Established in 2010 Forbidden Foods has grown to become a well-known Australian health food brand and now it’s working to gain a foothold in the US.

Forbidden Foods (ASX:FFF) is an Australian company specialising in the sourcing, development, and sales of health focused food products, co-founded by CEO and MD Marcus Brown along with COO and executive director Jarrod Milani at a time when plant-based foods were just starting to gain momentum.

“Quinoa and plant-based foods were really just starting to take off,” Brown said from Chicago where he is now heading the US growth operations.

“It’s only been called plant-based foods recently, but people were starting to buy foods like quinoa and brown rice.

“We found a niche to bring in alternative grains and seeds such as black rice, spirulina powder and roasted pumpkin kernels.”

From the natural food thematic FFF has since evolved up the value chain to final packaged goods for consumers.

“We’ve been able to encompass a lot of our expertise and learnings and experience to drive consumer brands,” Brown said.

Listing on the ASX in 2020 during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brown said like many companies FFF had to adapt to closing borders, changing consumer demand and e-commerce.

The company now has three brands under its umbrella including:

  • FUNCH® – a baby and toddler food range including cereals, squeeze pouches, purees, protein and pre-biotic shakes focusing on Asia
  • Sensory Mill® – provider of plant-based foods, which in 2022 launched a flagship range of plant-based meats
  • Blue Dinosaur® – manufacturing hand-baked snacks consisting of very few ingredients

The company is now very much focused on the growth of its Blue Dinosaur brand across Australia and the massive US market.

 Blue Dinosaur proving popular among millennials

FFF acquired family-based business Blue Dinosaur, founded in 2011, for $4 million in 2021. Brown said since the acquisition Blue Dinosaur has become the company’s leading brand, appealing to millennials, aged 18 to 35.

Blue Dinosaur includes healthy snack bars, and high protein bars.

“It’s really our biggest brand at the moment giving the business opportunity to scale,” Brown said.

“Blue Dinosaur is our major growth driver, our mainstream everyday consumer brand and what has driven a lot of growth, especially in America.”

Blue Dinosaur sold in Woolworths and Coles nationally

Walk down the health food aisle of any major supermarket and you will most likely see Blue Dinosaur products, with most of FFF’s revenue still coming from Australia.

The company has manufacturing suppliers in NSW and Victoria. Brown said Blue Dinosaur is now sold in 8000 outlets in Australia, including major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths along with other outlets like petrol stations.

“Blue Dinosaur is probably the third largest distributed health snack bar brand in Australia,” Brown said.

“The Blue Dinosaur brand has a very healthy gross profit so it is a good margin product and with some scale will drive long term profitability for the business.”

US craving healthy snacks

In September 2022 FFF established a distribution network for Blue Dinosaur in the US with KeHE Distributors – one of the largest and most respected pure-play grocery and natural distributors in the US, servicing 30,000+ store locations through their distribution centre network.

The distributor supplies 23 of the top 50 retailers in North America, including Associated Food Stores, Walmart, Albertson’s, Safeway, HEB and Publix.

Brown said Blue Dinosaur is now stocked in more than 500 US supermarkets and he is confident of being at 800 by the end of FY23 later this month.

“We’ve got a lot of opportunity with customers in the US who seem to really like the Blue Dinosaur brand,” Brown said. “They love Australian products and natural products, which we are taking advantage of.”

Brown said part of the company’s success in the US market is there is not a lot of competition.

“There is a limited selection of healthy snacks in America and a lot of products are very sugary and contain processed ingredients,” he said.

“We are seeing a generation change of millennials and Gen Z not buying the products of yesteryear so a lot of these old brands we’re up against in America younger consumers are not buying because they don’t like the health profile or taste.”

Brown said many companies take two to three years to gain traction in the US, but FFF has managed to do it in about 12 months from building its supply chain and manufacturing capabilities.

FFF has two contract manufacturers in the US, based out of Utah and California.

“We have capacity to service the larger supermarket chains in the US,” Brown said.

“We have built our supply chain so that it could scale and manufacture a few hundred thousand bars every day.”

While building traction with smaller US supermarket networks with 20 to 500 stores, Brown said FFF is also in talks with giants like Walmart and Whole Foods Market.

“If we get a range in that would be a great result but we’ve just got to make sure we can scale for it,” he said. “But we are in discussions with Walmart and Whole Foods at the moment.”

A return to natural food

Brown said while there will always be fads with food there does seem to be a strong return to natural, unprocessed foods among consumers.

“What we are actually seeing, particularly in America, is people are looking for natural products with minimal ingredients and processing,” he said.

“They want to be able to read and understand the ingredients on the back of the packaging so in America especially there is corn syrups, additives, and fake flavours.

“Our competitors have up to 20 different ingredients in America where our products have five or seven and they’re all natural – so that is what is driving the interest in the country.”

Brown said in Australia Blue Dinosaur is a brand that consumers have come to know, trust and enjoy.

He said many so-called healthy snacks aren’t that healthy, containing lots of sugars and other additives.

“Our products tend to stay very natural, date and fruit-based,” he said.

“People are much more aware of what they’re eating now and don’t like processed products or too much sugar, so we have a good opportunity.”

This article was developed in collaboration with Forbidden Foods, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.