SAN FRANCISCO — The secret to successful innovation, according to Mathieu Senard, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Alter Eco, is to “know trends before other people realize they exist.”
This strategy helped land the San Francisco-based brand on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies, posting three-year growth of 198% with revenues of $20 million last year. Launched in 2005, Alter Eco produces chocolate bars, chocolate truffles and heirloom grains, working directly with small-scale farmers and using fair-trade and organic practices to grow the quinoa, rice, sugar and cacao used in its products. Alter Eco products are sold in about 6,000 to 7,000 retail outlets, including Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Publix and Safeway.
At the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Jan. 22-24 in San Francisco, the company debuted three products: Organic Dark Mint Truffles made with coconut oil, Dark Salt & Malt Organic Chocolate bar and Dark Salted Almonds Organic Chocolate bar.
|Mathieu Senard, co-founder and co-c.e.o. of Alter Eco|
“I think it’s extremely important to stay on-trend … that’s kind of the name of the game,” Mr. Senard told Food Business News. “We do a lot of consumer research, and we look at the trends in food. A few years ago we saw that butter was coming back before it became apparent that it was coming back, so we launched a Dark Brown Butter chocolate bar, which has been a great success.
“We typically look for those trends and what the new generation wants. We look at millennials. Everybody talks about the millennials. I think it’s a pivotal generation as far as what they require brands to provide, both in terms of taste and sustainability.”
A public benefit corporation, Alter Eco’s commitment to environmental responsibility includes using compostable packaging and offsetting carbon emissions by planting thousands of trees each year. Last year, the company launched the first-ever compostable flexible standup pouch, an effort three years in the making.
“We still have a lot of work to do with the way the pouch is disposed,” Mr. Senard said. “Composting facilities still don’t know how to work with compostable packaging. It’s a big shift.”
The company’s “full-circle sustainability” model has attracted top talent from all corners of the food industry, he added.
“Because of what we do and because of our mission, we are able to hire some extremely talented people who are experienced and are looking to go from a very large company without necessarily a mission to a small company that is very mission oriented and gives meaning to their life,” Mr. Senard said. “We were able to hire some people who are almost too good for us, but because of what we do they’re coming.”
At the heart of Alter Eco’s mission is serving as a model for other businesses to help “fix our very big environmental issues as well as social issues,” Mr. Senard said.“We just want to show it’s possible to scale a company while keeping very high standards from day one,” he added. “We are a $20 million brand. We send about $1.5 million in premiums to co-ops every year. What happens when we become a $100 million brand and scale that impact? Then it will have significant results.”