Beckman, who is just 21 – but has accumulated the kind of experience most entrepreneurs would kill for in her three years at the coalface of one of the fastest-growing beverage brands in the business – has also secured the kind of financial support most new food brands can only dream of (one of her first backers is technology investor Peter Thiel).
Her co-founder, 22-year old Stanford student Nina Church, also has links to Suja (her father is CEO Jeff Church), but both are acutely aware that most food entrepreneurs end up with little to show for their efforts but maxed-out credit cards and broken dreams, regardless of their connections and credentials, and that nomva has got to stand on its own two feet if their business – Phenomenal Foods - is going to make it.
By Millennials, for Millennials…
But so far, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the organic fruit pouches, says Beckman, who is hoping to disrupt the pouches category in the same way that Suja did the juice category, by offering a product with superior nutritional and organoleptic benefits.
Unlike cold pressed juice, nomva snack packs have fiber and added probiotics (Ganeden’s ultra-resilient BC30 strain), says Beckman, and by positioning them alongside yogurt, rather than apple sauce in the ambient aisles, consumers will see them differently.
“There are still not many dairy free probiotics so far so that’s a point of difference, but the fiber is also important. One of the biggest complaints about juice is that you don’t get the fiber, whereas each nomva packs have 4-5g of fiber.”
I don’t think kale and spinach should last for a year and be heated to 200 degrees
The target consumers are Millennials, says Beckman, who says her generation wants snacks that are wholesome, simple, and minimally processed with no preservatives or stuff added, but in a convenient, portable format.
And HPP is the right technology to deliver this, she says, predicting that early adopters of the 80-110 calorie snacks will be “university students, young professionals, and people that don’t want to slow down.”
As for the price (nomva packs go on sale this week in 30 stores in Southern California with an MSRP of $3.99 and are available for delivery nationwide via the website), it’s at the high end, but as Suja (which persuaded consumers to part with almost $9 for a bottle of juice in the early days) proved, people are prepared to pay for quality and convenience, she says.
“Organic produce and probiotics aren’t cheap and maintaining a cold chain from start to finish is expensive [other fruit pouches are heat treated and shelf stable], but I just don’t think kale and spinach should last for a year and be heated to 200 degrees, and with HPP you don’t lose the nutrients.”
The probiotics, meanwhile, are key to the value proposition, says Beckman, who says she went with Ganeden’s BC30 strain because it has solid science behind it and tests proved it remained intact in the pouches after they had been through the HPP process.
The claims nomva makes on the back of the BC30 strain are fairly generic – such as ‘supports digestive health’ – but caution is wise given the legal hot water firms making claims about probiotics can get into, she says. “The most interesting [potential] claim to me is that Ganeden’s probiotic strain is 10 times more effective than the live cultures in yogurt [when it comes to survival in the gut], but we’re taking things one step at a time to make sure that we communicate properly.”
The first step is a proof of concept in a local community
So what do retail buyers make of the product, which Beckman and Church trialed with students at Stanford University and pitched to shoppers in the yogurt aisle before taking to market?
While some were still unsure whether adults will snack from a pouch, Beckman says most embraced the concept immediately, although she’d like to get the price down longer-term to appeal to a wider audience.
“We haven’t had any NO’s yet. But the first step is a proof of concept in a local community.”
We will be pushing very hard to be the first recycled pouch on the market
The only drawback of the pouch format is that it is not currently recyclable, she says, although nomva – like GoGo Squeez – is working with a program called TerraCycle which enables users to mail empties off for 'upcycling'.
But this is a short-term fix, she says. “The reason they are not recyclable is because they contain a layer of foil that’s not recyclable. But the foil layer is there for heat retention, and as we are HPP processed [whereby foods or beverages are put into a high-pressure chamber that is flooded with cold water and pressurized in order to kill pathogens without heat], we don’t need that layer of foil.
“So we will be pushing very hard to be the first recycled pouch on the market.”
Nom-va: food on the go…
As for the name, it’s catchy and suitably enigmatic, but is not meaningless, says Beckman. “Nom is kind of a fun snacking word, ‘nom nom nom’, so originally we just called the product nom, but ‘va’ also means ‘to go’ in all the romance languages, so it’s effectively a ‘snack to go’ or ‘food on the go’.”