“We’re looking at a May 1 launch. The whole mug cake phenomenon is exploding. [To make a Foodstirs mug cake, you add water, stir, microwave for a minute, and you have a hot cake].
"It started about five years ago when some legacy brands tried to launch a version of a mugcake and consumers weren’t there yet, but in the last couple of years it’s really taken off. Duncan Hines launched a mug cake mix and in 18 months they turned it into a $35m business.
“Mugcakes work really well for Foodstirs as our DNA is all about convenience, ultra-clean ingredients, and amazing taste experience, and then being able to customize. So if you want to turn up the indulgence, you can, or you can add functionality by adding protein powder [see more ideas from Foodstirs via #mugology].”
If a baking mix seems like an odd SKU for a coffee chain dedicated to immediate consumption, Starbucks will merchandise the mixes (which will be sold in Starbucks, c-stores, drugstores and foodservice outlets in single-serve pouches with an SRP of $2.45-$2.99, and in 4-packs in online and grocery channels) next to coffee mugs in its gifting section, said Fleishman.
“We’ve been talking to Starbucks for a while. They are very progressive and open minded and always want to deliver an amazing experience to their guests and they were really excited about a minute mug cake."
The rapid growth of Foodstirs – which spent most of 2017 in around 400 stores before a surge of interest from retailers propelled it into almost 8,000 doors by the year end - proves you can disrupt a category dominated by legacy brands (Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines) by offering mainstream products and flavor profiles (chocolate chip cookies, sweet vanilla cake) that appeal to a generation of consumers that want to cook - as evidenced by the growth of meal kits - but also want to vote with their wallets by choosing brands which align with their values, argued Fleishman.
And while having Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the team (cofounder and chief creative officer Sarah Michele Gellar is a powerful brand advocate with 666k twitter followers and 1.9m Instagram followers) hasn’t hurt, Foodstirs' success also shows you don’t always have to chase gluten-free, Paleo, keto, plant-based or other on-trend buzzwords to succeed in the food industry, he observed.
"At a basic level, all of our products are organic, the price points are accessible, and they taste amazing. They are also really easy to make.
“Last year, retailers started contacting us and the brand just took off. We’re the fastest growing organic baking mix brand in the US and by the end of the year we anticipate being the #1 and largest organic baking line [ahead of King Arthur].”
Fair trade chocolate, biodynamic cane sugar, heirloom identity preserved flour
So what’s the secret to Foodstirs’ success?
The baking mix category has evolved in recent years following the emergence of brands such as Simple Mills and Enjoy Life Foods (allergy-friendly), Scratch & Grain Baking Co (select products are organic, gluten free) Miss Jones (organic), but Foodstirs has gone a step further with its commitment to clean labels and socially and environmentally conscious sourcing policies that extend beyond certified organic to fair trade chocolate, biodynamic cane sugar, and heirloom ‘identity preserved’ flour, he claimed.
More importantly, through a series of long-term direct sourcing partnerships it’s also been able to do this without making its products inaccessible (Foodstirs baking mixes typically retail at around $4.99-$5.99), he added.
The cocoa used in Foodstirs products is from a leading fair trade supplier in South America and is SPP-certified*, ensuring better pay and working conditions for small producers; the white winter ‘heirloom’ flour it uses can be traced back to US farms in Colorado that grow wheat without tilling the soil; and the cane sugar it uses (from Wholesome) is certified biodynamic** by Demeter and sourced from Paraguay.
But do consumers understand – or really care – what ‘biodynamic’ cane sugar is all about, and do they want heirloom flour as well as tomatoes? And what do they make of ‘regenerative agriculture,’ a term Fleishman acknowledges many industry stakeholders are still struggling to articulate and define, never mind consumers?
Right now, he said, it’s fair to say that most consumers are likely pretty confused by the plethora of logos starting to appear on food labels, but if the net result is that they pay more attention to the basic principles behind regenerative agriculture – that you should try to leave the land in a better state than you found it, and that the best farms are self-sustaining livings organisms where all parts connect to each other – that’s a good thing.
It’s also interesting to see the media talk about regenerative agriculture and soil health as if it’s a brand new idea, given that it’s a concept that’s been around for decades and has been key to the biodynamic certification scheme developed by Demeter - a biodynamic certifying body of which Fleishman is a board member – for years, said Fleishman.
But that said, it’s up to brands such as Foodstirs to try to make sense of all this for consumers, he conceded.
“Our job is to educate people and find more effective ways to communicate the benefits of regenerative farming practices.”
*The SPP or small producers symbol (Símbolo de Pequeños Productores) is backed by an independent certification system, guaranteeing consumers that products come from self-managing organizations of small producers, and that they have been produced in line with criteria for economic, social, cultural and ecological sustainability, and commercialized under fair conditions.
** The Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard reflects the biodynamic principle of the farm as a living organism: self-contained and self-sustaining. It addresses soil fertility management, crop protection, greenhouse management, animal welfare, and the use of the preparations. A minimum of 10% of total farm acreage must also set-aside as a biodiversity preserve.