The question Future Food wants you to ask yourself when you visit the grocery store is “What do I want in a dip?” The hope is that your answers will be “quality and freshness” because they will point you in the direction of one of the company’s two brands. Salads of the Sea, founded in 1984, is manufactured in Texas and comprises seafood dips in a variety of flavors with ingredients sourced from the North Pacific. Santa Barbara Bay, the second of Future Food’s brands, was founded in 1996 and is manufactured in Buellton, Calif., just outside Santa Barbara. 

Santa Barbara Bay offers a wide variety of vegetable dips and spreads, but its proximity to the Pacific Ocean means it brings a level of freshness and quality to its seafood salads and dips that competitors have a hard time matching. Emily Alfano, marketing manager at Future Food, said the company’s reputation in this regard is what attracted her in the first place. 

“The quality of our products is incomparable,” said Alfano. “I’m not saying that because I work for the company; that’s the way I felt about the products before I started working here. There is nothing out there that tastes as homemade as our dips that also uses the same fresh ingredients.” 

A reputation for taste and quality has made it possible for Future Food to jump into the growing trend of retailers wanting to distinguish themselves with private label brands. The company maintains a relatively flat organizational structure to ensure that if a retailer chooses private label, Future Food can easily accommodate the request. 

Alfano said the move into private label usually happens in one of two ways. Retailers may carry a Salads of the Sea or Santa Barbara Bay branded line and transition to private label, or they may approach Future Food wanting to go directly to private label. In either case, Future Food’s R&D department works with the customer to ensure the end product meets specifications. 

“Our customers will often bring us new product concepts they want to throw into the mix, which means doing customer-specific product development to meet their private label needs,” said Alfano. “The process is generally detailed, time consuming, and labor intensive, but it’s worth the work if the customer is satisfied and the product is a success.”

New directions

Growing retailer interest in private label development hasn’t stopped Future Food’s brands from continuing to dominate their markets. Growing brand recognition is helping the company launch its newest dip innovation, which features Greek yogurt as a base. 

A few years back, the company worked with a third-party development firm to look at possible directions to take its dips. At the time, the suggestion of using yogurt as a base from which to launch a new product line seemed questionable. 

But as yogurt, particularly Greek yogurt, grew in popularity, Alfano said the company jumped in. 

“We did research online, in stores, and through talking to consumers and discovered a gap in the market,” she said. “There weren’t Greek yogurt dips available that used the same quality of ingredients as our Santa Barbara Bay brand, so we knew there was an opportunity for growth.” 

In addition, the health-conscious consumer demographic is growing by leaps and bounds, and Greek yogurt provides protein, calcium, and natural probiotics. It’s also a perfect substitute for sour cream, which is the base of many dips. “Greek yogurt tastes the same if not better than sour cream, and you get all of the health benefits,” said Alfano. “We were nervous at first about the venture, but as the market has exploded, our excitement has grown.”

Future Food’s Greek yogurt dips were introduced in June at a trade show, and shipping began mid-August. Customers are jumping on board, and the company is already seeing new possibilities in distribution channels opening up. Before, the Santa Barbara Bay brand might have only been in certain divisions of a national grocery retailer. Now, those retailers are considering moving the brand across all divisions. 

“We hope to see Greek yogurt dip with the Santa Barbara Bay logo on it in every retailer from coast to coast, not only in retail channels, but also club channels and outlets,” said Alfano. “Buyers and retailers are starting to understand the power behind Greek yogurt, and we’re poised to support growing demand.” 

Growing up, not out

Even with product and service growth, Future Food isn’t quite ready to let go of its flat organizational structure. The company has grown its scope, but it hasn’t expanded its R&D or marketing departments. This begs the question: how is the team balancing the workload? 

The answer is simple: the company has put more efficiencies in place. “We’ve become more automated by purchasing faster automated equipment for our filling and production lines,” said Alfano. 

Future Food invested in new packaging and labeling equipment, which has reduced the time between when an order is received and when it ships to a customer. The labels are still printed offsite, but with the new labeling equipment, the company can apply the labels inhouse in a more efficient manner, saving time and money. 

Overall, the investment and the tightened operational structure has saved Future Food two weeks of lead time, which Alfano said is almost more valuable than the cost savings. “When launching a new product line, you often run into problems with lead times,” she said. “With this new process, the product gets on shelves two weeks earlier, which is invaluable to our customers. And their happiness is a perfect illustration of our success.”

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