Revolution Foods has been making waves in the natural foods industry with both its packaged foods innovations and its school food service operations around the country. Here, cofounder Kirsten Tobey talks about Revolution Foods’ retail and school-food strategies, and what we can expect from her upcoming keynote at Natural Products Business School at Expo East next month.
Can you give us a taste of what your Expo East Business School keynote will cover?
Kirsten Tobey: Building a values-based business starts with defining your core values as a leader and instilling those values into every aspect of your business.
You've received some attention for innovating in the packaged foods category. What do you think makes Revolution Foods stand out in this area?
KT: Revolution Foods is disrupting tired grocery categories by creating convenient, delicious, healthy offerings for families. As busy working moms ourselves, we are always looking for ways to help other busy working parents provide great snack and meal options that are chef-crafted, kid-tested and mom-approved. We use high-quality ingredients, including meats raised with no antibiotics, and no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners, while still delivering the convenience that today’s families seek. And like our school meals, we are conscious that cost is a factor for most families, so our entire offering is affordable and designed to provide more families with access to healthy food.
What new product launches or developments can we expect to see in the near future?
KT: We created our retail product line in response to feedback from parents and teachers about the need for healthy, convenient meals and snacks that could keep students and families nourished throughout the day, and you'll continue to see innovative healthy meal solutions. We'll be launching two new products that meet the needs of busy families for different meal times early this fall.
Tell us about your work in schools. It seems unusual for a consumer-facing company to also be serving school meals—can you explain how that happened, and how many schools you're in now?
KT: Kristin [Richmond, cofounder] and I developed the idea for Revolution Foods in business school—we started out in 2006 to transform the way America eats starting with kids in schools. We began serving freshly prepared, healthy meals to students in schools in the Bay Area, and we now serve over 1.5 million school meals every week in 15 states.
You say your meals exceed the USDA’s nutrition standards. How so?
KT: Every Revolution Foods school lunch is accompanied by a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. We go above and beyond what USDA requires in school meals by ensuring all our meals are free from artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, ensuring that our food is delivered fresh to schools each day, and ensuring that the quality of the ingredients in everything we offer is of a high quality that we would (and do) serve to our own children.
How are the meals received by children? Is there an "adjustment period" for them—and do you track what children actually eat versus what they take and perhaps throw away?
KT: We engage kids in the entire process, so we design a menu that they are going to eat. We earn their trust with a classic menu—including kid favorites like hot dogs and cheeseburgers on whole wheat buns and whole grain-breaded chicken bites—but we only use high-quality ingredients without artificial flavors or sweeteners. We introduce meals that are culturally relevant, like jambalaya in Louisiana, and extend those to other markets. Based on feedback from kids, we introduce meals that may be outside what they normally eat but help to expand their palate and get them to try new ingredients. Our firecracker chicken—chili sesame noodles tossed with green onions, topped with diced grilled chicken breast and a sweet Thai chili sauce—is a good example and has been very popular.
Do you have any messages to share with the natural foods industry regarding children and healthy eating?
KT: We have always worked to ensure that our meals in both grocery stores and schools are affordable to all American families. We also focus on building healthy eating habits by addressing multiple meal occasions across multiple categories.
Catch Kirsten Toby at Natural Products Expo East.
What: Natural Products Business School keynote
When: 9-9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016
Where: Hilton Holiday Ballroom 6
Learn more here.