The humble origins of Blender Bites, pioneer of easy smoothie beverages
Health & Wellness
Chelsie Hodge, CEO of Blender Bites, started her company after sensing the need for easy smoothie product options in the market. In this interview with Food in Canada’s editor Nithya Caleb, Hodge takes us through the Blender Bites journey and future plans.
When was Blender Bites founded and why?
CH: Blender Bites was founded in 2016 when one morning I finally got tired of all the mess, prep and waste it took to make a healthy and nutritious smoothie. I felt guilty for throwing away kale that had gone bad in the fridge and grew increasingly frustrated of having a freezer full of frozen fruits. In Canada as a whole, 2.2 million tonnes of edible food are wasted each year, costing Canadians more than $17 billion.
The environment is really at the forefront of Blender Bites’ ethos. Blender Bites was created through my mission to create a product that would offer consumers 100 per cent organic, nutritious and detoxifying ingredients in an easy-to-use, pre-portioned “puck” without the use of any unnecessary inner plastic packaging. Blender Bites is a solution that is not only delicious, convenient and healthy, but is also tackling food waste in our ecosystem.
Over the last four years, I have taken the company from being a product produced in my kitchen with the help of my family, to a nationally distributed household brand and pioneer of a whole new beverage category – the “easy smoothie.” To date, Blender Bites can be found in over 600 locations across Canada.
What products are available under Blender Bites, and please briefly explain the soon-to-be launched line with functional ingredients?
CH: Blender Bites aspires to be the leader in plant-based, frozen functional foods. Recently, we reformulated Greens and Berries and Greens and Tropicals to become Power Berry and Green D-Tox respectively, joining our incredibly popular Vita-Smoothie flavour. With these recent reformulations, we wanted to provide a one-step solution for our customers that eliminates the need for purchasing extra supplements that can drive up costs. Now, all three of our products contain 15 essential plant-based vitamins and minerals derived from whole fruits and vegetables. They’re also a high source of fibre, Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats, antioxidants, energizing B vitamins and immune supporting vitamin A and D. Our products also are GMO-, gluten-, soy- and dairy-free and contain no additional sweeteners.
Blender Bites is also actively working on ultra-functional wellness varieties.
When is this going to be launched?
CH: Power Berry and Green D-Tox will be available nationwide in Loblaws in October, with more major retail stores to join later this year.
What is Blender Bites’ USP?
CH: Blender Bites give consumers the benefit of pre-portioned pucks, ensuring they get the right mix of fruits, greens and functional ingredients in each smoothie.
Blender Bites is an innovative first-to-market functional food company that is focused on the manufacturing of highly nutritious and 100 per cent organic plant-based frozen products that take all the mess, prep and waste out of the smoothie routine.
Blender Bites was the first smoothie company in North America to use an optimal mix of seven greens in its product line. With its function and taste-forward recipes, Blender Bites provides an assortment of fruity flavours to appeal to a variety of tastes while providing balance in the important vitamins and minerals consumers need.
We continue to bring to market innovative products centred around providing consumers with better-for-you smoothie offerings that do not sacrifice taste for quality, all while maintaining an affordable price point.
Blender Bites is among the growing companies in the CPG space with female founders.
What motivated this move into functional drinks?
CH: Complete nutrition should be functional. There are too many options on shelves that are unhealthy, filled with sugars and unnecessary ingredients or empty calories that consumers simply just don’t need in their daily diet. We wanted to provide an all-in-one solution to simplify our customers’ lives by making these types of ingredients accessible and easy to incorporate into our customers’ routine. Vita-Smoothie was our first foray into the realm of functional beverages.
As COVID-19 hit just after the product launched, Vita-Smoothie turned out to be popular. At such a crucial time for us in today’s society, where health and immunity are a priority for many families, functionality just made sense and we were so pleased with the positive feedback in regard to the launch of the Vita-Smoothie that we knew we had to develop more products similar in nature.
How do you source your ingredients?
CH: We take a lot of pride in the quality, thoroughness and sustainability of ingredients that we use. On top of the stringent food safety requirements Blender Bites has internally, we expect the same from all of our suppliers. We ensure the materials and raw ingredients used are sourced in a responsible and sustainable way; that the workers involved in making them are treated fairly; and that environmental impacts are taken into consideration during sourcing process. Our products are also certified organic, and we have a lengthy onboarding process when vetting new suppliers to ensure they meet our high standards of ingredient qualifications.
Please briefly explain the processing methods adopted by Blender Bites?
CH: While traditional frozen fruit products lose their flavour or become watered down, Blender Bites’ processing implements a special, instant-freeze pasteurization process that packs the most flavour and maintains the fruit’s integrity for each puck. Blender Bites’ ingredients are then blended in large, commercial-sized blenders and dispensed into custom-made moulds and storage racks before being placed in large walk-in freezers to freeze overnight. The next day, the pucks are popped out of the moulds by hand and placed into pouches before going through the final stages of packaging.
What are your future plans?
CH: Over the last four years, we have taken the company to greater heights – from being a product handmade by me and my family in a rented popsicle kitchen in North Vancouver to a nationally distributed household brand with a manufacturing capacity ready to supply the entire North American market. Our priority is to broaden Blender Bites’ distribution and sales in Canada, and we are currently in the works of building out our own direct-to-consumer store.
Likewise, we will continue to build on our existing selection of delicious, healthy, plant-based and functional smoothie products, focusing on areas such as clean energy, plant-based proteins, gut and skin health and functional mushrooms for apoptogenic support. Overall, as the smoothie category continues to grow, we will aim to be more than just another player in the space with not only a great-tasting product, but also committed to making the world a better place!
How has COVID impacted your brand?
CH: The growing awareness surrounding health and immune support led to an increase in demand for Blender Bites’ products. Customers are looking for options that contain high levels of vitamins. Our Vita-Smoothie is the first vitamin-infused smoothie product in North America. COVID-19 also led to increased awareness about how we spend our money. To offset the cost for customers, Blender Bites created new formulations that offered more value, such as the addition of whole organic vitamins and minerals derived from fruits and vegetables.
As an established player in the CPG space, can you share advice for other entrepreneurs looking to enter the rapidly growing food and beverage space in Canada?
CH: One of the biggest challenges I faced was getting the necessary funds to fuel my dream of being a pioneer in the smoothie space. I started with the help of my family and just $50,000 to develop formulations, create packaging and purchase raw materials. From there, an additional investment helped me to distribute my product nationally. For the first two years of Blender Bites’ existence, I did not take a paycheck in order to put funds back in the business. At the end of the day, sheer grit and determination (and an innovative product), helped me to take my brand to the next level. I encourage other CPG entrepreneurs to be realistic and practical in the beginning years of their venture, and not to get disheartened at how competitive the space may be.