Last month, Brenner, who previously founded the international chocolate restaurant chain Max Brenner, unveiled Blue Stripes, which he describes as “an urban cacao wellness brand” that uses the entire cacao fruit – shell and all – to offer a diverse lineup of wellness ingredients for home cooks and finished products ranging from Cacao Water, 100% Cacao Hazelnut Butter, a “superfood” flour made from the cacao shell and much more.
“When I started Max Brenner 25 years ago, it was all about the familiar side of chocolate, which is the fantasy, the Charlie and Chocolate Factory experience. But after I sold it five years ago, and after a few years of non-compete, I really wanted to try and take chocolate to the other side of health and wellness by showcasing the amazing fruit,” shell and bean used in ways that are new to the mainstream American consumers, Brenner told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained the inspiration for Blue Stripes came to him while visiting cacao plantations in different countries. There, he said, “I started to taste cacao and saw how they are using it for beverages, how they used the fruit, how they took the shell and dried it to make flour – all these were a treasure of knowledge.
“And I said, ‘Wow! What I knew until today about cacao was so limited because it was just focused on the bean and just using them to make chocolate. And now, I see there is a whole different way of using the fruit and shell,’” Brenner recalled.
‘Suddenly we had all the time to shift our focus and start to create this’
While launching a new line of non-traditional or unfamiliar CPG products during the pandemic -- when many consumers just want tried-and-true products -- may sound crazy, Brenner said the pandemic provided him the perfect excuse – and time – to create Blue Stripes.
He also said the line of wellness products are needed now more than ever by consumers seeking functional products with health benefits.
“When we launched Blue Stripes two years ago, it was not an experience like what we have now. It was launched as a retail store with us having in mind that we would open a chain of cacao shops and then in later stages create products to be sold direct-to-consumer or CPG,” Brenner said.
The shops were so popular that Brenner didn’t have time to research and create the CPG line, but when the pandemic happened “suddenly we had all the time to shift our focus and start to create this line,” he said.
In five months, Brenner and one colleague took a deep dive into the CPG industry – not only developing the products but also learning how to sell direct-to-consumer, how to fulfill orders and how “to spread the word of a revolution of whole cacao,” he said.
They also packed the company’s website full of videos, recipes and other educational content to help consumers understand the health benefits of cacao, how to use it and how function wellness products can also be fun.
Believing word of mouth is the best way to build awareness, Brenner said Blue Stripes will lean heavily on public relations, earned and bought media and digital marketing with a heavy emphasis on search optimization.
Sustainability in focus
Blue Stipes' focus on functional wellness is only half of the young company’s mission – the other is to promote sustainability and reduce food waste, Brenner said.
“Until today, we were throwing away 70-80% of the cacao fruit, and at Blue Stripes we want to not only change the way consumers think about cacao but also the financial structure of the industry by showing other manufacturers that there is a demand for products using other parts of the cacao beyond the bean,” Brenner said.
Blue Stripes is too small to supply its ingredients to other manufacturers, but Brenner said he hopes that other companies will see what he is doing and mimic him so that cacao farmers are encouraged to provide cacao fruit and shells in addition to the bean – giving them more diversity and value-added options to sell and improve their livelihoods.
“If people will like our products, they will start to drink cacao water, eat cacao bread or whole cacao granola or whole cacao trail mix, then there will be more demand and when there is more demand companies way larger than our tiny Blue Stripes will see the demand and this industry will change to a good place,” he said.
He added: “I don’t want the whole market to myself. I think when other people come to the market there is creativity and it will encourage me to be more creative. And the market is huge,” so there is plenty of room for everyone.
Whimsical packaging recalls Brenner’s beginnings
Even without competition from big companies to fuel his creativity, Brenner has woven plenty of whimsy into Blue Stripes, which sets it apart from many other health and wellness brands.
Instead of the standard brown craft paper or monochromatic packaging that is currently favored by the natural and health & wellness industries, Blue Stripes’ packages are bright and blend elements of urban living with images of the jungles where cacao is sourced.
As the chaotic and colorful packaging suggests, Brenner says he believes that food should be fun and that while health and wellness are serious, they can also be enjoyable. He added that he believes Blue Stripes delivers both.