SnackFutures, which has launched several of its own in-house brands including Dirt Kitchen and Ruckus & Co., is laser focused on a category of snacking it calls "ready-to-eat care," said Gil Horsky, director of global innovation at Mondelēz International.
According to Mondelēz's State of Snacking Report, more than half of adults globally say they have relied on snacks as source of nourishment for their body, mind, and soul during the pandemic.
"Ready-to-eat care is really about supporting consumers with their physical, mental, and even emotional wellbeing needs," Horsky told FoodNavigator-USA.
To do this, he said, Millie Gram is combining a category many consumers love (i.e. nut butters) with the nutrition credentials (in the form of mushrooms) more typical of the supplements space.
"We thought about how can we really provide consumers the joy and satisfaction you get from snacks but also lean towards the ingredients and efficacy you find in the supplement aisle?"
According to Horsky, the labeling of its mushroom content is clearly displayed on its packaged jars.
"We want consumers to understand the quantities of mushrooms in the product," while also being careful to stay away from any health claims (Millie Gram uses words such as 'vitality' and 'power' on its labeling instead), added Horsky.
Millie Gram products:
Available in four flavors -- baobab orange cashew almond, cacao almond cashew, matcha cashew spread, and sesame honey almond cashew -- Millie Gram mushroom nut butters can be found at Gelson's Markets in Los Angeles and online through its DTC website. The brand is continuing to gather consumer and retailer feedback for the next several months before rolling out to more markets, said Horsky.
"We’re partnering with Gelson's, which is a fantastic retailer and fits very much with our consumer target. They’re trend setters in the natural and organic channel," he said.
'Snackifying' nut butters
Both popular and growing categories in their own right -- nut butters are currently valued at $3bn in the US and the North American mushroom market accounted for $1.85bn in 2018 and is expected to hit $3.51bn by 2027, according to Research and Markets -- combining the two into a snackable format (available in jars as well as resealable tubes for on-the-go consumption) seemed like a leap, at first.
"No one immediately thinks of nut butters as a snacking opportunity," said Horksy. "That’s actually the opportunity we’ve seen. Nut butters is a high growth category, but there’s an unmet need there of how do you make nut butters more snackified?"
Through its online social media and IRL (in real life) consumer testing, the SnackFutures team discovered that while consumers love nut butters the packaging currently available on the market isn't fully conducive for snacking behavior.
"We see that consumers were unsatisfied with the single-serve sachets, you couldn’t really use them more than once," said Horsky. "The tubes is really our attempt to snackify nut butters."
Two of the tube flavors will be available in the checkout aisle at Gelson's stores, added Horsky.
An unlikely match
Converging two huge food categories (nut butters and mushrooms) took some finesse from a formulation standpoint, but from a culinary perspective the two can pair very well, said Tom Dingley, section manager premium growth platform innovation at SnackFutures, who went through several iterations to strike the right flavor balance.
According to Dingley the mushroom powders incorporated into Millie Gram nut butters provide a subtle earthy background flavor that doesn't overwhelm the palate.
The inclusion of other ingredients including cacao, honey, and baobab, also helped balance out the flavor combination, according to Dingley.
"The mushrooms complement the nut butters rather than fight them," said Dingley. "We feel that we have a good balance with the products."