If this sounds like something that would appeal to only a niche audience, think again as the company’s Real Good Pizza, which is made with a proprietary antibiotic and preservative-free parmesan chicken crust, expanded into 1,200 Walmart stores nationwide in late January.
This is on top of the more than 5,000 conventional and specialty stores at which it already is sold, including Kroger, Fred Meyer, QFC, The Vitamin Shoppe and others. In addition, the product has broad distribution online through Amazon and the company’s own ecommerce website.
The company’s fast-growing distribution can be attributed in part to demand from its large, loyal following on social media. This includes 123,000 followers on Instagram and 105,000 followers on Facebook, including consumers ranging from those managing diabetes or following the Keto diet to everyday moms looking for fast meal solutions, according to Bryan Freeman, the company’s CEO.
“Everything this company does is rooted first with the consumer and what the consumer needs, and for sure people are looking to reduce their carbohydrate and sugar intake and also increase their protein,” but early attempts to do this in the much-loved pizza segment fell flat, he said.
“In the early days, companies used fiber and protein isolates to boost protein and reduce carbohydrates, but those just did not deliver something that tasted really good,” he said. Similarly, he noted that gluten-free options made with starches and rice flour were too high in carbohydrates to make eating them “worth it” for many shoppers.
Ultimately, he added, Read Good Food Co. landed on a blend of chicken and parmesan as an option that met consumers’ dietary needs and tasted good.
“If you think about it, a lot of our favorite foods are made out of chicken. And chicken is a really clean, beautiful protein that tastes good, delivers a lot of flavor and actually can be done in ways that are unexpected,” Freeman added. It also helps boost the crust up to a whopping 25 grams of protein per serving while also restricting carbs to just 4 grams.
But the company didn’t stop at just adding chicken to the crust. It adds pepperoni and sausage on top with veggies and cheese for its Three Cheese, Pepperoni and Supreme options. In addition, it offers three breakfast pizzas that are topped with bacon, pepperoni or sausage.
The high protein and low carb count of the pizzas does come with a trade-off in that the crusts are not as crispy, crunchy and chewy as grain-based options, Freeman said. But, he said for the company’s “crispy connoisseur consumers, we tell them after heating the item in the oven, preferably, or microwave, if you flash heat it on a hot skillet for just a minute and a half to two minutes, you will get the bottom of the crust real crispy.”
A strategy for success
Given the products’ novelty and entrance into highly competitive and much-loved categories, the company knew it would need to convince consumers – at least at first – to try its unique approach to pizza and enchiladas. It also knew it would need to prove to retailers that consumers would buy the products more than just once as an experiment.
A key way the company did this was by first building up its ecommerce business through a loyal following on social media, where fans’ praises would be echoed exponentially through their social networks, Freeman said.
To do this, Freeman said, companies need to view social media as a “two-way street for communication,” and earn consumers’ trust by answering their questions and responding to every comment within a few hours.
“A lot of companies see social media as a way to sell more product, and of course that can be a result, but if that is your primary motivation, I think you won’t have the success you are looking for,” he said. Instead, “it needs to be based off of being authentic and having a real relationship.”
By focusing first on ecommerce and social media, the company was able to learn a lot about what shoppers thought of its product and could make adjustments based on early feedback.
“From there, we went to specialty retail and then after being successful there going into mass retail. That order of progression helps companies create meaningful items that retailers can authorize with confidence and know that there is a built in following of people who are really deeply about the brand and item,” Freeman said.
He also cautioned young companies about going the other way and building up distribution first before focusing on a consumer base because that could result in stocking commitments that are larger than velocity, which in turn can create cash flow challenges.
He also advised startups to stay true to who they are and the original product they offer because once business starts to take off retailers and other players will come forward with different ideas for growth, but not all of them will succeed because not all with fit with the company’s ethos and consumers’ expectations of their products.
Following this same strategy, Freeman says consumers who love the Real Good Food brand can expect new products in adjacent categories that deliver on the company’s same core promise of providing unexpected options made from real ingredients that a normal person would have in the kitchen pantry and which taste delicious.