Ones to Watch | Spring 2021
By Andrew Barone
Andrew Barone is a Vice President at Rosenthal & Rosenthal, a privately held commercial finance firm helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Banza co-founder Brian Rudolph was a picky eater growing up, but pasta was one of the only foods his parents didn’t have to force him to eat. As he got older, he became focused on nutrition and fitness and began experimenting with creating more nutritious versions of his favorite foods. At 23, he and his brother Scott struck gold when they realized that pasta made from chickpea flour had the same taste and texture as traditional pasta, but with added nutritional benefits. They founded Banza in 2014 with the mission of making family-favorite foods better by using more nutritious ingredients.
Banza products are impossible to miss in the pasta aisle, with bright orange branding bursting on the shelves amid a sea of blue boxes from more established brands like De Cecco and Barilla. And the brand only continues to grow, now expanding its legume-based creations with pizza, mac & cheese, and rice. Rudolph credits their loyal customers as the inspiration behind their new product lines. “So many of our new innovations began as simple requests from consumers via social media and our website asking us to broaden our chickpea products beyond pasta,” said Rudolph.
Rudolph says he always has an eye on consumer trends, knowing how spending habits change frequently. As a result, Banza has pivoted its marketing strategy over the past year to focus its sales on both traditional retail as well as its own digital channels in an effort to keep up with changing shopping behaviors, which shifted and accelerated significantly during the pandemic.
Now one of the leading gluten-free brands, on shelves in 15,000 stores around the country, this One to Watch is taking the legume scene by storm.
Our next One to Watch is responsible for reinventing a winning combination – caffeine and alcohol. Bomani co-founders and former roommates Kai Drewry, Sam Madani, and Amin Anjedani were working high-paced jobs in finance and were struggling to muster the energy to go out and enjoy the New York City nightlife on the weekends. When they started mixing alcohol with coffee or caffeinated chasers (mostly sugar-infused energy drinks), they knew they were on to something. The trio pooled their exhaustion, brainpower, and creativity and Bomani was born – an alcohol-infused cold brew that is low-calorie, gluten/dairy-free, and has zero sugars/carbs.
Other hard coffee competitors in the marketplace were not disclosing nutritional content on their packaging and tended to either be too heavy on the alcohol or too heavy on the sugar. Bomani struck the perfect formulaic balance.
With marketing plans stalled in 2020 due to major shifts in consumer spending habits during COVID, the company focused on investments with new partners like Drizly, Instacart, and Go Puff. Recognizing that consumers were shopping differently, Bomani took advantage of shifting e-commerce trends and launched their own direct-to-consumer business. Now shipping directly to 31 states, Drewry said they can now leverage this new consumer data to optimize their business and sales growth. “We have so much data at our fingertips now which will allow us to curate unique experiences that we hope will attract new customers, and also offer tailored experiences for our existing customers,” said Drewry.
Recently tapped as the “Best Ready-to-Drink Beverage of 2020” by the World Beverage Innovation Awards, the brand is gaining steam among its competitors and is now on shelves in major retailers including Safeway, Whole Foods, and Total Wine. Be on the lookout for more big retail announcements from Bomani later this year.
Another One to Watch that’s riding the wave of the booming plant-based protein product trend is Three Wishes, a cereal brand launched in 2019 by husband and wife duo Ian and Margaret Wishingrad (their son, Ellis, is the third “wish”). With backgrounds in marketing, the couple saw an opportunity to upend the breakfast aisle when they were helping their young son develop his pincer skills using cereal. Their goal was to create a new cereal product that was cleaner and more nutrient-rich than its sugary counterparts.
“The large legacy brands that have long dominated the cereal industry either had introduced healthy cereal that didn’t taste good or were pushing products that were more like dessert parading around as a breakfast cereal,” said Ian.
The co-founders saw the success that other plant-based protein brands were enjoying as the low-carb, grain-free, gluten-free, and keto-friendly craze continued to gain momentum. Having launched only a few months before the pandemic hit, Three Wishes faced a host of unexpected challenges very early on. When they were unable to promote the brand through traditional tastings at grocery stores or trade shows, the co-founders focused their efforts instead on building brand awareness online. Ian has run his own successful branding and creative agency and his experience allowed him to revamp the brand’s website and refocus its marketing strategy on building a following on Instagram.
Three Wishes has big plans to scale growth by broadening its reach to customers through the brand’s website, Amazon, and other retail partners like Sprouts, Whole Foods, and Wegmans.