“Our goal at Rollin Greens is to create healthy foods in the freezer, which for us we see as nature’s pause button so you don’t need fillings and binders and batters or high levels of sodium or to conduct a science experiment,” said Lindsey Cunningham, who along with her husband co-founded Rollin Greens first as a food truck and catering business and now as an emerging CPG company.
But in order to do this, she said, the young company needs to overcome several hurdles – all of which require more funding than the duo currently has on hand.
With this in mind, the young company is raising $500,000 in convertible notes that will automatically convert in 2020 – a move that allows it to access the funds immediately, even as it continues to reach out to potential investors.
Cunningham said the company’s “absolutely best scenario” would be to find additional investors who would also be strategic partners with which it could potentially do an equity round in the future once the company’s early innovation is thoroughly seeded.
At this stage in the fundraise, Cunningham acknowledges “it is a hard sell” because the company is still so young and the amount they need is less than what many venture capitalists seek to invest. But she is confident that the company’s current products and upcoming innovations – including new SKUs as well as a new approach to consumer outreach and distribution – will help win over those who are willing to invest as little as $25,000 by next May.
Bringing consumers back to the frozen aisle
With about a quarter of the fundraising goal already achieved, Rollin Greens is acting fast to use the new funds to overcome the many challenges it faces – starting with the consumer perception that frozen isn’t as healthy as what is available on the perimeter of the store.
“Many of the main brands that run the freezer set are filled with high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, palm oil, sodium” and ingredients that are not nutritionally dense, Cunningham said. “As a result, many people have stayed on the outskirts of the store thinking that is where the freshest food is available, but now Millennials are looking for foods that they can heat up in five minutes, or for us 12-15 minutes, but which also are really hearty and nutritionally dense meals or snacks. So, they are looking back in the freezer section for products that are organic, gluten free and plant-based – all of which our Millet Tots are.”
She explained that the brand’s Millet Tots are a better-for-you alternative to potato-based tots in that they have a lower glycemic index so they don’t spike consumers’ energy and they have more of the nutrients that people want today, like high protein and fiber.
Plus, she said, the Millet Tots also have sensory benefits over potato-based products because they stay crispy and “never get soggy like a traditional tot.”
In addition, she said, millet is versatile and “acts like a sponge” to absorb and enhance the other flavors it is combined with – making the company’s current three SKUs more dynamic than conventional offerings.
Overcoming negative stereotypes about ‘healthy’
The next barrier Rollin Greens is using the funds to overcome is the consumer perception that ‘healthy’ food will taste like cardboard. One way the company is addressing this is by revamping its packaging to emphasize how its tots are “mouthwatering,” rather than focusing so heavily on their health attributes, Cunningham said.
“For the first three years we had the same packaging for the tots, which was great, but was very ‘natural’ looking, and we wanted to reach more consumers and have more taste appeal,” she said.
The company ditched the previously used illustrations, which consumers said made the product “look like it was going to taste healthy and by healthy they meant like cardboard,” Cunningham said. Instead, the boxes now feature a “mouthwatering” photo of the tots that aims to pull consumers in on taste, rather than the ingredient deck, she explained.
The company also added ‘ancient grain’ as a modifier for millet across the top of the boxes in order to tap into growing consumer awareness of and demand for heritage grains, and as a way to explain to consumers what millet is, Cunningham said.
“We also used brighter colors so you can see the products on store shelves more easily,” and simplified the front label to include just a few key callouts, including USDA organic, gluten-free and vegan, she said.
Innovating beyond millet
While millet is at the foundation of Rollin Green’s current portfolio, the company is looking to expand beyond the grain to “take on the freezer category as a whole” with other products, Cunningham said.
She explained that the company is developing two new flavors of millet tots, but it also is developing meat substitutes and appetizers. These products, in addition to being vegan and gluten-free will also be nut-free – a sticking point for some vegan products that use nuts in their vegan cheese alternatives, she explained.
“The bottom line is we want to create tasty, nutrient-rich, whole plant-based foods across the frozen category,” she said.
With a new look and new products, the company is ready to expand its distribution, which the funds will support, Cunningham said.
“We have seen significant growth over the past year and a half and we are now in more than 1,200 stores and there are a lot more coming with Target coming in May and we just got into Albertsons Safeway,” she said.
In addition, the company is targeting its product at foodservice as a better-for-you alternative not only to potato-based tater tots or French fries, but as a gluten free alternative to croutons for salads, she said.