Modern Table Meals started as a solution for busy parents who wanted to serve food that they’ll feel good serving to their family.
“We would try to serve them healthy things, but they wouldn’t eat it. And then we’d serve them everything kids eat, like pizza and mac and cheese, and we didn’t feel good about it,” Jamie Thomas, deliciousness director of the brand, told FoodNavigator-USA.
That was the context of their brand’s conception. “[We needed] something that is healthy, and in a format that everyone in the family would like, so what’s better than pasta? Everybody likes it, and everybody knows what it is,” she said, adding that pasta is 'friendly' for consumers, especially families and kids.
They looked at vegetables, fruits, grains, and pulses. “We looked at them for their intrinsic, healthy profile, and we thought: Beans are the perfect fit,” she added.
A treasure trove of things
According to Thomas, because beans are high in protein, high in fiber, and contain potassium and folate, “we thought, let’s do something with beans in pasta form.” But this was all three years ago, before the consumer craze for bean-based products kicked off.
Finding bean flour, at the time, was like a treasure hunt, let alone finding a facility that could make the product according to their specifications. “But that [problem] has gone away with all the industry growth,” she said. “We had some pretty epic failures,” Thomas chuckled. “But we also came up with some really good products—and we found that beans were especially well fitted to make pasta.”
What they have now is pasta with a texture just like wheat pasta, but with the very mild earthy flavour of lentils and beans.
The product finally made it to shelves in 2014 in a form that the company calls 'meal kits,' a convenient packet of dried pasta that serves four along with dried vegetables and sauces, a format chosen to cater to busy households.
Partnering with the natural channel giant
“We started in natural and specialty, and we started with a national acceptance at Whole Foods,” Thomas said. Their first shipment went to Whole Foods, and they partnered with them to bring the product to market for the first time.
The brand has now grown to include 13 SKUs. Eight of these are meal kits: Cheddar Broccoli, Creamy mushroom, Homestyle mac & Cheese, Italian, Mediterranean, Pesto, Southwest, and Teriyaki. The other five are plain pasta: Confetti, Lentil Elbows, Lentil Penne, Lentil Rotini, and Mixed Lentil Penne.
“We expanded to just the pastas because there is also something interesting to make it [our] own,” Thomas said. It was designed for the consumer that has more time, or want to get all the health benefits of bean pasta while personalizing its taste.
The products can now be bought at Whole Foods and Target nationally, as well as online, for around $6.99 for the meal kit and $5.99 for plain pasta. The company is revving up its distribution, and flavour development continues non-stop. Thomas said that to succeed in a category that is gaining momentum, delivering something new constantly and working closely with retailers is key.
“Most consumers, when they go grocery shopping, they don’t think of bean pasta,” she said. In-store demos have been the greatest way to create awareness, she added, as shoppers can directly sample the unexpected flavour combinations, finding both something familiar and something new.