Every year for Natural Products Expo East and Expo West, we review dozens and dozens of standout brand applications for the Pitch Slam Semifinals. Selecting just a handful is a huge challenge, but throughout the process are three main judging criteria we always come back to: innovation, inspiration and integrity.
This year's 10 Expo East Pitch Slam semifinalists nail it in all three categories, though each shine extra bright in one. This go around, we’re highlighting the four Expo East Pitch Slam semifinalists that put innovation at the forefront (and will feature the brands that lead with inspiration and integrity in the coming weeks).
From a shelf-stable omelet bar and delicious water kefir to an herbal coffee alternative and sustainable seaweed products, it’s clear these brands are paving new paths in the natural products industry. But, there’s always more to the story.
So we asked each founder this question: How does innovation play a key role in your brand?
Scramblers: the shelf-stable omelet bar
"Innovation is core to what we are and why we are. Dan and I started in the food business with an early craft grass-fed beef jerky brand with flavors never tasted before in a jerky product. We learned how quickly better-funded brands can swoop in and co-opt your innovations if they're not locked down.
With Scramblers, we knew we'd be pushing the envelope, and we'd do it with an innovation that was protected by heavy patent and trade secret IP and with aggressive barriers to entry. Being different is as foundational for us as being delicious. So we founded Deliciously Different LLC with a mission to bring true, disruptive innovation to beloved, on-fire ingredients and categories. Enter The Original Omelet Bar. We're yolked to be bringing Scramblers to market!"
–Matt Tolnick, co-founder and CEO; Dan Kaplan, co-founder and creative director
Mellow Rooster: the non-caffeinated “coffee” blend
"Caffeine’s influence on sleep quality is often misunderstood. The question we hear most often is, 'How much (caffeine) are you consuming?' But what we should be asking ourselves is, 'When was your last cup?' Caffeine stays in the system for about 14 hours for an average adult, whether we’re asleep or not.
We're excited to introduce a new beverage that provides us coffee lovers with the experience of coffee without the coffee. Mellow Rooster is an herbal blend that tastes remarkably like coffee. Unlike decaf, it's naturally caffeine-free. We didn't set out to create a performance drink, but it just so happened that it's really good for you. It's loaded with antioxidants, promotes digestion, contains anti-inflammatory and stress-reducing properties.
We envision a world with more people sharing the kinder, healthier, smarter version of themselves. Where coffee jitters don’t exist and a nice, rich cup of joe won’t compromise a good night’s sleep. A world where everyone is well-rested and ready to take on the day."
–Mike Choyoma, founder
Atlantic Sea Farms: the sustainable seaweed brand
"Seaweed is popping up in grocery stores and sushi restaurants around the country—mostly in the form of seaweed snacks and seaweed salad—but 98% of all of the seaweed that we eat in the U.S. is imported dried seaweed from Asia, often grown in compromised waters. It is then flavored or rehydrated and dyed before it ends up in American consumers' snack packs or plates.
We are bringing first-to-market, delicious, fresh-frozen and fresh-fermented kelp products to the U.S. consumer. The fact that this 'virtuous vegetable' also helps reduce ocean acidification and provides supplemental incomes for Maine's coastal fishermen in the face of climate change means that our gamble on doing something truly different than anything else on the market helps further an extremely important social mission."
–Jesse Baines, sales and marketing manager
Goodwolf: the water kefir drink
"For Goodwolf, operating in the crowded functional/probiotic beverage space, innovation is going to be crucial. Any brand can R&D and figure out new angles, but we are focusing on company innovation, innovation around our social mission and innovation around our positioning as a challenger brand within the space. We view innovation as a synonym for continuous improvement.
Innovation is important, but positive innovation is key. If the only goal is more sales and more profit, then we lose sight of our core values and we fail at our mission of 'feeding the good wolf inside of us.' Our focus is on strategic and intentional growth. Positive innovation will be part of that growth."
–Keenan Smith, owner