Rolling out in more than 500 Whole Foods stores nationwide this week, the better-for-you Texas Toast is the first of several new products that will take Rudi’s into the frozen prepared food segment for the first time.
Building on the brand’s long-established portfolio of gluten-free and traditional bread, rolls, bagels, tortillas, English muffins, and hamburger and hotdog buns, the company also plans to introduce the Sando – its version of the wildly popular pressed peanut butter and jelly sandwich Uncrustables made by JM Smucker Co., but with reduced-sugar fruit spread and both peanut and nut-free butters on bread made with and without gluten.
In the new year, it also will introduce frozen nitrate-free breakfast sandwiches made with real cheese, cage-free eggs and bread that Miller says won’t fall apart and isn’t mushy.
The inspiration for all three was to “create a line of products that build on our bakery heritage, but are shortcuts for moms and parents,” said Miller. “We began by looking at convenient products that are really big in conventional, but which nobody has really cracked the code on in natural.”
She added Rudi’s soft but sturdy bread was well-suited for all three launches because it can easily crimp and hold the seal on the Sando without drying out or becoming soggy – attributes that also allowed the bread to stand up to the eggs, sausage and cheese in the breakfast sandwiches and deliver the ideal chew consumers expect from Texas Toast.
‘We’ve been kind of dormant,’ and now it is time to rebuild
The new products are part of a larger effort by Miller to reinvigorate Rudi’s, which she says has a strong 40% aided brand awareness but which saw sales and engagement slide under previous ownership.
She explained that for almost 50 years, Rudi’s Organic Bakery has made premium organic and gluten-free bakery items, and when she first led the company as CEO from 2008 to 2014 it was the No. 1 organic bread business in the country and the No. 2 gluten-free business.
“It was in stores across the country and booming – a really amazing business,” she said.
After Hain Celestial acquired it in 2014 annual sales fell from more than $70 million to about $20 million over a six-year period, she added.
“So people know about Rudi’s. It has just we’ve been kind of dormant,” she said.
Miller explained, “Hain Celestial at the time was really an accumulator of brands, but they didn’t have another bread brand … and just didn’t have the focus behind [Rudi’s] that was needed.”
After a private equity firm purchased Rudi’s from Hain Celestial when the latter company was undergoing a significant pruning and refocusing, Miller returned first as a board member and investor and then took the helm as CEO a year ago.
“I really believe in this business so much, and … it is so amazing to be back. We have a chance to take an iconic brand that was one of the original natural and organic and glute-free brands, and bring it back to its former glory,” she said.
“The first step of doing that was for me to say, ‘What is different from when I was here before?’ And, one of the key differences is people need more convenience than ever before. And so, we have an opportunity to create a line of products that build on bakery heritage, but are shortcuts,” she added.
Building a ‘dream team’
To drive the innovation that ultimately resulted in the launch of Texas Toast and upcoming launches of the Sando and breakfast sandwiches, Miller brought together a “dream team” of industry veterans and leaders to be part of a “innovation and impact board” that would support the brand’s expansion, growth and ESG efforts.
The team includes Justin Gold, founder of Justin’s, who played a pivotal role in the creation of the Sando.
“It is a dream come true to be able to be a part of the business, and not start from scratch, but instead join a team that is heavily plugged in and to work with a good friend and mentor,” Gold told FoodNavigator-USA.
He isn’t the only member of Rudi’s “dream team” who followed Miller. Cynthia Tice, founder of Lily’s Sweets, where Miller previously was CEO, and Rick Sterling, founding partner of CPG strategic-growth consultancy Sterling-Rice Group, also previously worked with Miller.
Miller also invited back Rudi’s founder Sheldon Romer, and Terry Tierney, operating partner for Hummingbird Brands and former CEO of Daiya Foods.
“We have built an amazing team over the last year. I’ve been involved with bringing in the best in class,” said Miller, adding that with the team’s help, the brand’s heritage and a strong innovation pipeline, “this brand has the right to win.”