Exclusive interview: Q&A with Continental Mills president Andy Heily
We recently spoke with with Continental Mills president Andy Heily for a look into some recent innovations at the company, including its successful moves into a new product category with the Buck Wild tortilla chip launch, as well as a packaging and non-GMO update for its flagship Krusteaz pancake line—making it the first major pancake brand to do so.
As a third generation, family-owned company, Andy is taking the reins from his father and current CEO, John Heily, and undertaking major initiatives to keep an 85-year old company at the forefront of consumer trends and preferences.
Liz Parker: Can you speak about the Buck Wild tortilla chip launch, including the move into a new product category?
Andy Heily: This was an exciting launch for us! When we made the decision to move into a new product category, we really had today’s taste-adventurous millennial in mind. Not only do millennials snack more than any other generation—twice as much daily as Boomers—they are also demanding more complex, bold and spicy profiles, and that was really our inspiration when developing the Buck Wild flavors like Cheddar Chipotle, Jalapeno Jack, Korean BBQ and a new Ranch flavor called “The Ranch,” launching this fall. Knowing how important quality is to today’s millennials, we also developed this line using real ingredients that you can literally see—like the peppers in our Jalapeno Jack Tortilla Chips and the red rice and quinoa in our Korean BBQ Tortilla Chips. The whole line is also non-GMO and free of artificial flavors, preservatives, gluten and high fructose corn syrup. We’re happy to say that consumers have really responded, too—today we have some of the highest repeat rates in the category, and will expand to nearly 3,500 Walmart stores this September after being on shelf less than a year.
LP: Continental Mills is an 85-year-old family-owned company. What kind of initiatives are you taking to keep the company fresh?
AH: Our heritage is rooted in baking and pancake mix products, so we’re also capitalizing on consumer trends with our flagship Krusteaz line. We recently launched a new Krusteaz Protein Pancake product to meet the consumer demand for high-protein products. We’re passionate about meeting the consumer where they are going, and we believe that bake and pancake mixes will continue to play a really important role in consumers’ lives—ultimately we see them as not just mixes, but a simple and convenient way to bring friends and family together over the experience of creating and enjoying a shared meal. Consumers are just so, so busy these days, so the challenge for us is to remind them to take the time to make those moments of togetherness, and of course make it an experience that meets, and hopefully exceeds, their expectations. As a family-owned food business, we never lose sight of the honor and responsibility that comes with providing the products that bring friends, families and communities together.
LP: What do you envision for the future of Continental Mills? Any new products coming up?
AH: Like everybody else, we are strategizing about how to meet consumers where they are. The world is changing rapidly and it creates opportunity for those companies that embrace that change. For us, it’s pretty simple: our rallying call is to create the best products in the marketplace and exceed consumers’ expectations. We have a lot of innovation in our pipeline related to bake, breakfast and snacking that we think is very differentiated and also outstanding quality.
LP: What other snack products does Continental Mills produce?
AH: We also produce the WildRoots brand of Trail Mix, Wild Chips, cereal and other innovative snacks, which are sold at Costco and Sam’s. Similar to Buck Wild, this is a brand that’s about real and simple, which really allows us to play in a lot of different categories. For example, we sell organic cold cereal, tortilla chips, organic trail mix and even a few baking mixes under the Wild Roots brand. The Wild Roots and Buck Wild brands allow us to cover a lot of ground and meet a lot of different consumer needs.
LP: You work with brands such as Ghirardelli, Red Lobster, etc. What kind of products do you provide for them?
AH: We truly value our licensing partnerships and we always work together with our customers to develop a product that is a natural fit. For example, we partner with Ghirardelli Chocolate Company to make its premium brownie mix, and what better brand could there be for an amazing brownie? Red Lobster was another success story for us. We’ve had a long partnership with the restaurant through our Foodservice business, and developed the Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix that has been sold in both the Club channel and Retail stores for the last few years. It’s a very popular item with a real cult following—consumers can’t get enough of them! More recently, we also launched a new line of cheesecake mixes in partnership with The Cheesecake Factory. It was a challenging assignment because the cheesecakes you get at the restaurant have such a distinct flavor, but we worked very, very closely with company leadership to make sure the experience of baking it at home was an equally high quality experience. We launched a Classic, Strawberry and Salted Caramel Cheesecake, which are now in grocery stores nationwide. It’s very easy to make, and we’re proud to say that the cheesecakes are delicious.