Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative media, design, and music companies.
Product innovation was an early pandemic casualty, de-prioritized as consumers hoarded toilet paper mega-rolls and boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese—and boardrooms sweated supply-chain shortages and how to digitize the customer experience. It’s hard to fault companies that retrenched, giving shoppers simply more of what they already knew they’d sell in bulk. But in Consumer Goods, a brand new category for 2022’s Most Innovative Companies, we are recognizing the opposite. These are the companies that never quit refining and improving their products.
On this category’s inaugural top-10 list, you’ll find companies like Ooni, Grove Collective, and Milk Bar that are transforming the way we think about products—and how they package those products. There’s a maker of creatively flavored waters that require a rounding error’s worth of the plastic typically used to make bottled water. A company that makes alt-dairy from sunflower seeds, which, as it discovered, are cheaper, use less water, and grow up to 70 times faster than nuts. A producer of nonalcoholic spirits that transport you to the Amalfi Coast. A jewelry brand that found a way to make real diamonds out of air pollution. A deodorant brand that reimagined its product to make it accessible to people with disabilities. A sustainable public-benefit corporation that now has a seat at the cleaning-products table with Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Even in a pandemic, these businesses found ways to satisfy consumer demand for smarter design, to put items on store shelves that got people excited, and sometimes, despite the circumstances, to reinvent their genres entirely.
1. Grove Collaborative
For hating plastic and loving customers
Grove Collaborative is a home- and personal-care brand whose aim isn’t to replace every Procter & Gamble product in your homes as much as it is to do so while “putting the onus to reduce negative environmental impact on itself versus on the consumer.” Grove has been aggressive in pursuing its goal to sell only plastic-free products by 2025. In 2021, it launched a plastic-free body-and-haircare line called Peach, which included deodorant and refillable lotion. It also introduced laundry detergent sheets designed to dissolve completely in the washer (bye-bye, polymer laundry pods and plastic jugs) and portable hand-soap sheets to eliminate single-use bottles. The company has seen immense growth in the past few years, generating $384 million in 2021 revenue and exceeding 1.5 million active customers. Grove’s website also sells third-party brands like Method and Seventh Generation, which it vets as sustainable, ethically sourced, and cruelty-free. Last March, it joined Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s as a public-benefit corporation.
For turning your backyard into the neighborhood’s hottest pizzeria
Created by a married couple who got frustrated that they couldn’t replicate restaurant-quality pizzas in their home oven, Ooni has won big during the global pandemic, as consumers suddenly splurged on premium grills, backyard putting greens, and the like. It was actually a decade ago when the U.K.-based company introduced the market’s first wood-fired portable pizza oven, but sales jumped fivefold during the pandemic. That’s led to international expansion, including into the U.S., and reports of a market valuation—for a company that manufactures just five models of its pizza oven—that could be hundreds of millions of dollars. Ooni’s top seller, the Koda 16, is generally considered to be a nearly professional-grade pizza oven, which also can fit into a car trunk and costs $599. It reaches 950 degrees Fahrenheit in 15 minutes, has excellent heat distribution, and cleans up easily afterwards. The company’s newest offering, the Karu 16, is the only domestic oven option worldwide endorsed by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the international authority in Italy.
For tapping into the flavored-hydration trend without adding more bottles or cans
For better or worse, canned flavored water remained a very 2021 trend. Austrian sustainable “microdrink”-maker Waterdrop is—as this description suggests—not that. It went as minimal as possible, creating Chiclet-size cubes that flavor water, rather than bottling it into a readymade drink, in the process eliminating 98% of the unnecessary packaging materials that go into standard beverages. The dissolvable tablets are all-natural, have no calories, and contain real fruit and plant extracts. The flavors are interesting—peach-ginger-ginseng-aloe vera, lime-acerola-green coffee, mango-cactus fruit-artichoke), and 12 cubes fit in a wafer-thin blister pack that uses one-tenth of the plastic in one ordinary bottle cap. Another benefit: The small cubes will slide down any size bottleneck. Waterdrop debuted in the United States last April, and the company claims that 2021 revenue was on track to double to $100 million.
4. Milk Bar
For reimagining childhood nostalgia back into mass-market treats
Few sweets can drive the frenzy that Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar did late at night on the weekends during the 2010s. But her path from David Chang protégé to talk-show guest to head of a dessert empire has taken a new turn in the past two years: retail, and lots of it. The move has been intentional (try operating a bakery chain during a pandemic)—and aggressive. Milk Bar went direct-to-consumer with Compost Cookies in 2020, and now its entire line of cakes, pies, and cookies is available from its website. More significantly, Milk Bar’s cheaper line of mass-produced packaged goods can now be found at 7,000 retailers nationwide, from top grocery chains, such as Target and Stop and Shop, to corner bodegas. This summer, Milk Bar also embraced the ultimate grocery-trip splurge item: pints of ice cream, in signature flavors like Cereal Milk and Birthday Cake. Tosi’s career has always revolved around elevating dull supermarket ingredients to something decadent, and she has said her next fantasy is upgrading American grocery store treats. In December, Milk Bar partnered with Mariah Carey—official voice of the holiday shopping season—to make a double chocolate caramel cake inspired by Carey’s Black Irish cream liqueurs. It doesn’t get much more retail than that.
For making stick deodorant accessible to people with disabilities—finally
In April, Degree introduced Inclusive, the first deodorant for people with disabilities. Traditional sticks are inconvenient, if not impossible, for people with visual or upper-body impairments to use. Degree Inclusive has an enhanced grip, a braille label, easy magnetic closures, and a roll-on applicator, all of which were fussed over by a team of design experts, occupational therapists, and engineers. Parent company Unilever explains the reason for this move is that one in four Americans is disabled, making them, by far, the country’s largest minority group. Yet personal-care products have never attempted to address their needs. Degree Inclusive deodorant is meant to be the face of Unilever’s broader Positive Beauty initiative, which also includes banning the word “normal” to describe hair and skin on beauty or personal-care packaging and pledging to no longer photoshop a model’s shape, size, or skin tone in ads.
For distilling a nonalcoholic beverage you’ll forget contains no booze
Ghia launched its signature apéritif in the summer of 2020, earning praise from nondrinkers, the sober-curious, and people who just didn’t want another round. The nonalcoholic-spirits sector is growing exponentially right now, packed with more than 50 brands at last count. Instead of riffing on a clear liquor, Ghia started with a ketchup-red, Mediterranean-inspired bitter made from the botanical extracts of fruits, roots, and nervines—medicinal plants said to de-stress and impart energy. Ghia found fast fans among the crowd that didn’t need another nonalcoholic “gin,” “vodka,” or “tequila.” Then in 2021, realizing that no matter how bored housebound Americans become, the thought of DIY mixology still intimidates them, Ghia added its first ready-to-drink offering, Le Spritz. Cans come in two flavors: the original earthy apéritif mixed with either sparkling water or ginger beer. Ghia has found a home behind such legendary bars as New York City’s Bemelmans and the trendy Los Angeles grocery store Erewhon; about two-fifths of its business is now wholesale, with the rest being direct-to-consumer. The company has sold hundreds of thousands of Ghia cans since their debut. The brand’s midcentury Amalfi Coast beach vibes don’t hurt. They help make everything from Ghia’s packaging to its online presence feel very avventuroso.
7. Aether Diamonds
For polishing air pollution into precious gems
Aether Diamonds are visual and chemical carbon copies (as it were) of mined diamonds, except that no drilling and blasting of rocks was required. The company prefers “alchemized from air,” but, to put this in less magic-realistic terms, the process relies on direct-capture technology to snatch CO2—just chilling there, warming the planet—from the atmosphere. Expensive machinery synthesizes the CO2 into a hydrocarbon. This serves as the raw material that’s fed into a powerful reactor, where it crystalizes; then a month later you have a gem ready to be cut, polished, and set in a ring. The result is the first-ever diamond to use carbon from a source that isn’t inside the earth. Aether began selling its gems around the start of 2021; its one-carat pavé diamond ring is $7,900. That’s not cheap, but then mining a carat of diamonds requires 250 tons of earth to be dug up and creates about 150 pounds of emissions. Aether says it’s able to remove 20 metric tons of CO2 with each carat it synthesizes.
For winking at customers while popularizing its plant-based nugget
In the year that brought us the metaverse, a product called Nuggs, marketed as “a chicken nugget simulation” that utilizes “advanced soy protein technology” to mimic the “texture and flavor of an animal-based nugget” can feel a bit on the nose. Simulate, Nuggs’ parent company, used these goofy, scroll-pausing Instagram ads all year long to grab people’s attention, deliberately pairing self-unseriousness with a premise that sounds increasingly absurd the more times you read it. But it takes a playful spirit to build a serious business. The work of 22-year-old Australian tech-wunderkind Ben Pasternak, Simulate used ghost kitchens to reach new customers (and do product development), debuting Nuggs in Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Target in 2021, and bringing its reach to more than 5,000 stores. That’s enough to make it the planet’s fastest-growing supermarket nugget. Meanwhile, investments from Jay Z and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian helped bring the company’s valuation to $250 million.
9. Zip Top
For standing out among reusable storage bags
For decades, food storage has been plagued by cumbersome designs, toxic “forever” chemicals—or both. A wave of snazzy, chemical-free silicone alternatives has emerged, but none are more clever than Zip Top. Its range of durable pouches in assorted heights and depths can replace single-use Ziplocs and a whole drawerful of Tupperware, won’t leach BPAs, lead, PVCs, latex, or phthalates, and they nest to save storage space. They’re also American-made, and dishwasher-, freezer-, even sous-vide-safe. Their leg up on the competition is the “stands up, stays open, zips shut” design. All of the bottoms are flat, meaning they’ll rest upright on the counter so solids or liquids can be plopped in, one-handed. This year, Zip Top rolled out at new retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and introduced a new line specifically for breast-milk storage. Zip Top’s design won 2021’s America by Design contest, and the four-year-old company has also collected the International Design Excellence Award, Gold German Design Award, and European Product Design Award.
10. Spero Foods
For seeding a low-cost dairy alternative
Spero makes the case that alt-dairy’s future lies not in almonds, soybeans, or oats, but in the ballpark-famous lowly sunflower seed. Founded in 2017 by engineer Phäedra Randolph, who cycled through Facebook and Goldman Sachs before starting Spero, it began with the quest of identifying an affordable, nutritious, scalable ingredient that could be used to produce plant-based dairy products. Nuts require too much time, space, water, and labor to compete with dairy at cost parity. Sunflower seeds are 7 to 8 times cheaper, yet grow 50 to 70 times faster. They’re also out in front on sustainability, emitting 99% fewer CO2 emissions than dairy and using 96% less water than nut cheeses. Spero’s line of cream cheeses in flavors like herb, cheddar, and strawberry are now available nationwide, at grocers Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Balducci’s. On the horizon in mid-2022 are dairy-free cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, and a lateral leap into alt-eggs, using the sunflower seed’s distant cousin, pepitas.