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In this ongoing column, The Digest, Entrepreneur.com News Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with food entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to get their products into the mouths of customers.
Susan O’Brien’s plant-based snack brand Hail Merry started off strong in the 18 months after it was founded in 2008, with $1 million in sales. But over the past few years, the company has supercharged its fortunes, increasing revenues to between $14 million and $16 million this year.
The key to Hail Merry’s recent success was twofold: a rebranding with millennials in mind (its logo now resembles a heart tattoo) and the reformulation of its former top-selling tarts into the brand’s better-for-you take on a familiar item — the Reese’s peanut butter cup. Hail Merry’s versions are refrigerated, with flavors including chocolate almond butter, dark chocolate and sweet potato. A peanut butter flavor will launch early next year.
"We think about how to get the Reese’s consumer every day," O’Brien said. "We like to say [to consumers,] step away from the candy, grow up and move over here to the future of intelligent snacking. I like to think that we’re engineering palettes away from that super sugary candy experience."
The introduction of cups came after the FDA challenged the company in 2015 on the nutritional labeling of its larger tarts, which contain a meal-equivalent 400 calories but, the company said, contained three servings. That change created confusion for existing customers and presented a "scary" prospect for new ones, O’Brien said. Those larger tarts also cost $3.99 to $4.99, whereas the 240-calorie cups have a more approachable $2.79 to $2.99 price tag. The lower calorie count, the more on-the-go friendly size, and lower price point opened Hail Merry up to more customers, O’Brien said.
"We like to say [Hail Merry provides] a personal moment of indulgence, so having more of this poppable on-the-go format just made a lot more sense," she said. "We were flat in sales. We just weren’t growing. We had to reengineer the brand, and it has been huge for us. It was the best thing we ever did."
Hail Merry’s products can be found in around 7,400 U.S. stores. The company recently raised $1.08 million in an equity funding round. It said its top three products are its Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites, Meyer Lemon Cups and Chocolate Almond Butter Cups, but that its recently introduced Sweet Potato Cups are trending to take one of those spots soon.
O’Brien launched Hail Merry in 2008 after learning about raw food, reading books about the trend and practicing vegan recipes. Before launching the business, she had designed labs for many hospitals in her native Texas, which she said helped her think through the food science aspects of Hail Merry.
"Best practices have to be clearly articulated and defined," she said of the scientists she designed labs for. "They measure, they repeat, they test, they measure, they repeat. Those are the processes that we’re going through now to arrive at what we believe to be the killer app (peanut butter cup) for our brand."
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December 3, 2018 at 09:16AM