Union Kitchen: Inside a food and beverage incubator

Continual evolution is key to survival in competitive food market, Momme Meals exec says

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To make it in the highly competitive food and beverage segment, startups need to listen to consumers and evolve to meet changing demands – even if that means letting go of their “baby,” says the founder of Momme Meals. 

“A lot of people have an idea of what they want to do right off the bat, and when they test it and it doesn’t work, they keep testing the same thing,” and that can lead to failure, said Kristen Bocanegra, who launched Momme Meals four years ago.

To succeed, she said, “you have to be flexible. And that is the beauty of when you are little – you can be flexible. You can turn on a dime. You can reinvent yourself” based on what your consumers say they want.

Speaking from experience, Bocanegra acknowledged “shifting is really difficult, because the first thing you start will always be your baby, and letting go can be hard.”

But, as in Bocanegra’s case, it can lead to bigger and better opportunities.

She explained that Momme Meals, an organic whole food snack company, started as a delivery service of frozen meals specifically made for expecting women and nursing mothers.

“While it was great doing meal delivery in the DC area, the physical delivering of the meals is very costly and ineffective,” said Bocanegra, adding, “While I loved the frozen meal delivery … the reality was, it wasn’t going to really be what was going to work.”

So, Bocanegra shifted gears to focus on what her consumers said they really wanted: a one-handed snack.

The result was the creation of Go Chews – bite sized snacks that are uniquely formulated to provide nursing mothers with the nutrients they need to produce milk and the energy to meet the daily challenges of motherhood and life.

This includes using ingredients that consumers recognize which are packed with calcium, iron, folate and protein, such as apricots, honey, figs, oats, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds, Bocanegra said.

“Things you are not going to find: rice syrup, added synthetic vitamins, whey or soy isolates and other things you might find in some of the other protein bars,” Bocanegra added.

“These are all things we eat every day … but for someone who is breastfeeding it can really make a difference in the milk production” because these foods are lactogenic, she said.

Providing portion control

Go Chews also are different from most nutrition bars and other lactogenic snacks in that they are small, bite-sized pieces that give consumers the ability to control their portion size, Bocanegra said.  

The chews come in a resealable bag with four suggested servings, but consumers can eat as many as they want depending on their caloric needs.

“Let’s face it: If you are running 10 miles a day … your caloric intake and nutritional needs are going to be a little different than let’s say a 120 pound woman who is just trying to get through her day and not exercising,” Bocanegra said.

Continual evolution

Taking her own advice to “adapt to what the trends of the market are,” Bocanegra continues to evolve Go Chews.

While the snack was originally made with nursing mothers in mind, Bocanegra realized the nutrients mothers and infants need are the same ones all people need. So she is expanding her target audience to include “athletes, weekend warriors, nursing chicks, hungry kids, healthy foodies, soccer dads, hockey moms, snack junkies, workaholics and hangry teens,” as the recently revamped packaging touts.

Bocanegra adds that she is really going after the athletic segment next.

“Our chews have been tested with a variety of athletes from century riders to iron man triathletes and have done exceedingly well,” she said.  “So, now it is just a matter of getting them in their hands and seeing how they grow from there.”

Joining an incubator to boost distribution

To help get her product to more consumers, Bocanegra joined Washington, DC-based incubator Union Kitchen, which also has a distribution arm. 

“The distribution team here is incredible. The exposure they give you to other markets and buyers is tremendous,” said Bocanegra, who added prior to joining Union Kitchen distribution was her biggest challenge.

“Having to not only nudge each individual account and then physically go and fill every order 20, 30 and 40 miles or more outside the District was becoming virtually impossible,” she said.

But with Union Kitchen’s help, Go Chews are now sold in all MOM’s Organic Markets throughout the DC-metropolitan area, multiple Whole Foods Markets and other retail locations, Bocanegra said.

Because she doesn’t have to worry about distribution as much, she says she can now focus on her brand’s ongoing evolution – including new flavors for the Go Chews as well as the creation of additional lines of healthy, on-the-go snacks.

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