The colorful snacks – which utilize technology similar to that deployed in its frozen bites (which have a shell made from sodium alginate from brown seaweed) have been test-marketed in 45 Roche Bros stores in Massachusetts, CEO Kevin Murphy told FoodNavigator-USA.
"We're super-excited about this and it was a big success in the trial. It looks like a grape, and the texture inside is like a grape, and it's a perfect kids snack, merchandised in the produce section, but it's in a sealed pack, preservative-free with a 120-day shelf life in the refrigerator. The snacks are shiny-looking, but with a smooth ‘skin,’ so there's no mess, and they are ideal for children.
"We want to be ready for the back to school season 2018, and we've got to bring in customized equipment, so the aim is to launch in August 2018. We think we can improve on the packaging [vs what was used in the test market] and we're still working on the branding,"added Murphy, who came out of retirement to join Incredible Foods as CEO two years ago.
“I first came across David Edwards and the other people behind the company when one of the VC firms asked me to take a look as part of a consulting review. At the time they were focused on a caffeine product [AeroShot – an innovative – if misunderstood – product, which prompted a warning letter from the FDA] but it quickly became clear early on that it wasn’t going to take on 5-hour Energy.
“It was different [as a delivery mechanism for caffeine], but there was no real benefit to the difference, in my personal opinion.”
More retailers are putting in entire dairy-free doors in the frozen aisle
But while ‘breathable’ caffeine did not light his fire, some other things the company was working on immediately got his entrepreneurial juices flowing, recalled Murphy.
“My consulting partner Jud Horner [now chief marketing officer at Incredible Foods] and I were hanging out in the lab and chatting to the R&D people and they showed us some of the other things they were working on involving their microencapsulation technology, with frozen ice cream, yogurts, fruit and vegetable purees and so on, and we just looked at each other and said - there is really something there.
“We looked at the potential applications and thought we could really have an impact in dairy-free ice cream – but go one step further - by avoiding all the big eight allergens, because around 15 million households in this country have a family member with a food allergy or intolerance and another 17 million looking for free-from foods.
“More and more retailers are putting in entire dairy-free doors in the frozen category, so I was persuaded to come out of retirement at a way-too-advanced age, and take over as CEO.”
But how different are the Perfectly Free bites to mochi (ice cream surrounded by chewy rice dough)?
According to Murphy, who recently raised $18m to support the brand's growth and invest in new manufacturing capabilities [the products are made in-house owing to their proprietary nature]: “The texture and experience of our bites is completely different. We’ve got several patents on how the products are formulated and processed and our equipment is custom-made.
"They’re portion-controlled, you’ve only got 25-30 calories per bite, and they really creamy. When we pitch this to retailers and they try it, they can’t believe the taste. Our repeat rate is running north of 70%."
INGREDIENTS (Perfectly Free cocoa & vanilla bites: Water, Coconut Cream, Sugar, Rice Syrup Solids, Cocoa Powder, Contains Less Than 2% Of Dutched Cocoa Powder, Guar Gum, Natural Flavors, Sodium Alginate, Vanilla Extract
Students love them
Today, Perfectly Free frozen bites – which launched in late May 2016 (eight per pack) - are in 4,000 stores in the northeast, a number likely to rise to 6,000 by April; while the brand’s recently-launched dairy-free pints are being tested in selected stores on the east coast.
Grab & go four-packs are also rolling out on college campuses and a broker has been brought on to explore the opportunity in club stores, he said.
“Students love them. You can split a four-pack and have two each and that’s only 50-60 calories. What’s also exciting is that unlike most frozen novelties, we’re not a seasonal product, the velocity is good all year around.”