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Running riot with the paleo diet: the Kiwi company harnessing the shift to high-quality, natural food

In 2013, Ryan Kamins took a brown paper bag full of home-made cereal to a local health store. Just a few years later and Kamins and the co-founder of Riot Foods, Art Green, have turned the natural cereal into a booming business that's projected to sell $2 million worth of products this year. 

Riot Foods is the parent company of brands Clean Paleo, Poppy + Olive and Wholefoods Manufacturing. Clean Paleo is the flagship brand and supplies 20 different products, including breakfast cereals, protein powder, biltong and bread. The company eliminates gluten, grains, dairy, preservatives and additives from food production and heavily advocates for paleo-based ingredients. 

The paleo diet is a modern take on the food consumed during the Paleolithic era and the philosophy focuses on consuming ingredients such as meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts. But Kamins had to be convinced before getting involved. 

“When I first looked at it in 2012 I thought it was a crock of shit. I Googled it and thought it was the worst diet in the world. However, I relooked at it soon after and realised it could assist with the mental health issues I was suffering at the time. I had seen a number of specialists and took a variety of medications but nothing was helping me. I began to do a lot of research on the benefits of removing gluten and dairy and read a couple of books on the paleo diet. Four months later I pursued it and had rapid results on my health and it’s not just about calories but the quality of ingredients that source energy and contribute to my well-being.”

Kamins believes the market is saturated with processed, bogus ‘healthy’ foods so it tried to find some space on the shelves for paleo-based packaged alternatives. Its brand, Clean Paleo is stocked locally in Countdown stores nationwide, as well as 50 other independent stores. It also supplies to Australia, with 10 new stores added every month, and to Amazon U.S.A., which recently awarded the Clean Paleo Manuka Crunch breakfast blend its Amazon Choice award.

Additionally, Riot Foods has secured a second premises of subsidiary Whole Foods Manufacturing, which is the only wholefoods dedicated manufacturing plant in the country. The plant will start operating in 2018. 

Earlier this year, Riot Foods saw another opportunity for growth and purchased a niche nut butter brand Poppy + Olive, which features Smooth Almond, Crunchy Almond, Cashew Almond and Chocolate Hazelnut. Each product is made using only whole food ingredients that are free from processed sugar and are both vegan and paleo approved, Kamins says. 

“Poppy and Olive is actually a peanut-free brand, so it consists of almond and cashews and hazelnuts. We have international aspirations for that, we had a rebrand a few months ago and had a great response from consumers and retailers. We are getting a lot more supermarkets on board for Poppy and Olive. It accounts for about 10 percent of our revenue but it’s getting up there.”

After rebranding Poppy + Olive, the brand is now selling six times what it was selling nine months earlier. It has also commenced negotiations with significant retail partners who are eyeing up the nut butter range.  

To date the current shareholders have invested approximately $3.8 million to develop Riot Foods. So how did it all get to this stage? 

“It has been a gradual process," says Kamins. "The cereal was the first product, which came in two forms: Fruit Fusion and The Original Crunch. I’m also from southern Africa and moved here when I was about three years old. We’ve always had biltong as a snack, which was another range we wanted to do within the paleo mantra and pursued it a year after. The product development comes from a mixture of retailer requests and the trends we are seeing in the market. Generally, they're based on the questions: what do I need in my life? And how could I produce a commercially viable product for people in my need.”

The Paleo diet certainly has its sceptics and The Ministry Of Health recently reviewed it, saying it provided benefits from the non-processed fruit, vegetables and nuts. But it critiqued its neglect for whole grains and high fibre foods which contain important nutrients. It also warns against eating more than 500g of meat per week, which conflicts with the primitive paleo heads who advocate for significant meat consumption. Other nutritionists claim the diet is expensive and impractical.  

Asked whether the Paleo diet has had its time in the sun and is just another fad, Kamins says: “I think it’s never going to go away because it’s a framework and it is recommended to fit it in with what’s best for your lifestyle. I don’t think it will disappear. We certainly haven’t seen that with our growth and demand as our sales have been constantly increasing. The basic idea is eating whole foods and eating real foods, which is closest to nature as possible.”

But the education is the hardest part, says Kamins.

"You are communicating something that isn’t endorsed by the mainstream health space or the government even and it’s hard to switch consumers' behaviour, to help them understand that if you are paying more for a product there is a reason you are paying more, and there is only so much space on a bag, so you’d love to include heaps of research or claims on the package, but it’s not that easy.”

On the plus side, the profile of co-founder and buff ex-Bachelor Art Green (who featured in an entertaining marketing campaign featuring 'Grandpa Leo' earlier this year) has certainly been helpful. 

“He is the pinnacle of health and well-being and is simply a really good Kiwi. Art joined before he was on The Bachelor so he believed in the product from the get go and put his own money into the business about four years ago, so he is certainly a great brand ambassador for the company.”

Riot Foods has recently launched a PledgeMe campaign with a goal of raising a maximum of $1 million in an effort to extend its distribution, invest in marketing and create new products. 

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