Rice and bean chip maker Beanfields “is in a very similar state as Zico was when it really started to take off,” before it was sold to The Coca-Cola Co. in 2013, Rampolla told FoodNavigator-USA, explaining that it is in a massive category that has had limited disruption so far, but in which consumers are looking for something new.
“Despite really good innovation from Pop Chips and other healthier, premium products, Doritos is still a $2 billion brand and I think a lot of consumers want a healthier alternative but they don’t want to compromise on taste,” Rampolla said.
In that way, he explained, Beanfields faces a lot of the same challenges that Zico encountered initially in convincing people to put down their sugar sweetened beverages for a healthier alternative, but with one big difference that gives the snack company a significant edge: the chips taste good.
“Convincing people to eat Beanfields will be a lot easier because it tastes so good and everyone loves it right out of the gate,” whereas at Zico, Rampolla said, he often had to brace people when they first tried coconut water for what he described as “an acquired taste.”
He explained, “At Zico, I often had to qualify and tell people they might not like it on the first taste,” but with Beanfields’ chips “everyone just loves it, including my daughters, who were frankly never the biggest Zico fans.”
While Rampolla has a lot of experience from Zico to draw on in running Beanfields, he also knows that the beverage and snack industries are very different, as such he plans on spending the first three months in his new role “diving into the weeds and working with the team and engaging with some partners … and tapping my network of smart people to figure out what the plan is going to look like.”
A unique partnership and social mission
And even though he has “no specific plans today” for the company, he has ambitious long-term goals for Beanfields’ partnership with the non-profit Homeboy Industries, which claims to be the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.
Beanfields partnered with Homeboy Industries earlier this year as part of a fundraising agreement with Powerplant Ventures, a venture fund committed to a plant-based lifestyle for which Rampolla is a partner.
As part of the deal, Homeboy owns a 5% stake in Beanfields that could go up as high as 10%. It also will receive between 10% and 50% of the gains from other individual investors in Beanfields after they have recouped their initial investment, Rampolla explained.
The arrangement also includes a revenue sharing component in which Beanfields will give Homeboy 1% of sales, 1% of equity and 1% of employee time, Rampolla said
But potentially the most exciting component of the deal for Rampolla is providing jobs to graduates of Homeboy, he said.
“Homeboy does a great job of taking young men and women through a comprehensive program after they have been in gangs or jail and preparing them for the real work place. But one of the challenges is even after they have come through this program, and they have been vetted, and they are good workers, they still have a hard time getting jobs because people don’t want felons,” Rampolla said. “So, at a minimum, what we hope to do is when we have interns, for example, or people for demos and events, we want to include graduates from Homeboy in those programs.”
He added that in the future as the company grows he hopes to offer the graduates jobs in administration, the warehouses or in sales and potentially even have “record-required” positions.
Rampolla offers services free of charge
As if Rampolla’s socially-driven agenda were not good enough, he also declined a salary for his service as CEO of the company – meaning more money for Homeboy and Beanfields.
He explained that he opted not to be paid beyond what he will receive as an investor because he was inspired by Father Greg Boyle who founded Homeboy Industries and has dedicated 25 years of service without pay.
“I am in a position in my life where I can afford to do this and so I wanted to do it, and I am doing it because I love it and believe in it and I want to see this partnership and company win,” he added.