After the birth of his first child, soft drink industry veteran Paul Lederer found himself thinking about eating and drinking healthier. He started to look for alternative drink options and couldn’t find something that appealed to him.
“Everything seemed to compromise somehow,” he said. “I was drinking a lot of coconut water, but the flavors just didn't blend well. Ginger beer's great, but it was loaded with sugar.”
So he turned to a solution rooted in centuries-old tradition: tapping into birch trees for their clear sap. Nordic people have long been drinking birch water for its rejuvenating properties – and the elixir was the ideal answer to his quest for a healthy beverage that’s not overly sweet.
And there was a plus. Because the 30-year-old trees are not harmed by sap-harvesting, it’s a sustainable way for forest owners in Finland to monetize their land as demand decreases for paper in a digital age.
And thus a business was born. TÅPPED Organic Birch Water is now one of eight emerging nutrition, health, and wellness brands competing in the collaborative incubator program PepsiCo Nutrition Greenhouse.
The Nutrition Greenhouse offers these entrepreneurs unprecedented access to PepsiCo’s wealth of experts–everything from marketing insights and consumer testing, to legal and financial advice, to nutritional expertise, to making introductions for new international distribution channels. As a result, PepsiCo is able to identify and nurture emerging and breakthrough brands that are focused on delivering convenient and healthy foods.
In June, each business received a seed grant of €25,000 (about $33,000) to boost their endeavors, and at the end of the program’s six months, an additional award of €100,000 (about $132,000) will go to the winner.
Each start-up is paired with a mentor. That aspect of the program has been crucial for Noemie Delfassy, the inventor of FRECIOUS, a Swiss line of dips and spreads made from vegetables and nuts.
“I had quite demanding jobs, so I was always coming home late and unwilling to make things from scratch,” she said. So rather than cooking, she assembled meals in her Zurich home, using her own pre-made blend of zucchini, cashew nuts and tarragon to make a healthy, light sauce for pasta and rice dishes.
What started off with large batches of these meal solutions, made on weekends and stored in the fridge for her coming busy week, evolved into a business.
She drew upon her seven-plus years in the food industry, and experience linking small farmers to consumers and retailers to create futuristic squeeze pouches of fresh vegetable and nut creams.
The first line consists of four flavors made from organic and locally sourced ingredients: lemon cashew, tarragon cashew, carrot turmeric, and beetroot mint.
Now that FRECIOUS sells at specialty shops, organic stores, and to chefs, she calls herself a “farm to fork conductor,” moving veggies along the supply chain.
Although the business originated in a home kitchen, Delfassy’s mentor Ana Felipe, a sales manager at PepsiCo Portugal, coached her to think big.
“From the beginning you need to build it out as if it was one of the global brands,” Delfassy said. “That enables you to make choices early on that will accelerate growth.”
She said access to PepsiCo’s large-scale market view, far beyond what her own business serves, has been “really eye-opening.”
The FRECIOUS growth is well under way. “By the time the program ends, I will have a second line [of products] and expanded business ready to launch,” she said.
Whereas the first products were sauces for pasta and rice, FRECIOUS’ upcoming range of products will be creamier and include zesty and spicy flavors like parsley, peppers, and chives. They’re intended for everyday use to give meals like quinoa bowls and steamed vegetables an instant flavor boost.
Growth is the name of the game in the rest of the Greenhouse as well.
In August, TÅPPED began stocking drinks in the British supermarket chain Waitrose; they introduced a new elderflower flavor (in addition to the three others: Pure Organic; Apple & Root Ginger; Bilberry & Lingonberry); and greatly expanded promotions.
They also recently issued a mass sample send-out to yoga studios, gyms, and fitness studios in London/South of England, all carefully selected for their proximity to stores that stock TÅPPED.
The active community, also including those who attend events they partner with like Balance Festival in London, “is a big part of our core customer base,” Lederer said. “So when we were thinking about how to drive national awareness and trial of TÅPPED to support new national customer launches, sending sample stock and discount vouchers to such outlets in towns with a grocery store we wanted to support seemed like a very good idea.”
So about that €100K award... what are these contestants’ plans if they nab it?
“I don't think we’ve even thought about that—” said Lederer.
“—I have” co-founder Charlie Hoare cut in. [laughter].
The short answer, for both TÅPPED and FRECIOUS: more expansion.
Read about all 8 Greenhouse companies at www.nutritiongreenhouse.com.
— Colleen Kane