Scott Jensen, co-founder and CEO of Rhythm Superfoods, discusses the challenges of running a sustainable startup as well as changing consumer behavior toward nutrition.
Our nation faces a massive health crisis and nutrition (or lack thereof) is a core element of the issue. What if there was a food that delivered an extraordinary nutritional benefit in a convenient package? Scott Jensen co-founded Rhythm Superfoods in response to that question.
“Our goal is to provide consumers with affordable, shelf-stable snacks that are extremely nutritious,” says Jensen. To fill the void of nutritious snacks that taste good and fit modern lifestyles, Jensen and his team introduced Rhythm Kale Chips and Rhythm Superfood Bars. Rhythm goes even further by keeping all of its products in their raw state, thus preserving their optimal nutritional potential.
The Operational Challenges of a Sustainable Startup
You probably wouldn’t expect an MBA from NYU’s Sloan School of Management to be the brains behind a raw food revolution. But a responsible startup requires a business ethic as strong as its sustainability mission. Prior to Rhythm Superfoods, Jensen co-founded Stubbs Bar-B-Q Sauce in Austin, Texas. Moving from BBQ sauce to raw, vegan, cholesterol and gluten free kale provided Jensen with a whole new set of challenges.
Challenge #1: Raw Resistance
When you’re breaking new ground, you have to educate the consumer. “There’s a lot of confusion about the “raw” process that keeps people from understanding the benefits. For example, people want to know if it’s going to be soft and soggy.”
Jensen tackled this problem by adding a packaging window that allows consumers to examine the contents. “I’d rather not have a window in our packaging because it makes it more difficult to biodegrade. But, at this early stage, many consumers need it to satisfy their doubts.”
Challenge #2: Organic and Local Supply Chains
Supply chain management is a science in and of itself. When you integrate your supply chain with sustainable business practices, you add to the complexity of an already challenging situation.
Supply chain disruptions make it difficult to guarantee organic sources. “Right now, all of our ingredients are organic,” says Jensen, “However, a product can’t be labeled organic if three months ago the only kale you could source was conventional kale, even if it was only for a week. We’re trying to get multiple organic supply chains as soon as possible so we can guarantee organic 100% of the time with the USDA organic symbol. In the meantime, we do our best to explain our philosophy and preference for organic sourcing on the packaging.”
Similar challenges present themselves when you try to source using only local ingredients. “We prefer local sources, but Texas summers and kale are incompatible by their very nature.” As a result, Rhythm sources Texas kale in the winter and searches farther afield as the seasons change.
The healthiest food typically doesn’t come in a package. But modern lifestyles restrict the availability and practicality of farm fresh food. As Rhythm works to define a new market, they must package a novel snack in a way that appeals to customers while leaving the smallest impact possible on the environment.
Sun Chips’ introduction of compostable packaging would seem a perfect fit for Rhythm’s Kale Chips. However, business decisions are rarely so cut and dry.
“Things change every year,” says Jensen, “When we forecasted our budget, compostable bags didn’t exist. They are three times more expensive than our current source. When you don’t budget for that expense, it’s difficult to adjust.”
“We make package decisions extremely carefully. We can’t jump on a bandwagon right away. You have to think things through,” says Jensen. “We’re not going to go compostable until we’re sure the change won’t reduce shelf-life or acceptance by distributors.”
“Recently, Frito Lay announced they are scrapping their compostable bag for all but one of the Sun Chip flavors due to consumer complaints about the loud crinkling noise. “What if we had jumped on that bandwagon from the beginning? We’d be composting $25,000 worth of unusable packaging.”
Rhythm Foods: Looking Forward
Rhythm Superfoods is just beginning their journey toward profitability and sustainability. “From a business standpoint, you just can’t open up with local sources, national reach and compostable packaging all at once,” says Jensen, “It takes time.”
As they grow beyond Austin, we expect Rhythm Superfoods to become a model BusinessEarth enterprise, impacting personal health decisions, their community and the environment all while making a profit.
BusinessEarth encourages, advises and invests in responsible small and midsized companies. Follow BusinessEarth on Twitter to learn how we help business leaders see that social and environmental action is possible, profitable and necessary.