The increase of refrigerated tortillas has had a positive domino effect, according to Hannah Kullberg, co-founder of The Better Bean Company. In the brand’s early days, retailers didn’t have a dedicated area to refrigerate beans, placing Better Bean products by hummus and dip when in fact it was designed to compete against canned beans.
That has changed. “Stores are doing more and more of their own fresh prepared guacamole and fresh prepared salsa… there are awesome new tortillas that are in the refrigerated set, so that set is building up as well, it’s not just ours alone,” Kullberg told FoodNavigator-USA.
A growing natural foot print, with hurdles in conventional
Store count went from 1,000 at the beginning of 2016 to around 1,400 stores in 44 states today. “Our distribution access to communities has grown a lot,” she added. Containers of Better Bean products are now found in Fresh Markets and three more Whole Foods regions.
Last year the company had national distribution with Safeway, but that has fallen through. “Our Safeway deal happened sort of quickly…at a time of change within Safeway as an organization,” she explained. “We’re still in Safeway in the Seattle area but nationwide we’re no longer [there]. It really was all for the best because we weren’t at a stage where we were ready to work with such a conventional account.”
Instead, the company has focused on expanding in specialty and natural channel stores. “We got into Ralph's [owned by Kroger] in Southern California and that’s a more comfortable space for us—they’re placing us in more upscale stores near colleges, stores that carry a lot of vegetarian options so they already have a client base there,” she said.
“[With conventional], it was hard for us as a brand to manage because we have less insight into what happens at the store level. But now with Safeway’s regional approach, it’s a much healthier relationship and easier for us to manage.”
‘Love the beans, hate the tub’: Listening to fans on social media
The company revealed new packaged design at Expo West back in March of this year. “We as a company so appreciate and listen to our fan base, so our number one complaint was not really about the product itself, it was always about the container we have.”
One online comment that particularly stuck with Kullberg was ‘Love the beans, hate the tub.’ “The lid would either pop open in people’s bags and spill, or would break completely and people can’t get into their product, so we were very keen on making a change so our core customers could feel better.”
The new package is still rectangular like the original, but now has an inner plastic seal and then an overlid so it reseals for storage, and is fully recyclable. It added a lot of versatility for new product development as well, such as smaller sizes and bigger sizes.
A boost from the International Year of Pulses
Kullberg said that it wasn’t just increased refrigereated Tex-Mex staples that brought more awareness to her company’s products; it was also increase awareness around pulses (beans, lentils, peas) in general, thanks to the United Nation’s designation of 2016 as the International Year of Pulses.
“The fact that, in that time period, a lot more bean-based products have been coming out. So those companies are doing the same thing we’re doing, we’re all part of the same cause, mission to communicate the amazing health benefits of beans,” she added.
“So as people get curious eating bean chips, they’ll become more interested to eat Better Bean, or bean pasta, or eat bean pasta with Better Bean! It’s not super tangible, but I think people are more open."