“Americanize” New Foods in Order to be Literally and Culturally Palatable

In the 1980s, in order to normalize Soyfoods which are foods made out of tofu or soymilk, I offered them in traditional American flavors and forms. Cottage Salad, soymilk, dips like Missing-Egg Salad and Tofummus, Soy-o yogurt, chocolate and strawberry puddings (Bill Cosby was big then), but also brands like LeTofu (similar to ice cream), Better Burger (vegan meat), Better Than Meat (same), VeganRella cream cheese, and TofuRella cheese alternative.

That last one got my company on the 1993 Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies for selling “America’s most-hated food” (tofu) during the Reagan Eighties. That made selling hemp foods in the go-go ‘90s easy. From 1986 to 2001 we sold TofuRella, TofuRella Slices, AlmondRella, RiceRella, RiceRella Slices, Zero-FatRella, VeganRella, and VeganRella cream cheese from coast-to-coast in supermarket chains and natural food stores in the U.S. and Canada, and Trader Joe’s.

Pivoting from Soyfoods to Hemp Foods in 1994, we introduced Hempeh Burger and HempRella, Americanized foods (burger and cheese) to be sold coast-to-coast in thousands of stores in two countries. Making weird foods in familiar forms is a ploy to make them more accessible to the average American, less weird although still plenty weird enough, being made of soya or hemp.

The organic tempeh burger with 10% HempNut shelled hempseed had an FDA-legal health claim on the label for “reducing risk of heart disease.” Carnivores and vegans alike loved its hearty mouthfeel and made from real food, not powders like today. It also had an innovative gas-flushed package and sleeve. It was the only hemp food ever with an FDA health claim.

We soon introduced HempNut Blue Corn Chips and that all-American favorite, organic chocolate chip cookies. And an ambitious bar made in Santa Rosa by Lotus Bakery: graham cracker/HempNut crust, layer of HempNut peanut butter on that, covered by a layer of organic dark chocolate, packed in an oxygen-proof mylar metal pouch with great graphics and a long shelf life. It was as good as it sounds, all credit for that goes to Jim Dow at Lotus.

The organic blue corn chip had a Structure-function claim of “Helps support healthy, heart, lung, and immune system” and was packed in an argon-gas-flushed mylar metal bag. It contained 10% HempNut and was considered by many to be the best organic corn chip on the shelf because our co-packer used a special masa blue corn flour instead of the usual. It made for a better mouthfeel, and the shelled hempseed made it both more savory and more nutritious.

In 1997 I developed an aseptic hemp milk at the same Tetra-Pak plant White Wave developed Silk. Although very “American,” hemp milk was a huge project that the world wasn’t ready for yet back then. The cookies were made by what today is Pamela’s Products. Our HempNut organic? peanut butter closely emulated the all-American favorite breakfast spread despite being 51% HempNut.

HempScream powdered frozen dessert mix leveraged our years of worldwide sales of frozen desserts, since 1984.

The organic vegan margarine project never got finished because there was a standard of identity for margarine, and “spread” would have been the kiss of death for it, not nearly as “American” as “Margarine.”

We sold a HempNut lip balm after we made them just to give away for promotion but then people wanted to sell them in their stores so Al Haeger made a display box for them.

Back in 1981 after a year of selling tofu to supermarkets, I realized why Marinated Tofu wasn’t as popular as it “should” have been: it was too inaccessible, hip, edgy, and unusual for most shoppers.

That’s why I developed Cottage Salad with its almost-addictive lemon/dill/dried minced onion flavor, super popular in the Diet Center chain for years. It gave many straight midwestern ladies their first positive taste of tofu; we would get a surprisingly large number of “love letters” every week, long before email was a few pecks and done. We made between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds of it every week for years.

That was my approach, Americanize new and odd foods in order to be palatable, literally and culturally, to my fellow Americans. And not just the form, like ice cream, but also the name (Cottage Salad, Soy-o) and package type and design (ice cream and yogurt packaging, vacuum-packed and in a box for tofu).

I find it all so interesting that I went back to Sonoma State University at night for five years (while still running fast-growing Rella by day) to get a BA + MBA in Marketing. Originally it was to study Consumer Behavior, because that was inexplicable; it really should be a subset of Psychology. I studied in the “Rella years” 1988 to 1993, and applied what I learned to marketing hemp foods afterward. HempNut, Inc. products are the capolavoro of that phase for me. To this day the products and marketing are relevant, and the logo still timeless after over one generation.

That’s how we opened new categories that didn’t even exist yet, but today USDA is tracking ads of: hemp foods. Even with a 7-finger bright neon-green hemp leaf and HEMP an inch high. Perhaps especially with a 7-finger bright neon-green hemp leaf and HEMP an inch high!