It all started with a veggie burger. Hilary Brown, the founder of Hilary's Eat Well, initially developed a veggie burger free from the eight most common food allergens for her restaurant in Kansas. That burger blossomed into one of today's top plant-based food brands that caters to consumers avoiding gluten, dairy, soy, corn and nuts.
Hilary's has made a name for itself using interesting organic ingredients like millet, lentils, arrowroot, parsnips and beets in flavorful formulations that can sit at the center of the plate. Its new veggie sausages were a finalist for a New Hope NEXTY Award at Natural Products Expo East.
Here, Vice President of Marketing Becky Harpstrite shares some insight into the company's core values and what's resonated with consumers.
What do you think have been key factors behind the growth and success of Hilary’s?
Becky Harpstrite: For one, we have an incredibly passionate team who firmly believe in our B Corporation values and dedication to nourishing people’s bodies and the environment with foods that taste great and are free of all common allergens and artificial ingredients. I believe that’s truly the anchor as to what has made us able to continually grow and be successful.
As a company, we’re also willing to take risks. When we first entered the market with our veggie burgers back in 2010, the category was a bit stale. At the time, most of the veggie burgers were loaded with gluten, soy, and common allergens like dairy, nuts and corn. Our goal was to turn this category on its head, which we were able to achieve by developing veggie burger options that are completely free of common allergens, use the best ingredients, and are certified gluten free, Non-GMO verified and certified organic.
Finally, another contributing factor is that while our products of course cater to those who might have food allergies or intolerances, people in general care now more than ever about what they’re putting into their bodies and we are able to provide them with options that they can feel good about.
Can you give us some insight into your R&D process—how you go about conceptualizing and developing new products for allergen-free or plant-based eaters?
BH: We have an incredible R&D team that is regularly researching how food affects our bodies and mind, and whipping up new creations accordingly. While we want to formulate products that are made from real ingredients and free from common allergens, we also want to ensure that our products are appetizing. We start with an approach of "what can we use?" and begin thoughtfully sourcing organic ingredients that are easily recognizable. After that, we look to add other foods that are not only incredibly nourishing but also taste delicious.
You seem to have pretty broad distribution, from small natural food stores to major chains. How is your strategy or approach to selling products different in these various channels?
BH: Shoppers who frequent natural stores tend to pay more attention to ingredients and are more attracted to minimally processed foods. Conventional shoppers may not prioritize the clean ingredient panel as highly as natural shoppers, but nevertheless embrace our products because it fits the need for a free from option.
What’s your approach to working with bloggers and social media influencers?
BH: We love to work with influencers who are passionate about spreading the same values we believe in, and we’re regularly in touch with them to see how we might be able to collaborate together. When people taste our products and then authentically want to share it with others, whether through something like a giveaway or recipe creation, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Can you give us any insight into what’s next? New products or initiatives that are in the works?
BH: We most recently added Frozen Veggie Breakfast Sausages to our roster that come in two flavors—Spicy Veggie Sausage and Apple Maple Veggie Sausage. This was an exciting launch for us because we couldn’t find a veggie breakfast sausage that lived up to our clean ingredient standards.