The 5 Natural Products Expo West Pitch Slam finalists for 2022 are…

A retired Naval officer, a real estate developer, a First Nations father of 6, a hospitality company executive and a proud Sagittarius. They all compete again today.

Shara Rutberg

March 9, 2022

5 Min Read
The five Natural Products Expo West Pitch Slam finalists for 2022 are…

The atmosphere in Grand Ballroom F exuded "friendly dolphin" more than "vicious shark" as 10 natural products founders vied for a prize that could change the course of their brands—and their lives.

Of the 10 competitors in Tuesday's Natural Products Expo West Pitch Slam Semifinals, only five take the stage again today to pitch their hearts out at the live finals. One winner will receive over $35,000 in prizes and services from New Hope Network, including a booth at Expo West 2023.

A Natural Products Expo West tradition, Pitch Slam elevates mission-driven and innovative brands, connecting changemakers with the exposure and resources they need to take their companies to the next level. The semifinalists were selected based on video pitches judged by a panel of industry veterans. Each then received a mentor to help them refine their pitch.

On Tuesday, the entrepreneurs not only pitched in front of a live audience and possibly thousands watching online, they faced four judges sitting just feet away. Each semi-finalist pitched for 3 fast-paced minutes, then fielded judges' questions for 4 more.

The all-women panel of judges consisted of industry veterans: Lindsey Wilson, business development manager at B Lab; Liz Myslik, partner at growth equity fund Loft Growth Partners; Nina Robinson, a portfolio manager at Runway; and Corinne Shindelar, principal and CEO of All Natural Strategies and founder of Independent Natural Foods Retailers Association.

The five finalists who will pitch Wednesday—again, live at the Marriot and livestreamed via NPEV—are listed below, with the consumer trends they fulfill.

Thereasa Black, BonAppeSweet

While Black, a retired naval officer and attorney, was away from hom on a 14-month deployment, her family treated her toddler daughter to all the candy her mom never let her have. When Black returned, she “compromised,” creating candy her daughter loved with ingredients she preferred her daughter to eat. BonAppeSweet’s date-sweetened, plant-based, dairy-free,chocolate bars include zero-added sugar, limited ingredients and a social justice mission. A social justice fact is included on every bar to “help people learn about what’s wrong so they can help to fix it,” said Black. And Black knows a thing or two about missions.

“The navy trusted me to drive a $12.8 billion aircraft carrier, so you can definitely trust me with your investment,” she told judges.

Trends: Sugar vilified. Eat more plants. Mission-driven. Diversifying ownership. Clean label.

Gustavo Nader, AMAZ

The brand’s line of sparkling yerba mate is fueled by adaptogens, Amazon superfoods and the founders’ passions for the Amazon rainforest. The organic sparkling teas are better-for-you energy drinks that help restore not just bodies, but ecosystems. AMAZ partners with leading nonprofits to source the regeneratively grown ingredients.

“Two percent of sales support seeding efforts within native forests in Brazil,” said Nader, who is Brazilian. Through the Xingu Seeds Network, indigenous forest caretakers collect tree seeds and redistribute them, replanting deforested areas and bringing new agroforestry technologies to areas in need.

Trends: Sugar vilified. Eat more plants. Mission-driven. Diversifying ownership. Clean label.

Phillip Gaudon, Native American Natural Foods

The brand’s Tanka bars are made from a traditional Lakota recipes using prairie fed buffalo and cranberries.

“The high-protein, portable bars are ancient tradition meets modern healthy lifestyle in each smokey-sweet tender bite,” Gaudon said . The 14-year-old brand was born in the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is also a massive food desert in South Dakota. “We look at food as medicine,” for the body, for the Native American community that raises the buffalo and for the grasslands the herds help regenerate.

Trends: Nutrition meets convenience. Mission-driven. Diversifying ownership. Sourcing responsibly.

Nghia Tran, Burma Love Foods

“Our mission is to bridge cultures through the simple goodness of food and inspire the world to explore the flavors of Burma,” Tran said  of the line of products based around fermented 100% organic tea leaves and recipes from the company’s Burma Superstore restaurants. The brand’s tea leaf salad kit includes fermented tea leaf dressing and a crunchy mix of seeds and nuts to mix with fresh produce, thus creating flavorful tea leaf salads at home. The brand introduced fair prices, organic certification and direct trade to the Burmese farmers who grow the tea, dramatically improving their lives.

Trends: Eat more plants. Nutrition meets convenience. Mission-driven. Diversifying ownership. Sourcing responsibly.

Renee Dunn, Amazi

Dunn wants the world to “snack on purpose,” with food that can be both connected and convenient. The brand’s line of innovative tropical fruit snacks are made in partnership with farmers in Uganda, where Dunn studied and was inspired by the entrepreneurship of the Ugandan people.

“They just needed a bridge to the global economy,” she said. So far, Amazi has created 85 jobs that pay three to four times local wages. The production is majority-Ugandan owned. “We’re proof that through radical transparency, convenient and connected snacking is possible—and it can taste pretty damn good, too!”

Trends: Eat more plants. Nutrition meets convenience. Mission-driven. Diversifying ownership. Sourcing responsibly.

The five semifinalists who did not advance certainly provided the judges with some tough choices:

  • Stephen Cowan, Beyond Microgreens—Shelf-stable, sustainably grown microgreen boosters and teas.

  • Heather Terry, GoodSam—Chocolate bars, snacks and baking mixes made with products sourced from small farms.

  • Rosa Dixon, Raised Gluten Free—Gluten-free, vegan sweet and savory pies.

  • Tathy Vosgerau, Gifted Breads—Gluten-free specialty breads.

  • Paul Majcherczyk, Fabalish—Plant-based dips and falafel made from chickpeas and aquafaba (chickpea water).

Pitch Slam isn't all about winning, though.

“Having the chance to participate was massive,” said Adam Bent, founder of Scout sustainably harvested canned seafood. The 2020 Pitch Slam Rising Star award winner discussed his experience while the judges deliberated.

Pitch Slam connected Scout with some of its earliest investors, Bent said.

"It led to the brand’s entry into Whole Foods. It was one of the most important things we’ve done as a brand and the resulting trajectory’s been pretty phenomenal.”

Natural Products Expo West logo

To watch this and other Natural Products Expo West sessions, visit Natural Products Expo Virtual. Access to NPEV is included with Expo West in-person registration.

New Hope Network has planned a year of activities on our community platform, Natural Products Expo Virtual. Discover thousands of amazing companies, more pre-show programming and livestreamed sessions including Climate Day, Pitch Slam and the State of the Natural & Organic Industry keynote.

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