Co-developed and founded in 2019 by Sam Stroot, a natural products industry veteran, and Heather Terry, BeyondBrands chief strategy officer and co-founder of NibMor organic chocolate, GoodSam Foods formed an exclusive relationship with Thrive Market on the eve of the cancelled 2020 Natural Products Expo West Show.
"All of us physically got in a room together the day before Expo West was cancelled. Had that not happened we may not be on the path we're on now," said Eric Schnell, CEO of BeyondBrands, who has launched a number of mission-driven brands including Good Catch plant-based seafood into the marketplace.
"There were a lot of synchronicities that brought Thrive to the table," said Terry. The first, she said, was during BeyondBrands' BeyondSKU event in 2019 when Terry asked Jeremiah McElwee, SVP of merchandizing and product development at Thrive Market, and other food industry veterans what they thought was the most disappointing - but well intentioned - food trend that consumers never really picked up on.
"And their answer was around Fair Trade and Direct Trade," said Terry.
While a central pillar of GoodSam Foods is to support small cocoa farmers in Colombia through its Direct Trade practices (which cuts out any middle party players in the supply chain), Terry says that at the end of the day, the sugar-free aspect of GoodSam chocolate will most likely be the primary purchase motivation for consumers.
"I think the sugar-free component is going to be what drives consumers to purchase this product first and foremost," said Terry.
"I want to be the idealist and say it’s because of all the good we’re doing in the world, but people come to products because products are
working for them."
Cracking the sugar-free chocolate code with allulose
Developing a sugar-free chocolate has been somewhat of a unicorn endeavor in the confectionery industry, which as an indulgent category relies heavily on taste. It was a task that Terry says she was at first dubious to undertake when Thrive Market made the request.
"We thought: Why do stevia, monkfruit, or erythritol, it’s all been done… and it all tastes terrible," she said.
The brand instead went with allulose, a sweetener that is gaining more traction in product formulation.
As a non-digestible carbohydrate that does not have to be listed as an added sugar on the ingredients panel and also has a low glycemic index response (i.e. does not affect blood sugar levels), allulose seemed to be the key to differentiating GoodSam chocolate from the other sugar-free chocolate products on the market.
It took roughly nine months settle on a formula using allulose that tastes as close to a regular chocolate bar as possible, according to Terry.
"There were lots of iterations along the way, and I think we’ve really cracked the code with allulose," she said.
GoodSam Foods has launched three chocolate bar SKUs on Thrive Market's website - dark chocolate, dark chocolate & sea salt nibs, dark chocolate & mint - and has more product innovation to come in Q1 2021 including sugar-free candy coated chocolate gems, baking chocolate (now available on Thrive Market), and a 70% dark chocolate bar.
"E-commerce is our focus," said Terry when asked about any plans to launch into retail where it could capture a wider net of consumers.
"It's really expensive to play in brick-and-mortar retail and it's also really difficult to measure your returns on investment in marketing. The majority of GoodSam's go-to-market in its early days will be on direct-to-consumer. We do have some early plans around brick-and-mortar, but they are hyper-, hyper- strategic," noted Terry.
Size of the prize?
Cutting out added sugar seems to be the simplest way consumers have taken charge of their health. According to IFIC's 2020 Food & Health Survey results, 76% of US consumers surveyed said they are trying to limit or avoid sugar in their diet (down slightly from 80% of consumers in 2019).
The sugar-free chocolate market, meanwhile, continues to grow in size and GoodSam intends to capture a sizeable chunk, according to Schnell. According to IRI sales data, the sugar-free confectionery market increased 16.6% to $169.7m over the latest 52 weeks ending June 14, 2020.
And demand for GoodSam chocolate, which launched November 2020, is already heating up and the company is working hard to maintain a healthy inventory to keep up with orders.
"We’ve got some significant 12 month projections with Thrive and we’re already ahead of them. This business will be over seven figures very soon... We intend to build a $20m business," said Schnell.