This week we sat down with Elise Tresley, Chief Strategy Officer at mēle, a fast-growing meal alternative company, to talk food trends, packaging and philanthropy.

October 9, 2018

Can you tell us about your company and role?

I’m the Chief Strategy Officer at mēle, a wellness food company with the philosophy that food should empower us. We’ve created a balanced meal in a shake made of dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, and protein. I oversee customer acquisition/retention strategies, business development, and strategic partnerships. One of the best parts of my job is that I’m not limited to one silo. I have the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with our incredibly talented CEO across different business functions — whether it be packaging design, our finances, or our overall growth trajectory.

 

Why are meal alternatives so hot right now?

With all of the progress in nutrition research and recent findings on gut-health, it’s an incredible time to be in the food space. One of the biggest changes in the industry right now is wallet-share shift to the plant-based category. While it’s obvious now in certain markets like LA and New York, it’ll eventually be mainstream. So our top priority is the upcoming launch of our plant-based product line. For a little context, we currently have three flavors of whey-based freeze-dried powder: rawberry, supergreen, and cocoa-nut. The plant-based line will include dairy-free versions of all three flavors and will fall under the same brand position as the whey-based products: non-gmo, no preservatives, no artificial colors, no soy, and no added sugar. We’re in the final stages of development now.

 

So you’ve been following the plant-based trend for a while?

Yes, and we saw that plant-based food products increased by 62% globally from 2013 through 2017. And global sales of dairy-alternative drinks are expected to reach $16.3 billion this year alone. But more importantly, we’re seeing this inflection point first-hand; our customers are always the drive behind our business decisions. After seeing tremendous demand for a vegan option from the mēle community, we decided that it was a no-brainer.

 

Once you identify a trend, how did you go about capitalizing on it?

The first step is to ensure we’re delivering on what our customers want. The vegan option started with an inflow of requests for a dairy-free version of mēle, which led us to gather more feedback. It was truly a grass roots effort. We setup calls with as many of our customers as possible—and we listened. Once we consolidated the feedback, we developed an action plan and timeline for the development of the plant-based products. The next step was recipe formation, which was a fun process. We were diligently focused on taste while also maintaining a high nutritional value. Then we rolled-out a limited release of our cocoa-nut flavor in the plant-based version this summer. The results were overwhelmingly positive. And we found something interesting—even people who aren’t exclusively vegan wanted it. This has given us more confidence heading into our launch.

 

When you have such an on-trend product, how important is packaging to the overall customer experience?

Alongside the new product line, we’re also developing a new packaging concept. Again, based on customer demand, we’re moving from a two-serving pouch to a single-serving pouch. Our product is a powder that mixes with water and is made for busy people who are on-the-go. So, the convenience factor is one of our major differentiators; we can’t compromise on the functionality of the packaging. There are a number of variables at play like the thickness of the material, the dimensions, the seal, and the type of tear notch, to name a few. The combination of these variables needs to result in a positive customer experience—one that provides a healthy, but also convenient, solution for people who are having mēle on a flight or in a rush in-between meetings. We’ve overcome these hurdles by choosing strong partners in our supply chain and working with these partners closely to test and iterate.

 

What’s next for mēle?

Our goal is simple: to provide better food to more people. That is our DNA and at the core of all projects. We started mēle with the belief that wholesome food should be accessible to everyone, which includes people who can’t (or don’t want to) eat dairy. We’re addressing a major gap. There aren’t very many vegan options in the market that are nutritious and actually taste good. Importantly, another ongoing initiative that’s a part of our broader mission of “better food for all” is giving back. Philanthropy will continue to be the foundation of our business as we expand into the plant-based industry. We donate a portion of all profits to feed the hungry, and most recently, we partnered with International Aid to send mēle to families in Guatemala after the volcano eruption. As a food business, we have an absolute responsibility to give back. We’re incredibly passionate about helping others as we grow.

 

Finally, if you could start mēle all over again, what would you do differently?

We would have moved into the vegan category sooner. We were hearing the need for it, we were seeing the trends, we had a point of view. And we hesitated. We’re not a massive food conglomerate, so we have to be extremely smart with how we grow. Launching a new product is risky, especially when the current product line is already successful. I think that’s where the hesitation came from. There’s a tendency to think “stick with what you know.” I will always believe in quality over quantity when it comes to our product portfolio (and most things!). But as we grow, we’re getting more comfortable with taking risks. The good news is that we’re just getting started!

This week we sat down with Elise Tresley, Chief Strategy Officer at mēle, a fast-growing meal alternative company, to talk food trends, packaging and philanthropy.

October 9, 2018

Can you tell us about your company and role?

I’m the Chief Strategy Officer at mēle, a wellness food company with the philosophy that food should empower us. We’ve created a balanced meal in a shake made of dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, and protein. I oversee customer acquisition/retention strategies, business development, and strategic partnerships. One of the best parts of my job is that I’m not limited to one silo. I have the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with our incredibly talented CEO across different business functions — whether it be packaging design, our finances, or our overall growth trajectory.

 

Why are meal alternatives so hot right now?

With all of the progress in nutrition research and recent findings on gut-health, it’s an incredible time to be in the food space. One of the biggest changes in the industry right now is wallet-share shift to the plant-based category. While it’s obvious now in certain markets like LA and New York, it’ll eventually be mainstream. So our top priority is the upcoming launch of our plant-based product line. For a little context, we currently have three flavors of whey-based freeze-dried powder: rawberry, supergreen, and cocoa-nut. The plant-based line will include dairy-free versions of all three flavors and will fall under the same brand position as the whey-based products: non-gmo, no preservatives, no artificial colors, no soy, and no added sugar. We’re in the final stages of development now.

 

So you’ve been following the plant-based trend for a while?

Yes, and we saw that plant-based food products increased by 62% globally from 2013 through 2017. And global sales of dairy-alternative drinks are expected to reach $16.3 billion this year alone. But more importantly, we’re seeing this inflection point first-hand; our customers are always the drive behind our business decisions. After seeing tremendous demand for a vegan option from the mēle community, we decided that it was a no-brainer.

 

Once you identify a trend, how did you go about capitalizing on it?

The first step is to ensure we’re delivering on what our customers want. The vegan option started with an inflow of requests for a dairy-free version of mēle, which led us to gather more feedback. It was truly a grass roots effort. We setup calls with as many of our customers as possible—and we listened. Once we consolidated the feedback, we developed an action plan and timeline for the development of the plant-based products. The next step was recipe formation, which was a fun process. We were diligently focused on taste while also maintaining a high nutritional value. Then we rolled-out a limited release of our cocoa-nut flavor in the plant-based version this summer. The results were overwhelmingly positive. And we found something interesting—even people who aren’t exclusively vegan wanted it. This has given us more confidence heading into our launch.

 

When you have such an on-trend product, how important is packaging to the overall customer experience?

Alongside the new product line, we’re also developing a new packaging concept. Again, based on customer demand, we’re moving from a two-serving pouch to a single-serving pouch. Our product is a powder that mixes with water and is made for busy people who are on-the-go. So, the convenience factor is one of our major differentiators; we can’t compromise on the functionality of the packaging. There are a number of variables at play like the thickness of the material, the dimensions, the seal, and the type of tear notch, to name a few. The combination of these variables needs to result in a positive customer experience—one that provides a healthy, but also convenient, solution for people who are having mēle on a flight or in a rush in-between meetings. We’ve overcome these hurdles by choosing strong partners in our supply chain and working with these partners closely to test and iterate.

 

What’s next for mēle?

Our goal is simple: to provide better food to more people. That is our DNA and at the core of all projects. We started mēle with the belief that wholesome food should be accessible to everyone, which includes people who can’t (or don’t want to) eat dairy. We’re addressing a major gap. There aren’t very many vegan options in the market that are nutritious and actually taste good. Importantly, another ongoing initiative that’s a part of our broader mission of “better food for all” is giving back. Philanthropy will continue to be the foundation of our business as we expand into the plant-based industry. We donate a portion of all profits to feed the hungry, and most recently, we partnered with International Aid to send mēle to families in Guatemala after the volcano eruption. As a food business, we have an absolute responsibility to give back. We’re incredibly passionate about helping others as we grow.

 

Finally, if you could start mēle all over again, what would you do differently?

We would have moved into the vegan category sooner. We were hearing the need for it, we were seeing the trends, we had a point of view. And we hesitated. We’re not a massive food conglomerate, so we have to be extremely smart with how we grow. Launching a new product is risky, especially when the current product line is already successful. I think that’s where the hesitation came from. There’s a tendency to think “stick with what you know.” I will always believe in quality over quantity when it comes to our product portfolio (and most things!). But as we grow, we’re getting more comfortable with taking risks. The good news is that we’re just getting started!

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