Positioning hemp as a food ‘powerhouse’ is key to U.S. startup’s strategy

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INTERVIEW: Food industry veteran Lisa Newmann is a founder and the CEO at Sazi Foods, a U.S. startup that is developing a line of hemp seed-based snacks. She has previously been involved in corporate turnarounds and startups in the food industry, including having opened a series of high-speed manufacturing facilities for an international commercial baking concern that later acquired her company. Newmann holds an Award of Excellence from Julia Child and The American Institute of Wine and Food, and is a past featured speaker at The Food Innovation Summit on the urgency of sustainable sourcing.

HempToday: What are current trends in natural foods, and why is hemp such a great fit in that category?

LN: Currently, the top trends in natural food include functional foods, which offer benefits beyond basic nutrition; sustainable ingredient sourcing, relevant to hemp because of its multi-cropping potential and ability to capture carbon; and, finally, culinary excellence. Our cracker recipes, for example, contain more seeds than flour, and our vegan cookie recipes are packed with seeds and spices that offer a sweet, satisfying snack that tastes good.

Hemp fits perfectly because so many of its properties align with three things finally being recognized as critical: Water use, nutrition and waste.

HT: How is the hemp food market shaping up? Are there clear brand leaders, for example?

LN: The category leader for hemp-based ingredients and food is Manitoba Harvest (a 23-year-old family company that was acquired by Tilray in 2018). There are just a few food entities using seeds, flour and oil for finished goods; hemp seed is the foundation of Sazi’s platform. We’ve developed several product lines using hemp, adding seeds and flour to familiar foods for nutritional fortitude.

HT: What is the awareness of hemp seed as food among typical consumers?

LN: We conducted a very modest investigation of hemp awareness and learned that most consumers thought hemp was one of three things: pot, rope, or “something green and healthy.” With an opportunity to educate and lead in this category, our business vision and strategy include clarity about hemp and conversation about the plant as a powerhouse.

HT: Talk about your marketing strategy, and how Sazi is will use AI to successfully execute that strategy?

LN: Our aim is to amplify the conversation generally, and to attract consumers by publishing actual stories based on our mission and sincere values – as opposed to product-focused selling. The content is related to our verticals of environment, health, ingredients and taste. We use AI to understand our audience and apply what we learn to customer acquisition and retention.

HT: What else is needed to execute your plan?

LN: Product plant trials, packaging materials, the e-commerce component of our website and engaging the marketing engine. The products include three varieties each of cookies, crackers, chips and chocolates. Products have been developed and we are contracted with two manufacturers. Our marketing partners are poised to move forward. The comprehensive roll-out of Sazi Foods will come with funding from a strategic partner.

HT: What’s the profile of that perfect strategic partner? What do you expect the partner to bring to the table?

LN: Our perfect strategic partner would be a manufacturer, marketing or financial entity with the same determined vision about the future and importance of hemp as a powerful ingredient; an entity that can help us accelerate our plan with financial support, and people who appreciate the experienced talent and resources at the core of Sazi Foods.

HT: You’ve indicated 12-18 months for minimum viable product (MVP) testing. What are the important indicators derived from that testing?

LN:  The important indicators are cost per transaction, order value per transaction (the relationship between the two), the conversion rate, re-order rate and estimated lifetime value of consumers. Then, it’s how we use these factors to build a subscription business, which solidifies the growth, and continues to teach us as the company and products evolve.

HT: What’s innovative these days in food product development?

LN: Allergen-sensitive manufacturing is growing, there’s an increased awareness of the importance of plant-based and functional foods, with continued research into ancient grains, fruits, nuts and seeds. Sadly, what remains a trend even now, is something called “real food.” One would think “real food” wouldn’t have to be “a trend!” From what our research shows, we don’t see significant innovation in the hemp food space … yet. Now is the opportunity for that to change.

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