Strong Roots Makes Vegan Tots, Fries, Patties and They’re Delicious
What's a tater tot without the 'tater? Turns out delicious. Especially when it's made of good-for-you veggies like spinach, butternut squash, and kale. We taste-tested the healthier-for-you tots, fries, and frozen veggies from the frozen veggie company Strong Roots and found that now, especially when you want to reach for carby comfort food but your head says "No!" you can say a "hella Yes!" to Strong Roots' healthy and delicious tots, patties and more.
The Beet sat down with Sam Dennigan, CEO and founder, just before the virus hit the fan and the world came screeching to a halt, to discuss why he started this company and how he grew it so fast! Other than the fact that his products are amazing, talking to him is like talking to Sam from Game of Thrones. Yes, his accent is that legit, even though he lived in Brooklyn since moving here from Ireland to run the company. Here is the story of how this little veggie brand is poised for world domination, one tot at a time.
Q. You started in Ireland? How did you grow so fast here, in what seems like a flash?
A. The reason we are getting customers in the US from a small co from Ireland is that we make food that is both tasty and healthy.
I'm an agriculture guy. It was an agribusiness. I started out as an agronomist, showing farmers how to do things more efficiently. It's a pretty normal model. There's a big middle man between the producers and the retailers, acting as an adviser to both, but leaving the expertise of the production to those in the fields.
The business was founded in the mid-70s by my dad and granddad. Then I had a brief stint in art college learning about design. Strong Roots is the nexus of those two things: Understanding where food comes from, and the other side of it is understanding what people want to see, eat and feel. And talk about it. Depending on what trend is at the forefront now.
Q. Last we heard from you, you launched a "bacon patch" Are you plant-based?
A. I am a flexitarian, and also a reducitarian.
We have a new child and I started thinking about the reduction of meat and dairy in my diet, and that has more to do with achieving balance, rather than irradicate it all together.
We follow the Mediterranean diet... It's a personal thing. The majority of consumers come to our brand for what we provide. The important thing is to provide a gateway for plant-based eating.
It's easy for the consumer to walk into the plant-based channel and eat and shop vegan or plant-based. What we exist for is to convert people. We have simple products that are delicious and help people make the transition. We are big during the month of January -- because of Veganuary. What we see our role as is the reducitarian brand for the masses.
Q. Okay tell us how you came up with the "Bacon Patch" which is pretty hilarious, BTW.
A. Those still stuck on eating meat, we exist to help them reduce that.
We want people to eat a more plant-based diet. And we want to a bigger part of the conversation. We don't want to sit in the background and not be part of the global conversation.
The point was to gain a global audience. We need to bring up the subject. Eating plant-based is still not on a lot of people's radar. So however we can do that we want to be there.
The Bacon Patch was launched in London and the effort was to get the conversation moving among males and it did just that. It went from London all the way around the world, and everyone covered it, from the India Times to Steven Colbert. And we have more in store...
Q. So I love the spinach tots and your cauliflower hash browns. What's next?
A. People are starting to eat breakfast all day long. And the cauliflower hashbrowns make it easier. You can cook them and eat them with pretty much everything. They work if you make them in the oven or on the skillet—which is how you get the crisp outer. But they are such simple ingredients that you can't really mess them up.
Q. Where do you get all your vegetable ingredients? Ireland or the US?
A. The sweet potato fries are sourced in the US, in South Carolina. But it depends on which product. Our aim is that we will source all the products in North America. At the moment it's a mix of the US and Europe. the ingredients are all sourced within 50 miles of the packing area, so the carbon footprint [for each package] is low.
Q. Okay where can people buy Strong Roots now?
A. We are in Whole Foods in the Texas Region and we'll soon launch nationwide at all the Whole Foods across the country. It's a big deal for us. We have been ready for some time. We partnered with big producers early on because we knew the opportunity was going to be big. And we wanted to break into the US market. So whether our tots or veggie fries we are poised to get into as many homes as possible.
Q. They taste supernatural. Are they?
I love the pumpkin and spinach products, and the fact that every bite feels super clean and natural, without a lot of oils or bad-for-you additives. You can basically see all of the ingredients in all of them —the pumpkin, the spinach and a little bit of kale.
A. We are gluten-free, but can't carry the gluten-free logo, because they are made in the same factory as Spelt flower. We don't add gluten to the products. We've actually had a world's first for that-- the crust is made of quinoa or dehydrated vegetable flakes... and we use beets, carrots, and potato as the breading, so there is no flour in any of our products.
The crumb and the crusts—all of the crust is made of veggies. Everything is recycled, in a good way. The plants and the water. Now, 60 percent of the product is produced by a plant-where they take the vegetable waste off the line and produce a gas that gets captured and that is used to power a gas-fueled machine. The whole site runs that way. The compressor powers the lights in the offices, the power in the mixers, the slicers and dicers and fryers and everything. This plant is in Europe. There's more demand for carbon neutral or carbon negative in Europe. But that will eventually be the model for how plants are run.
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