Deciphering What Consumers Want: The Success of Caulipower
A 2018 Gallup Poll has found that despite an enormous amount of publicity around the vegetarian and vegan industries, actual demographic changes in the number of people strictly adhering to a vegetarian or vegan diet has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade. Around 5 percent of people in the United States claim to be fully vegetarian, while only three percent identify as fully vegan. Those numbers are pretty much the same as a similar poll held in 1999. While vegetarians and vegans can be influential and vocal on social media and other forms of communication, the actual dietary choices of Americans should be one of the guiding factors that inform decisions for food businesses around the country. Caulipower is a natural and health food company that makes a wide variety of food products with cauliflower as the main ingredient. The impressive growth and success of the three-year-old business, which now markets over 20 SKUs in five different food categories, is partly due to a fundamental ability to interpret consumer demand and develop a unique product line that responds accurately to those demands.
The Birth of Caulipower
Gail Becker, the founder and CEO of the company, explains the motivation for creating the company this way:
“As the mom of two boys with Celiac – an autoimmune disease leaving their bodies unable to process gluten – I tried desperately to find nutritious, gluten-free options that weren’t filled with fat, sugar, salt and calories. Frustrated, I turned to a like-minded community of healthy hackers and stumbled upon recipes (lots of them) for cauliflower crust pizza. My creation tasted just fine, but it looked awful, my kitchen was a disaster and I had spent 90 minutes I didn’t have making a pizza crust!”
Her personal frustration with a lack of packaged, gluten-free, healthy food alternatives for people short on time led her to start the company. The business originally focused on creating cauliflower pizza crusts, thus offering customers a healthier way to continue to enjoy one of America’s favorite comfort foods. During the first year of operation, the company generated over $45 million in revenue, and by 2019 it became the 8th top-selling frozen pizza brand.
Recently Caulipower has expanded its product line, tapping into the obvious consumer demand for simple, one-ingredient, and plant-based food alternatives. Potatoasts is a single ingredient bread replacement that comes as pre-sliced, pre-cooked sweet potato slices that can substitute the nutritionally empty white bread loaves that many American families depend on for breakfast toast, sandwiches, and everything in between.
Similarly, the company has just released this year its collection of riced cauliflower products. Caulipower riced cauliflower is both vegan and Keto Certified, with only 35-60 calories and 3-5 grams of net carbohydrates per serving (depending on the flavor). This innovative cauliflower-based product offers a healthy, low fat, and high Vitamin C product that is marketed towards people who want quick, but healthier meal options.
The Plant-Based Food Revolution
Across the country, millions of consumers are expressing their desire for healthier, natural food alternatives. Obesity, diabetes, and coronary heart disease epidemics have resulted in part due to an industrialized food system whose main ingredients included highly refined grains and sugars. Younger generations of consumers who have witnessed their parents and grandparents suffer from these nation-wide epidemics are leading the demand for healthier, plant-based food products that are available in traditional retail food outlets.
While some companies have construed this demand for healthier diets as a consumer shift away from meat-based products, statistics show otherwise. Between 2017 and 2028, meat consumption in the United States is expected to continue to grow, with chicken, beef, pork, and turkey all expected to see increased consumer demand. Further, the grass-fed beef market is expected to grow by 5.45 percent by 2022 while free-range poultry production is set to become a $15.58 billion by 2026.
Caulipower has understood that the majority of American consumers are most interested in healthier food alternatives that include both plant-based products and healthier meat goods. Instead of attempting to frame the topic of healthier diets and nutrition around vegetarianism or veganism, Caulipower has devised a business strategy focused on natural, single-ingredient food alternatives that appeal to people who follow different dietary trends and practices. This strategy offers a broader appeal and has allowed the business to attract a wider following and customer base. Besides offering its signature cauliflower pizza crusts, the company also markets baked chicken tenders with a cauliflower-based crispy coating.
Many health-conscious consumers are interested in the most natural and least processed plant-based products that have short ingredient lists with ingredients they understand and can pronounce. Caulipower has developed a profitable and sustainable business model that appeals to a broad population of consumers. Whereas some plant-based brands such as Beyond Meat totaled about $50 million in U.S. sales in 2018, this required a $270 million investment from backers and investors. Caulipower, on the other hand, is expected to have seen over $100 million in 2019 sales with only $5 million in upfront investment. These numbers show that by creating a product line that appeals to a wider range of consumers, Caulipower has avoided some of the polarization that comes with the “vegan vs. meat debates” and thus seen stronger financial growth.
Fast Food that is Healthier
Another elemental aspect of the Caulipower business model is offering a line of products that come as packaged, ready to eat food items. The average American only spends about 37 minutes each day preparing and serving the meals they eat, according to the USDA. While home-cooked meals from natural foodstuffs might be a healthier idea, few people have the time within their busy schedules to dedicate hours to cooking.
Frozen pizza crusts and chicken tenders allow consumers healthier, plant-based food options that don’t require extensive time in the kitchen. In fact, the newly released riced cauliflower products come in a microwavable cup that is reusable, recyclable and dishwasher-safe. According to Becker, “we’ve hacked a meal hack by making a real meal out of riced cauliflower…The packaging is portable and microwaveable, perfect for a healthy heat-and-eat at home snack, a healthy side for dinner or a grab-and-go lunch.”
Caulipower’s Diverse Line of Products for Diverse Markets
Lastly, Caulipower has experienced healthy growth in its first years of operation due to the willingness to expand into new product categories. This diversified product list has been able to fill voids in the demand for more nutritious, plant-based food alternatives that are packaged and quick to prepare. To date, the brand offers a bread replacement in their Sweet PotaTOASTS, a cauliflower-based tortilla line, the above-mentioned chicken tenders with a coating packed with cauliflower and other gluten-free ingredients, and now the riced cauliflower line. Their traditional cauliflower pizza crusts also continue to expand and the company recently created three new flavors to continue to attract customers.
Becker says that “I am proud of the speed of our innovation. Announcing six new products… brings us to a total of twenty different SKUs across five unique categories, and we are just three years old.”
The company has also cemented its growth and popularity by expanding the markets where their products are sold. They currently sell their products in over 25,000 retailers across North America. Over 5,000 restaurants also use their pizza crusts and bread substitutes to create and offer plant-based menus and meals to their clientele. Understanding the importance of e-commerce, the company also sells its pizzas and tortillas on Amazon.
Despite its exponential growth, the company still seeks to maintain a close, familiar connection to their customer base. They maintain an active presence on social media, and also offer recipe inspiration on their website to help their customers find new ways to use their products in the kitchen. They also continue to sell their products via Fresh Direct, a company that pioneered the short supply chain movement and focuses on quick, fresh products that bring producers and consumers closer together.
Understanding trends in consumer demand, marketing their products to the widest possible customer base, and diversifying their product line have been three essential elements of success for Caulipower that other food entrepreneurs would do well to learn from.