Mother Raw bets on tahini and turns to customers for a vote

The organic, plant-based producer is using consumer feedback for product innovation.

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With the market for plant-based burgers heating up, it’s perhaps no surprise that products associated with healthier barbecues, such as vegan salad dressings, are also catching fire. And Toronto-based vegan dressing and condiment maker Mother Raw is looking to appeal to the same ingredient-conscious segment as it launches a contest for its new tahini-based refrigerated salad dressing.

Mother Raw’s “Duel of the Dressings” campaign, which is running from November 6th to the 20th, invites fans to help the brand choose the new flavour profile, and a vote will determine if the tahini dressing is either lemon and turmeric or organic maple syrup.

As part of the online tahini taste-off, one Mother Raw voter will win a private dinner prepared by a professional chef. Mother Raw will also donate one dollar for every vote cast to a local Vegetarian Food Bank (for a maximum $1,000 donation).

Kristi Knowles, CEO of Reunion Foods which owns Mother Raw, says the brand is listening to its community to “make a decision for us,” because it does not have the means to do significant consumer research. It’s about proof of concept, she says, with the expectation that it can take information to retailers as it broadens or tightens its product assortment.

“We are using social channels and paid digital media to draw attention to the contest,” she says.

Knowles says it’s targeting health-aware consumers, those actively trying to eat more plant-based meals, as well as millennials with a high income. She attributes the company’s growth to an increasing openness from consumers to try different flavours like tahini, and an increased appetite for healthier plant-based alternatives to typical supermarket dressings.

Tahini, which is made from toasted ground sesame, is best-known as a key ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush. According to 2019 Zion Market Research data, demand for tahini in North America has seen an upsurge in recent years, owing to the growth of multiculturalism and people’s growing interest in experimenting with ethnic cuisines.

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“Dressings are the most important segment for Mother Raw, along with marinades, because it’s the first thing that we launched in January 2019,” says Knowles. The growth of tahini and the Mediterranean diet is on trend, she says, adding that popular salad and grain bowls also tend to have tahini dressings.

caesar-motherraw“Most salad dressings in stores are cooked, which is what preserves them,” says Knowles. Mother Raw dressings, by contrast, are in the refrigerated section, and Knowles says that as a result, they’re fresher tasting (they’re also packaged in fully recyclable glass bottles and lids). “The refrigerated section for dressing is growing, whereas the centre store for dressing is declining,”

“Put Good on Good” is the company’s mantra and a focus in its packaging (designed by Stack). “It’s interesting that often what we put on our meals, takes down the nutrient value of a meal,” Knowles says.

“Our consumers look at the ingredient deck first,” she says. “We use whole foods only, unfiltered cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, hemp, chia seeds, things that consumers are really looking toward in terms of health. Nothing artificial, nothing preserved.”

She cites Kraft brand Renee’s as competition in Canada, which dominates the market, while Mother Raw’s competition in the U.S. is more fragmented with Litehouse and Bolthouse leading the sector.

The brand is also experimenting with other formats. “We just secured our first listing with the to-go pack,” Knowles says. “[And] we partnered with meal-kit provider Purple Carrot that specializes in plant-based eating… it’ll be interesting to see how that goes for us.”

Knowles recently told strategy that Mother Raw has 3,000 points of distribution in Canada and the U.S. Its 19 different SKUs are primarily sold in Save-On, Sobeys, Metro and independent grocers across Ontario and Western Canada.