Hippeas founder: 'This could be a $100m brand in the next three to five years'
While most food entrepreneurs spend the first year after launch trying to keep their heads above water, Bisterzo secured space in 20,000+ stores on both sides of the Atlantic, persuaded Leonardo DiCaprio (among other high-profile investors) to write him a check, and proved that adding a new twist (chickpeas) to a familiar product (extruded snacks) could create a sizeable new segment in the fiercely competitive salty snacks aisle.
“It’s been a frankly incredible few months, we're going to do almost a million this month and I think September will be our first million-dollar month,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
"We think we can achieve $25-30m next year."
He added: “We’ve done more than 1,000 demos this year, and we’ve got a 39% conversion ratio, so almost every other consumer that tries it, buys it. We’ve got more followers on social media than brands that have been around for years, and we have a 3x, 4x engagement ratio every time we post, so it’s very exciting. We’ve got a brand that really connects with consumers.”
Execution is the name of the game
While great branding has really helped encourage trial (“the pack does a lot of work for us,” he says) Bisterzo is keenly aware of the risks of spreading yourself too thinly, and says high-quality execution is the name of the game.
“It’s a combination of things, we do some DSD, we’ve started working with Snyder’s Lance now, and we’ve got full time field managers in every major market now, brand ambassadors, demo programs, merchandising and so on to really drive velocity.”
And it’s paying off: “Velocity has really grown over the past six-eight months in natural and conventional. We’re already one of the fastest turning extruded snacks in the natural channel, even with a relatively small ACV, beating brands with an ACV or 70, 80. We’ve brought something new and fresh to the category and over the next six months we’re also going into club, Target and convenience channels.”
I think next year we could probably do $5m on Amazon
While the bright yellow packaging has been integral to the explosive success of Hippeas - which Bisterzo has always seen as a mainstream brand that just happens to be a bit healthier than competing extruded snacks – the team has made some minor changes to incorporate feedback from customers and end consumers, he said.
“We’ve added color blocking at the bottom of the packs to show the different flavors and we added a picture of the puffs [so consumers know what’s inside]. We’re also transitioning our single-serve packs from 1oz to 1.5oz and next year we’re launching an almost 8oz bag for Target and an 18oz pack for Costco, plus six-bag multipacks that will launch first at Whole Foods. We’ve also improved three of our flavors.”
Hippeas gluten-free organic puffs– which are manufactured by co-packers in the US and in Ireland – require specialized extrusion equipment and are crunchier than extruded corn snacks, with an appealing nutritional profile (3g fiber, 4g protein and 130 calories per 28g/1oz serving).
While Hippeas has sold 2.3million single serve bags in Starbucks over the past 12 months, the larger 4oz bags are now the principle growth engine at Hippeas, which is also doing a significant amount of business via Amazon, said Bisterzo.
“I think next year we could probably do $5m on Amazon, which is pretty amazing, so we’re building our own dot.com [online shopping platform] now.
"The ecommerce opportunity is really transforming our business in a very positive way and in our business plan for 2018 we want to be a digitally led food company.”
Hippeas is the first product to emerge from Los Angeles-based Green Park Brands, a holding company founded in 2015 by Italian entrepreneur Livio Bisterzo, who is best known for developing the high-end men’s skincare line Kyoku for Men and turning the Danish tea and juice brand Little Miracles into one of the fastest-growing brands in the category.
Longer-term the company will look to develop a portfolio of better-for-you brands developed in-house and by other entrepreneurial start-ups, says Bisterzo, who recently teamed up with UK-based sparkling water brand Ugly to help support the brand's US launch on the east coast, scheduled for later this year/early next year.
As for international expansion, Hippeas has just secured significant listings in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda - the top three food retailers in the UK, in September/October – following its success in Boots and Waitrose, and is fielding requests for the product from distributors across mainland Europe, although right now it is focusing primarily on the US and the UK, he said.
“It’s pretty clear that this could be a 100-million-dollar brand in the next three to five years.”
One of the three trailblazers at FoodNavigator-USA’s FOOD VISION USA event in 2016 (pictured left), Hippeas has teamed up with charity Farm Africa to strike a deal whereby for each pack sold, Hippeas will donate a portion of sales to support farmers in eastern Africa.