“In many ways veggies are the perfect food, because they are nutritionally dense from a vitamin and minerals standpoint, high in fiber, low in calories and sugar, and they offer uniquely different health benefits because of the nutritional profile of all of them,” Andy Reichgut, executive VP of Garden Lites, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“But,” he added, “They inherently aren’t easy to make taste great, like fruit, which is why many Americans don’t eat enough of them.”
In fact, he said, only one in 10 Americans eats the daily recommended amount vegetables – a statistic that Garden Lites thinks it can improve, and in doing so also improve the country’s obesity and health care crisis.
One way the company is doing this is by showing Americans how vegetables can taste good in both products that don’t resemble vegetables and in ones that showcase the produce front and center.
“We have debated with ourselves a lot,” whether it is better to hide vegetables and trick people into eating them, or whether it is better to place them front and center, and “the reality is, we don’t think there is a right answer – we think both are fine.”
To that end, the company created a line of frozen muffins that that are non-GMO, gluten-free and feature zucchini and carrots as the first ingredients – yet the sensation is of a decadent chocolate muffin, Reichgut said.
“Yes, we hide the flavor of zucchini and carrots in our chocolate muffin, but we are also showing people how vegetables can be used to make a chocolate muffin taste great. The zucchini adds tremendous moisture and the carrots add sweetness,” he said.
Another example of the company showing Americans the versatility of vegetables is its veggie-packed waffles.
“We know Americans love waffles. They eat billions of dollars’ worth of waffles a year. But there is no reason that waffles can’t be healthy,” Reichgut said. “So, we created a waffle that is non-GMO, gluten-free and also has butternut squash and carrots as the first two ingredients. The butternut squash and carrots give it sweetness and that nice golden color.”
But the company isn’t just about hiding vegetables, Reichgut said. “We also celebrate veggies.”
For example, the company’s new line of superfood veggie cakes, which are available in two flavors – vegetable blend and kale and quinoa – “are kind of like a savory muffin, but the primary ingredients are veggies. They are 40% vegetables and it really celebrates how great vegetables can taste,” he said.
Another example is the company’s new Superfood Mac & Cheese, which is made with red lentil pasta and blends butternut squash, cauliflower and kale into the sauce for a healthy twist on an American classic comfort food.
“We are showing how you can take a traditional type of food that just isn’t healthy by itself – pasta and cheese is not inherently nutritious – but if you can include vegetables into it in a way that not only makes it healthier but actually taste better, then it is a real win-win,” Reichgut said.
Reflecting on the new products and the company’s mission, Reichgut jokes that the new products are “a gateway food into loving vegetables for the rest of your life.”
The power of veggies extends to financials
The company’s dual approach to feeding Americans more veggies obviously is working, based on its “wildfire” growth in the past two years.
“Year-to-date in 2017 our sales are up 60% and in 2016 we grew at over 30%, and the drivers of that growth are really two things: one is we have the highest repeat rates we have seen … and two is consumers who try one of our products are excited to try our other ones,” Reichgut said.
Citing proprietary data from an external source, he said people who buy Garden Lites products are three times more likely to buy them again in six months than the average consumer product.
“People are repeating through the roof. And we also know if they like one product, they are likely to try another one we make,” which gave the company the confidence to create and launch so many new products at once, he said.
It also is giving retailors confidence in stocking the products as the company’s distribution continues to grow, he added.
“We have been able to grow our distribution tremendously and we are super excited about the new items we launched. We have had great acceptance from retailors and we think this is just the tip of the iceberg from here in terms of our growth,” he said.