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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Food Startups Find Creative Ways to Release Products Without Expo West

Necessity is the mother of invention. That’s what led many entrepreneurs to create their product or service innovations in the first place — and that adage is definitely in play as businesses large and small are forced to pivot, almost daily, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.

Many cash-strapped sustainable startups pull together whatever resources they can to attend annual trade shows such as Natural Products Expo West, counting on the exposure to get themselves momentum in the marketplace. So, how do they cope when the show doesn’t go on? Here are a few sustainable food innovators that are practically giving it away (and some that actually are) to get their products to the masses.

Image credit: Regrained/Facebook

Berkeley, Calif-based ReGrained, which upcycles spent brewery grains into nutritious snacks, was just one of hundreds set to launch their latest innovations at Expo West this month. Now, the company has launched its new ReGrained Puffs virtually, with online buyer meetings for retailers — plus, a presale offering with free shipping to lower barriers to trial for consumers.

ReGrained’s new line of crunchy, savory, puffed chips are made through a "twin-screw extrusion" process, through which a blend of ReGrained SuperGrain+ and Non-GMO organic corn is expanded and dried, not fried. The company is offering consumers free shipping and 25% off on all web orders of the Puffs and ReGrained bar value packs, so folks can keep their pantries at home stocked.

“A big part of being an entrepreneur is staying solutions-oriented and pivoting with short notice,” ReGrained co-founder and Chief Grain Officer Dan Kurzrock told Sustainable Brands via email. “When planning for 2020, this wasn't even remotely on our radar. Now, how we handle this situation will be a defining factor for our year. We aren't looking to use this crisis as an ‘angle,’ which we are seeing some of. We simply need to adapt to the situation and keep moving forward to the best of our ability. A crisis like this could easily ruin a small brand. Our mission is too important to let that be us!”

Read more about ReGrained Puffs here

Image credit: Akua/Facebook

NYC-based Akua makes superfood snacks from ocean-farmed kelp — which can feed the planet sustainably while reversing climate change and restoring health to the world world's oceans. In what would’ve been its first showing at Expo West, the two-year-old startup was set to launch two new flavors of its Kelp Jerky (Spicy Chili & Lime and Hibachi Teriyaki) and its new Kelp Bites — a slightly sweet, probiotic-packed snack (made of cacao, sunflower butter, dates, kelp and raspberries), created in partnership with Biohm Health

Akua co-founder and CEO Courtney Boyd Myers told SB via email that both launches have been postponed for now, as the company finalizes packaging for the new kelp flavors and works on virtually attracting investors to help launch the Bites and other upcoming products (“Let's just say it's a lot harder to get an investor to try our forthcoming Kelp Burger on a call …”). To try and accommodate people’s food needs as more and more are being ordered to stay “safe at home,” Boyd Myers said Akua is for now working with DIY packaging (vs. purchasing properly designed packaging, which has a 6-week timeline; plus most packaging suppliers are shutdown right now) to quickly release bulk Kelp Jerky bags, as well as Kelp Pasta.

In the meantime, the company continues to give out samples as it prepares to launch the new jerky flavors on Amazon in the coming weeks.

Image credit: Brainiac Kids

Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Brainiac® Kids — the first line of children’s food products developed specifically to support brain development — decided that, in lieu of the planned launch of its new Applesauce product line at Expo West, it would literally give away product to US retailers hungry for innovation — and donate all of the product that would have been served to Expo West’s planned 90,000 attendees to local food banks instead.

“As a certified B-Corp we look to create benefit for the community, so what better way than through giving?” CEO and founder Jonathan Wolfson, previously the founder and CEO of Solazyme (now known as TerraVia), said in a statement. “At this difficult time, let’s find a way for parents to be able to stock up on shelf-stable Brainiac Kids products, for retailers to try the product for free, and for us to keep the momentum we would have enjoyed from a successful Expo.”

Brainiac® Kids has so far released yogurt and now applesauce products fortified with its proprietary BrainPack® — a blend of Omega-3s including DHA, as well as Choline, which are crucial for brain development.

“This latest launch of applesauce pouches is an important step for the company proving the concept can cross multiple kids’ food categories,” said President and co-founder Mark Brooks. “We were told by many industry experts that it would be impossible to get meaningful amounts of Omega-3s, particularly DHA, into a shelf-stable product like applesauce; and we are thrilled that we were able to find a way to bring this item to families nationwide.”

Learn more about Brainiac® Kids products here; interested buyers can contact them here.

Image credit: Back to the Roots

And,while they’d planned to skip the event this year, Expo West veterans Back to the Roots are another company that’s reaching out to get its products into the hands of those in need during this uncertain time — for free.

From now through the end of April, the Oakland, Calif.-based startup is giving away its home gardening kits to at least 500 educators, daycare workers and parents around the country, for educational fun while school’s not in session.

“It's an uncertain time right now for so many, but if we band together, support each other, and look to serve our community in whatever big or small way we can, we think the sustainable products community can come out of this stronger and more ready than ever to change the paradigm for business,” co-founder Nikhil Arora told SB via email. “This is a chance to show the world a different side of business — not giving into fear, panic and hysteria; but leaning into compassion, creativity, and care.”

Fill out this form to apply to receive a free gardening kit for your quarantined kiddos. Or, get a 20% discount on any home grow kits with the code GrowTogether20.