"We want to revolutionize food eating, and so we started off intentionally as a direct-to-consumer brand online. As we built out the product, built out the opportunity, always with the intention of heading out to the mass market reach that retail gives us."
Taking yellow-pea pasta from DTC to retail shelves
Zenb will offer its portfolio of yellow-pea pastas, including its Elbows, Penne, Rotini and Spaghetti and its ready-to-east Agile Bowls, at Sprouts stores nationwide. In addition to being available at Central Market stores in Texas and Green Acres Market in Oklahoma, the company expand into Chicagoland Jewel-Osco store this fall.
As competition heats up in the alternative pasta category, Perez sees Zenb as well positioned to capitalize on the increase demand for better-for-you pasta with its current portfolio of products while also exploring other avenues to grow its portfolio with new pastas and returning to the snack category.
“All the established players get it; that today's consumer wants better-for-you products. So, we're on top of this. We see all of the competitors in the midst of trying to developing product. So how do we stay ahead of it? We stay ahead of it by the choices we make in the ingredients and the approach. We decided to use yellow peas as the hero to our pasta because the nutrition qualities of what it has.”
As Zenb pushes into retail, it is also providing an omnichannel experience to cater to all shoppers and needs, Perez said.
"We look at DTC as a vital component of our strategy because there are people that will always want to get things at home, and so we have kind of like a gradated strategy, our DTC channel is evolving to become more customized product pairings, and then we sell on Amazon for when you want to get bulk shipments directly to your home. And then we sell on a grocery shelves for when you need the convenience of having it there and inspired in the moment."
Tapping into consumer trends for functionality with yellow peas
Zenb wants to meet consumer demand for healthier, more functional products, Perez said. When it comes to plant-based and gluten-free products, the company wants to be a “first choice” rather than simply an alternative to traditionally made pastas, he added.
“Consumers have come to have a good-enough mentality when it comes to gluten-free products or plant-based products, and we were very committed from the very beginning of our food development process to get rid of that idea. We want to bring products to the marketplace that are as good as what you're used to with other things that are in there. So, we really focus on taste and texture a lot in the midst of having gluten-free and high protein and high fiber and single ingredient products.”
Consumers also want sustainable products, Perez said. In addition to using as much of the vegetable as possible in its pasta, including the skin of the plant, yellow peas “release nitrogen into the earth that they grow in, which makes that soil richer,” he added.
“They are a pulse crop; they are harvested once a year. And once you harvest them, the next crop that comes in gets richer soil, so they're better and healthier the next time around. So, we're very excited in terms of how we stay ahead by making choices in terms of the ingredients we choose, the technology that we're developing to make it unique -- that we can use the skins and everything in there -- and then really focusing on taste texture as well throughout the process.”
To build brand awareness, Zenb has “been rolling across the country” with its Pasta Lounge, a mobile pasta kitchen that cooks and hands out sample. The Pasta Lounge started in July and will run until about the end of October, and it has already “done over 20,000 hot samples for people,” he added.
“We're trying to spread the pasta love and get this yellow-pea-pasta revolution really going, and we know that seeing is believing but tasting is loving. And so, we're getting that in front of people, so that they can taste it and really understand that this is the next generation of pasta."