Cool Beans – which debuted at the Winter Fancy Food Show with three frozen legume- and veggie-packed wraps: Moroccan Gold, Spicy Chipotle, and Tikka Masala (MSRP $3.69 to $3.99) – is backed by Beyond Brands, a brand incubator and accelerator run by natural products industry veterans including Eric Schnell, co-founder of Steaz iced tea and plant-based seafood brand Good Catch.
Manufactured by a co-packer in the Midwest, Cool Beans will be distributed nationwide by World Finer Foods [owned by UNFI and KeHE] and represented by retail and foodservice broker Advantage [which also represents Quorn], said Schnell, who said the brand sat "at the intersection of three of the fastest growing segments in the market: frozen natural, plant-based, and gluten-free."
Supported with a paid and earned media campaign, including influencer marketing and geo-targeted shopper advertising to educate and generate trials among vegans, flexitarians, and environmentalists, Cool Beans is targeting Thrive Market, Peapod, Fresh Direct and others as initial direct-to-consumer distribution partners, and should hit bricks & mortar chains including Sprouts in April, said Schnell.
Foodservice outlets such as college campuses will also be targeted in year one given that so many students are now demanding vegan and vegetarian options, he said.
'We were pretty lucky to get the trademark office to grant us approval'
As for the Cool Beans brand name, he said, securing the trademark was something of a coup: "We took a billion dollar public trademark that's already in the vernacular of the American consumer for decades - it goes back to the sixties, like when you say something's cool - so we were pretty lucky to get the trademark office to grant us approval for this category [frozen entrees, snacks].
"We also call out our four or five key ingredients on the front of the pack, very simple very clean, so you know what's in there."
'A clear divide in the vegan community'
The Cool Beans mission, meanwhile, is all about simple, but convenient whole food nutrition, he said: “With Good Catch, we used a protein blend that was extruded, whereas we took the opposite approach with Cool Beans, which one of our lead investors – Tyler Mayoras – actually came up with.
"He was making his own gluten-free vegan burritos and wraps every day and he shared the idea with me at a conference and he said look, I’m an investor, not an entrepreneur, what do you think of this idea?
“So we partnered up on his idea to create a gluten-free plant-based whole food brand and spent about a year in R&D and the last year getting ready to launch commercially. The gluten free wraps are proprietary; it's our IP; they're soft and they don't break and fall apart in the microwave."
'There’s no mush or meat analogs'
So how does Cool Beans compare to frozen burritos from brands such as EVOL Foods, Amy’s, Sweet Earth, and Alpha Foods?
“We’re not the first plant-based frozen burrito on the market,” acknowledged Schnell. “But our approach was to look at what was out there and address the clear divide in the vegan community, which is divided between those happy to eat processed extruded products and what we call whole foods plant-based eaters that refuse to eat processed plant-based products.
“When you cut open some of those [competitor] products you often see a kind of slurry or mush, or what looks like a stew, but when you look at our wraps, you can see the whole beans and vegetables, there’s no mush or meat analogs. We’re not a meat replacement, we’re a healthier plant-based diet option.”