Powering eCommerce Food Brands With Plants (And Brownie Points)

Coconut Whisk vegan pancake mix
Photo Courtesy of Coconut Whisk

Entrepreneurs sometimes start companies to overcome personal culinary challenges: Coconut Whisk CEO and Founder Bella Lam, for instance, discovered it was difficult to find foods that she enjoyed after she became a vegan. One of those items was baking mixes: There wasn’t any product on the shelf that was, say, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free or dairy-free. But, in her last year of college, Lam had the idea for her vegan, gluten-free baking mix company Coconut Whisk. She pitched the concept to her boyfriend, Myles, and he thought she was crazy because they were in the last semester of college and pressed for time. But she went ahead with the idea because she was passionate about the cause.

There happened to be a business competition on campus at the same time that she had the idea. Lam signed them up, and they started developing the recipes. A few weeks later, they ended up winning the food competition and the company “kept scaling and growing” from there, Lam told PYMNTS in an interview. Today, Lam said her concept is a “vegan and gluten-free lifestyle brand and baking mix company that gives back.” (The company has a strong social mission and partners with vegan hunger-relief organization Food For Life Global.) When it comes to eCommerce, the company sells its products on its website that has “add to cart” and “buy it now” options. Shopify powers the site, which offers express checkout options such as PayPal and Google Pay.

The Mixes

The company’s signature line encompasses chocolate chip cookie mixes; snickerdoodle mixes; vegan gluten-free pancake and waffle mix; chocolate muffin mix; and one-minute chocolate mug cake. Its most popular items are the snickerdoodle mix, chocolate chip mix and mug cake, Lam said. With the mug cakes, consumers add the baking mix or dry mix into their favorite mugs and add some plant-based milk. They then put the mixture in the microwave for around a minute to end up with a warm chocolatey cake in a mug. When it comes to ingredients, the company uses chickpea and brown rice flour as well as foods that are pronounceable. Some other gluten-free or vegan mixes use almond flour, by comparison, which someone with a nut allergy may not be able to eat.

The target market for the company consists of “the vegan community and those who are gluten-free,” Lam said. But she noted that it includes “health conscious” and busy consumers. These shoppers also want to support brands that are making a difference — or a brand that has more than just a product. Since day one, Lam says that the company has been valuing building a community and lifestyle. In terms of marketing, Lam says it puts “an emphasis on creating valuable content” as well as engaging well with its audience. To accomplish that aim, the company might, for instance, offer vegan or gluten-free recipes. It also has an email marketing strategy and does festivals to gain brand recognition.

The Marketing

Beyond email marketing, the company also offers a brownie points reward system. Lam said the company has many recurring customers and thought the points program would be a good way to reward them for sharing about the company or buying a product. Consumers can, for instance, earn 30 brownie points for a “like” on Facebook and 45 brownie points for an Instagram follow. When it comes to placing an order, customers can earn 15 brownie points for every dollar spent. They then can receive a discount off a purchase depending on the number of points that they have accrued (e.g., 500 brownie points for a discount of $5).

The plant-based foods market is booming: Recent research found sales for plant-based food clocked in at over $3.3 billion from June 2017 to June 2018. And, in other developments in the plant-based space, meatless burger makers are raising capital. Impossible Foods recently said it had notched a $300 million investment in its newest funding round ahead of a potential initial public offering (IPO). With the newest funding round, the California-based company has brought in more than $750 million.

As the market for plant-based food heats up, online brands like Coconut Whisk are aiming to offer vegan and gluten-free foods to consumers through the help of eCommerce in the age of culinary innovation.