Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

Founder Friday Feature:
Sheetal Bahirat of Reveal Avocado Seed Brew

Sheetal Bahirat is Making Food Waste Functional with Reveal’s Avocado Seed Brew

Though Sheetal Bahirat’s journey to becoming a CPG founder has been anything but linear, “it all makes sense looking back,” she says. She started her career as a personal stylist, and while working with clients, she noticed that what made the most impact on their day-to-day lives was not the clothes they were wearing but the food they were eating. She explains, “I began to fall in love with the impact of healthy food and its power to change everything about someone.” With this burgeoning interest, she left personal styling to start her own cold-pressed juice company in her home at the time of Bangalore, India.

When she discovered how much waste cold-pressed juice generates, she began to dive deeper into the science of food waste and what we can do to minimize it. Bahirat explains, “There isn’t a lot of research in the world about what nutrients we’re throwing away when we generate food waste and I had no idea how to find that out.” She realized she’d need more “specialized knowledge” to tackle food waste head-on, so she moved to Philadelphia to attend the Drexel food lab.

While at Drexel one day, Bahirat found herself with an overwhelming amount of leftover avocado seeds after making guacamole for her entire class. She thought, “What does everyone do with [avocado seeds]? They don’t compost very well, so most compost facilities can’t accept them. Most restaurants throw them away and when I looked at the numbers, we were throwing away around 15 million pounds a year. So I thought, this needs to be worked on.”

Bahirat became fascinated by avocado seeds and even did her Master’s thesis on their many uses. “You use the avocado seed to make dyes, food coloring, and plastics. It can be used as a food preservative, and, obviously, it can be used to create a functional beverage. There are so many options, and it was mind-blowing that none of this could exist because there was no supply chain for the avocado seeds.” Of all of the options, Bahirat felt a functional beverage would be the best way to introduce the new ingredient to the public, and with her background in beverage, she felt well-suited to develop her own product — little did she know that developing Reveal’s Avocado seed Brew would take over two years.

Developing Reveal

Reveal’s Avocado seed Brew is the first of its kind, which, while exciting, meant there were no parameters to follow or experienced professionals to call. “We were creating something that never existed before. There was no guidance on what it should be called, what category it would fit into in the beverage industry, or what it should taste like.” With a functional avocado seed brew, they had to figure out, “What does the customer expect when they hear something like this? We did hundreds and hundreds of hours of customer taste testing. We started with a list of 250 ideas and then, after trying them, we narrowed it down to around eight flavors. Then, we ran a pilot program where we put out the product, and we changed the recipe for every production run based on the feedback that we were receiving…It was a lot of intense R&D, but it was a fun way for us to interact with the customer and see their decision-making process.” In the end, Reveal landed on three flavors: Rose Mint, Mango Ginger, and Grapefruit Lavender.

Reveal also did consumer testing to identify which aspects of functional beverage consumers seemed to care most about. They put the same beverage in three containers but told consumers that each had a different functional benefit. “We would say that one had three times the antioxidants, one had probiotics, and one had zero sugar, and then ask which they would like to try if they could only have one. I think we tested with 102 people that day, and only two people picked zero sugar.  It was unexpected, but that’s part of how we decided our claim.”

Creating an Avocado Seed Supply Chain

Beyond the customer-facing aspect of their product, Bahirat also had to figure out how to build a supply chain for a product that had never existed before. “There was no information about how many seeds would fit into a box and how much would that box weigh. How many boxes would fit on a pallet? What is the shelf life of an avocado seed? How can we get the seeds and store them? And how do we make this at scale?”

In the beginning, Reveal sourced seeds from local restaurants, but this came with complications. “The seeds can’t be out for more than four hours, so we would give them boxes to store in the [restaurant’s] refrigerator and then pick up the boxes every other day. Most restaurants don’t have any additional space in their fridge or freezer to hold the seeds, so there was no leeway for them to stretch the number of days between picks up…We did that for a long time, but it was a lot of logistics to make happen. We reached a point where we realized we couldn’t keep doing it anymore.”  Now, Reveal gets their avocado seeds from large guacamole manufacturers. Bahirat explains, “They were throwing the seeds on the floor, so we worked with them to change their process and collect [the seeds into bins]. From there, they get washed, cleaned, dried, bagged and frozen. We take the frozen seeds and use an extraction process to turn the seeds into our beverage.”

“It took us two and a half years to get to where we now feel confident we have a scalable process,’ Bahirat says. However, she admits that they are still navigating the growing pains of their never-before-made product to this day. “For every step that we scale up, or if we do anything differently, we’re suddenly back in the same place where we’ve never done this before. We have some experience now under our belts, but we still often think, ‘How is this ever going to work?”

Despite these challenges, Bahirat is looking forward to the future of Reveal. She says, “I want to see Reveal grow into a national brand that people know and recognize. I want to share my excitement about the avocado seed and its potential, and I want to see people join me on the journey.”

From one founder to another: What does Bahirat wish she’d done differently?

“For food products, and especially foods that are new and need sampling, one of the things I wish I had done differently was increased my minimum order [in retail] and then emptied the sales through sampling. If you do a low minimum order just to get into retail, you’re not worth anybody’s time to set up sampling or things like that. Your product is new, it’s on the shelf, but there’s no way for you to go in and sample it.”

Bahirat learned this lesson the hard way: “I’ve been in that position where you think, ‘That’s so exciting this awesome store wants me, but then they place one order and you never hear from them again.” Bahirat has now increased her minimum order when working with retailers: “You’re not allowed to order just one case of every flavor. Order more, I’m going to bring it to you, and I’m going to show up, sample, and sell it. Then, [retailers] are receptive to you coming in and sampling it because they also have something on the line. Figure out exactly what your minimums are so you can build long-term relationships that are good for your brand rather than just one sale that never repeats. Taking a step back and negotiating the first order with a retailer is crucial.”

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