Art You Can Eat: An Interview with HLTHPUNK Founder Richard Lassalle
Last week, I had the pleasure of calling Richard Lassalle, founder of the disruptive food brand HLTHPUNK. HLTHPUNK currently offers six products- a UFO sauce, Bionnaise, Mustard, Smoked Harissa, Pure Tomato, Oat S'creamer, and Cocoa Grenade. All are organic, filled with superfoods, plant-based, and packaged to resemble a tube of paint. Richard did not start his career in food, however. In fact, he was a very successful production designer for nearly 25 years. He helped create music videos for Kanye West, Katy Perry, and U2 and commercials for iconic brands like Honda, Samsung, and IKEA. So, my first order of business with Richard on the line was to figure out how and when he made the switch from media to health food.
RL: “I grew up between England and the South of France. My parents were French, but we went to school in England. My parents were ‘New Age Hippies,’ I guess that’s a good term. They had their own garden, grew all our food, and everything was always completely organic with zero pesticides of any kind. They believed in homeopathic medicine, alternative education, and all that kind of thing. My childhood had a lot of art. Both my parents were artists, and my grandparents, and my great grandparents, actually. We grew up in this environment that was super healthy with complete respect for mother earth and very conscious about the diet and health. They created a household with love, harmony, and good food. It was always very focused on, from a medicinal point of view, homeopathic remedies and the fact that we can heal ourselves. If we eat the right foods as mother nature intended, we can live a pretty healthy and successful life.”
“Then I went off into the big world of design and studied automotive engineering strangely enough. One way or another, I found myself in Los Angeles and said, ‘well, what am I going to do here?’ And I looked around, and it seemed to be that everyone I met was in this thing called the film business. I thought, ‘well, maybe I should dabble in that.’ So, I started on the design art department side of things. I got on that train for the best part of a quarter of a century. I worked with some amazing people, did thousands of music videos, all sorts of commercial products with all the biggest brands in the world, and traveled the world doing that. Then there were the movies where I again worked with some really interesting people."
"But a few years ago, I thought, ‘I’ve been making other people look good with my designs all these years. Maybe it’s time to get back to my roots and create my own product and my own brand based on where I come from.’ That’s what the Entube brand and then the HLTHPUNK brand developed out of, and that’s what I have been focused on for the past few years.”
Richard at the 2018 Fancy Food Show Displaying Entube
As I mentioned before, Richard owns not one but two brands: Entube, started in 2016, and HLTHPUNK in 2019. I then asked him to describe the difference between the two, and why he started HLTHPUNK in addition.
RL: "HLTHPUNK emerged out of Entube. Entube was my first foray into a new industry, the food world. I made harissa- which is one of my favorite spices- put it in a tube, and started selling it without any prior homework or idea about what I was doing. It was almost like a hobby. I thought, 'okay, let's just do this and see what happens.' It took off by itself. I always maintain and still maintain that the product is the best salesperson. What I realized after a year or two is that I hadn’t designed the products with a commercial mentality. I had designed something that was very complex, very intricate, extremely healthy, packed with superfoods, and expensive ingredients, etc. I created a niche product that wasn’t high on the usability scale. People used a little bit here and there and didn’t repurchase very quickly. I thought, ‘now that we have learned about the business, let’s come up some mainstream products, all plant-based. Let's do some mayonnaise and some mustard, products people are going to squeeze more out and squeeze more often. Also, let’s redesign the brand a little bit. Entube is French for in a tube. Originally when I started that, I thought I was going to stick everything in a tube, whether it be soup stock or vegan this or vegan that, but what I realized was that this was limiting to the function. So, with the HLTHPUNK brand, it was okay, let’s open this up. Let’s address the world. Let’s address the planet. Let’s address sustainability. Let’s address health and people’s diets and what they are eating with a much bigger focus on that side of it. The HLTHPUNK brand evolved out of all the learning of Entube."
HLTHPUNK's current line of products. Notice the incredible packaging.
I then asked Richard if he ever planned to venture away from things ‘in a tube,’ for as he mentioned, that design can be limiting.
With the HLTHPUNK brand, we are working with this cool Danish company that has a biodegradable plastic sachet. So, we can do the single-serve mayonnaise, creamer, tomato, etc. in a biodegradable package, which is super important to me. We will probably venture into jars and stuff like that for supermarkets and then continue that process. We are looking at aluminum bottles for different sauces and salad dressing, and other fully recyclable stuff.
Richard and I then discussed how he planned to grow exposure of the brand. Some other plant-based products that I have encountered have been featured in restaurants. Just consider plant-based burgers, for example. Richard explained to me his strategy to grow the consumer awareness of HLTHPUNK:
RL: "Obviously, you know the Cambridge area. There is a restaurant there called Sofra Bakery. They have been huge Entube fans ever since we started. So, we are hoping to get HLTHPUNK stuff in there soon. They have been using our harissa consistently. There is also another good store, Formaggio. Entube in the best stores in the country. We just sent samples to Formaggio. They’re going to be taking the HLTHPUNK line soon. So, yea, we will partner with restaurants.
"Right now, however, the HLTHPUNK product size is too small for restaurants. The Entube products work because they are so concentrated that one tube can do thirty plates. The new stuff, however, we need buckets of it. We have the production capabilities to do the foodservice and the larger containers, but it's not such a brand-building experience because the consumer doesn't get exposed to the brand. They just taste the sandwich. So that will happen down the road from a business point of view, but from a brand-building point of view, that's going to wait a bit."
"We are working with a number of different influencers and bloggers who are starting to create recipes for us, and we will continue to leverage that. Because of my experience in the film industry, there are a lot of celebrities that are feeling pretty groovy about it. Peter Dinklage is a huge Entube and HLTHPUNK fan, Kelly Osbourne is having a tasting session tonight. Robert De Niro is a big fan, strangely enough. David Oyelowo and Cameron Diaz. There are quite a lot of people that have tasted our products and like them. We are going to be moving into the celebrity space. Hopefully, we can get Beyonce and Billie Eilish to squeeze a tube here and there and get that cracking. But it’s going to happen by itself because when you pick up the tube, you go, ‘that’s really cool.’ Then you squeeze it out, and it tastes amazing. It’s an all-around cool experience."
HLTHPUNK's Tomato Paste, which is beautiful to look at (in and out of the tube!)
Richard expanded on why the digital approach to him is so important to grow his consumer base:
RL: "Traditionally, you’d select the leading key gourmet cities- Los Angeles, San Fransico, Portland, Seattle, New York, Boston, and Austin. We are going to be approaching it from a retail perspective from that. But what’s important to recognize these days is that social media and the internet have created a global market. When Beyonce picks up the tube and squeezes it on her sandwich, it is going to be viewed all over the world, not in a certain spot. I am sure there is a concentration of types of people in certain cities. The whole vegan movement is huge all over Europe from Denmark, to Switzerland, to France, to the Netherlands, to England; it is really very big. So, the e-commerce side of it will attract the world. The retail side will start with those key cities in the U.S and spread to Europe at some point next year."
I then wanted to dig into the name HLTHPUNK a little bit more. I asked Richard to describe what he meant by the word 'punk.'
RL: "A punk is somebody who questions everything, who chooses freely, and takes responsibility for their actions. It’s someone who defies conformity, who actually steps outside the boundaries of what’s perceived as right and wrong, looks at it for themselves, and makes their own decisions on what’s right and wrong. It’s an individual statement. When ‘punks’ originally started in the 1970s, it had an anarchistic attitude to it. But the modern punk isn’t an anarchist. We aren’t a socially disruptive group of people. We are a group of people who say ‘hey, this normal world of everybody living within these parameters is not something we want to do. We want to create our own world. We want to be our own people. We want to be individuals."
A few members of Richard's 'punk' team
As you have probably noticed in the pictures above, Richard’s packaging is vibrant, sometimes violent and always sexy. The Smoked Harissa tube, for example, is a metallic maroon color. On it, there is a hand with black nail polish, dangling a pepper between the pointer and middle finger. The pepper is smoking, alluding to the products name while playfully resembling a lit cigarette. When one typically thinks of plant-based packaging, or really any food packaging for that matter, this is not what comes to mind. So, I had to ask: what inspired these awesome designs?
RL: "A lot of that comes from my background as an artist from a family of artists and painters. I believe that the experience of eating is a sensory one, and it's not just about the product. The product has to be amazing, but why not have a visual feast as well? Why not have something on the table when you are having your breakfast that is actually enjoyable to look at and makes you happy and starts your day off, right? Why not bring art into food as a principle? So that's where that comes from, and also, we are just about to get our products going on amazon. I wanted to experiment with the fact that when you open up Amazon, you see all these little pictures of products, and most of them have lots of words on them, and they are all very small. And for me, it's like, 'okay, well, why not just have a piece of art there with the descriptor underneath it and not have all this mumbo-jump on the actual product itself? So, it’s a little bit of an experiment in that direction, and also, the potential for making the food products visual art galleries at some point down the road. We will have guest appearances from Banksy or Shepard Fairey, or whoever it might be. And there are artists who can have limited edition runs with products. It’s basically bringing art into the food space. It's a little novel, and we will see how it goes, but it's disruptive, and it's definitely a call out that we are not another Heinz ketchup. The attitude is important."
Richard and I then discussed several of the wider problems within America’s food system, from best-by dates to bad tasting tomatoes, and how HLTHPUNK is helping to address these issues.
RL: "60% of our food gets chucked in the bin, or so I hear, which is outrageous. A lot of food waste is actually because we have best-by dates. In England, they've eliminated best-by dates on vegetables and produce type items. A lot of the best-by dates on regularly packaged products do not mean that on the best-by date the product is going to turn on you. It’s more about, ‘let’s put a best by date on it, so someone throws it away and buys a new one.’ It’s a recommendation. The sell-by date, best-by date-there are different ways to say it. A regular supermarket won’t take a product unless you have 18-24 months on the product, because they are concerned that once the product passes its best-by date, no one will buy it. It doesn’t mean that the product is bad. Obviously, there’s a certain food safety aspect, but for the most part, if you open a product and it smells not right, you chuck it. I know my harissa paste says two years on it, but it will last for five. It has no preservatives in it, only natural ingredients. You don’t need all that stuff in there. You don’t need the chemicals to keep the products. You need the right PH balance, water activity balance, and other scientific things that don’t involve chemicals."
"For our products, we use something called an acerola berry, which is basically a small cherry from the Amazon; it has 400% more vitamin c than an orange. So, if you look at our tube of Indian Curry, it’s got 25% of your daily vitamin c needs in one teaspoon. But also what that acerola does is act a natural ascorbic acid. It preserves it naturally. See, there are all sorts of fun stuff in food science."
"Also in America, what the tomato looks like has become the predominant sales factor. People don’t understand the difference between good flavor and bad flavor anymore. You very rarely find a tomato in an American supermarket that actually tastes like a tomato. If you go to southern Europe, and you go to the market and pick up a tomato, it’s like having a peach. It’s super sweet and stupid delicious and has all the right acidity balances and everything. We have really destroyed our vegetables in this country. So, the perfect tomato on the shelf is not the best tasting tomatoes. The tomatoes that go into our products are all organic tomatoes from Italy, and they aren’t chosen because they look pretty. They are chosen because they taste delicious."
An acerola berry, the magical superfood in several Entube and HLTHPUNK products
Having followed Richard on Instagram, I saw that his he and his family were all incredible cooks. Most of his dishes were plant-based, but there was the occasional (delicious looking) fish here and there. So, I asked Richard what his personal approach to diet was:
RL: "I am definitely a flexitarian. I don't personally believe in anything in the extreme. Though I understand the plant-based vegan argument for the planet, human beings have been eating animal products for thousands of years, and there's a reason for it. Industrial farming has f*&%ed up the planet pretty badly. And that’s the key to what needs to change. The problem is not that eating meat is bad for you, as much as eating meat that is so highly industrialized. It creates so much methane and pollution. Meat shouldn’t be eaten in excess because the body doesn’t process the animal fats very well. Having a little bit here and there is fine, but having too much leads to obesity and all the other health issues we have in this country. I am vegan-curious but not full-on vegan, no, even though I rarely eat meat."
Richard went on to expand how his brands were also not specifically vegan but much more inclusive to a wider community.
RL: "We definitely consider ourselves plant-based and not vegan. Vegan has a lot of connotations that are very polarizing. Plant-based embraces everything. We are appealing to people who are aware of the meat situation in the world and what it is doing to the planet. We are appealing to those who are vegan and anti-meat and to those who wish to reduce their meat content. We are not going to market full out to regular meat-eaters. I am still debating how to approach that. Because honestly, our mustard, aside from being really amazing, is great on a hot dog, whether it be a vegan or a regular hotdog. So, we are not going to exclude or make meat eaters devils. Ultimately, it’s the customer who decides. We don’t want to ostracize anyone. We present you this product, and you choose what to do with it, how you want to work with it."
Richard's mustard...and stunning photography
My last question was, naturally, where and when can I buy my very own HLTHPUNK tubes?
RL: "We should be in Whole Foods Rocky Mountains in the summer, and hopefully, we can be in Whole Foods nationwide next year. We will be launching and using our existing distribution network. We will be approaching a couple thousands of stores that are already familiar with Entube and ramping up quarterly as the market awareness grows. We are now available on, and this will be our initial platform because we have customers from all over the country. With Entube, a lot of them don’t live near a place that they could buy a product, so the Amazon platform is important. We will be doing direct-to-consumer from our website eventually, but the customer acquisition cost on that is really high. So, it’s much more accessible to get with the Amazon program to start with, and then we build traction within our own website and accelerator. "
I would like to give a big thanks to Richard for taking the time to speak with me. HLTHPUNK is a brand to look out for, and one I myself know I will be trying. If you would like to squeeze out a few these products, you can order them from Amazon here.