“It was all based on [co-founder] Brandon Bert’s grandfather growing wheat grass since the 30s and 40s, so it’s a third generation farm,” co-founder and CEO of Glanbia-owned Amazing Grass, Todd Habermehl, told NutraIngredients-USA.
Habermehl and Bert both worked for a high-tech company in the Bay Area back in the late 90s/early aughts. While Habermehl opted for a cup of joe in the mornings, he slowly picked up on Bert’s habit of downing a green smoothie made of wheat grass, barley grass, and alfalfa that his grandfather would send him from Kansas in a Ziploc bag.
“I started taking it and after about a week, I felt great in terms of energy and mental clarity,” Habermehl recalled.
The Ziploc bags of frozen greens became a hit in their community. “So we really knew we were on to something,” he added. The duo’s entrepreneurship juices started flowing, and they brought the concept to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Habermehl’s alma mater, where they competed with big companies like Tyson Chicken and Monsanto for the attention of a market feasibility class.
The students selected their project to work on to create a brand and food company around it. A survey conducted by the students found that ‘Amazing Grass’ was the catchiest name—it stuck, and the rest is history.
Keeping up with demand by using ‘Mother Nature’s pause button’
Today, Amazing Grass’ products range from green smoothie powders to effervescent tablets to protein powders. Across the diverse portfolio, botanical ingredients are a mainstay.
It’s sold on the shelves of some of the nation’s largest retailers, from GNC to CVS, from Whole Foods Market to Target. Yet, the company still sources its core ingredients—wheat grass, barley grass, alfalfa, and more recently, kale—from the same family farm in Kansas.
How do they keep up with demand, and ensure consistent supply? “There’s a challenge of sourcing any natural ingredient. One of the things you should be aware of is proper forecasting,” Habermehl said.
“Especially for the more intrinsic ingredients, with the wheat grass, barley grass, and alfalfa, we cut the [crops], we dry it, and its compressed into a pellet, and it happens within two hours after its been cut so it’s done very quickly, and it ensures that we’re preserving the integrity of that plant,” he added.
The pellets are then stored in large, pharmaceutical grade super sacks, which are the put into a frozen storage.
Adding kale to the core list of greens
Co-founder Brandon Bert's family farm recently added kale to the rotation of crops it produces for Amazing Grass. At this year's Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA, the company debuted two kale powders and two plant protein powders with added kale. Watch a round-up of botanical products at the show HERE.
“It’s essentially like hitting Mother Nature’s pause button,” Habermehl explained. “The product right now is being stored in 20 degrees below zero in an underground cave in Kansas. So we have an abundant supply to meet any unmet demand spike, and certainly to meet and exceed our current demand.”
Acquisition by Glanbia
In 2017, the Newport Beach, CA-based company was acquired by Irish food ingredient giant Glanbia. “The demand for Amazing Grass was growing rapidly. Brandon and I bootstrapped the company and were sole owners of Amazing Grass,” Hebermehl said.
“We’ve been running it for 15 years, and we were getting into different distribution outlets—the cost of servicing those customers was going to be more expensive. We were going to need a more expansive sales force, we were going to need more marketing money.”
For the company’s first 12 years, very little was spent on marketing as the company relied on word of mouth, Hebermehl recalled.
“When we were looking at all the different options out there, and after meeting with Glanbia and all the different companies it has purchased before, we really felt like Glanbia was the best home for us because they weren’t buying us as much as they were buying into what Amazing Grass stood for, and what Amazing Grass was going to be doing in the future,” he said.
“Outside of integrating some stuff like legal, HR, and payroll, they really left us alone in Newport Beach, taking our message and giving us an opportunity to really amplify it with bigger marketing dollars.”