Founded by Annie's co-founder and former president Deb Luster, 4X CEO Jen Zeszut (Cerebelly), co-founder and board director Paul Earle, a serial entrepreneur, innovation and design aficionado and founder of Earl & Co (Earle was also a brand manager at Kraft), and actress Gal Gadot, GOODLES is the first brand to launch out of parent company Gooder Foods, Inc. and is aiming to disrupt the $4.4bn category of mac and cheese that they claims has seen little innovation in decades.
"There’s a competitor in this space that for the last 83 years hasn’t nutritionally changed," Zeszut told FoodNavigator-USA.
"It was 30 years ago when we [Annie's] tried to shake it up, and it’s time for a new shakeup," added Luster.
The shakeup, according to Zeszut and Luster, is coming in the form of GOODLES boxed mac and cheese, which packs in 14g of protein per serving and 15g protein when prepared as directed (60% more protein than the leading brands), 6g of fiber (more than 3X the amount of competitors), prebiotic inulin flour, and 21 nutrients extracted from organic vegetables including kale, spinach, and maitake mushrooms.
The #1 parameter for the products during its R&D phase, is that it had to taste delicious, stressed Luster, and the brand worked through over 1,000 iterations before landing on the final market-ready recipe, which features a blend of wheat flour, wheat protein, chickpea protein for its noodles and real dairy cheese.
The products have also undergone rigorous testing from Clean Label Project, which tests for 400 contaminants in its final product to receive the Clean Label Purity Award.
'The innovation roadmap is going to blow minds'
"We knew for sure that we would be stealing share from the Kraft and Annie’s, which are very well-entrenched with consumers, so if you love one of those competitors, we’ve got the perfect match for you," said Zeszut.
The new brand features takes on classic mac and cheese flavors along with some adult-leaning variations including: Mover & Shaker (cacio e pepe inspired mac), Twist My Parm (asiago and parmesan with spirals), Cheddy Mac (creamy cheddar and macaroni), Shella Good (aged white cheddar and shells).
"It was important for us to be a mass market and a mass brand, so wheat was ok. Then we will fill in with some of those smaller but really important populations (with gluten-free options) later," said Zeszut.
"The innovation roadmap is going to blow minds."
Actress and philanthropist Gal Gadot has been directly involved in GOODLES since the beginning, said Zeszut. Growing up in Israel, Gadot used to request that her relatives visiting from the US bring boxes of mac and cheese instead of toys or games like most other children in her family.
"She is a critical part of the team. She’s involved with everything from retail conversations to conversations with VCs and funding," noted Zeszut.
'Life is too short to choke it down'
Digging into a bowl of mac and cheese is a source of conflicted comfort for many consumers, explained Zeszut. Before launching, the new brand conducted consumer research and found that while 85% of adults report regularly sitting down to eat a bowl of mac and cheese, many feel some shame for eating and enjoying food marketed primarily to kids and that doesn't hold a lot of nutritional value.
Zeszut said there was a clear gap in the market for a delicious better-for-you mac and cheese option for consumers that didn't taste like they were making a compromise.
"There’s either no nutrition noodles that taste great or there are these alt pastas that just don’t give you that same joy," said Zeszut.
"There are pockets of people that are willing to choke that down because it’s good for them, but life is too short to choke it down. Let’s give people permission to love this beloved category again."
What comes next?
Both Zeszut and Luster said that GOODLES is laser-focused on building a strong DTC presence to connect directly with its customers on GOODLES.com where the products are sold for $3.50 per box.
Next year, the brand will be announcing some national retail distribution and several more new product innovations to add to its noodles portfolio, according Zeszut.
"We're ultimately a noodle company, so expect all things noodle form to come from us," Zeszut added.