By Sarah Brodsky | Jan 22, 2023
San Diego, California and Vizcaino Baja California, Mexico
Dried tomato chips
Just Pure Foods got its start 13 years ago when Feldman's son, Justin, graduated from college. As a student, Justin had been dehydrating vegetables in his home and sharing those snacks with friends. After a local Whole Foods manager spotted the products and asked to carry them, Feldman and his son joined with a partner to turn the side hustle into a full-time business.
The first year of operations was a success. "We were one of the fastest growing food manufacturers in California," Feldman says. But he had a dispute with their business partner about how quickly to scale the company. Feldman offered to buy his partner out, but they couldn't agree on a price. A three-year legal battle followed, and they suspended the business.
A second chance came in 2020 when Feldman's former business partner passed along a lead. He told Feldman that Roberto Mazon of Master's Touch Brand was interested in dehydrating produce. Within a year, Just Pure Foods and Master's Touch Brand negotiated a partnership, and Just Pure Foods moved its equipment to Vizcaino Baja California, Mexico, where Mazon built a 20,000-square-foot facility to house the manufacturing operation.
Today, Just Pure Foods manufactures three flavors of low-temperature dried tomato chips: cheese, jalapeño, and barbecue. The chips are for sale under its own brand at Bristol Farms and Ralphs in Southern California, as well as on Amazon. The company is also developing an Italian pesto flavor. "Tastes like the top of the pizza," Feldman says. "That's been something we're working on very closely now, along with sour cream and onion." Feldman is also considering sea salt and vinegar.
Although Just Pure Foods takes some inspiration from potato chip flavor trends, its products aren't conventional snack copycats. Potato chips from competitors are typically fried in oil and contain 250 to 300 calories per bag. Just Pure Foods' tomato chips have 50 or 60 calories per bag, depending on the flavor. These tomato chips aren't made with oil, and "the vegetable maintains all of its nutrients and enzymes" in the low-temperature drying process, Feldman says.
"Why eat a piece of broccoli if you're going to cook it or steam it for five or ten minutes? You cook all the goodness out of it," Feldman says. "And the same is true of the process of making a chip."
Just Pure Foods' products are completely nut-free, which opens up opportunities to sell to organizations that are allergy-conscious. "We get a lot of calls from school districts," Feldman says, and he's also hoping to supply chips to airlines to serve on planes.
Currently, Just Pure Foods makes 20 pallets of 120 cases each in a production run. "Our tomatoes have two major seasons a year," Feldman says, and high production times correspond to those harvests. But if demand is high enough, the company can add more production slots throughout the year. "We can import tomatoes from other parts of Mexico."
Once the tomatoes are harvested, they're taken to the manufacturing facility. "They're washed, sliced, seasoned, then placed on baking racks," Feldman explains. "All of our slicing and seasoning and placement of the tomato slices are done by hand onto baking racks. And then these baking racks that are about seven feet tall, are placed in the dehydration machine. Once they're taken out of the machine, they're dumped into a bin. And then the bin is automated, where it takes the chips up to a scale." After the scale weighs the chips, it automatically puts them into bags.
The finished tomato chips are trucked to San Diego, where Master's Touch Brand has a distribution warehouse.
While the tomatoes are grown in Mexico, Just Pure Foods tries to source other ingredients, like yeast extract and seasonings, in the United States. Feldman has more confidence in the quality of those ingredients when they're grown domestically, and after seeing a competitor go out of business following a recall, he doesn't want to take risks. "We bring them to our San Diego warehouse," he says, "And then we export them in the same trucks that bring our finished product up from Mexico."
Feldman views dehydrating fruit as an innovative way to reduce food waste. "Beautiful, red, edible tomatoes become fertilizer," Feldman says, because "if a tomato is too red when it's coming off the vine, it's not a good traveler." And tomatoes that are asymmetrical or bruised don't appeal to supermarket shoppers but can still be turned into tasty chips.
Challenges: Just Pure Foods is competing with 20,000 to 40,000 other products in a typical grocery store, and grabbing shoppers' attention can be difficult. While Feldman would like to promote Just Pure Foods more intensively, he's constrained by budget. "Our biggest challenge is marketing dollars, having enough cash flow to be able to demo and expose our product to the consumer," Feldman says, noting that "it takes money to make money."
Opportunities: As consumers search for healthy alternatives to conventional snacks, Just Pure Foods could branch out beyond tomatoes to give them more options. "We're looking to expand the nature, the scope of vegetables and fruits that we can actually dehydrate and create a healthy product for people to choose," Feldman says. He points to peppers, watermelon, and pineapple as potential candidates.
Needs: Consumers increasingly take cues from people they follow on social media, so Feldman hopes to collaborate with digital creators and get Just Pure Foods' products in front of their audiences. "We're trying to find a way to effectively, but financially feasibly, get influencers to help make sales for our product online."