Is ketchup a vegetable? At True Made Foods, it is

Is ketchup a vegetable? At True Made Foods, it is

The maker of better-for-you condiments trades in long ingredient lists and non-existent nutrition labels for real vegetables and nutrients.

Since conventional condiments are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and other processed ingredients, it’s tempting to dismiss the “ketchup as a vegetable” claim as a hopeful myth. But thanks to True Made Foods, condiment connoisseurs finally have an option that lives up to this lofty claim.

Made with tomatoes, spinach, carrots and butternut squash, True Made’s Original Ketchup provides fiber, iron, calcium and vitamins A and B6—nutrients conventional ketchups don’t have. Here, co-founders Kevin Powell and Abraham Kamarck weigh in on why their ketchup, barbecue sauce and sriracha are truly better-for-you options, and the credo that informs their approach.

Why did you decide to focus on condiments? Why ketchup?

Kevin Powell: As you may know, the whole thing started because I hate eating vegetables. After I got out of the Army I started to put on weight, in part because I wasn't exercising, but mostly because my diet had gotten out of hand. In an effort to help me fix my diet, my wife, Abbey, started blending up vegetables and putting them in my food. It was surprisingly good, and I started thinking about how I could get more veggies into my diet. We thought ketchup would be a good conduit because we used it all the time and it's very unhealthy. Ketchup is indicative of the hidden dangers in our food: it seems harmless, but is actually packed with sugar or corn syrup. I thought, if we can change America's ketchup, we can change anything.

How are your offerings different from other options on the market?

Abraham Kamarck: Conventional ketchup and barbecue sauce are really nothing more than corn syrup and spice extract. The natural and organic options don't have to try very hard to be better, and they don't, which is how we saw the opportunity.

The better-for-you organic and natural options really just take out the corn syrup. They don't make any effort to actually make the product healthy. Pick up any organic or natural ketchup bottle and you'll see the "rule of four,” which is four grams of sugar per serving and these four words: "not a significant source..." because it is still an empty-calorie food. Our ketchup has 2 grams of sugar per serving and has a lot more vitamins and minerals (including potassium and vitamin K). The same can be said of barbecue sauce. Every other barbecue sauce in the aisle has a huge ingredient label and a non-existent nutrition label.

We're the opposite. We have a clean and simple ingredient label and our nutrition label stretches from top to bottom. Most food companies and startups are focused on just being "less evil." They simply add an organic certification or take out one bad ingredient. We don't want to be less evil. We want to actually be good. 

Not surprisingly, when you cook with real food it actually tastes better, so we have found that trying to be good actually helps make the product taste better, too. Now, when you see our brand on the aisle, you can trust that it will be the healthiest and best tasting option.

Where do you currently sell your products and how has the response been?

AK: The response has been tremendous. We have grown exceptionally fast and if we had been funded earlier, we could have grown even faster. There is a definite itch in the market that we are scratching. We are now in over 100 locations in the New York metro area, including all the Mrs. Green's Natural Markets, DeCicco's Markets and Whole Foods Markets, and we are on Fresh Direct.

We've recently expanded into another 100 locations in New England and central New York, like Stew Leonard's, Dave's Markets, Roche Bros., Trucchi's Supermarkets and Adams Fairacre Farms. We are now expanding into North Carolina with Lowes Foods, and we launch in Texas with HEB in June. Super Target is also testing us out in 42 locations in Colorado, Utah and northern California.

We've taken a steady but determined growth approach, and it is paying off with a solid foundation of sales from repeat customers. About 40 percent of our sales are repeat customers and 60 percent are new. Buyers are quick to pick up our products; there's almost a competition among buyers to see who can get us first. We still face the challenge of building awareness on the shelf, especially with ketchup since you have to break a shopper's habit of buying the same ketchup over and over again. It takes a little more merchandising and marketing to get someone to try the ketchup the first time. The BBQ Sauce has become our best seller, mainly because shoppers like trying new barbecue sauces, so it moves with less marketing.

Your company tagline is "when you know better, you do better.” Why does this resonate with your business, and what do you hope it says to your shoppers?

KP: The quote comes from something Maya Angelou said to me. She was really close with my mother and father back in the 1970s when they lived in Philadelphia. I had breakfast with her one morning while staying at her house for a college visit. She talked to me for over two hours about navigating life, finding my path, and being a good person. I am ashamed to admit that a lot of it went over my head—it was too early in the morning and I was too young. But one thing she said that stuck with me was "when you know better, you do better." Personally, it’s played into my adult life greatly as I struck out on my own after the Army. I had to grow up and let go of childish thoughts and behaviors. 

This quote resonates with our business because we offer a better-for-you product. We grew up in the 80s when commercial food was filled with sugar, fat and additives. There were no nutrition labels to tell you how bad the food was. As founders of a food company, we saw the mistakes of predecessors and knew things could be different. We know better, so now we are doing better. We hope that when shoppers buy our products they know that they are always getting a healthier product with clean ingredients. 

What's next for True Made Foods?

KP: We don't think of ourselves as a condiment company. We named the company True Made Foods because we knew we were going to branch out into other verticals. While we have some really exciting products in R&D, we continue to stay focused on our current offerings and delivering a great product to our customers. 

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