As with many a budding food-focused entrepreneur before her, it all began in the kitchen for Chelsie Hodge.
Incorporating three smoothies into her daily diet had Hodge feeling sharp and energized. But on the flip side, preparing the healthy drinks with fresh ingredients took no small amount of time each day, and what did not get used ended up taking significant space in her refrigerator or being discarded.
Leveraging her experience as a business development officer at plant-based protein and sport nutrition powerhouse Vega, Hodge made it her mission to reformulate what it means to make a smoothie.
Her invention was a frozen “puck” containing everything required for a tasty, nutritious smoothie, save for a splash of water, soy milk or other dairy alternative. No fuss, no food waste, just a few seconds in the blender and the drink is ready to enjoy.
Some four years later, Hodge’s clever creation is available in more than 850 grocery stores across Canada. And in September of last year, Blender Bites (CSE:BITE) became a publicly traded company, with founder Hodge at the helm as Chief Executive Officer.
In Blender Bites’ first year, Hodge’s kitchen was the centre of production, her mother and aunts by her side to help make enough product to meet demand.
While many makers of healthy foods look to specialty stores for distribution, Hodge saw the potential to go mainstream right out of the gate.
Whole Foods Market and Fresh St. Market/IGA, two of Western Canada’s largest grocery store chains, were the first major retailers to embrace the pre-portioned smoothie. Safeway, Sobeys, Save-On-Foods and other leading grocery brands weren’t far behind.
“The freezer category was just dying for innovation,” Hodge explains. “There’s this mindset amongst consumers that frozen is unhealthy and fresh is so much better. Education is needed to change people’s minds, as frozen actually has more nutrition most of the time because it is flash frozen.”
Blender Bites is innovative when it comes to packaging as well, by being minimal rather than fancy. This commitment to respecting the environment complements the nutritional profile of the product, which is certified organic, vegan and non-GMO. With gluten, dairy, soy and added sugars absent from the ingredient list, Blender Bites are perfect for consumers with food intolerances, too.
Today, Hodge says Blender Bites is growing “very rapidly” after launching into Costco in Eastern Canada with reformulated and rebranded products in three lines: green dtox, power berry and vita smoothie. The products are currently available at Costco locations in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
Just how rapidly the business is expanding became clear recently when the company announced a 990% year-on-year increase in purchase order volume for December 2021, to $495,000. Demand was strong all around, with orders also coming in from existing and new club stores carrying the brand, plus many of the Canadian retailers with Blender Bites already on their shelves.
With a well-established, and growing, presence in Canada, Blender Bites has its sights set on the US market. It announced its first order from “the world’s leading club store chain” in December and expects more US club stores to begin carrying Blender Bites soon. Costco Wholesale warehouses in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma are the first of the chain’s US locations to carry the products.
A direct-to-consumer platform for the US market is also in the works.
Hodge notes that another big opportunity for Blender Bites is in the food service industry, which includes restaurants, cafes and hotels where smoothie drinks are popular but time-consuming to prepare.
“They just don’t have the people to sit there and chop up the fruits and vegetables or take ingredients and make a recipe for a smoothie,” says Hodge. “Blender Bites is a solution that could be extremely lucrative.”
Financially, the company is getting stronger as well. It raised just under $3.9 million as part of its go-public transaction last September. The shares are also listed on the Frankfurt exchange and the company is eyeing a listing on the OTC market in the US.
For 2022, Blender Bites is targeting between $6 million and $7.5 million in annual revenue as big name retailers embrace its products.
“We’ve got accounts like Kroger and Albertsons and Wegmans and Walmart and Target on our list for retail for the US and we are focusing on the bigger accounts,” Hodge says.
“Public companies like to acquire other brands and as soon as I’ve built up the team a little more, I think we’d have the capacity to look at that down the road. It is in the plans for the company, for sure.”
For the current year, though, the Blender Bites CEO plans to remain focused on further market penetration and expansion into food service, retail and club stores.
“We’ve come a long way in a short time and when I think about our products being enjoyed by people right across North America, I’m really proud of our team,” says Hodge. “But there is so much opportunity to expand market share and penetrate huge new sales channels that I feel we’re really only just getting started.”
This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.
Learn more about Blender Bites at https://blenderbites.com/.