Vital Farms says its new egg-based Breakfast Bars product addresses consumers' health, nutritional and ethical sourcing needs, as well as the specific convenience needs of people still stuck at home because of the pandemic.
Meghan Shookman, Vital Farms' senior director of innovation, said the company talked to many consumers about eating during the pandemic. Her biggest takeaway: They are still snacking and want comfort food, but there's a lack of options they can feel good about eating.
"Our consumers like to make a lot of their dishes from scratch, but we also know that consumers have gotten really tired of making everything from scratch. So there is still this need for convenience, but give me something like I would make at home," Shookman said. "And high animal welfare standards is really important. [So are] clean ingredients and something that is just really delicious and decadent, to provide that little taste of indulgence and that taste of nostalgia."
Vital Farms is targeting its new Breakfast Bars — egg-centric bars made in the style of bar-sized quiches, omelets and traditional breakfast dishes — at this market, Shookman said. The finished bars will go on sale nationwide at Whole Foods and other retailers in August, and are designed to microwave before eating.
The line comes in four varieties: Uncured Bacon & Cheddar Cheese with Hash Browns, Broccoli & Cheddar Cheese with a Pastry Crust, Sausage & Cheddar Cheese with a Cheese Crust and Southwest Fire Roasted Corn with Sweet Potato. Each 3-ounce bar has 7 to 14 grams of protein and fewer than 200 calories.
Shookman said each bar has a very different taste profile and is aligned to different consumers. The one with bacon, cheddar cheese and hash browns is similar to the style of QSR breakfast sandwiches. The broccoli and cheddar cheese bar is like a quiche. And the sausage and cheddar variety with a cheese crust fits into the keto diet.
"I think each of these is so experiential, it's almost like a brunch buffet across the line," Shookman said.
The idea for the bars sprang from Vital Farms' previous research into consumers' breakfast routines and after spending time with them in their home kitchens. Shookman said the company got about 150 ideas for new products, including Breakfast Bars and its previously launched Egg Bites. As life has changed for most consumers, the continuing trends of more snacking and looking for comfort foods reprioritized Breakfast Bars.
Even though many of today's consumers aren't necessarily on the go, Vital Farms believes that Breakfast Bars are convenience food for this moment, Shookman said.
"While a lot of people are working from home, they're dodging left and right all of these Zoom calls, and don't have time to do something from scratch," Shookman said. "Now, convenience is more about something that's quick, that's going to save them time, something that's not going to require any prep, something that's not going to get dishes dirty. Convenience has really been redefined."
Vital Farms, a publicly traded company whose top product is pasture-raised eggs, makes the lion's share of its money from its shell eggs. Vital Farms also sells butter and ghee products. The company owns 82% of the dollar sales in the pasture-raised eggs market in the U.S., according to its earnings report in March. President and CEO Russell Diez-Canseco said in the report's earnings call that the penetration rate for the pasture-raised eggs increased 50% in 2020, and now nearly 4% of households are buying Vital Farms' eggs.
The company is a Certified B Corporation, a coveted certification that shows the business holds the highest ethical values, considering all stakeholders including suppliers, consumers and the environment in its decision making. The company currently works with more than 200 small family farms, all of which are required to give each hen at least 108 square feet of space. Its egg cartons are made with a carbon-neutral lid composed of recycled paperboard, and consumers can use information on their cartons to trace their eggs back to the farm where they were laid.
"I think an aspiration of the company is to really become an ethical food company and be the No. 1 source of ethical foods," Shookman said. "And while a good portion of our business today is in shell eggs, it's important for us to continue to look at other categories where we can continue to raise the standards, so that we can live up to being that ethical food company that's more than just egg, butter and convenient foods."
Shookman said that on the whole, innovation in eggs slowed a bit during the pandemic — though much of this likely came from grocery stores not doing as many resets as they were previously. While Vital Farms has so far kept eggs at the center of its new products, she said offerings could widen in the future.
"We have a broader repository of partners now who uphold similar values with the humanely raised meats that we've sourced, pasture-raised cheeses. etc., so I think we'll continue to explore opportunities that can enable us to really raise standards for the welfare of animals, the welfare of the planet and the people who raise those animals," she said.