When it comes to getting the pickiest palates to try new foods, parents have a few tried-and-true tricks.
They can finely chop (or, better yet, Vitamix) the new ingredient into a smoothie or casserole, only to tell the child that she actually loves beets—because she just ate one. Or they can drape the new item in that most familiar and beloved of children’s food groups: ketchup.
A father of four kids ranging in age from 2 to 10, Abraham “Abe” Kamarck set out to do both when he landed on the concept for the Alexandria-based food business he co-founded, True Made Foods. With a little vegetable-sneaking, the company waged war on the secretly sugar-laden lineup that makes up America’s favorite condiments, starting by reimagining the recipe for ketchup.
The business launched in 2015 with a ketchup made of butternut squash, carrots, spinach and, yes, tomatoes. It has since added a barbecue sauce and Veracha, a take on Sriracha Kamarck dubs “ketchup for grownups,” to the offerings and expanded to sell at more than 700 stores.
At industry fancy food shows and in grocery aisles, the company is among a growing number of vegetable-sneaking brands reinventing childhood and pantry staples with vegetables in mind rather than removing ingredients like corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or food colorings.
Food trend analysts say the plant-based crazed has reached a crescendo, and True Made Foods is at the front of that effort, expanding the vegetable takeover to the family pantry. At last year’s Natural Products Expo West Eric Pierce, director of business insights at New Hope, a firm tracking industry trends, included hidden veggies in a list of the top five natural foods trends.
“I’m hoping we can show people that vegetables make things taste better, that you can eat healthy and you don’t have to sacrifice flavor,” says 40-year-old Kamarck.
A former Navy pilot, Kamarck first got into food manufacturing while developing a post-conflict coffee line for the charity Coexist. Three of his four children were born overseas while he and his wife, Kristy, worked for companies in Bulgaria, Africa and the Middle East before moving to Alexandria in 2013.
“I had always done entrepreneurial stuff halfway because of the kids, but the opportunity and market were there for this,” says Kamarck, who recently bought out his co-founder to become the brand’s sole owner.
The concept got a head start when it was accepted and invested in by Food-X, a business accelerator program in New York City, where Kamarck learned the ropes of food entrepreneurship. The condiments are bottled at a co-packing plant in Louisville, Kentucky, before being distributed to stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
The company’s products are for sale locally at Balducci’s and Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market in Alexandria and The Cookery in Shirlington, among others. The barbecue sauce was featured in one of Blue Apron’s home-delivered meals to customers across the country last summer.
Kamarck recently launched a line of white-labeled squirt bottles for the ketchup that he hopes will make it onto the countertops of local eateries—even if that means older kids might get a chance to read the label.
Though sneaking is a decent initial strategy, Kamarck says he wants even his youngest customers to know that the delicious item they just consumed is chock-full of vegetables. It’s important, for more than relieving parental guilt, that the truth eventually come out.