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Two packages of 5 dosing pens each of a fictitious Semiglutin drug used for weight loss (antidiabetic medication or anti-obesity medication) on a blue transparent background. Fictitious package design
Image credit: istock/aprott

Mattson expands to Chicago with acquisition of Hyde Park Group, explores the Ozempic effect

April 15, 2024

San Mateo, California-based Mattson, a food and beverage product innovation firm that has worked with some high-profile foodtech startups as well as multinationals, is expanding to the Midwest with the acquisition of Chicago-based Hyde Park Group (HPG).

Founded in 2002 by Mary Haderlein and based in West Town, HPG connects clients with top chefs, product developers, and packaging designers, and will enable Mattson, which has expertise in R&D, back-end product development and food science as well as these more front-end capabilities, to broaden its geographical reach.

“From an innovation perspective, they’re kindred spirits and a great fit with us,” Mattson CEO Dr. Justin Shimek told AgFunderNews. “Plus we’ve been thinking about going to Chicago for a long time because we have clients there and it has a great food startup and VC community.”

Mattson team
Mattson SFBA Insights and Inspirations culinary team. Image credit: Mattson

Big CPG: ‘They are all trying to become more nimble, agile, and scrappy’

So how are large food and beverage companies thinking about innovation these days? Are they still capable of innovating in-house or are they increasingly outsourcing innovation to third parties such as Mattson or acquiring more agile startups?

According to Shimek: “They are all trying to become more nimble and agile, more scrappy, so they can get things into market more quickly and behave more like startups versus the old days, where they would do a lot of really rigorous, expensive, long-term testing, and it would take forever to launch anything.

“Hiring companies like us to work with them on innovation can be one way to do it, as we’re not about line extensions, but coming up with new platforms and completely new to the world products.”

He added: “We’ve also been helping them use AI in product development, generating and testing ideas, as everyone is trying to figure out how to integrate AI into their process. A lot of these companies will buy an enterprise version of Chat GPT, but they don’t really know how to use it.”

COVID-19, inflation, and new product development

The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily stymied the innovation process at many food companies as attention shifted to handling supply chain disruptions and getting products on shelves, while many large food companies have also been able to ride on an inflationary wave for the past couple of years by taking pricing, said Shimek. But the pressure is now on to innovate again, he said.

“Coming into 2024, companies have realized that the only way they can continue to fuel their business is through innovation, so they’re asking, how do we grow categories and not just market share?”

Plant based meat 2.0

As for specific trends, while the plant-based meat segment has cooled off a little, the fundamental drivers behind it haven’t changed, said Shimek, who said more work is now focusing on how adding small amounts of highly functional ingredients such as novel fats, or using different processing techniques could revitalize the category.

“Ultimately, what we’ve seen is that analogs are not meeting the expectations or flexitarians and meat eaters, so there’s a clear need to create products that deliver a better overall experience. And for the next generation of foods in this space, we need the next generation of ingredients.”

GLP-1 drugs: We do think these drugs are going to be a big disruptor for the food industry’

One area of focus for Mattson right now is exploring the impact of the new wave of GLP-1 drugs such as Wegovy and Ozempic, said Shimek, who will be unveiling the findings of a proprietary study on users of these drugs on May 2.

“It’s a comprehensive piece of research, including consumer interviews and obesity medicine healthcare provider interviews, as well as quantitative attitude and usage data and concept testing of foods and beverages amongst our panel of AOM [anti-obesity medication] users.”

He added: “We finally have a pharma solution [to obesity] that is actually working, but doctors don’t always know a lot about nutrition. So many people on these drugs are looking for support and we do think there’s a role for food companies to play, both to help people on the drugs and to help people trying to wean themselves off the drugs but maintain their weight loss.

“We know that people on these drugs lose their appetite but their food preferences can also change, so if you’re trying to maintain lean body mass as you lose weight, maybe you’re not really excited about drinking a thick protein shake, but you’re looking for something more refreshing, something a little bit lighter?”

The GLP-1 drug craze could also accelerate the low- and no-alcohol trend, he predicted, as some Ozempic users report reduced alcohol intake.

“We do think these drugs are going to be a big disruptor for the food industry, and they are here to stay, so how well-positioned are brands to take advantage?”

Fiber… moving into the spotlight?

As for macronutrients, a lot of attention has been put on protein, as GLP-1 drug users seek to maintain lean body mass as they lose weight, he said. But fiber could get a boost from wider adoption of these drugs, which are making people think more about the connection between the gut and overall health and wellness, said Shimek. “This is also coupled with more interest in probiotics and postbiotics.”

Separately, Mattson sees continued interest in medicinal mushrooms and other botanicals with adaptogenic effects, he said. “It’s about restoring equilibrium rather than driving you in one direction or another.”

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