Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Backpacking meals
Business is delicious for founder Kim Safdy as she satisfies a growing demand for wholesome vegetarian backpacking grub.
As a vegetarian and dairy-intolerant outdoor adventurer, Safdy says it was once impossible for her to find appropriate packaged meals to eat on the trail. "Anything that was vegetarian usually had a lot of dehydrated cheese or butter, and I couldn't eat that," she explains. "So, I was basically forced to create my own."
While traveling through the Appalachians of North Carolina in 2010, she met a bed-and-breakfast owner who showed her how easy it was to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. "I went home, bought my own dehydrator, and started experimenting," Safdy continues. "I was working in engineering and information technology, but I was always interested in food and eating healthy. My experiments were really fun and worked out pretty well."
As Safdy began taking her homemade creations out into the wilderness, she realized that she wasn't the only backpacker who would enjoy them. "I decided to put a website together and test the market," she says. "There was definitely an interest, and people were buying my products. So, after two years, I decided to launch into it full time."
In 2014, Safdy moved from Charlotte to Sacramento to reduce the distance between her company and its suppliers. "A lot of my ingredients were coming from the West Coast," she explains. "I'm all about local, so I wanted to be closer to where the farms are. That was important to me because you can taste the difference when you use fresher ingredients."
Her company has grown around 15 percent every year since. Outdoor Herbivore now moves between 30,000 and 40,000 units per year out of its 1,800-square-foot facility and offers consumers 55 different SKUs.
Every meal is 100 percent vegetarian or vegan and free of additives including artificial colors, synthetic flavors, and chemical enhancers. The meals utilize a combination of dehydrated and freeze-dried whole food ingredients and are available in single- and double-size packets.
"Our no-cook products, where you just poor cold water over the food and then let it reconstitute for a few minutes, are really big sellers," Safdy says. "Because of the wildfires and fire bans, a lot of people aren't carrying backpacking stoves anymore and can't boil water for a hot meal. Cold-type meals have become really popular as a result."
"It's always a challenge to come up with things everybody will like," Safdy notes. "In this market, everyone wants something lightweight that is really high-calorie. But vegetarian food by itself doesn't easily meet that need. We have to use a lot of nuts and seeds or maybe add some sesame or peanut butter powder. Lately, our customers are asking for more vegetables, but if it doesn't have enough calories, they won't buy it."
Challenges: Safdy says her biggest challenge for the new year is changing her products' packaging. "The standard is a standup pouch to which you can directly add hot or cold water," she explains. "That's what a lot of backpackers expect, but it's single-use and can't be recycled or composted. It just ends up in a landfill, and you can't feel good about that."
Outdoor Herbivore has traditionally packaged in light, non-gusseted resealable and recyclable barrier bags. "Some of our customers love it, but the majority hate it," Safdy says. "We've surveyed customers and they want the standard packaging. We're going to give it to them, but we want to find something that's more sustainable than what's currently available."
Opportunities: Safdy says that while Outdoor Herbivore products are sold in a few mom and pop camp stores, the company's primary sales channel is its website. "We don't sell on Amazon or other websites," she adds. In 2020, she wants to expand the company's international reach. "We're getting a lot of interest from other markets," she continues, "we just need to find ways to get the shipping costs down."
Needs: Safdy says Outdoor Herbivore needs to invest in marketing this year. "We haven't had the resources or the budget," she notes. "We need to do a better job of getting some nice photos of our food being used out in the field."