Parks and Nash is the startup company that won the Judge’s Choice Award at the Naturally Chicago Pitch Slam, held November 6 at FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference. They did so with an exquisitely simple idea: bringing better health and taste to the mundane instant soup category, using collagen-laden bone broth as the base for a variety of international flavors.
Naturally Chicago’s Friday Morning Mingle on January 10 featured two principals of Parks and Nash, Founder/CEO David Crooch and President Elliott Cohen (the latter presented that winning pitch). Crooch said at the start that they would describe and how “we went from a hope and an idea to almost 4,000 doors in six months.”
Here are the highlights:
From Fitness Coach to Good Food Innovator
Crooch was for several years a physical therapist and fitness instructor, and said clients kept asking if he’d heard of using chicken soup as medicine. “The answer was sorta kinda, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Grandma’s Chicken Soup,” Crooch said.
He did research and discovered that there was a lot of science behind the health benefits of broth from animal bones, slow-cooked to extract as much collagen as possible. “I started making bone broth it home and bringing that to my own clients and some of those that have these pretty intense inflammation-based disease states got a lot better. Remarkably better,” Crooch said.
Crooch first started a company called Osteobroth to sell bone broth to other physical therapists and medical practitioners. But he soon determined to scale up to the retail market, launching Parks and Nash “with the purpose of getting bone broth out to as many people as possible.”
Don’t Take No (Response) For An Answer
With no experience in food retailing, Crooch sought the attention of a well-known natural foods expert, who for some time declined to return his calls and texts. Crooch even found out where the man lived, and volunteered to walk the dogs of a friend who lived in the same neighborhood in hopes of crossing paths.
Crooch admitted in his Mingle talk that this was a little “creepy,” but his persistence paid off. He connected with his sought-after mentor, who opened doors for him that led him to Presence Marketing — the leading broker in the Natural Foods space, which is also a co-founder of Naturally Chicago. [Milt Zimmerman, Presence’s Executive Vice President, will speak at the February 7 Friday Morning Mingle.]
Working with the huge national sales force at Presence enabled Parks and Nash to get into those 4,000 stores within six months. The startup also received helpful advice from Chicago’s Spiral Sun Ventures, whose Managing Partner Mark Thomann is a Naturally Chicago Board member.
A Good Problem to Have
This turned into the good problem of instant success, as Parks and Nash had to scale up fast to fulfill the contracts they had signed with supermarket chains such as Costco and Kroger.
When Thomann expressed concerns that Parks and Nash was growing at too fast a rate to ensure contract fulfillment, “We promised no new doors,” said Cohen. He added, “We left the meeting and check our emails and it was congratulations, you’re in all Jewel-Oscos. Right after we promised no new doors.”
Pitch Slam Saves the Day
The company was able to scramble and keep up with demand, but this cut deeply into their budget for marketing the products. “That’s why the pitch prize, and working with eight or nine great brand partners, has been so helpful,” Cohen said.
The Pitch Slam’s prize package, valued at more than $100,000, included “a lot of marketing assets and help that we never would have before, videos, photography. Maybe a little help with the website, overall strategy.” Cohen concluded, “That is been kind of a savior for us.”
Bringing Sexy Back to Instant Soup
During the Q-and-A session, Crooch was asked if it is a challenge to make instant soup cups — even those with bone broth and better flavors — exciting to consumers. He responded:
“For one, it’s the message. It’s really screaming the fact that it’s a bone broth company in this particular delivery mechanism, as opposed to an instant soup company that happens to be clean and healthy… so our target audience is going to be people that believe in bone broth.
“We chose instant soup very specifically. It was a category with a lot of white space. It had a lot of room for growth. It was pretty boring, need some sex appeal, need some healthy ingredients and it was still moving.
“Buyers were very happy to bring it on for that exact reason, and because we’re elevating the price point of that category. So if you’re in a store and you can take that square inch and every time that piece moves, the buyer makes 50 cents more, he wants that product, not the one that’s 50 cents less.
“That being said the goal long-term is to innovate into a variety of product categories starting with instant soup and then moving through center-store grocery, really changing what we think of when we think of center store, shelf-stable items. Bone broth becomes the base of a variety of products.”
And in case you are wondering, the name Parks and Nash comes from a pair of farms that have been in Crooch’s family for four generations.
Friday Morning Mingles have moved to an every other week schedule. Coming up next, on January 24, is another company that has boomed with consumers’ rising interest in collagen: Vital Proteins, represented by Tracey Halama, Senior Vice President of Sales, who will discuss the company’s rapid rise – and preview Naturally Chicago’s Winter Wellness Party on January 30 at Vital Proteins’ offices in the Fulton Market District.
Mingles are always free to attend, and take place Fridays from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. at LYFE Kitchen, 413 N. Clark in River North.