Curation Foods targets the plant-forward consumer: 'The future of retail is fresh,' says CEO

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Under a new name and corporate identity, Curation Foods is embracing the plant-based consumer food movement, says Molly Hemmeter
Under a new name and corporate identity, Curation Foods is embracing the plant-based consumer food movement, says Molly Hemmeter

Related tags Fresh produce Soup Plant-based foods

Curation Foods (formerly Apio) is targeting the growing plant-forward consumer base with a portfolio of five branded product lines with core ingredients being fruits and vegetables, which CEO and president of parent company Landec, Molly Hemmeter, believes sets it apart from other major companies within the plant-based food category.

“There are other 100% clean, plant-based food companies of scale, but not a lot. None of them are really focused on the core ingredients being fruits and vegetables,”​ Hemmeter told FoodNavigator-USA.

"I had noticed a strong inflection point in the number of people beginning to participate in the [plant-based] movement and it was just a few years ago that I thought it was time for another change," ​Hemmeter said. 

“We renamed our company from Apio to Curation Foods to signify the unification of all five of those brands under one corporate identity. All the brands wanted to share a mission based positioning.” 


In its proprietary market research, Curation Foods found that consumers aim to have about 70% of what they eat and drink in a given week come from plants.

"When I really started to understand this movement, I just felt like as a company we needed to evolve and serve that changing consumer behavior," ​Hemmeter said. 

Curation Foods’ product portfolio includes its flagship Eat Smart brand of fresh salad kits and vegetables, and four other plant-based brands acquired within the past two years: O Olive Oil & Vinegar, two fresh guacamole brands: Yucatan and Cabo Fresh (acquired last month for $80m), and Now Planting, a line of vegan plant-based refrigerated soups made from pureed vegetables developed internally by Curation Foods.

‘The guacamole category is on fire’

As a publicly traded company, Landec's total revenue for 2018 was $524m, $459 of which came from its natural foods business ($55m - $60m was generated by the Yucatan brand, reported Forbes​), and according to Hemmeter while the whole portfolio is expected to perform well in FY19, the company expects strong growth for its guacamole brands, Yucatan and Cabo Fresh.

“We see tremendous growth from these two brands.​ The guacamole category is on fire,”​ she said.

The guacamole category in the US is approximately $375m in consumer retail dollars and is growing at an estimated 20% year-over-year, according to IRI data for the 52-weeks ended Oct. 7, 2018.

Hemmeter added that household penetration of guacamole is an estimated 21%, signaling many more US households have yet to add guacamole into their regular grocery hauls.

Now Planting fresh plant-based soups

Developed in-house by Curation Foods, the Now Planting brand is currently being tested at Publix stores in the Southeast US and Loblaws grocery stores in Canada. Similar to a yogurt products packaged with toppings, Now Planting soups come with toppings (spiced pumpkin seeds, paprika almonds, and sunflower seeds) on top of its containers.


 ​'Innovative company of scale'

The business of fresh foods comes with its own set of logistical and operational challenges around shipping constraints and tight delivery schedules.

“In our business we have to move very fast, we have short shelf life items, and we want to be an innovative company which means we have to stay on top of trends,”​ Hemmeter said.

Being in the fresh foods business since 1979, Landec has had decades to hone its business model and its acquisition of Apio (now Curation Foods) provided the company with additional packaging technology to extend the freshness of its produce.

With a developed infrastructure of refrigerated warehouses, processing enters, and a fleet of refrigerated trucks, Curation Foods is able to service 73% of grocery retail in North America (including large national chains such as Walmart. The company's expansive refrigerated supply chain ensures fresh products go from harvest to shelf in 10-12 days. 

“I would consider us an innovative company of scale because we’re innovating and moving fast,”​ Hemmeter said.

"Our goal is to go wherever the consumer needs us to go over time. Our goal is to make fresh, plant-based food as accessible as possible."

Hemmeter explained that Curation Foods will continue targeting more retail partners in North America.

"We’re kind of retailer agnostic, we want to go where the consumer is and we’ve got a long way to go on that vision, but that’s what we’re trying to do."

The future of fresh in retail

As consumer behaviors evolve towards better-for-you food and beverage items, Hemmeter foresees continued growth in the fresh perimeter of the grocery store.

According to SPINS 2018 sales data for the 52 weeks ending April 22, 2018, the fresh perimeter of the store is growing at 2.1 times the rate of the rest of the store.

"What we found is there’s this growing need for plant-based fresh products and that over time, those retailers that refrigerated perimeter of the store are leading the industry financially. We have data to show that the refrigerated fresh section of the retail grocery store is going to need to expand in order to capture and serve the needs of the plant-forward consumer over time,"​ Hemmeter said.

The fresh perimeter of the store is where Curation Foods is placing the bulk of its portfolio. Yucatan and Cabo Fresh guacamole products can be found in the deli section and produce sections of the store, respectively.

Hemmeter acknowledges that expanding chilled and refrigerated sections of the stores is a significant investment but says more retailers recognize the value of growing their fresh food options. 

"They can’t do that overnight, that’s a big investment, but I do see the center of store declining in retail real estate as the fresh perimeter grows. And I see an evolution of the deli section and produce section coming together as the fresh perimeter,"​ Hemmeter added.


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