In our new editorial series “Know Your Food Entrepreneurs” we will share stories of local entrepreneurs who have launched and grown local food businesses. Today we cover Neheet Trivedi, one of the founders of Cambridge's Real Food Solutions. If you have a great story, please reach out to Valeriy at branchfood dot com.
In 2014, Neheet Trivedi was “interested in building a company in the food and ag sector.” At the time, however, he was unsure what this company was going to be. He considered “restaurants, food delivery, food distribution, food waste, and other topics,” but ultimately it was the fortunate timing of his sister’s pregnancy that led to the founding of Real Food Solutions (RFS), maker of the Anchor Nutrition Bar.
“She was experiencing really bad morning sickness” he tells me, pointing out how his sister’s concern about the potential impact of conventional anti-nausea medication on her baby led to the project’s genesis. “We discussed this idea of having some kind of snack or drink that you consume which would help reduce nausea and provide nutrition.” After a conversation with a friend who thought the product could also be consumed by those experiencing nausea from medications, he partnered with a Harvard Medical School faculty member, Dr. Rupa Mukherjee, and a business school classmate, Kristine Cass, to develop a solution and build a business.
Since then, RFS developed - and has extensively sold - the Anchor Nutrition Bar, which prevents and relieves nausea due to morning sickness, motion sickness, medication side effects, and other causes. The company also has other digestive relief food products under development. RFS was recently acquired by Pink Stork, a Pennsylvania-based company that focuses on natural wellness products for pregnant women. We caught up with Neheet recently and had a quick chat about launching, growing and selling his business.
“We had successfully launched our first product on the market – the Anchor Nutrition Bar – in 2015, and were working on launching other products in development” he begins when asked about motivations behind the Pink Stork acquisition. “We realized that as a smaller brand with a limited set of products we would only get so many eyes on our product in traditional, retail stores and that’s kind of a disadvantage when you’re on a shelf in a pharmacy or in a grocery store.” Indeed, as he pointed out, shelf space is an important commodity for small brands, and in Anchor’s case, fighting titans such as KIND Bar for shelf space would be an uphill task.
After finding success in “alternative channels” like “cruise ships, ferry boats, marine shops, sporting goods stores like Bass Pro Shops, small grocery stores, and local pharmacies”, he turned his attention to further growth in “traditional” channels and observed that Pink Stork was “entering a number of retail channels that we [wanted] to enter.” Not only that, however, but he found that the two brands had “a nice synergy” in that their products both targeted a specific niche -- women facing pregnancy-related sickness.
Soon after, RFS and Pink Stork “started having discussions and realized that there was a mutual benefit in combining.” Pink Stork’s established customer base, commitment to quality, and the mutual similarities it had with RFS’s mission made it a good fit. Additionally, the combination of a solid platform, “an excited customer base”, and their willingness to retain the existing RFS team cemented the Pink Stork partnership. Moreover, Pink Stork is now able to expand into food products and provide solutions not just for nausea, but, in the future, also conditions like heartburn and other digestive health conditions which afflict pregnant women.
When asked about the difficulties of legally navigating through a merger as a first-time entrepreneur, Neheet was quick to point out that “it’s easy to start a company and get excited and not do some of the legal things that you need to do early on such as establishing and incorporating the company properly.” His advice: make sure to take care of legal things early on. “There are some law firms that do deferred payments and some that are more affordable,” he adds. However, taking care of business early on will streamline acquisitions and fundraising, and “will allow for clarity and a lack of red flags from an investor or acquirer.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Neheet what advice he had for food entrepreneurs and he said, “I think in the food industry you can really think about the Whole Foods channel and I think that that is an important channel,” he began, “but there are many other ways and channels to grow your business.”
He then went on to add: “I think you still have to ultimately succeed in your typical grocery store because that’s where most people are buying [natural] products.” That being said, he stressed the importance of “thinking out of the box about how you can work with different partners” and whether “they’re a partner you can sell a product alongside with or a novel channel you can start in.” For people looking to go into the food business, Neheet stressed “thinking creatively” which, he says, “can certainly help, especially in the early stages when you’re competing for the same shelf space that everyone else is.”
Neheet remains involved with RFS in an advisory capacity, and Anchor Nutrition Bar (focused on motion sickness) is still sold on boats and in sporting goods stores. A repackaged version -- the Away Bar (focused on morning sickness) -- is being sold under the Pink Stork brand name.
Have questions? Looking to take a similar path? Make sure to come visit Neheet as part of Branchfood’s new Office Hours! Join our newsletter for his office hours announcement soon.