The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Food

1_SodaStream

For making DIY carbonation sexy. The Israeli-based company may be the world’s largest producer of home carbonation: Its seltzer- and soda-makers are carried by 60,000 retailers in 45 countries, and it sold 3.5 billion cans of its flavorings in the past year. But it’s only in about 1% of U.S. homes--paltry compared to other countries. (In Sweden, it’s in 25%). To make it in the United States, it is appealing to Americans’ love of familiar brands by partnering with companies like Kraft so it can create flavors with Crystal Light, among others. It is also playing to Americans’ love of convenience by producing single-serving capsules. To add a touch of class, it secured acclaimed industrial designer Yves Behar to redesign the SodaStream chassis, and it is going into wide release with a diverse range of retailers, from Walmart to Williams Sonoma.

2_Applebee’s

For using a sense of humor to drive two years of same-store growth. Last year, Applebee’s hired Saturday Night Live star Jason Sudeikis to voice its latest ad campaign, “See You Tomorrow.” Applebee’s had crossed paths with the actor before; in 2011, Sudeikis appeared in the Farrelly Brothers comedy Hall Pass as a loser who’s ridiculed for his love of the casual dining chain. Says Julia Stewart, CEO of Applebee’s parent company DineEquity, “Jason has a voice that people recognize and associate with a lighthearted, irreverent feel.” That brand revitalization (which also involved selling off 479 company-owned stores, leaving 99% of the 1,954 U.S. locations in the hands of franchisees) has been key to the chain’s recent success.

3_Stonyfield Farm

For making its supply chain more sustainable--and more profitable. Over the last six years, the yogurt company has introduced eco-friendly innovations in transportation, light-weight packaging, and waste reduction (including a program to recycle up to 90% of manufacturing waste) that have cut costs by some $24 million. Now, the company is helping its suppliers do the same. A new program is underway to build small, mobile processing plants at a Costa Rican banana coop so that its growers can slash waste by as much as 50% and improve their profit margins. The project is a model for Stonyfield’s parent, the global giant Danone Group, which has made sustainable development a corporate priority.

4_BrightFarms

For slashing the distance from farm to market by building farms on grocers’ rooftops. Farmers markets are great. But the truth is, most people shop at the supermarket. BrightFarms works with supermarkets to plant lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs on site (or very nearby), which cuts transport costs and waste for the grocer and adds days to the shelf life of perishable foods in customers’ refrigerators. This spring, the company will debut a 100,000-square-foot rooftop farm, the largest in the world, in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, which will produce 1 million pounds of produce annually.

5_Kind Snacks

For showing that “performance foods” don’t have to be processed and weird, and in doing so, doubling revenue last year to more than $125 million. After expanding steadily for seven years, the company grew explosively in 2012: consumption of its line of fruit-and-nut bars (which made their way into Starbucks stores nationwide in 2009) rose over 100%, and two new lines of granola and low-sugar nut bars took off. In 2011, the company launched a charitable campaign called the Do The Kind Thing, through which it delivered diapers to new families in shelters, partnered with the San Francisco and Marin food banks, and last December, worked with the non-profit Luke’s Wings to fly soldiers home from overseas for the holidays.

6_Lyfe Kitchen

For employing fast-food industry secrets to sell healthy food on a mass-market scale. Most people wouldn’t imagine that brussels sprouts, kale-banana smoothies, and “unfried” chicken would be ingredients in a recipe for success in the fast-casual business. But Lyfe’s team of former McDonald’s execs, along with well-known executive chef Art Smith, have used supply-chain management know-how (and their street cred) to prove otherwise. Its first outlet, in Palo Alto, was expected to have revenues of $2.4 million in its first year (about the same as an average McDonald’s). It beat estimates by 20%. The company aims to open 250 more outlets around the country in the next five years.

7_BluePrint Cleanse

For leading the way in packaging and branding of the cold-pressed juice trend. The company started in 2006 with a simple line of juice cleanses, sole ingredients of a detox diet, a concept that took off when celebrity endorsers like Salma Hayek and Gwyneth Paltrow began advertising the method to their fans. BluePrint Cleanse caught the eye of Whole Foods, which last year began selling the company’s fresh, cold-pressed juices, targeting people who want the health benefits of juicing but don’t want to invest in a juicer. Revenues in 2012 grew by 100% to $20 million. In December, the company was acquired by healthy food giant Hain Celestial Group for an undisclosed (though persumably healthy) sum.

8_Bon Appetit Management Co.

For creating tools that give nutrition information about the catering company’s made-from-scratch meals. Long before the word “locavore” entered the dictionary, BAMCo was mandating its chefs to buy seasonally and locally. Today, the 135 million meals it serves each year at colleges and corporations (including Google, Twitter, Starbucks, and Target) serve cage-free eggs, antibiotic-free meats, sustainable-only seafood--and bring in about $700 million annually. Its latest innovation is a custom nutrition tool that calculates a “well-being score” for its dishes so that diners can see at a glance what the healthiest choices are.

9_Copilot Labs

For letting restaurants measure the success of their social marketing strategies. In the bewildering age of Yelp reviews, Groupon promotions, and Seamless food delivery, Copilot exists to help restaurateurs make sense of it all. Launched in 2012 by Eli Chait, the son of a successful California restaurateur, the marketing analytics company looks at the spending, visits, and profitability of guests that use promotions from Groupon, LivingSocial, Restaurant Week, and others. Its software helps restaurateurs draw a direct line between a new marketing strategy and its results and hold marketing companies to account.

10_ScanAvert

For putting allergy information into a simple bar-code scan, helping millions of Americans avoid dangerous reactions. More than 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies. With the ScanAvert app, consumers upload details of their medical conditions, then scan grocery, beauty, and pharmaceutical bar codes to ensure that nothing they buy contains ingredients that will provoke dangerous reactions--a far simpler process than trying to read ingredient lists in tiny type or relying on manufacturer allergy warnings. ScanAvert cross-references the barcodes with a database of over 300,000 products and shows users a red alert or a green all-clear signal. The app also notifies customers about product recalls.

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