Facing a live audience and five judges, Jasberry CEO and Co-founder Peetachai “Neil” Dejkraisak won the grand prize Wednesday for his superfood purple rice.

Dawn Reiss

September 21, 2023

9 Slides

It’s taken years to get here. After a nerve-wracking competition, CEO and co-founder Peetachai “Neil” Dejkraisak bested a field of eight semifinalists from Naturally Network affiliates to win the 2023 Natural Products Expo East Pitch Slam on Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

“We believe that big change starts with a tiny grain of rice,” said Dejkraisak, founder of Jasberry Organic Superfood Rice. “Jasberry rice is a new variety of rice with over 40 times higher antioxidants than brown rice, seven times more than kale and four times more than quinoa. It is simply the world's first superfood rice.”

But the low-glycemic rice isn’t just about transforming consumer health, Dejkraisak said, “It’s about transforming family lives out of poverty and transforming the planet through regenerative agriculture.”

After launching into Whole Foods in May, the company has been listed in more than 850 doors, both offline and online. “Our mission is to make superfood affordable and accessible for everyday life,” Dejkraisak said.

Within a three-minute time limit, each founder shared their company’s story, sales figures, market data and other important details.

The five judges then narrowed the field to four finalists who competed in a lightning round—a four-minute question-and-answer session—before they decided Jasberry was the winner. The grand prize includes a free both at Natural Products Expo West 2024 and more than $30,000 in New Hope Network services.

This year’s judges brought a variety of industry experience to the competition: Alyssa Vescio is senior vice president of merchandising at Whole Foods Market; Cynthia Tice founded Lily’s Sweets; Sherry Frey is the vice president or total wellness at NielsenIQ; Megan Reuszer is a director at PearlRock Partners; and Ben Fishman sits on the board of Regenified.

While the judges deliberated, the audience voted via their cell phones for the audience choice award.

Kristin Fracassi, CEO and Founder of Root and Splendor, a non-toxic, organic and sustainable household products brand that includes laundry detergent, won the audience’s choice award.

The mother of four active boys who “created mountains of the dirtiest laundry” said she set out to find a safe and effective way to clean their clothes when conventional brands weren’t meeting her safety requirements. Other natural brands also failed her expectations to be safe and adequately clean clothes.

“Our leading products were created alongside chemists and are nature's safest and most effective plant-based laundry essentials, all in sustainable packaging,” Fracassi said.

Besides using essential oils and bioactive ingredients, the waterless formula comes in retail packaging that is food safe, recyclable and compostable, providing an 800% reduction in carbon footprint compared to the ridged plastic judge, she said.

Overall runner-up Azul Couzens represented ¡Ya Oaxaca!, a mole sauce brand created by Oaxaca-based chef Susana Trilling.

“The goal of a well-made mole is not to have any ingredient emerge as the hero of the story,” Couzens said. “You got to think really well balanced.”

The eight semifinalists who competed represented eight of the nine Naturally Network affiliates:

“All these folks won a regional pitch slam, a competition that ladders up to Expo East and helps us identify amazing, early-stage brands across the country,” said Katrina Tolentino, executive director of Naturally Network, the largest membership organization representing the natural, organic and better-for-you products industry. A Naturally New England chapter is starting to form, as well.

Click through the gallery to see photos from Wednesday's competition. A replay of the event is available on LinkedIn.

About the Author(s)

Dawn Reiss

Dawn Reiss is a Chicago-based journalist who has written for TIME, The New York Times, The Atlantic, AFAR, Travel + Leisure, Civil Eats, Fortune.com, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, among others. Find her at www.dawnreiss.com.

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