Highlights from FoodNavigator-USA’s CEO debate: From GMOs to gourmet popcorn, plant eggs & the rise and rise of gluten-free…

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

The start-up behind Just Mayo (minus the eggs...) has persuaded Bill Gates (among others) to part with cash to fund his business
The start-up behind Just Mayo (minus the eggs...) has persuaded Bill Gates (among others) to part with cash to fund his business

Related tags Chief executive officer Ceo

What keeps the CEOs of some of the most innovative US food and beverage firms awake at night? 

Speaking at FoodNavigator-USA’s first business leaders round table debate​, all six CEOs around the table said finding and keeping the right people was the biggest challenge they faced, ahead of financing, regulations, cash-flow and all the other things that can keep anyone running a business from sleeping soundly.

In the debate (sponsored by Ingredion​, Virun ​and BioEnergy Life Science​), the bosses of Sambazon, Boulder Brands, POP! Gourmet Popcorn, The Good Bean, Hampton Creek Foods and MetaBrand covered everything from ‘all-natural’ claims, to getting listed at Whole Foods, General Mills’ non-GMO Cheerios and whether top CPG firms are too big to innovate.

To listen to this unique debate on-demand, CLICK HERE TO REGISTER ​(it’s FREE). You can also download the slides by clicking on the folder icon at the bottom of the screen once you are logged onto the webinar platform.

To whet your appetite, here are some highlights…


Josh Tetrick (right) and Johan Boot from Hampton Creek Foods

“The large CPG companies have huge infrastructures and margin models to protect …

"But there will come a time when the cost of not changing exceeds the cost of changing their products ​[to meet changing consumer expectations].” Steve Hughes,​ CEO, Boulder Brands

“Sometimes I think it’s just easier for them to acquire brands that are proving new concepts.

"It’s not the case that the bigger companies don’t have the R&D staff - they have the best R&D skills and the smartest marketing people, it’s just a question of risk.”  Ryan Black​, CEO, Sambazon


Steve Hughes Boulder Brands CEO
Steve Hughes, CEO, Boulder Brands

“I think over the last 24 months we’ve seen a real change in the mainstream consumer. The challenge for a large CPG company is that you can change 1% of your business ​[but what about the other 99%]?

"I think this move ​[Gen Mills’ reformulation of Cheerios] is another indicator that this GMO issue is not going away.” Steve Hughes,​ CEO, Boulder Brands

“The marketplace is demanding non-GMO ingredients. This is a very hot topic​. But it’s hard for the big brands to, say, put up a non-GMO version of their regular soda as it could be damaging the brands overall.​” Eric Schnell,​ co-founder Steaz Teas, CEO, MetaBrand

Eric Schnell, CEO, MetaBrand


“We want to be a talent magnet. With every person we bring on we know that they could become either a repelling force or an attracting force to the kind of team we really want to build.” Josh Tetrick​, CEO, Hampton Creek Foods

“We’ve got to where we are by learning the hard way, but at some level that’s got to stop. You have to bring on the people with the right experience to lead you and direct you and help you navigate through the minefield or you’ll get blown up.” David Israel, ​CEO, POP! Gourmet Popcorn

David Israel, CEO, POP! Gourmet Popcorn


“We look for every opportunity we can to communicate, to tell our story every day. We are a start-up company but we have a director of communications. We’ve also been working with some guys that worked on the Obama campaign to see how to use social media tools to get the message across.” Josh Tetrick​, CEO, Hampton Creek Foods

“We didn’t sleep much in the first five years…” Steve Hughes,​ CEO, Boulder Brands


“I think there is always a need for blue sky innovation. If you’re not on trend for long enough you’ll be out of the business.” Eric Schnell,​ co-founder Steaz Teas, CEO, MetaBrand

Ryan Black, CEO, Sambazon

“I think that in the world of food, people want the familiar, they are not looking to have fundamentally new things, they are looking to maybe adapt new ideas and trends into their lifestyle as their needs evolve.

Sarah Wallace, CEO, The Good Bean

“There are two types of innovation; first where the form factor changes - things like drinkable oatmeal or yogurt, for greater convenience; and the other one is introducing new innovative on-trend ingredients into a conventional form factor, so putting beans or kale into chips for example. But if you bring a new ingredient AND a new form factor to the market, the education of consumers is more of a challenge…” Sarah Wallace, ​CEO, The Good Bean

To listen to the debate on-demand, CLICK HERE TO REGISTER​ (it’s FREE). You can also download the slides by clicking on the folder icon at the bottom of the screen.

The participants:


STEVE HUGHES, CEO​, Boulder Brands​. Boulder Brands has a dominant position in the fast-growing gluten-free market with the Udi’s and Glutino brands and a rapidly growing slice of the natural, plant-based foods pie  with the Earth Balance brand.  It has also taken a bet on the diabetes management market with the purchase of a controlling stake in Level Life Foods.  

gourmet popcorn

DAVID ISRAEL, CEO​ POP! Gourmet PopcornIn year one of launching his first retail products, Israel notched up sales of around $1m. In year two (this year), he's aiming for $3-4m. Next year, he's looking at $10m. And he's also now expanding into international markets beginning with the Middle East via an exclusive partnership with Dubai-based Landmark Group.

Just mayo

JOSH TETRICK, CEO​, Hampton Creek Foods​.​ Tetrick, who has persuaded everyone from Bill Gates to the co-founder of PayPal to back his business, started off with retail products (in a Whole Foods near you) but is now on a mission to make his egg replacers so effective that the world’s leading food manufacturers will come to adopt them as standard in everything from salad dressings to pound cakes. 

acai juice sambazon

RYAN BLACK, CEO​, Sambazon​. Want a definition of high-achiever? Meet Ryan Black, a former NFL player and surfer who went on holiday to Brazil in his early 20s in search of waves and came back with the germ of a business idea that is now worth $100m +in retail sales.


SARAH WALLACE, CEO​, The Good BeanAfter spending years marketing products from Luna Bars to PopChips, Sarah Wallace decided to put her money where her mouth is in 2010 to create her own healthy snacking company: The Good Bean.Her first product - roasted chickpea snacks - has been a big hit.

I am Enlightened2

ERIC SCHNELL, CEO​, I AM ENLIGHTENED Nutrition, MetaBrand.​ Schnell is best-known for launching Steaz, the #1 organic energy drink in the US, and has more recently developed a range of all-natural herbal-based shots under the IAM Enlightened banner. He’s also managing partner of sports nutrition brand CodeBlue and founder of MetaBrand, a one stop for early-stage entrepreneurs looking to make it big in beverages and supplements.  

MUGSHOT-Elaine Watson editor FoodNavigator-USA

MODERATOR: Elaine Watson, editor, FoodNavigator-USA

Elaine moved from the UK to the US in 2011 and has been writing about the food and beverage industry on both sides of the Atlantic for 13 years for a variety of b2b publications.   


This debate was sponsored by Ingredion​ - a leading global supplier of starches, sweeteners, texturants and nutritional ingredients to major food and beverage manufacturers across the globe...


... Virun​, which has developed technology enabling functional ingredients such as resveratrol, CoQ10, lutein and lycopene  to be water soluble and shelf-stable; ....


Bioenergy-Life Science Inc

BioEnergy Life Science​, the firm behind top-selling functional ingredient Bioenergy Ribose - which is claimed to accelerate energy recovery, reduce muscle stiffness and provide greater endurance. 

To listen to the debate on-demand, click here to register​ (it’s FREE).

You can also download the slides by clicking on the folder icon at the bottom of the screen once the webinar platform has launched.

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