The serial entrepreneurs behind Terra Chips and Stonyfield Farms look set to achieve similar success with gourmet world cuisine brand Saffron Road - another niche brand that is rapidly moving into the mainstream, this time in the frozen food aisle.
Starting this month, 500 stores owned by the nation’s #3 food retailer Ahold will stock up to four Saffron Road frozen entrées, which were developed by Stamford, Connecticut-based American Halal Co.
The firm was founded by Adnan Durrani, who founded Vermont Pure in 1991 and was also a principal investor in Stonyfield Farms (sold to Danone in 2001), while its EVP sales & marketing is Jack Acree, who helped build two of the fastest growing startups in the industry: Terra Chips (now owned by Hain Celestial) and Alexia Foods (sold to ConAgra in 2007).
Cherry-picking the elite tier of top supermarket chains
Durrani, who is also president of a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in natural food companies called Condor Ventures, has a track record of growing niche products into mainstream brands.
The aim with Saffron Road was to build a brand that would sell in top-flight natural and mainstream stores, while sticking to its principles, he said.
“The most successful natural food brands are actually built in the mainstream supermarket retailers and leading natural food markets.
“Our sales team has been very methodical at cherry picking the elite tier of top supermarket chains and natural food markets to sell into and our patience and diligence is now going to reap huge rewards.”
Saffron Road, which was launched in July 2010 in Whole Foods, has been rapidly gaining momentum ever since, securing listings in the natural foods sections of Kroger, Safeway, Publix and HEB as well as leading natural chains such as Whole Foods, Sprouts and Earthfare.
All of its products are Halal, sustainably farmed, all-natural, antibiotic free and 100% vegetarian fed, while its chicken is certified humane by Humane Farm Animal Care.
While getting the attention of buyers at large chains is always hard for a smaller company, retailers see the potential of a high-quality, gourmet world cuisine brand that also embodies ethical consumerism, Acree told FoodNavigator-USA.
“It is not easy, but our success has been from starting with a quality product and then showing the retailer that we have the experience and are prepared to put programs in place that will generate trial of our products.
“They could also see the momentum we have built behind the Saffron Road brand…Once consumers try Saffron Road, we generally keep them.”
Third party certification
Buyers at Ahold “saw Saffron Road as a great way to introduce World Cuisine to more of their customers” he added.
“They especially likes that our claims are 3rd party verified.
“Certification is one of many attributes that interest buyers at the trade and consumer level. We also use protein that is raised without antibiotics and 100% vegetarian fed, our chickens are certified humane and [many of our products are] certified gluten free.”
We are continually launching new products
The Saffron Road product range, which initially focused on frozen Indian meals, now includes a wide range of Asian and Middle Eastern entrees (chicken pad thai; Moroccan lamb stew), snacks (crunchy chickpeas), broths, Hors D’oeuvres (Turkish figs & goat cheese; dates, tamarind & walnuts) and sauces (lemongrass basil).
“We are continually launching new products, such as our new shelf stable Crunchy Chickpea Snacks which are exclusively available at Whole Foods Market through November”, added Acree.
The four lines stocked by Ahold are Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Saag, Chicken Pad Thai and Lemongrass Basil Chicken, retailing at around $5.49.
Asked about the company's turnover, Acree added: "As a private company, we don't release specific sales information, but I can say Saffron Road has been on a very fast growth curve that is only increasing."