Innovation and staying ahead of trends are vital to success in the consumer packaged goods industry. Being a trendsetter with a unique product has its perks, and if you’re a brand, that is one strong way to stand out and get discovered by major distribution companies. KeHE Distributors is one of the largest and most respected grocery and natural distributors in the U.S., with a mission to find innovative products in the natural, organic, specialty, and fresh product categories for their 16+ distribution centers across the country. One way KeHE discovers new brands and products is through its Trend Finder events. June 10, 2021, marked KeHE’s fifth Trend Finder event (and third virtual event), one of the most successful ways their Category Managers can forage unique brands to add to their robust assortment. 

Leading up to the event, KeHE continued its partnership with RangeMe for the third time to source brands and streamline inbound submissions for the event. If a brand in the food, beverage, health, and beauty care categories was interested in this unique opportunity, they needed to register through RangeMe, submit their brand, and complete submission questions to KeHE for consideration. From there, RangeMe took care of directing each submission to the appropriate Category Manager. 

Out of the whopping submission numbers KeHE received, more than 100 product suppliers were given a chance to join one-on-one pitch meetings with KeHE’s Category Management team. This team of category experts evaluated each brand on ingredients, innovation, taste, scalability, packaging, purpose, and passion. From that group, a dozen suppliers were awarded “Golden Tickets” and will be added to KeHE’s assortment. Of those 12, all brands are active suppliers on RangeMe. 

All 12 Golden Ticket Winners will join the distributor’s product portfolio with exposure to more than 30,000 retail locations, receive distribution assistance, and free supplier promotional programs. Hello, endless opportunity! 

Let’s meet the first six of KeHE’s 5th Trend Finder Golden Ticket Winners below! 

Get to know: Gwell

Snacks for the soul, mind, and body. Fawziyya Sugai was working in the corporate fashion industry when she was diagnosed with fibroids and PCOS. The high stress of her job combined with her illness had a big impact on her health, and  Sugai decided she needed healthier snack options at work that would energize and increase focus and wellness—and she wasn’t alone. Sugai created Gwell, a plant-based wellness brand that incorporates functional foods into everyday snacks designed for on-the-go lifestyles. Each product is designed with organic, gluten-free science-backed ingredients that offer benefits including focus, energy, stress relief, immune support, and relaxation. Gwell’s best seller is the Reishi & Chaga Tea Cookie which is loaded with ~225mg of adaptogenic mushrooms per cookie to lift your mood and stimulate your taste buds as well as being gluten-, soy-, and dairy-free. What makes this healthy snack brand great is its mission of delivering plant-powered wellness to help you feel better and improve food equity in the community, like donating more than 3,500 meals a year to children in need or partnering with local organizations to provide financial support and snack donations. 

RangeMe talked with Sugai to find out more about her experience with the Trend Finder event.

RangeMe: What was your experience like participating in KeHE’s Trend Finder event? 

Sugai: I found the Trend Finder event to be accessible. Founders have a lot on their plates and the event was well-balanced and flexible in terms of how to participate, requirements to enter, and overall communication. It was also refreshing to connect with a category manager one-on-one in the pitch and have really honest conversations. It felt, regardless of the outcome, you could get honest feedback that would help your business.

RangeMe: How did you prepare for your pitch to KeHE Category Managers? Any helpful tips to share?

Sugai: The most important preparation tips would be to read all of the application requirements and that you’ve budgeted enough time to complete it. I also suggest reaching out to others in your network who may have worked with the company before to get insight into how they work and what they look for. Otherwise, I think it is important to tell your brand story with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back. During my pitch, the audio in my presentation did not work. I had to play the video, and I spoke over it, mirroring the audio to tell our story. I would not have been able to do this if I had not practiced. To be clear, I don’t mean practicing specifically for the pitch; I mean over time, whether it’s directly to customers at a demo or weekend market or via email to someone you are trying to connect with. The more you practice, the better you will be able to tailor your story to your audience.

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with KeHE?

Sugai: I am excited to work with a team that is excited about our product and about building a partnership. KeHE will offer a significant opportunity for us to scale our distribution.

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy? 

RangeMe helps us to connect with retailers and share our brand story. It also helps us build our sales strategy and identify retailers whose customers are our current and potential customers.

Get to know: Kanda Chocolates 

During her travels to Ghana, Karen Blackwell fell in love with Ghanaian chocolate. It was creamy, chocolatey, and fruit-forward– and didn’t have that strong bitter taste associated with most dark chocolates. When Blackwell returned to the States, she was struck by the lack of single-origin Ghanaian chocolate available in stores. While Ghana is the second-largest cocoa producer globally, less than 1% of their exports are finished chocolates. This love for chocolate turned into Kanda™ Chocolates, a brand of Sage & Alms; which is a Black-Owned, Woman-Owned benefit corporation. The company is built to elevate the Ghana Cocoa Bean experience and create awareness and initiatives around social and environmental responsibility in Ghana and the United States. Kanda™ Chocolates are grown, processed, packed, and posted straight from Ghana to the United States for distribution. Not to mention the products are fair trade and purpose-driven. Their Almsgiving Campaign provides 10% of proceeds to charitable organizations and their partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Fund allows Kanda™ Chocolates to invest in clean, renewable energy and buy international carbon offsets.

Blackwell shared some of her insight and experience about becoming a Golden Ticket Winner.

RangeMe: How did you prepare for your pitch to KeHE Category Managers? Any helpful tips to share?

Blackwell: Before pitching to KeHE or any other company, I worked on multiple revisions for my sell sheets and brand presentations for two years. When it was time for me to pitch to KeHE, I believe it was helpful that I was able to provide them with documents that answered all of their questions.

For all the new brands pitching your product, I always suggest starting somewhere, like a sell sheet, and building on those documents as you go. It bothered me not to have a perfect document when I first started but looking back I can see that I needed my experiences to inform exactly what was needed on those documents. It is more important to have something to share versus nothing. Every company is unique. What you use on your sell sheet or PowerPoint may not fit what another brand has done. Go through your own experiences to create what uniquely describes your business. 

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with KeHE?

Blackwell: I am most excited about working with KeHE because our values are aligned. We are both benefit corporations focused on contributing to the lives of amazing humans and the planet as a whole. I love that KeHE is synonymous with organic, specialty, and fresh products. They are the exact type of distributor we wanted to partner with.

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy? 

Blackwell: With RangeMe, I have focused on two areas. First, I use RangeMe to determine schedules for specific stores looking for my product category. It’s helpful to compare and contrast from store to store. Secondly, I use RangeMe to submit my brand to various retailers that accept Submissions on RangeMe. It’s such a time saver. Rather than filling out all of your product information, the “quick apply” takes all of the information from your RangeMe profile and submits it to the retailer with a brief note.

Get to know: MāKā Superfood

A shot of wheatgrass a day keeps the doctor away. But what about eight shots of wheatgrass? Brian Hill has always lived an active and healthy lifestyle driven by a clean, nutritious diet. After learning the benefits of wheatgrass, he began growing, harvesting, and juicing wheatgrass at home–a very time-consuming process, but the alternative sources were expensive, inconvenient, and lacked enjoyable taste. Hill saw the opportunity for a ready-to-drink, cost-efficient, and flavorful wheatgrass beverage. So he set out to formulate MāKā Superfood, a lightly carbonated and organic beverage with the equivalent of eight, 1-oz pressed shots of wheatgrass, sweetened with a touch of blue agave and organic juices, and energized with yerba mate and guayusa. Hill’s current line of functional beverages consists of Hibiscus Passionfruit, Mango, and Lemon, with a fourth flavor being announced soon. On top of creating a flavorful wheatgrass beverage, MāKā Superfood is a carbon-neutral company that gives 1% of gross sales to Planet certified charities. 

Hill spoke with RangeMe to discuss his experience with KeHE’s Trend Finder event. 

RangeMe: What was your experience like participating in KeHE’s Trend Finder event? 

Hill: At every step of the process, KeHE’s Trend Finder event was incredibly exciting for us as a new product. We have always felt that our beverage was a healthier lifestyle option that offered consumers wheatgrass benefits in three organic, delicious, and lightly carbonated flavors. Being selected by KeHE reaffirmed our beliefs and has provided us with a benchmark that the industry respects and has immediately responded to. The moment we were notified as a winner was truly a special moment for the entire MāKā team who have been working tirelessly towards the brand’s success, a moment we will never forget and always be grateful for.

RangeMe: How did you prepare for your pitch to KeHE Category Managers? Any helpful tips to share?

Hill: In pitching KeHE Category Managers, we stayed true to our brand, sharing Brian’s personal journey of bringing MāKā to market, sharing our passion for innovation, and conveying how our product resonates with those interested in a healthier lifestyle. When pitching to buyers for the first time, clearly put forth the differentiating elements of your product and your core pillars as a company—who you are, what you do, and why your customers care. 

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with KeHE?

Hill: Our ability to work with KeHE is a natural fit because we are both dedicated to the health of our customers and an unyielding passion for innovation and integrity through the products we offer and the actions we take. KeHE and MāKā are truly an “organic” fit.

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy? 

Hill: RangeMe is a core element of our retail engagement and awareness strategy. Being a new brand, it’s imperative that we provide trusted, thorough, and meaningful information to existing and potential suppliers of our beverages. Being the “go-to” sourcing platform for grocery buyers, RangeMe allows key stakeholders and decision-makers to quickly find and review product information about MāKā and its differentiating qualities. RangeMe also provides the ability for buyers to communicate directly with our team leaders and the eventual placement of our products in stores that recognize the category opportunity of MāKā.

Get to know: NuRange Coffee

The Espresso Martini—You either love ‘em or are simply obsessed. Collin Ricker and his college friend Zach MacAffer fell in the latter group. So much that they created an Instagram account dedicated to documenting, tracking, and rating espresso martinis around the world. But depending on the bartender, they were inconsistent, which is why the duo set out to make a gold standard of high-end, premium cold brew coffees with a boozy twist. NuRange’s line of canned cold brew includes your classic Black Cold Brew, Cold Brew Coffee+, Cold Brew Latte, and drum roll please…The Cold Brewtini. Yes, a vodka-infused cold brew made from sustainable, fair trade, organic, Arabic coffee beans roasted using clean solar energy—an espresso martini lover’s dream. 

Ricker shared with RangeMe about his KeHE Trend Finder experience. 

RangeMe: What was your experience like participating in KeHE’s Trend Finder event? 

Ricker: Incredible. Super organized and easy. From first pitch and samples to final pitch and onboarding, KeHE made it easy and has an amazing team that we’ve loved getting to work with.

RangeMe: How did you prepare for your pitch to KeHE Category Managers? Any helpful tips to share?

Ricker: We knew what we wanted to say, but we also looked at what they wanted to hear. So we combined a pitch with everything they needed to know and then mixed it with everything we love about NuRange that they may not know or may never have thought to ask. My advice– be yourself, know your business inside and out, and tell them why they need you and how you would be a great fit for them, their accounts, and even how you would work with similar products they already sell.

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with KeHE?

Ricker: We are so excited to be working with a national distributor that can help fill some white space market territories. They are perfect for us being focused on clean, innovative, healthy products. We couldn’t be happier with our first national distributor.

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy? 

Ricker: RangeMe has been great for finding the right retailers and distributors and finding big chains and distributors that are doing new programs like the Trend Finder event, that we would have never found without RangeMe. RangeMe has led to some insane growth and has been worth every penny. From Whole Foods to Hy-Vee, to Snack Magic and KeHE, none would have been possible without RangeMe and ECRM.

Get to know: Ree Ree Dee’s Dough

Life is what you bake it, and that’s just what Erica Davis set out to do. Like most cookie lovers, Davis loved homemade cookies but didn’t always have the energy or time to make a batch from scratch when a craving would hit. Store-bought refrigerated dough tasted dull and full of unnatural ingredients, so Davis started freezing homemade cookie dough batches and found the cookies preserved perfectly, locked in freshness, and tasted even better. Then, during the pandemic, her family and friends began requesting batches to keep in their freezers. At their urging and a mission to boost the collective spirit through good food, Ree Ree Dee’s Dough was born. Ree Ree Dee’s Dough is a line of small-batch, hand-scooped cookie doughs crafted with premium ingredients. The cookie dough line consists of decadent Chocolate Chip with FIVE different types of chocolate chips, Peanut Butter with roasted peanuts and local honey, Oatmeal Raisin made with baked grapes instead of raisins, plus two new flavors that will launch soon. 

Davis baked up some thoughts on why she participated in the Trend Finder event, and what her inclusion on RangeMe has meant for her business. 

RangeMe: What was your experience like participating in KeHE’s Trend Finder event?

Davis: I was contacted to pitch at the KeHE Trend Finder event through RangeMe, and I honestly didn’t quite know what to expect. I hung a banner behind me that fell down during my pitch. Luckily, the KeHE representative was so nice about it that I didn’t totally lose my stream of consciousness! The overall experience was so positive. I really enjoy my contact at KeHE and look forward to working with them.

RangeMe: How did you prepare for your pitch to KeHE Category Managers? Any helpful tips to share?

Davis: I have a sales deck that I have practiced pitching to everyone in my family, including the dog! My background is in marketing, and I enjoy a beautiful pitch that contains just the right amount of information. Of course, when you’re brand new to an industry, figuring out what that balance is can be tough! I also wrote out a script for each slide and had to work to not just read off it like a robot. I’m ready to update my sales materials, and every time you pitch them, you learn a little more about what parts of it work and what parts of it start to lose people.

RangeMe: What are you most excited about working with KeHE?

Davis: Solving the Rubix cube of distribution is going to be a huge load off! I’m excited to be able to communicate the value of my product to buyers and assure them that if they decide to move forward with a partnership, the logistics of getting the goods into their stores will be somewhat alleviated. 

RangeMe: How do you use RangeMe as part of your retail strategy?

Davis: Without RangeMe, I would be limited to buyers within driving distance of me, and during the time of COVID, dropping in on buyers isn’t really encouraged. In fact, it might not ever be encouraged. (Buyers, let me know!) Having a portal to buyers across the U.S. is almost too good to be true. I was almost overwhelmed with the possibilities. With a partnership with KeHE, I can be more confident reaching out to buyers who would otherwise seem out of my orbit. 

Get to know: Cloud & Joy 

You scream, I scream, we all scream for healthy ice cream! After recovering from a hiking accident that left them pre-diabetic from the injury, medication, and inactivity, founders Selina and Ian Tepoot created an ice cream formula for the healthiest possible ice cream. As a result, they launched Cloud & Joy, a clean ice cream line with low sugar to no sugar, sugar alcohol-free, low fat, low saturated fat and cholesterol, reduced net carbs, gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, corn syrup-free, non-GMO and made with organic, clean label, ethically sourced and Kosher ingredients. And as a commitment to doing good when they do well, Cloud & Joy decided to give a portion of every pint sold to their favorite NGO Heifer International as part of the company’s core commitment. On the hunt for a healthier ice cream alternative? Check out Cloud & Joy’s several decadent flavors, including Summer Camp Cookie, Peppermint & Brownies with Hazelnuts, and Boozy Bee Vanilla with Honey Swirls. 

Meet the remaining six KeHE Trend Finder Golden Ticket Winners and learn what they had to say about participating in the event in Part 2.

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