Explore the full 2023 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 540 organizations that are reshaping industries and culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact across 54 categories, including advertising, beauty, design, and more.
This year’s most innovative companies in the Consumer Goods category aren’t those that sold high-quality, or even amazing, products. They are the ones that transformed how we think about about products altogether, often morphing their craft into practically an art form, or rethinking it in a way that led to a breakthrough. Among the 2023 honorees are brands that shook up everything from cookware and spirits to oral hygiene, home decor, and disposable cups.
Empirical, from two ex-Noma chefs, has literally produced a new type of alcohol called freeform with flavors that defy simple categorization. Kraft Heinz, the world’s fifth-largest food company, partnered with a Chilean food-tech startup to create vegan versions of iconic products like Kraft Mayo and Kraft Singles.
In the kitchen, Our Place’s thoughtfully designed kitchen essentials make preparing food not just easier, but more inclusive, too. Already the maker of best-in-class coffee gear, Fellow debuted a pro line of its award-winning equipment, while also beginning to source coffee beans from around the world. Repurpose achieved marine biodegradability for every piece of disposable tableware you’d need for a picnic or party.
Parachute applied its luxe, sustainable ethos for bedding to a new line of midcentury-modern-inspired home furniture. For when you travel from home, high-end luggage brand Paravel crammed a third more recycled materials (used plastic water bottles) into its popular carbon-neutral suitcase.
Uni rolled out the world’s first closed-loop bodycare refill system. Elsewhere in the bathroom, Suri introduced what it calls Earth’s most sustainable electric toothbrush—in a model that turned design geeks’ heads.
Finally, fresh off reinventing home interior wall paint, Backdrop turned to wallpaper, debuting stylish prints that are exhaustively tested for chemical emissions and mold resistance.
For pursuing free-form spirits that defy classification
Empirical argues that it’s a flavor company more than a liquor distiller, but the Danish startup’s business model ought to be described with the word it coined for its new high-end spirit category: free-form. At a time when so many spirit brands simply pay celebrities to pose with their bottles, and much innovation is now being funneled toward low- or zero-alcohol variants, Empirical’s founders Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, alums of the restaurant Noma and the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, sought to reinvent what “alcohol” even is.
Armed with an impressive R&D center built from the ground up in Denmark’s capital, the duo spent 2022 pushing the boundaries of flavor, spirits, and the supply chain. They have reimagined age-old distillation processes, which are based on applying heat. Instead, they’ve used vacuums so that the distillation occurs at a lower temperature, better preserving the molecular structure of the flavor compounds.
Empirical’s Soka is a smooth and creamy spirit that’s distilled from sorghum juice and syrup and riffs on the dunder-pit process that produces some excellent Agricola rums. Empirical trekked through the Midwest in search of the U.S.’s most talented growers and found only two that met its high standards: one is the National Sorghum Producers’s president; the other, they describe as a “Mad Max engineer” based in Wisconsin. The company has tried to make the spirit approachable by pricing it at $50 for a 750-milliliter bottle.
Other offerings include Ayuuk, a spirit sourced directly from Oaxacan chili farmers in Mexico, and Empirical Green Malt, a collaboration with the University of Copenhagen and White Labs that yields a spirit with a radically low carbon footprint. In fact, few spirits today are future-proofed, but the industry has shown little initiative to fix that. Empirical hopes its high-end spirits—which often sell out in 24 hours, and have seen 500% revenue growth in America, and 200% in Europe—serve as a catalyst for change by inspiring others in the industry to rethink their processes.
2. KRAFT HEINZ
For selling plant-based versions of some of its most popular products
In early 2022, Kraft Heinz and Jeff Bezos-backed Chilean food-tech startup NotCo formed the Kraft Heinz Not Company, a joint venture aimed at veganizing some of the conglomerate’s top-selling food items.
Often in the food industry, new products get trapped in R&D limbo for years. Kraft Heinz and NotCo used the food multinational’s management experience and NotCo’s breakthrough AI engine to whip up plant-based versions of Singles cheese and Kraft’s popular mayonnaise. So-called Not Cheese appeared on Midwestern grocery shelves last November; Kraft Heinz says that a national rollout is scheduled for late 2023. Plans for the vegan mayo are less specific, but the product should begin market testing in early 2023.
Kraft Heinz aims to introduce four more animal-free product offerings to the U.S. market. Citing polls showing that half of Americans profess a desire to add more plant-based foods to their diets, Kraft Heinz wants to remove barriers to entry by converting its products that have excellent brand equity into what would be essentially gateway foods. Its Not Cheese costs slightly more than Singles—which retailers like Walmart sell in 24-packs for under $5—but less than fancier plant-based cheeses. Not Cheese uses coconut oil, cornstarch, and chickpea protein to mimic Singles’ super-gooey state under heat. As North America’s third-largest food company, Kraft Heinz believes its role is to cultivate an “external partnership ecosystem” in the industry to help introduce consumers to food startups’ innovative products at scale. The company continues to grow, with net sales rising in 2022 to $26.5 billion, a 9.8% organic sales growth rate.
For pioneering a vegan, zero-waste, closed-loop bodycare brand
Sometimes the most obvious ideas take time. The Uni Refill System—at its core a reusable dispenser and an aluminum bottle filled with the soap of your choice—spent three years in development before being unveiled to the world in February 2022 as the first closed-loop refillable bodycare system.
The personal-care industry is estimated to be responsible for one-third of all single-use plastic in oceans and landfills. In Uni’s kits, consumers find innovative packaging design: A modular system where the dispenser detaches from the bottle, which gets shipped back using a prepaid shipping label, washed, and reloaded. The contents inside can be any of five different personal-care products: a hand wash, bodywash, shampoo, conditioner, or body serum. All of these various products are carbon-neutral from day one, recognized by the United Nations Climate Neutral Now initiative.
The company tracks its entire carbon footprint from source to skin, and shares the results for consumers to see. The ingredients are reef-safe and upcycled when possible.
Aware that travel-size toiletries are a prime climate offender, Uni is also looking to provide amenities to hotels and workout centers. It has already secured collaborations with popular spots such as the Chateau Marmont and Montauk’s Surf Lodge, and says it’s working on large-scale rollouts with additional brand partners to drive more outsize impact beyond the retail landscape.
4. OUR PLACE
For celebrating the multiethnic traditions that comprise the modern American kitchen
The Always Pan made Our Place internet-famous—this piece of cookware that could replace a skillet, braising pan, roasting pan, griddle, baking dish, spatula, and spoon rest—attracted budget-conscious home cooks of all stripes, and briefly resulted in a 60,000-person wait list at one point in 2022. The brand, started by Malala Fund cofounder Shiza Shahid, has kept working to make kitchenware more inclusive. The food industry has a history of underrepresenting BIPOC and LGBTQ voices. Our Place leverages its popularity to launch special “Traditionware” collections that celebrate the important food cultures of marginalized or overlooked communities.
In 2022, the company introduced 18 new products. Among them was a Moroccan tagine that pays homage to North African cooking traditions. Handcrafted by artisans in Marrakesh, the clay pieces are each distinct, and they are designed to be placed on top of the Always Pan, to make curries, stews, and shakshuka.
To celebrate one of India’s most popular holidays, Our Place also introduced a Diwali set that paired an artful diya, or oil lamp, with an Always Pan and Fry Set so that people could prepare traditional festive dishes like batata vada.
Our Place also works closely with nonprofits that offer legal representation to immigrants, counter hate speech, and fight hunger, among them Feeding America, ImmDef, Equal Justice Initiative, and the Felix Project.
For making ocean-safe tableware from plant materials
Plastic-free disposable tableware brands have proliferated recently, but few can pair innovation with scale like Repurpose does. A glance at its plant-based product lineup, available at 10,000 retail locations, will leave you asking what sort of party-refreshment holder Repurpose hasn’t found a way to make compostable yet: wine and cocktail glasses, cutlery, plates and bowls of all sizes, and trash bags are all accounted for.
For 2022, Repurpose introduced a slew of new products, among them ocean-safe straws, bamboo-based paper towels and toilet paper, and a paper cup for hot and cold drinks that is fully recyclable—the holy grail of sustainability. (Conventional cups lined with polyethylene to repel liquids have, since their advent decades ago, been unrecyclable.) Repurpose’s new biobased cup can be both recycled and composted.
This year, Repurpose also upped its own ante by making everything marine-degradable, too, meaning that if a cake plate did end up in the ocean, it would simply decompose. The brand also introduced its first zero-waste packaging to put tableware into. Repurpose states that its revenue doubled in 2022, and it projects that it’ll double again in 2023.
For obsessing about sustainability as much as its new line of living-room furniture
After tiptoeing into furniture in 2021, bedding brand Parachute launched a full-on living room collection in October 2022 that features sofas, marble coffee tables, and $900 floor lamps. Heading into 2022, the company acknowledged that as its brand grows, so will its footprint—creating a corporate responsibility to expand Parachute’s sustainability initiatives. This past summer, Parachute launched a pop-up in Nordstrom, marking its first-ever major home and decor collaboration. The brand more than doubled its retail footprint in 2022, and stores score a 93 on the 100-point Net Promoter Score customer-satisfaction rating.
The 15-piece furniture collection was inspired by midcentury Danish design, and the sofas and chairs come with 12 premium fabric choices that are all PFAS-free. This year, Parachute also attained climate-neutral status. This involved measuring emissions from the entire 2021 supply chain, implementing reduction goals that are in alignment with the Paris Agreement, and offsetting leftover CO2e with verified carbon credits.
Parachute also launched the brand’s first circular product in March: the Recycled Down Pillow. A “trustworthy partner” cuts open Parachute’s returned pillows, the down feathers are run through a rigorous sanitization process, and then they’re restuffed into new undyed recycled shells. Meanwhile, Parachute began transitioning to organic cotton in 2022, hitting 10%, with a goal of sourcing nothing but organic cotton by 2024.
For making sustainable electric toothbrushes that win design awards
Suri‘s new sonic toothbrush benefits the planet and users’ teeth. But it’s hard not to judge the self-proclaimed “world’s most sustainable electric toothbrush” by how it looks sitting on your bathroom counter. Yes, the recyclable brush head was formed from biodegradable cornstarch, and sure, the bristles were indeed made with castor oil, meaning they’ll never degrade into microplastics. But since its launch in May 2022, Suri’s toothbrush has cleaned up on design accolades, making the best-of lists of design-centric magazines like Monocle and Wallpaper*, and winning Dezeen’s public vote for 2022 product design of the year.
The technical specs are also solid: The body is a piece of durable lightweight aluminum, but built so that Suri—short for “Sustainable Rituals”—can disassemble and repair it if necessary. It’s generally smaller than competitors, and minimalist, too, offering a single button to power the internal motor that pulses at 33,000 vibrations per minute. The battery can last for more than a month.
Two accessories are included with the toothbrush: a spartan charging stand, and a travel case that blasts the bristles with UV-C light, killing 99.9% of bacteria on the brush head in one minute.
Suri has applied for B Corp certification and has partnered from the outset with Climate Partner to offset 100% of its annual carbon emissions.
For giving coffee lovers beautiful, professional-grade gear and drinkware
San Francisco-based Fellow has combined a passion for coffee and product design, most famously through its Stagg pour-over kettle and Ode grinder, a device that ultimately raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter. In 2022, the company turned to fine-tuning its popular creations. Fellow announced a new $30 million funding round in June to accelerate innovation, add a significant education component, and expand retail beyond its current wholesale partners (Blue Bottle Coffee, La Colombe) and national retailers (Nordstrom, Williams Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, and MoMA Design Stores). Fellow’s engineers (who have experience at Apple, Tesla, and other top tech companies) designed a tricked-out version of the Stagg kettle that went on sale in October 2022. It added a leakproof lid to the original matte-black device, plus a bevy of new features, such as the ability to schedule boils, set the altitude, and pre-sanitize the water. In November, it did the same with the Red Dot award-winning Ode, unveiling a second-generation version with better burrs, a tweaked hopper that boasted “a more dramatic slope” to ensure all coffee beans end up in the grinder, and what it bills as anti-static technology to keep grounds from clinging to the insides.
The brand also launched the Fellow Coffee Subscription, applying the enthusiasm used to design gear to sourcing coffee beans. The subscription features a rotating selection of hard-to-find coffees from roasters all over the world, chosen by Fellow’s certified Q Graders who reportedly tested nearly 500 of them before settling on the best roasts. Coffees are curated to match subscribers’ preferences, and the program offers brewing tips directly from the roasters themselves.
For upcycling millions of plastic bottles into stylish carbon-neutral suitcases
Luxury luggage brand Paravel set the industry sustainability bar in 2020, when its flagship Aviator suitcase went carbon-neutral. For 2022, Paravel leveled up the Aviator’s construction further, from 60% to 90% recycled materials. Into each suitcase, it now squeezes between 15 and 21 upcycled bottles through what’s called Negative Nylon. In August, Paravel expanded the line again, with a fully collapsable pet carrier; it has received the Center for Pet Safety’s highest rating.
Paravel was created by Delpozo alums Andy Krantz and Indré Rockefeller (yes, from that family) after Rockefeller traveled to Antarctica and saw climate change up close. For every Aviator suitcase sold, Paravel now embarks on an epic carbon-canceling journey: It offsets all of the CO2e emitted from sourcing, manufacturing, and shipping (it uses boats, when it can). Then, to start consumers off right, it also offsets the CO2e from the first flight that they take with their new luggage.
In 2022, the company says it upcycled its 5 millionth plastic bottle into luggage, and in the process doubled 2021’s bottle count. That offset the equivalent of 3,600 cars’ annual emissions. The brand has also planted some 250,000 trees with the help of Eden Restoration Projects.
For introducing paints and wall coverings for the Zoom generation
Backdrop is best known for bringing millennial disruption to paint during the Zoom era. Wife-husband founders Natalie and Caleb Ebel grafted style signifiers onto home decor by introducing subdued, sustainable colors (“Aperitivo Hour,” “Surf Camp”) poured from cans that were redesigned to have more-titillating rectangle shapes, and equipped with plastic screw tops. Backdrop pioneered a DIY direct-to-consumer setup where 50% of customers would purchase paints without ever requesting a sample. Many took cues from hashtagged social-media posts.
Fresh from their pandemic-driven success, the Ebels believed they could do the same for wallpaper. In mid 2022, they released Backdrop’s first five patterns, cooked up in their L.A. studio. They nod to classic design motifs, from Abstract to ink wash. Backdrop is planning new drops each season. Printed on high-quality, textural non-woven paper in Brooklyn, New York , the wallcoverings use an eco-friendly production process that’s Greenguard Gold-–certified (signifying very low VOC emissions), and range in price from $28 to $54 per yard. Naturally, they coordinate well with Backdrop paints.