Only one in ten Americans eats the daily recommend amount of vegetables.
Garden Lites, currently based in Jamaica, New York, plans to change that – from New Jersey.
The healthy food manufacturer is moving the majority of its 100 employees, its headquarters and its manufacturing capabilities to Avenel at the beginning of November.
“Avenel fit nicely with the manufacturing capabilities we needed, and with many of us being from this area, we were lucky to have found the perfect location so quickly,” Andy Reichgut, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Garden Lites, said.
Garden Lites’ products include muffins and waffles, as well as other gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and non-GMO foods, which are baked primarily using vegetables.
“I’ve worked in this field for nearly 20 years and the one message in health that has never changed is, ‘Eat your veggies,’ ” Reichgut said. “Whether we are hiding vegetables in our chocolate or blueberry muffins or we are celebrating how amazing vegetables can taste with our veggie cakes, vegetables are the first and most important ingredients in everything that we do.”
Garden Lites is the primary brand of its parent company, New Classic Cooking, which also manufactures Vitalicious and Classic Cooking products.
“New Classic Cooking is a consumer packaged goods company which started out of someone’s kitchen in 1996,” Reichgut said. “And by 2004, the company was manufacturing, in their own facility, refrigerated kosher food to the Jewish community.”
It was when the company launched Garden Lites in 2010, however, that Reichgut said business took off.
“Our original vegetable soufflés really touched a nerve with consumers because of how amazingly healthy and easy they were,” he said. “I mean, there are two full servings of veggies in every soufflé.
“But a soufflé is such a niche item that, in order to grow, we knew we had to innovate and come out with more mainstream healthy foods that were still rich with veggies.”
Such as gluten-free, chocolate, banana chocolate chip, and blueberry oat muffins made with at least a third vegetables.
“Zucchini works really well in giving moisture and lift to baked goods, and carrots sweeten them,” Reichgut said.
Garden Lites even worked with Nickelodeon to produce Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Spongebob Squarepants themed muffins for kids’ lunch boxes.
Baked with ingredients such as egg whites, spinach – and of course, cocoa powder and semi-sweet chocolate chips - the 80-calorie muffins contain less than six grams of sugar each.
Kids love them, Reichgut said.
“In the beginning of the last school year, we were inundated with requests from parents asking where to find these muffins,” he said. “We actually had to staff up for our consumer responses because kids would go to school and come home and say, ‘I want that muffin Billy had at lunch today.’ ”
Families also can enjoy breakfast together with the brand’s gluten-free homestyle and blueberry waffles, baked with butternut squash and carrots.
“We said, here’s another occasion where we can get people to eat vegetables because people are not going to stop eating waffles, so let’s make a waffle that actually has some nutritional value,” Reichgut said.
Reichgut added that while all of Garden Lites products are gluten-free, the brand is still very much focused on vegetables.
“One of the things that we talked about when I first came to this company was, are we a vegetable brand or are we a gluten-free brand?” he said. “And while we are definitely a vegetable brand, everything we do will be gluten-free because we want people who are gluten-intolerant to be able to enjoy vegetables as well.”
The biggest problem with the gluten-free market today, Reichgut said, is that gluten-free foods are still too often unhealthy.
“They often add in sugar to make them taste good,” he said. “Our chocolate muffin has just 11 grams of sugar and we always are trying to lower our sugar content even more.
“You will soon see some innovation around that from our company, too.”
While Garden Lites indulgent treats sell out fast, its savory products are selling best.
“Our Superfood Veggie Cakes, both the kale and quinoa and superblend varieties, are our best selling item in the company,” Reichgut said.
What’s in them? Carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, onion, red bell pepper, zucchini, brown rice, eggs, spices – and not much else.
Garden Lites also produces four varieties of Veggie Bites and frozen entrees such as a cheddar broccoli bake and its butternut squash, kale and quinoa, and spinach soufflés.
“We are winning in the marketplace because, if you go to the natural or organic section of a grocery store, you will still see mac and cheese that is simply just better for you because it has cleaner ingredients,” Reichgut said. “But pasta and cheese sauce is not inherently healthy.
“Our superfood mac and cheese contains 40 percent vegetables, red lentil pasta, kale, and cauliflower and squash in the cheese sauce, and is still delicious while also being very rich in superfoods.”
Garden Lites has national distribution in popular markets such as Costco, Target, and Walmart, and also can be found in the frozen and refrigerated sections in local grocery stores such as ShopRite, Kings, and Acme. It also operates its own e-commerce platform, TheHealthFoodStore.com.
“When brands launch a new item, they [conduct] a trial and repeat study, tracking consumers over the next six months to see if they buy it again, and how often,” Reichgut said. “For consumer packaged goods, the average is around 14 percent.
“When our muffins were new to market, they had more than three times the average repeat rate, with consumers purchasing them two or more times in that time period.”
Reichgut said he is happy with his decision four years ago to work for Garden Lites, after working as a senior vice president at Pinnacle Foods, a billion-dollar food company in Parsippany.
“What I was looking for was to help build something that I was really proud of, and I know, from working in food for years, how much of a problem it is for obesity and healthcare costs when consumers do not eat enough vegetables,” he said. “Our mission at Garden Lites is to get America hooked on veggies, not only with our products, but also, encouraging them to purchase fresh vegetables.
“It was time for me to try to help this country be healthier, and I really believe we are doing that here at Garden Lites by showing people how amazing veggies can taste.”