Lost in the Supermarket

Popchips Founder Moves into Plant Based

October 16, 2019
Lost in the Supermarket
Popchips Founder Moves into Plant Based
Chapters
Lost in the Supermarket
Popchips Founder Moves into Plant Based
Oct 16, 2019
SupermarketGuru
Show Notes Transcript

A chat with Keith Belling, Founder of popchips on his latest venture into the plant based world - the challenges and the rewards of creating new food products in today's grocery stores.



Phil Lempert:
0:00
Welcome to Lost in the Supermarket. It's the podcast that goes behind the shelves with a look at the latest grocery trends, the latest health information, and how to make every shopping trip the best it can be. I'm Phil Lempert and on today's podcast we're going to talk about what it takes to launch a new brand. What about that determination? What about that great idea with me is Keith belling, founder of pop chips and his latest venture, right. Bryce. Keith, welcome to Lost in the supermarket.
Keith Belling:
0:39
Hi Phil. It's so great to join you. Thanks for having me.
Phil Lempert:
0:41
So let's, let's start with popchips. You're the co founder. What gave you the idea for popchips?
Keith Belling:
0:49
Well, it's actually pretty simple. I found myself eating too many Doritos and I started looking around hoping that there would be a better solution and a healthier stack that tasted good. And I started looking around and doing some research, which of course spent spending time in the snack aisle, which is always fun and, and could see that there really was a big void in the market and there really weren't any great tasting, better few snacks.
Phil Lempert:
1:09
So when, when I look at and talk to so many entrepreneurs, there's always seems to be this personal story that, you know, it wasn't sitting around dreaming up the next big idea, but because of a personal need that people like you go out there and do these things. So let's, let's fast forward to now. You've now done the same thing with a new product, right? Rice. What made you think about rice and that it was time to fix rice?
Keith Belling:
1:43
It's funny you say that about that personal need and what inspires you? Because in my case, every business I've ever done has really come from that, that sort of point of personal inspiration and, and need and, and hence the passion to probably do what it takes to build a new business and a startup. When it came to Right Rice, I, I love rice. It's one of my favorite foods. I eat it all the time. And I had found over the last few years that I was eating a lot less rice than I used to. And it was largely because of all the empty calories and the carbs and you know, kind of the same thing with potato chips. I thought there had to be something better out there. And when I looked out and I looked at the alternative civil, what were available, like cauliflower rice, you know, just really didn't do it for me. And I thought that there had to be something better.
Phil Lempert:
2:24
So I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, but if I look at the overall sales of rice across the country, rice sales are down probably for the reasons that you suggest about the calories and the carbs.
Keith Belling:
2:38
Yeah, I think that's probably right. I think it's, you know, it's, look, it's a huge category. It's two to $3 billion. It's probably one of the most beloved foods across every culture and ethnicity. But I think what we're seeing is a pretty consistent, you know, response from consumers that, you know, they're looking for healthier food and in every case, and when it comes to rice, you know, empty calories and carbs, it really is something that's pushed back. And I think the category is as you know, slightly declining if that flat and the growth we're seeing tends to be from the healthier options.
Phil Lempert:
3:09
So I have a bag of Right Rice in front of me and I look on the back and it compares right rice and white rice. So when it comes to protein, white rice has four grams, right? Rice has 10 grams, fiber zero and white rice, five grams in right rice, net carbs in white rice, 39 grams, 25 grams, net carbs in right rice. So what was the process that you had to go through to make, you know, Right Rice, which is made from vegetables into, into this product? Bring us through it.
Keith Belling:
3:43
Sure. So again, the inspiration came because I was looking for a healthier great tasting rice. Then when you look at the other innovation in the category, you know, Brown rice and sprouted rice, I mean those are great and I love Brown rice, but they're only marginally healthier. So what I felt like was if we were going to do something in the rice category, it really had to make a material difference in terms of the nutritional profile. But at the same time like table stakes or taste and texture, I mean, rice is a beloved food because it tastes so good. So the starting point had to be, how do I come up with something that has, you know, great taste and texture. I also wanted something that was shelf stable. I didn't want to have to put something into the, into the frozen section that of a, of grocery stores, you know, the supply chains are much more complicated.
Keith Belling:
4:29
So I started playing around with the idea of could I, could I create a grain that was made from vegetables? And we started playing with a mix of lentils and chickpeas and rice and we ended up trying some other, some other ingredients. And we ended up coming up with this opportunity or the ability I should say to blend lentils, chickpeas, green peas and some white rice to come up with. If you held it in your hand, you'd see that it's a hard grain of rice that looks like a just a, you know, a short grain of rice. It's hard. Again, it's got, it's, it's that pantry, alternative shelf stable, kind of arise. What was important to me again was it had to be great tasting and had to be easy to cook. You know, one of the things I know I love about rice is how it absorbs flavors and sauces.
Keith Belling:
5:14
And the reason rice is so popular is because can season it any way you like and it just takes on, you know, it's very chameleon-like it takes on that flavor profile. So nutritionally our goal was just what you said. So white rice has about four grams of protein and we wanted to have 10. So we were looking to have at least two times the protein, you know, it has virtually no fiber. And our goal is that five grams of fiber. And then, and then we wanted to have, you know, kind of the goal was to have at least 30 plus percent of fewer net carbs and than white rice has. And the great thing is, you know, we played around with the blend, those ingredients, we went back and forth and you know, we came up with something that's, you know, like we like to say it, you know, rice packs with the power of vegetables.
Keith Belling:
5:55
So it's about 90% vegetables and that mix of lentils and chickpeas and green peas and a little less than 10% rice and it's actually rice flour. And we blended together and we went back and forth with the, with the blend until we finally came up with something that we really think hit on, you know, this, you know, great tasting and great taste and texture, easy to cook. You know, as we like to say, it's faster and easier to cook than white rice. It takes 10 to 12 minutes. It's really easy. It's sort of like couscous. And then of course nutritionally it had to hit what we were looking for. And we, you know, we really hit all of our marks. I mean, we, you know, not only is it 10 grams of protein, but it's a complete protein, the amino acids from the rice along with the protein from the lentils, you know, blend to create a complete protein, which as you know, from a digestibility standpoint, it's a better protein, you know.
Keith Belling:
6:42
And then the next piece still is the flavored side. I'm a big fan of rice, as I said, I just found that the traditional flavored rices, you know, you'd rip open what I like to call that mystery packet of seasoning and import your sauce pan. And it always tasted great, but the only thing you knew is you are getting a lot of sodium. Right? And what we came up with, the idea was to deliver on a, on a flavored rice and already seasoned rice that actually was much lower in sodium and much easier to cook. So as you've seen, we have a lemon pepper garlic or Thai Curry Spanish, and we just introduced the cilantro lime. Literally this week, and they're all, you know, the rice and roped with the seasoning and it's as easy as point of boiling water, put in the rice, take it off the heat, let it sit for 10 to 12 minutes and you're done. You just fluff it after that. And, um, and so the big thing to us was the sort of range of both original, which we like to say is ready to be seasoned your way and then a variety of flavors.
Phil Lempert:
7:40
So let's talk about the development of, of flavors and, you know, from pop chips experience flavors or a key, because everybody doesn't wanna eat the same thing all the time. So what led you to, to these flavors? How did you choose what flavors to have?
Keith Belling:
7:57
You know, we, we actually spent a lot of time in the grocery store and online looking at flavor profiles, both within this category and outside of it, and to see what was on trend. And we tried to think of diversity of flavors and some of them were relatively simple. You know, Spanish rice is probably the number one season flavored rice. And right in North America. So, so that was relatively easy. Garlic herb is, you know, one of the top sellers in a flavor profile, people love. So that was, you know, you know, relatively easy to make the choices, not so easy to come up with the flavors the right way. And then I know at the beginning, you know, we launched with our four we launched with originally were original a garlic or Spanish and lemon pepper. And to be honest, lemon pepper or something. It's just a flavor profile that I love. It's something that I'd always wanted to try. And we came up with a falvor, the lemon pepper that is actually my favorite of our flavors and it will start to do something that was a little bit different. So we really wanted to mix. And then as I said, we added Thai as part of our next launch. And then after that we added cilantro lime.
Phil Lempert:
8:59
So let's talk about the process. Um, when did you have the idea for right rice and how long did it take you to get it in a package that you liked and get it on store shells?
Keith Belling:
9:11
So it's funny, it seems to me like it took forever and the people that know me can't believe we did it so quickly, but it took probably almost 18 months from, you know, the very germ of an idea to being on the shelves at whole foods, which was our launch partner.
Phil Lempert:
9:24
And where can people buy it today?
Keith Belling:
9:27
So today, right rice is available nationwide and all the whole foods stores and on Amazon, that was our, those were our two launch partners. And then we launched across all the Kroger banners in June of this year. So we launched in February with whole foods and Amazon and then a June with Kroger. So we're in, you know, Ralphs and Fred Meyer and QFC and King super, I think Marianno's and the other banners we launched, as I said just this week with sprouts and you know, we're excited to be rolling in to other retailers like Wegman's over the coming weeks.
Phil Lempert:
9:57
So Keith, tell me about how you launch a new product. What are you doing with right rice that is really going to set you apart in consumer's minds?
Keith Belling:
10:08
Well you'll again, great question and it's much easier said than done. I think it's kind of funny cause it for brands like ours, whether it's pop chips where right, it's very much about building a grassroots brand. It's really about getting in front of that consumer, engage with them, with the product. And as I like to say, empowering them as a dance is to share it. And this whole world of influencers today is so important and so valuable, which is great to see. And then we sort of think about that on the one hand. And then in the other we, you know, we sort of think about markets and how we want to focus the brand. And you know we've, we've launched was he said, you know, nationwide with whole foods and now we're in the Kroger banners and on Amazon. And then one of the things we did at popchips that was really helpful as we pick the couple of target markets where we really kind of leaned in to build the brand.
Keith Belling:
10:53
And in the case of Popchips, that started probably where it should start, which is in New York. And we did a really focused launch probably in 2008 or 2009 that had a lot to really, you know, blowing up the brand and, and we, we, you know, get the same thing with right rice. We just right now are in the process, early stages of a launch in the New York market that we're really excited about. And it's kind of a blend of, you know, it starts with having a real strong retail presence. So we have got ourselves now in kind of all the right retailers and the New York market from, of course, whole foods to fairway. We're on the Dwayne Reed stores, many of the Duane Reed stores. We're in a lot of going into a lot of the bodega's and Kings and Dell do cheese and the did CTOs and a lot of those retailers.
Keith Belling:
11:37
So we have a really nice presence. And then what we did is we tried to come up with a way to create some visibility for the brand in that marketplace for this sort of share what we're doing and have some visibility and, and it's been terrific. So we, we've made a modest investment in some outdoor that's ranging from some, um, some subway boards and some taxi tops and some wild postings. Um, I think our design team really did a terrific job, created real fun identity for the brand. And so we've got that nice visibility, you know, kind of across the marketplace and where we're getting some real visibility. And then on top of that, our, our, our partner distributor in that market, um, you know, gave us a, a handful of their truck. So we've got eight trucks that are wrapped, um, with really fun, right rice graphics rolling around the streets in New York. We like to call them our rolling billboards. So those are going to be kind of all throughout Manhattan and then as well kind of running the 95 from, uh, from DC up to Boston. So we have them out on the streets and it'll be fun to see that reaction.
Phil Lempert:
12:36
What's next for Right Rice? Obviously, you know, you have a lot of distribution you'll fill in other distribution. Um, where do you see Right Rice in, in a year from now?
Keith Belling:
12:48
Well, okay, I hope it's, um, I hope where we see right rice is in a lot of people's bowls and plates. Um, but as far as from a retail standpoint, look, our, our, our plan is to continue to roll out the product to retailers across the country. We'd like to make it available to folks everywhere. We, we, you know, the, as I said, rice is one of the most beloved foods and the rice aisle has really been just, you know, there's been so little innovation in such a long time, so, so we're excited to continue, continue to grow it. Um, we now have this great line up of, you know, six flavors including the original and, and next year we're working on some innovation that we're not ready to share just yet that we'll be launching. Um, you know, it's kinda the, it'll be kind of our next generation product that we've been working on for, for probably almost a year now.
Phil Lempert:
13:30
Being a grocery expert as you are, uh, seeing what's going on. Talk a little bit about, you know, at that 30,000 foot level what you see happening in grocery stores and e-commerce for, for food.
Keith Belling:
13:45
You know, what's been really interesting to see what's going on and I think we're all students and learning. I mean I think you of all people, you know, have been such an expert in the grocery industry for so long. I think this is a period of such dynamic change and it's going to be really interesting to see how everything evolves. You know, look through my lens. I mean, what we obviously see as a really rapid growth of brands and the direct to consumer, you know, you know, e-commerce, you know, obviously what Amazon is doing. And I think that's a challenge and creating a challenge and an opportunity for other retailers and grocery stores and um, to, to, you know, to, to how they're gonna deliver on the promise to consumers. So I think it's a period of rapid change. I think, there's always going to be, you know, key dominant, um, retail partners, you know, we're getting, whether it's the whole foods or the Kroger's or the Wegmans.
Keith Belling:
14:32
And I think at the other extreme, you know, I think there's this specialty folks that the Erewhon and other, the other folks in markets around the country that are kind of really key. But at the same time, you know, e-commerce is taking on an increasingly important role and you know, whether that's Amazon or some of the other players and you know, that are, that are, and I think the third piece that, that is the home delivery, you know, the, the fresh Drex of this world and the good aches. And the folks that have really stepped up. And I think creating a real dominant position in the market.
Phil Lempert:
15:01
So Keith, last question and whether it be by plan or by accident, you know, your, you're probably with the wind at your back because plant-based, everything is just so hot and we're seeing so many more consumers looking to add those, those fruit and vegetable servings every day. And certainly with a product like Right Rice, you're doing that. You, you really have, you know, the, the power of vegetables in, in this bag of rice.
Keith Belling:
15:32
Yeah. Look, I mean I like I, you know, sometimes better be lucky than good. I don't know that I did. I'd say, you know, really what makes for our tiny, but we are obviously kind of in the right place at the right time. I laughed when we, you know, got named by people magazine as the best plant based food. Um, you know, rice is plant-based and, but at the same time we were delivering this next generation of rice that has, you know, so we like to say making rice even better than it has now. This nutritional profile. And, and whatnot. But the look at the plant-based trends aren't going away. I mean we're seeing it, whether it's in the meatless category, you know, and kind of everything else that we touch. And what we're excited about is to see how that helps the reception for right rice.
Keith Belling:
16:11
Because in most cases when people are looking for plant based foods and particularly vegetables, it's really hard to find protein and enough fiber or at least a combination of both. And so, you know, we feel really fortunate that we've come up with something that delivers on, there's the vegan profile, you know, all non-GMO, but at the same time delivers, you know, a really significant amount of protein and fiber. And again, what I, what I just don't want to miss on. And you know, if I think of the things I learned from pop chips maybe as much as anything, which was the importance of taste and flavor. Cause no matter how healthy something is, and I know you've seen this with products in the grocery store fill, no matter how healthy our people won't buy them if they don't taste good. Um, and so it's super important.
Keith Belling:
16:53
You know, it's like table stakes and in in the rice world, but it'd be this great taste and texture. And my favorite thing is seeing the, the, the messages now from mom saying their kids love rice and they're having trouble getting in the Moffitt. And the number of moms have told us that, you know, that they love right rice and you know, it's given their kid this nutritious, you know, it's giving them veggies and some nutrition and they think they're eating rights. You know, they just love the taste and texture. So, and that, that's kind of the ultimate consumer, right, is the people who really are not fully judging based on what goes in their mouth. But we're really excited to see that we've really been able to deliver on a product that tastes good, has a very rice like texture and at the same time absorbs flavors and sauces. Like the way I said it's so important and the rice category.
Phil Lempert:
17:34
Well Keith, thanks so much for joining us on lost in the supermarket today and great luck with Right Rice.
Keith Belling:
17:41
Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Great talking with you Phil.
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