Who could have dreamed that cauliflower would prove a central catalyst in the evolution of better-for-you baking?
Over the past several years, per capita cauliflower consumption amidst soaring demand for the nutritious cruciferous vegetable. And while multiple factors have contributed to this unprecedented demand, Gail Becker, founder and CEO of CAULIPOWER, Los Angeles, deserves significant credit.
After all, Becker defined the retail vegetable-based pizza crust segment when she launched her CAULIPOWER pizzas and pizza crusts in 2017—both of which now rank as the No. 1 brands in their respective categories. Equally impressive, CAULIPOWER is now the No. 10 frozen pizza brand overall in the U.S. Recent retail sales data shows revenue in those two product areas combining for over $100 million, according 2020 SF&WB State of the Industry pizza category coverage (see “State of the Industry 2020: Healthy pizza diversity fuels growth”).
Becker has set the pace for better-for-you, gluten-free, vegetable-based product development in pizza—and subsequent innovations have advanced CAULIPOWER’s reach into gluten-free breaded chicken tenders, tortillas, riced cauliflower, and even a category-defying sweet potato “toast” product.
In an era when better-for-you products continue to drive current and forecasted retail growth, often bringing key shopper demographic interest to vital snack and bakery categories, CAULIPOWER is a welcome pioneer—and recipient of the 2021 SF&WB “Bakery of the Year” award.
THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
“My two boys were diagnosed with celiac at a young age,” says Becker. “At the time, all of the gluten-free options on the shelves were filled with so much junk—calories, fat, and sugar—and they tasted like cardboard. So I spent a lot of time making foods they could eat and actually enjoy.”
This exploration led to a particularly promising product area for commercialization. “One day, I stumbled upon thousands of recipes for homemade cauliflower crust pizza,” says Becker. “I tried one, and although my boys loved it, it took me 90 minutes to make, which I just didn’t have after a full day of work. When they asked for it again, I said, ‘No way!’ I then went looking for a convenient frozen option to buy with no luck. I thought, ‘How does this not exist already?’ I realized I couldn’t be alone in my search for a healthier frozen alternative that actually tasted great. So, I left my job and created CAULIPOWER.”
The nexus of healthy eating and gluten-free was the cornerstone of the company from the start. “I was inspired by the hundreds of thousands of people who were creatively using cauliflower to make healthier versions of their favorite comfort foods,” says Becker. “All I did was bring their creations to life, making it easier and more convenient. Who has 90 minutes to make a healthier pizza crust from scratch?”
Pizzas and pizza crusts were first on the R&D bench, and the range now includes multiple varieties:
- Three Cheese
- Sriracha Veggie
- Buffalo-Style Chicken
- Italian Sausage & Vegetables
- Uncured Turkey Pepperoni
- Uncured Pepperoni
- Uncured Pepperoni & Vegetables
Over the past couple of years, CAULIPOWER has expanded well beyond pizza. Today, the company’s product line also includes:
- Chicken Tenders in original and Spicy(ish)
- Baja Style, Sesame Citrus, and Curried Riced Cauliflower Cups
- Roasted Sweet PotaTOASTS in original and Sea Salt & Olive Oil
- Cauliflower Tortillas in original and Grain-Free
“CAULIPOWER launched in 2017 in 30 Whole Foods stores,” says Becker. “Today, you can find CAULIPOWER in more than 25,000 stores nationwide.” CAULIPOWER products are available nationwide in all retail channels, including Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Target, Albertsons/Safeway, CVS, and regional chains across the country.
CAULIPOWER also maintains widespread distribution to foodservice operators, with products on more than 5,000 menus in restaurants across the country.
“We started with four SKUs—three Cauliflower Crust Pizzas, and one Plain Cauliflower Crust,” says Becker. “Today, we have nine different pizzas, including our new ‘BUFFA-WHOA’ Buffalo-Style Chicken and our ‘SRIRA-CHA-CHA’ Sriracha Veggie pizza. We’ve expanded into four different product categories since launch. We have the only baked (never fried) Chicken Tenders in the freezer aisle, which are the healthiest coated tenders of the entire category. CAULIPOWER also offers Riced Cauliflower Cups, which are available in three never-before-done flavors, are just 100–160 calories for the entire cup, and have 3 to 5 grams net carbs per serving.” The packaging for the Riced Cauliflower cups is reusable, recyclable, and microwavable. “We also have Cauliflower Tortillas, which are made with real cauliflower and are gluten-free—and there is a grain-free option, with just 8 net carbs per tortilla. Finally, we have the world’s first superfood toast, Sweet PotaTOASTS, which is a clean, single-ingredient alternative for bread.”
In real estate, the mantra for success is always location, location, location, says Becker. “In food, for me, it’s always about taste, taste, taste. We’re the clear category leader for a reason. We never stray from our mission of not sacrificing taste, health, or convenience.”
Becker notes more new and exciting innovations are on deck for 2021—products that will “disrupt a few categories along the way,” she says.
CAULIPOWER finds inspiration from its consumers—what they are looking for in convenience, healthy, gluten-free foods, and foods they are working hard to create for themselves, notes Becker. “We are continuously looking at what categories can be made healthier and better … or, as we like to say … CAULIPOWERED!”
People are cooking more at home and purchasing more frozen foods than ever before, but they are searching for healthier versions of the food they love, says Becker. “Consumers don’t want to compromise on taste, nutrition, or convenience, and with CAULIPOWER, they don’t have to. Whether someone is gluten-free, grain-free, plant-based, vegan, keto, or simply looking for a healthier option that tastes delicious, CAULIPOWER has something to offer.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, CAULIPOWER has seen a dash to comfort—but in many cases, it’s a dash to healthier comfort foods, suggests Becker. “We’ve also seen a desire for activity and creativity in the kitchen. As people were forced to cook three meals at home, sales of CAULIPOWER’s plain cauliflower pizza crust increased significantly as consumers were looking for healthier, tastier alternatives that they could make their own.” Based on SPINS industry data for the week ending October 2, 2020, the product’s sales soared by 107 percent compared with last year, she notes.
CAULIPOWER includes giving back as part of its core mission, with a corporate commitment to make nutritional food more accessible to all. “Since the beginning, a portion of every CAULIPOWER sale has supported the American Heart Association’s Teaching Gardens Network, building gardens in schools throughout the country to educate children about healthy eating habits,” says Becker.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has opened other opportunities to give back. “The pandemic has caused many people to fall onto hard times, and to ease some of the hardship, we have been able to give back in a meaningful way,” says Becker. “Early on in the pandemic, CAULIPOWER donated pizzas to U.S.VETS, the nation’s largest nonprofit provider for at-risk and homeless military veterans. We also launched a monthly ‘Pay Your Bills’ giveaway on our social channels, which gave lucky winners a check on the first of the month, as well as a year of free CAULIPOWER products. Most notably, as part of our $1 million donation to the American Heart Association, we funded a program that provided 100,000 meals with food bought from local farmers to 4,500 families across the country, supporting our mission to end food insecurity in the U.S.”
There has never been more buzz around frozen foods, suggests Becker. “CAULIPOWER conducted a survey of 4,000 Americas and discovered 63 percent are buying more frozen foods because they’re easier to prepare, more than half of respondents say it lasts longer, and nearly 25 percent say they’re ‘going frozen’ because it reduces food waste or is more affordable.”
There is also a prevailing desire for versatility. “In that same survey, 47 percent of respondents said the most-difficult part of cooking at home during quarantine was finding healthy, tasty, easy meals, while 44 percent said it was avoiding recipe burnout,” says Becker. “This inspired us to launch our ‘Sick of My Own Cooking’ box, which includes three of our new Riced Cauliflower cups, CAULIPOWER’s very first cookbook, and three free product coupons good for any CAULIPOWER items.”
Becker is particularly proud of the relationships CAULIPOWER has built with its consumers and seeing its products on their tables. “There is nothing more rewarding than hearing how we saved them time in the kitchen so they could spend time with those they love. It is an incredible privilege and responsibility, and one that fuels us each and every day.”
The entrepreneurial vision driving Becker runs in her family. “I created CAULIPOWER upon the death of my father, who started a small business when he came to this country from Germany. I used to ring the cash register every Saturday for $20 plus lunch. Little did I know back then that the joy I felt watching him build relationships with his customers and helping the community would, one day, inspire me to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps. Becker actually means ‘baker’ in German, so I’m pretty sure he’s looking down and smiling upon hearing us named ‘Bakery of the Year.’”
AT A GLANCE
Headquarters: Los Angeles
Number of employees: 50
Products: Cauliflower Crust Pizzas, Cauliflower Pizza Crust, Chicken Tenders, Riced Cauliflower, Sweet PotaTOASTS, Cauliflower Tortillas