Mary’s Gone Crackers is Small, Nimble and Outside of the Box

Sept. 17, 2020
2020 R&D Team of the Year Winner Mary’s Gone Crackers is a small, Nevada-based food company doing really big things.

Welcome to the Food For Thought Podcast, a podcast where we take you beyond the headlines of the food and beverage manufacturing industry.

On today’s episode, I’m talking with Carla King, Senior Marketing Manager from Mary’s Got Crackers. As you may know, Mary’s Gone Crackers is our third and final winner of our 2020 R&D Teams of the Year awards.

In this episode, we talk about how the Nevada-based company leverages its small size to do big things as well as what the company is doing to produce products that are not only good for the body, but good for the planet too.

Enjoy the episode.


Erin: Welcome to the "Food For Thought" podcast. How are you doing today?

Carla: I'm doing well, Erin. Thank you for having me.

Erin: It's great to get to talk to one of our R&D teams of the Year for 2020. Speaking of, congratulations on being named one of the food processing 2020 R&D teams of the year. Can you tell me what sets the R&D team at Mary's Gone Crackers apart from most other companies?

Carla: Sure. And first off, it's very humbling to be in such a good company winning that award. Mary's is pretty much a company that was founded on innovation. Mary was a trailblazer in gluten-free, in organic food space. Her innovation is a critical thread that makes Mary's the company that is today. So even though she's no longer in the day to day or even involved in the company, we continue to keep her spirit and her passion alive, and push the boundaries of product and flavor innovation. We know that that is what delights our consumers and so that's what drives us. And we're constantly looking for ways our consumers can enjoy our snacking items while staying conscious or conscientious of their health and the health of the planet. We're pretty small but we are nimble, so we keep plugging away.

Erin: Can you walk me through what product development looks like at Mary's Gone Crackers? Where do your ideas come from?

Carla: Our ideas come from multiple facets. So we seek out new and exciting flavor profiles. And we get them from our consumers who are pretty passionate about our products and they suggest ideas. And we're in direct contact with them through social media or they can call our company direct, our consumer affairs hotline direct. Our employees also have great ideas, both in our R&D kitchen and outside of that, which our R&D team, being fairly small, tends to seek out the ideas. And also our customers, our retail partners sometimes provide some insight into what has been trending or what consumers are looking for. So that's probably the three main buckets where they come from.

Erin: Okay. You mentioned retail customers. And I know in the September article on food processing, Diane Hoffpauer, the director of research, development, and innovation, mentioned that same thing about retail customers. Can you elaborate on that a little more?

Carla: Sure, one of our retail partners, and they were one of our first retail partners to carry our product line, offers a great sounding board for ideas, as well as they offer suggestions on flavor and texture that they see perhaps an opportunity or something missing from their categories. And we have a close relationship with them and value their feedback. So when we have prototypes, we've been able to share and get information and feedback from them. So that helps drive a couple. And in fact, we have a couple of items in our innovation pipeline right now that came from them. And hopefully, we'll be able to launch either probably, fingers crossed, next year.

Erin: That same article mentions that there are only two people on the R&D team. Definitely the smallest so far of all of our R&D teams of the year. How does that work? Does having a small team create any choke points in the innovation cycle?

Carla: We are small, I'm not gonna ignore that fact, but I would also say that we're fairly nimble as I mentioned before. What it does is it focuses us on priorities with a laser focus. And it makes us rely on cross-functional. So, I work very closely with our R&D team to identify trends and flavors, understanding texture. I know our quality team and our, you know, production, and procurement team work very closely. So, we're kind of spread out in terms of who does what, but R&D leads the bus on making sure the formulas come to fruition.

Erin: Sounds like there's a lot of Jack's and Jill's of all trades at the company.

Carla: I think you're right.

Erin: Yeah. So, one of the things that I've asked every single podcast guest so far, did you have any sourcing or labor concerns related to the coronavirus?

Carla: We tend to be challenged with longer lead times. All of our products, or what I should say, all of our ingredients are organic, non-GMO, sustainably sourced. So luckily, within the pandemic, we have not had issues in terms of ingredients sourcing. I think were some of the issues more have been are on the labor front. And, you know, being in Reno, it's not a big of a market as LA, or maybe the Midwest, or more of the plants are, and there's a greater labor pool. So that has been a bit of a challenge, but we have a great team that has been recruiting and resourcing, and we haven't really missed too much of a beat. We have had to focus on our top-selling items and, you know, which I don't think is uncommon for any CPG company right now, where with the pandemic, people are looking to what's familiar or what's known. And so they're not necessarily looking to try new stuff, new items as much. So they're focusing on, you know, the core, and that's what we've had to do as well.

Erin: One of the things I was really impressed with when I was reading the September article was some of the sustainability programs the company's involved in. Can you talk about them?

Carla: Yeah. And first off is our relationship with the California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation. So all of our rice and our products is sourced from California, and we partnered with the farmers who then also, you know, they're very sustainability-minded. And where the rice is grown is a very big area that's popular among the Waterbirds. So, we ensure that the rice is grown sustainably, organically, so no pesticides and nothing that's going to harm these Waterbirds. So they can continue to thrive. And we proudly support that foundation and we continue to source from them, as well as support the foundation. And so much so that we put that support identification on the back of our legacy product line. So, hopefully, consumers with the rebranding that's taken place in the last few months will see that and know that that's our commitment.

All of our cartons are made with recycled paperboard. I don't think that's anything that any other CPG company is. But, you know, we wanna do as best we can to make sure that everything is recyclable. All of our organic certification, which is every single product line, makes that inherently sustainable. And lastly, with our real thing, crackers, we do use palm oil. But we have partnered with Palm Done Right to ensure that all of that palm oil is sustainably sourced. And Palm Done Right is an organization that works with the farmers to teach them how to grow in an organic and sustainable manner, as well as give back to those farmers in terms of, you know, living arrangements and education so that they're improving their lives as much as we're improving our products.

Erin: Okay, so, last question for you. So it'll come to your pantry. What Mary's Gone Crackers product would I see or find the most of?

Carla: For me, I am a big fan of Super Seed everything, as well as Super Seed Black Sesame and Seaweed. So those are my two favorites. For my husband, he's also a huge fan and Super Seed everything, but he likes to spice things up, so I have Super Seed, excuse me, not Super Seed, our original Jalapeno, nice and spicy. And for my second grader, we have the real fancy Salt, that's his favorite.

Erin: I will say, I have my box of the original Crackers sitting right in front of me and it is a great... I eat these as I work from home every day. But my snack, one of the things that I've absolutely loved about the product is that it gives you recommendations on the side of pairings. And when I first picked them up, that was something that really caught my eye because I wasn't entirely sure, you know, what are the different iterations of, you know, what can I mix these with or eat this with? So, I really liked that. I appreciated that. You know, I may report for and do stuff, the food processing but I'm also a consumer. So just I wanted to point that out to your team. I really appreciated, here's the different things that you can do with Crackers. And yes, I see on the back of the box, see the information about the California growers.

Carla: Yeah. Thank you for that feedback.

Erin: Yeah, I am... Yes, more than have to... When we were sitting down to do this podcast recording, I definitely wanted to have my butt is sitting right in front of this. So I'm gonna put my crackers on the plate. But, you know, rarely do I ever have something or when I'm talking to someone, do I actually have that very product that I consume every single day. So, this is one of those few times. Although, I will say this year's R&D teams, every single one of them was a product that are normally got. And I don't even have a lot to do with our R&D teams of the year voting or anything like that, and it brought a smile to my face when I realized and had been talking to the different teams. It's like, "Oh, wow, I actually have. I've purchased their products. I can prove the R&D, it's absolutely fabulous." I love the product development y'all are doing.

Carla: Well, we will do our best to keep it up.

Erin: Yes, please do and I hope everyone is safe out in Reno, those with the fires that aren't to you, but it's almost in the backyard of Reno, as well as just with the COVID concerning really just hoping everyone stays safe and healthy. And wanted to say thank you for talking with me today and really appreciate it. It's been great having you on the podcast.

Carla: It was my pleasure and thank you for having me.

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