Wicked Kitchen products – launched with Tesco in the UK in 2018 and in the US in summer 2021 – are available in several leading retailers, with some ‘anchor’ accounts such as Kroger and Sprouts stocking a wide range of products from frozen meals and lupin-bean-fueled ice cream to condiments and shelf-stable meal kits, and others such as Walmart and 7-Eleven stocking shelf stable products such as ‘late night noodles’ that introduce shoppers to the Wicked brand.
Good Catch – which debuted in the US in 2019 with shelf stable tuna pouches and has since introduced frozen crabcakes, fishcakes, sticks, fillets, and burgers – has picked up some key accounts including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Giant, Albertsons and Meijer and struck a distribution and sales deal with seafood giant Bumble Bee Foods. Products are also available in nearly 500 Tesco stores in the UK and sold under the Swell Catch brand in Canada, said Speranza. Read more about the brand and formulations HERE.
“Good Catch’s largest customer today is Whole Foods, and Wicked is not in Whole Foods, while our largest customer is Kroger, and they’re not in Kroger, so there are big opportunities there,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Good Catch’s foodservice footprint is also slightly bigger than Wicked’s, so we’ll leverage those relationships as we build a presence for Wicked in foodservice. It’s rare you acquire a brand or product line that is so highly accretive.”
Under the deal, Wicked Kitchen will take over Good Catch’s brand in North America and the UK, said Speranza, who said it would be “business as usual in terms of branding, current product availability, distribution, and fulfillment,” with Gathered Foods, the parent company of Good Catch, becoming a shareholder of Wicked and gaining a seat on the company’s board.
While Good Catch products are manufactured in-house in Ohio by Gathered Foods (the factory is not part of the acquisition but will continue to make Good Catch products in a co-packing-type arrangement), Wicked products are still manufactured in Europe, something that will change in the coming months, said Speranza.
“We’ve spent the first year in the US figuring out what are the strongest products and so two major categories that you’ll see manufactured in the US from Wicked in the next 12 months are our dry meal cups and frozen meals, as people just love them… every time we go to a retailer, it’s ‘I’m taking them’ and then they look at everything else.
“The Good Catch facility in Ohio also has a lot of cool innovation and capabilities that we’re excited about and we might be able to produce some of our meats there eventually for Wicked. There’s a lot of good synergies because the base proteins and the ingredients are very similar right to what we use at Wicked.”
Wicked: ‘It’s all about flavor first, and it just happens to be made with plants’
Speranza – who joined Wicked in October 2020 after eight years at General Mills’ emerging brand elevator 301INC – has spearheaded the US launch of Wicked Kitchen, which is already a $40m brand in the UK after launching with Tesco in 2018 and generated $5m in wholesale revenue in its first five months in the US (it launched in Sprouts in late July 2021).
“Most brands launch with 3-5 SKUs in one category,” observed Speranza.
“We went into Kroger with 20 SKUs across several categories, a mainstream retailer that had never stocked our brand before, and now we have 34 SKUs there. We launched in Giant in the mid-Atlantic area with over 30 SKUs in the frozen set, so with those numbers you can build quite a big business. We can grow quickly because we have the innovations in hand, ready to go [having already tested them out in the UK market].”
“We’re expecting 200-300% growth over the next few years. The key will be getting those power users of the brand to pick up more than one Wicked item every time they shop.”
‘There has been so much emphasis on proteins and on the meats and the dairy side, it was over-SKU-d’
Unlike many plant-based brands myopically focused on meat and dairy analogs that use a fairly limited number of plants, Wicked Kitchen has a strong culinary vibe and spans a broad range of products deploying a wide array of plants from beetroot and sweet potato to seeds, mushrooms, and lupin beans, said Speranza.
“There has been so much emphasis on proteins and on the meats and the dairy side, it was over-SKU-d, a crazy amount of money was poured into it and I think expectations were coming almost more from investors than consumers. People are excited about plant-based meat, but we’re thinking about snacking, breakfast, late night, pizza, whatever it might be, more ways to eat more plants.”
While Wicked products feature a ‘100% plant-based’ logo, the packaging is dominated by enticing food photography, while the brand logo features a chef’s knife to highlight the founders’ culinary credentials.
“It’s all about flavor first, and it just happens to be made with plants,” said Speranza. “There’s a health difference for sure, but you don’t start there. You start with the flavor, the taste, the experience, and then, people are like oh my god, it’s got all these plants and maybe half the calories.
“Our products are not replacements, it’s about making pizza [that is so delicious] that it’s now your new pizza, not a ‘plant-based alternative.’ We’re just making great tasting food.”
The Wicked brand: ‘Whenever you see a new product, you think I’m going to try that because I know it’s going to taste amazing’
Above all, he said, Wicked is building a brand that stands for delicious food: “Definitely folks in the UK [where the Wicked brand is slightly more established] have already turned into ‘Wicked shoppers.’ I used to work at General Mills and it’s kind of like Annie’s, where you build trust across multiple categories and then whenever you see a new product [from that brand], you think I’m going to try that because I know it’s going to taste amazing.
“So that’s the trust that we’re building. You can’t build a $40m brand in four years if that isn’t happening, and so we’re leveraging that playbook here in the US. I don’t expect 150 SKUs at Kroger, but over time I do expect a hard-working 60, not in 20 categories, but probably a good 10.”
As to the winners and losers, he said, Wicked’s shelf-stable single-serve porridge cups have not set the world on fire, probably because oatmeal is an area that’s already by definition plant-based with plenty of good options, said Speranza, while the mushroom shreds have also been dropped from the US lineup.
“Our number one seller is actually late-night noodles, then our frozen meals and our ice cream.”