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Food Vision 2016

Former General Mills manager disrupts frozen fries market with veggie alternatives

Douglas Yu

By Douglas Yu+

15-Nov-2016
Last updated on 16-Nov-2016 at 12:42 GMT2016-11-16T12:42:29Z

Veggies Fries is the fastest growing brand in the entire frozen snack category, the company's CEO David Peters said.  Photo: Veggie Fries
Veggies Fries is the fastest growing brand in the entire frozen snack category, the company's CEO David Peters said. Photo: Veggie Fries

Speaking to BakeryandSnacks during the recent Food Vision event in Chicago, Veggies Fries’ founder and CEO, David Peters, said, in order to create a “disruptor product” in the food industry, an entrepreneur needs to solve a big conceptual problem for consumers, and the product needs to taste great. 

Peters started Veggies Fries with his wife in early 2014 based on their personal need to find healthy and convenient foods for their three daughters.

“We are a family of ‘fry-aholics,’ and we wanted to find a way to keep enjoying one of the foods we loved while feeling good about the nutrition we put in our bodies,” he said.

Driving consumer interest in plant-based foods

Veggies Fries first launched four varieties of frozen products, including broccoli, carrot, chickpea & red pepper, and kale & Tuscan herb, and then frozen Veggie Tots made with broccoli and sweet potato in October this year. In addition, the company secured a series of listings in conventional grocery chains, such as Stop & Shop, Giant Foods, Hannaford, Kroger and Mariano’s.

Peters decided to launch new products because he believes Veggie Fries and Tots are at the convergence of a number of trends that are driving consumer interest. 

“There is growing consumer interest in foods that are plant-based, non-GMO, clean label. Veggie Fires and Tots are also non-GMO, gluten free, vegan, and free from the top eight allergens,” he said. “There is also a childhood obesity epidemic, so parents need easy solutions to serve better quality food for their families.”

Each serving of Veggie Tots contains five grams of protein, four grams of fiber, and over 100% RDA of Vitamin A, Peters added.

Frozen French fries category has been on a steady decline

Traditional frozen French fries are worth more than $50bn in US retail sales in foodservice and supermarkets, according to Peters, and US consumers purchase nearly 30 pounds of frozen potatoes per capita.

However, the category has been on a “slow and steady” decline as consumer are actively searching for healthier options, with dollar sales falling 2% during the latest IRI period (52 weeks ending October 2, 2016), Peters pointed out.

In contrast, Veggie Fries was the fastest growing brand in the entire category, he added. Most importantly, the company’s shopper card research demonstrate it is bringing lots of new users to the category.

“In fact, nearly two thirds of Veggies Fries buyers had not purchased frozen French fries in the previous year… Our goal was to try to bring consumers back to the French fries aisle by providing a healthier option that does not compromise on taste or texture.”

Salty snacks could either be a benefactor or a challenger

Even though the declining frozen potatoes market offers Peter’s business a unique competitive edge, Veggie Fries is faced with many of the challenges that most frozen brands have, he said.

“It’s always much more challenging to drive awareness and trail in the frozen food aisle, since it’s most always planogramed. Displays are infrequent or non-existent, and you need to try and grab the consumer’s attention through a glass door,” Peters explained.

But what is interesting is that Veggie Fries benefits and is challenged at the same time by the fact that many consumers have experience with the shelf-stable salty snacks, such as veggie chip and veggie stick products, he said.

“We learned early on that it is critical to communicate that our brands are frozen so that consumers really appreciate the innovation and look in the freezer once they get interested,” Peters said. “For the more engaged consumers, we also benefit by the fact that we are actually made from farm-grown vegetables.”

More flexibility and high growth rate

Peters has previously worked at several confectionery and snack companies, including General Mills, Nabisco, and Chupa Chups as a general manager and director.

When asked the difference between working at national food manufacturers and starting his own company, Peters said, “I learned so much about how to develop new products and build great brands from my days at General Mills… For me, the best part of building your own brand is that you can move fast and decide where, when and how to take shortcuts.”

“As an example, my wife and I started the company, and we were able to move from kitchen samples to product on store shelves in just 12 months.” 

Veggie Fries has reported positive outlook with more than one million bags of products being expected to be sold by the end of this year. It also plans on tripling its business every year for the next five years. 

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