasted Kale snacks. The company’s products retail from $2.49 to $4.99 depending on the product, and are available nationally in 8,000 to 8,500 retail outlets, including Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market, Kroger, Stop & Shop, Publix, Albertsons, Safeway and Costco.
In January, the company closed a $3 million Series C financing round led by 301 Inc., a business development unit within General Mills, Inc. Mr. Jensen said the Minneapolis-based company’s support already has been “super, super helpful” in providing technical expertise and identifying opportunities for cost savings and synergies.
“You go to Minneapolis and start meeting some of the folks there, and it’s no longer this big, huge monolithic company. It’s super fun, nice, sharp people that have families like you do, and they’re working to change the world, too, but they’ve got these billion dollar brands that take a few years to turn a few degrees on,” Mr. Jensen said of General Mills. “I think they were looking for simply processed, whole-plant product. It happens to be that we’re snackers. That’s what we make. So I think they were liking the snack and the whole-plant idea.”
Slated to launch in May, Rhythm Superfoods Beet Chips are the product of a comprehensive research and development project.
“We’d been doing kale for four years, and in about two years we’ll hit the maximum number of stores where kale should be, so there is going to be a leveling off of our growth at some point,” Mr. Jensen said. “(We told our R.&D. team), ‘Let’s go see what our technology (will) do to every fruit and every vegetable that you can logistically get and grow.’”
The company ruled out dragon fruit and kiwi because of high costs and limited availability, he said.
“I don’t want to bring something unique from the Himalayas that costs an arm and a leg to bring in,” Mr. Jensen said. “I’ll leave that to the other folks. To me, I’m saying, ‘What can grow in our zone, and what happens with our technology? Does it make it crunchy? Does it give it texture?’ There were a dozen and a half vegetables and a dozen fruits that were interesting.
“There are 15 other companies doing apple slices, so I’m not sure I want to do that. Beets just happened to come out really good. The texture was good. It had crunch. It had shelf life.”
If the Beet Chips are a hit, Mr. Jensen said the company will add more flavors, such as orange zest or balsamic vinegar.
“Our R.&D. folks reach out to many flavorists and start reading white papers from R.&D. companies we utilize who say flavors are going here or there,” Mr. Jensen said. “We taste them internally and guide where the last several are and try to get 200 people and have them rank based on organoleptic attributes.”
The initial varieties scored the highest in organoleptic testing, he added.
In the competitive snack market, a key advantage of Rhythm Superfoods’ portfolio is its relevance across a range of different diets and lifestyles, Mr. Jensen said.
“I think 20 years ago, there were these 5-to-10 year fads where almost 100% of the consumer base of America would jump up (and go fat free) or sensible portions,” Mr. Jensen said. “Now 25 fads are happening at once… We’re just one of several dozen offerings that fit certain lifestyles.“If you eat a bag of kale chips, you’re eating really high fiber. It’s like a big salad bowl that shrinks into a nine-month shelf-life snack.”