“For an 18-month old company [nutpods is owned by Green Grass Foods Inc] to be in the top-30 highest selling SKUs in all grocery on Amazon, it’s just remarkable. I’m up there with Cheezits and Coke, which is just unheard of for such a young brand. We’ve got more reviews than Coffee Mate and what’s interesting is that we have a very wide audience, we’ve got people in their 20s and in their 60s.”
And while 800 pound gorillas such as Nestlé are now offering almond and coconut creamers under the Coffee Mate Natural Bliss brand, WhiteWave has launched similar products under the SO Delicious and Silk brands, and Califia Farms has recently unveiled Betterhalf, a new range of almondmilk and coconut cream-based alternatives to dairy half and half that most directly competes with nutpods from a formulation perspective, Haydon says she is not worried about being squeezed out of the market.
“There are differences in packaging; when we launched, we wanted to look different to the other brands, which were typically in the traditional gable top milk cartons or in PET. And there are differences in formulation; we are unsweetened, and nutpods can be used as a replacement for half and half in cooking, not just for coffee. Most of the other brands also don’t offer almond and coconut cream together [although Califia’s Betterhalf now offers this combination].
“But we’re not relying purely on the formulation as our point of difference,” added Haydon, who was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after securing a $1.2m Series A funding round via CircleUp featuring investors including Stray Dog Capital and Whole30 co-founder Melissa Hartwig, that will help nutpods support its growth across multiple platforms.
NON DAIRY CREAMERS: “People had really been stuck with the same options since the 1980s with Coffee Mate (Nestle) and International Delight (WhiteWave Foods), and then everything changed.”
Madeline Haydon, founder and CEO, Green Grass Foods Inc (nutpods)
Features and formulations can be duplicated; brands can’t
She added: “This is where my MBA really kicked in, although I also had some really great advisors early on that told me, ‘Whatever you make, it can’t just be about whatever features you have, because features can be duplicated. Someone else will come out with an almond coconut creamer, or an unsweetened version. So you have to have consumers really connect with nutpods, to have an experience with nutpods.’
“So yes, I’m facing some stiff competition from huge brands and big food companies, but that’s not how consumers are buying these days, you can see from all the sales data that big food brands are struggling, that people are buying products that have a brand story that consumers can relate to.”
She adds: “Our customers read labels, certifications are important to them, and they are gravitating away from big food brands and towards challenger brands like ours. We’re giving the big brands a good run for their money. It’s a $3bn segment and the growth is really coming from more natural, nut-based brands like ours.”
"Amazon has been an amazing channel for us; there are metrics you can get [from Amazon] that you just can’t get from syndicated data and from the grocery stores...
"I know from the Amazon orders how often people are buying nutpods, what my repeat customer rate is, and how often they buy. I can’t know any of these things from stores; all I know from stores is that my numbers are going up."
Madeline Haydon, founder and CEO, Green Grass Foods Inc (nutpods)
Amazon has been an amazing channel for us
As for the channel strategy, starting online (nutpods is available via Amazon.com, Jet.com, the nutpods website and other online brands) helped Haydon not only understand her customer base better, but how to plan her bricks and mortar strategy.
“Amazon allowed me in the first instance to get that quick validation from consumers about what they liked about my products, but I’ll tell you, Amazon has been an amazing channel for us; there are metrics you can get [from Amazon] that you just can’t get from syndicated data and from the grocery stores.
“For example, I know my top three states from Amazon sales are California, New York, and Florida, so that helps me set a hierarchy on setting up my distribution.
“I also know from the Amazon orders how often people are buying nutpods, what my repeat customer rate is, and how often they buy. I can’t know any of these things from stores; all I know from stores is that my numbers are going up. And so the depth you can get and the segmenting, so what’s the ratio of males vs female [buyers]? What else are they buying in their Amazon basket? It’s really valuable data for a young brand.”
INGREDIENTS [Original Unsweetened nutpods]: Purified water, coconut cream, almonds, natural flavors. Contains less than 2% of acacia gum, sunflower lecithin, dipotassium phosphate, gellan gum, sea salt.
The gums add texture, while the sunflower lecithin serves as an emulsifier to stop the fat in the nuts separating out, says Madeline Haydon, founder and CEO, nutpods. The dipotassium phosphate serves as an acidity regulator:
“The challenge is in part that you’re adding something alkaline [creamer] to something acidic [coffee], so the curdling you can see is in part a pH reaction, so if you add homemade almond milk to coffee, you’d have the same reaction. The dipotassium phosphate helps modulate the pH.
“We’re worked so hard to get a balanced mouthfeel and creaminess; we went through something like 28 different we’re not bulletproof, and people understand that with a more natural product you’re going to make some concessions, just as people understand that there will be some settling in fresh juices, for example.”
We are looking to aggressively expand our distribution this year
Foodservice - hotels, coffee shops, restaurants - is also a growth opportunity, said Haydon, who has been working with chefs, coffee roasters and restaurateurs interested in featuring a high-quality dairy-free creamer.
As for bricks & mortar grocery stores, nutpods started in the natural and specialty channel on the coasts at chains including Whole Foods, PCC Natural Markets, New Seasons, and Jimbo’s, but is also performing well in more conventional retailers such as Haggen, she added.
“Now we know people love the product and are looking for the product [in grocery stores], we are looking to aggressively expand our distribution this year.”
“I have yet to see any product go as viral as nutpods with my Whole30 community. People are bringing their containers to their local coffee shops, sharing it with friends and featuring it in their Instagram posts."
Melissa Hartwig, co-founder, Whole30 [and nutpods investor]