Erin Shotwell and Oliver Ponce Amy Deputy

Seeding sustainability: Good Seed Burger grows a category

Here's how the hemp-forward brand Good Seed Burger grew from food truck to plant-based product standard bearer.

Veggie burgers still have a bad rap thanks to those tasteless, highly processed patties of yesterday. But Austin, Texas-based Good Seed Burger is smashing all stereotypes with its line of four flavor-rich vegan burgers. Made from nutrient-dense ingredients like hempseeds, pumpkinseeds, lentils, wild mushrooms, black garlic and cauliflower, these frozen patties took home the NEXTY Award for Best New Meat Alternative at Natural Products Expo East 2016 and the Delicious Living Best Bite Award for Best Veggie Burger the same year.

Good Seed Burger is the brainchild of Oliver Ponce, a macrobiotic chef, and his partner, Erin Shotwell, both of whom are passionate about clean, plant-based eating. They started up a food truck to sling their burgers in Austin in 2009, turned those burgers into a CPG in 2014 and are now well on their way to becoming a national brand. Ponce and Shotwell took time to chat with us recently about their journey so far and what lies ahead.

What was the inspiration behind Good Seed Burger?

Oliver Ponce: It came through my experience as a macrobiotic chef at a macrobiotic community center. Also, personally, I had a desire to eat clean, plant-based foods, and it was a struggle to find good options out there. I wanted to take what I was doing out of the community center, so we started a food truck, and that’s where our All American Hemp Seed Burgers took off. People were buying them and taking them home to freeze for later, so we realized we could take our burgers to a wider audience.

Erin Shotwell: We wanted to get more plant-based options out there because Americans are consuming lots of meat, poor-quality meat and poor-quality oils. This contributes to a food system that is not sustainable for animal welfare or the planet, but also not sustainable for nutrition.

What are some key ingredients in your burgers?

OP: Every ingredient is chosen for taste, texture and nutrient density. It starts off with our superseed blend featuring hempseeds, pumpkinseeds and sunflower seeds. We never use binders or fillers or fluff. Many of our ingredients, like cauliflower, sweet potato and mushrooms, have crossed over and are very popular in the conventional market as well.

ES: And from a taste aspect, black garlic, shallots and mushrooms provide big flavor.

Do you aim to emulate the taste and mouthfeel of beef burgers?

ES: We have some flavors that are kind of beefy, but we are not trying to emulate beef exactly. As consumers and in creating this product, we’ve found that if you try to mimic beef too much, the burger gets too gummy, too unnatural. Many plant-based consumers tell us the same thing. They are not really after the meat taste; rather, they are looking for meal solutions and crave-able items like burgers and tacos. So for us, more than anything, it is about creating really unique flavor profiles.

What was your path to retail?

OP: When we closed our food truck and began learning how to do a CPG company and scale up, we launched at a local farmers market, making breakfast sandwiches and selling patties. Soon we were picked up by some local restaurants, cafés and bars. But to get our product into the retail space, we really had to knock down doors and tell vendors our story—and bring warm burgers to those meetings. That always helped because our products speak for themselves—and because many people have a bad idea about plant-based burgers because they haven’t tasted one in a while.

But now we are growing into a national brand. We are in more than half of the country, in both natural and conventional retailers, and we are definitely expanding.

In 2016, you scored both a NEXTY Award and a Delicious Living Best Bite Award. What did those mean for your brand?

OP: Both awards were really exciting and gave us notoriety. As the creator of these burger patties, it was a really big deal to be recognized for taste—for what Delicious Living called our “ridiculously cool ingredient list.”

Have you had mentors along the way?

ES: Yes, we have several advisers. One of our board members is from Rhythm Superfoods, and we went through an accelerator program in Austin called SKU. Having these advisers along the way was really helpful for understanding strategy out of the gates, knowing how to expand and learning what would be the best use of our resources, funding and time. It also helped us learn how different retailers work.

Do you work with independent natural retailers to market your products?

ES: We do online and in-store promos and marketing events together with retailers to encourage shoppers to try our products. Sometimes retailers will pair us with condiments or other like-minded clean-ingredient products from other categories. Paleo bread has been a very successful pairing.

Any advice for independents on how to sell your products and uplift this category?

ES: What we’ve found to be really successful is incorporating our brand with events. Co-ops and independents like to do paleo events, gluten-free events, grilling events, etc., and when it makes sense to include our products, these are good opportunities.

OP: It is also great to let shoppers know they can get creative and make other dishes with our patties besides just making a burger. Customers tell us they are crumbling them up to make pizza toppings, taco filings and lasagna.

Do you expect plant-based diets to become even more popular?

OP: Definitely. It’s been great riding the wave and seeing younger generations buying into plant-based diets. Thirty-six percent of Americans now consider themselves “meat reducers,” so they are not necessarily vegan or vegetarian, but they are trying to cut back on meat consumption.

ES: We are now seeing a lot of people be really focused on nutrient-dense and real food, and I see a convergence of that and plant-based continuing to grow this market.

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