Free-from diets and changing consumer eating habits have created polar extremes in the food industry. For every bison bone broth there’s a new veggie protein snack. For every new indulgent cookie there’s a grain-free cracker. Newly launched snack brand UNION says it’s taking a more inclusive approach.
UNION is the product of Born Wild Brands, an incubation and advisory firm founded by entrepreneur and investor Zubin Mehta. Today Mehta announced the launch of this “whole earth” snack company that will have its first showing at this year’s Natural Products Expo West. The brand seeks to emphasize and celebrate both its plant- and meat-based ingredients through a line of three bagged snack bites – Blueberry Bison Cacao, Bobotie Biltong Mango and Pineapple Pork Sriracha — as well as three bars – Bison Cranberry, Duck L’Orange and Sweet & Hot Pork.
“There are meat-based companies, plant-based companies, grain-based companies, nut-based companies, and we are generally omnivores,” Mehta said. “We like to eat everything, so the thought was, why not actually create a snack company where the platform is [about] being inclusive around ingredients. When we think about what is happening in the world with respect to separation and divisiveness… the idea of creating a brand that was about bringing things together was sort of another real genesis.”
UNION is the first brand to launch under Born Wild, which was created to incubate and launch new brands, as well as providing consulting services to existing brands. The firm’s second brand, a beverage, should launch before the end of 2018, according to Mehta.
To support the launch of UNION, Mehta said Born Wild closed a convertible note round last year. He declined to quantify the total amount raised. The funds will be used to help support the bars and bites in getting multichannel distribution, in addition to marketing efforts. To further help the brand navigate the launch and the scaling process, Greg Fleishman, co-founder and CEO of marketing firm Purely Righteous Brands, has been named an “integral advisor” to UNION and a director of its board. Fleishman, and Purely Righteous, also joined with Ptarmak in designing the brand’s graphic packaging.
“In a time when food tribes and free-from diets have created extremes, we love that UNION is inclusive in its ingredients as it is in its mission,” Fleishman told NOSH. “A truly elevated snacking experience should draw from all of Earth’s bounty — and UNION does this in the most innovative way.”
Mehta said UNION was attracted to the bite and bar formats — which are expected to retail for $5.99 and $2.99, respectively — because of the flexibility it would give the brand with flavor and texture within the popular snack food space.
“When you are not limiting things you can use, your ability to create almost any flavor profile within that bite is limitless,” said Mehta, “and because there are so many things going on in that bite from a textural and flavor perspective, we are almost able to create mini-meals within our bites.”
The spirit of acknowledging connectivity and inclusiveness trickles all the way down to the company’s supply chain. UNION has partnered with The Savory Institute, joining brands like EPIC Provisions and the Healy Foundation as “Frontier Founders” of the nonprofit’s Land to Market Program. The program acts as a new certification for verified regenerative supply chains, or supply chains that restore nutrients to soil that have been lost due to harvesting and replanting. The goal is to connect the regenerative agriculture movement directly to the consumer by providing them traceable and understandable data and proof, according to Mehta.
“Regenerative [agriculture] sounds great conceptually but until you can get verified outcomes and data to prove the story out, it is more of a subjective story,” Mehta said. “That data piece [of Savory] is huge in having the story around regenerative agriculture be larger than what it really is today.”
While Mehta only joined the CPG industry four years ago, he is no stranger to the nutrient-dense bite category. Prior to launching Born Wild last year, Mehta served as CEO at Nourish Snacks, a better-for-you snack company founded by TODAY’s Joy Bauer.
“A lot of those relationships I built there are probably going to help here,” Mehta said. “It’s a great category to be in. People are snacking more and more, and certainly as more and more companies innovate, there are better options for consumers — and we are hoping to take part in that.”