While many food start-ups gravitate towards snacks and beverages, Revolution Foods began right at the center of the plate, and was very clear about its mission from the outset, co-founder Kirsten Saenz Tobey told FoodNavigator-USA: “To transform the way America eats by providing access to healthy, affordable meals… and build lifelong healthy eaters by making kid-inspired, chef-crafted food accessible to all.”
And if navigating the school food landscape – and the evolving standards – is not for the faint-hearted, and budgets are notoriously tight, it’s the obvious place to start if you want to really change how kids eat, she added.
“I think for some companies that have been around for a long time, it was tough to meet the standards and they had to make really drastic changes, whereas we were really working to these standards almost from the beginning. Getting in more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, thinking about nutrient density, as well as avoiding artificial colors and flavors.
“But it’s also about developing well-balanced culturally relevant menus and giving children food that’s recognizable, but with a healthier profile, and using high quality ingredients, higher integrity versions of what they are used to.”
We’re in more than 4,000 retail locations now but expect a dramatic increase in the next two years
The packaged food business – comprising noodle cups, granola bites, snack bundles and lunch bundles, new Breakfast Hero frozen pancake mixes (thaw, pour, cook - $3.99) and Dinner Hero meal kits containing a grain, sauce and spice packet (just add protein - $4.99-5.99 to serve four people) – only started three years ago, and was born out of conversations with kids and parents about the options in schools.
“We’re in more than 4,000 locations now but expect to see a dramatic increase over the next couple of years,” added Tobey, who says the company has raised more than $100m from investors over the past decade, including Revolution Growth, DBL Investment Partners, The Westly Group, Collaborative Fund, Emerson Collective, NewSchools Venture Fund and Pao Capital.
Founded by Kristin Groos Richmond (left) and Kirsten Saenz Tobey (right), Oakland, CA-based Revolution Foods creates meals that meet the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act requirements under the National School Lunch Program and Child Adult Care Food Program guidelines, which allow school meals to be reimbursable. It has also developed a retail line of packaged foods available in more than 4,000 stores nationwide.
We wanted to make more affordable meal kits, without all the packaging
As with the schools business, the retail business is focusing on breakfast, lunch and dinner, so busy families have convenient options for every meal, she said: “As we’ve seen from the explosion in meal kits, people want to cook, but they want to make things easy and convenient, and we wanted to do something more affordable, without all the packaging, that you can still customize.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge at this stage for the retail business, which is growing fast, is raising awareness, which is tough when you are spread in some many different parts of the store (frozen breakfast products, chilled grab & Go - for the noodle pots, shelf-stable meal kits, and so on), said Tobey.
"We're a brand that's spans multiple categories and we're in frozen, ambient and chilled food, which makes life difficult, but what we're trying to do is build a whole platform, a brand that parents and children trust in terms of the quality of the ingredients, the flavor profile, and the convenience, wherever they see it in the store, but it's going to take time.
“One of the challenges for the meal kits and lunchables is that people don’t know where our products are in the store, and people thinking about what to have for lunch aren’t necessarily shopping that aisle, so it’s a marketing challenge."