What are the top 10 challenger brands in US food retail?

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Seurat Group on the top 10 challenger brands in US food retail

Related tags: Brand, Brand management

It’s no secret that smaller, emerging brands are winning the battle for consumers’ hearts, minds and wallets from larger, established players in the US food and beverage industry, but which ‘challenger’ brands really stand out in the crowd? And what are they doing differently?

According to a new report ​from consultancy Seurat Group, “Today’s consumers, who are less influenced by traditional brand-building levers, are choosing brands that reflect their values​.”

Against the backdrop of a “void of innovation from large firms”, ​challenger brands are “assuming the mantle of bringing true category innovation to market”, ​says the firm.

“Successful challenger brands— those that disrupt established category dynamics and stimulate long term growth—are able to either re-segment an existing category, as with Pretzel Chips within salty snacks, or develop new consumption occasions, such as with Plum Organics’ launch of baby food pouches.”

While there are scores of innovative food and beverage brands on the market, says the report, 10 brands that really stand out are:

Mango chia bars Health Warrior

Health Warrior​ (chia bars): “Health Warrior and Justin’s, among other brands, are giving larger players a run for their money by expanding consumption occasions through meeting consumers’ need for superfoods that are more accessible and portable.”

Suja products

Suja Juice​ (cold-pressured juice): “Both Suja and Evol have developed processes— manufacturing, supply chain, and marketing—to guarantee their products can keep up with ingredients consumers are demanding or avoiding, and ensure they are made aware of the unique offers.”

epic bar beef

EPIC Bar (​meat snacks): “EPIC has created bars made of entirely lean animal protein, creating a new avenue to protein and a truly unique segment within a category largely focused on sweet bars. These 100% grass-fed, paleo-friendly, gluten-free, low-sugar bars satisfy consumers’ desire for simple protein.”

pineapple noosa

Noosa Yoghurt​ (Aussie-style yogurt – acquired by private equity firm Advent International in Nov 2014): “Noosa Yoghurt has introduced an Australian yogurt to a category dominated by Greek, offering the same pure protein punch, but with a different take on texture and flavor.”

Califia Farms range

Califia Farms​ (healthy beverages): “Califia Farms uses uniquely shaped bottles brand is more likely to disrupt shoppers as they approach the milk and dairy alternative set.”

Justins jar

Justin’s​ (nut butters, confectionery): “Justin’s created a differentiated offer—nut butters for on-the-go—through single-serve squeezable packs. The resulting brand equity has allowed Justin’s to branch into new categories such as confections, with the introduction of Justin’s chocolate peanut butter cups.”


Theo Chocolate​ (gourmet organic chocolate): “Theo Chocolate uses white packaging to differentiate its products within the busy chocolate set.”

EVOL Foods range

EVOL Foods​ (frozen meals, snacks – acquired by Boulder Brands in Dec 2013): “EVOL stands out as another brand that is able to offer consumers the good without the bad using a well-organized supply chain and sourcing transparency. We see traditional players like Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, and Banquet declining as newer, differentiated players steal share.”


Fairlife​ (lactose-free, high-protein milk from Select Milk Producers, which teamed up with Coca-Cola in 2012 to form Fairlife, LLC with Coke as the distribution partner): “Fairlife Milk… has developed an ultra-filtered variety to offer consumers a product with 50% more protein, 30% more calcium and 50% less sugar, cutting directly to the nutritional benefits in demand.”  


Vega​ (vegan protein powders, shakes, bars): “Vega and Health Warrior have distinguished themselves from the numerous brands catering to athletes by using brand ambassadors to inspire and educate consumers around this high performance lifestyle… Vega has succeeded in standing out within the e-commerce world. Beyond unique packaging, the brand has successfully developed a Vega Store within Amazon.com, setting themselves apart from other powdered nutrition brands sold on Amazon.”

According to Seurat Group, large CPG companies have been over-reliant on sku proliferation and are struggling to create organic growth. And focusing on line extensions, pack size changes, in-and-outs, and incremental flavor innovation continues without success for two reasons, it argues:

“Firstly, Big CPG’s limited consumer scope prevents radical innovation, as these firms talk to the same category consumers over and over.

“Secondly, these firms’ organizational inflexibility stymies attempts to innovate, as they are locked into existing manufacturing processes and large systems investments and have to chase quarterly financial expectations.”

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