Hema Reddy: Founder & CEO, Crafty Counter

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My Admission Statement: My name is Hema Reddy, and I am an engineer by training, marketer by profession, entrepreneur by choice, a foodie by heart and always hungry for learning. After achieving career success at IBM, I went on to invent word’s first healthiest and tastiest chicken nugget, and recently launched them in 200+ stores nationwide. - https://www.craftycounter.com/

How did you get into the industry?

I love to make new unique dishes and solving meal time challenges by convenient food prep and home made frozen foods. I had been cooking since I was eight years old, and my parents had cultivated a deep affinity for natural ingredients and food. When I saw the outcomes of serving simple well balanced frozen foods to my family, and realizing that they solve an everyday problem for women in general, I knew I had to share it with families across the country. With my son’s vote of confidence, I took a leap of faith and launched Crafty Counter and the first product line, Wundernuggets. Wundernuggets come in two varieties, 1) flexitarian chicken based nuggets are made with 50% chicken and plant protein such as chickpeas and quinoa, and added veggies. 2) plant based Wundernuggets are made with lentils, beans and veggies. They bring taste, texture, nutrition, convenience and global flavors all in one serving for today’s mindful millennial flexitarian consumer.

Any emerging industry trends?

Over the past decade, more than $2 billion has been invested in plant-based meat, and more than half of that occurred in 2017 and 2018. In a recent study, 62 percent of consumers said that they're willing to reduce meat consumption due to environmental concerns, and 43 percent said that they would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein. These consumers identify themselves as “flexitarians” and the flexitarian diet is driving the growth of the market for meat alternatives, which Euromonitor expects will hit $22.9 billion globally by 2023.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The retail space is seeing an unprecedented demand for new smaller brands that present an authentic story combined with a fanatic attention to clean label. Grocery stores are quickly adapting to this demand from consumers and aligning their frozen shelves to place products that satisfy the blended protein and plant protein based products. Most of the plant based innovation in the marketplace is based on using pea protein or pea protein isolate as a meatless source of protein. This has led to a surge in demand for the ingredient and a shortage of supply. There have been some concerns on the true nutritional value of the “fake meat” or meat alternatives.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

Our stake in the ground is to eat plants as plants, without over processing them. Our mission is to bring more vegetables into a consumers plate via delicious bold flavors and convenient form factor for that quick dinner rush or lunch need. Our innovation pipeline consists of using sustainable and simple sources of plant protein into various breakfast, lunch and dinner options for consumers, without any artificial ingredients or preservatives.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We are super excited to launch our latest innovation of coating our flexitarian chicken based varieties of Wundernuggets in plant based chickpea flakes. Talk about nutrition in and out! We are also working on launching the next sustainable protein based meatless nugget in fall of 2020.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

All the current buzz around Wundernuggets and the momentum has been purely organic via word of mouth. What was started as a meal option for kids, has quickly gained adoption in the health bloggers, nutritionists and millennials without kids, as Wundernuggets serve as a delicious salad protein. Keeping the retail packaging neutral has turned out to be a strategic advantage in opening up the market opportunity to a wider set of consumers.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

I would define this as a journey that puts a founder face to face with their strengths and weaknesses. There’s no bigger reality test for your grit and perseverance than being the leader of a startup. For me, it was a self awareness exercise that led me to quickly bringing in people that fill in for my weakest areas so I can hone in on my strengths to drive the business forward.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Most clients share with us, that Wundernuggets provide them the mental comfort that they have a guilt-free dinner solution ready in minutes, for the times when they are in a pinch. They feel happy that they have served their family a well balanced nutritious meal, completely hassle free!

How do you motivate others?

I encourage my team to listen to podcasts, and read about inspiring stories of founders, entrepreneurs and take cues from folks that have created great products and businesses.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Always trust your gut and instinct and have a stubborn level of belief in your products and business. However, always have the clarity and humility to understand your customer’s feedback and incorporate it to bring the best version of product or service to market.

What do I do best?

Stay calm under pressure and chaos. I generally just keep my head down and execute swiftly to solve the challenges I can address, rather than tax myself over things I cannot control.

What makes me the best version of myself?

Grit, perseverance, and hunger to learn from others around me.

What are my aspirations?

To be an effective CEO, admired by my team and industry peers.

My Biggest Success?

8 published patents, Starting a happening CPG startup, while raising two amazing kids!

My Most Challenging Moment?

Each day presents a new challenge, in reality. However, there was one particular one where our manufacturing plant had to be shut down due to a USDA regulation right before a major launch with Walmart. I realized then that one should always have a plan A, B and C, at all times for critical parts of the business. I then solidified our manufacturing to make sure we always have a way to fulfill our orders. This activity led to identifying better partners that allowed for a higher gross margin.

My Motto?

“Attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind” - Jim Harbaugh, U of Michigan Football Coach.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

John Foraker, Ex-CEO of Annie’s and Current CEO of Once upon a farm

Brene Brown, speaker and author

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Europe.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

Apple earpods, resistance bands for a good stretch and workout, foam roller, cashews.

My Daily Thoughts:

Goal of the Day: Get through 75% of todos

Thought of the Day: Stay positive

Action of the Day: Get some workout

Deed of the Day: Be kind

Tip of the Day: Always be grateful

A Day in My Life:

What do you love most about Your City?

Food and people.

Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?

MigasRestaurant - Taco Deli

What are you doing at:

6:00 AM – getting ready for workout

10:00 AM - team meetings

12:00 PM - Favorite Lunch spot/meal?

Fish taco

7:00 PM - Hanging out with kids

11:00 PM - working or watching a show,

What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?

2 cappuccinos

Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?

Facebook

What should everyone try at least once?

Inviting a distant acquaintance to dine with you.

Where do you enjoy getting lost?

In NYC

What Else to Know?

Within the first two years of my foray into Consumer Packaged Goods, I was invited to speak at the largest food trade show, Natural Products Expo, CPG Week, Austin Startup Week, and Food & Beverage Conference.

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