Hail Merry finds footing in food service

by Monica Watrous
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Alison Brushaber (left), chief product officer of Hail Merry, with Sarah Palisi Chapin, chief executive officer, at the N.R.A. show
Alison Brushaber (left), chief product officer of Hail Merry, with Sarah Palisi Chapin, chief executive officer, at the N.R.A. show.

CHICAGO — The time is now for healthier options in food service, said Alison Brushaber, chief product officer and partner of Hail Merry, L.L.C. The Dallas-based maker of raw, vegan, gluten-free snacks and desserts showcased new grab-and-go products at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 21-24 in Chicago.

“We’ve had a lot of operators who have said, ‘We like the fact that you check a lot of boxes for us,’” Ms. Brushaber said in an interview with Food Business News at the show. “I’ve been in product development my whole career… We used to have people say they wanted to do healthy, but then they would put healthy things on the menu, and they didn’t sell. And now people are saying, ‘I want healthy, and it’s selling.’ And they’re demanding it.”

Hail Merry was founded in 2006 by Susan O’Brien, a raw foods enthusiast with a design degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She was joined by Ms. Brushaber and Sarah Palisi Chapin, chief executive officer and partner, to build the business into an award-winning brand with distribution in more than 5,000 retail outlets. Hail Merry manufactures macaroons, coconut oil ganache tarts and granolas with premium and organic ingredients in a certified gluten-free, vegan, kosher, Non-GMO Project verified facility. The company’s move into food service comes in response to the growing demand for healthier options on menus, Ms. Brushaber said.

Hail Merry macaroons, tarts
Hail Merry manufactures macaroons, coconut oil ganache tarts and granolas with premium and organic ingredients.

“You have two groups: the baby boomers, who, for some reason, may have to eat differently for health reasons … and then you have the millennials, who are absolutely demanding it,” she said. “The first thing they do is look at the ingredient declaration, and if has something that doesn’t suit their liking, they won’t even eat it.”

At the N.R.A. show, Hail Merry received an innovation award (its third in four years) for a salted brownie macaroon, made with such ingredients as organic maple syrup, organic virgin coconut oil and almond flour. The product is dehydrated at a low temperature to preserve quality and flavor. The brand’s products are free from preservatives, an endeavor that initially proved challenging for Ms. Brushaber, a chef and food scientist with an extensive background in the food industry.

“Especially as a food scientist, it’s like, ‘It this is happening, add this preservative,’ or ‘If this is happening, add this,’” she said. “When we first started doing this, it was, ‘We want to do this, but you’ve got to get shelf life.’ I can honestly say this has been the most challenging thing, and I’ve been doing this for many, many years.”

Hail Merry salted brownie merry bites macaroons
At the N.R.A. show, Hail Merry received an innovation award for its salted brownie macaroon, made with such ingredients as organic maple syrup, organic virgin coconut oil and almond flour.
Future innovation will expand the brand into savory snacks. Hail Merry plans to launch dips and hummus made with cashews instead of garbanzo beans.
 
“Hail Merry is a snack and dessert company, and that includes sweet and savory because both are important in the snacking industry,” Ms. Chapin told Food Business News at the N.R.A. show. “So we’ll definitely be an on-the-go product, but you’ll continue to see some other things from us in the future.”

The business has grown sevenfold since 2010, Ms. Chapin said, adding, “We slowed down for a period because we needed capital, and now we’re getting ready to ramp again.” Last May, Hail Merry announced it had received a minority investment from HBC Investments and Powerplant Ventures, enabling it to further expand its marketing, sales support and distribution.

Hail Merry chef
Ms. Chapin said Hail Merry may consider a partnership at some point to help the company achieve greater scale.
Asked whether Hail Merry would consider merging with a large food company, Ms. Chapin said, “It’s fair to presume that we would love to partner at some point with an entity that can help us achieve greater scale because the whole idea for us is, how do we feed more people and provide a democratized access to things that are better for you? And there are things that very, very big food companies can do, and we do them now, but they have a scale that allows them to do it even less costly...
 
“The other possibility is we and some other like-minded brands can come together and be our own entity.  We’re just so driven by how can we make great food available more places more cost effectively and how do we do that without compromising our values set around our ingredients.” 
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