Top 10 Female-Founded Challenger Brands

Top 10 Female-Founded Challenger Brands

Top 10 Female-Founded Challenger Brands

In Celebration of International Women’s Day 2020


In 2011, Jessica Alba founded the Honest Company with the aim of disrupting categories where modern-minded women haven’t been able to find clean, safe and trusted solutions for their families. Alba created the brand with the following belief: “You shouldn’t have to choose between what works and what’s good for you,” which empowered women to expect better products for themselves, without compromise. Today, the Honest Company is on a path to becoming a Billion-dollar global brand. Alba is still Chairwoman of the Board and reflects what the brand stands for in her personal lifestyle and values.

At the Seurat Group, we admire the founder’s journey and strive to support female founders, like Alba, who are challenging conventional consumer categories and leading a business revolution. For this International Women’s Day 2020, we are celebrating 10 female-founded brands delighting consumers with not just their products, but with what these brands ultimately stand for: female empowerment. Alongside the Honest Company, we would like to highlight 9 other female-founded brands showcasing disruptive mentalities, and inspirational success!

Purely Elizabeth

Elizabeth Stein was a nutritionist who wanted to recommend anti-inflammatory, gluten-free diets to her clients, yet felt hampered because she couldn’t point to any products she could endorse. From there, Stein turned to her kitchen, and Purely Elizabeth was born. Business boomed dramatically; she hoped for merely 20 orders upon launching the company. She got 10,000 in the first 3 hours! Today, Purely Elizabeth remains a healthier alternative to traditional granolas and bars. But, Stein says, “I’ve always envisioned Purely Elizabeth as a bigger lifestyle brand.” She has released a cookbook, expanded into categories from oatmeal to body scrubs, and continues to be an innovator in the healthy products community.


When Gregg Renfrew launched Beautycounter in 2013, her single focus was to create transparency and safety in the personal care industry: “I wanted to create a safer and healthier place for my children, family, and ultimately everyone in the world.” The US remains dramatically behind the EU in banning harmful substances from the skincare industry (having only banned ~30 ingredients to date, compared to nearly 1,800 in the EU). Beautycounter has barred over 1,500 ingredients and educates consumers on the reasons for this standard. Beautycounter has also galvanized the safe product movement through community selling, uniquely connecting the brand story with Consultants selling on its behalf.

Talea Beer Co.

Talea Beer Company is named after its co-founders Tara Hankinson and LeAnn Darland, and their company’s target is someone who does not like beer. How do they do that? They don’t mimic the time-honored traditional brewers that dominate the mainstream landscape. Talea’s ‘flavored’ offers don’t feature a hint of (artificial) lime or berry; rather, they’ve reengineered the craft process to create delicious, boundary pushing offers with milk and fruit sugar. Their approach is grounded in meeting a need – over 70% of female craft-beer drinkers feel frustrated that brands view them as an afterthought, and Talea is reaching these women with their innovative approach.

Simple Mills

Kaitlin Smith of Simple Mills lives the tale of “you are what you eat.” Due to chronic joint pain, she turned to more natural foods and saw a gap in the market for natural and organic baked goods. The brand started from humble beginnings in 2013 when Smith was baking the product’s muffin mixes and taking samples to each Whole Foods store in Atlanta. Today, Simple Mills has an extensive product portfolio, and Smith has been named a Forbes 30 under 30. She attributes her success to disrupting a category in decline – the baking aisle. “If it’s easier and tastier, people will eat differently, and as a result will be able to do more with their lives.”


Laura Schubert and Lillian Tung are the co-founders of fur, the first for-women brand focused on body, hair and skin. Both have one goal in common: “We are on a mission to remaster how people feel about body hair and to remove the shame many people have around their bodies.” Their hero product “Fur Oil” is meant to clear pores and soften and reduce ingrown hair, resulting in healthier skin. Fur products have premium distribution in upscale boutiques like Free People and Kith, as well as spas and salons. The brand receives incredible love online due to celebrity endorsements from the likes of Emma Watson, as well as influencers and general beauty care users, who appreciate the overall feminist message and confident tone discussing a traditionally taboo topic.


Miyoko Schinner is the CEO and founder of Miyoko’s Kitchen. She is a chef, an author, and perhaps most importantly, a perspective changer – she is shifting how people think about vegan food and lifestyles. Miyoko has dedicated her life to convincing others there’s a different way to eat. Miyokos launched online in 2014 and has taken off, offering vegan dairy products (cheeses and butters), with the goal of “help(ing) people see the power of their plate in creating a more peaceful, compassionate planet.” Crafted in California wine country, the products aren’t just humane, they’re delicious. Award winning products are helping Miyoko take on the $120 B cheese industry one dairy product at a time.

Health-Ade Kombucha

Daina Trout and Vanessa Dew started selling Trout’s first batches of kombucha at Brentwood Farmers Market in 2012. The kombucha sold out. In 2013, when kombucha was still a nascent category, they got distribution in 8 Gelson’s stores as a trial. This unlocked partnerships with distributors like Nature’s Best, propelling Health-Ade to West Coast and eventual nationwide distribution. Health-Ade’s built its brand as the “champion of the happiest and healthiest you.” From humble beginnings at a farmer’s market, Health-Ade is now found in more than 26,000 stores around the nation.


Natasha Case and Freya Estrella started baking cookies, making ice cream, and combining them into ‘cool houses’ in Los Angeles in 2008. They shared their products with the people of Los Angeles by buying a postal van, and making the trek to debut these ice cream sandwiches at Coachella Music Festival. Coolhaus touts its certified women-owned status, citing that it’s “such an important cause and a challenge our World faces. To change you have to lead by example.” And lead they have. Coolhaus has achieved incredible success in over 7,500 grocery stores across the US, with over 30 offers. Yet, the brand has remained true to its roots: Coolhaus continues its founding tradition with 10 mobile ice cream trucks and carts in LA, NYC, and Dallas.

LOLI Beauty

Tina Hedges of LOLI Beauty is a veteran in building startups. She launched a celebrity haircare brand and a hangover prevention beverage before LOLI. In 2017, Hedges created the idea of “Living Organic Loving Ingredients,” the inspiration behind LOLI. LOLI Beauty is the world’s first zero-waste, organic, and customizable beauty brand. All products are waterless, food-grade, and made with up-cycled, sustainably grown, superfood ingredients. Designed with the sustainability-conscious consumer in mind, even the packaging is compostable. Recently, the Global Cosmetic Industry featured LOLI Beauty as one of the top 30 disruptive beauty brands to watch for in 2020.


We hope you enjoyed learning about these 10 female-founded brands. Please look forward to Part II of this series, where we will highlight the journey of being a female founder in CPG and lessons to be learned. As always, we want to hear from you! If you’d like more information on any of our challenger brand studies, or want to share a brand of your own, please reach out at Happy International Women’s Day!

Challenger Brand Study 2019

Challenger Brand Study 2019

Challenger Brand Study 2019

Challenger Brand Study 2019


Our recent Challenger brand papers have highlighted the Challenger brand growth algorithm and the multiple ways these brands create a defendable moat early in their trajectory. This year, Seurat Group’s Challenger brand study examines the importance of delighting the modern consumer with consumer experience strategies that build engagement and enduring brand value.

Delighting the Modern Consumer

The next generation of consumers hold tremendous power in the consumer products industry. They represent the greatest amount of wealth transfer that has ever occurred. They yield the power to discover the brands and products most relevant for them in today’s increasingly digital landscape, the power to research a brand’s story and processes to every last detail, and the power to democratize and perpetuate their knowledge of brands via popular social media outlets, should they so choose. They also hold the power to influence other consumers in the marketplace, creating outsized impact for their preferred brands. Most importantly, these consumers have the power to engage solely with brands that truly delight them. The number of choices a consumer is faced with for any single purchase today is unprecedented. Brands must go above and beyond to differentiate themselves and engage relevantly with today’s empowered, shrewd consumer.

To do so, brands must truly delight the consumer at every stage of their consumer journey, engaging with them in unique, human and relevant ways to elevate the consumer experience. Delighting consumers can manifest in different ways for different brands. Some of the most valuable brands have prioritized the consumer experience for these reasons. Nike delights consumers by constantly evolving how consumers interact with its products. Knowing its shoppers engage digitally, Nike has trailblazed in digital innovation to elevate the shoe shopping experience. The Nike app doesn’t just allow consumers to research, learn about, and shop products; it provides customized content for overall fitness and wellbeing. Nike has a second app, SNKRS, to engage with today’s growing sneakerhead community with unique drops, giving these fans the ultimate sneakers experience. The brand also features flash sales and a “Customize” tab on their home page to engender exclusivity and personalization.

At Seurat, we believe a brand’s size does not correlate to its ability to delight its consumers. If Challenger brands can find their own authentic ways to delight, they can still outcompete category incumbents. For example, Equal Parts is a home cookware company that is equal parts products, and equal parts human interaction and education, lowering barriers to cooking at home, and thereby barriers to purchasing cookware. It does this by providing consumers on-demand guidance and inspiration via texts from an expert cooking coach, redefining DTC (direct to consumers) to DWC (direct with consumers). Through helping consumers build their intuition in the kitchen with personalized tips and techniques, Equal Parts is delighting consumers not only with products, but with the overall cooking experience.

This year, Seurat Group’s Challenger brand paper celebrates ten ways – and ten brands – that best exemplify how to delight the modern consumer.

Top 10 Challenger Brands 2019

Step 1: Start with the “Why?”

Clearly define the mission that the brand will live by.


Blueland is on a mission to clean up the planet starting with cleaning our homes. Traditional household cleaners are sold in disposable plastic bottles and contain mostly water. Blueland is turning that paradigm on its head by selling $2 dissolvable cleaning tablets that are meant to be used with their reusable “Forever” Bottles. By switching to cleaning tablets and reusable Blueland bottles, consumers are embarking on a collective mission to eliminate 100 billion single-use plastic bottles in the US alone. It’s delightfully easy to become an everyday superhero for the environment when all you have to do is add water and drop effervescent cleaning tablets into the beautiful and sleek “Forever” bottles.

Step 2: Carve out a unique positioning

What pain point does your brand uniquely address that others cannot? What’s your true competitive edge?

Lily’s Chocolate

Made with fair trade certified chocolate and sweetened with plant-based sugar substitutes, Lily’s provides shoppers an indulgent chocolate experience without nutritional sacrifice. Delighting consumers comes by way of achieving taste parity to traditional category options, while eliminating the guilt element of fulfilling cravings. Lily’s fulfills a unique positioning that no other better-for-you category player has been able to figure out – delivering on what consumers care about most in indulgence: taste.

Step 3: Amplify the “Why”

Develop a portfolio of mission-driven products with constant messaging.


Reusable sandwich bags may not sound like a big deal, until you think about how many plastic bags are thrown away and end up in the ocean. Stasher makes an ecosystem of food storage containers out of pure silicone that is better-for-you and the planet. Their products have a multitude of uses including oven, microwave, even sous vide cooking, and come in all shapes, forms, and colors. Stasher’s consistent messaging to consumers is to “keep it fresh, keep it together, while keeping it out of the ocean”. And consumers are delighted by this redefinition of the food storage experience, evident by +1000 reviews on Amazon and best-seller status for the reusable bags category.

Step 4: Be seamlessly omnichannel

Meet your consumer personas everywhere they are.


Started as a meal replacement for busy techies, Soylent has aggressively expanded its consumer targets, its product offering and its omnichannel footprint. Soylent targets multiple consumer personas from the college student to busy moms through seamless omnichannel engagement. In addition to a winning online presence on Amazon (#1 grocery product on Amazon in January 2017) and DTC, Soylent has been gradually expanding its brick and mortar presence across foodservice, retail, and convenience stores while also using influencer mediums such as campus ambassadors and sponsoring bicycle rides to class. This ability to meet consumers where they are allows Soylent to delight consumers by making it easy to buy.

Step 5: Become friends with your target consumer

Friends listen and engage, your brand should too.


Like a good friend, the reinvented women’s multivitamins company Ritual, is committed to helping their consumers develop good habits and self-care. To showcase their commitment to the modern woman and her needs, Ritual has curated a best-in-class learning center called “Our Journal.” The articles in “Our Journal” are split into four categories that curate the most candid and educational information. In addition to this informative blog, Ritual’s social engagement with their consumer base is female-to-female, friend-to-friend. On their active Instagram, frequently featured are everyday women’s success stories or iMessages with motivational reminders, much like the kind of support you’d be delighted to see from a friend.

Step 6: Pull consumers in through the right value equation

Education on brand’s value will pull consumers in. “Attainable premium” will convert them.


Made with 100% Certified Organic Cotton, Cora provides the discerning woman a natural and organic feminine care option that resonates with both personal values and desire for quality. The feminine care landscape is rapidly changing as women are taking a more hands on approach to their personal care regimens, period care included. Cora provides consumers an organic cotton option that is free of pesticides, dioxins, polyester, and fragrances. The brand’s value extends beyond the product itself; for every purchase, the company gives health education and a month’s supply of pads to a girl in need in a developing country. Cora’s efficacious, modern product provides shoppers an attainable premium trade-up option in the category.

Step 7: Drive trial through your aesthetic

Let the brand speak for itself at shelf via standout brand aesthetic to drive trial.


The founders at Recess, a sparkling CBD beverage, have “canned a feeling” of “calm, cool, and collected.” And they have the relaxing brand aesthetic reminiscent of rainbows and clouds to prove it. Each can of Recess is supposed to represent a moment to reset and rebalance. A typical consumer might not know what “hemp extract” or “adaptogen” means, but Recess can still attract and delight them via the eye-catching aesthetic. The necessary first step of a delightful consumer journey is to capture consumers’ attention for your brand. Then, you can educate them at the point of purchase or digitally.

Step 8: Inspire more usage

Cultivate more usage occasions of current offerings. Fuel exploration of broader portfolio with thoughtful expansion.

Ancient Nutrition

Ancient Nutrition is a vitamins and supplements category disruptor, restoring health, strength and vitality by providing the healthiest whole food nutrients to today’s modern landscape. This means adaptability, convenience, and personalization. Their protein products are formulated to be soluble in water, almond milk, coffee, or tea, to be enjoyed both hot and cold, and to be used one or more times a day, for different occasions. In doing so, Ancient Nutrition allows you to seamlessly incorporate their products into your routine, no matter how specific or hectic.

Step 9: Build loyalty by making your brand irreplaceable

Consumers can’t think of alternatives to your brand as it has become a part of their lifestyle.


Ellenos consumers aren’t going to the store to buy Greek yogurt. They’re going to the store to buy Ellenos. This Pacific Northwest family success story, incepted out of Pike Place Market, has made quite a name for itself this past year. With big distribution gains all down the West Coast, including Whole Foods, Gelson’s, and Bristol Farms, Ellenos is reconfiguring how shoppers look at the Greek Yogurt category by infusing the local, fresh, family-owned values into today’s more stagnant category environment. Their competitive edge ultimately remains rooted in taste and experience – with their loyal fans saying that their products can’t be beat.

Step 10: Continually iterate, adapt, and innovate

Make sure your brand is adapting to consumers’ everchanging needs and desires

Siete Family Foods

Siete Family Foods delights consumers wanting authentic Mexican food offerings that are clean, healthy, and delicious. What started as a grain free tortilla company has turned into a tortilla, chips, hot sauce, taco shell, and queso powerhouse of healthy Mexican food that extends far beyond the tortilla space. The team has thoughtfully expanded as consumers have proven different dietary preferences: tortillas come in different flour types (chickpea, almond, coconut, to name a few), chips come in both different flavors (sal y limon, nacho, sea salt, etc.) and pack sizes (new 6 ct now featured for on-the-go consumption). Their queso is vegan. Their bean dip is sprouted. Their chips are made with 100% avocado oil. Siete continues to adapt and keep their finger on the pulse of the health movement and consumers’ food preferences.

At the heart of delighting consumers is focusing on the consumer experience and mapping your consumers’ journey

Delighting the modern consumer is not about just optimizing the product itself, it’s about curating optimized touchpoints with the consumer at every step of their journey. How can a brand delight consumers at the point of sale through product marketing, messaging, or aesthetics? How can a brand delight consumers post purchase, ensuring continued loyalty? Successful Challenger brands put their consumers first at every step, bringing their consumers a delightful consumer experience from start to finish.

As always, we want to hear from you! If you’d like more information on any of our challenger brand studies, or want to share a brand of your own, please reach out at



Great Wealth Transfer:


Equal Parts:


Lily’s: p_89%3ALily%27s&rnid=2528832011&s=grocery&sr=1-1#customerReviewsref=sr_1_1?fst=as%3Aoffkeywords=Lily%27s+chocolate+bars&linkCode=sl2linkId=982c7a3d93b68d848ef1665fac6bab2f&qid=1570402582&refinements=p_89%3ALily%27s&rnid=2528832011&s=grocery&sr=1-1#customerReviews

Seurat Group Benchmarking

From Online to Omnichannel: Soylent in the Real World.




Ancient Nutrition:



Challenger Brand Leadership Series: The Honest Company

Challenger Brand Leadership Series: The Honest Company

Challenger Brand Leadership Series: The Honest Company

Challenger Brand Leadership Series: The Honest Company

Nick Vlahos, CEO of The Honest Company, explains how the company maintains its challenger mindset as it scales

At Seurat, we have well-documented the rise of the challenger brand within the CPG industry.
We believe that a “challenger mindset” is not defined by a specific company size or maturity; rather, it is a willingness to challenge convention. We can all learn from this ethos. To that end, we are profiling successful challenger brand leaders to better understand how they cultivate and maintain their position as challengers.

We focus on 3 main questions:

  1. What space, practice or convention are you challenging?
  2. How are you challenging it?
  3. What has challenged you along the way?
When Jessica Alba founded The Honest Company in 2012, she set out to challenge the idea that new parents had to choose between safety and efficacy in their household essentials. In doing so, she and her team built an explosive-growth household products business using a direct to consumer model to delight new parents and disrupt established categories. The result was a company that was reported to be valued at over $1B in 2015, just 3 years after its launch. In the years since, the organization has experienced its share of growing pains: item proliferation and a handful of product issues threatened its position in the market, leading to leadership changes at the company and the need for a next generation growth plan.

Nick Vlahos, formerly COO of The Clorox Company, joined The Honest Company as CEO in 2017 and was responsible for many of the shifts in strategy that are driving The Honest Company’s resurgence, including a focus on core product categories and improved R&D practices. After spending time at other values-based organizations (including building the Burt’s Bees brand at Clorox), Vlahos was personally intrigued by The Honest Company’s mission to empower people to live happy, healthy lives. We sat down with him to learn about how he has helped the brand further its purpose while evolving its Challenger mindset over the last 18 months at its helm.


What space, practice or convention are you challenging? How are you challenging it?

Vlahos: From the beginning, it was all about empowering people to live happy, healthy lives. And that mission resonates in an even bigger way today. The beauty of this mission is that it isn’t in a specific category, rather, it’s bringing the idea of “wellness” to life in the things that go on you, in you and around you. With my experience building brands domestically and internationally, I play a crucial role in helping to further our brand mission. We are fortunate to have so much room for growth given that the company is only 7 years old.

A fundamental way that we challenged the industry is around accessibility – we want
to provide products for consumers in exactly the places where they want to find them.

At its inception, the company was disruptive in that it was e-commerce first, thanks to our direct to consumer model. Traditional companies had built supply chains and retail distribution with brick and mortar retailers that were dependent on shoppers taking a car ride or a walk and navigating the store to access their products. Jessica’s vision around empowerment was not only around transparency and wellness, but also ease. How do we do things better to really help you live a happy, healthy life? Maybe you are happier without having to take a trip to the store to get the solutions you need. We disrupted an industry that was built around retail distribution and made it easier for consumers to get products delivered to their homes.

At that time, we were challenging the convention that you have to go to the store to buy household essentials. We took this convention and said no, not necessarily. We will provide those items directly to you and create a subscription model where you don’t have to think about it anymore. That model seriously disrupted traditional go-to-market norms.

Today we are challenging the conventional wisdom that is “you can be good in DTC, but can you actually be good at omnichannel presence?”.

Can anyone execute with excellence in DTC, dot coms, and brick and mortar? And do that in a way that remains authentic to the company’s mission? And can you do that consistently? And can you do that in international markets?

We believe we can. Today, we provide products wherever people want to procure them. If you’re interested in online, we are there. If you are interested in going to a store and walking, you can find us at major retailers. That’s how people want to shop today, so we need to be in a position to really disrupt there. The big players are of course trying to do this too, but we believe we can do it better by offering the right value proposition at each access point. Many of the big players started as retail businesses and now are becoming DTC. We started as DTC – with that comes the best data and authentic consumer connection. We are using these assets to our advantage as we expand into brick and mortar.

Our direct to consumer DNA gives us an edge with innovation. For example, we did a Major League Baseball diaper collection. We created unique diapers for 8 teams/cities. We introduced it through our DTC platform, and in just 60 days were able to learn which products sold, and which didn’t, and why. In 2 cities, the product just didn’t sell as fast. That enabled us to better manage our own supply chain. It also helped us with our retail partners by not putting those cities’ product on the shelf because the turns weren’t there.

By being digital first and consumer first, we can access and use consumer insights better than larger companies that were built off of a traditional model.
What has challenged you along the way?

As we continue to grow, our competition takes notice and looks to us for inspiration. There are more competitors trying to get into the natural, better for you space, so our categories get more crowded. The positive is that they raise consumer awareness – and we want people to know about better products and ingredients so that we can change the CPG industry together for the better.

As we scale, we need to maintain the performance, quality and efficacy of our products. We wanted to raise the bar in order to compete with the larger players that have robust capabilities around formulation and development. We needed to rise to meet those standards by providing products with really strong designs and by maintaining the highest levels of safety and efficacy. Finally, we needed to bring our products to market faster. To do so, we built product labs for both our beauty and personal care businesses. Now, we do product development in-house, then work with the right partners when it comes to manufacturing the product. This sets us apart and allows us to stay nimble.

There’s always been a belief that as you scale a business, quality is negatively impacted. We say “no”.

As we scale, we are looking to improve the quality of our products. At the end of the day, our customers’ health, safety and satisfaction is our highest priority, so we need to continue to provide the highest quality products on the market. Every day we are continuing to work on earning our consumer’s trust. It’s hard to gain and easy to lose. Our mission is more resonant than ever when it comes to transparency and raising the bar on safety. We want to scale our business and maintain trust by ensuring that there is never a trade-off when it comes to the efficacy, quality, safety and goodness of our products.

The Seurat Group is an insights-driven consumer packaged goods consulting and private equity firm whose mission is to create the clarity to act and invest in the future. We help our clients and portfolio companies sell more, more profitably, in more places, to more people by challenging convention.
Challenger Brand Study 2018: The Magic of the Moat

Challenger Brand Study 2018: The Magic of the Moat

Challenger Brand Study 2018: The Magic of the Moat

Challenger Brand Study 2018: The Magic of the Moat

The competitive landscape for challenger brands has rapidly intensified.

Not so long ago, the challenger brand story most closely resembled that of David and Goliath. New brands entered mature, sleepy categories and used their guile and resourcefulness to disrupt the leaders. Their agility, transparency and consumer intuition allowed them to unlock the lion’s share of growth across categories. Back then, challenger brands had only to concern themselves with standing out against the large category incumbents.

Today’s landscape looks different. Lower barriers to entry, greater access to production, distribution and growth capital, and more

efficient ways to reach and build relationships with consumers have led to greater proliferation of brands and products in attractive spaces. The result is that challenger brands must now stand out not only against large category leaders, but also against a growing number of other challengers who have recognized the potential to disrupt. As this dynamic plays out across nearly every ‘hot’ category today – think cold brew coffee, kombucha and natural pet food, to name a few – challengers have recognized the need to further insulate themselves from competition.

What this means for challenger brands:

Enter the concept of the “moat” – an intentional competitive edge that raises barriers to competition, ideally developed early on in a company’s or brand’s life cycle. Successful challenger brands now need to start building their competitive “moats” early. When the Seurat Group identifies promising challenger brands, we tend to prioritize those that have deliberately dug their moats early in the development of their business model. An example of this is Q Mixers,

a premium natural mixer brand based in Brooklyn, NY. By aligning with the nation’s largest distributor in the majority of US states, they effectively established a “protected” route to market, enabling them to introduce the brand to Millennial consumers on and off premise, challenging flat-footed incumbents like Canada Dry and Schweppes and insulating against premium upstarts in the local/artisanal mixers space.

What this means for this year’s Challenger Brand Study:

This year we highlight 10 challenger brands that are not only disrupting existing categories but also using a “moat” to establish a clear edge for growth. These moats are a little different from the ways established brands have traditionally created competitive advantage. (Spoiler: it’s not about

defending shelf space, production and distribution scale, or paying for share of voice anymore). These days challenger brands are employing a host of moat-building techniques, from exclusive channels to social reach and proprietary technology.

Background and Moat
Bright Farms


Bright Farms is changing our food system by producing healthier and more sustainable local produce. The company finances, builds and operates hydroponic greenhouses near retail distribution partners, allowing the stores to reliably carry locally-grown, high-quality packaged vegetables.

The greenhouses are financed by long-term retailer agreements, effectively barring competitors from entry once Bright Farms gains distribution. Having already established successful partnerships with major retailers like Kroger, Ahold, Albertsons and Walmart, and posted 890% growth over the past 3 years, the brand is poised for continued expansion in the coming years.

Tony’s Chocolonely


Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch-based chocolate company that entered the U.S. in 2017, is challenging the industry to produce chocolate made totally without any unjust labor practices. By trading directly with farmers, paying above fair-trade rates and helping farmers grow profitable, long-term businesses, Tony’s is showing big players and consumers alike that it’s possible to produce affordable chocolate that meets a higher standard.

By changing the conversation around chocolate production and setting the new bar for quality, Tony’s has carved out a niche as a brand uniquely positioned to deliver delicious chocolate that consumers can feel good about eating. The brand has maintained a 50% annual growth rate since 2005.

New Wave Foods

Plant-Based Seafood

New Wave Foods co-founders Dominique Barres and Michelle Wolf knew there had to be a better way to give consumers the seafood they want while protecting the ocean’s finite resources. In 2015 they developed their first product: algae-based “shrimp.” The proprietary product story allowed them to enter leading-edge foodservice locations like Google’s campus.

New Wave Foods is an example of how a challenger brand can use new technologies, processes and ingredients to build a breakthrough product story that creates a moat even at start-up stage. Their early commitment to identifying, sourcing and processing the specific algae to recreate shrimp’s color, taste and texture will give them a significant head start as other brands start to bring plant-based trends to seafood.

Kylie Cosmetics


Kylie Jenner is shaking up the beauty industry with the launch of her Kylie Cosmetics line. After earning $420MM in sales after only 18 months, Kylie Cosmetics is projected to hit $1B in total sales by 2022, just 7 years after launch. (By comparison, it took Lancôme 80 years to do the same.)While celebrity has always been a way to create an edge, today’s celebrities are using their social media reach to market directly to fans, further leveraging their fame to build the brands that bear their names. Jenner uses her social media pages (she has over 115 million Instagram followers!) to connect consumers with her brand. The instant consumer pull from Millennials and Gen Z creates a moat that is difficult for others to emulate.

Vital Proteins


Vital Proteins has become a leading brand in the collagen space by using digital marketing and partnerships with “endorsers” from values-based groups. For example, the brand’s clean ingredient list won it “Whole30-approval.” (Whole30 is an increasingly popular eating plan focused on whole, unprocessed foods.) The brand has roughly tripled in sales the past three years, using these values-based endorsements to build a moat in the highly competitive supplement space.

From the Seal of Good Housekeeping to celebrity chef recommendations, brand endorsements have been around forever. What has changed is the source of these endorsements and their ability to act as challenger brand moats that help consumers navigate a sea of confusing food choices.

Four Sigmatic

Mushroom-based Drinks

Although “adaptogens” have become an industry buzzword over the past few years, they remain a mystery to most consumers. Adaptogens, or medicinal mushrooms, provide functional benefits like sleep aid and stress management – and Four Sigmatic is bringing them to the mainstream market. To do so, the brand makes it easy to understand and access mushrooms’ benefits. Their packaging pairs unfamiliar mushroom types (“reishi”) with familiar benefits (“chill”), and the products are powders that are simply mixed into water.

While others may jump on the bandwagon (Starbucks just announced an adaptogen latte), Four Sigmatic has made the ingredient synonymous with its brand by making an unfamiliar ingredient widely accessible. The brand continues to launch new products and geographies.


Dairy Milk Alternative

Oatly, an oat-based milk free from dairy, soy, GMOs, gluten, or nuts, entered the U.S. market by eschewing mainstream retail and going directly to coffee shops. In doing so, they won over influential baristas and leading-edge coffee enthusiasts. This influencer channel continues to be a moat for Oatly to reach new consumers and generate demand and momentum to fuel its entry into mainstream retail and into new geographies.

Perfect Bar

Protein Bar

Years ago, Perfect Bar disrupted the bars market by targeting placement in refrigerated spaces, before a category for fresh bars even existed. This unique location not only harnesses the freshness halo of the refrigerated case, but also insulates the brand from the rest of the crowded ambient bar category.

In-store location is still the #1 medium for building brands in most categories. Perfect Bar demonstrates the moat-building power of a distinct location that communicates, educates and reaches new shoppers.



Healthy Beverage Dispensers

Bevi is unique on this list in that it’s not a packaged good. In fact, Bevi has forsaken packaging altogether. This Boston-based company places digital healthy beverage dispensers in offices around the U.S., providing employees with healthy, tasty beverages that generate less waste than traditional canned or bottled options. The machines also track consumption, allowing Bevi to proactively restock machines and build a database of consumption insights. The brand says it has reduced office beverage costs by 50%, and Bevi itself posted 1000% revenue growth in 2016.

Bevi’s “moat” comes from the way in which it developed a complete solution model with distributors to help with the sale, delivery and maintenance of machines to offices.

Urban Remedy

Fresh RTE Meals & Snacks

Urban Remedy is bringing consumers ready-to-eat fresh meals and snacks whenever, wherever. Their omni-channel model, which spans home delivery, owned retail storefronts and branded kiosks inside of other forward-looking retailers, allows them to win a greater share of in-home and out of home occasions. The proof? Urban Remedy has experienced 100% growth over the past two years.

The company tracks data from owned points of sale, using the insights to tailor its assortment in real time (a kiosk’s assortment on a given day is determined by analysis of yesterday’s sales). Furthermore, Urban Remedy uses kiosks and branded stores to incubate and identify the 2-3 SKUs that are worthy of being rolled out to larger accounts like Costco. This “always-on insight strategy” provides a better chance of success when launching new products in mainstream retail channels – and creates a moat to stave off other brands considering entering the fresh packaged space.

10 moats that create an edge within the challenger brand model:

1. Supply chain as consumer benefit
2. Raise the bar on production standards
3. Proprietary product story
4. Commercialized social reach
5. Values-based endorsements

6. First mover with a unique ingredient
7. Influencer channels
8. Stand-out in-store location
9. Complete solution model
10. Always on insight strategy

As always, we want to hear from you! If you’d like more information on any of our challenger brand studies, or want to share a brand of your own, please reach out at

Check out our previous challenger brand studies here, here, and here.


Bright Farms


Tony’s Chocolonely


New Wave Foods


Kylie Cosmetics


Vital Proteins


Four Sigmatic


Perfect Bar




Urban Remedy



Challenger Brand Study 2015

Challenger Brand Study 2015

Challenger Brand Study 2015

Challenger Brand Study 2015

The Decade of the Challenger Brand

It is widely known that smaller, emerging consumer packaged goods (“CPG”) brands are winning the battle for consumers’ hearts, minds and wallets from larger, established CPG manufacturers. Roughly $15B in revenue1 has shifted from large to small brands to date this decade (or nearly 2.5 points of market share). Increasingly, these smaller brands are challenging convention and better responding to consumers’ needs through innovations in positioning, product, packaging, distribution, and communication—ushering in the decade of the Challenger Brand.

In order for old and new firms alike to innovate and unlock incremental growth in today’s marketplace, they will need to build brands, structure their organizations, and go to market in a whole new way. They will need to reflect the successful practices of a Challenger Brand. The purpose of this next installment of our Challenger Brand series is twofold:

1. To identify the leading Challenger brands to watch in 2015
2. To synthesize the best practices that allow these top performers to break through and position themselves for mainstream success.
Why are Challenger Brands Winning?

Simply put, Big CPG has been over-reliant on brand proliferation and is struggling to create organic growth. Strategic focus on line extensions, pack size changes, in-and-outs, and incremental flavor innovation continues without success for two reasons.

Firstly, Big CPG’s limited consumer scope prevents radical innovation, as these firms talk to the same category consumers over and over. Secondly, these firms’ organizational inflexibility stymies attempts to innovate, as they are locked into existing manufacturing processes and large systems investments and have to chase quarterly financial expectations.

Against the void of innovation from large firms, Challenger Brands are assuming the mantle of bringing true category innovation to market.

Successful Challenger Brands — those that disrupt established category dynamics and stimulate long-term growth — are able to either re-segment an existing category, as with Pretzel Chips within salty snacks, or develop new consumption occasions, such as with Plum Organics’ launch of baby food pouches.

Seurat Group’s 2015 Challenger Brands

While this dynamic exists across all of the key sectors within CPG — food and beverage, household products, beauty and personal care, pet care, and over-the-counter (“OTC”) medication/supplements — we focused our research on the most promising brands in the largest and most active CPG sector — food & beverage.

As innovation in food & beverage has risen more rapidly than in other sectors, we believe these learnings apply broadly against industries that have yet to see increased Challenger activity.

Our process included three steps to understand Challenger brands from the perspective of the manufacturer, the consumer, and the shopper/retailer:


We began by crowdsourcing industry contacts to develop a robust list of brands that CPG leaders identified as emerging leaders in their space.

We conducted in-depth research to understand each brand’s point of difference, its competitive advantages and disadvantages, and its brand story.

We assessed each brand’s social strength through extensive analysis across social media sites.

The result was a consumer score for each brand that broadly indicated consumers’ perception of each brand.

We conducted store and online audits to understand how each brand was activated at retail.

Our goal was to determine each brand’s at-shelf appeal to shoppers, in-aisle competitive set, and barriers to purchase.

Through this work, the following ten brands rose to the top as the most promising Challenger brands of 2015, poised for mainstream success in food & beverage.

Our ten brands span across different departments, temperature states, and brand life stages. Collectively, they exemplify the best practices for Challenger Brands today.

Exploring the 5 Best Practices of Our 2015 Challenger Brands

We investigated the strategies these brands have used to drive their success, with the goal of offering both suggestions for how to spur revenue growth by competing like Challengers as well as recommendations

around how today’s retailers can identify tomorrow’s brands to watch. The following are the five best practice principles that these brands exemplify.

Product and packaging innovation are avenues through which today’s challenger brands have created portable, single-serve snacks from former bulk or additive categories.

Chia seeds, for example, were previously a supplemental ingredient added to foods like smoothies, salads, and cereal.

Heath Warrior was the first player to convert the superfood into bar form, tapping into the exploding interest in the ingredient (Chia seed growth was tracked at 239% growth at the end of 20122), thus creating added value in the form of convenience.“ Health Warrior has made chia seeds more accessible for portable consumption.

Justin’s Nut Butters took a similar path, but focused on packaging innovation. The nut butter category has been on-trend for several years, as evident from the 34% growth it experienced between 2008 and 2013, yet line extensions have driven a large portion of innovation (37%).

Justin’s created a differentiated offer—nut butters for on-the-go—through single-serve squeezable packs. The resulting brand equity has allowed Justin’s to branch into new categories such as confections, with the introduction of Justin’s chocolate peanut butter cups. Justin’s features squeezer packs of nut butters for on-the-go protein fixes.

Health Warrior and Justin’s, among other brands, are giving larger players a run for their money by expanding consumption occasions through meeting consumers’ needs for superfoods that are more accessible and portable.

The rise of organic exemplifies consumers’ growing interest in consuming the good while avoiding the bad — GMO’s, additives, corn syrup, hormones, and chemicals.

Today’s most promising brands are able to keep up with consumers’ changing demands through manufacturing innovations and nimble supply chains.

Suja Juice, for example, developed high pressure processing, an alternative to high heat processing, to manufacture a range of juices with the good — a higher yield of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes and longer shelf lives — without the bad — the harmful bacteria sometimes found in unpasteurized juice. Suja Juice’s high pressure processing extends shelf life without sacrificing nutrients.

“Suja is making it happen with the advocacy marketing model and without the corporate oversight that doesn’t ‘get it’. They are concretely in the throes of the ‘Smart Mainstreaming’ conundrum. Co-founder and CEO Jeff Church gets it.” – Industry Expert 

Evol stands out as another brand that is able to offer consumers the good without the bad using a well-organized supply chain and sourcing transparency.

Despite the fact that frozen meals are “historically an extremely difficult category to succeed in with the powerhouse manufacturers and competitive pricing, we see traditional players like Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, and Banquet declining as newer, differentiated players steal share.”

Evol has modernized frozen meals by creating a “real food” offer: free-range or ranch-raised meat and non-GMO grains, vegetables, and oils. Both Suja and Evol have developed processes — manufacturing, supply chain, and marketing — to guarantee their products can keep up with ingredients consumers are demanding or avoiding, and ensure they are made aware of the unique offers. Evol has brought nutrition back to the frozen meals category.

Brand advocates have proven to be an effective strategy for driving product sampling, brand awareness, and adoption of the lifestyle surrounding a brand.

Today’s Challengers, however, are going one step further to highlight advocates who can best inspire or educate consumers, such as health professionals, store associate “experts” or professional athletes.

Vega has developed a team of ambassadors that includes Olympic medalists, a professional MMA Fighter, an Olympic water polo player, professional cyclists, MLB layers, and nationally-recognized nutritionists and yogis—not to mention in-store advocates that influence that critical last three feet to purchase. Vega enlists professional athletes as brand ambassadors.

“When we look at growth strategy, it comes down to finding the best way to inspire, educate and engage people who see clean nutrition as a support for healthy living.” – Cristina Pagnucco, Social Media and Online PR, Vega6

Health Warrior employs a similar approach to brand advocacy. Consumers are urged to join their ”tribe” of professional athletes: ultra-marathoners, NFL players, personal trainers, and product users who have prioritized diet and exercise in their lives. Anyone can enter to join the tribe by describing their personal Warrior Way, and few lucky winners are featured on the brand’s website.

Vega and Health Warrior are among many brands that have focused on improved functional performance as a key benefit of their products. In 2014, product launches targeting endurance athletes within the sports nutrition market increased 64%.7 Nevertheless, these brands have distinguished themselves from the numerous brands catering to athletes by using brand ambassadors to inspire and educate consumers around this high performance lifestyle.

Consumers’ increasing interest in protein has set in motion to a wave of product launches focused on protein content.

In fact, 6% of US food and beverage launches from 2013 to 2014 were marketed as “high-protein” or “a source of protein.” Today’s Challenger brands are using two product innovation strategies to set themselves apart from others:

1. purer protein, without toxins or additives OR

2. more protein versus the traditional category.

“Protein is hot, hot, hot. Brands like Builders (from CLIF), Pure Protein, and ProMax were killing it for a while, but their growth has slowed as consumers are looking for cleaner protein sources.” – Industry Expert

EPIC has created bars made of entirely lean animal protein, creating a new avenue to protein and a truly unique segment within a category largely focused on sweet bars.

These 100% grass-fed, paleo-friendly, gluten-free, low-sugar bars satisfy consumers’ desire for simple protein.

Fairlife Milk, similarly, has developed an ultra-filtered variety to offer consumers a product with 50% more protein and 30% more calcium, cutting directly to the nutritional benefits in demand. Fairlife Milk offers milk concerns a fortified, premium milk product.

Finally, Noosa Yoghurt has introduced an Australian yogurt to a category dominated by Greek, offering the same pure protein punch, but with a different take on texture and flavor.

These three brands offer products with a higher concentration of protein per serving but with few unnecessary extras, appealing to the demand for a simple, potent protein source.

Presence at retail is crucial to driving brand awareness and conversion. We like to say Challenger brands are made at retail, both brick & mortar, and online.

Today’s most promising up-and-comer brands have leveraged packaging innovation, strategic shelving, and stores-within-stores to ensure they stand out in both incubator and mainstream channels.

Theo Chocolate uses white packaging to differentiate its products within the busy chocolate set. The brand is usually shelved at eye-level, further increasing its ability to attract shoppers’ attention while they browse. Theo Chocolate’s white packaging stands out at shelf.

Similarly, Califia Farms, which uses uniquely shaped bottles, is more likely to disrupt shoppers as they approach the milk and dairy alternative set. Califia Farms’ pear-shaped bottles break up the shelf and draw the eye.

Vega has succeeded in standing out within the e-commerce world.

Beyond unique packaging, the brand has successfully developed a Vega Store within, setting themselves apart from other powdered nutrition brands sold on Amazon. Whether online or offline, consumers are more likely to notice and be drawn to more unique packages and displays. Vega’s clean, well-designed Amazon Store helped them build a thriving e-commerce business.


Innovation is essential to long-term success in CPG, no different from any industry. The most valuable companies are arguably the most successful innovators. Challenger Brands highlight new ways to unlock innovation in CPG, while still beginning with the consumer.

Today’s consumers, who are less influenced by traditional brand-building levers, are choosing brands that reflect their values. In turn, the Challenger Brands which we have discussed are thinking differently about their product, packaging, supply chain, and marketing to differentiate their products within a crowded CPG landscape. Despite the majority of the industry’s growth coming from Challenger Brands, many manufacturers are ill-equipped to take advantage of future growth opportunities because they are strategically, organizationally, and financially misaligned with “going small.”

Nevertheless, it is not only smaller, emerging players who can leverage this mindset. These strategies are valuable principles for any brand—small or large—pursuing success in today’s marketplace, as well as for any retailer who hopes to plan proactively for ongoing growth.