In an era when consumers are increasingly searching for healthy food options, an ecosystem has evolved that helps food innovators thrive, especially if they have a relatively simple concept.
The consumer trend certainly had an influence on the success of the Chicago Bar Company, which makes the RXBAR, an all-natural nutrition bar that touts only having four ingredients. Earlier this month, the company announced that it is being acquired by Kellogg for $600 million after only launching in 2013.
The founders of another local food startup, called Bee Nana, which makes Frönen, a non-dairy, banana-based frozen dessert, are hoping to follow in RXBAR’s path.
“If we could be the ice cream of RXBARs, that would be awesome,” said Jessica Gartenstein, co-founder of Bee Nana. “They’re definitely a great brand to follow and to learn from.”
Gartenstein and Erik Nadeau founded the company this year while they were both undergraduate students at the University of Chicago. In May, the food startup won first place and $20,000 at the university’s annual venture challenge. Gartenstein has since graduated and is now working full-time to make Bee Nana a success. Nadeau is finishing up his senior year at UChicago.
Frönen, which translates to “indulge” in German, is made of three ingredients: bananas, honey and lemon. Other flavors include strawberry and cinnamon, and by the end of November, they plan to begin selling a chocolate flavor.
Right now, they sell pints of Frönen for $5.99 in nine local grocery stores, like Foxtrot and Galleria Market. In a pilot test, they sold 50 half pints of Frönen at Hyde Park Produce in five days. And within the next four months, they hope to have sales agreements with Mariano’s and Whole Foods.
Bee Nana is a certified food handler, but since they’re still just a three-person team, they’re producing and packaging Frönen themselves at their manufacturing space in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.
According to Nielsen, a New York-based firm that monitors consumer trends, non-dairy ice cream sales have increased by 50 percent in the last year. Eden Creamery, the Los-Angeles-based maker of Halo Top, a low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar ice cream brand, is also trying to capitalize off consumers’ want for healthy dessert options. The brand, which sells ice cream in dairy and non-dairy flavors, was reportedly exploring a sale in August for more than $2 billion.
“There’s definitely a growing market,” Gartenstein said. “People are really shifting toward an all-natural way of eating, and in the ice cream aisle, it’s rare to find that.”