The convenience of frozen breakfast products has resonated with consumers now more than ever as many households are preparing all their meals at home. According to the American Frozen Food Institute's latest report, dollar sales of frozen breakfast food were up 17.6% for the week ending 8/1/2020 compared to same period one year ago.
But, according to Evergreen founder Emily Groden, the category is in need of clean-label disruption especially within the frozen waffle set, where Kellogg's Eggo brand largely dominates with a roughly 70% market share, according to IRI sales data from 2018.
From corporate law to food entrepreneur
Evergreen was founded in 2019 by Groden who departed her career path as a corporate lawyer to pursue her dream of working in food.
During her third year of study at Harvard Law School, Groden enrolled in a course at the university's food law and policy clinic to round out her studies.
"It was that class I was actually excited to go to," Groden remembered, and her attitude towards food and the food system started to shift, becoming distrustful of many processed foods.
"You might think the writing was on the wall at that point, but I still continued on to be a corporate lawyer."
In her limited free time, Groden could be found in her kitchen making her own nut milks and pasta and curing her own salmon, while soaking up everything she could about the food industry from podcasts and TV shows such as Chef's Table on Netflix.
It was one particular episode of the series, which featured the three-Michelin-star restaurant Alinea in Chicago, that led Groden to cold call the restaurant's co-founder inquiring about being their general counsel. Her job pitch was successful and Groden became the general counsel for Alinea and its online reservation platform Tock.
Struck by inspiration again while listening to a podcast in 2017 about the frozen breakfast food category, which is still largely dominated by big food brands, Groden got the idea to start making her own version of the frozen waffle made with simple and nutritious ingredients free from artificial and natural flavors and preservatives.
"I just found myself thinking, really? Why is it so dominant? It's not particularly nutritious, and I don't think it's particularly delicious," said Groden.
As a mom-to-be who valued nutrition as well as convenience, Groden already knew she would be dissatisfied with the options available in the frozen waffle set, as she felt that even brands that claimed to be 'better-for-you' still contained unnecessary ingredients.
Groden ultimately left her "dream job" at Alinea and Tock to pursue building Evergreen full-time in August of this year.
While the terms 'clean' and 'clean label' may get thrown around a lot in the food world, Groden believes her products meet that description.
Each SKU of Evergreen frozen waffles (peanut butter & banana, zucchini & carrot, chocolate chip & matcha, mixed berry & almond, and pumpkin & pecan) are made from whole grain wheat flour, water, honey, eggs, almonds, baking soda, salt, and avocado oil (to prevent sticking during production).
"I like to say our only preservative is the freezer. Every ingredient had to have a nutritional function or an operational function," said Groden.
"It was also super important to me for the flavors to be all fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices, only."
Evergreen waffles, which come in resealable standup bags, can be popped in the microwave or toaster.
"As a mom, I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to wake up and know that I have these in my freezer," said Groden who said while the products were designed and formulated with a toddler in mind, are just as appealing to busy parents as a light breakfast or snack.
"The No. 1 market would be parents of kids and older kids who are eating frozen waffles, but it’s also really resonated with households without kids," she said.
National, mission-focused brand ambitions
Currently available in all 46 Whole Foods locations in the Midwest region, Groden is now working with a sales agency to take the brand to new markets.
"I would love to quickly become a national brand," she said. While Evergreen does ship products nationwide on dry ice, the process is expensive for the young brand.
"The quicker I can get into people’s local retail stores, the better."
Working full time on the brand has also given Groden more time to focus on building a mission-driven purpose.
Evergreen continues to donate all of its overproduction to a food shelter in Chicago and Groden hopes to expand this effort as the business grows.
"It’s really important to me to build Evergreen to be a mission focused company. I would love to find a way to get frozen waffles into the hands of more kids."
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