Strong Plant-Based Roots Expands U.S. Presence With Kroger’s Distribution Agreement

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Samuel Dennigan spent 10 years in the Irish-based family-owned fresh produce business, a decade that helped him develop the roots and relationships he needed to grow on his own.

In 2015, Dennigan launched Strong Roots with a line of sweet potato fries, a product that had been around for a long time in the US but had only just been introduced in Ireland and the UK. their familiar white potato fries, and today the company has a list of 15 products, all of which are vegan, which are sold at retail outlets in Britain, Ireland and, more recently, the States. -United

Strong Roots brought its products to the United States in the midst of the pandemic last year and today they are available in approximately 9,000 stores operated by retailers, including Walmart and Whole Foods Market, and in the weeks to come. , they will be deployed in approximately 1,000 Kroger. owned supermarkets, Dennigan said.

But the story started with knowing the growers and appreciating the potential to turn simple vegetables into new products.

“[The family business] This is where I cut my teeth on agriculture and food and gained an understanding of the supply chain, ”said Dennigan.

The concert provided Dennigan with information on plant-based foods and a vision for ways to make a difference and make a mark in the frozen food industry. The network of suppliers and retailers he had formed along the way allowed him to go ahead and start building a business that now employs 40 people in three countries, he said.

Dennigan’s decision to leave the family business and go out on his own instead of staying and creating a new division within the existing business stems from his desire to do something completely different and disruptive, he said. he declares.

“I wanted to be able to take risks without the background of the family business. I come from the world of fresh products, raw materials. What we wanted to do was connect with the consumer on a deeper level.

The B2B commodity industry was seasonal and price sensitive, Dennigan said.

“We needed a better platform to tell our stories and a more sustainable platform as well. There has only ever been one route that made sense to me – the frozen supply chain. “

Strong Roots does all of its production with contract manufacturers, a plan that allows company staff to focus on sales and marketing and also allows the company to locate manufacturing close to local producers and suppliers. with whom she contracts, he said.

“We try to manufacture as close as possible to our market, but also as close as possible to the regions where the best growing regions are located,” he said. “One of our best producers is based in North Carolina, so when we broke into Ireland and the UK we were able to export from the US”

From the start, Strong Roots has focused on creating tasty, familiar products made simply with vegetables, seasonings, and a few other ingredients. The products available differ a bit depending on the market. One of the most popular products in the United States so far has been Cauliflower Hash Browns, which are made from potatoes, cauliflower, onions, and six other ingredients, including salt and pepper.

Launch during a pandemic

The first major U.S. deployment of Strong Roots took place at Whole Foods in the first month of the pandemic last year, just as consumers panicked to buy everything at the grocery store, Dennigan said.

“Initially we saw these crazy spikes in demand that everyone has seen in retail. Then over the summer, as people got more confident to go out, it calmed down, but the grassroots growth was still bigger than expected, ”he said.

The growth of plant-based foods in particular has skyrocketed over the past year. Retail sales in the United States increased 27% to $ 7 billion in 2020 from the previous year, nearly double the growth rate of the total U.S. retail food market, according to data compiled by the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute.

After Whole Foods came Walmart, and then smaller chains of health food stores including Sprouts and Wegmans.

Like many food manufacturers on a mission to increase brand awareness and introduce new products to new markets, Strong Roots reportedly spent a large chunk of the marketing budget on in-store sampling and demonstrations – until this time. that the pandemic makes that impossible.

The company shifted its spending towards digital marketing and also partnered with Ghost Truck Kitchen in New York and Jersey City, NJ, which allowed it to introduce the product to consumers as part of a quick menu offered. through third party delivery services.

Relationships with Amazon-owned Whole Foods and Walmart also helped the brand connect with consumers who were increasingly turning to these retailers’ sites for online ordering and door-to-door delivery.

“We do well with Amazon Fresh, Fresh Direct and Walmart delivery,” he said. “They gave us huge success during COVID and now the consumer is used to buying us online. “

The company, which raised $ 18.3 million in a 2019 funding round led by Goode Partners, reported a 150% increase in sales in the first two months of 2021 compared to the same period l last year and she expects annual sales to reach $ 100 million by the end of 2023.

Dennigan’s roots may be in Dublin, but these days he follows the company to every new market. After a brief stint in London, he has so far moved to Jersey City while the American branch of the company is in growth mode.

A new product in the UK could be the inspiration for the next leg of Strong Roots’ business, Dennigan says. The company launched The Veg Finger, a plant-based alternative to fish sticks – what Americans call fish sticks – and their popularity could inspire new innovations in meat and seafood alternatives to the world. ‘to come up.

“Some of our retailers are asking us to bring them to the United States, and what follows could be other alternatives to fortified meat,” he said.


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