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POPPING INTO MARKET: Jeff Brinkhoff, former CEO of Red Monkey Foods, is jumping back into business with his popped water lily seed startup, Hopapops.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
POPPING INTO MARKET: Jeff Brinkhoff, former CEO of Red Monkey Foods, is jumping back into business with his popped water lily seed startup, Hopapops.

Entrepreneur moves to Hopapops from Red Monkey

After a sale in 2017, Jeff Brinkhoff emerges with a new venture: popped water lily seeds

Posted online

Former Red Monkey Foods Inc. CEO Jeff Brinkhoff is back in the business game with a new product – popped water lily seeds. 

Brinkhoff and business partner Sameer Mehra, founder of Suminter India Organics, launched Hopapops in March under Brinkhoff’s Waterfox Foods Inc. 

Hopapops are popped water lily seeds that come in four flavors: coconut, Himalayan sea salt and ghee, white cheddar and mango habanero. Brinkhoff said they’re made in the U.S. and India.  

“There’s not a lot of nutritional value in popcorn, and a lot of people feel that it contains a lot of empty calories. However, the water lily seed is extremely nutrient-dense,” Brinkhoff said.

It’s considered a superfood. The seeds contain vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber, and according to the Hopapops website, they’re chock-full of amino acids. One package contains around 120 calories and 6% of the recommended daily iron, potassium and fiber. 

Brinkhoff stumbled across the product when he was in the spice industry and made frequent trips to India. He said the water lily seeds are native to northern India and have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest holistic treatments. Unlike popcorn, water lily seeds require friction to pop. 

Meagan Dollens, sales and marketing manager for Hopapops, said they wanted the product to represent something fun and high-energy, and with the word “hop” referring to activity and movement, Hopapops was the clear name for the brand. Brinkhoff started Red Monkey Foods Inc. in 2002 as a private-label organic and gourmet spice manufacturer. San Francisco Equity Partners bought a majority stake in the company in 2017, and Brinkhoff transitioned out of the company, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Red Monkey Foods had made the Inc. 5000 fast-growth list for four straight years through 2014.

Brinkhoff and Mehra are the sole investors of Hopapops. Mehra lives in India and founded Suminter India Organics in 2003. The company is a privately held supplier of certified organic products from India to countries around the world.

Trendy snacks
Hopapops currently isn’t available for sale in Springfield, but the snack is available on Amazon. 

In store, the product comes in two sizes – a 1-ounce bag for $1.99 or a 2.3-ounce shareable bag for $3.99. On Amazon, Hopapops sell in three- or four-bag packs.  

Dollens said via email the product is carried in grocery chains on the West Coast, naming Berkeley Bowl, Raley’s Supermarkets and Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in California. It’s also sold on the East Coast in New Jersey-based ShopRite and in over 400 other independent and natural food stores nationwide, Dollens said. 

She said Hopapops also will be featured in a national home food delivery service called Freshly.

“We hope to bring more people to the natural snack food aisle by showing that popped water lily seeds are a great replacement for boring, empty calorie snacks like popcorn and chips,” Dollens said. 

A typical bag of popped popcorn, like the trendy Boom Chicka Pop, contains double the fat that’s in the same serving of Hopapops, according to SBJ research. And a regular serving of potato chips contains an additional 10% of the recommended daily intake of fat.

“We see that this has legs,” Brinkhoff said. “It’s a super food that’s new to the category and tastes good.”

Popped water lily seeds were recognized as one of Whole Foods Market’s Top 10 Food Trends for 2019.

“In the last two years, there’s been a new surge of puffed, better-for-you snacks, where seeds or grains are being puffed,” said Kara Nielsen, vice president of trends and marketing at CCD Innovation, an Emeryville, California-based food innovation agency. “There was a real uptick in different kinds of puffs – like peanut puffs and chickpea puffs, and taking what you’ve seen for over a decade and adding air to make it lighter.”

Nielsen also is on the trend spotter panel for the Specialty Foods Association, of which Hopapops is a member.

She said the puffed products are typically produced by smaller brands not found in national chain stores. Natural, organic food stores or independent stores are picking them up for sale.

Nielsen said there’s plenty of room for more popped water lily seed brands in the market to join Yoga Pops, Bohana, Taali, Lily Puffs and AshaPops, for instance.

The industry is catering to younger generations, she said.

“A part of what they’re looking for in a food experience is something that elevates their senses, reflects global flavor profiles and is new and thrilling,” Nielsen said. “They’re less about loyalty and sticking to one thing, and they’re more about exploring.”

Looking ahead
Hopapops has yet to turn a profit in its first year, and Brinkhoff declined to disclose the company’s sales or projections.

He said the goal moving forward is to build the brand and obtain distribution at key locations. 

Working out of the Efactory business incubator in downtown Springfield, Brinkhoff said the four-person company is preparing to start its mission of giving back to the region of India where the seeds are sourced. He said it’s an impoverished area.

“We are working with the villages in the Vihar region, and we’re giving back in ways of education for farmers, as well as educational material for schools,” he said. “We’re going to be giving back immediately. We’re not waiting until we’re profitable.”

He said the donations won’t be based on sales percentages, but what they feel is necessary to donate at any given time.

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