BALTIMORE — Before quinoa, chia and coconut oil soared to superfood fame, Elizabeth Stein used these ingredients in her packaged food products. A certified holistic nutrition counselor, Ms. Stein founded Purely Elizabeth in 2009. Today, her range of granola, ready-to-eat cereal and oatmeal varieties are sold in about 9,000 retail outlets nationwide, with sales growing consistently by triple digits year over year.
|Elizabeth Stein, founder of Purely Elizabeth|
“I remember being at our very first Expo East, and… explaining to retailers what chia seeds and coconut sugar were,” Ms. Stein told Food Business News. “It really has been an interesting thing to watch from our perspective, from educating our consumers to such a broad range of consumers now knowing and understanding what ancient grains are, or at least having familiarity with what that is. I think that’s really helped us in where we are today in getting in such a wider range of retailers and now being in the conventional channel and mass market.”
Her latest spate of innovation underscores continued efforts to stay ahead of trends. Featured among her newest offerings on display at Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 21-24 in Baltimore, was Probiotic Granola in chocolate sea salt and maple walnut varieties, made with quinoa, chia, millet, coconut sugar and coconut oil and formulated with GanedenBC30, a patented strain of probiotics proven to survive the baking process.
“From the time of starting the company I’ve always felt like the future of health was gut health, so in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘how do we create product for consumers so they can be consuming probiotics every day?’” Ms. Stein said. “The options at the time were limited to kimchi and sauerkraut, and neither of those really fell into the product categories we were working with. So I put it on the backburner, and then I found out about GanedenBC30, which… was a perfect solution that we can bake in granola, something people are eating on a daily basis.”
Also new are two varieties of Grain-Free Granola, made with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia and hemp seeds combined with cashew butter, coconut oil, vanilla and sea salt. Flavors include original and banana nut butter.
“It’s rich, but with 4 grams of sugar per serving,” Ms. Stein said.
The brand also recently introduced single-serving grab-and-go cups featuring four varieties of Ancient Grain Granola + Puffs cereal and three varieties of Ancient Grain Oatmeal.
“We saw there really wasn’t a healthy single-serving cold cereal option on the market,” Ms. Stein said. “The existing cold cups were the more conventional, high-sugar brands. And our oatmeal is different in that we don’t add any sweetener at all, so the consumer can sweeten it as they like, which is one of the biggest attributes we see consumers coming to the products for. And then, of course, it has the ancient grains and superfood seeds, so it has 9 or 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. I like to call it ‘oatmeal on steroids.’ Not your average oats.”
When Ms. Stein launched the business, her initial products were baking mixes made with ancient grains. Those items have since been discontinued. She made her first batch of granola on a whim in her New York City apartment one Sunday morning.
“I had never made granola in my life prior to this, and I wasn’t even a granola eater,” she said. “My mom was in town visiting, and she was a huge granola connoisseur. She tasted the granola I just made and said, ‘This is unlike any granola I’ve ever tasted. This needs to be your next product.’ I was very fortunate that I wrote down the recipe as I was making it, and I did not change it from that first time I made it.”
That recipe for her original ancient grain granola has since become the brand’s bestselling item and the top granola product in the natural channel, according to retail data.
“People presume granola is pretty easy to make, but it’s actually a really artisanal, challenging product,” she said. “When we first started, we were already using a co-packer for the muffin and cookie mixes, so we used that co-packer, and they were great in helping to scale up the recipe from my 8-oz batch into a 200-lb batch, which is now a 5,000-lb batch. There were certainly a lot of thrown-out batches of granola, and there is a very fine science of mixing temperature times and tasting to the point where you’re lying on the floor and can’t eat any more granola.”
Looking ahead, Ms. Stein plans to expand Purely Elizabeth into other product categories.
“My goal from the beginning has been to get into a lot of different categories in the market,” she said. “There are a couple on the horizon that I’m not quite ready to share, but in the next two years definitely we will be going into two new categories outside of cereal.”
Her advice for entrepreneurs in the food industry: Start small.“I think one of the most crucial things in the beginning was starting small, starting regionally, doing a lot of consumer events and demos to get feedback from consumers and making sure that the product tasted good,” she said. “Because, ultimately, we could put all this good nutrition in there, and if it doesn’t taste good, the consumer is not going to come back. Having that taste feedback from the very beginning is really crucial.”