Growing a consumer packaged goods brand from concept to nationwide distribution is no small feat. Often, it is a long road that takes many unexpected turns, if the brand can manage to stay on course.
This story is one that gluten-free foods brand Feel Good Foods knows well. The brand, which offers clean-label, restaurant-quality frozen meals and appetizers including dumplings, egg rolls, General Tso’s chicken and Chinese chicken and broccoli, started as an idea from Vanessa Phillips that grew from samples made and packaged in her kitchen in Brooklyn, N.Y. to a line of products distributed at Whole Foods Market, Same’s Club, Sprouts, Wegmans and other national retail chains. Today, the brand is projected to bring in more than $4 million in revenue for 2016.
SmartBrief talked to Phillips about Feel Good Foods, and how she achieved growing the brand to nationwide distribution, with even further plans for growth.
Tell me about Feel Good Foods’ beginnings and how the brand has grown.
Prior to starting Feel Good Foods, my partner Tryg and I were running a restaurant in New York City. We offered gluten-free options and the guests would tell us they wished there was a restaurant like ours where they lived (whether that be in Kansas, Texas or Florida). So that got us thinking — how can we reach more people outside our 30 seat restaurant?
With a recipe for gluten-free dumplings, we sent samples in a Ziploc bag to Whole Foods Market. We didn’t have any experience in the consumer packaged goods space, or even any formal packaging. But with a lot of hope we sent the samples anyway. Two weeks later we received an e-mail back saying Whole Foods Market was going to put the dumplings in 27 stores. Now, five years later, we are sold nationwide in Whole Foods Market as well as thousands of other stores.
How did you know that the gluten-free foods you made at home could turn into a national brand that appeals to consumers?
Our food has always been very personal and it all stems from what I miss most. Being gluten-free, I understand firsthand the challenges and deprivation associated with this diet. So I think “if I miss it, most likely other gluten-free people miss it too.”
Once you decided Feel Good Foods was something worth pursuing, what was your strategy for breaking into distribution at food retail stores? And how did you grow the brand to be distributed nationwide?
We worked on saturating one market and region at a time. So we focused on the Northeast to start. Our strategy was to not spread ourselves too thin and to avoid having scattered distribution nationwide. We would focus on a small territory and once we felt we had a good presence there, we would expand to a new area.
What were the biggest challenges you faced as you grew Feel Good Foods?
There are a lot of challenges that have been thrown our way — most days pose a new obstacle. There were times where it was so hard that it felt like all signs were pointing to us giving up. But the biggest challenge is to ignore all the signs and to only focus on one thing — our passion. As long as we continued to focus on that, all other challenges seemed trivial.
What advice would you give to other CPG brands that are looking to break into national distribution in food retail? We would tell them that its a long road and if you believe in your product, don’t give up. But you can definitely expect to get turned down a lot.
What’s next for Feel Good Foods?
We are releasing our brand new gluten-free frozen empanadas in the fall of 2016. We’re very excited because this will be our first step outside of Asian-inspired cuisine! We are always cooking and creating and our customers can expect a many more exciting foods to come.
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