Women Drive Organic Food Innovation
Last modified: 2010-03-16 19:52:05
Women entrepreneurs are growing the organic food sector with the introduction of innovative new products. Many get started when they become concerned about their kids' eating habits, says food consultant Kim Greenfeld of Campo Verde Solutions in Needham, Mass (USA).
Where men have been the primary drivers bringing organic commodities such as milk and meat to market, many women are introducing convenience products that make it possible for busy families to keep eating organically, Greenfeld says.
"Women are the idea people in organics," she says. "They know moms are up at 6 a.m. looking for options for a healthy breakfast or looking for how to make dinner easier."
Here are three women entrepreneurs who ditched their jobs to launch organic food businesses. All have landed the one big customer that defines success in organics today--Whole Foods Markets.
A third-generation vegetarian, Wisconsin-born Rachel Kruse, 33, was burned out after six years in a high-powered consulting job with global firm Accenture. So she put her loft up as loan collateral and created prototypes for Organicville organic salad dressings. When she took her samples to the All Things Organic show in Chicago in 2004, Kruse signed up her first customers and found a distributor on the first day.
"It was a whirlwind," she says. "People were teasing me that I'd be selling out of the back of my car for two years, and I was prepared to do that, but I didn't have to."
Two months later, she was in Wild Oats Markets. When Whole Foods bought Wild Oats in 2007, Organicville went national.
Now a resident of Emeryville, Calif., Kruse has since expanded her line to include salsas, ketchup and teriyaki sauces. Coming soon: pasta sauces.
Higher-quality ingredients--she sweetens her products with expensive agave nectar--have paid off in customer approval. Her salad dressings recently ranked No. 4 in the natural category in a study by natural-food industry research firm SPINS. That put Organicville just two places away from powerhouse brand Newman's Own. She notes proudly that her organic ketchup notched $227,000 in sales its first year, more than half the industry's total growth in that category for the period.
She uses three full-time contractors to support the business, and a network of 125 sales brokers nationwide helps get the product into stores. Her husband, Adam, stays home with daughter Skyler.
"Since I was 5, I said I was going to be a CEO," she says.
When Veronica Bosgraaf's 6-year-old daughter declared herself a vegetarian, Bosgraaf began experimenting in her kitchen with new dishes to tempt the youngster. Mashing up dates and almonds for a pie crust, she added chocolate and found "it tasted really good, like a brownie." That was the beginning of Bosgraaf's organic snack food, the Pure Bar, which retails for an average of $1.99.
"I had never come into contact with anything similar," she says.
Finding a small-batch manufacturer was a major hurdle. All of the plants she contacted wanted to make a minimum of 50,000 bars. She finally found a facility in Oregon that would let her make an initial run of 4,500 bars, or 1,500 in each of her three flavors--chocolate, apple cinnamon and cherry cashew. She flew there and brought a few handfuls of the bars back with her on the plane. On the way home from the airport, she stopped at five small shops--coffee shops, juice bars, natural food stores--and handed out samples. All of them wanted to stock the product.
Bosgraaf hit the media next. She talked about Pure Bars with a journalist friend at the local paper in Grand Rapids, Mich., near her hometown of Holland. A cover story there caught the eye of Hank Meijer, owner of the Midwestern superstore chain Meijer. He placed a $20,000 order, and the Pure Bar became widely available across four Midwestern states. Other chains, including H.E.B. and Trader Joe's, followed. Wild Oats picked it up nationally, bringing the Pure Bar to Whole Foods after the chain was acquired.
From its start just three years ago, Pure Bar sales have doubled annually and are expected to top $2 million this year. For 2010, Bosgraaf plans to work with charities centered on health and hand out lots of samples to find new customers and markets for Pure.
"I want to get Pure Bars into as many hands as possible," she says.
Keywords: organic, Woman Entrepreneur, entrepreneurs, food sector, innovation