While pea, chickpea and tapioca may be an unusual ingredient list for the mainstream cereal consumer, it’s “completely normal” for the natural and organic shopper, said co-founder Ian Wishingrad. High-profile plant-based protein brands such as Beyond Meat and Banza are communicating about how their products use pea protein and chickpeas, respectively, and this is generating interest in those ingredients in other categories.
“I think we are in an interesting transformational period in food science and ingredients decks. That said, there’s a reason we don’t call ourselves ‘pea protein cereal’ or ‘chickpea Os’. We purposely built our brand to […] focus on the protein, sugar, gluten- and grain-free elements and the clean ingredient deck as opposed to try to tell an ingredient story because most of these ingredients are not exciting in the morning. With peas, you think split pea soup and with chickpea, you think hummus,” said Wishingrad.
Three Wishes, therefore, does not draw attention to its pea or chickpea base on the front of the packaging – it merely states ‘grain-free’. The success of the brand, which was founded two years ago and is already present in 2,500 stores nationwide, has been largely dependent on curious early adopters, according to the entrepreneur.
“You need people who are living a healthier lifestyle and are excited to try a cereal made with chickpeas and pea protein and tapioca,” he said.
Clean and short ingredient deck
Three Wishes uses organic cane sugar and monk fruit to sweeten its cereal, claiming to be around 70% less sugary than conventional breakfast cereals, and its flavors are made of natural essences and oils. The cinnamon SKU lists chickpea, tapioca, pea protein, organic cane sugar, cinnamon, natural flavors, salt, and monk fruit on the ingredient list.
Finding a clean label formulation that also tasted good and then scaling up production with a co-manufacturer was not as easy as many kitchen entrepreneurs would have people believe, Wishingrad told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I don’t want to be glib, but you can make a healthy cereal somewhat easily; that doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. The magic is how do you ‘Trojan horse’ all these good macros into something that tastes naughty.
“We made a lot of bad cereal in a lot of different facilities with a lot of different recipes. Then we found [a formulation] that worked, but it was too hard - it didn’t have the mouth experience – so we had to work for a while so that it tasted good and was soft like cereal.”
Limited editions to create a buzz
The company has six flavors – unsweetened, cinnamon, honey, frosted, fruity and cocoa – and recently launched a limited-edition pumpkin spice flavor for its retail partner, Sprouts. It also plans on launching a Valentine’s Day-themed flavor next year but is tight-lipped on what this will be.
Wishingrad, who is also founder and creative director of New York-based advertising agency BigEyedWish, sees limited-edition versions as an invaluable marketing strategy that keeps consumer interest high.
“In America, people get excited by pumpkin spice and other flavors for certain holidays. We’re always trying to find a way to add more marketing excitement, buzz and sales,” he said. “We post on Instagram and anytime we post about a new flavor, engagement goes through the roof. It’s very akin to ice cream […] and it’s a key part of our strategy.”
“It’s not just the consumer, but the retail partners like it as well, so it’s a win-win. We get increased distribution and people get excited to try something that’s fun and seasonal,” he added.
The special editions are not limited to flavors; Three Wishes recently teamed up with Syracuse University basketball star, Buddy Boeheim, on an upcoming advertising campaign comprising a filmed commercial with the sports star and a cereal box featuring Boeheim that will launch in January.
Earlier this year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) changed the rules on commercial endorsements for university athletes, allowing students to monetize their name and receive the payment for sponsorship deals. Wishingrad, an alumni student of Syracuse University with a personal connection to Boeheim, said he spotted an interesting opportunity for a co-branding campaign.
“When you have a box of our size, it’s huge; it’s like a mini billboard, so any time you have the opportunity to get that billboard out there on shelves, on people’s Instagram feeds with ‘newness’, you do it.”
Supply chain squeeze
A more recent challenge has been the supply chain squeeze that hit Three Wishes (along with many other manufacturers) and, this summer, the cereal company raised the price of its products by one dollar from $5.99 to $6.99. While this was a difficult decision to take, Wishingrad said he believes consumers see it as part of the general price rise of groceries and not as a strategy to charge people more.
“We didn’t set out to make an expensive […] cereal, we wanted to make a cereal that’s better-for-you at a slight premium. Any better-for-you product costs more. When things adjust and prices adjust then sure, we would like to [lower the price]. We’re not trying to make a Louis Vuitton cereal,” he added.