Small startups are turning Big Food on its heels--and transforming the food industry in ways that haven't been seen in decades.
Topping out the 2016 Inc. 5000 list, you have Suja Juice, Chosen Foods, Chameleon Cold-Brew, Bai Brands, and Health Warrior - all five brands have simple ingredients and are non-GMO.
Three of the brands tout nutrition density claims. Four of the brands are using unconventional ingredients like coffee fruit, chia or probiotics to deliver value-added benefits like anti-oxidants or anti-inflammatory Omega-3s to consumers. Three of the brands are offering on-the-go beverages. Two of these brands have been acquired by big food.
Even just a few short years ago, companies like this barely existed in the food business, let alone reached this degree of success and growth. Ten years ago, it was nearly impossible for organic, clean, and whole foods like many of the brands above to break down barriers and reach consumers.
If you don't think it's possible to see new ideas and companies drive such a dynamic shift in any industry, you're wrong.
Here's what we can all learn from these incredible food winners:
Things Change Quickly: The oldest brand of the group was founded in 2009. Suja, the top-ranking brand, was founded only four years ago - and all of the brands have already reached an average of $40mm in revenue. It's easy to rise quickly when you're in a fast-growing industry.
The American Dream Is Still Alive (Anyone Can Start A Business): Chosen Foods was launched while its founder was studying to be a Naturopathic Doctor. A surfer, a self-taught chef, and a law school dropout created Suja in their kitchen at home. Anyone of any age and background, at any time, can start a company - and succeed at it.
Nothing Is Impossible: The food industry has been controlled by the same handful of companies for generations. Age-old food brands have been a mainstay on American tables for as long as most can remember. Today this has changed. What looks impossible usually isn't.
It Doesn't Take An Army - It Takes A Really Awesome Team: Many of the food brands on the Inc. top list are still small companies - some have less than 50 employees. They also have top team members with legacies in businesses - the executive team at Bai Brands combines decades of beverage industry experience, for example.
Believe In Your Product: Consumers weren't familiar with cold-brew coffee or chia seeds. Cold-pressed juice was unheard of. The new top food brands offer products that went against the status quo and were new to consumers. It takes faith in your product and ideas to trust in a demand that doesn't exist until you've created it.
Passion Is Important: Chameleon Cold-Brew was born from two founders that set out to brew the perfect coffee. A woman who was seeking fulfillment in life founded Suja Juice. Great companies and ideas are often formed a burning desire to do or create something. It's often not just about success or money.
Let Nothing Hold You Back: It's not easy to bring a new product to a market, let alone one that's in an emerging category or trend. Legacy industries can be enormously challenging to break into. All of the 2016 Inc. top food brands were startups in an industry full of gatekeepers - yet all have succeeded.
Never Give Up: I can attest to the challenges of developing alternative food products - it requires completely different supply chains, processes, and sources. I've experienced it with my company, Simple Mills. But, you just keep looking. You find a way to do what you want to do. You don't stop.
Food startups weren't on the radar of investors until more recent years. Consumers were highly loyal to legacy grocery stores and food brands. But, it didn't stop these companies from taking a shot at the top. That's a lesson we can all learn from.