Balancing profit with purpose

With Vita Coco and its great-tasting coconut water, consumers can easily reach out for their very own taste of the tropics, and there need not be a ladder, machete or palm tree in sight

One of the fastest growing beverage categories in Western Europe, the United States, South America and South East Asia, the global coconut water market is today estimated to be a $2.3 billion industry, and one that is expected to reach over $5.8 billion in value by the end of 2025. Boasting natural hydrating qualities and being a great source of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, it has transformed itself from being a niche product to one with mass appeal, 164 sparticularly for ethical and health conscious consumers.

The world’s leading brand of coconut water belongs to Vita Coco. Founded in New York in 2004, the company today has sales in more than 30 countries and boasts a global market share of over 25 per cent. “As of 2020, Vita Coco is very much the brand name that has become synonymous with the coconut water category,” begins Giles Brook, the company’s Chief Executive for the EMEA region. “Working with farmers in countries such as Brazil, the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka, we use only the finest coconuts in terms of type and age to give our customers around the world a consistent experience with Vita Coco products. At the same time, our relationships with our farmers and with production sites has allowed us to build an unrivalled supply chain – one with direct access to coconut harvests – which has become a huge differentiator for us.”

Having recently celebrated the company’s tenth year in the UK – which coincided with Vita Coco’s fifteenth birthday in 2019 – it is currently enjoying its highest market share ever in the country, recording a figure of 61 per cent in its last 52-week review at time of press. Needless to say, therefore, that the journey from being seen as a speciality health beverage to becoming a mainstream brand has been an inspirational one. “In the early days of our presence in the market, Vita Coco coconut water would typically be sold by the likes of Holland & Barrett and other health-focused stores,” Giles details. “What we could see almost immediately was that people were purchasing the product in significant volumes. So, we knew that the demand was there, it was just a matter of working out how we could expose Vita Coco to a wider audience.

“At first, we invested a great deal of time into driving quality PR in order to better educate consumers of the wide range of benefits possessed by coconut water. It was around this time as well that our Co-Founder and CEO, Mike Kirban struck up a business relationship with Madonna, and it was her investment in the business that really helped to promote the brand in ways unseen previously. In subsequent years, Vita Coco signed up Rihanna as an ambassador, and that too gave us the opportunity to accelerate our market reach and expansion. As the aforementioned supply chain went on to be strengthened, we would also continue to build up the necessary infrastructure and teams needed to prosper in our core markets of not only the UK or the United States, but also in rapidly developing hotspots such as China and Western Europe. The result has been that, in an industry segment where competitors have come and gone, Vita Coco remains as the leading name in a field that is now about to ride a whole new wave of growth.”

While the heritage of the brand – and main core of its business – has, and will continue to be centred around coconut water, one of the things that Vita Coco is more excited about doing at this time is building out what it calls a ‘Better for You’ beverage platform. To achieve this goal, the company has identified a three-pronged approach which will see its efforts split into either developing new products under the Vita Coco name, making targeted acquisitions of existing, complementary businesses, or launching entirely new brands themselves.

“Under the Vita Coco name, products we have launched include our Vita Coco Cold Brew coffee blend, our Sparkling range, our Coconut Milks and our Coconut Oil goods,” Giles explains. “We have also recently brought to market our CBD infused sparkling coconut water. These products very much speak to the laid back, relaxed characteristics of the brand and thus fit excellently within the Vita Coco family.”

Outside of the coconut water spectrum – but very much in line with its idea of building a ‘Better for You’ beverage platform – in June 2018, the parent company of Vita Coco, All Market Inc. (AMI) announced the acquisition of Runa, an organic energy drink brand made with the guayusa leaf. “In Runa, we identified a fantastic US-based brand that would provide great access into the natural energy space,” Giles continues. “In my opinion, this is a perfect example of us acquiring an existing business, which we then work with to align with the market reach of our own brand.”164 t

Last, but not least, the third string of the bow being used to build the company’s wider beverage platform, is the creation of entirely new brands or ranges. In 2019, one such development saw the introduction of its Ever & Ever range of aluminium canned, still and sparkling waters into the US market. Launched as a ‘catalyst for change in the water aisle’, it offers consumers the chance to purchase single-use waters that won’t harm the environment in the way that plastic packaging can do. “One of the things we have always strived to do as a business is find the right balance between profits and purpose, and Ever & Ever encapsulates this down to a tee.”

New consumers
It was this approach to business that helped inspire the launch of the Vita Coco Project. Created in order for the company to reinvest in its farming communities, the mission of the project is to raise one million people in coconut farming areas out of poverty. It is working to achieve this by – among other things – helping farmers to increase their annual yields and grow sustainably, and enhancing and empowering communities by giving back a portion of its profits, or by building classrooms and awarding scholarships. Meanwhile, in Europe, Vita Coco’s business has just been accredited with Certified B Corporation status, recognising its status as a business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance.

As of March 2020, Vita Coco estimates that it is cracking and opening some 2.5 million coconuts per day. Despite this incredible figure, it still sees huge room for expansion in the years to come. “In the UK alone, despite our success, we currently have only 3.5 per cent household penetration, so the opportunities to increase this through not only our coconut water but also our other product ranges are massive. That is what really excites us,” Giles enthuses.

With market data suggesting a new wave of consumers turning their attention to coconut water, now is definitely the optimum time to capitalise on this increased interest. Vita Coco is making every effort to do so, in one part by carrying out a rebranding exercise, which saw its logos and website updated in order to catch the eye of both existing and new consumers, and in another by continuing to innovate with its core products. “We are pleased to have developed a range of drinks we call Pressed, which include a slightly higher concentrate of coconut puree in order to deliver a richer, coconut taste,” Giles adds. “We launched this range into the UK in 2019, and within nine months it is carrying a retail value of approximately £5 million. What is most intriguing, however, is that over 85 per cent of sales are coming from new customers.”

These figures certainly suggest that there is much more of a market out there for Vita Coco to reach, and explains precisely why more coconut water-based innovations are on the horizon. As for what exactly this will be, as Giles concludes, watch this space!

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Deep roots

Unafraid to adapt to modern ways of working, Michael Farms Inc is a family company that uses sustainable methods to grow, pack and distribute fresh local produce

Located in Urbana, Ohio, the farming operation has been passed down through generations. Starting there with various traditional crops and livestock, in 1958, Doug Michael made the decision to specialise in growing potatoes. Branded 164 p‘Buckeye potatoes’, they were first sold locally, then regionally, before finally being picked up by national retailers. Doug’s success was the beginning of what, today, is known as Michael Farms Inc.

Over 60 years later, Michael Farms still produces potatoes, but after gauging local demand, the company has also added sweet corn, green beans and cabbage to its crop. The farm, which sits on almost 3000 acres of land, making it one of the largest vegetable farms in the state, is now run by Doug’s sons, Kurt and Scott. Despite the company’s sustained and continuing growth, it’s clear that Michael Farms has not lost touch with its roots.

“We’re a family operation,” the company’s CEO Scott asserts. “My brother, Kurt, is our COO, and my son, Josh, helps with today’s extra demands like communication, information, and logistics. We have a number of special connections with other family members too.”

In keeping with this approach, the company’s in-built family ethos extends beyond blood relatives. During the harvest season, Michael Farms’ staff grows to around 100 employees, many of whom return to the company year after year. “The 90 people that come to us, they’re seasonal, but they’re not irregular. These are long-term relationships we have built,” Scott says. “It’s the same people every year. Some of them have been coming for three decades. They range from general labourers to supervisors with significant responsibility. They are part of our family business and that means treating them like family, whether they are related to us or not.”

Local demand
Michael Farms’ ability to stay true to its core values, while adapting to contemporary demands, is a balancing act that continues to drive the company’s longevity and growth. “I don’t know that we’re driving what’s preferred in the market, but we’re reacting to it,” Scott explains. “Every time we’ve seen a new trend, we’ve embraced it, and sure enough, we’ve got more business than we used to as a result.”

Reacting to recent trends, Michael Farms has started growing sweet corn specifically for tray pack, selling green beans in open-top bags stamped with the company logo, and producing smaller, more manageable heads of cabbage. We’ve found that people don’t want to buy cabbage as big as a basketball,” Scott adds. “Not anymore.”

Perhaps the trend that has most benefited Michael Farms in the last few years is the surge in public demand for local produce. “It started to pick up about ten years ago and now it’s got to the point that even national retailers are sourcing and selling items that people can relate to. Honey from a local area is a lot more popular than honey shipped in from somewhere else,” Scott reports. “People want to know where a product comes from and they want to associate it with somebody - particularly a family or a company or a person. It’s not entirely different from somebody saying, well I’d rather have Heinz Ketchup or Hunt’s Ketchup. Produce wasn’t like this in the past, but now people have started to feel like there’s a difference.”

Public recognition
The seismic shift in the market means that, along with selling its produce in a farm store onsite, Michael Farms’ products are now stocked regionally by large retailers such as Kroger, Meijer and Marc’s, as well as distributed to smaller stores 164 rby Caito Foods, Crosset Company and Indianapolis Fruit. “We also have long-standing partnerships with a lot of urban farm markets in cities,” Scott points out. “People might try our food because it’s local, but we know that if we put a really good product out there, they’ll think they’ve got to have it again because they had a good experience with it. There’s always somebody else that will produce something if you don’t do your very best.”

The family’s determination to make Michael Farms a leader in its field is reflected in the public recognition earned by the company in recent years. Presented with the National Grower Achievement Award in 2004, Michael Farms has also received an Environmental Stewardship Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The distinction is granted to farms that work to make sure their operations are sustainable, with a focus on the

“Our mission statement has always been to produce healthy, fresh, products, grown using methods that preserve the quality of the soil and the environment while doing so,” Scott insists. “We pay serious attention to long-term soil health and the impact of our practices on the land. Crops are rotated into a different field every year, we plant rye and oats in the winter to protect our soil against the weather, and we package and deliver our products 41in reusable containers known as RPC’s. It’s all about resource management for efficiency and sustainability. Most of our employees live onsite too, so they are not driving to work. Wasting energy has always bothered me.”

As the company carries these modern farming methods into the future, Scott is positive about the outlook for Michael Farms in the years ahead. Ready as always to adjust to the next market trends, Scott suggests that further demand for local produce could help to lower prices and improve the variety of vegetables on offer to consumers. “We don’t want to break what seems to be working, but we know things are not always going to stay the same,” Scott states. “I think the interest in fresh produce will continue to be strong, and the more people want it, the more retailers will respond with better stocked, more competitive, produce departments.”

Hungry for more

Widely recognised as the world’s largest producer of asparagus, Altar Produce is ready to rise to new challenges and conquer new markets

A lot can happen in 70 years. Just ask Chris Ramirez, President of Altar Produce. “The company was founded in Mexico back in 1955,” Chris begins. “We started very small with only 20 acres of land. From there, we branched out into the northern part of the country, before expanding into the rest of Mexico. Now, in 2020, we have around 13,000 hectares full of crops.”

Spread across Mexico, the 13,000 hectares Chris mentions are used to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, including broccoli, spring onions, cilantro, parsley, Brussels sprouts, and most prominently, asparagus.

164 n“We have asparagus all over the country,” Chris agrees. “It is grown primarily in the Sonora region, which is probably our biggest region, where we have close to 5000 hectares divided between Caborca and San Luis Rio Colorado. We have another major site in Irapuato, as well as two locations in Baja California - one in Mexicali and one in Ensenada.”

The company’s large acreage, strategically scattered around the country, provides Altar with the ability to harvest year-round, a significant benefit for a company that exports over a third of its produce.

“Some items we have are seasonal,” Chris says, discussing the company’s production capabilities in more detail. “Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, radish, and leeks are grown specifically for the winter harvest, which runs from October through the latter part of March. Our asparagus and spring onions, on the other hand, are available to us all year long.”

Global success
Asparagus, of course, is the company’s main commodity. It accounts for 85 per cent of Altar’s business and the organisation currently produces more than 11 million 5kg boxes of the vegetable per year, equating to around 68,500 tonnes.

“We have been doing this a long time and we consider ourselves pioneers of asparagus in Latin America,” Chris declares. “Peru also grows a lot of asparagus and, for a while, they took over as the biggest global producer. However, over the last three or four years, things have changed rapidly and Mexico is now, once again, the biggest grower of asparagus in the world.”

After asparagus, Altar’s next most popular product is spring onions, around 20 per cent of which are shipped to the UK. Chris believes that Altar’s place in the UK market is a good example of the company’s success on a global scale. As well as working with large importers such as Flamingo and Wealmoor, Altar has struck direct deals with major supermarkets, including Aldi and Asda.

“In the UK, we are everywhere. I would say that Altar represents 75 to 80 per cent of Mexican asparagus that gets imported into the country,” Chris proclaims, and he suggests similar numbers apply in other markets. “In Asia and Japan, we’re probably 85 to 90 per cent of the produce that gets imported.

“There’s a reason why we have so much market share in these places and a lot of it comes down to trust. We’ve been around a lot longer than most of the other companies exporting asparagus. People trust our brand and they trust us as a grower.

“We always try to understand the specific needs of our select markets and we aim to create harmonious business relationships through the way we work. It’s not like the US market, it’s very different, and we do our best to protect it. Even when things are rough, we try to prioritise the customers that are loyal to us.”

People power
Family-owned and family-operated since the company’s inception, Chris believes that Altar’s roots have helped the business build a reputation for customer service. “Altar is still owned by my dad,” he adds. “We’re vertically-integrated and we control everything from planting the seeds, to the harvest, to the processing, even the freight. Our history shows that we are not just another opportunistic marketing company. We have a fleet of 65 trucks, offices in San Diego, Calexico, and Miami, and if we tell a customer we’re going to ship, we ship. Our clients have total faith in our quality and our level of service.”

When asked about key factors that have contributed to Altar’s success, Chris is quick to cite the contribution made by the company’s workforce. A major employer in the regions it operates, Altar hires 30,000 to 40,000 people during the company’s three-month Caborca harvest season, many of whom return year after year.

“Due to the acreage we have, current technology would be too slow for our harvest and so we require manual labour,” Chris asserts. “Harvesting asparagus is a very tedious process, but unlike other packing sheds, the people who work with us tend to stay here. There’s a lot of packing sheds and there’s a lot of other growers, but something that makes us strong is that people keep coming back to Altar because we’ve treated them well. Our harvest workers do an important job and I think we owe a lot to them for showing up to work everyday.”

Positive spirit
After a successful 2019, the beginning of 2020 has been more challenging for Altar as the business world comes to terms with the outbreak of Covid-19. Still, Chris remains pragmatic in the face of the pandemic, arguing that the situation for the company could be far more perilous.164 o

“Coronavirus is a setback for everybody,” he says. “Everyone is in the same boat though, and some people have it worse due their business structure. Fortunately for Altar, a lot of our business is continuing with retailers and the food service.

“If Coronavirus has taught us anything,” Chris continues, “it’s that sometimes we take things for granted. We never thought this would hinder us so much, but we’ll do our best to keep providing everybody with quality asparagus. It might take a long time, it’s going to be a process, but things will get back to normal eventually.”

With this positive spirit and desire for progress, Chris is already developing a clear vision for the company’s future. “We have a powerful work ethic,” he claims. “I like to think of every section of the business as an arm and they’ve all got to be rowing in the same direction. I think when you do that, you get results.

“No-one in the business is complacent about where we are. What gives us the edge over our competition is that we’re always hungry, we’re always striving to take things to the next level. If we’ve got 85 per cent of the UK business, we want 100 per cent of it. We want more.”

In the case of Altar’s plans for the years ahead, ‘more’ comes in the shape of an increased presence in Europe and on the east coast of the United States. The company currently ships to the US and Canada on a year-round basis, and in 2019, for the first time in the organisation’s history, Altar added Japan to this list. Why then has the company chosen Europe and the US east coast as its next two targets for growth?

“Once our Caborca harvest period is over, those two locations, specifically, have always been very Peruvian focused,” Chris answers. “When we’re done with that big glut of volume around the latter part of April, in terms of import business, Europe and the east coast always seem to turn to Peru.”

Altar aims to be the company that breaks this trend and Chris suggests that a major shift in the status quo is already on the horizon.

“Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Peru was struggling to remain competitive, Mexico was already pushing them out. We’re currently being approached by a lot of European customers to continue to supply them for the rest of the year once their local deals are done, so it’s looking like we’re definitely going to be a presence on a year-round basis in Europe and the UK. It’s great news for Altar. We don’t want to say goodbye after the Caborca harvest. We want to be there all year long.”

New trade agreements may also benefit the company in its mission to win more European business. In 2018, Mexico and the European Union agreed an agreement on a trade deal that would eliminate a vast array of tariffs between the two blocs. At the end of April 2020, the last elements of the deal were confirmed and under the new terms, practically all trade in goods between the EU and Mexico will be duty-free, including farm products such as Mexican chicken, European dairy, and, most crucially for Altar, asparagus.

“I’m not sure how the UK will be affected but this is great news for our business with the European Union,” Chris remarks. “Peru has been able to take advantage of no tariffs for many years, and it’s part of the reason why people would immediately turn to them once the Caborca harvest was done and the pricing wasn’t there. Now, without tariffs, once things get cleared up, it’s going to open the doors to a lot of future business for us. We’re going to have tremendous growth going forward.”

With EU customers now able to look forward to more Altar products in local supermarkets and restaurants, Chris and his team hope that the same can soon be said for more consumers worldwide. However, this does not mean that the company will be neglecting its core of loyal clients who have helped Altar grow from a small family business, packing asparagus under the shade of a tree, to the world’s largest producer of the vegetable, on the cusp of a major breakthrough in Europe.

“On behalf of the company, I would like to thank everybody for their loyalty and trust in our brand,” Chris says emphatically. “We would not have been able to achieve any of this without their support.”

 

Success under the skin

When the van der Schaaf family first started growing Creamer potatoes, they planted the seed that became The Little Potato Company – introducing these delicious, versatile and nutritious potatoes to the Canadian and American consumer

If there is one ingredient that can be considered as a dietary staple, that is incredibly versatile and is a much-loved addition to most meals, it’s the potato. With a history stretching back to the Incas in around 8000 BC, these humble tubers 164 lhave been adorning our tables for thousands of years, with almost every member of the public familiar with their taste and texture.

But not all potatoes are created equal, and Angela Santiago, CEO and co-founder of The Little Potato Company, and her family, have built their business around the delicious versatility of the Creamer varietal.

She began the story with some history about the company’s inception. “The business was started by me and my father in 1996, in Canada,” she said. “The premise was based on the fond memories he had of delicious small potatoes back in The Netherlands, but that he couldn’t find in this country. He and my mother had always been quite entrepreneurial (and it turned out I was too!) and as I had just graduated from University, he asked me to help them start a company that grew and sold these little potatoes.”

The particular breed that Jacob van der Schaaf was dreaming of was the Creamer – the smallest in the potato family. These little nuggets of flavour offer a naturally buttery taste and creamy texture, and are very easy to prepare, as they should be enjoyed with their skins on.

So, on a small, one-acre plot just outside of Edmonton, Alberta, Jacob and Angela began growing their first acre of Creamer potatoes by hand. “I very quickly fell in love with agriculture and potatoes and the whole purpose of actually being part of and growing something that is really good for people,” she added.

Local chefs became early fans of the little potatoes, followed by consumers and retailers, and demand soon overtook what Jacob and Angela could do themselves. They bought their first plant in 2000, and allied themselves with excellent farmers in Canada and the United States. They even successfully lobbied the government to allow for smaller packages of potatoes – a potato industry first – making the Creamers more convenient for consumers to store and use. “We are now in our 24th year and we have three packaging facilities, two in Canada and one in the US; we work with 30 growers and employ almost 400 staff,” noted Angela proudly.

Agronomic excellence
So how did the company take something so well known, and make it more relevant to the families of today? It all comes down to size, flavour and convenience, according to Angela. “We all grew up eating potatoes, they are a comfort food, so we weren’t introducing something new that consumers needed to familiarise themselves with,” she agreed. “So our unique twist was the marrying of nutrition and health with expediency - our small potatoes don’t require peeling, they can cook in the microwave in five minutes, or be cooked in other multiple ways in 15-20 minutes.”

Angela referred to the nutritional aspect of the little potatoes, which is a subject very important to The Little Potato Company, as it is keen to educate consumers about the fact that not all potatoes are as valuable when it comes to nutrients. “Small potatoes in particular as you eat them with the skins on, are high in dietary fibre, high in potassium, a source of vitamin c and iron, and they are counted as a vegetable, which people can overlook,” she explained. “I think there is a full on trend happening, probably led by millennial and baby boomers, where people are much more aware of what they are putting in their bodies, and the effect food has on mental and physical health, and our products lend themselves very well to this movement.”

To ensure each serving contains the nutrient levels claimed on the package, each Little Potato Creamer varietal undergoes third party nutritional testing, and indeed, this serves as an example of just one of many ‘behind the scenes’ activities that make The Little Potato Company so special. Furthermore, as Angela highlighted, the company prides itself on continually creating and growing its own proprietary potato varietals, to which it owns the exclusive rights. Angela’s younger brother, Joel van der Schaff, now runs this part of the business -Tuberosum Technologies - a potato research and breeding company.164 m

“From when we started out we very 27quickly understood that to get the best potatoes we had to marry genetics to the end product, and so we started three propagation programmes in the world, one in Chile, one in The Netherlands and one in Canada. We produce potatoes that lend themselves to being small, so small tubers with a high tuber count per plant, and we combine the convenience of a small potato with agronomic excellence, to ensure maximum taste and nutrition. The consumers don’t see these activities when they pick up a bag of potatoes, but it is all these things that we are doing within our four walls that are making our products different and unique.”

What’s more, The Little Potato Company team ensures that new offerings come to market every year, each with its own distinctive taste and colour profile. “We are seeing a rise in demand in what I might call weird or unusual coloured potatoes, such as our yellow and purple Chilean Splash, or our Blue skin Creamer potatoes with yellow flesh and purple streaks. These are actually quite authentic historically if you look at the heritage of the potato, and where potatoes started in South America, they were all sorts of shapes and colours,” Angela explained.

Consistent quality
The breeding programmes underway at The Little Potato Company are yielding some really interesting results nutrition-wise, too. “Some of the varieties that are blue all the way through, or red all the way through are really high in antioxidants, higher than blueberries, which is super exciting for us,” she added.

Having discussed the creation of new varietals of potatoes, Angela moved on to explain how that - the beginning of the process - is connected to the end result, with the products on the shelves within retail stores. “We are quite vertically integrated, starting with the breeding of new potatoes, then moving to the really passionate growers who use our proprietary varieties, then the field teams, onto the people in our own packing facilities and finally our sales and marketing team that directly sells to customers like big retailers. We have established a tight-knit value chain from farm to fork. It gives us a lot of influence over the quality of the end product, on how it’s taken care of, and loved along the process. This means that we can get really good, consistent quality, so if you buy a pack in New York or you buy it in LA, you are going to get the same potato experience eating it.”

Delicious and convenient
Of course, a happy customer eating the potatoes is the overall ambition of The Little Potato Company, and Angela and her team have found that the classic simplicity of small potatoes, in a bag, with nothing else added is still 29the best seller. “Another product where we are seeing a growth in popularity is the microwave tray, which is again, fresh potatoes, not precooked, that are put in a tray with a seasoning packet, and that can be ready in five minutes,” she added. Available in four flavours, the microwave trays feature among a whole host of other options, including fully cooked, pre-seasoned Creamer potatoes, crispy in only seven minutes, and oven-ready trays, that just need to be heated for 30 minutes and stirred before serving. With flavours including Garlic & Herb and Onion & Chive, the creative kitchen at The Little Potato Company continues to come up with delicious, convenient methods for people in their homes to enjoy small potatoes in a quick and easy way. The business even suggests a multitude of recipes on its website for customers in need of inspiration.

“We are seeing a lot of foodies, or more experimental people that wanted to try something new, purchasing our products, and the genuine appreciation of good food that is growing throughout the world really speaks to our product,” commented Angela. “They are finding that our little fresh potatoes are really easy to cook and very versatile, and they are good for every meal of the day, whether that is breakfast, lunch or dinner.”

Approaching new markets
It is easy to see where The Little Potato Company found the inspiration for its company maxim of ‘Feed the world better’ and Angela was enthusiastic about how the business wants to really live by this, rather than it just being a ‘bit of paper framed in the hallway’. “I see that as the purpose of the 31company, and while we have always been really supportive of our local food banks, in light of the demand for more food, and in particular, staple products with what is happening in the world now with coronavirus, we have doubled down on that so we are making an even more concerted effort to support our food banks, as well as pull out all the stops to make sure we can fulfil the demands of our customers and get products on the shelf.

“I think for us, today’s current events are a good reminder of how you should live and breathe the purpose of your company, and so we do focus on ‘Feeding the world better’ in everything we do. That would also include product innovation in creating new potato varieties and how can we make them more sustainable, growing more potatoes on an acre than we did five years ago because of genetics, and introducing them to more people across the globe.

“We think that there is opportunity for us worldwide, whether with our brand or with partnerships, we definitely believe that the purpose, not only for The Little Potato Company but for our family, is to go and feed the world better. We have not finished our work in the US, as we have only seen the beginning of this, but we are also importing our genetics into Australia to see what we can do there, in terms of building a market, and we want to look at Europe and all the different countries there, too. We know there are opportunities for our genetics in different parts of the world and if we want to remain true to why we wake up in the morning, then we do have to look 33at how we can continue to Feed the world Better with little potatoes.”

Centuries of family heritage

A multi-award winning family-run business, Owton’s Traditional Family Butchers is today one of the most reputable butchers and farm shop owners that can be found anywhere in the United Kingdom

To say that a long, rich history sits behind the company Owton’s Traditional Family Butchers (Owton’s) is – if anything – a huge understatement. The truth of the matter is that the Owton family have been farming the land at Chalcroft in Hampshire for over 750 years, with the earliest known records tracing their presence here back to 1257. Similar records also show that as far back as 250 years ago, eight butcher’s shops trading within a 8-mile radius of Chalcroft traded under the family name. Much more recently (for over the last 40 years to be exact), Owton’s has established itself as one of the UK’s premier wholesale butchers and farm shop proprietors.164 i

Today, Owton’s is led by Managing Director Billy Owton, a man whose passion for the business is as strong today as it has been since childhood. “It was my parents, Robert and Gillian Owton who founded the family’s wholesale business in 1976,” Billy begins. “As a kid myself, I would spend every minute that I could working alongside my dad, be it after school or during holidays, and as soon as I left education myself I came into the business.”

Supplier relationships
The Owton’s 225-acre farm helps it to serve over 1100 wholesale and catering customers from a diverse range of foodservice sectors, while its four farm shops – one on the site of its farm and the others in Andover, Bordon and Fareham – sell its products to those in their respective communities. In recent years, the business has regularly experienced growth of around six-to-eight per cent annually, but as Billy goes on to explain, Owton’s manages to maintain a fine balance between its traditional values and its modern ways of operating.

“I was brought up to strongly believe that an animal deserves a good life, and that as butchers we should use all of said animal that we can after,” he says. “My dad was also very supportive of the idea of free range livestock, and that is something we look for when working with the more than 40 farmers we partner with within Hampshire and Dorset. We have built up fantastic relationships with these farmers, working closely with them to ensure that their animals produce the high quality products that we require. In turn, they receive better renumeration for their livestock, making it a beneficial scenario for everyone.”

The way in which the company’s products are produced also requires a mixture of the past and the present. “We still look to implement some of the more traditional means of butchery in what we do, for instance we dry age all of our beef for 28 days on the bone,” Billy continues. “This can, at times, make things challenging for us, what with some of the more modern enforcement requirements that we receive. It is the job of our General Manager John Harding to ensure that we do comply fully with all industry rules and regulations, including all HACCP and Health & Safety procedures, and he has made it so that we do just that.”

Awards recognition
Aside from the testimony of its countless satisfied customers, Owton’s ability to produce the finest quality meat products is also reflected in the industry accolades it has received, particularly in recent years. In 2019, for example, the business 164 kpicked up what it described as ‘the ultimate food Oscar’ in the form of three stars in the Great Taste 2019 Awards for its lamb faggots. One of the highest accolades that can be bestowed upon a food and drink product in the UK.

“Being awarded three stars by 55the Great Taste Awards is a fantastic achievement for the business,” Billy enthuses. “As I understand it, out of some 12,800-plus entries, only two meat products received three stars, and to be one of those two is a great piece of recognition for Owton’s. Our success here also follows previous successes, such as being crowned the 2015 Butchers Q Guild Smithfield Awards supreme champions for our Mrs Owton’s Dry Cured Green Streaky Bacon.”

Community support
Such has been the success of Owton’s over the years that perhaps it was inevitable that it would now find itself in a position where it is currently operating at full capacity. The answer to the question of how it can expand its operations further, is set to be answered with the opening of a brand new factory on Chalcroft Farm towards the end of 2020. “This £5 million, 23,000 square foot facility has been bespoke designed from the ground-up to fit the requirements of the business,” Billy states. “Its completion and opening will provide us with three-times more fridge capacity to dry age more beef, and to store our other products, and with its state-of-the-art equipment and tools it will make us even more efficient than we already are.”

Before this can happen, however, the business currently finds itself having to negotiate the unprecedented impact being felt by the global COVID-19 crisis. The immediate effects that the spread of the virus and subsequent government actions have had include the closing down of the pubs and restaurants that help make up 60 per cent of Owton’s natural trade, while its farm shop and wholesale trade are also understandably finding conditions challenging. Where Owton’s is bucking the trend however is in the offering of a selection of meat boxes that are delivered to the door of customers.

“This was a concept that we had intended to roll out once inside our new facility, however the rapidly changing situation around us has brought things forward, and we are seeing an incredible level of uptake for this service,” Billy reveals. “On the first day of its launch, we had around 190 customers place orders with us for boxes, and around the same figure the following day. Now we are looking at doing around 250 per day, so it is keeping us extremely busy.

“More importantly than that, however, is the fact that it allows us to do something to support our local communities in these difficult times,” Billy concludes. “For instance, if anyone out there is self-isolating, they can place an order with us which we will deliver, and our drivers will knock on the door, leave the box there for collection, and wait by their van until taken inside, thus minimising contact. It is just one way that we can do our bit to help our customers!”

Processing progress

A world-leading developer of food and beverage processing technology, JBT Corporation aims to build enduring solutions for the food safety, shelf life, yield, quality, and throughput problems that customers routinely face

Though only an independent company since 2008, JBT has roots dating back to the late 1880’s when John Bean invented a continuous spray pump to battle scale in his almond orchards. Bean’s invention led to the founding of the Bean Spray Pump Company, which eventually merged with Anderson-Barngrover in the 1920’s to become the Food Machinery Corporation (FMC), one of the largest food manufacturing firms in the world at the time.

When JBT (John Bean Technologies) was founded and introduced on the New York Stock Exchange in 2008, branches of the previous business - FMC FoodTech and FMC AeroTech - were rebranded under the JBT banner. Now a global 164 gtechnology solutions provider to the food processing and air transportation industries, JBT designs, manufactures, tests, and services some of the sectors’ most technically sophisticated systems and products.

“For the first half of JBT’s life as an independent company, the FoodTech segment could be categorized as being heavily focused on in-container filling, closing and sterilisation, fruit and juice packing and processing, and protein freezing and cooking technologies,” the Liquid Foods’ Global Marketing Director Carlos Saavedra explains. “However, over the past five or more years, JBT has undergone a transformation as the company has gone on an acquisition spree that has brought us new capabilities in the fresh-cut salad and vegetable, high value powder filling (i.e. infant formula), dairy and juice sterilisation and filling, tray sealing, high pressure processing and secondary processing segments - and that’s just the Liquid Foods side of our business.”

Reputation for innovation
As of 2020, JBT employs approximately 6500 people across the company and operates sales, service, manufacturing, and sourcing operations in more than 25 countries around the globe. The majority of the firm’s production facilities are located in North America and Western Europe, where their typical capabilities include fabrication and welding, machining, laser cutting, and assembly. JBT’s focus on quality manufacturing means that some products the company produced in the 1950s are still in use today.

“Some pieces of equipment we’ve made really have been around for 50 years or more, and some technologies, like the rotary pressure steriliser, have been a part of our catalogue for over 100 years,” Carlos declares. “It speaks to the robustness of our manufacturing technique, the supply chain, the materials we use, and our commitment to improving a customer’s total cost of ownership. A lot of the bells and whistles have been updated with processes like automation, but the end result, the heavy-duty frame of the machine, is still structurally sound.

“Some companies build things with a planned obsolescence. The capital cost is relatively low, but the ongoing maintenance costs are high, and the replacement cycle is much more frequent. We’ve taken a different approach where our capital costs are on the high end, but the ongoing maintenance costs are lower, and the replacement cycle is much longer. Overall, the total cost over the lifetime of the process, say over a 20- or 30-year cycle, will be much lower with our equipment.”

Research and Development is one department that remains key to JBT’s operation. Unsatisfied with the status quo, the company has established a reputation for innovation, with many of its creations going on to become industry standards in multiple food and beverage segments.

“R&D, or New Product Development (NPD) as we call it at JBT, is the lifeblood that sustains us,” Carlos says. “More so than the products themselves, what separates us from our competitors are the capabilities found in the multiple research and technology centres (RTCs) we operate in every major region. These facilities allow us to engage with our customers in a very personal way by helping them develop formulations, packaging formats, and processes. Our specialists in these centres have conducted tens of thousands of application tests on a wide variety of food products. We really get inspired when our customers bring one of their food processing challenges our RTCs.”

New system release
Despite JBT’s core customer base including a host of global blue-chip brands, the company also markets to long-tail food processors at the regional level. With customer engagement and input an essential part of the firm’s NPD process, everything JBT produces is geared towards ensuring that customers are successful with their production and new product launches. Although the company prefers to serve wide segments of its customer base, it is not uncommon for the business to undertake bespoke NPD projects from time-to-time.

One of the company’s latest major releases, developed with the help of customer feedback, is JBT’s new Gentle Can Handling (GCH) system. A breakthrough for continuous rotary sterilisers, GCH reduces damage to cans as they run through the sterilisation process, providing greater protection for lightweight food containers. The system has the potential to enable customers to achieve higher operational speeds and more throughput or run lighter weight cans, which could provide significant savings on costs.164 h

“Rotary pressure sterilisers have been a staple technology in the food canning and sterilisation business for almost 100 years, however, JBT is constantly innovating to help solve customer problems and deliver additional value,” Carlos remarks. “As food processing companies have worked to reduce cost and increase efficiency, they have requested higher speeds from JBT and lighter weight cans from their suppliers. The early days of 25 cans per minute have now evolved into speeds of more than 1000 cans per minute for the modern rotary pressure steriliser (RPS). Higher speeds, lighter weight cans, and new can geometries have, at times, resulted in unacceptable damage to cans involved in processing. Our GCH technology creates a tangential path for containers to transfer from shell-to-shell in the RPS. The system maintains control as the ejector lifts the container out of the reel and over the leading edge of the valve bridge. This motion reduces sharp impacts experienced by lighter weight containers in high speed
lines. This technology can be applied to new RPS equipment, as well as retrofitted to existing RPS machines.”

Committed to sustainability
Given the breadth of JBT’s portfolio, sales of some of the company’s products can be cyclical or commodity driven, but the firm continues to enjoy steady activity in its juice processing business, as well as an increase in visibility for its high pressure processing systems as consumers look for minimally processed, clean label end products.

“Even the Covid-19 situation has already impacted our business as consumers prepare more meals at home and have returned to buying canned and ready meals as well as fresh fruits and vegetables,” Carlos reports. “As far as our corporate customers are concerned, we understand all too well the hardships they are facing in terms of allowing outside parties to access their facilities for sales and service-related visits. That’s why we’re engaging more with our customers virtually through tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and our new PRoSIGHT™ augmented remote assistance platform, which customers can access using their own personal smart devices.”

Technologies such as PRoSIGHT have not only benefited customers during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also serve as further evidence of JBT’s commitment to its sustainability goals. Alongside PRoSIGHT, which helps to reduce CO2 emissions and the company’s carbon footprint by minimising unnecessary travel, JBT has a number of initiatives in place to help the firm build upon its strong record for sustainable, environmentally friendly practices.

“For us, sustainability takes multiple forms,” Carlos claims. “Over the years, we’ve been replacing and updating a lot of infrastructure at our facilities and earlier this year, our Sint Niklaas site in Belgium completed one our most ambitious projects to date, installing 1048 solar panels capable of producing over 25 per cent of the 260,000 square foot facility’s energy usage.”

As conscious consumers become increasingly keen to see a reduction in the use of plastics in production, environmentally friendly technology that minimises plastic usage, such as JBT’s Proseal tray sealing range, has become more attractive to a wide variety of food and non-food customers. By sealing goods with a film over a preformed tray, Proseal technology also helps to reduce food waste by extending a product’s shelf life. It is a topic that Carlos and his team are passionate about.

“We are always trying to reduce the energy consumption of our machines and recycle water in our cleaning systems, but sustainability does not end there,” he asserts. “For a long time, our operation has aimed to take advantage of all the inputs so that there is very little spoilage or wastage for consumers.

“For example, there is no waste in our citrus processing technology. Anything that comes from an orange or grapefruit that isn’t juice gets converted into another useful product like cattle feed or pulp. Water is recycled to be used somewhere else in the process and oils and aromas can be used in baked goods or other culinary products.”

Sophisticated solutions
Carlos suggests that JBT is experiencing positive feedback from its customers regarding the company’s dedication to sustainable practices, and conscious consumerism is also sparking growth in a number of products lines. Perhaps the largest surge in interest has been in high pressure processing (HPP) technology, a system that uses ultra-high pressure purified water to keep packaged food pathogen free, allowing it to stay fresh longer.

“More and more people are valuing products that have a perception of less industrialisation or less processing,” Carlos argues. “HPP is cold pasteurisation in pure water. It deactivates microbes in foods or juices without having to use heat, which helps also in flavour retention. Most importantly, from a consumer standpoint, it seems like a more natural process because no preservatives or additives are needed. We’re definitely seeing a significant increase in the number and volume of products using HPP, which, of course, will benefit us.”

Later this year, JBT will be working on its 2025 strategic plan, introducing a variety of new products, and developing enhanced methodologies to help connect virtually with its customers. Building on the firm’s long history and established position as a global market leader, in the years ahead, JBT aims to continue its relentless pursuit of developing new and innovative breakthrough technologies for the food processing industry.

“Although the most visible thing we produce is equipment or machinery, JBT really is in the solutions business,” Carlos proclaims. “Our products and systems give food processors the tools they need to help reduce food waste, extend shelf-life, and produce healthy and tasty foods and beverages. At JBT we see ourselves as a vital cog in helping to make better use of the world’s precious resources by providing solutions that sustainably enhance our customers’ success.”

Herbal reasoning
Working with thousands of small family farmers in India to cultivate tens of thousands of acres of sustainable farmland, Organic India has become a world-leading provider of health and wellness products

During the 1990s, Bharat Mitra and Bhavani Lev witnessed the widespread environmental and economic devastation dealt to India’s agriculture by the introduction of chemical pesticides, fertilisers, and genetically engineered seeds. They also learned about the benefits and effectiveness of Ayurvedic herbs, a group of botanicals at the heart of one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, and in particular, Tulsi, a plant known as the sacred herb of India. Armed with this 164 eknowledge, and an ambition to promote True Wellness, Bharat and Bhavani launched Organic India to share the benefits of Tulsi and other Ayurvedic herbs with the world.

“Following its early years of development, Organic India quickly evolved into a holistic, sustainable business model integrating a benevolent supply chain to inspire, promote and support wellbeing and respect for the earth and all parties involved,” company CEO Miguel Gil says. “For more than 20 years, those founding principles still stand as the company continues to partner with thousands of family farms to provide genuine, organic products for healthy, conscious living.”

Central to Organic India’s vision is the company’s unwavering commitment to its ‘whole herb’ philosophy. Herbs and botanicals are the oldest form of medicine — whole herbs were a mainstay of early civilizations and are still the most widely used form of medicine in the world today, with the understanding that the whole is greater than the sumof its parts. Organic India formulas incorporate flowers, leaves, stems or roots – some of which include ‘boosting’ extracts, but always in addition to the whole herb.

The result is the highest quality, most effective, herbal products available on the market today. All Organic India product formulations are developed to preserve nature’s intelligence inherent within plants and recognized by ancient Ayurvedic practitioners.

“Our tea infusions and herbal supplements are based on the Ayurvedic principle that the greatest benefits are found in the whole plant rather than in parts of it,” Miguel explains. “Organic India herbs are grown using bioregenerative agriculture and harvesting practices unique to each plant species, honouring nature’s intelligence. Not only do we offer the world’s first organic, Fairtrade certified herbal supplements, but they also comply with all AHPA, World Health Organization (WHO), and Federal Drug Administration (FDA) manufacturing and testing protocols, ensuring product safety and purity.”

Beginning with a single farmer in 1999, the Organic India farmer partner community has grown to over 3000 farm families throughout India. With many employees coming from marginalised groups, such as women, widows, the elderly, and the illiterate, the company is proud to be able to provide training and educational opportunities to help promote self-sufficiency and new skills that can be passed on to future generations. Miguel suggests that this is yet more evidence of Organic India’s desire to have a positive impact on the earth and the people who live on it.

“We are dedicated to elevating environmental stewardship beyond simple ‘sustainability’ and that’s why we incorporate bioregenerative farming practices as part of our operation,” he asserts. “The mission of serving a community dedicated to healthy, conscious living has resulted in a Vehicle of Consciousness business model based on building altruistic economic, environmental, and social ecosystems. The outcome of that vision has been the revitalisation of many of our rural farm communities in India, where we have witnessed the introduction of community health care, education, and inclusive social change for women.

“Our aim is to go beyond the farm to help enhance the lives of our farmers through fair-market wages, access to healthcare, empowerment, and gender equality programmes, as well as improvements in infrastructure. When farmers succeed, their villages also prosper, leading to a collective enhancement in quality of life.”

As of 2020, 95 per cent of Organic India’s manufacturing takes place in the company’s country of origin, and after years of planning, the firm recently won India’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification for a natural food production facility. An internationally recognised green building certification system, companies that pursue LEED accreditation are graded in several categories, including Location and Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation. The certificate was appointed to Organic India’s new Lucknow factory, which has helped to increase the company’s product range and capacity for growth through the use of advanced processing methods.

“LEED third-party verification shows that our new facility is designed and constructed using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy saving, water efficiency, CO2 emission reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts,” Miguel notes. “Every step of the product journey at our new site, from seed to final product, is carefully shepherded, with the absolute minimum 164 famount of external processing applied. We use in-house dry steam sanitising to clean our herbs and all our products are non-GMO certified.”

LEED accreditation is not the firm’s only achievement in recent times. Organic India has also been named as a verified B Corporation, meaning it is part of a community of businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and accountability to balance profit and purpose. In 2018 and 2019, the company earned ‘Best for the World Overall’ certification, an honour awarded to the top ten per cent of all B Corporations.

Predicting trends
Though Organic India exports to over 40 countries worldwide, the company’s largest market remains in India, followed closely by the USA, a territory that accounts for 30 per cent of the firm’s revenue. One of the largest turmeric producers in the world, Organic India also offers tea infusions and whole herb supplements rooted in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian health system.

“Our products are formulated using traditional wisdom and modern science to support true wellness,” Miguel declares. “We sell to a wide range of customers via our own website, and through external platforms such as Amazon. We have approximately 70,000 total points of distribution across 8000 brick and mortar retail stores within the continental United States. Additionally, we have a growing sector of wholesalers and practitioners who carry our supplements and teas.”

Of all the products in Organic India’s growing range, the company’s Tulsi Sweet Rose tea infusion remains the most popular after gaining a cult following all its own. Known in India as ‘The Queen of Herbs’ or ‘Holy Basil’, Tulsi would be a beneficial addition to the diet of many people around the world, argues Miguel.

“Tulsi, Ayurveda’s cherished adaptogenic herb, has been used for more than 5000 years,” he remarks. “It is the foundation upon which Organic India teas and infusions are formulated and can be used to aid in stress relief and uplift mood, support the immune system, and facilitate the body’s natural detoxification process.”

As the company looks to build upon its existing product lines, Research and Development plays a key role in discovering new ways for Organic India to succeed in its mission of delivering genuine organic products for healthy, conscious living.

“We are always innovating,” Miguel proclaims. “Whether its sustainable packaging or pioneering delivery formats to help consumers incorporate herbs with ancient wisdom and health benefits into their daily lifestyle, we are always looking for ways to grow.

“Organic India has two full-time R&D teams — one in India, and the other in the US. Our objective is not only to expand our lines of herbal supplements and tea infusions, but to develop innovative new methods that help to bring the magical power of herbs to a broader audience.”

In a changeable and fast-moving sector, one of the R&D department’s toughest tasks is predicting the next big trend. In the coming years, Organic India expects to see a continued emphasis on immune health in a more proactive manner, personalised nutrition supplements, and advancements in probiotics and alternative formats. For now, the company is focused on its newest product – Psyllium Pre & Probiotic Fiber.

“Psyllium Pre & Probiotic Fiber offers 5-in-1 benefits including: organic prebiotic fiber, which nourishes beneficial gut bacteria; the inclusion of Triphala, a classic blend of 3 Ayurvedic herbs - Amla, Bibitaki, and Haritaki, known to aid in digestion; and heat-stable probiotics, which are essential in supporting a healthy microbiome,” Miguel reveals. “The product comes in three delicious flavours too - Original, Cinnamon Spice, and Orange - which adapt to baking, mixing with other foods, and blending into smoothies and shakes.”

Quality and integrity
As a leading wellness brand in a challenging time for global health, Organic India has taken it upon itself to make a number of positive contributions towards the fight against Covid-19. Among the company’s efforts have been the distribution of close to 5000 free kits containing immune-supporting products, the provision of Turmeric Formula, Immune Lift adaptogen blend, and Tulsi teas to Colorado hospitals, and a collaboration with the Grassroots Aid Partnership (GAP) to help provide healthy food and support to vulnerable communities in crisis.

“Employees who can work from home have been doing so and, thanks to Zoom and other online services, our team hasn’t missed a beat,” Miguel reports. “Even with a skeletal crew in our warehouse, the team has really pulled together to adjust and keep the company moving forward. It’s been difficult but also very affirming that our team is adaptable for whatever comes our way. Our work with the GAP is something we are particularly proud of, and we are glad to have had the opportunity to serve hot, nutritious meals and fortify supplies in the heart of communities impacted by Covid-19.”

Looking forward, Organic India hopes that by expanding and growing its digital marketing and sales, the company will be able to make its products accessible to a wider audience. As the business continues to grow, Miguel believes the firm is living proof that it is possible for a company of Organic India’s size and scale to be both economically viable and a ‘vehicle for consciousness’ in the global market.

“We’ve stayed true to our founding principles for over 20 years, refusing to take shortcuts on quality and integrity,” he states. “That level of attention and transparency translates into the product, so it makes for a positive experience and an emotional connection with a brand that is making choices that benefit the global community. We are all interconnected, respected and part of the same society. You can’t fake that.”

A minty fresh approach

One of the USA’s oldest candy producers, Piedmont Candy Co is using traditional methods to make snacks of the future

Based in Lexington, North Carolina, Piedmont Candy Co has been making its signature Red Bird puffs and sticks since 1890. Founded by Edward Ebelein, the son of German immigrants, Piedmont was sold to the Reid Family in 1987, but its 164 cfamily ethos and respect for tradition remains unchanged.

“To this day, we pull, flavor, and stripe our famous candy by hand,” declares the company’s CEO, Mark Stephens. “As we have since the beginning, we only use pure cane sugar, which allows us to achieve our unique melt-in-your-mouth quality. We heat the sugar to over 300 degrees, we pull it, much like taffy, and then add our natural peppermint flavoring. From there we add our signature red stripe, also by hand, before the candy is cut, cured, and wrapped. At the end of each day, we will have produced around five million pieces of our peppermint puffs.”

Before becoming part of a historical candy-making tradition, each new Piedmont employee is required to participate in extensive quality control and food safety training. After a rigorous 90-day developmental period in which they learn about many aspects of the candy-making process, new team members are finally moved into one of Piedmont’s permanent production roles.

“Safety of our product and our employees is the number one priority of Piedmont,” Mark adds. “We feel it is critical for the quality and consistency of what we produce that our candy makers understand the entire process. We want them to relish the role they play in ensuring that every piece of candy is as good as our customers expect.”

Product innovation
Over the last five years, Piedmont has grown revenue by up to 40 percent, an increase driven by expansion into retail channels that are simultaneously growing, as well as the introduction of new flavors.

“Our core product remains our peppermint puff, but as time has moved on, we’ve added unique flavors, such as cotton candy, mango, chocolate, cinnamon, and many others,” Mark explains. “You will find our candy predominantly in what people would consider to be US value retailers, such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and Family Dollar, as well as in Walmart and club outlets like BJ’s Wholesale Club. However, where many people first experience our candy is in banks, doctors’ offices, schools, and other similar outlets where they are offered as complimentary treats.”

Throughout its 130-year history, Piedmont has remained true to its heritage and still continues to resist the temptation to tinker with its recipes or automate the processes that differentiate the business from its competitors. Still, this does not mean the company is unwilling to explore new opportunities. While the Red Bird peppermint puff will always be a core part of Piedmont’s product offering, the firm sees innovation in product development as a cornerstone of its future. Leading the way in this department is a new line of low sugar snack mixes called Thinful.

“Made with a blend of butter popcorn, caramel corn, rice puffs, and pretzels, all coated in our unique, proprietary chocolate glaze, Thinful shows that we are not afraid to break paradigms, whilst maintaining who we are,” Mark says of the new product. “In some ways, it is a departure for Piedmont Candy in that our peppermint puffs are made of pure cane sugar, but in reality, our new line of mixes is very much an extension of our heritage in that each product is made in small batches, by hand, and with all-natural sweeteners.

“What makes Thinful snack mixes unique is our original chocolate glaze that finally solves the riddle of how to make something taste great, but without the sugar and calories that, until now, have always been a part of any indulgent snack. 164 dNot only does Thinful come in five amazing flavors - Chocolatey Drizzle, Peanut Butter, Snickerdoodle, Sea Salt Caramel, and Birthday Cake - but a half cup serving has only two grams of sugar and 60 calories, whereas comparable snacks will have over 20 grams of sugar and 200 calories, and sometimes much more.”

Recipe for success
In addition to its line of Thinful snack mixes, Piedmont has several new product concepts in development. As part of its dedication to innovation, the company recently hired a new team member to lead its product development efforts – a role that previously did not exist. In the next 12 to 18 months, Piedmont anticipates the introduction of three new product lines in its traditional candy puffs range, as well as two new extensions of its Thinful lower sugar model. Mark argues that both sides of the business will play an equally important role in the company’s future.

“Obviously, with the introduction of Thinful, we are very invested in the trend towards healthier eating. However, we also believe that there will always be a place for small indulgences, which is certainly where our peppermint puff sits. Our research suggests that there will always be a consumer unwilling to give up taste in order to save a few calories, so our focus is on developing products that do not require our customers to make that choice. I believe this is the challenge that the entire sector is facing, and I certainly would expect more companies to try and follow suit.”

Piedmont’s current website contains over 12 recipes that showcase how its Red Bird candy can be used to make indulgent peppermint treats such as fudge, margaritas, bark, patties, brownies, and cookie pops. For Mark, the recipe for Piedmont’s continued success is simple – respect the traditions of the past, while embracing the challenges of the future. With the flexibility of its products clear for all to see, Piedmont now hopes to showcase similar adaptability as it balances its 130-year heritage with a taste for further growth.

“As I’ve mentioned, our heritage is in high quality, hand-made candy, and we have remained true to that, but with a spirit of evolving and adapting to the demands of today’s consumers,” Mark states. “As such, we are constantly exploring ways to apply our strengths in new products and categories. A willingness to evolve is the key to success in today’s business culture.

“In the next few years, we will continue to differentiate ourselves by remaining true to our strengths while constantly seeking new markets in which we can leverage those assets. The future for Piedmont Candy is extraordinarily bright given the diversification of our portfolio and the spirit of innovation that now exists within our company.”

 

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