The food is high on the list of comfort foods, but has been advertised specifically to children for decades, despite the fact that 59% of adults eat at least one noodle dish each week, Gooder Foods co-founder and CEO Jennifer Zeszut told TechCrunch.
“There is product and branding innovation here, too,” she added. “One important part is that existing competitors in mac and cheese think it is for kids, and our experience and data shows that everyone likes it. We see product differentiation and other flavors targeting adults. It has been a fun opportunity to disrupt everything.”
This is Zeszut’s fourth time at the helm, and she gathered an impressive founding team that includes Annie’s co-founder and former president Deb Churchill Luster; Paul Earle, former Kraft brand executive, founder of Earle & Co and faculty member at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management; and actress Gal Gadot. Zeszut and Gadot met three years ago and bonded over Gadot’s love for mac and cheese. When Zeszut was putting the company together, she reached out about getting involved.
Goodles is going after the two oldest incumbents in the space, Kraft and Annie’s, to provide a healthy alternative that tackles both better taste and nutrition. Goodles is high in protein and fiber and has 21 nutrients from organic vegetables.
“One is 83 years old and the other one is over 30 years old,” Zeszut said. “What has happened in food since then is leaps and bounds better. Mac and cheese is that universal thing, but more people are thinking of food as performance and are worried about what they put in their bodies. There was so much lack of innovation, and we are taking a fresh look at the category.”
Normally, the company would have staged a bunch of taste tests, but due to the pandemic, Gooder Foods created an online community, shipping out thousands of small bags of noodles for people to try. In fact, the company developed more than 1,000 versions of noodles to get the right one. Not all tried all 1,000 versions, but to build a mass brand, taste was important, she added.
Some of the research found that 92% of people would switch to Goodles, which Zeszut believed was one of the highest she had ever seen in food, saying, “we think we are onto something huge, which is what we print on the back of the boxes.”
The brand launches today with four SKUs: a cacio e pepe-inspired mac called Mover & Shaker; Cheddy Mac, what Zeszut considers similar to the original flavor of mac and cheese; Shella Good, which is going head-to-head with Annie’s; and Twist My Parm, an asiago and creamy parmesan blend.
The $6.4 million investment combines a seed round and convertible note and will be poured into efforts to launch direct to consumers, inventory, branding and marketing. Though the focus is on DTC, Zeszut does have plans for national distribution via other channels.
Investors backing the company include Springdale Ventures, Willow Growth Partners, Third Craft, Gingerbread Capital, Purple Arch Ventures and First Course Capital, along with a group of individual investors.
Genevieve Gilbreath, co-founder and general partner at early-stage consumer investment firm Springdale Ventures, said though her firm doesn’t usually invest in pre-revenue companies, like where Gooder Foods is now, she felt the company was unusual in that it already had product market fit and liked what the company had done during pandemic to create the community, which provided thousands of built-in taste-testers.
Following what food tech is doing, she said the technical areas, like cellular meats, are interesting, but where Gilbreath sees a bigger impact is from brands using real food, with improved nutrition and taste. That’s what she says Goodles is doing.
“As a leader, Jen’s persistence, passion, experience and ability to lead a team came across super well,” Gilbreath added. “What really impressed us was her research into the market, the consumer need and the way they are tracking data.”