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Why Bolthouse Farms is making a push into plant-based food

Bolthouse Farms CEO Jeff Dunn joins the On the Move panel to discuss why his company is transitioning into plant-based food.

Video Transcript

[DIGITAL EFFECT]

JULIE HYMAN: The market for plant-based meats has been getting more competitive, and there is now a new entrant into that market, a company that has previously been known mostly for juices. That is Bolthouse Farm. The CEO, Jeff Dunn, is joining us now from California. Jeff, thanks for being here. So I think for consumers, Bolthouse Farms is known mostly as a juice company. But you're also known as a carrot company. You started out as a carrot farmer, and now you're getting into sort of carrot-based meat alternatives. So what prompted that introduction? And what are these new products like?

JEFF DUNN: Well, Julie, good morning. These new products are really about this megatrend. And our word for it is flexitarianism. But it's really people moving toward more towards a plant-based diet. And we see that trend. We bought the business back from Campbell's about 15 months ago. When we bought it back, we knew that we could take our carrot kind of agricultural platform, like we've done with carrot juice and other juices, and migrate it to doing things like carrot dogs, which we're really excited about.

We're also coming out with carrot fettuccine, carrot rice kits, all playing off kind of what Impossible and Beyond have done. But it's much bigger than that. It's really consumers looking for these more plant-based healthier options. We think this part of the food business grows the next 10 years faster than any other part of the food business.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So things you learned during COVID. I had no idea that when you add minced or chopped or whatever it's called, carrot to stuff, it sweetens it.

JEFF DUNN: Yeah.

ADAM SHAPIRO: I didn't know. this. I've learned that during the COVID lockdown. I am curious though, how COVID has impacted your ability to launch new product and to develop new product.

JEFF DUNN: Well, COVID has been a challenge for any food business. We actually got a big surge in March and April, carrots being a basic commodity. And obviously, dealing with the challenges of operating a big infrastructure with a lot of employees during COVID has been tough. But we've been able to stay on track really by doing two things. First, prioritizing the safety and health of our employees. So we made a lot of changes in the plant to separate people in mass. PPE early. Really by the end of March, we had that up and running, which has allowed us to really deal with the surge.

And then the second piece has been, we have an incredibly creative team. And what we found is, working remotely with Zoom and Amazon basically shipping boxes around, we can interface with our customers and get them samples and do all the things we historically have done. It's just taking a lot of creativity. But I'd say the biggest thing is customers and their ability to put new products on the shelf given their own labor challenges, has been, you've seen Coke and others reduce the number of SKUs to really make it easier to operate in this environment.

JULIA LA ROCHE: Hi, Jeff, it's Julia La Roche. And I've been a customer of Bolthouse probably going back to high school, if I think about it. I want to talk about the customers. And this kind of like plant-based meat products, this trend we've seen. I'm someone who doesn't eat beef or pork, but I don't necessarily want anything that replicates that.

How are you thinking about the customer? Is this somebody who might identify as being vegan, plant-based? Or are you trying to look for more folks who are carnivores, meat eaters, to come to it. Like what is it? Walk me through the idea there and what it tastes like and how do you think about people who don't necessarily want anything that tastes like meat.

JEFF DUNN: Yeah, it's a great question. And I'd say we're trying to deal with both of those consumers. For the kind of, and I tend to, not to be sexist, but I tend to view those people like meat to be a little more male-oriented. Carrot hot dogs are really positioned a little more that way. And I've got two adult sons, and they love this product. They're my test bed, because they're looking for healthier options, but they don't want to give up that kind of, that experience, right. It's important to 'em.

The other side is really like carrots fettuccine, carrot rice kits we made, really I think will appeal to more of that classic vegan. All vegan, really delicious, and really easy and affordable. I think the biggest thing with plant-based, is as it becomes more affordable and these kind of products, like carrot hot dogs become available, you're going to see, I think particularly millennial families with kids, continue to push into this space.

We've heard this again and again. People want their kids to grow up with maybe a little healthier profile than they grew up with, and we think these products fit that nicely. And I appreciate the business since high school. You made me feel old.

JULIE HYMAN: Jeff, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Well, now Julia can get into the carrot hot dogs, so she'll get on the bandwagon, I'm sure. Jeff Dunn is CEO of Bolthouse Farms. Thank you, appreciate it.

JEFF DUNN: Thank, guys, appreciate it.