Like many early-stage food and beverage startups, kencko started with a personal problem founder and CEO Tomás Froes had.
"A few years ago I was diagnosed with acute gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) and doctors told me I had to take pills for the rest of my life," Froes told FoodNavigator-USA.
Froes discovered the positive effect that switching to a nearly plant-based diet with no dairy, little-to-no meat, and lots of fruits and vegetables, had on his health.
According to Froes, after he started focusing on getting five servings of fruits and vegetables per day he was able to stop taking his gastritis medication and his stomach acidity issues subsided. But Froes quickly ran into a convenience issue where he either didn't have time to make a smoothie every day, or ended up having to toss rotten fruit and vegetables because of his busy travel schedule.
After spending nearly two years in product development, Froes launched kencko as a direct-to-consumer business selling instant smoothie packets of dehydrated powdered fruit and vegetable blends.
"We have a broader vision of reaching the nine out of ten Americans that don't meet that five servings of fruits and vegetables per day (according to CDC 2017 figures)," said Froes.
Asked whether cold-pressed juices could be another solution to this issue, Froes noted that cold press juices are usually quite expensive and claimed that juice doesn't provide the same amount of fiber and nutrition as the company's instant smoothie packets.
For instance, the nutrition of kencko's 'greens' instant smoothie packet (a blend of spinach and kale leaves, kiwi, pineapple, apple, banana, and ginger) contains 3 g of dietary fiber and counts as two servings of fruits and vegetables. Depending on a customer's subscription choice, each packet averages $2 to $3 and includes a custom shaker bottle.
kencko's primary go-to-market strategy has been online through its subscription-based direct-to-consumer business, but Froes added that it's been entering more brick and mortar retailers from New York to California and will continue to expand its physical retail presence.
Preserving nutrition and taste
kencko uses organic fruits and vegetables and puts them through a 'flash-frozen' process, which according to the company keeps vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, and protein intact. The fruit and vegetables then undergo a slow-dried dehydration process, which preserves the taste, aroma, and color of the fresh produce and prolongs shelf life.
"The goal from a product development standpoint was always to have as many health benefits as possible that are comparable to [fresh] fruits and vegetables," Froes said.
Communicating through color
Through online consumer feedback, the brand decided that the best way to communicate its instant smoothie varieties was through a color coding system. Each packet is packaged in transparent plastic (made from renewable plant-based cellulose and not fossil fuels, noted Froes) and categorized by hue: crimsons, corals, yellows, purples, reds, and greens. Each variety is a different blend of fruits, vegetables, and an added spice.
"What we learned is that neutral names, rather than emotional ones [such as 'invigorate' or 'detox'], allowed us to be fully transparent with customers and were easy for people to memorize," said Froes.
Sports & fitness community supports powdered smoothie concept
Froes added that outside of the monumental plant-based shift taking place in the food industry, the boom of the sports and fitness industry and the advent of protein shakes, which make up 70% of the $6.7bn sports nutrition market according to Euromonitor, has helped familiarize consumers with the concept of powdered nutrition.
"I think six or seven years ago it would've been tougher to launch a product like this. But today, I think people are more prone to try [kencko] because of the whole movement around fitness and people mixing up protein shakes right next to you," he said.
At 78 to 90 calories per serving depending on the variety, kencko instant smoothies are not intended to be a meal replacement, added Froes. The majority of consumers have been female who are consuming kencko instant smoothies for breakfast or to complement to a meal.
"We are fully focused on the vertical of organic fruits and vegetables by bringing more convenience and portability to the category to try to help [consumers] increase their intake of fruits and vegetables," added Froes.