As the cold chain responded to the challenges of 2021, each of our five Processors to Watch overcame an unprecedented year, growing their brands and positioning them to take off in 2022.
These processors exhibit a commitment to their customers through the use of sustainable manufacturing and sourcing practices, and creative approaches to changing consumer tastes.
In their own words, these evolving companies tell us their story and offer insights into where the cold foods processing industry is heading.
(These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity).
Louis Armstrong – Founder
The Killer Creamery story: I was looking for a sugar-free ice cream option and couldn’t find one. As a food scientist, I saw this as a great opportunity to use my skill set for something both me and my friends craved. I started at the Boise Farmers Market and have since grown the company to 3,000 stores across the country. Killer Creamery’s sales are 100% from retail, with approximately $5 million in annual revenues.
Why we’re different: We are giving customers a sugar-free product that they can love without sacrificing taste, texture, or quality in a form that is completely new to the better-for-you market.
Our ingredients: We self-manufactured through 2018, and have now moved on to co-manufacturing partners. We source the cleanest ingredients on the market, use our third-party vendors to produce and package our delicious products and work closely with our retail partners to find the best distribution model possible so both of us see the successes we are looking for.
Our sustainability goals: We are set to be on the front lines of packaging changes coming in the ice cream segment, which will move the entire category to more sustainable packaging options. We are always looking for ways to improve our process to be more sustainable and ask our partners to do the same. In a category that is lagging behind in this area, we will be a large part of the move to a more sustainable ice cream future.
Our top-selling product in 2021: Our top seller this year is our vanilla ice cream sandwich. The lack of sugar, combined with this nostalgic form, has been a huge hit with consumers of all ages.
Forecast for Killer Creamery’s future: We remain a small team but we’ve been able to grow and staff people in key internal areas for sales, operations and marketing. We’ve also recently expanded our SKUs from an original six pint profile to 10 flavors coming into 2022 and our sandwiches from two to four flavors.
Our growth has allowed us to open up two new distribution warehouses around the country to strategically get our product to customers in a timely fashion. We plan on continuing to bring innovation across the ice cream and novelty categories and are targeting particular items that can use some sugar-free love.
Farrah Moussallati Sibai – Co-Founder & President
The Afia story: The journey from a kitchen in Syria, to a farmer’s market in Austin, Texas, and now to stores across the nation, has been about infusing the meals of our past with modern flavors and nourishing our community along the way. In Arabic, “Afia!” is a toast to one’s health and well-being and a reminder to brighten up your table while uplifting those around it.
I created Afia in 2017, after resettling in Austin following personal tragedy and loss at home in Syria. Afia is a Mediterranean food company driven by a mission to make food powerful. While volunteering with a local refugee community, I saw how food was a deep connection to home for others. With the help of my husband and Afia co-founder, Yassin Sibai, we got to work creating the recipes for our frozen falafel, inspired by our homeland. Today, Afia sells five different products in more than 1,700 locations, with 88% of sales coming from retail channels. The company has a direct-to-consumer/e-commerce channel and a small foodservice business. Afia is expected to reach over $1.5 million in gross sales, for about 70% year-over-year growth.
Why we’re different: Afia manufactures its own products. We currently operate a 5,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, employing eight food production team members. We are in the process of transitioning to a new, build-to-suite 21,000-square-foot facility with a fully automated production line, expected to increase capacity by 10 times.
Afia is dedicated to nourishing the community through more than food. Beyond regular donations to local food banks, Afia is committed to supporting our local community of refugees through employment and mentoring.
Our ingredients: Afia is made with authentic Mediterranean ingredients. We use only quality whole ingredients, free of any preservatives and additives. Everything we produce is halal, and we offer several gluten-free and vegan products.
Our sustainability goals: As a food manufacturer, we try to optimize our utilization of all ingredients and utilities since this directly reflects our bottom line. We are conscious of any recycling as it relates to manufacturing waste (for example, cooking oil is recycled through a contract with an oil collection service). All our falafel ingredients are sourced locally in the U.S. Processing and packaging are all done in our current facility in Jarrell, Texas. We partner with multiple distributors and logistics companies to achieve efficient distribution.
Our top-selling product in 2021: Garlic and herb and traditional falafel are our top-selling products. We’ve simplified falafel, which is incredibly challenging and messy to make. Garlic and herb falafel is an excellent example of the modern twist we put on these falafel flavors.
Forecast for Afia’s future: Going from making the individual falafel by hand to a 21,000-square-foot, fully-automated facility with ample cold storage capacity is a huge accomplishment and one that will spur Afia’s next stage of growth. Overtime, our product portfolio grew from 1 SKU to 5 SKUs of falafel in response to consumer demand for better-for-you, plant based, healthy foods.
In addition, we are looking to expand our charitable involvement. As Afia becomes bigger, there is more we can do. We are completely committed to refugees around the world, and I hope we are able to do a lot more here. We are heavily focused on building brand and product awareness with our consumers. Look for more launches in the second half of 2022.
8 Myles Mac N Cheese
Myles Powell – Founder
The 8 Myles story: I was born from a family of foodies and entrepreneurs and have always had a love for food and a proclivity for hustle. My best memories of family time were spent gathered around for daily meals and the stars of the show were always comfort food — collard greens, fried chicken and, of course, mac and cheese. While pursuing a career in engineering, I experimented with new recipes inspired by the foods of my childhood and soon found myself on Food Network’s “America’s Best Cook.” That stint sealed the deal for me and in 2015, I decided that food would play a bigger role my life than just sustenance and a hobby.
Today, 8 Myles Mac N Cheese can be found in over 400 retail locations and is developing a direct-to-consumer program that will go live toward the end of 2022. The company’s sales are currently derived 100% from retail, with an expected annual revenue of $200,000.
Why we’re different: 8 Myles Mac N Cheese is not only made with all real ingredients and premium cheese, but also with nearly half the sodium of our competitors. Consumers these days not only require the convenience of a frozen meal, but the quality of a home cooked meal.
Our production process: We currently operate out of a shared commercial kitchen space in Washington, D.C., called Union Kitchen. We have plans to move to a co-packer in January. Aside from the production and marketing teams we continue to expand our team to capitalize on our growth trajectory.
Our sustainability goals: As we continue to expand, we will be utilizing packaging with post-recyclable material. This includes the bowl that hosts our product, along with the outside packaging. In addition, we will continue to source from our domestic partners, which helps reduce the impact our operations have on an already taxed supply chain, by limiting the adverse effects of extensive transportation needs.
Our top-selling product in 2021: Our 8 Myles Homestyle Mac N Cheese has been the top-selling product in 2021. From a consumer standpoint, it is the most familiar product we carry. The homemade quality allows us to capitalize on the nostalgia of the consumer. We also sell a buffalo mac and a BBQ mac, which are slightly more adventurous for the consumer.
Forecast for 8 Myle’s future: We have experienced significant growth over the last 12 months, with 300% growth year over year. This was fueled by new retail partners in 2021, such as Target. With this growth comes the opportunity for new SKUs, including a line of family sized mac n cheese, which is expected to be released in early December 2022. Over the next few years, our plans are to dominate the comfort food space in the frozen category.
Veggies Made Great
Elliot Huss – CEO
The Veggies Made Great story: Veggies Made Great came to the market in 2008, originally as Garden Lites, part of the New Classic Cooking family. The brand became Veggies Made Great in 2018, with the mission to get consumers hooked on veggies. Many consumers knew they needed to eat more veggies, but didn’t have the time or were unsure how to prepare them. We were plant-based food before it was a trend!
We are in nearly every major retailer today, including Costco, Walmart, Target, Publix, Kroger, Ahold, and Wakefern and has nearly doubled our club and retail sales versus a year ago. Veggies Made Great products are sold on our online store, called The Health Food Store and some products are sold on Amazon.
Why we’re different: Vegetables are the No. 1 ingredient in every product we make. All our veggie-first products including frittatas, muffins, veggie cakes, come in convenient, ready-to-eat microwavable form. All items are gluten, nut and soy free (with many dairy-free options) and remarkably delicious. Our products have the added benefit of high protein, are made with only clean and simple ingredients and are nutritionally smart (low in fat, calories, sugar and salt). The individual, 2-ounce packages are the perfect on-the-go snack, lunchbox addition, or post workout treat.
As a SQF level III/edition 8 manufacturer, we are held to very high standards when it comes to sourcing, producing, packaging and distributing. Also being a kosher manufacturer means that we have a lot of traceability as it relates to our partners. Veggies Made Great makes it easy and delicious to eat more veggies throughout the day. Our products are able to be enjoyed for breakfast, snacks, lunch, a dinner side dish or dessert.
Our production process: We self-manufacture all of our product offerings in a 90,000-square-foot facility located in Avenel, New Jersey, with plans to open an additional manufacturing facility in 2022, to keep up with the demand from our retail, club, private label and foodservice partners. Our facility funs 24-hours a day, six-days-a-week, with four filling lines, four production lines, and four packaging lines running simultaneously. We employ over 260 employees in our manufacturing facility.
Our sustainability goals: As our business has expanded, food quality and safety has been a top priority, and we are proud to achieve the highest level Safe Quality Food Institute (QFI) certification in 2021. Our facilities use green practices, including LED lighting, flooring made from recycled materials, and an upgrade to 480-volt electricity, which uses less energy for our high-speed lines. All our refrigeration and freezing compressors are high efficiency and use high efficiency R-507 gas. As part of our expansion we also increased our cooling capacity, expanded shipping docs, added new freezer racks and increased our space for finished goods, all of which help drive energy efficiencies. One of our favorite sustainability efforts was converting all of our 2,000 wooden pallets to plastic, made from materials we recycled in house.
We don’t stop at our ingredient sourcing or manufacturing efficiencies when it comes to transparency and peace of mind for the consumer. We are also sensitive to the materials that go into the packaging of our product. That’s why the flow wrap on all of our products are BPA-free plastic and the cartons you see on shelf at your local grocer are widely recyclable and made with recycled material.
Our top-selling product in 2021: Our spinach egg white frittata was our top-selling product in 2021 for its combination of convenience (45 seconds to heat in the microwave and portable) and great nutritional values (70 calories and 5 grams of protein). In addition to being inherently “keto friendly” (high protein, low carb and low sugar) this frittata meets the growing consumer demand to deliver a veggie-rich, portable and convenient option to enjoy throughout the day. Sales of the frittata is up over 250% for the latest 52 weeks according to Nielsen for the Total xAOC (Extended All Outlet Combined) channels. Other flavors include the second-best selling flavor, a plant-based sausage, egg & cheese frittata made with Beyond Meat and mushroom & three cheese.
Forecast for Veggies Made Great’s future: We believe there is a lot of potential upside to our business and are focused on some major initiatives across the company, including: defining our brand story, innovating into new categories, adding new retailers and growing our foodservice business. Specifically, we are excited to launch our new Keto muffin offering, with new flavors available in select retailers including Costco, in 2022. We also are in the process of working with a co-manufacturer in Italy to bring some delicious, authentic, veggie-rich Italian-based products to the U.S. under the Veggies Made Great brand name! We are working to create new products that will excite and delight our current consumer, while also expanding to those who may not have tried us before. Veggies are, and always will be, our No. 1 ingredient.
At the end of the day we’re an honest and humble brand: we are in the business of feeding you and your family food you can feel good about. While we are committed to using veggies as the first ingredient, we are also committed to keeping the bad stuff out of your food.
Scott & Jon’s
Scott Demers & Jon Demers – Co-Founders
The Scott & Jon’s story: We are brothers who were living together after college. I worked in finance and Jon as a firefighter, and we both worked as cooks at our parents’ diner on the weekends. Initially, we created a premium seafood appetizer company called Cheating Gourmet. Between 2014 and 2017, the business found a modest level of success, but it wasn’t reaching the potential we envisioned. Then one night while eating a frozen meal, we had an epiphany. The frozen meal lacked flavor, tasted watered down, and was filled with unrecognizable ingredients. We believed we could make great tasting and better-for-you at the same time and began formulating meals our kitchen. We rebranded the company Scott & Jon’s, and we were off and running.
Today, the brand is sold in 15,000 grocery, mass merchandise, natural foods, and club stores including Walmart, Target, Publix, Meijer, and Sprouts. The company experienced 42% growth in annual sales in 2021. Future plans include a direct-to-consumer option, but short-term growth is focused on gaining distribution in brick-and-mortar retail channels.
Why we’re different: Scott & Jon’s produce the best-tasting, better-for-you meals for health-conscious consumers seeking convenient meals. To achieve an elevated experience for our millennial consumer target, Scott and I personally develop each recipe and sample each production lot to ensure the meals surprise and delights our consumers. We believes calorie-conscious eating stands at the foundation of successful health. Calories are so important that each package declares the calorie content big and bold on the front of the carton. At Scott & Jon’s, we prioritize ingredients that can often be found in their mother’s kitchen pantry. We employ a culinary chef who partners with us to craft recipes with smart substitutes, like Neufchâtel cheese to replace heavy cheeses to keep calories and fat content in check.
Our production process: Scott & Jon’s operates three facilities strategically located across the country to support our distribution. We maintain rigorous quality processes. Our priority is to provide the highest quality meals for our consumers.
Our sustainability goals: We source high quality, clean labeled ingredients from only first-in-class suppliers and source only BAP-certified (Best Aquaculture Practices) shrimp that is phosphate-free and sustainably-farmed. All cartons utilize FSC-certified paperboard. The Forest Stewardship Council certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits. The paperboard comes from a combination of recycled and virgin materials, and the cartons are 100% recyclable and the inks used for printing are vegetable and soy based which is safe for the consumer and the environment.
Our top-selling product in 2021: Shrimp Scampi is the brand’s top-selling item, accounting for 20% of total sales with a 55% increase in sales year over year. Consumers are paying more attention to healthy eating and U.S. consumers are eating more seafood than ever before.
Forecast for Scott & Jon’s future: In 2022, we plan to introduce products to reach more households, with a new line of entrees featuring white meat chicken. While seafood is growing in popularity, some consumers prefer other sources of protein. Second, the brand is investigating the breakfast occasion after noticing that consumers are eating more breakfast foods and looking for convenient, high quality options for that eating occasion.
We want to continue to serve as a valuable supplier to our retail customers by maintaining very high fill rates on all product order. On Time In Full (OTIF) is one of our key success metrics. We know other suppliers have struggled to fill demand and feel we’ve built a competitive advantage with our nimble, scalable supply chain.