HighKey claims that low-carb, sugar-free alternatives to packaged comfort foods such as cookies and cereal can be just as good as their original, sugary counterparts.
Such was the case with its chocolate chip mini cookies, which became the No. 1 selling cooking on Amazon with over 5,000 five star online reviews.
"That’s not relative to gluten-free or low-carb products, that’s relative to Chips Ahoy and Oreo and the like," HighKey co-CEO Joe Ens told FoodNavigator-USA.
"Anyone can make diet food, that is not the business we’re in. We want to make sure that when people try High Key products that there isn’t any compromise."
The digitally native company has extended its successful approach to cereal with the launch of its grain-free Protein Cereal in three SKUs: cinnamon, frosted, and cocoa.
Cereal category growth opportunity
According to Mintel, US retail volume sales of breakfast cereals are projected to fall by 6% by 2022. Yet, cereal remains a household staple with nine out of 10 adults reporting that they eat cereal at least once year, but are increasingly looking for healthier options -- 40% of adults are looking for reduced sugar options, noted Mintel.
"The cereal category is one of those evergreen comfort food products, but of course it is grain based, high in carbohydrates, and often quite sweet. So it’s the perfect evolution for a brand that’s looking to build low-carb, sugar sucks comfort foods," Ens said.
"If you look over the last 15 years, the one constant in the American diet is the pursuit of a reduction of carbohydrates."
HighKey uses a custom blend of monk fruit, stevia, and erythritol to create "guilt-free" products that are low in calories (90 calories), net carbs (0g), and sugar (less than 1g) with 10g of protein per serving.
And most importantly, said Ens, consumers don't have to sacrifice on taste when eating HighKey cookies or cereal products.
"There aren’t people who are saying, 'That’s a pretty good cookie for a diet food.' They’re saying, 'This is an extraordinary cookie, I can’t believe it’s low-carb and no added sugars.' That’s exactly how people will respond to these cereals," he claimed.
HighKey’s Protein Cereal will be available direct-to-consumer on its website and Amazon starting today for $11.79 for a single flavor purchase and $41.97 for a variety pack.
Push into physical stores
HighKey began as an online brand that built a strong consumer following by connecting with customers one on one.
"A successful digitally native brand is all about one to one, and finding ways to connect directly with the consumer. We have a dedicated and fairly expansive customer service team that responds to every outreach on social media and beyond," Ens said.
"It’s simply a matter of connecting with each individual consumer, and that’s what makes it difficult for large, big food companies; they don’t have the patience or the capability to stay focused on each individual consumer, and that’s one of the requirements if you’re going to build a digital brand."
Ens said that the company is expanding into brick and mortar this year adding to its current distribution in Whole Foods Southwest and expanding distribution up and down the West Coast.
"This is the year for us to expand our brick and mortar retail business while we continue to grow e-commerce," said Ens.
According to Ens, he expects a strong start upon launching, because the cereal category is due for some disruption and not due to consumers' current stockpiling behaviors, which is giving certain brands a boost in sales over the last few weeks.
"The strong start we expect is not related to the current environment of COVID-19 and more just the pent-up demand that exists for a grain-free, low-carb cereal. There are some options in the market, but frankly they taste terrible. Many consumers who are trying them, won’t repeat. Just as we found with cookies, there’s the same playbook," Ens said.