On Tuesday night, the winner of the Next Big Small Brand contest was announced at an award ceremony at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. After a fierce competition, the judges selected vegan, gluten-free healthy snack producer New York Superfoods as the winner (you can check out a video about them here). They'll receive help with branding and PR from some of New York's top agencies, as well as a suite of kitchen appliances from Breville.
We had a chance to talk with Catherine Mangan Walsh, half of the husband and wife team behind the company, about what sets their products apart from the pack and what it's been like to run a successful food business—while keeping a day job.
How did New York Superfoods get started? We learned about chia seeds, and people attributed some great properties to them. We tried them, and they were good, so we tried to incorporate them into our diets. We went to Whole Foods to look for bars, crackers, or anything else with chia seeds, but there was nothing there—they only sold them plain. So we started tinkering and came up with things that we enjoyed, and here we are today.
What are your hallmark products? We make quality products with short, easy to read ingredient lists. I have celiac disease and am allergic to dairy, so I always have to read labels—I really appreciate short ones. We try to create food for our customers throughout the day: for breakfast, for a snack, and more.
We launched with our Chia Chargers in plain and spicy flavors. The spicy one, made with paprika, was our first idea. Paprika is good for metabolism and no one's doing anything like it. We also made a more mainstream-friendly agave-granola Charger. The Chargers are small and sold three to a pack, which allows for portion control, which people appreciate. They're great if you want a snack, are working out, or are watching your weight.
For our Chia Kind butters, we took a household staple—peanut butter—and added in chia seeds, then mixed it up with flavors like chocolate and paprika. We also sponsor athletes. Each of our ChiaKind butters corresponds to an athlete and each athlete has chosen a charity that means something to them. A portion of our ChiaKind nut butter sales will go to their chosen charities. While we are a start-up, it is very important to us that we give back as much as we can.
How do you make your products? We do everything in small batches in a commercial kitchen in Long Island City. Now we're looking to automate process a bit. We're at a crossroads where we have to decide if we invest in automated equipment or if we partner with a co-packager. I'd prefer to do all the packaging ourselves, but we have to decide if that's feasible.
What do you think put you ahead of the competition at the contest? The competition was really tough, but chia is enjoying such great press right now. It's such a healthy food, and I think the judges saw potential in exploring it and getting it out there.
How has running a food business affected your lives? We both have our day jobs—we do this is every night and weekend. So we don't see our friends too much. I wouldn't call it stressful, but it does cut into our personal time. We're at a point in our lives where we're really busy and focused, and we want to make it work and that's how it is. So we're comfortable with it—for now—but we have to make decisions about managing it going forward.
Now that you've won, what are your company's next steps? We want to be a national company. We're currently sold in 20 stories nationwide, but the coverage is a little random. We need to get a sales team together for a nationwide network, and we need to bring more people in and expand the product lines. Winning this contest will be huge help in that.
We're food entrepeneurs, but we aren't food experts. We've learned a lot but are always learning new things. Our ears are open to whatever people with experience have to say.