This month, Low Carb Luxury begins a series of interviews with key players in the low carb industry in our
continuing efforts to be the liaison between business and consumers. For this issue, we were fortunate to be
able to sit down with the team from Heritage Family Foods, the makers of ImiTaters? — one of the foods we were
most impressed with when we attended the NNFA Show in Las Vegas in July.
In attendance were:
Daniel Brackeen, President and Founder of Heritage Family Specialty Foods
Michael Moss, Marketing Manager
Ardeshir Mistry, Ph.D., Research & Development Principal Scientist
[ALL INSET PHOTOS ARE "CLICKABLE" TO LARGER SIZES FOR DETAIL]
Low Carb Luxury:
We're aware of Daniel Brackeen's history in the food industry, as the creator and manufacturer of TCBY. Daniel, how
did you originally get into the restaurant and food industry?
Daniel Brackeen: I started in the restaurant business with my mother at her cafe (called The White Kitchen)
when I was a teenager. I worked after school there in Panhandle, Texas. And that was my beginning in the restaurant industry.
From there I entered the dairy industry, where along with my wife Cheryl, we worked a small Dallas ice cream
company — Arthur's Ice Cream Specialties. It had been purchased from founder, Arthur C. Maxcy.
We developed a non-fat ice cream for Neiman-Marcus in 1976. Later I developed a flavored frozen yogurt line,
that eventually became TCBY.
This is a bit of a different background from the companies we usually see in the low carb market. Can you tell
us how and why you came to be involved with the non-private label retail end of food supply; even more specifically,
the low carb niche?
Daniel: We've always wanted to make products that taste good. It's our number one criteria. We did that with TCBY, and
we continue to do it here at Heritage. So it was just a natural for us when we saw an opportunity in the low carb industry
to make products that really taste good.
How and why did you choose a mashed cauliflower (potato substitute) dish as your first entry into the low carb
Daniel: We began development of ImiTaters? early this year after seeing Mrs. Veronica Atkins on a television show where
she was featuring faux-tatoes made with cauliflower. I was impressed. So afterward, I went home to see if we could create something
in this area that would taste great!
It was the same for me... When I saw the program Mrs. Atkins was on, I realized that Heritage had a rich history of making potato
sauces (flavors) for the restaurant industry. And that's what gave me the idea of doing the same with
cauliflower. An unexpected benefit when Dr. Mistry and his R&D team began experimenting, was that we found
for individuals to create this at home, the texture tends to be pretty grainy, but with our commercial
processors, the texture comes out very smooth!
As a consumer, what (other than convenience) would make me want your mashed cauliflower dish over
one I could prepare at home?
That smooth texture of course, plus the ease of having the product at-the-ready means that it's not only a very flavorful
dish, but that you are more prone to "eat your vegetables." No clean-up; less work; and no unpleasant "cooking cauliflower smell."
Do you use "focus groups" for taste testing and marketing?
It depends on the product, but for ImiTaters?, we held a lot of focus groups — both for tasting and for package
design. We do this locally here in Texas. We outsource the service and it's all done in controlled environments.
For our products (like our BBQ sauces and salsas) that have like-product competitors, we use blind taste tests as
well to determine how we fare against the other guys.
What guides you in your ingredients choices?
Our main guidelines were that it had to be good, had to be natural, and couldn't use artificial
colors, flavors, modified starches, or anything like that. We wanted to make it vegetarian friendly
in as many cases as possible.
Michael: We might look toward all organic in the future and possibly seek Kosher status as well.
As you began to create this product, was a specific net carb count number something that was goal specific?
Were you shooting for a particular number?
Dr. Mistry: We were looking for the lowest possible carb counts of course, but as we created it, it
came out at 3 net carbs naturally (without any special effort) and every flavor came out that way,
so we were very pleased.
How did you decide on the flavor choices you went with? Are more flavor choices planned?
Daniel: We asked ourselves and each other, "How do you like your potato?" "What are your favorite flavors?"
We felt the Smoky Chipotle was very trendy right now and a popular flavor, and The Works
and Savory Garlic were just a natural.
Were these flavors that you were already making for flavoring potatoes in the food service industry, or were
these created specifically for the ImiTaters? line?
Similar flavors were being used in our mashed potato lines.
Michael: We tested quite a few flavors to see which ones ended up being the Top Three Flavors to go with to start.
There were quite a few flavors that were really good but didn't make the top three, so we're hoping to be have
the opportunity to introduce those to the market.
A few people that we've discussed the ImiTaters? product line with are asking if there's going to be an "unflavored" variety.
Is this planned?
Michael: Right now, the Creamy Original is available for food service and we've had a lot of real
interest on that — especially in hospitals and schools. Here at Heritage, we're very concerned about the growing childhood obesity
problem, and we hope our product can be a part of addressing that.
So, Creamy Original will definitely be included with other flavors that are coming soon... you can expect that
we'll be doing another round of taste testing.
Do you have plans to manufacture other low carb friendly dishes?
Yes we do. More vegetable type side dishes and we'll keep you apprised of what those
are as they become ready.
Where can ImiTaters? be found? What sort of regional distribution are you planning?
We introduced the product in Las Vegas at the NNFA show in July. And when we say
"introduced", that was the first time that even our broker had seen or tasted them. So
that was ground zero. This was kept top secret even here at Heritage, and there was no
one outside of Heritage other than those designing the package, and the external focus
groups that knew of them.
Since the show, we have shipped hundreds and hundreds of pounds of ImiTaters?. We've
shipped them to every U.S. state including Alaska and Hawaii. Right now the site has
a store locator with all the stores across the country who are currently stocking
ImiTaters? on the shelf, and you can buy them directly from us at our site.
We think your product name "ImiTaters?" is one of the most creative we've seen
in awhile. How did you come up with the name?
Michael came up with the name.
It was divine intervention. It wasn't anything that came out of my intellect. [laughing]
We had been sitting in the conference room after a taste test and we were just dumbfounded
at how great this was. At the end of the tasting, we said, "We've got to come up with a name
that's as great as the product tastes!" It put a lot of pressure on the marketing side of Heritage. We
really wanted a name that would communicate that it's a healthy alternative. We played around with a
lot of different names.
And then one day driving to work, it just "hit" me. It was just the right moment for divine intervention.
I figured there was a true test of whether the name was a good one: Is the domain name for the
website available and is the trademark available? We secured them both and liked the name so much we
decided to brand it ImiTaters? rather than another product with Heritage Family Foods' brand.
We notice that on your packaging, you didn't go out of your way to emblazon the "LOW CARB" banner on
your products. Instead, other than the net carb count, the focus is more on low calorie. Was
this a conscious decision? Did you feel that too much emphasis on low carb would put you into too tight a niche?
The "low calorie" was absolutely a determining factor. We think good low carb products
have to also be low calorie and taste great, so that was definitely a conscious
decision. Two of the flavors — Savory Garlic and Smoky Chipotle — come in at 2.5 grams of fat
per serving and 5 grams for The Works. Both qualify as "low fat."
It's one of the many reasons why we spent so much time and resources on the packaging. We wanted it to
appeal to people on a low calorie, a low fat, or a low carb diet. We want people to know it's a healthy
dish period. Also, until the FDA makes an official statement as to how they determine what
"low carb" is, there's a lot of hesitancy on the part of many manufacturers to add too much to labels
regarding low carb claims.
I think that we're onto something wonderful here in the low carb industry and we
admire what you're doing at Low Carb Luxury for this business. We see so much misinformation about low carb
when we're at shows, and we need someone like you who can speak with integrity.
Thank you so much. And thank you all for taking the time to allow us to interview you. We're impressed with
your products as well as your company, and we wish you the very best of success!
Copyright © September 2004 Lora Ruffner and Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury.
Inset photos copyright © 2004 Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury.
ImiTaters? logo and Heritage Family Foods logo copyright ? 2004 Heritage Family Specialty Foods, Inc.;
901 Santerre Drive; Grand Prairie, TX 75050