ReGen Brands Recap #63

Nick Wiseman @ Little Sesame

Winning At Retail With Regen Hummus

Nick Wiseman is a Co-Founder and the CEO of Little Sesame. Little Sesame is supporting regenerative agriculture with its lineup of organic and regeneratively farmed hummus products. The lineup includes Smooth Classic, Jammy Tomato, Caramelized Onion, Herby Jalapeno and the newly launched Preserved Lemon. Their products are sold online and nationwide at Whole Foods, Sprouts, plus another 1,000 independent grocery stores. Little Seseame recently launched their Hummus Club. By offering exclusive flavors online, they’re leveraging a fun testing ground and building community.

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Restaurant to Retail

From his first day as a line cook at age 15, Nick has always dreamed of democratizing the fine dining experience. He and his partner Ronen launched a pop-up restaurant (and then a more permanent brick-and-mortar site), creating new menus daily and pumping out fresh hummus. 

When COVID hit, they were forced to shift their distribution strategy overnight. In addition to serving over 100,000 free meals, they launched a hummus lab in the restaurant kitchen – quickly landing a distribution with 14 Whole Foods in the Mid-Atlantic for their new packaged hummus.

“Ron and I, we’re still chefs at our core. When we get in the kitchen for our ‘R&D Days,’ we have a lot of fun playing with things, lots of creativity. But, [Little Sesame] is not like a restaurant where you can turn it on the next day. Commercialization takes time. But we’re keeping it fun, keeping the innovation coming, and that’s always been our differentiator.” – Nick


Flavorful & Freshly-Spun, Without the “Crap”

Little Sesame has remained intentional about the way they blend their hummus – choosing to self-manufacture so they can still soak chickpeas, use fresh lemons, and “spin” small batches. As they’ve scaled, they have stayed true to their values. They have a direct line of sight to their entire supply chain with a better ability to control costs. They’ve also built relationships with suppliers, starting with a regenerative organic farmer out of Montana.

With organic as a baseline, Little Sesame is also committed to keeping glyphosate out of their products. A recent study showed that more than 90% of conventional hummus had detectable levels of glyphosate, with over a third exceeding levels considered safe for daily consumption. Unlike conventional farmers that spray glyphosate as a desiccant to kill and dry the chickpea crop at harvest, Little Sesame suppliers invest the extra labor hours into the product to ensure it is clean and chemical-free.


The Regenerative Experiment

Coming at food from the restaurant side, Nick realized that chefs don’t always tie the quality of food to the quality of agriculture. It wasn’t until he attended school in California that he understood the importance of provenance. Yet seeing the impacts of industrial ag on climate change, rural communities and more, Nick decided to become part of the solution.

As fate would have it, Nick’s wife made the fortuitous introduction to Casey Bailey, a 5th-generation Montana farmer. Casey had taken over 5,000 acres and spent 10 years trying to restore his land after many generations of conventional operations. With some community help from a Montana-based organic co-op called Timeless Seeds, Casey used a 17-crop rotation (and lots of trial and error) to restore soil health – with chickpeas as the centerpiece. 

At the very beginning, Nick convinced Casey to sell Little Sesame 50 lb bags of chickpeas – a decision that made zero economic sense to Casey at the time but certainly aligned with his mission.

“Instead of polarizing other farmers, Casey talks about learning to do it a different way. It’s why he's become a kind of de facto leader in the space because he's been really good about building a coalition, bringing people together to think about things in a new way. He’s not selling or proselytizing his vision, but making it accessible and encouraging people to think about things in a new way.” – Nick


Fueling Growth with the Fundamentals

Like so many other regen brands, Little Sesame realized the regen story alone wasn’t enough to fuel their growth. Instead, they’ve focused on driving velocity (selling through at retailers you are already in) versus chasing more doors. This has been their focus and they’ve executed “blocking and tackling” at a very high level, by:

  • Ensuring they have a brand block (multiple facings to catch consumer attention);
  • Keeping product in stock and looking good on the shelf; and
  • Prioritizing facetime with store-level personnel to gain product support.

As for advice for other brands, Nick recommends building region by region to create impressive sell-through and economies of scale.

“We got advice from the former CEO of Sabra’s that the brand block is everything. That’s why Sabra won. That’s the power of the brand block. Be present on shelf. That visibility is your biggest driver and biggest marketing tool. And that only happens if you’re focused on key doors, adding SKUs in those doors and building that brand block. Then you have the case study to go to other retailers and prove the impact you can have.” – Nick


Coordinating Capital for Regen Brands

Nick is hopeful that the funding ecosystem will become less focused on “unicorn” $100M brands with big exits. To achieve that, investors will need to understand and appreciate what’s different about a smaller, regional brand, create new tools to fund these enterprises and coordinate capital in a meaningful way.

That will require building more diverse capital stacks that look beyond just equity and include debt and grants. CPGs will always require equity cash to drive growth, but Nick believes we need a different playbook beyond that. We need tools that give brands time to drive proof of concept and profitability, for slower, smarter growth.

“As you get further along the growth curve, it’s harder to take that equity – because with that money come the demands of growth. When you get on that treadmill, you’re just chasing growth. It’s a steep path and pretty easy to start burning capital.” – Nick


50% Market Share 4 Regen

Nick is an ardent believer in the power of relationships – whether it’s with their farmers, retail partners (both buyers and store-level), brands with whom they partner (both seasonal and collab SKUs), and especially brand ambassadors. This community building is what will help all these regen brands win and will create the capacity to scale regenerative efforts and outcomes.

And like other brands, Little Sesame is leaning into the power of human connection – using stories to create emotional connections with consumers.

“That’s what this whole movement is really about – connection. It’s a human thing that can drive these big cultural shifts. We are the ones who ultimately control the market forces. If we can get the consumer to shift, we can get agriculture to shift. One person at a time, having honest conversations. And food is a great tool to facilitate those conversation. And hummus is a perfect, even better food to do it with. Dig into a plate of hummus and have these conversations, and I think we can start to see some real shifts.” – Nick


You can check out the full episode with Nick Wiseman @ Little Sesame HERE.

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This ReGen Recap was produced with support from Kristina Tober