Meet The Company Helping Processors Bring Fresher, Cleaner Food To Market

April 28, 2022
In this episode of the Food For Thought podcast, we’re talking with Bill Besenhofer about how his company, The Fresh Factory, is helping processors bring plant-based, clean-label food to market fresher and faster.

The Fresh Factory is a vertically integrated company that partners with food and beverage brands to help them scale up production of fresh and clean food products. With a mission to accelerate the growth of plant-based foods, The Fresh Factory owns and partners with emerging brands in the plant-based space to develop, manufacture, and sell products made from fresh produce.

In this episode, we talk not only about what The Fresh Factory is doing, but also the trends it’s seeing in the plant-based category. We also talk about how the Fresh Factory uses High Pressure Processing on its manufacturing lines. We wrap things up talking about the company’s most recent endeavor: Its Fresh Start accelerator program.


Erin: Bill, welcome to the Food for Thought Podcast. I am so excited to have you on today. Let's first get started by talking about what The Fresh Factory is.

Bill: The Fresh Factory is a mission-driven platform where we're trying to build the infrastructure for the future of the food and beverage industry. And with that being said, really what we focus on is clean label, fresh ingredients, and plant-based products. What we've built here is an integrated platform, from farm to shelf where we to provide honest food for everyone.

Erin: That's exciting, especially now. What kinds of food and beverage companies do you work with?

Bill: We work with a multitude of companies. Just last year alone, 20,000 new emerging brands came out, and they need a place to go; they need a place to have somebody that allows them to get to market much quicker than what they would have in the past and the legacy infrastructure that's in place within the food industry. That said, we work with a lot of emerging brands. We also work with a lot of large, publicly traded companies.

Erin: You mentioned your mission is focused on plant-based products. Talk to me more about why you're focused on plant-based. Is that the only product category you help with?

Bill: For us it really starts with just eating cleanly quite frankly. And within that is fresh ingredients and plant-based. Six or seven years ago, when we went on this journey to start this company, we believed that clean label and plant-based was where the market was going, and quite honestly, it is better for you.

We work with multitudes of categories within that space because we really feel like that's what the consumer is looking for nowadays. We’re all looking at the backs of our labels to understand what's inside the products that we're eating. We want know where our food's coming from. And so we dug into that, and really focused in on some of those new emerging brands because they've kind of come into the marketplace as plant-based has continued to grow. Unfortunately, right now, the sentiment's a little bit down on the industry in the sense from a plant-based perspective. But the reality is, it's not really gonna go anywhere and that you can see that attributed to, you know, McDonald's, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, who really have put like these alternatives out there at, like, mass scale. And it just continues to keep growing, you know, year over year.

Erin: It's interesting, what you bring up about the generations. I didn't even think about it that way or in that realm of how a generation would be kind of driving this, which I can't believe that I'm not figuring that out because it seems like that's always written about or talked about is, you know, your millennial versus boomer aspects to why we produce the foods we do.

Bill: To hop in on that, when you start to go further down the chain, and you start to look at the kids that are in college when they start spending more money on healthier, better-for-you products than they do some of the other things that are out there, you realize that's how they're growing up. And that really isn't necessarily gonna change. I think that's the demand of the marketplace. And I think the trend, where it's going, and we wanna be able to help provide and grow that space.

Erin: Something I’ve noticed is the younger generations are focused on the transparency of where their ingredients are coming from, or if the company doing things for good. I'd be curious to see how different food companies’ kind of take on that, how much transparency are we willing to be transparent with? It's kind of a meta way of looking at it. 

Bill: No, for sure. And that's exactly what and who we are, which when I say like honest food for all, we have nothing to hide. The products we make, there's nothing to hide. We want you to know what you're putting in your body, you know. And that just kind of gets to like traceability, right? I mean, we look at traceability in the food industry, it's gotta continue to grow. There's obviously been outbreaks and things like that from a salmonella perspective. And really, we have to understand where our food comes from because at the end of the day, it is the consumer who wants to know that but we should wanna know that, right? I mean, we don't need to be behind closed doors behind a screen, throwing in all these preservatives, and things like that without the end consumer knowing that. And so for us, from our perspective, if you got clean labeled food, plant-based food, really, there's nothing to hide because what you see is what you're getting.

Erin: From your point of view, how is the plant-based category looking? Do you see more or fewer products coming online in 2022?

Bill: In 2020, 57% of all U.S. households purchased plant-based foods. That's over 71 million households. And that's up from 53% in 2019. I don't see it changing. I don't see it plateauing. I actually still see it continuing to grow. And kinda like I had mentioned a little bit before, when you start to find large companies, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Disney World, in general, when they start to offer these alternatives as a food source for consumers, that's not going to stop. You know, it might slow down a little bit as we start to see it, you know, we start to hear, again, see the market, so to speak, but the amount of plant-based foods that we see on a daily basis is pretty astronomical. I think what maybe started out 8 to 10 years ago as a buzzword, is really becoming something that is commonplace, where it's...that's the expectation, and that's what the market is looking for. From our perspective, I think, over this year, in general it's gonna continue to grow percentages-wise, but specifically, even for ourselves. We've got flagship brands that we have ownership in called Field and Farmer. I can tell you right now we've got some ranch and queso dip that's plant-based, that is already taking off. When you start to see these large companies dedicating lines, dedicating resources to put out products for the consumer, it doesn't look like it's stopping anytime soon or slowing down.

Erin: You work with high-pressure processing. Are you seeing more products come online using HPP?

Bill: It's interesting because HPP has been around for quite sometime, right? It's a technology that's been in the food industry for quite some time, specifically the meat industry. And for us, because we work with high-pressure processing, the answer to that would be yes, because we see it continuing to grow. A lot of the emerging brands are coming into the space and they're looking for that healthy, fresh product.

When you get to HPP, the reality is, is that with HPP, there's so many positives that you can get from it in the fresh space, where, again, it's healthier, cleaner for you. It gives you like extended shelf life, which again, makes that food fresher. And that technology for HPP, it's not heated, it is water pressured at 87,000 psi, 85,000 psi, 86,000 psi. And when you do that using HPP, you're retaining the majority of your nutrients, as opposed to when you keep something, where you lose the majority of the nutrients that are in there. And then the taste profile is just different, right? If you're doing something that's cooked, you're getting a cooked taste. With HPP, that's less of it. It's a fresher taste, with the fresher ingredients. You're getting that clean and fresh taste to it. And really, with HPP, it extends the shelf life of a fresh product. And as we just talked about, if the industry is continuing to move towards these fresh and clean products, there's gotta be a technology that's able to sustain and be able to make that, that leads to competing.

Erin: From your perspective, why the appeal for HPP?

Bill: The appeal for HPP is it's a fresher tasting product for you. And, you know, again, I'll give an example. You know, we could use the juice industry, for example, where you could pasteurize your orange juice. And then when you pasteurize your orange juice, you're probably losing roughly about 80% of the nutrients that are in there. As opposed to if you were to HPP that product, you actually retain 80% of it. Now you extend shelf life with an HPP for probably anywhere from 60 to 120 days but you'll maintain that fresh taste of it. If you go and pasteurize something like that, from a juice perspective, you actually will lose, you know, 80% of the nutrients. Now it can stay on the shelf for a year or longer, but it's just not gonna have that same fresh taste. And so, you know, the appeal to it is, again, you're getting a fresher product that tastes fresher as opposed to a cooked product.

Erin: Let's deviate from HPP to talking about capabilities. Walk me through what the capabilities are at your facility.

Bill: So, again, we do a multitude of things. We really built a platform that allows us to be extremely flexible. And that flexibility allows us to do a multitude of different product categories, as well as of different packaging. So we could do things and fill things in a bottle or a jar. We could fill them in cups or tubs, as well as we can do large food service pouches. And that's just what we can fill it in. But there's ways of being able to, again, you know, pasteurize or make it food safe.

One of those ways is HPP. But other ways are is we can just go through the cold process filling, as well as hot fill, and then acidification. And so, we do do a good chunk of hot filling, clean, fresh product, and so a better for you product. And that kind of ranges all the way from the types of food which is we do baby food, we do hummuses, we do dips, vegan yogurt, vegan mayo, salad dressing, cold-pressed juices, teas, smoothies, coffee. So, we really do a lot of different things in our facility, which I will say our facility is an SQF formally Level 3 facility, which is the highest form of food safety that you can have within the food industry.

Erin: I noticed on your website you also talk about working with capital partners, incubators, and accelerators. Can you talk to me more about how you work with them?

Bill: We’re going to be launching an incubator, accelerator called Fresh Start (https://thefreshfactory.co/the-fresh-factory-launches-fresh-start/). Where we'll be picking two to three companies that we will work with, that will go through a 12-week program, basically, from start to finish, so to speak, that they'll have a product in place. And we will work with them all the way through, you know, their own product themselves of commercialization, all the way through the supply chain, to manufacturing, to fulfillment, to helping them with potential sales and marketing, and understanding that. We work with some of these financial capital partners to help these new emerging brands get off the ground and really get moving. Because as they start to come to market, it obviously can be, needless to say, overwhelming. But with our expertise in-house, we're able to kind of take them underneath our wing, and then help them to grow and to get to market quickly and hopefully help them get on shelf and be successful.

Erin: Have you noticed any trends with who's coming to you from those incubators and accelerators or outside of The Fresh Factory incubator that you're going to be launching?

Bill: Some of the things that are coming our way or are new to the industry. These are really the products that are at the forefront, that are really changing the game. I'm trying to think without being able to say exactly what they are, but they are definitely game-changers that are coming into the industry, but in a whole, it really is clean label and better-for-you products. And quite frankly, in some cases, there's some things that have been out there for many, many years, products that have been out there for many years, that are now becoming cleaner because of our expertise and technology that's out there, which allows us to take some of these products, again, that aren't as healthy for you or as well for you that we're able to clean up and make it better for you.

Erin: All right, last question for you, if our listeners wanted to learn more about The Fresh Factory, how should they go about doing so?

Bill: If there's anybody that's out there that's interested in getting in contact with us, I'd ask that they please reach out to our email address, that is [email protected], and we will have someone back in touch within 24 hours.

About the Author

Erin A. Hallstrom

Erin Hallstrom oversaw our digital content strategy for the Food Processing brand from 2008-2023. She is now the Associate Director of SEO Strategy for Endeavor Business Media, where she holds technical certifications in both website analytics and search engine optimization. Most recently, she was named the 2022 Marianne Dekker Mattera Award Winner

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