After nearly 30 years, a Denver-based job training nonprofit with a line of beans and soups has undergone a $250,000 makeover, aiming to better catch the eyes of customers in the grocery aisle.
Founded in 1989, Women’s Bean Project sells packaged dry foods, manufactured by impoverished women learning job skills.
The organization’s beans, soup kits and other packaged food products didn’t sit well on shelves and often fell over. The new packaging puts soup and chili mixes in boxes instead of cellophane wrappers.
“If we look great just like any other product, we have the potential to sell,” CEO Tamra Ryan said.
Women spend six to nine months with the nonprofit learning job skills. According to its most recent tax filing, Women’s Bean brought in just over $1 million in revenue in fiscal year 2015. More than $760,000 of that came from grants and contributions.
Ryan said most of the nonprofit’s revenue provides salaries for participants. Women’s Bean hires 70 women annually.
Through a combination of grants and funds from product sales, the organization spent $250,000 redesigning the packaging on its food products. Ryan said it had to buy a large portion of the new packaging upfront, which increased costs.
Women’s Bean products are available in every King Soopers and City Market in Colorado, as well as 100 Safeway locations in the state. The organization also branched out of state, and is sold in 1,000 stores nationwide, Ryan said.
The redesign also allowed the organization to rethink its product line. In the microwave age, Women’s Bean has found that less people are cooking soups in a crockpot. Ryan also said its mission as a job provider doesn’t help products stand out in stores any more, with brands like Toms Shoes that are built to give back.
“The world has changed a lot in terms of the marketplace,” she said. “If you want to feel good about your purchase, you have a lot of choices now.”
As part of the rebrand, Women’s Bean put launched three flavors of popcorn kernels and microwaveable rice and beans. The popcorn will launch in June.
The nonprofit also designed a new logo – a set of hands holding a sprouting bean. Women’s Bean will begin shipping products with the new packaging starting June 5.
But the redesign is a double-edged sword for Women’s Bean. The organization opted for efficiency by having its food supplier pre-blend beans, for example, which cut down on labor, since they previously were packaged by the women.
But, Ryan said, new products will bring more funds to the organization, which will help them hire more workers. The new packaging already helped attract four new grocery store contracts, she said.
While the look of the packaging has changed, Women’s Bean kept some elements, including a circle in the corner telling consumers that the product creates jobs and a sticker signed by a woman in the program.
Ryan said the organization often receives letters and emails from customers thanking the participant that packaged the product.
“It’s pretty powerful. That’s what I appreciate about this place,” she said.