Startup To Scale

165. Trashy: Upcycled Veggie Chips

April 29, 2024 Foodbevy Season 1 Episode 165
165. Trashy: Upcycled Veggie Chips
Startup To Scale
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Startup To Scale
165. Trashy: Upcycled Veggie Chips
Apr 29, 2024 Season 1 Episode 165

Kaitlin Mogentale founded Pulp Pantry in 2019 to reduce food waste and increase nutrition using upcycled veggie pulp. She had great initial traction getting accepted into Target’s Accelerator, airing on Shark Tank, and launching in major retailers. She found that while consumers say they are interested in sustainable messaging, labeling her product as “pulp” and “upcycled” was turning away potential customers who thought they would taste bad.

So in 2024 Kaitlin listened to her customers and rebranded to Trashy, an energetic and edgy brand to attract a new wave of customers.

Listen in to hear behind the scenes of her transition.

Support her WeFunder Equity Crowdfunding campaign

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Show Notes Transcript

Kaitlin Mogentale founded Pulp Pantry in 2019 to reduce food waste and increase nutrition using upcycled veggie pulp. She had great initial traction getting accepted into Target’s Accelerator, airing on Shark Tank, and launching in major retailers. She found that while consumers say they are interested in sustainable messaging, labeling her product as “pulp” and “upcycled” was turning away potential customers who thought they would taste bad.

So in 2024 Kaitlin listened to her customers and rebranded to Trashy, an energetic and edgy brand to attract a new wave of customers.

Listen in to hear behind the scenes of her transition.

Support her WeFunder Equity Crowdfunding campaign

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Trashy: Upcycled Veggie Chips

Jordan Buckner: [00:00:00] At some point along your journey of building a CPG brand, you might realize that the way things were going are not the way things need to go in the future as you continue to grow. And that's because where we're starting out, we don't know what we don't know. And we learn a ton along the way and realize that it's time to make those changes so that we can get to the next step.

I am excited to welcome on Kaitlin Mogentale, who is the founder of what was previously Pulp Pantry and now Trashy, and is going through the new rebrand and launching a crowdfunding campaign to support that as well. To break down what's new, what that process was like, and what the future looks like. So Kaitlin, welcome!


Kaitlin Mogentale: Thanks so much for being down to chat , about this whole thing. Trashy transition. 

Jordan Buckner: Oh my goodness. So right. The name refers trashy. I love it. Gets people talking, gets people interested and it's like the opposite of trashy. [00:01:00] So let's kind of back up a little bit. So people have a little context that they haven't heard of Pult Pantry.

Tell me a little bit about kind of how you got started and what Pult Pantry was when you created it. 

Kaitlin Mogentale: Yeah. I mean, I got started. With just kind of this background in environmental science and, you know, always thought I was going to move into a career in science and stumbled upon the, of course, , the issue of food waste in some of my studies learning about just the impact of our food system on really climate and as someone who was very much a climate activist , and, you know, very involved locally and in my university with environmental advocacy and activism.

I was really inspired, I think, just to make personal changes in my diet and started my own personal food journey. What vegan as a Midwesterner, as you probably know, being a Midwesterner yourself, not an easy transition to make back in the day, this was like 2011 when I moved to California. So my, my family was very disappointed that California had changed me so [00:02:00] drastically.

But you know, I just, I think the impetus was really my own personal journey and then being at a friend's house, seeing firsthand the, the waste that resulted from juicing a carrot it had me kind of just thinking that, you know, I was curious. I was like, I wonder what all these other things are.

Juiceries that are all across L. A. are doing with the pulpit. I called up a bunch, found out that they were sending it to the landfill, and of course, you know, in the climate space, we know that food waste is, is actually the number one solid waste material going into landfills, and that it causes greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases that exacerbates climate change.

And so, Really for me it was just this idea that, you know, we have these nutritious resources that are going to waste that could be recouped and turned into, you know, their best in height and, or could be really transformed into something that serves their best and highest use, which is feeding people.

And so that was really the, the start behind Pulp Pantry and the idea, but I didn't really have a product, right? So I just kind of had this like general idea, did a lot of [00:03:00] farmer's markets. And then in 2019, finally got into the Target incubator. And that was where I got to create my first commercial product line.

And so I took, I, I went full time into the business and and launched in November of 2019, the pulp chips that we had, which was really our plan. Creating an organic veggie chip, like actually made from fresh organic upcycled vegetables as the first ingredient. To kind of cut through the bullshit, I would say, of the veggie trim category.

Jordan Buckner: I love that. And this is your, gonna be your five year anniversary then, which is really exciting. And I know it seems like it's really short and really long at the same time. And I love the fact that you had this background and saw this tension around food waste problem, especially the solid waste, because the thing about fruit and vegetables are like majority.

Solids, but that's the part that most people throw away when you're doing things like choosing and creating an upcycle product around it to help nourish people and prevent a lot of that waste from going in the garbage. So you decided to create this really awesome. How did they [00:04:00] go? 

Kaitlin Mogentale: You know, it was a whirlwind.

I think just being new, the category was so new. I think when we got upcycled certified in 2020, it was only about 10 brands that went through that first round of up certification. So and then, you know, fast forward to today, there's, I think I was looking, there's over 300 products now that are upcycled certified.

So just, you know, four years later. And so I think, you know, in the beginning, we were one of the few brands building this category alongside some other first movers. And it was one of those things where it was like retailers and distributors were really excited. I think in 2022, we got on Whole Foods trend watch list for you know, that was the first time that upcycled had been mentioned in the, in any kind of trend reports and seeing with today's show and, and whatnot, and I think.

What was really difficult, though, was like, we were still having a messaging issue with consumers, because I think there was a lot of buy in from retailers and distributors and, of course, people who work in the food system and want to see this. These amazing changes and, you know, this move towards more [00:05:00] sustainable products, but but the consumer buy in and education about upcycled, it was still, there was still a lot of confusion, like, less than 10 percent of Americans, I think, knew what the word upcycled meant, and, like, the appetite appeal of the word also was a challenge that we were Having to get around, I remember we did a big study with Target in 2020, or 2019, right before we launched, that was kind of testing our messaging on the packaging.

And people really responded that they, you know, they hated the word pulp and they hated the word upcycling. And so we decided Hit 

Jordan Buckner: two things that you stand for. Yeah, 

Kaitlin Mogentale: exactly. And I think it is interesting because, you know, when you look at Nielsen IRI data, there's, there's strong data to show that sustainable CPG is having this outsized growth and impact.

on yeah, on the growth of just kind of the consumer packaged goods industry in general. I think it was like sustainable CBG is growing 2. 7 times. Conventional, conventionally marketed items and in salty snacks, you know, that's the same. People are willing to pay about 18 percent more for sustainably marketed salty snack [00:06:00] products.

But the question is just kind of, how do you get that sustainability messaging across in a way that's delicious and appetizing? And of course, when we're talking about food products, it's taste is number one, taste is king. So there, there were a lot of challenges that I think we had to get around with, you know, just the way that we were communicating the, the value proposition.

And, you know, and I think learning a lot from just being in the market, being in retail, selling on our, our site, we did Shark Tank as well. And, you know, we got so much good feedback from especially online customers where we could do these kind of post purchase surveys and review surveys and whatnot too.

So a lot of learnings along the way. 

Jordan Buckner: But I think that's awesome because you were able to like choose a really great category. So I think like salty snacks and chips is, a really great one to do because as a category, it has like, what, probably like 99 percent awareness, at least like you're not having to convince someone to like, yeah, buy a new type of product.

And then you go focus then on taste and your supply chain of incorporating those things in. But I [00:07:00] think that messaging, the piece that you mentioned is really great because it needs taste appeal, I guess, to taste just really delicious and almost. As good if not seeming like better sometimes and like what else they could buy in order to get them to transition But then it needs that that appeal or something like oh that sounds really good Like I want to try that 

Kaitlin Mogentale: exactly and I think the you know, like a barrier of course for emerging brands It's like you don't have a massive marketing budget to to play with and so I think what we tried to do was And when I was working with the design agency, right?

Like I mean, I basically took the target grant we had, and I was like, I had 10, 000 to do packaging, branding, everything from scratch and put that into an agency here locally in Pasadena, California called the farm design. They did an amazing job, but it was funny because we were talking about it. It was like, I was really apprehensive about using the word pulp because I felt like it did have this, you know, I had this target data and I was like, look at people are really, you know, they respond negatively to this word.

But I think what I loved about this. [00:08:00] Working with this agency was like truly need to look at the category and we're like, well, how else are we going to carve out the unique story and like really make that clear to consumers? And I think that was a challenge. It was kind of just the, it's the tug and pull the push and pull, right?

It's like, how do you stand behind what makes you a unique story and get, let that story really shine on shelves when you have like two seconds, not even to kind of, you Get some of the attention and convince them to pick up your package. But then it's a balance of course, wanting to maintain the, the appetite appeal and kind of , that shelf appeal to, to get someone to buy the product, 

Jordan Buckner: really.

Yeah, it is such a challenge, right, for founders who are starting out because you obviously have, like, this mission is something that you really care about around reducing food waste and upcycling. But then there's this tension of like, what is it that the customer cares about? And like how many people care about it in the same way where that's gonna be their primary purchase driver versus it being me, the reason they come back in and spending again.

I think there's a lot of things that founders go through and I've been through this myself [00:09:00] with TeaSquares. That was the same wave. Like, you know, we were talking about T squares making an energy bar that helps you stay focused and alert. And I thought that, like, that would be the primary reason someone would buy.

But in the energy bar space, people were buying based on protein, actually. Like, protein is, like, one of the number one drivers. And so, like, the energy messaging was, like, good. But it was such a behavior change that they almost wouldn't consider it. Because they're like, oh, interesting. And they, like, would walk by versus be like, hey, I get my same protein plus this added energy benefit thing.

Like, if it works or doesn't, I'm still getting my primary reason for purchasing. 

Kaitlin Mogentale: It's super hard. And I think if you don't have the luxury of lots to spend on consumer studies, of course, you know, you're kind of testing in the market as you go, which is I think what we did. And I think in the end of the day you know, why we decided to pivot was because we were realizing that potentially we weren't hitting the mark when it came to kind of what, what consumers were optimizing for when shopping in our category.

At the end of the day, we really, like, went through the consumer study that we were able to do and demos. We did so [00:10:00] many demos. We did over 400 demos last year in Whole Foods, in Bristol Farms, in Air One. And, you know, the number one thing that we saw was, like, people, first of all, yes, like, the getting over the word pulp was definitely an issue for folks shopping in stores.

Like, that was a comment we got a lot. But I think but I think online we realized people are swapping us in for potato and tortilla chips. They're actually You know, they're looking for something that satisfies their salty snack craving and the flavors that they choose to buy in, you know, the most common, I would say, salty snack purchases, potato tortilla chips.

And and we're just kind of this better for you option. And, and they love that there's fresh vegetables as the first ingredient. And sustainability was kind of like the third tier. It was almost more like fresh ingredients, great net, like lower net carbs, better fiber. So better nutrition. And then it was like, and this amazing sustainability story.

But it was a balance because it was like the sustainability story was what was making, what was driving word of mouth. Like when people talk about the brand, they talk about this cool concept of upcycling [00:11:00] these vegetables that would have otherwise, you know, gone to waste. And and yeah, so it was kind of this, you know, it's a balance because I think there's just so much going on.

You have to figure out how to distill that messaging in a way that's really concrete and grabs attention on shelf. And candidly, you know, the reason why we decided to do a rebrand was mainly because the baseline velocities were just not strong enough on shelf for us to stay long term. And I think the writing was on the wall for me when, you know, we went through our category reviews with sprouts and whole foods and, you know, the feedback from my sprouts buyer was.

We don't really see the customer buying into upcycling and your positioning is fully like this upcycled focus. And we just don't think the consumer. interest is there yet , to drive the sales on shelves. And then same way, I think, you know, what we're seeing, I w I pitched at Albertson's launch pad in, I think that was 2023 or last year at Expo West.

And, you know, the buyers loved the product, but they kind of, they looked at me and said, Nina, this isn't really, the packaging doesn't really fit in the [00:12:00] conventional channel and what more conventional consumers are shopping for. And so, you know, when you kind of hear these things and you hear.

And, and you just know, I mean, it's like how much investment is required to do demos to get to a, a velocity that will sustain you on shelves. You can't demo in every single retailer. It's just, you know, it's not possible. And so I felt like we were kind of at a place where, you know, in order to get over that next like that next stage of growth, we really needed to address what was potentially, I think it's, especially when you hear something, I, do you ever hear that saying where it's like, you hear something once.

I think a friend who worked in the restaurant industry said this. He's like, if we heard something once, we just kind of made a mental note. If we heard something twice, we wrote it down in an actual, like, you know, an actual notebook that we kept. And then if we heard something three times, we made the change.

And I felt that was so interesting because we were talking about something completely different. But for me, I was like, that's kind of what the experience was, was [00:13:00] I felt like I heard three times, you know, from our customers, From buyers and then from like the, not even our current buyers, but kind of the buyers that we were looking to pitch in the next wave.

And I realized I was like, I don't want to have a cap on growth because of a way that we've positioned the product. And I think this is a product and, and a concept that deserves to exist in the world, but how do we bring it to light in a way that's. It's going to capture more of the, you know, the attention and the interest that I think we deserve.

And so that was really the impetus behind making the change, 

Jordan Buckner: you know, that's so powerful. And just, I want to take a second to just under, you recognize the both like aim and challenge that it must've been like to have like gone through and hearing all that feedback, but then also having it a little bit relieving, like, okay, like I appreciate it.

I know what I need to do. I don't know. So I know how exactly at the moment, but like, I know there needs to be a change. It's not like the product is bad. It's just, we have to find a way of sharing this in a different messaging , with the world in a [00:14:00] way that is more approachable for them. And that's what led you to trashy.

So tell me about what this was like. 

Kaitlin Mogentale: I love it too, because I think for a lot of my customers, they're very upset with me, right? They're like, especially some of the older customers who came up, so like Shark Tank and whatnot, they're like, why would you think that changing to trashy from pulp is solving any of your problems?

And you're 

Jordan Buckner: literally calling it trash. 

Kaitlin Mogentale: I was like, well, that is very, but I think for me personally, and like selfishly as a founder, and again, like none of this, it's not like I hired a big, I mean, I'm literally doing the branding with. Like a solo artist who does work in the music industry, not even in the food industry or with packaging generally.

But I think what I really realized was, you know, we've collected so much data and I also know about my personal motivations as a founder and kind of, I know more culturally what's working in upcycle and sustainability that we want to tap into in food. And I just felt like there was this kind of, You know, I think Gen Z, especially in like, some of us as, and I mean, I'm a [00:15:00] millennial founder, so, you know, I'm a young founder as well, but I think there is this kind of rejection of the glossy, like, health, wellness, organic feeling, and not even a rejection of it, of course, we all want to eat better, we're, we're becoming more educated about nutrition and wellness and sustainability, but I think at the end of the day, like, there's This idea that, you know, it's a junk food category, salty snacks.

And so it's like the overly health halo messaging. It's not really capturing what makes, I think, the salty snack category truly, like, , the behemoth that it is. It's like, this is a fun Fun, yeah. It's a fun eating occasion. It's really rooted in cultural moments. I mean, if you think about, like, socially and, and where we eat chips, it's really centered around this kind of I would just say it's more of a it, I mean, American culture is, like, so deeply ingrained in this snacking habit.


Jordan Buckner: I think when public eating with your friends, grabbing snacks at like parties. 

Kaitlin Mogentale: And I think just bringing like, I know that, you know, junk food marketing obviously [00:16:00] has all the fun with this and they go really wild with their colors and their flavors and everything. And I mean, there's just like no, to me, I felt like there's also , this idea that, you know, we need to celebrate, I think, the, the moments that we can, or the communities that we can really tap into, and there's so much momentum behind thrifting and vintage shopping, and in the fashion world, I think, like, upcycling is having big moments, and so, finding ways that we could kind of tap into what's working in fashion, And how do we pull that into food and make, like, the upcycled, sustainable option the desirable one?

And I think it just goes back to tapping into fun, tapping into individuality, and this idea that, like, what we eat, just like what we wear is a mode of self expression. And and I think with, with kind of this trashy brand, it's, especially as a female founder, what I love about the word is I think trashy is a word that's been used to kind of in a way, weaponized against women, like calling women trashy or whatever.

And so I think it's kind of fun to re engage with, [00:17:00] like, the cultural moment of kind of embracing the fact that we are all imperfect humans. We all do trashy things. And in fact, when we eat salty snacks, Oftentimes, it's in our trashiest moments, like if you think about coming home wasted from a, I mean, I don't really drink anymore, but I mean, it's like you think about these kind of moments where , you're eating salty snacks, like at the mini mart on the road trip, no one's like 

Jordan Buckner: guilty pleasure as well.

Kaitlin Mogentale: guilty pleasure. And like, how do we make it guiltless? Right? And just being like, we're indulging, we're having fun. But, great, we can also eat something that has better ingredients and is still kind of that desirable option. So, anyways, that's a rant. I think there's a lot of threads to pull from with Trashy, but my biggest thing is, of course, it connects back to upcycling, and I love that the word can help us to tell that story.

But if you tell it in a way that's kind of you're not directly thinking about trash, hopefully, when you think about Trashy. It's more of a cultural phenomenon than it is a, like, pulp, visceral feeling. Thanks. 

Jordan Buckner: No, I'm super excited about it. And I think that's actually a good thing that there's this like tension [00:18:00] back for like, I love it.

I hate it. Because ultimately, right, like that drives conversation. And again, we're talking about it and trying it and the more people try it, then the more product that sells, but then also the more it helps your mission of using upcycling ingredients. And so I absolutely love that. I also know that you have a crowdfunding campaign as well that launched.

Tell me a little bit about that. 

Kaitlin Mogentale: I mean, that was really my, so, I mean, first of all, it has been such a tough year. Last year, I went out to fundraise and we kind of came off, we came off of 2022, having done over a million in revenue, but still I was a solo founder. Doing it all, you know, as the only full time person.

And I just was like, I need to, and, and we'd switched into UNFI and KeHe, and as you know, like that becomes a kind of scary moment for emerging brands, I think an inflection point where you start to realize your cashflow has drastically changed. And of course, your margin has drastically changed working with those players. And it's kind of like a necessary part of, I think, growing the volume. I mean, for us, we got [00:19:00] Plantagram Digital Foods in the region in May of 2023, and we had to move to UNFI to support that switch. And then, so I knew for me, I was looking at really what the situation was , with kind of the next chapter of growth.

And I was like, it is It feels almost impossible sometimes to figure out how to do this as a bootstrap brand. And I think I got to a point where I was like no longer can I bootstrap it and Stretch myself so thin as a founder. I need to get the right people on board. And so but as you know again, it's been it's a challenging time for cpg challenging time for fundraising And when I went into the rebrand, I mean the biggest thing was I want to Be able to bring my community along and feel like they're invested in this next chapter and journey.

And I've always wanted to do a community equity round. And to be honest, like even if it wasn't for shark tank going through in 2022, I would have done that. I actually had a community equity round already set up that going to move forward with. So it's just interesting. I think it's always been the back of my mind that this is a really cool way to [00:20:00] raise and build kind of community centered brands.

And then I love that it's also empowering, like, in a time where it's so stressful for founders to raise money. Let's tap into what is working, which is like, if you've built this community or you've built, you know, a strong, hopefully, brand and network with other founders and funders and whatnot.

At least this is kind of a way that we can catalyze on our, like our, our funding rounds on our own terms. And so that's been, I think the really, the main benefit of kind of launching a, we funder. and launching community equity. 

Jordan Buckner: I know it's definitely like launching a business requires a lot of money, especially when you're dealing with inventory and long pay periods.

But I am really excited that you're able to continue to build the business on your own terms and start this exciting new chapter. Okay, I just want to really appreciate you for sharing the insight into like all your decision making that led you to Trashy. And in some ways, this is the beginning of the next chapter, and I'm really excited to follow along.

Kaitlin Mogentale: Thank you, [00:21:00] Jordan. I super appreciate it and look forward to chatting along the path.