Bringing Flavor to Organic Foods with Hope Foods’ Will Burger

September 26, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today Will Burger. He’s the Marketing Director of Hope Foods. Welcome to Green is Good, Will. WILL BURGER: Thank you. I’m excited to be on it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Before we get talking about your great brand, Hope Foods, Will, can you share a little bit about the Will Burger story, the journey leading up to becoming the Marketing Director of Hope Foods? What even led you here, and what made you want to be in the organic and the green industry? WILL BURGER: Yeah, well, I actually studied business at the University of Colorado years ago, and I took a little detour in my life. I decided I was going to go work with kids. So, I worked with kids for 10 years a youth pastor. That was a fun and a lot of work. Then I went from there and I had a group of friends that I was really close to, and they were all working for Hope Foods, and I was just really loving what they were doing over there. Boulder is just a hub of the natural food industry, so you can’t live anywhere close to Boulder and not catch the bug, so to speak, and I was just loving what these guys were doing. Hope had started this farmers’ market, and so I decided to jump on that team. It’s a really community-focused company, and we started working together and never looked back. It helps when you really love the products and you love what you do day in and day out. I’ve eaten our hummus every single day for a snack, so maybe that’s why I got into it, because I get to eat good food now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, that’s awesome. I’m so glad you came on the show to talk about all the great things you’re doing at Hope Foods today. Let’s talk a little bit about it. Hope Foods is an important company with regards to the organic food explosion and movement, so to speak. Give a little bit about the Hope Food story. Talk a little bit about their history. How old are they? What’s their journey been like? Where have they been, where are they today, and where do you hope — no pun intended — where they’re going? Share a little bit about the Hope Foods story first. WILL BURGER: Yeah, so, like I said, in early 2011, Hope got founded near Boulder, and started with just some friends going to the farmers’ market and they started actually as Hope Hummus. So, from the beginning, it was saying, “Hey, you know, we’re not going to ever compromise on food quality,” so from the very beginning we were organic. We were not GMO. Gluten-free is a big one. You know, vegan. That was a big part at the very beginning, when they were laying out who Hope was going to be and the future, they started down that road. From then on out, year after year, we’ve experienced 300% growth. We got into all the Whole Foods, and we’ve really gone across the nation now, which has been really exciting. It’s kind of like being on a rocket ship, you know, and be a part of something. It really has become a movement. Hope started there. This is really interesting. One of the things that, from the very beginning, because we were organic, we didn’t want to use preservatives and all those things that people use in their products, and we also didn’t want to heat treat or pasteurize our product either. So, that became kind of a conundrum. When you become a national company and you have to distribute from Colorado coast to cast, we were trying to figure out how do you achieve that food safety kill step without heating your product or pasteurizing? Everyone does it, but it really just kills the nutrient value and the taste profile. So, maybe about 18 months ago, we decided to pursue this high-pressure processing technology, which has been really exciting. Hope is the only installation in Colorado currently with HPP and a lot of cold-pressed juices are doing that. Basically, we take our product and we pressurize it to 87,000 psi, which is like six times the base of the ocean. What happens under that pressure is our product keeps all the nutrient value, but all the harmful bacteria is removed. So, it’s really been revolutionary for us, and it has allowed us to experience the growth without ever compromising on any of our nutrients, any of our taste profile, or anything like that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that want to learn more about Hope Foods, please go to www.hopefoods.com. I’m on the site now. It’s a beautiful website, lots of great information. As you kicked the show off, you were talking about how it’s vegan, it’s organic, it’s non-GMO. Let’s talk a little bit about organic. What is the impact of organic, and what does organic really mean, Will, to Hope Foods and to the industry as a whole? WILL BURGER: Yeah, that’s a great question. This is something that we’re talking about internally. We’re having these conversations all the time. At a base level, organic means to get that organic seal that you see on the food in the grocery store, you have to have between 95-100% pure organic ingredients that have been certified by the USDA. But other than that, I think a lot of people don’t really know the background of what organic means and what it takes to get to an organic certification. The obvious one that I think a lot of people do know have to do with the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and stuff like that, or organics can’t include GMOs, and that’s another thing that’s a part of organic certification. But that’s maybe the direct health benefit of an organic product, but it’s really also about creating sustainable systems at the food production level and at the growing level and in the agricultural systems, and so part of being organic means that you’re promoting ecological balance and the biodiversity of these systems, at the farming level, really, and so the USDA will go back and make sure all along the way that those challenges are being met. That’s really the second big part of why organic is important, not just because of what you’re putting in your body. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Is it automatically, once you’re organic, you’re non-GMO, or is that a fallacy? WILL BURGER: No, the difference is GMOs are prohibited from certified organic products, but when they look for GMOs, as opposed to the non-GMO project, they require multiple levels of mandatory testing for the product, and so that would be in sampling techniques, given traceability and quality control measures that the non-GMO projects goes into that the USDA organic seal does not. At a core level, all organic products cannot contain genetically modified organisms. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Before we get talking more about organic farming and other good things, I’m on your website right now and I’m getting hungry right here, Will. I’ve had your products before. Explain to our listeners the three or four core products that you have. You have hummus, you have lentils, and you have chocolate. Give our listeners a little flavor now on the air, without them having to taste them, but make them really excited to taste them, those three products that Hope Foods puts out right now. WILL BURGER: Absolutely. Well, so, like I said, Hope Hummus was our core brand, and from the very beginning, we decided we were going to do something that had never been done before, and that is we did a spicy avocado hummus. We put avocado into the hummus, and that’s part of the reason why we can’t heat our product. It was really a blessing in disguise, and I don’t think we realized that at first, and then we realized you can’t process avocado into that good avocado taste that you like, and so that’s where the HQT thing came in, but that one really took us to the next level. People were loving it. Then we started to do things like Sriracha. We’re winning all kinds of awards for that right now. We make our own organic Sriracha, one of the only organic Srirachas out there on the market, actually. So, Thai coconut curry — it’s just our unique flavors have been a part of who we are and the DNA of our company from the beginning. It’s not just the typical ones that you’ll see at any grocery store from any major hummus company. The other one is lentils, and a lot of people know about lentils, but lentils are a staple food item for a majority of the world, actually, and people eat lentils. It’s really been slow to come to the United States. We started to do a lentil dip, and lentils are the original superfood. That’s kind of been a big selling point, for people love lentils, and we have four flavors of lentils. We do spicy ones with the habanero, and we have some garlic and some curry. Then the last one is kind of our game changer, and that’s our chocolate spreads. We make these chocolate spreads with chickpeas or garbanzo beans. People will go, “Is that a chocolate hummus?” It’s not a chocolate hummus. It’s just a chocolate spread that uses beans, actually, as a base. Some people think that’s weird. It’s unbelievable. Everywhere we go, people are like, “No way. I didn’t know that it could have this kind of flavor profile and still have this low fat and low sugar.” So, when people are asking me how to eat it, usually I just say just eat it out of the cup. That’s really how it ends up happening. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m telling you, I’m looking at it right now on your website. For our listeners out there that want to look at these great products, the hummus, the lentils, and the chocolate, please go to www.hopefoods.com. I’m looking at it right now, and I want to eat it right out of the tub, so I’m so glad you said that. I don’t feel so bad now. Oh my gosh. This is great. For our listeners out there that just tuned in, we’re so honored and excited to have with us Will Burger today. He’s the Marketing Director of Hope Foods. Again, to learn more about Hope Foods and support their great products, go to www.hopefoods.com. Go to Whole Foods and buy their product. I’m going there after the show and buying some of this coconut spread and eating it right out of the tub. Let’s go back and talk about organic farming, Will, a little bit. What’s your take and what’s your great company’s take on organic farming and the world? We know we are outgrowing our food supply in the world. Is organic farming one of the great solutions to be better situated to feed our growing population in the world? WILL BURGER: Yeah, absolutely. I think something that, back to what I was saying earlier, organic is more than just the health of the product being put into your body. It’s actually about creating sustainable systems on a large scale, and as we know, so much of this world has been designated agricultural to feed that population, and so when you have these organic systems operating, they’re creating better soil quality and the water retention and the nutritional value of the products coming out of the organic systems. Compost is a really big thing, which is less expense because you’re reusing things that can be reused. A lot of people don’t know this, but it expands the number of crops that are grown on the land. So, let’s say, if there’s a hard year for one crop, people aren’t going hungry because you’re able to produce another crop, and these mass production agricultural systems sometimes, the whole swath of land won’t be used for a certain season or whatever. So, really, the one word that I really want to say is sustainability. When you talk about what’s going to create systems that feed people all over the world, it is sustainable agricultural systems, and that’s what, at the core, what organic does. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Does organic overall cost more? Everyone always worries about sustainability costing more. They don’t understand why that comes out of it. Does organic food as a whole, or organic farming, always cost more, or is that a fallacy right now that’s going away? WILL BURGER: Well, we’re hoping that it’s going away over time, but it does. Organic products, when you walk into the grocery store as of now, do cost more. That’s because it’s not easy, and when it is based on sustainability, the Earth’s natural systems are incredibly unpredictable, and I think that part of mass ag, what they’ve been trying to do, is to really eliminate that unpredictability, but really what’s happening is you’re creating these systems like I talked about before that are harmful. So, yeah, it does cost more. In order to get the certification, companies like ours do have to really want it and desire it, and that’s where we’re hoping that it’s going to be really consumer-driven here when people demand these products. That’s when you’re going to start to see, when your demand goes up, companies will rise and meet that challenge, like ours, that are passionate about this. When I got in this industry, I started to realize that people really do care. We’re a part of that, and everyone that works for this company lives and breathes this stuff because it’s important to us. So, we’re willing to go that extra mile in order to provide that product. It does cost more at base level in order to get the certification. JOHN SHEGERIAN: But, Will, America has seen, when you walk into a Whole Foods or into an Erewhon or any other good health food store across the United States, the stores are packed now. So, people are understanding the return on investment to just themselves, their bodies, their health, their general well being, and their family’s, is incredible. For paying a little bit more, for eating organic food, the ROI is just incredible. WILL BURGER: Right. Absolutely. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Listen. We have about four minutes left. I want to talk a little bit about how we can get more of our listeners out there to taste your amazing spreads and your great food. Talk a little bit about the exposure you’ve had at the green festivals so far, and where you’re going to be, so where our listeners can come to these green festivals and meet the Hope Foods team, and taste your great spreads. Share a little bit about your great experience with the green festivals so far. WILL BURGER: Yeah, we got to be a part of the Green Fest in Washington, DC, back around May-June, and it was just a blast in general. The people that show up to those are just great, great people. They were really energized by our products, which of course energizes us even more, and we get to interact with tons of people, hands out tons of samples of our products. That was a lot of fun for us to be there and just to get to be part of other companies that are like-minded to us, that was a lot of fun. Then we went and we signed up to be a part of the one in San Francisco coming up, and that’s in November, I believe. JOHN SHEGERIAN: November 14, 15 and 16, so all or listeners can come to the one in San Francisco. Will they be able to meet you, Will? WILL BURGER: Yep. They’ll be able to meet me. I’ll be at that booth handing out our hummus, our lentil dips, and our chocolate spread. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And we can eat it right out of the tub if we come there. We could eat it right out of the little tasting tubs that you give us? WILL BURGER: Of course. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. Hey, we got about two minutes left. I want you to be able to share with our listeners where Hope Foods is going, what your goal is. You’ve been growing 300% the last couple years. Where are you going to take this now, and where’s the next evolution with regards to Hope Foods? WILL BURGER: Right. Yeah, well, the truth is, from the beginning, we have decided that our goal is that more and more people across this country and as far as we will take it, can eat good food. That’s what our goal is, to bring this to the masses. So, we want to be everywhere that food is, and that’s our goal. I don’t think it’s impossible. I think forever we’re trying to say that organic food is not a niche item, that actually everyone deserves to eat this quality of food, and organic and gluten-free, vegan, all those things are important to us, and the non-GMO stuff has really resonated with us, and we know it’s going to resonate with other people. So, we want to bring it to as many people as are willing to eat it. We hope that you’ll find it in every supermarket in this country. That’s our goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Shameless plug: What supermarkets now are carrying your great products right now? WILL BURGER: Well, across the country, Whole Foods all over the place, and any kind of independent natural food store, you’re going to find it usually in there. We’re hoping to push into — in our region, we’re growing out a lot of the conventionals, the Krogers and the Safeways and stuff like that. I mean, the sky’s the limit, and that’s what we’re really excited about, options coming down in the next year if we really expand our production capacity. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s wonderful. WILL BURGER: Yep. We’re definitely resonating with an audience, and that’s exciting. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. Will, we’re going to have you back on the show to continue to tell the Hope Foods story. For our listeners out there, to learn more about Hope Foods, please go to www.hopefoods.com or go to the great stores like Whole Foods that Will has said, and other great supermarkets, and buy and enjoy their great products, or come meet Will November 14, 15 and 16 in San Francisco at the Green Festivals. Take a picture with Will. Get a taste of his great hummus, his lentils, or his chocolate. Eat Hope Foods, help save the world. Thank you, Will, for being a hopeful and sustainability champion. You are truly living proof that green is good. WILL BURGER: Thank you.