Heyday Canning Co: Ex Clif Bar, Sweet Earth execs aim to disrupt ‘tired’ canned food category

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Heyday Canning Co: Canned food for the next generation? Image credit: Elaine Watson
Heyday Canning Co: Canned food for the next generation? Image credit: Elaine Watson

Related tags: Canning, canned food, startup

Offering great value for money and some sustainability bona fides (low food waste/easy recycling), the canned food aisle has obvious attractions, especially if you're on a tight budget. But it’s not exactly the place you go to discover exciting new stuff… until now, says startup Heyday Canning Co, which is gearing up to make its debut at Sprouts stores nationwide in November.

The Eureka moment for co-founders Kat Kavner (a branding and marketing specialist who spent her formative years at Sweet Earth and Clif Bar) and Jaime Tulley (an operations expert who met Kavner at Sweet Earth) came as they joined hordes of shoppers heading to the canned food aisle to stock up on pantry staples in spring 2020.

“It really was birthed by COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders,”​ Kavner told FoodNavigator-USA. “Like everybody else, we were going to the grocery store and loading up on canned food, but the category seemed pretty staid and stagnant, and we had this lightbulb moment.

“Could we completely reimagine canned foods, starting with an unrelenting emphasis on flavor and quality and designing food that resonates with a new generation of young people?”

She added: “The fundamental value proposition of canned food is really strong and it still feels relevant to a modern consumer. It’s convenient and affordable with really high household penetration. The food waste piece is also important. We waste so much fresh food as it’s difficult to plan when you're going to use everything, so we want to appeal to a new generation of home cooks.

“So we did some consumer testing on the concept and sent out a survey to about 100 folks that were second, third degree connections to try and get away from friends and family that were just cheering us on... and the concepts and flavor profiles seemed to immediately resonate with people.”

heyday founders
Heyday founders COO Jaime Tully (left) and CEO Kat Kavner (right). Image credit: Heyday Canning Co

"Beans are an amazing source of plant-based nutrition and they’ve been having a moment in the culinary spotlight over the past few years..​." Kat Kavner, co-founder and CEO, Heyday Canning Co

‘We wanted people to be able to open a can and put together a really effortless meal in a matter of minutes’

From there, the two went to the kitchen, followed by the food science department at a nearby university with a canning line to find recipes combining beans and sauce that can work alone in recipes with rice, tacos, and other dishes, or in combination with meat for those looking for extra protein, she said.

Jamie and I are both vegetarians and we use beans as the centerpiece of a meal a ton in our daily lives and we felt like, why are all the beans just canned in plain brine or water? Why not add all those other ingredients and flavors so that it's ready to heat and eat and use as your main source of protein in a meal?

“If you’re a meat eater you could certainly add an animal protein or meat alternative,” ​added Kavner, who said each can has three simple serving suggestions on the back.

“We want people to be able to open a can and put together a really effortless meal in a matter of minutes.”

heyday cans

Crafted in partnership with Ali Slagle, recipe developer for The New York Times and Bon Appétit, Heyday’s sauce-simmered
canned beans are designed to pair with staples such as rice, pasta or vegetables. The brand will debut with six flavors:

● Harissa Lemon Chickpeas
● Kimchi Sesame Navy Beans
● Coconut Curry Chickpeas
● Tomato alla Vodka Cannellini Beans
● Enchilada Black Beans
● Apricot Glazed Baked Beans

‘It was probably the worst possible time to approach people with a new concept’

As the pair discovered, canning – which involves high heat - presents some unique challenges, said Kavner: “Using a retort is similar to baking in the sense that you put something in and you don't always know what's going to come out. Your sauce might taste amazing and fresh in the kitchen, and then you put it through the retort and it just doesn't work, so that was a learning curve for us.”

Finding a co-packer in the middle of a pandemic was also something of a challenge, she said. “It was probably the worst possible time to approach people with a new concept. Even as the capacity situation started to improve, canned food is a commodity industry with simple ingredients and there was a bit of a mismatch in many instances with what we were trying to do in terms of really pushing the boundaries, but we eventually found a partner.

“We’ve scheduled our first trial run and we’re planning on doing a first  production run after that. We brought on a great broker that put us in touch with the forager team at Sprouts and we’ve just heard they want to take all six of our SKUs for their center-store innovation program nationwide for a trial period,” ​said Kavner, who has raised around $1.4m to get Heyday off the ground, primarily from friends and family and angel investors.  

The plan is to get a DTC site up and running around the same time as the products hit Sprouts stores in November, said Kavner, although given the weight of the products (which makes them expensive to ship), she said, “Mygut instinct is that this is more of a brick and mortar product.”

‘When you're sitting on a shelf next to 99 cents cans of beans, there's a lot of pressure to go as low as you possibly can on price’

The launch price at Sprouts will be $3.99 on the innovation platform rotation, she said. “But our suggested retail price ​[thereafter] is $4.99. When you're sitting on a shelf next to 99 cents cans of beans, there's a lot of pressure to go as low as you possibly can on price.

“But from a taste and quality perspective we’re delivering a product that far surpasses anything else in the aisle.”                                                                                                                            

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