When Gail Becker started Caulipower in 2017, it wasn't because she had ideas on how to transform the food business or a cherished recipe that she wanted everyone in the United States to have the opportunity to taste.
It was more born out of a need she found after trying to make her sons with celiac disease a pizza, as well as inspiration from her late father, an immigrant who built his own small business.
A marketing executive at the time, Becker knew there were ways to utilize cauliflower to make pizza crust. A web search turned up 569,000 recipes. She chose one, spent more than an hour making it and served it for dinner. It tasted OK, she said, but she didn't think much more about it until her son asked if she was going to make it again.
"And honestly, ... I said, 'There is no freaking way I'm gonna make that again because it took 90 minutes to make a pizza crust after I got home from a full day of work,'" Becker said. "But I said, 'I'll tell you what. I'll find it for you.' And I looked everywhere. I looked online, I looked in Whole Foods. Trader Joe's, all the usual suspects. I couldn't find it. And so, ostensibly, I looked at all of those three things happening at the same time. And thought, 'I know! I am going to leave corporate America, and start a company called Caulipower,' and that is what I did."
Caulipower was one of the first cauliflower pizza crusts to market and it took off. The company says it's one of the nation's best selling and fastest growing frozen pizza brands. But Caulipower isn't just a pizza company. It's expanded into other food items: cauliflower tortillas, cauliflower-breaded chicken tenders, riced cauliflower and mini toasts using sweet potato instead of bread. While the company is best known for pizza, Becker said sales are solid for all of their products.
When figuring out new products to launch, Becker said she's always looking for items that she can improve.
"I don't make anything that we couldn't make better, and by better, I mean the intersection of taste, health and convenience — [it] has to have all three," Becker said. "...It's super easy to get one of those. It's a little bit more challenging to get two of those. Three is really rare."
Caulipower's latest launch, frozen Riced Cauliflower cups, started hitting shelves in June. Becker said consumers have requested Caulipower riced cauliflower more than any other product, but she always demurred because she didn't think she could improve on the product. After all, riced cauliflower has been on the market for years from leading frozen vegetable providers.
But Becker took a closer look and found plenty of room for improvement. For starters, many of those products are just plain cauliflower. Nothing different has been done to it except for the way it's been cut. Some of the products that flavor their riced cauliflower use ingredients that aren't clean label. And, Becker said, the white plastic frozen vegetable bag those products are packaged in is the type of thing just asking to get buried in the freezer.
The new Caulipower Riced Cauliflower is in reusable and recyclable plastic containers, which Becker said provided an important convenience factor. It comes in three varieties unique to the brand: Baja Style with corn, black beans and spices; Curried with turmeric and green herbs; and Sesame Citrus, which is tangy with red pepper, edamame and onion.
Cauliflower has been on many "up and coming" ingredients lists during the past several years. Becker said news articles touting the wellness benefits of cauliflower are being constantly written, which is another big reason she started Caulipower. Cauliflower is healthy and can be versatile, but it isn't necessarily an all-purpose ingredient.
Becker said she's supportive of other companies using cauliflower as an ingredient in places that it isn't commonly thought of. The more that can be done to draw attention to other uses for cauliflower, the better for all companies in the segment. However, she said, she is not supportive of companies that cheapen the segment by making less healthy products that really don't contain much cauliflower, or they make products that don't look and taste good. Becker said through the years, Caulipower has likely tried to make every product that other companies sell. But if it didn't taste good or didn't improve on existing options, the company shelved the idea.
"I think there are a lot of companies, quite frankly, that bet against the consumer. That think the consumer wouldn't know better," Becker said. "At Caulipower, we bet on the consumer. We believe that the consumer actually does know better, and that's why we run such a stringent process in terms of what we introduce. And quite frankly, because we're a company that brings meal hacks to life, consumers are the source of our thinking."
The coronavirus pandemic has added quite a bit of complexity to Caulipower's business, though most of that has been in continuing to operate the supply chain with frozen products. Becker said the company has access to enough cauliflower to continue making its products, and it's only strengthened relationships with retailers to try to keep shelves filled.
"I don't make anything that we couldn't make better, and by better, I mean the intersection of taste, health and convenience — [it] has to have all three. ...It's super easy to get one of those. It's a little bit more challenging to get two of those. Three is really rare."
Founder and CEO, Caulipower
Becker said people are buying pizzas, chicken tenders and pizza crusts — the latter to try to make their own creations. According to the company's data, Caulipower consumers tend to be extremely loyal.
"As we always say, all we need to do is get a piece of pizza in peoples' mouths and they're with us for life," she said.
The company had plans for lots of 2020 experiential marketing to get new consumers that first taste: at trade shows, concerts and other shows. Becker said they've shifted gears to provide more online marketing, like an online "Caulipower and Chill" show with celebrities.
Becker said that Caulipower actually fits well into what a consumer in the time of a pandemic is looking for. After all, many people binged on their old favorite comfort foods as the stay-at-home orders began.
"It's hard to eat like that all of the time," Becker said. "So people still want to feel comforted. They still want their favorites. They still want to eat pizza. Now, they just want a better-for-you option."