CHICAGO — The time is now for healthier options in food service, said Alison Brushaber, chief product officer and partner of Hail Merry, L.L.C. The Dallas-based maker of raw, vegan, gluten-free snacks and desserts showcased new grab-and-go products at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 21-24 in Chicago.
“We’ve had a lot of operators who have said, ‘We like the fact that you check a lot of boxes for us,’” Ms. Brushaber said in an interview with Food Business News at the show. “I’ve been in product development my whole career… We used to have people say they wanted to do healthy, but then they would put healthy things on the menu, and they didn’t sell. And now people are saying, ‘I want healthy, and it’s selling.’ And they’re demanding it.”
Hail Merry was founded in 2006 by Susan O’Brien, a raw foods enthusiast with a design degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She was joined by Ms. Brushaber and Sarah Palisi Chapin, chief executive officer and partner, to build the business into an award-winning brand with distribution in more than 5,000 retail outlets. Hail Merry manufactures macaroons, coconut oil ganache tarts and granolas with premium and organic ingredients in a certified gluten-free, vegan, kosher, Non-GMO Project verified facility. The company’s move into food service comes in response to the growing demand for healthier options on menus, Ms. Brushaber said.
“You have two groups: the baby boomers, who, for some reason, may have to eat differently for health reasons … and then you have the millennials, who are absolutely demanding it,” she said. “The first thing they do is look at the ingredient declaration, and if has something that doesn’t suit their liking, they won’t even eat it.”
At the N.R.A. show, Hail Merry received an innovation award (its third in four years) for a salted brownie macaroon, made with such ingredients as organic maple syrup, organic virgin coconut oil and almond flour. The product is dehydrated at a low temperature to preserve quality and flavor. The brand’s products are free from preservatives, an endeavor that initially proved challenging for Ms. Brushaber, a chef and food scientist with an extensive background in the food industry.
“Especially as a food scientist, it’s like, ‘It this is happening, add this preservative,’ or ‘If this is happening, add this,’” she said. “When we first started doing this, it was, ‘We want to do this, but you’ve got to get shelf life.’ I can honestly say this has been the most challenging thing, and I’ve been doing this for many, many years.”
The business has grown sevenfold since 2010, Ms. Chapin said, adding, “We slowed down for a period because we needed capital, and now we’re getting ready to ramp again.” Last May, Hail Merry announced it had received a minority investment from HBC Investments and Powerplant Ventures, enabling it to further expand its marketing, sales support and distribution.