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Can I Laugh On Your Shoulder?

Jan 22, 2020

The food system in America has changed so much in the last 30-40 years. Organic and non-GMO are terms that have become popular more recently, and we’re much more aware about the importance of clean ingredients and real, whole foods. Let’s be honest though: life is moving much faster today than it was even just 10 years ago. It’s still important for families to have convenient options when it comes to making meals. My guest today has infused his passion for entrepreneurship, organic and clean ingredients in foods with convenience. Adnan Durrani has created a revolutionary company that is popping up in grocery stores around the country. Adnan is the founder and CEO of American Halal Co, which wholly owns its flagship brand, Saffron Road. As a long-time social entrepreneur, Adnan was searching for a social enterprise that would bring people together over delicious, convenient, and healthy food. The evidence of his dream is now in grocery stores like Sprouts, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Whole Foods and more. You can find Saffron Road meals just about everywhere now! I was so honored to have Adnan on the show today. His lifetime of experience in the food and beverage industry and his pioneering in so many areas of innovation was fascinating. Join me as I hear more of Adnan’s fascinating story.

3:53 - The Adnan 101

  • Adnan journey into the food and beverage industry might not be quite what you’d think at first. He actually started on Wall Street for many years. During the original stock market crash of 1987, he went from doing well to having an epiphany that the “immediate gratification” business was no longer for him.
  • Adan decided the “delayed gratification” business would be a much better fit for him, i.e. becoming a venture capitalist or entrepreneur. Soon after leaving Wall Street, he started a company called Vermont Pure Spring Water.
  • He had an idyllic view of the entrepreneur life, but really didn’t know what he was getting into at first. It was a much harder way to earn a living than he initially realized.
  • As difficult as starting that first company was, his was one of the first bottled water companies to have strong environmental values around it. They gave a lot of money back to the state of Vermont by partnering with a nonprofit to take care of the bridges and spring waters in Vermont. It eventually became the second largest bottled water company in the Northeast.
  • Many people discouraged Adnan from going after several of the industries he was interested in, including bottled water and yogurt. They thought Americans drank soda and kids would never eat yogurt. Both concepts were shot down by many successful business tycoons. Where others were short-sighted, Adnan watched trends in Europe and saw a market to improve lives and people’s heath amid water quality issues and foods with too much gelatin instead of healthy cultures.
  • After that, Adnan was introduced to a man named through his venture capital company (Condor Ventures Inc.) named Gary Herzberg. Gary introduced Adnan to a group called Social Venture Network. Adnan was able to meet amazing entrepreneurs through the network of like-minded people who were trying to better humanity by creating businesses with a triple bottom line and socially responsible methods to give back to communities.
  • Adnan learned that being socially responsible can be a for-profit motive. Twenty years ago, Adnan and his network were ahead of the game, pioneering how businesses can be operate while being compassionate and giving back to all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

11:40 - The Natural and Organic Shift 

  • When Adnan entered the natural and organic industry, it was only a $200-300 million-dollar industry. It’s not a $50 billion-dollar industry in the United States alone.
  • When mentoring other entrepreneurs, Adnan reminds them to be a bit of a rebel, but with a cause. Be sure to fight conventional wisdom but also take a deep dive into knowledge and research. He focused on shifts in lifestyles, the problems cropping up with antibiotics in the food system, strong studies on the effects organic and clean food was having on long-term health, and more.
  • Adnan also saw the consumer demand start to take off for organic food. Many farms were hesitating to switch because of they would lose a lot of money initially switching the farms and becoming compliant for organic products. Once they saw the opportunity in the long game, the industry started to pick up and consumers had more organic options available to them.
  • Adnan started to see opposing trends with Halal Foods customers between the European Halal consumer and the American Halal consumer. In the United States, there are 4-8 million Muslims who tend to be much more educated than the average American. Adnan recognized the buying power of this demographic and realized no one else was appealing to that market.
  • Many wondered in the beginning why Adnan was focused on millennials and not baby boomers. He recognized that millennial brand loyalty was much stronger and that it spread quickly through millennial tribes on social media. 
  • Millennials have a lot of buying power and are willing to pay more for brands that are transparent and socially responsible.

18:42 – Saffron Road

  • Saffron Road is a natural, organic platform brand. They feature frozen, organic and natural entrees that are antibiotic free. All their beef and lamb are grass-fed. They were the first non-GMO verified frozen entrée in the world and first certified humanely raised entrée in the world. All the farms that supply Saffron Road have to go through grueling audits that ensure they are treating the animals with proper animal welfare. Everything that they do is also third-party certified.
  • They also feature shelf stable foods that include simmer sauces and shelf-stable meals. The packaging features low-carbon footprint materials that is non-GMO verified and quick.
  • The third segment of Saffron Road are their snack options. Right now, they’re the national leader in chickpea snacks out of about six other companies because they feature non-GMO, healthy label, organic snacks that are higher in protein than fat.
  • There is so much division and polarization between people nations these days, that Saffron Road’s mission is even stronger. They hope to bring different values and cultures together while celebrating both the aspects that make them unique, and the beauty of the melting pot when they mix and meld throughout different communities.
  • There’s power in what happens around the dinner table or when you gather together with all different people and share a hearty meal. Food naturally brings people together. Fusing delicious multicultural food together within fellowship is a powerful entity.
  • The food culture at Saffron Road emotionally connects with consumers with viral advocacy and extends beyond specific products. It’s more about the tribal affinity of distrusting large organizations that are not authentic.
  • Businesses have the capability to be a change agent and influencer for good.  Adnan and his team recognize their power and responsibility to influence and takes that very seriously and participate in many campaigns to give back to charitable organizations. They focus on causes that bring people together in solidary for compassion and justice and champion the commonality of various cultures.

32:04 – A Renaissance in the Food Business 

  • 43% of the growth of the $800 billion-dollar food and beverage industry is coming from small companies like Saffron Road. Even just ten years ago, the big-name companies were controlling the grocery store shelves.
  • Consumers are more demanding and enlightened due to the information technology age. It’s a renaissance in the food business.
  • There is so much more opportunity now than there’s ever been for venture firms to invest in this segment of appealing to values around the food system. For the first time, growth is coming from smaller startups that are chipping away at major market shares of big companies.
  • When millennials started having families, the game truly started to change. They’d learned the truth about food safety and wanted to be sure their families are not exposed to harsh chemicals and unhealthy ingredients. They care about what they are eating, what their kids are eating, the products they use in their homes, and instilling those same critical values in their children.
  • There are more choices for all consumers to be selective. It’s all the more reason for businesses to be transparent. Saffron Road refers to it as a “journey to better.” It’s better for the environment, farmers, animals, and consumers, and most of all, better tasting.

Check out 39:48 to hear the trends Adnan is predicting for next year and the next five to ten years in the US food industry and how to be sure you’re educated on what is truly healthy in the market now and in the future.

45:15 - Getting to Know Our Guest:

Find out what led Adnan to where he is today, when the social good component came in for him, as well as fun facts about Adnan (50:49) like which Saffron Road product he’d eat every single day for the rest of his life, a dream he’s yet to achieve, what his walk up song would be, and more! You’ve got to stay tuned to hear the question I ask all my guests: What does it mean to you to run a business with purpose?

Memorable Quotes:

~9:10 “In the early days we were really being pioneers trying to set a new trail for how businesses can operate and at the same time be compassionate, giving back to all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

“I learned a lot about how you can connect social responsibility with a profit motive for business and have a very sustainable enterprise, as well as enhanced brand value.”

~22:00 “If I could create a brand that brought together different cultures, faiths and ethnicities to champion the wonderfulness of all the different tenant and values that those cultures brought; I knew it would be a mission for me.” 

“It was about creating a company or responsible brand on a mission of collective progress, not only for the betterment of humanity, but to inspire, connect, and respect different global citizens through a shared love of world cuisines.”

~24:45 “The food culture at Saffron Road emotionally connects with consumers with viral advocacy and extends beyond specific products. It’s more about the tribal affinity of distrusting large organizations that are not authentic.”

32:50 - Fun facts: “43% of the growth of the $800 billion-dollar food and beverage industry is coming from small companies like Saffron Road.”

About: Adnan Durrani 

Saffron Road is the culmination of Founder Adnan Durrani’s life’s work. As a long-time social entrepreneur, Adnan was searching for a social enterprise that could bring people together.

The natural food pioneer envisioned a halal food brand that also embodied ethical consumerism: organic ingredients with no GMOs, no artificial ingredients, and no antibiotics. A brand that celebrated world cuisine, ethnic diversity and cultural harmony.

He named it Saffron Road, inspired by the Silk Road, the legendary caravan route that connected the cultures of the ancient world.

Today as CEO, Adnan leads us on the Journey to Better. With a mission to restore the “spiritual sacredness to food.”

Mr. Durrani is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the American Halal Co. Inc., which wholly owns its flagship brand Saffron Road. Mr. Durrani has been a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist for almost three decades, as President of Condor Ventures, Inc., a venture firm devoted to strategic investing in natural food companies. Saffron Road was the first halal product to be sold nationally in all Whole Foods stores and can now be found at 20,000 other retail food stores in the USA. Whole Foods, the #7 ranked US food retailer with over $16 billion in sales, has noted Saffron Road as being the most successful new brand launch in their frozen shelf nationally in recent history. Adnan’s entrepreneurial ventures have resulted in a successful track record of scaling and growing niche beverage and natural food product lines into mainstream branded companies. Mr. Durrani founded Vermont Pure in 1991. Today, Vermont Pure/Crystal Rock is the 2nd largest bottled water company in the Northeast U.S. and was acquired by Cott Beverages, COT/NYSE. Mr. Durrani and Condor Ventures were also financial partners in Stonyfield Farms, Inc. He was also a principal of Delicious Brands, Inc., which he scaled, with the financial backing of Carl Icahn, to become the 5th largest cookie brand in the U.S. He also served on the Board, and was Finance Chairman, of Social Venture Network. He has been recognized by BBMG and SVN as one of the entrepreneurs who engineered “20 Ideas That Changed The Way The World Does Business”. The select list of these inductees include: Ben Cohen (Ben & Jerry’s), Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farms), Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize, Grameen Bank), and Steve Case (AOL).

Mr. Durrani is Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Visitors of the Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of Columbia University, where he is also ex-chairman of the Entrepreneurial Advisory Board. Mr. Durrani received an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and economics from Columbia University. Mr. Durrani also serves on the Board of Directors of Maple Hill Creamery, LLC, the leading national organic grass-fed yogurt brand in the US.

About Saffron Road:  

Saffron Road brand is a leading brand in the natural and organic food industry, offering a wide range of products from frozen entrées to plant-based protein snacks. All Saffron Road Products are Halal-certified by IFANCA and are available in nearly 25,000 retail locations in the U.S. and Canada. SaffronRoad is a socially responsible brand on a mission of collective progress for the betterment of humanity, by inspiring, connecting and respecting global citizens through a shared love of ethical World Cuisines.  With Saffron Road, explore international cuisines that combine bold flavors from around the world with high quality, wholesome ingredients which are better for the environment, better for the farmers, better for the animals, better for your health, and most all better tasting. Saffron Road. Journey to Better®.


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