Engine 2 Driver: 5 Questions with Brand Chief Mike Schall

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When Rip Esselstyn published his book in 2009, The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan That Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds, it became a New York Times best-selling tome in the long tradition of fitness and weight-loss regimens.

While a firefighter might seem like an unlikely apostle of a low-fat, vegan diet, his father and grandfather were physicians and plant-based diet pioneers.

Similarly, Mike Schall has brought a surprisingly appropriate background to the job of brand development director for Engine 2. He had been a top executive at a number of food companies and then president of the Guiltless Gourmet brand in the early days of the natural-food boom.[more]

For the past five years he has been in charge of nurturing Engine 2’s relationship as an exclusive brand of Whole Foods Markets, with 28 (and counting) SKUs covering a variety of what the brand calls “plant-strong” categories, ranging from pasta sauces to ancient-grain wraps to almond milk to hummus, all based on the Engine 2 diet.

As Esselstyn writes on the diet’s website, “In a nutshell, Engine 2 diet is about ridding your diet of the junk (meat, dairy, refined and processed foods) and fully embracing tasty, nutritious, whole plant-based foods.”

Schall talked with brandchannel about the Engine 2 food brand and its unique relationship with Whole Foods and its namesake diet.

brandchannel: You call the Engine 2 Diet “plant-strong,” not “vegan.” Why?

Mike Schall (right): “Vegan” is a very polarizing term. It’s a political statement, and we’re not making a political statement.

bc: Tell us about the exclusive relationship Engine 2 has with Whole Foods.

Schall: Engine 2 food products are only available at Whole Foods Markets. It’s not a private label per se, because retailers that do private label typically focus on everyday low prices, like Whole Foods’ 365 private-label brand; it’s a great consumer value. [Engine 2] performs more like a brand. We are featured and advertised and promoted like a brand by Whole Foods, an approach that is unique to them.

bc: Why did you pick the product categories you did?

Schall: They’re all products that are either whole-grain or nutrient-dense, and never with any added vegetable oil [one of the hallmarks of the Engine 2 diet]. What makes Engine 2 unique is that we provide products that meet our dietary criteria that aren’t available in the marketplace. And, they taste really good.

bc: If Engine 2 is only found in Whole Foods, how do you promote the brand?

Schall: Three ways. As with any kind of brand you launch in the industry, promotion and advertising play a key role. Because Engine 2 isn’t a brand that is ‘everyday low cost,’ it is promoted through advertising and feature pricing, marketing the way a conventional brand would be marketed. Engine 2 also is promoted in the store, creating more awareness.

The second thing is our big national 28-Day Challenge in January and February. Just like in the title of the book, it essentially says, “Stay with us for 28 days on this plant-based diet and you’ll reap the benefits.” And third, we launch more products.

bc: What other new categories will the brand be entering?

Schall: Some of the products will be in existing lines, such as hummus, where we may incorporate ancient grains or unique flavors. Also we are getting ready to launch pizza crusts. Again, whatever we do is whole-grain or nutrient-dense, and never with any added oil.

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[Image via Whole Foods Market]

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