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How the pandemic has changed North Bay food and beverage companies

Among those leaders which have faced “a year like no other” in the year since COVID hit, those in the area’s food industry have seen a wide range of changes. Consumer habits shifted overnight, while some supply chains were disrupted and other customers, like restaurants, found themselves in the path of the pandemic’s destruction. Some leaders in that industry responded to Journal questions about how it has been.

In this report:

  • Kristel Corson, chief revenue officer, Clover Sonoma
  • Justin Gill, founder and CEO, Bachan’s
  • Carol Pool, CEO, Taylor Lane Organic Coffee
  • Jill Richardson and Tim Landerville, co-owners, Sleepy Hollow Smoke
  • Helen Russell, co-founder and executive chair, Equator Coffees
  • William Seppi, president and CEO, Costeaux French Bakery
  • Xavier Unkovic, president and CEO, Amy’s Kitchen

The year of COVID-19

This story is part of a series that looks at the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic since March 2020 and how North Bay businesses are recovering.

Kristel Corson,  chief revenue officer, Clover Sonoma

Kristel Corson

Chief Revenue Officer

Clover Sonoma

1800 S. McDowell Blvd., #100, Petaluma 94954

800-237-3315

cloversonoma.com

When Kristel Corson was brought on as director of Marketing in December 2015, she was tasked with refreshing the Clover Stornetta Farms brand, a brand that hadn’t been updated in more than a decade. As part of that transformation, the Clover Sonoma brand was established as a celebration of the company’s heritage in Sonoma County for over three generations. She worked with the sales team to support expansion into new markets and led innovative new product development in the yogurt, butter, eggs, cheese and milk categories. Most significantly, Corson championed Clover Sonoma’s B-Corp certification as a way to align the business with its care for people, the community and the planet.

Since taking over as VP of Sales and Marketing more than a year ago, Corson has most recently has been focused on sustainability and packaging innovation including the launch of the first fully renewable plant-based milk carton in the U.S.

Years at the company: 5 years

Years in the food business: More than 30 years in the consumer packaged goods and food business

Type of business: Dairy

Main products: Organic and conventional milk products, eggs, yogurt, cheese

Main Administrative Office located in: Petaluma

Primary production facilities located in: Petaluma

Significant news at your company in the past year:

As a company, Clover Sonoma is continuing to evolve to support the revolution that is happening -- in the products it produces, as the company expands into new markets, and within its own corporate culture. We look for ways to continue our progress as a business operating as a power for good. We are leading the change that needs to happen within our industry and food system, being the example of “Dairy with Integrity”. Integrity and quality have been pillars of our foundation for generations, and we carry that throughout our commitments.

The care we take of our animals is one of the highest bars we set for ourselves (and beyond any USDA organic certification) and is central to our operation. For more than 20 years, our American Humane certification has provided third party accountability that substantiates the humane treatment of our animals. That criteria is built around smaller herd sizes and the five freedoms of animal welfare, as well as assures that we respect the animals that produce our product and feed our communities.

We value healthy communities and sustainable practices. Our longstanding support of family nutrition, sustainable family farms, thriving communities, and renewable packaging has helped set a high standard for the dairy industry.

Those standards impact how we produce our dairy and drive us to find innovations in packaging, so we continue to improve upon current solutions. We are proud to be the first dairy in the U.S. to switch to a fully renewable milk carton and will be expanding that to our entire retail milk product line by 2023.

COVID has refocused consumer buying preferences and habits. Name two ways things are different for your business in those areas now versus the pre-COVID times.

Consumers have taken the better-for-you approach; and as a result, our organic business has shown sales growth. We’ve also seen consumers switching to value size products, purchasing gallon sizes instead of half gallons of milk and value yogurt sizes vs. single serve. Eating and baking at home more has also resulted in greater egg and butter demand.

Now, of those changes, which ones (or others) do you think are permanent changes?

We had already been seeing a shift to value size purchases from single serve due to more awareness around sustainability and using less packaging.

How did your supply and distribution patterns change, and will any of those changes likely stick even after the COVID pandemic has abated?

Our supply issues are due to increased co-packer and packaging supplier lead times, rather than to our farm production. Since consumer demand for eggs increased as a result of more at-home baking and cooking, it was a challenge to produce enough packaging to support that increase. However, we see that leveling out in the next year as people venture outside the home more frequently.

How much of your business roughly was serving restaurants. As hard hit as that business has been, how soon do you see a return to near levels of business you had before the virus. Are you seeing any beginnings of recovery yet?

Our food service business was off significantly in 2020 - more than 50% off target. However, we've seen signs of recovery as restaurants and schools reopen to more capacity. We hope to be back to our normal production in 2022.

Generally, describe the two key trends occurring your product line or industry within the last two years:

Across our product line, we see consumers gravitate towards organic, less sugar, and whole fat products.

As for the industry, we strive to be dairy with integrity, leading by example and using our business as a power for good. We work to create conscious products, became a B Corp in 2016, have been American Humane Certified for more than 20 years for our animal welfare practices, and launched the first fully renewable milk carton in the U.S. We take these commitments seriously.

Justin Gill, founder and CEO, Bachan’s

Justin Gill

Founder and CEO

Bachan’s

Sebastopol

bachans.com

Bachan’s is located in Sonoma County and makes the first and only Japanese Barbecue Sauce in the country. He launched Bachan’s on June 28, 2019. Since then he has worked in every roll of the company and currently works as the CEO as well as in marketing, operations, management. He is responsible for making sure that his team is always working towards the mission of “bringing family together.”

The sauce comes from a multigenerational family recipe and the brand is named after his bachan (“granny” in Japanese). He had no prior experience in the food industry when he started working to bring his family recipe sauce to market. He worked for multiple years formulating it to be cold-filled and shelf stable. Bachan’s now has a first to market product that the company said is highly differentiated and has a flavor that people truly love.

Years at the company: 7 years

Years in Food Business: 7 years

Type of Business: Natural food producer – sauce

Main Products: The Original Japanese Barbecue Sauce and Gluten-Free Japanese Barbecue Sauce

Main office: Sebastopol/warehouse is in Santa Rosa, CA.

Primary Production Facility: Northern California

Significant News at your company in the last year: No. 1 selling BBQ Sauce on Amazon, No. 1 selling condiment – sauce in Whole Foods Norcal, No. 1 selling sauce at many Northern California Independent grocers like Oliver’s Market, 2021 Sunset Magazine Pantry Award Winner, 2020 Saveur Magazine Top 100 product.

COVID has refocused consumer buying preferences and habits. Name two ways things are different for your business in those areas now versus the pre-COVID times.

We are seeing a big increase in demand in our Direct to Consumer business as well as Amazon. Consumers want their packages sent to them quickly and their customer service inquiries responded to quickly.

If you want to compete with other brands and even with your own brand on Amazon, you need to ship products out very quickly and respond to CS inquiries quickly. You also need to communicate with your customers and build direct relationships with them.

Now, of those changes, which ones (or others) do you think are permanent changes?

Customers will always expect fast shipping and excellent customer service in the DTC channel going forward.

How did your supply and distribution patterns change, and will any of those changes likely stick even after the COVID pandemic has abated?

Our demand increased in all channels and lead times in our supply chain have increased. I think the demand will continue to grow, post pandemic, and I think the supply chain issues will get worked out as manufacturers don’t have to deal with Covid restrictions in the workplace and their employees come back to work.

How much of your business roughly was serving restaurants. As hard hit as that business has been, how soon do you see a return to near levels of business you had before the virus. Are you seeing any beginnings of recovery yet?

Our business was not serving restaurants.

Generally, describe the two key trends occurring your product line or industry within the last two years:

In our category, consumers are craving ethnic flavors and products. Consumers are also busier than ever and household income levels have risen, so people are looking for high quality bottled sauces, rather than taking the time to make their own at home.

Carol Pool, CEO, Taylor Lane Organic Coffee

Carol Pool

CEO

Taylor Lane Organic Coffee

6790 McKinley St., #170, Sebastopol 95472

707-634-7129

taylorlane.com

Carol Pool’s background was in the retail automotive industry for over 45 years. She first came to Taylor Lane as a consultant, and it evolved to her current position. She said that has been truly exciting and challenging.

Taylor Lane Organic Coffee is described as responsibly sourced, organically grown and locally roasted. “I believe there is no greater calling than to serve our customers and the greater needs of the community.”

Years at the company: 1½ years

Years in the food business: 1½ years

Type of business: Coffee wholesaler, retailer and coffee bar

Main products: Organic, Fair Trade Certified Coffee

Main Administrative Office located in: Sebastopol

Primary production facilities located in: Sonoma County

As a company we feel like we have endured the worst of negative effects of the pandemic. This is thanks to having an excellent team at Taylor Lane.

Most of our baristas have been with us for years and they excel in the craft of specialty coffee. Even through the most uncertain times of the pandemic they put on a brave smile and continued to make specialty coffee accessible to our customers.

Our lead salesperson, better known around town as our “Community Connect,” Scotty Brown, stayed in close contact with all of our wholesale accounts throughout the downturn in business. He tirelessly worked to partner with them in order to find creative ways to improve business. We are very fortunate to have Scotty as a Taylor Lane team member. He has deep roots in this community and is a natural at cultivating relationships with new customers as well as with clients that we have serviced for decades.

COVID has refocused consumer buying preferences and habits. Name two ways things are different for your business in those areas now versus the pre-COVID times.

Many of our wholesale business partners are restaurants, hotels, inns, wineries and grocery. Many have had to either close down or have experienced a significant reduction in business due to the pandemic.

This has negatively impacted our wholesale revenues over the last year. Fortunately we are seeing a resurgence of this business which makes us not only hopeful for the future of Taylor Lane, but we are ecstatic that our business partners have weathered the storm as well. These small businesses are what make the Bay Area so special and they are not only our customers, but as members of this community we love to have these amazing businesses to patronize.

Ever since the Shelter In Place order were issued we experienced a huge surge in our e-commerce sector. We weren’t sure if this would continue once the orders were lifted, but fortunately we are seeing the numbers staying consistently high. Our customers seem to like the convenience of having their coffee delivered to their door and as a result we about to roll out a new subscription service.

Now, of those changes, which ones (or others) do you think are permanent changes?

I believe e-commerce will remain strong and steady.

How did your supply and distribution patterns change, and will any of those changes likely stick even after the COVID pandemic has abated?

We have not experienced much supply or distribution disruption during the COVID pandemic. The only minor disruption was that there was a breakdown in the supply chain and we were unable to source the 9 oz. cans that we use for our Nitro Draft Coffee. We were able to resolve the issue by finding a different supplier.

How much of your business roughly was serving restaurants. As hard hit as that business has been, how soon do you see a return to near levels of business you had before the virus. Are you seeing any beginnings of recovery yet?

We service numerous restaurants throughout the Bay Area. We are gradually seeing that business return, but unfortunately there are some accounts that we know will not be coming back because they have had to close permanently.

Generally, describe the two key trends occurring your product line or industry within the last two years:

The biggest trend that we see is the increase in online ordering. It seems the pandemic has rapidly increase a trend that was already taking ahold in our in society, which is the convenience of having everyday items delivered to your door.

Jill Richardson and Tim Landerville

Co-owners

Sleepy Hollow Smoke

Santa Rosa

707-570-5669

sleepyhollowsmoke.com

Jill Richardson said she has been enthralled with food and has been expanding her culinary skills for most of her life. She worked in the home kitchen retail industry for many years.

“My passion for spices, herbs and unique international flavors shows up in Sleepy Hollow Smoke products. After creating many different recipes and sharing friends and family, she joined with her partner Tim to launch Sleepy Hollow Smoke. The company provides small batch flavor enhancers, snacks, and condiments with either a true wood smoke flavor or one that complements those foods.“

Tim Landerville has been enjoying authentic BBQ, grilling, and smoking ingredients for many years. He purchased his first smoker and set out to perfect his techniques using his engineering background for attention to details and correct techniques. Experimenting with different flavor profiles, it became apparent that the exacting technique of smoking foods may not be suitable everyone who desires that unique and delicious flavor in their meals.

Landerville was urged to start selling his flavor enhancer products and launched Sleepy Hollow Smoke. Selling products via the Internet and participates in local BBQ Events. He is a member of the National BBQ Association and the California BBQ Association and a Pit Master in the Pit Master Club of AmazingRibs.com.

Years at the company: 2

Years in the food business: 2

Type of business: Smoked flavor enhancers

Main products: Smoked snacks, hot sauce, rubs and condiments and other smoked products for private chefs and caterers.

Main Administrative Office located in: Santa Rosa

Primary production facilities located in: Santa Rosa

Significant news at your company in the past year. As a startup all our news is related to product launch

COVID has refocused consumer buying preferences and habits. Name two ways things are different for your business in those areas now versus the pre-COVID times.

Some ingredients are slow to be available at our suppliers.

Now, of those changes, which ones (or others) do you think are permanent changes?

None

How did your supply and distribution patterns change, and will any of those changes likely stick even after the COVID pandemic has abated?

None and no.

Are you seeing any beginnings of recovery yet?

None

Generally, describe the two key trends occurring your product line or industry within the last two years:

Home cooks are looking for ways to enhance and expand their flavor profiles while unable to travel or visit local restaurants due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Helen Russell, co-founder and executive chair, Equator Coffees, LLC

Helen Russell

Co-founder and executive chair

Equator Coffees LLC

115 Jordan St., San Rafael 94901

800-809-7687

equatorcoffees.com

Under Helen Russell’s leadership for more than 25 years, Equator has grown from a small roaster and wholesale supplier into a national brand known for its values-driven approach, award-winning coffee, and impactful action around issues of environmental sustainability and economic empowerment.

Russell led Equator to become the first coffee roaster in California to earn Certified B Corporation status and a reputation as an early champion of Fair Trade practices and direct relationships. For 15 years in a row, Equator has remained on The San Francisco Business Times’ list of the Top 100 Women-Owned Businesses, and in 2016, became the first LGBT Certified business to win SBA Small Business of the Year for the State of California and the United States. After over two decades in the wholesale business, Helen guided Equator towards deepening its relationships with the local community by opening eight retail locations in the Bay Area.

Equator’s constant innovation and focus on quality and culinary complexity has attracted a loyal cadre of prominent chefs and bakers including Thomas Keller of The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Dominique Crenn of Crenn Dining, Suzanne Goin of Tavern/Larder in LA, Tyler Florence and Carol LaValley of Rustic Bakeries.

In addition to Russell’s focus on Equator’s success, she volunteers her time and business experience to local and international organizations supporting women and the environment including World Bicycle Relief, the International Women in Coffee Alliance, the Challenge Athletes Foundation and Brown Girls Surf.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Northeastern University in Boston.

Years at the company: 26

Years in the food business: 29

Type of business: Coffee roaster and retail operator

Main products: Roasted whole bean coffee

Main administrative office: 115 Jordan Street, San Rafael

Primary production facilities: San Rafael

Significant news at your company in the past year:

Recipient of critical funds and forgiveness from the governments paycheck protection program (PPP) along with the signing of two new retail locations to open in 2021.

COVID has refocused consumer buying preferences and habits. Name two ways things are different for your business in those areas now versus the pre-COVID times.

We have pivoted by investing in our online website sales channel and other online partners like Amazon, GoodEggs, Trade and MistoBox.

In addition, we have expanded our grocery store presence by offering our 12 oz. coffee bags for sale in more grocery stores

Now, of those changes, which ones (or others) do you think are permanent changes?

Online and grocery sales have always been an important part of our omni channel business along with our retail stores and wholesale.

However, with the changing consumer habits brought forth by pandemic and folks working from home, our retail stores, online, grocery and wholesale have been re- shuffled and forever changed. With retail and grocery sales now one & two in terms of top line contribution.

How did your supply and distribution patterns change, and will any of those changes likely stick even after the COVID pandemic has abated?

Prior to the pandemic our wholesale business was a shining star with a significant percentage of our revenues derived from shipping coffee to Tech Companies like Google, Twitter and LinkedIn along with many restaurants and cafes.

How much of your business roughly was serving restaurants. As hard hit as that business has been, how soon do you see a return to near levels of business you had before the virus. Are you seeing any beginnings of recovery yet?

With 40% of our revenues disappearing from our wholesale channel due to Tech employees working from home and our hospitality customers relying on take - out only, it may take two years for our business to fully return to our 2019 pre-Covid revenue forecast.

With that said there are many green shoots starting to appear with our wholesale cafes coming back on line, tech companies predicting employees will return to the office two days a week late summer and our own retail stores getting back to pre-Covid revenues.

Generally, describe the two key trends occurring your product line or industry within the last two years:

What the pandemic has done in 12 months to consumer behavior of shopping online and working from home would have taken 10 years if the pandemic did not happen

We are not going backwards. All businesses will have to innovate and re-imagine how they now capture the attention of consumers working from home and shopping online ~ two key trends, that are here to stay.

One thing that has not changed is the human condition of longing for community and connection. Our retail customers are coming back albeit gathered 6 feet away from each other but all smiles under their masks because we can cautiously be together again with a much needed feeling of normalcy.

William Seppi, president/CEO, Costeaux French Bakery, Inc.

William Seppi

President and CEO

Costeaux French Bakery Inc.

417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg 95448

707-433-1913

www.costeaux.com

Will Seppi is the second generation to step into the baking business following his father and mother, Karl and Nancy, who purchased the bakery in 1981. Since returning to the family business 16 years ago, he has grown the company, expanding its capabilities and distribution footprint.

Prior to joining Costeaux, Seppi worked in managerial finance capacities for Celerity Group, and its parent company, Kinetics Holdings Corporation. He began his career as an auditor with Ernst & Young LLP and earned a BS in Accountancy from Villanova University.

Today, he leads Costeaux based on the company’s core values – family, community, quality and service.

The Costeaux operation includes the Costeaux Baking Centre and four Costeaux retail locations. Costeaux is a regional provider of baked goods primarily serving the greater North Bay. The company is recognized as one of the Best Places to Work in the North Bay and Best Bakery in Sonoma County.

Seppi is actively involved in the community as a member of the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce board, Healdsburg Sunrise Rotarian, Naturally North Bay, and other civic organizations.

Fun Fact: Will and his wife Brandy live in Healdsburg and have three young children (ages 6, 8 and 9). He did most of the distance learning with his kids last spring.

Years at the company: 17

Type of business: Bakery

Main products: Bread, cakes, cookies

Main Administrative Office located in: Santa Rosa

Primary production facilities located in: Santa Rosa

Significant news at your company in the past year

The last 12 months have certainly not been without challenges.

At the beginning of the global pandemic, like so many companies in the food service sector, Costeaux was forced to curtail operations and downsize to adjust to the immediate decline in demand for baked goods by food service operators.

At the time, three of the Costeaux retail locations that had indoor dining closed.

Today, all locations have reopened and are serving the community. The wholesale operation pressed forward and continued to adapt to the many changes brought from the pandemic. Production, product offerings and delivery days and routes changed.

Yet, despite the downtown, the company continued to invest significantly in technology including online ordering, route delivery enhancements, electronic storage of data, and further expanding technology for human resources management.

Certain jobs became remote and others were eliminated, while new ones were added. Additionally, the company enhanced its social media platforms and communications with accounts, guests and the broader community.

Most notably, the Costeaux Knead Program launched to bridge the food insecurity gap in the community.

The company also started online sales of certain baked goods. Costeaux also took the opportunity to enhance employee training on subjects from food safety to company culture and leadership. Today, Costeaux continues to evolve and press forward building upon its foundation.

COVID has refocused consumer buying preferences and habits. Name two ways things are different for your business in those areas now versus the pre-COVID times.

Do to unpredictable consumer demand, wholesale customers have shifted toward longer shelf life product to reduce product waste.

For the same reasons, we have adjusted processes at our own retail locations that allow us to bake off product at the retail location (i.e. as opposed to our main production facility). This change not only prevents waste, but enhances the guest experience.

Traditionally, hearth breads such as boules, batards, and baguettes were packaged in open ended paper bags. COVID necessitated a move toward packing these type of breads differently. In many cases, bread transitioned to plastic bags while others were doubled bagged.

Now, of those changes, which ones (or others) do you think are permanent changes?

We expect the shift toward longer shelf life items for our wholesale customers to remain for some time until consumer trends stabilize.

We anticipate consumers will expect hearth breads to continue to be packaged in a closed bag of some kind. That said, these products do not benefit from being bagged in airtight containers as the crust in particular suffers.

We are developing an alternative packing that allows the product to “breathe”. Due to supply chain issues, it will be some time before we see a change in the way these products are packaged that safeguard the product and presents it in a fashion that showcases the authenticity of a hearth baked bread.

How did your supply and distribution patterns change, and will any of those changes likely stick even after the COVID pandemic has abated?

With the significant drop in demand, production and delivery availability has been adjusted by consolidating routes and production schedules.

While optimistic that the demand will increase in time and cognizant that the product mix will continue to change, one item that management is committed to keeping is not returning to a full seven day per week production and delivery schedule.

In line with the company’s core value of family, management does not anticipate resuming Sunday delivery thereby affording employees time off with their families.

How much of your business roughly was serving restaurants. As hard hit as that business has been, how soon do you see a return to near levels of business you had before the virus. Are you seeing any beginnings of recovery yet?

Pre-COVID, approximately 75% of Costeaux revenue was tied to food service (e.g. restaurants, cafes, hotels, corporate, tasting rooms, caterers, etc.).

While there has been a slight uptick as the weather improves and outdoor dining resumes, due to the ongoing restrictions, lack of group travel and large events combined with permanent business closures, we don’t expect food service to regain a significant percentage of our revenue until late 2022 or early 2023.

Generally, describe the two key trends occurring your product line or industry within the last two years:

Indulgent / celebratory products (e.g. cakes, desserts, etc.) have been growing for the last several years and have remained strong through COVID with smaller sizes and portions.

Bread has historically experienced stagnant growth in recent years and while it increased during the “panic” buying last spring has flattened.

The continued push toward cleaner labels and natural products has been a significant trend with no sign of letting up. Costeaux has embraced this concept for decades and continues to remain committed to evolving and making high quality baked goods with simple clean ingredients.

Xavier Unkovic, president and CEO, Amy’s Kitchen (courtesy photo)

Xavier Unkovic

President and CEO

Amy’s Kitchen

2330 Northpoint Parkway, Santa Rosa 95407

707-578-0871

www.amys.com

Xavier Unkovic joined Amy’s as its first president in May of 2017 and was promoted to CEO in July of 2020. As CEO, Unkovic is responsible for leading the company in executing the Berliner Family’s progressive Vision — building a thriving, collaborative, efficient, engaged and sustainable organization — through a People, Planet, Performance strategy.

Unkovic’s love and appreciation for great food, and belief that food is medicine, is what drew him to Amy’s and its commitment to quality food made from whole, organic ingredients.

Prior to joining Amy's, he spent 25 years with Mars Incorporated, another family-owned company, where he served as Global President of Mars Drinks, CEO of Royal Canin Canada and CEO of Royal Canin USA, the pet care division of Mars Incorporated.

He received his master’s in economics from the University of Montpellier. He received further education from Ecole Supérieure de Gestion de Paris (Paris University) and attended the executive Education of Harvard Business School.

Xavier serves as a board member of Naturally North Bay, and Naturally Network.

Years at the company: About 4 years

Years in the food business: Over 20 years

Type of business: Organic Food Producer

Main products: Organic prepared meals found in grocery stores nationwide

Main Administrative office: Petaluma

Primary production facilities: Santa Rosa; Medford, Oregon; Pocatello, Idaho; San Jose

Significant news at your company in the past year: Over the course of the past year, we faced some of the greatest challenges in our company’s history. We worked tirelessly to keep our front-line employees safe while continuing to cook food for the many people who depend on us for it.

As we faced the challenges of the pandemic, and wildfires in two of the three regions where we operate, we also experienced unprecedented demand for our products. Today, we are working diligently to meet increased consumer demand that shows no sign of slowing, as consumer appetites align more closely with Amy’s offerings than ever before.

In response, we recently started a new facility in San Jose that will primarily make our pizzas. We also increased production at our existing kitchens, like moving to a 20 hours per day, 7 days a week soup schedule in our Pocatello facility.

With the challenges, there have also been some highlights this year. In fall of 2020, we achieved B Corp certification, underscoring that Amy’s meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance as a business.

Since our start, our founders have strived to do the right thing, even when it wasn’t the easiest, and this certification validates those efforts and provides us with a benchmark from which to measure our continued progress.

Amy’s was also named one of the top 50 brands in the U.S. this year.

COVID has refocused consumer buying preferences and habits. Name two ways things are different for your business in those areas now versus the pre-COVID times.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been a frozen food resurgence. Many consumers who hadn’t shopped in the frozen aisle in some time revisited, and based on continued elevated sales, they liked what they tried and have continued to purchase it since.

As a result, the frozen category has seen tremendous growth, and we predict it will continue growing in the year to come.

We’ve also seen a trend toward more plant-based and plant-forward foods.

Prior to the pandemic, consumers were seeking plant-based meals and foods at higher rates, but with the pandemic, that trend accelerated tremendously.

People are more health-conscious today than they were a year ago, and they’re looking to food to promote health and wellness.

As a vegetarian company that produces a lot of plant-based offerings, made from whole organic ingredients, we’re excited about these trends and the opportunity ahead.

Now, of those changes, which ones (or others) do you think are permanent changes?

I see both trends as not only permanent, but as areas for tremendous growth opportunity.

Post-pandemic people will have a greater appreciation for their health, and they will continue to look to food to promote their health & wellness.

And when it comes to frozen offerings, there’s incredible innovation happening across the category and more attentiveness to flavor and ingredients, so I think people will keep returning to the frozen aisle for convenient, satisfying meal solutions.

How did your supply and distribution patterns change, and will any of those changes likely stick even after the COVID pandemic has abated?

Like a lot of companies, we faced a lot of challenges when it came to sourcing, increasing production and getting enough product to grocery stores to meet the spike in demand.

We worked closely with long-time suppliers to get the ingredients we needed as quickly as we could without sacrificing quality.

Prioritizing employee safety above all else, we changed our production processes right away.

We started by ranking our product offerings by the amount of feet required between employees to produce them and then temporarily paused production on anything that couldn’t be produced without spacing or barriers between people.

We went from producing over 200 meals to less than 80 and then slowly began adding products back into production in a phased approach as we had the precautions in place to make it safe to do so

We are still in the throes of the pandemic and there is no certainty about what the future will look like, so it’s difficult to predict what our new normal will be.

What we do know is that consumer demand for our products is only growing, and we’ll have to continue to work hard to meet the need at shelf.

Generally, describe the two key trends occurring your product line or industry within the last two years:

Throughout the past year, two macrotrends emerged that align closely with what we as a company stand for and the products we make.

The first is the prioritization of health and wellness. Consumers are more health-minded because of the pandemic and are turning to food as medicine and as a way to proactively manage their health.

They’re more aware of the ingredients that they’re consuming and seeking products made with whole, organic and functional ingredients.

As a result of this trend, organic and plant-based products are experiencing accelerated growth across categories. And as a company that focuses on plant-forward organic foods, we’re well positioned to grow with our consumers’ evolving needs.

The second is a trend toward sustainability. Due in large part to the climate crisis, consumers, especially younger generations, are seeking sustainable products and products made by sustainably minded companies.

At Amy’s, we are committed to making our products as sustainably as we can and constantly striving to improve. Achieving B Corp certification has provided us with a clear way to communicate this commitment and a solid benchmark for measuring our progress.

Although it’s been a very challenging year, when we look ahead, we’re very excited about what the future holds for Amy’s.

OTHER LEADERS

Blair Kellison, CEO, Traditional Medicinals  (Albert Law / Pork Belly Studio)

Blair Kellison

Blair Kellison is the CEO of Traditional Medicinals, a mission driven, organic and fair-trade wellness tea company based in Sonoma County.

Founded by Drake Sadler in 1974, Traditional Medicinals purpose driven social business model has resulted in five decades of commercial success and created a truly sustainability organization. Traditional Medicinals is now the fourth largest bagged tea brand in North America with distribution in 70,000 retail outlets with 250 employees.

Kellison came to TM in 2008 in its 34th year to partner with its founder Drake Sadler to become the Company’s first non-founder CEO.

He is a former CPA with Ernst & Young, a brand manager with Nestle, and he received his MBA from Booth at The University of Chicago.

In 1995, Kellison made the best decision of his career by taking a 70% pay cut and trading in his brand manager position at Nestle for one at a mission-driven, vegetarian food company.

Over the past 25 years he has been the first nonfounder CEO of four organizations, each time partnering with the founder to put in place the people, processes, and technology needed for the company to reach its full potential.

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