While many of Nick Beste’s college peers were trying to figure out a major, he was busy launching new business concepts. Beste, a self-described serial entrepreneur and CEO of Mighty Spark Food Co., Minneapolis, started his first business at the age of 18, just days before beginning his freshman year at the Univ. of Minnesota. He majored in Entrepreneurship at The Carlson School of Management and was honored with the prestigious Minnesota Cup award (2009 student division), the largest statewide startup competition in the country. The Minnesota native is constantly spurring creativity and pushing his team to challenge the ordinary. He wants to add spark to the meat industry through continuous innovation.
Beste launched Man Cave Meats in 2010, which started as a simple business concept of direct-selling meat and grilling accessories to men. He soon began selling craft meat at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, and Man Cave Meats launched in supermarkets in 2013.
The company was re-branded in April 2018 to Mighty Spark Food Co., offering nearly 50 specialty meats, available in 3,500 stores nationwide. Beste is on a mission to make Mighty Spark a household name and change the food industry forever.
MEAT+POULTRY spoke with Beste and Christine Arickx, research and development project manager, about their innovation process, which involves creating an entire experience that starts the moment consumers discover the brand on the shelf. The packaging pushes the limits of convention and stands out by using eye-catching colors along with premium touches, like a silver foil logo and soft-touch packaging. To make the packaging even more engaging, it includes the story of the brand. It’s an in-the-box approach to innovation.
“We chose a storybook structure that opens to reveal a cut-out window, offering a peek at our handcrafted, specialty meats,” Beste says. “We also designed a square box that begs to be picked up, informing consumers about our independent roots and meal donation program.”
MEAT+POULTRY: What is Mighty Spark all about?
Nick Beste: For a category that’s dominated by heritage brands, aimed at providing the cheapest price possible, Mighty Spark stands out from the sea of sameness with hand-crafted meats in innovative flavor profiles. We continuously tweak our small-batch recipes to provide consumers with higher-quality, better-tasting meat and poultry. For example, we continue to find ways to improve our best-selling poultry patty — Queso Fresco & Jalapeno Turkey Patties — by increasing the thickness of the patty and the amount of inclusions. At Mighty Spark, we want to show consumers that healthy can taste good, elevating consumers’ expectations of what a delicious, high-protein breakfast tastes like, or surprising them with how easy it can be to bring hand-crafted meats and creativity into their kitchen. As a company, it’s also important to us to give back and do our part to help those in need. When we started our Bite Back Hunger program, we wanted a way to get our consumers involved in helping us do good.
Our Bite Back Hunger program is all about sharing our purpose with our consumer, sparking a movement with impressive food that does good, one meal at a time. Our one-for-one giving program is simple. For every pack purchased, Mighty Spark donates a meal to underprivileged kids. Since we launched the Bite Back Hunger program in 2017, we’ve donated more than one million meals and we expect to donate an additional two million meals in 2018.
Christine Arickx: We want our consumers to have a remarkable experience when they enjoy Mighty Spark products. The cooking journey starts with a spark: a curiosity about what to cook, what’s new, fresh and modern. Consumers are searching for convenience with quality. The average family spends 30 minutes preparing dinner, so our small-batch recipes complement our consumers’ busy lifestyles because we provide hand-crafted meats that are already pre-seasoned. Mighty Spark produces in micro-batches for the ability to refine our recipe formulations. We tirelessly look for how we can continue to improve, elevating what is expected; from constant improvements and developments of new flavor profiles.
We’ve created more than 30 new products for the launch of Mighty Spark.
M+P: What’s Mighty Spark’s corporate approach to innovation?
Beste: Innovation and constant improvement is what drives the Mighty Spark team. The fact that we never compromise on quality is what pushes us to innovate. We continuously work with our partners to tweak the production process to deliver a better-tasting product, creating our small-batch recipes with premium cuts of fresh meats and with whole-food, simple ingredients. Our hand-craft approach often adds time to the production process, but we’re focused on our goal of offering consumers the best-tasting product. We love how enthusiastic our consumers are, and we listen to their feedback and apply it for recipe tweaks and new product development.
Arickx: For Mighty Spark products hitting store shelves now, our recipe creation process started about a year ago. We spent time researching to identify flavor profiles that are missing in the meat category. We produced numerous prototypes until we landed on “wow” products. We continue to tweak recipes on some of our best-selling items to find ways to increase the inclusions and make the nutritionals even better.
M+P: What is your philosophy on ingredient sourcing?
Beste: We use premium cuts of meat to offer the best-tasting product. For example, our burger patty recipe includes three different whole cuts of steak: sirloin, brisket and short-rib. We pride ourselves on knowing our suppliers and crafting our recipes with fresh meat in small-batches and using whole food ingredients for our inclusions. Our newest turkey patties are made with cuts of tenderloin and thighs to make for a juicy, flavorful turkey patty. It’s been fun to see consumers reaction to this product because they’re surprised that a healthy product can taste that good.
M+P: Your newest product line — chicken stick snacks — gets the brand in a new department of the supermarket: the ambient meat snack aisle. How did this product come to fruition?
Beste: For me personally, I’ve been counting calories in an effort to be healthier, so I’ve been in search of protein snacks that are also low calorie. Quite frankly, the protein snacks on the market aren’t that tasty, so I saw this as a white-space opportunity to give consumers a delicious protein snack in only 50 calories and made with whole food ingredients. We know our consumers have busy lives, and they’re also in search of healthy snacks to eat on-the-go, so our low-calorie protein snack is the perfect fit. Also, because this is a healthy, low-calorie snack, we’re aiming for placement in locations where consumers are shopping for the better-for-you snacks, like produce, dairy or front-of-store.
Arickx: Like the rest of Mighty Spark’s products, we wanted our flavor profiles for the snack sticks to be unique. We did rounds of recipe iterations to land on a moist snack stick with whole food inclusions that are noticeable and flavorful. And we think consumers will love that this low-calorie protein snack is gluten and antibiotic free and has no nitrates or nitrites. The six snack stick flavors are: BBQ-Seasoned Sweet Potato, Black Bean Chipotle, Blueberry and Kale, Cranberry and Ginger, Honey and Jalapeño, and Sea Salt and Pink Peppercorn.
M+P: You are rolling out a lengthy portfolio of new products. Please share a description of some of the more unique products, including the inspiration behind their development.
Arickx: We’ve launched more than 30 new items with unique flavor profiles, introducing power foods into our recipes, using leaner proteins and simple, honest ingredients that currently aren’t available in the meat aisle, like Mighty Spark’s Power Grind Premium Turkey with Sweet Potato, Lentils and Spinach. We’re also introducing five new chicken patties, including our Chicken Power Patties. Our Corn, Black Bean and Poblano Meat-Reduced Chicken Patties include a blend of jasmine brown rice, chicken, roasted corn, black beans, fire-roasted poblano, red onion, cilantro and a touch of honey and have 38 percent fewer calories than beef patties, giving consumers a healthier option that doesn’t sacrifice flavor. With chicken being the most-loved protein for consumers, we’ll introduce a number of new chicken products, including our Mild Italian Chicken Sausages and our Bruschetta Chicken Ground Blend. We anticipate our pre-cooked, heat-and-eat items to grow in popularity as consumers look for products that cut-down on prep and cook time. The Smoked Gouda and Riesling Chicken Sausage, for example, continues to be a favorite item.
M+P: There’s so much conversation on plant-based diets, yet data shows Americans are eating more meat than ever before. What are your thoughts on this and how is Mighty Spark keeping meat on the table?
Beste: I think meat continues to be a staple in many consumers’ diets because of the importance of protein. The average home is eating four meals a week with meat or poultry. Many of our loyal customers follow high-protein/low-carb diets, such as paleo and ketogenic, which focus heavily on meat portions.