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Welcome to your Food Business Success. This podcast is for early stage entrepreneurs in the packaged food industry ready to finally turn that delicious idea into reality. I'm your host Sari Kimbell. I have guided hundreds of food brand founders to success as an industry expert and business coach. And it's gotta be fun. In this podcast, I share with you mindset tools to become a true entrepreneur and run your business like a boss, interviews with industry experts to help you understand the business you are actually in, and food founder journeys so you can learn what worked and didn't work, and not feel so alone in your own journey. Now, let's jump in.
Welcome to podcast 103. First of all, today is my birthday, the day that this airs. So I spent the weekend in Sedona on a meditation retreat with my stepmom. And I'm sure that there will be some future episodes that talk about getting still, and meditation, and being present. So when this episode airs, when you're listening to it today, it is my birthday. But I am giving you all an amazing gift. And this is a result of an offer, a request that I made. So in Episode 102, as we talk about reinvention, I share with you steps that you need to do in order to actually make that reinvention happen. And as I mentioned in there, I said I was making a lot of requests this summer. And a request, a win win request has to be a win for you and a win for them. And it has to result in a win or a loss, a yes or no. And so as I was thinking about what would be really fun for me as I enter year 2 of the podcast, we're almost there. And I was like, I want to interview Justin. And as you'll hear in the podcast, you know, I work for Whole Foods Market, was the marketing director for the Fort Collins store here in Colorado and local was very big at that time. This is all pre Amazon. And Justin was. I saw Justin's face a lot, right? On posters, and we did a lot of shouting out of his products. He was a local brand. And really one of the ones at the forefront of leading this whole local charge. And the purpose of this interview. And the way I posed it to him was I don't really care about the exit, right? I mean, he exited, he sold, made a lot of money. Like maybe that's some of your guys's dreams to do that. But for many of you listening, that is like way too far down the road, and maybe not even your goal. But what I felt like the story that was really important to tell here is that it's easy for us to look at Justin now and say, wow, that was just, he got really lucky or timing or he was just an overnight success. And what I want you to realize is that he just started with an idea. He started exactly where you're at right now where he was like, I'm making this stuff in my kitchen and everybody tells me that I should start a business. And he had the downside of there were no people like me, right? There were no consultants and coaches in this space. Naturally Boulder was barely getting started. And he was figuring this all out on his own with few resources. But he was very resilient. And I just wanted to show you that it starts with just baby steps. You don't go from where you're at now to leaping to an exit, right? Or to big success. Like it took him 15 years, he did 6 years at the farmers market. And this was before there were local programs at Whole Foods and some of these other grocery stores that he was getting into. But he persevered and he is one of the trailblazers for you. And so I want you to know this story. And I want you to know how fortunate you do have it. I mean, he was trailblazing before there was a local and before social media was what it is today, and before you could just, you know, have these local programs to get into more stores. And before ecommerce was the way it was now, the way it is now. So my purpose in this episode is really to give you a little bit of like grounding and know that you have to start where you're at, you have to take just that first next step. And the other two things I got from this interview, even though he denies it, that there was a certain amount of time, like this wasn't overnight, he kept trying, he kept problem solving. And maybe he wasn't patient in it. But he recognized that these things do take time. And there is no overnight success, and there are no shortcuts. And he just kept at it no matter what. He had a vision of success, and nothing was going to stop him from doing that. The other thing is that he made significant investments in this business. He was borrowing money, he was taking friends and family loans. He believed in it that much. And I think sometimes I hear from you all that there's a little bit of like, this should just be easy. This should not require an investment of my time or money, this should go faster. And that should word is really dangerous. It will put a lock down on your dreams, it will really slow you down. Instead, we have to move past the entitlement or the self pity, and just get to work, make win win offers. And you're going to hear that in this story that he tells. He had to convince people to put it on the shelf when he was just a little guy, right? And he made big win win offers, and he was not giving up no matter what.
So I really hope you enjoyed this interview. It was such a pleasure. It was a dream of mine. I was little giddy, a little nervous at the beginning. But really, he just talks for most. So it's such a fun story. And I really appreciate his time. And I put it in a little postscript after the outro where we continued a conversation after we had finished recording the episode and I just happen to still be recording it so I wanted to include it as well. All right on to the interview with Justin Gold of Justin's Nut Butter.
So excited to welcome my guest today. He really doesn't need much introduction but I will let him introduce himself. So today's guest is Justin Gold of Justin's Nut Butter. And welcome Justin!
That's a perfect introduction.
That's easy as it gets. Well, is there anything else you want to tell us about yourself? Or we can leave it at that and just jump right on in?
Yeah, you know, I get asked that a lot, so I think the one thing that I like to say early on, is I'm going for Father of the Year, and I'm going for husband of the year, the bar is pretty high for husband of the year but my kids don't know any better. So Father it's so, no, you know, I think it's really important to be present with my family and the relationships that I have and that I'm in. I do a lot. I've spent this past two years in service. So I've spent a lot of time with the community. I'm chairing a capital campaign for a nature center that's going to be in the Boarder County community. When I think back as to why I started a natural foods company, you know, it drills down to my childhood and just being in nature and being outside and getting my hands dirty. And that's really influenced and dictated who I become as an adult and got me into the natural food industry. And so when I had some time on my hands and I want to do some service projects for our community. My big thing was getting kids and families introduced and in nature to really have an intimate relationship because I think nature is good for our mental health, our physical health, or spiritual health, or community health. Clearly our environmental health and I think that there's what's missing in our community is an all ages, all access, open to the public and free nature center for people to commune and to learn, to being a lot with that. I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and lifted a lot of business plans. I help people build teams, make connections, you know, think outside where they are today. What else do I do right now, I am also working on some other projects. I'm working outside of Boulder County, Colorado and creating an eco resort, which people learn about when it's ready, which is super fun. Combining my favorite passions, which is hiking and fishing and skiing and being outside, really ecologically conscious way, and doing some traveling and, you know, helping the Justin's crew when they need help and reach out, and just always trying to be available for everyone.
So great. Well, I reached out to you, I have been going through a little bit of a reinvention in my business and myself this summer. And I was like, I want this to be in my own business. And I was like, who do I really want to talk to on this podcast and you popped into my head, I was like, it would be so fun to interview you. And I mentioned in my email that he used to work for Whole Foods Market, I was the marketing director at the Fort Collins store. And so we were always promoting local and it was my, where my heart was at, was around local. And so you were often the poster child. With Justin's Nut Butter was the poster child of like the success story of local,
I literally like a poster hanging in the store.
Literally a poster. Yes. So I looked at your face a lot and definitely shouted you guys out a lot in my role at that time. And so I think, you know, I use you as an example sometimes about the, you know, the overnight success that people think happens in a food business but the reality is very different. And so that's really why I wanted to have you on to talk about your early stage when you were just starting out because so many of the people I work with can relate to that. And so I just love for you to kind of take us back in the journey when you first got started and what was going on for you.
It's crazy. I mean, I was a 15 year overnight success. And in some respects, like 15 years is kind of overnight, you know, and you have a lot of people who've been doing this for that long or longer. And they're still trying to, you know, find out when their timing, when it's their turn. When the world is going to finally accept and be ready for what they're doing. And this great new product they found or innovation they've created and timing is really dictates everything. And I feel really grateful and fortunate, lucky, that my time came when it did with, you know, the trends of plant based protein and nut butters. And even, you know, on the delivery with the squeeze pack. But my story starts in nature. And I grew up in Western Pennsylvania in a really rural, small town community. And I was outside a lot. You know, went to college to study Environmental Policy. When I was in college, I became a vegetarian. And I really wanted to become a lawyer. And so I was preparing for the LSAT, I was getting ready to go to Law School. And on a whim, I interned for a nonprofit environmental law firm in Harrisburg. And I was really excited to be part of the organization, you know, and hopefully like find my way and get to law school and focus. And I hated it, I really did not enjoy the experience of, you know, what it would be to be a lawyer down the road. And it was such an incredible moment because when you're in college, you're trying to figure everything out, there's all this pressure to have it figured out. And you want to figure it out because you want to know, you know, where you're headed. And when all of that is kind of taken out from under you. You just feel a little lost. And so, and I moved to California after graduating with a degree Environmental Policy, moved in to California for a year, living in the Bay Area to try to find my people and then after about a year in California, I was like alright, well these aren't my people. I think I belong in the mountains but I want to go somewhere where there's university so I found Boulder, Colorado. In the Boulder the idea was to get residency so I could go back to school for something, so I was already like academic focused, and waiting tables, living in Colorado, mountain biking, skiing, riding and hiking. And because I'm vegetarian, was vegetarian, or am vegetarian, I was eating a lot of plant based protein. And for you know, a guy or girl, you know, waiting tables and trying to save as much money as they could. I was eating a lot of peanut butter for protein. And when I was in the store, I was always, you know, kind of curious about everything but I was curious at that moment why peanut butter is only in two flavors really, like smooth or crunchy. And yet there's right next to it as a whole. Like you know, an aisles almost have jams and preserves and even different flavors of honey and different flavors of mayonnaise. For peanut butter is just two flavors and why is it that there's one or two brands of almond butter that do not taste very good. But when I grab a handful of almonds, it tastes amazing. And then you look and right next to all of that is crying your own peanut butter machine. And I'm like, well, how hard can this be? You know, I bet I can figure this out. And so I go home. And in my food processor, I'm adding peanuts and honey and maple syrup, cashews, cayenne pepper, and fresh banana, dried bananas, blueberries, dried, freeze, dried, dehydrated, all these different things, syrups. And I was having so much fun that I ended up keeping a journal and writing down all the recipes as I was experimenting, and then put them in empty jars and put them in a cupboard and put them in the fridge, and put them all over the kitchen. And I was living with a bunch of roommates, and my roommates thought that was hysterical. And that like it was a little like OCD crazy.
And they just started like eating them, right, because, you know, they're curious. And so eventually, I had to start putting my name on things so they would stop them from eating things that I was like, trying to like, you know, do a shelf life test or something, and calling everything Justin's, which I thought was really kind of funny, and they just started calling it Justin's, and then one of my roommates, eventually it goes, man, have you ever thought about turning this into a business? And I had, but I didn't know where to start. And I'm like, yeah, you know, where do you start? Like, how do you like, I didn't go to school for business, or sales, or marketing, or food, or finance, like, where do you start? And then I just started thinking, I'll just go to the library, and figure it out. And so CU, to their credit, has a business school, and the part of the business school has a library. And so I walked in the library, not going to school there, not know anything about the school, and went to the business section, found, you know, Encyclopedia volumes of business plans, and literally started to understand how businesses work. What are the, you know, the sections and the fundamentals and the things I should be thinking about, and start to write a business plan. And, and this is, you know, took me like weeks to kind of do daily before my work, after work, weekends, going in and working on this. And then I got to a certain point where, you know, I needed to understand, alright, well, what is the true difference between an LLC and S Corp, a C Corp, a sole proprietorship, partnerships? What is the difference between the FDA and the USDA? Where it is the Health Department? How do I get get a hold of them? And how to get a UPC, the Uniform Code? What are the FDA food labeling laws? And how do I find out, you know, how do I get any of this information?
And what year is this? What year have you started?
And this was like, there wasn't much out there as far as resources goes.
23 years old, you know, and so I just think that I can do anything, and I still do. And it's, I'm working on this business plan, I've all these questions. And I've even gotten to how do you get into Whole Foods? And I'm just like, how do you just start a business? And so and then, like, I realized, well, okay, I need some help here. So I wonder if there any food companies in Boulder that I could reach out to, and get their feedback on these little questions that I have that are very specific to food companies. And that's when, you know, my mind was kind of blown, where I was like, oh, wow, Celestial Seasonings. They're out of Boulder. Silk White Wave, they're in Boulder. Wild Oats, that grocery store, their headquarters is in Boulder, that whole foods in a buying, Is the Soda is at Boulder, Arising Organic Berries are at Boulder, Rudy's Organic Bread. I mean, like, it's just like, what? And so and so then I started like, alright, well, I gotta meet some of these people and ask and start asking them. And not only that I meet some of the people in these organizations, but they actually wanted to help me. Right? And that's really important because, you know, Boulders are really a great community because people care about each other, they want to help each other. And I think generally most people want to help each other, especially if you're an entrepreneur and you have really good questions and thoughtful questions. So then I wrote the business plan, raised about, I don't know, $45,000 from friends and family and my life savings. And then I started having, you know, peanuts, FedEx, dry roasted in like 15 pound bags to my house that I was living in with a bunch of roommates. I was burning through food processors, I was going to the coop and getting all these like raw ingredients. And then I started to really get some great formulas down. So then I, with the money that I raised, I bought a used grinder, and I wired it into a salsa company in Denver because I needed a place that was, that was food safe, that was inspected by the Health Department and then had a jar filler, a jar labeler and a jar and a shrink wrapper. And basically what those were, was the jar filler was just one little like tube but that it was a funnel and you had to scoop everything in it and then hold the jar under it and push like a little foot pedal and the dark would fill. And then the labeler was, you put a lid on the jar and you put up this labeler pushing a different foot pedal, and it would spin a label around the jar. And then you'd put a little shrink seal on it and you know, like a hairdryer and you would dress seal on the table. And then jars are collected into the table. And, you know, and that was how I started. And so I found a salsa company in Denver that, you know, they didn't want me in there. And so I basically said, look, you know, can I come in on nights, and weekends when nobody's here, you'll never see me, I'll pay your rent, I'll plug my grinder in, but I'll push it in the corner, you'll never know I'm there. And they agreed to it, which was pretty amazing. And so I would, you know, after it shifted at work, or before a shift or whatever I could do, I would drive to Denver, I picked up glass jars. And this is where wholesale warehouse, I drive to the salsa company, I make all my products, and then I drive home and I, you know, keep it in his truck that I had. And then the next day, I would either go to the farmers market and sell it there. Or I would, you know, start delivering it to small stores I was in the first store I sold to was a great Harvest Bread Company here in Colorado in Boulder. And I sold it to like specialty grocery stores and sandwich shops. And it took like a few years before, you know, I was able to get into Whole Foods and Wild Oats and Natural Grocers. And to get into those stores is really tricky. And I'll never forget, you know, getting into Whole Foods, because I walked into the Pearl Street store in Boulder. And never forget David Spice is down there. And so this guy's, you know, rearranging the shelf, and it's, I don't know, 10 in the morning and I walk in and I'm like, hey, but I got a really quick question for you. And David's like, you know, the pads on he's looking up. He's like, yeah, well, what can I do to help you? And I'm like, oh, man, like, I got this great idea. I got peanut butter and almond butter that I'm making. I really want to sell it to Whole Foods. You know, how can I before I even made my ask, he like rolls his eyes and he goes, okay, you know, here's because, you know, he probably gets asked five times a day like I've got a really great idea. How do I sell to Whole Foods? So he's like, okay, here's what you want to do, you want to contact Unify, they're a distributor that's we buy our groceries from. Contact them, get into Unify, and then I'll start ordering it. And I'm like, oh, that sounds really easy.
Get into the largest natural products distributor.
I call up. I call up Unify. And I'm like, hey, you know, I heard you guys, the people I need to sell my products to I just got into Whole Foods. And I really want to, I want you guys to carry me like into Whole Foods. Like that's funny. They didn't contact us. And I'm like, oh, yeah, it's it's, it's the Pro Street Store in Boulder. David said, if you guys will carry me he'll bring it in. And they go, oh, one store? I'm like, yeah, they're like, oh, that's not how this works. You know, it does sell to carry you for one store with this huge warehouse. You know, it doesn't make sense for us, you have to be in at least, you know, 30 or 40 stores for us to bring you in. It was like ahh.
It's like the chicken or the egg. You're like, well, how do I get into that many stores and, and this is probably pre kind of their big local campaign.
So then, you know, I love overcoming objections. So then it was going back and be like, hey, you know, Dave, that was a good one. You know, like, I found out that I have to be in a lot more stores than just one. And he's like, and I'm like, can't I just be in? Can I just deliver it myself to you? And David's like, yeah, you know, you could put the problem is, you know, I have this little computer and I can just scan things. And it's going to be really hard for me to to know, like, you know, to call you every time that you're low on the shelf, and I just don't have time to do that. And I'm like, alright, well, what am I, you know, come and I'll check it out, see what you need. And that way, I'll just deliver exactly what you need. And then and I'll bring it in the back and I'll drop it off at the warehouse. He's like, well, that's all great, but the problem is, I'm not going to know it's back there. And I forget it's back there and I won't be able to stock the shelf because everything comes in one big pallet in you know, I just don't have time to do that just to check on your product. And I'm like alright, alright, well what if I come in, I see what you need, I'll order and bring in exactly what you're low on. I'll bring in the back door and I'll stock my own shelves. And so pretty much you'll never have to like do anything.
Right. I'm gonna make it as easy as possible like I want you to say yes.
Right I'm gonna waste oh, and he was like, all right, I got you back. Let's do this, you know, and so that's how I got my started at one store and did that for about 30 stores, including, you know, Fort Collins, where Mark was the buyer there, the grocery was actually the frozen buyer. And Mark introduced me to, oh my gosh, I'm blanking right now. But you know, anyway, blah, blah, blah. So I would, I would literally drive around and I'd run routes, and I would see what stores needed, I would come around, write an invoice, check it in, stock the shelves, if I had time would set up a table, I would do a demo. If it was slow, I'd walk around and they handed out to cashiers and handed out to people in the deli or in the warehouse and get people to try it. And I spent years doing that until I got about 30 stores that included natural grocers and co ops and other places Unify delivered to. Then Unify brought me in, then that gave me a license to go around and go to stores and say, hey, you know, we're in your network, here my codes, can you bring us in, give us a shot, we're doing really well, this store. And then I got a whole foods local loan of local producers loan, which is super helpful. And I could leverage the loan by saying, you know, hey, Whole Foods is behind us, really love your support, you know, in the southwest or in, you know, Midwest or in other regions. And then so, so now I'm in Whole Foods, I mean, a few regions, I've got, you know, five or six stores that I work that's actually working with like 30 stores, we have five or six products that are selling, not all in all the stores.
And they're all the jars, right?
And we're doing good, but we're not doing great. You know, like, even though we have a honey, peanut and maple, almond, and cinnamon peanut, it's really cool flavors. It just wasn't enough because consumers love the brands that they love when it's really hard to try new things. And people are still skeptical on, you know why almond butters $10. And I really need almond butter. And so, you know, I'm like, literally four or five years in and we're struggling. And I've got, you know, maybe three or four employees and I'm still renting at this place. I'm still working another job nowwhere.
Were you making money? Like, were you profitable? Or were breaking even, like, where were you at that point?
We were probably breaking even but I wasn't paying myself. You know, I was paying other people to help me. And my margins weren't great. I was buying everything in small quantities. And I was trying to be, you know, not too expensive on shelf, somewhat competitive. And as working to REI at this point, now I'm working at the gear source. I love the outdoors. And so I'm on a mountain bike ride, and I'm eating like an energy gel or ghewar clutch shot. And I'm like, wow, like, this is such a great product. But why aren't they doing this like a protein shot like with peanut butter almond butter, that would be really cool. If I could put my nut butter. Whoa, why is it doing? That's a really interesting idea. So then I, you know, I got back. And I started to do some research and ask around and I found out that there's three contract manufacturers in the country that basically make squeeze packs for everyone. And so, you know, they make squeeze packs, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressings, conditioners, lotions, you name it, right, like they put them in squeezed. So I call all three of them up. And I got the same kind of response like, hey, who's whose backs are us, like, you know, what can I do for you? Is too big or too small? You know. And I'm like, wow, this is great. My name is Justin. I'm in Colorado. I have this food company. And let's put them in squeeze packs. Right now we're in jars. Yeah, we're happy to do it. You know, what do you got? And I'm like, well, I'm doing peanut butter, almond butter, chocolate hazelnut, oh, whoa. You know, like, those are all really great ideas and good luck to you but we really can't help you at all. And all three of them turned me down. And it wasn't because of volume. Do you have any idea why?
I don't know. Is it like peanut allergy? Or was it something like that or not? That's totally a guess I didn't even know that.
There was contamination of a really like, known allergen. And once they produce it on the line, they have to disclose it to everyone. And so no one would touch it. And it's actually my third rejection, which was kind of like was it I was like, oh my.
All right, well, I guess I only have one option, I have to do this myself. If I can make my own squeeze pack. Like I have no competition. You know, no one can do this. This is, this is actually quite a benefit. So then I spent another year researching, okay, well, you know, what type of squeeze pack am I gonna get? What kind of equipment is there out there? Where do I find equipment? How much does it cost? And I found a manufacturer out of New Jersey that had an old squeeze pack machine that did like the Sunday paper you'd open the paper in the 90s and they'd be like, you know Powell Peralta or not help us escape brand. It'd be like some kind of like hair gel or something squeeze pack. And so I found like a machine that did something similar to that, I retrofitted it. I borrowed $75,000 from my roommates' parents to finance this machine, brought it to Boulder at that point, I needed my own kitchen because it's also company was like, we're not putting the squeeze pack machine in our little salsa company. No. Get your own kitchen. So at this point, I found Beryl from Bobo's Oat Bars. And Beryl and I were both growing so we need our own kitchens, we got a kitchen together and we shared it. I bought this squeeze pack machine in. It was as big as like a small car. So it was enormous, came in like a huge truck, and forklifts and then I had to hire an engineer for about three to six months to help me understand, okay, well, how do we convert this to squeeze packs? You know, how does this thing, you know, shape the pack, and seal the pack and fill the pack, and form the pack? And, you know, what do I call the pack? And what's the net weight going to be? What's the size going to be? What do I, how does all this kind of come together? So created all of this. And it was super fun. And I spent about a year and a half, you know really working on this. And once I get it all finished talking about it. And I go to my whole foods from delivering it myself still. And not actually this point. I was working, Unify, I was delivering to just one region, the rest of the stores all the time doing demos, and I talked to the store at Pearl. And I'm like, hey, you know, you guys have been great to me over the years. I've really cool product. I want to test it in the store. I want you guys to be first, can I just deliver it myself? And we'll kind of get it going. And they're like yeah, of course, like a squeeze packs. And I'm gonna put them in the energy bar section because it's it's a portable protein like pack just like a protein bar. And someone to put it in these trays and sell it next to Lara Bars and Clif Bars. So oh, yeah, bring it in, bring it, it sounds great. So I brought it in, and I was delivering it myself to about three stores locally, to get it kind of get it going and kind of see how I do. And I was so excited because I knew this is going to be a really big idea. And in a bond, like nobody was buying. I couldn't like I couldn't understand like, this is such an interesting idea. And people can take in mountain biking and hiking and skiing and you know, why isn't this working? It's just like a bar seeing nutritional envelopes and proteins and calories. You know, and then I'm like, alright, well. And then finally, like someone calls me from the store, hey, Justin, you know, we're gonna bring in another product and put them where your packets are, can you come grab them?
Like, yeah, I'll come get them. And so I get to the store. And before I went to pull them off the shelf, I'm watching people shop the set, I'm like, man like this, the aisle of bars is so massive. And people when they come and they go shopping, they're in a rush. And if you're not on their list, you're probably not going to get in the cart. And if you don't happen to be next to something on sale, like, no one's going to try anything new. And no one even knows what this is or what it's doing there. And they never seen peanut butter in squeeze pack before. So people are just confused. Like, I wonder like if this is the wrong part of the store. And so, took it off the shelf, went back to the office and came up with an idea of sort of putting in a big tray. Let's put it in a small box, and the box will be the same size as a jar. And if we make it the same size as the jar, and sell it right next to the jar, then people are automatically know what it is. This is like a like a sample size of a jar or to go size. And maybe that'll work. And so we did that. We started selling the right next to the peanut butter almond butter. And it like, it just worked. And what was so crazy is to me the number one reason of doing that was for on the go portable protein. But that's the number three reason why people were actually buying it. The number two reason why people were buying it was portion control. Oh look, you know, I can get a small portion of peanut butter that's really high calories and high fat. You know, I want to watch what I eat, I can control it and that oh, that's really interesting. I hadn't thought of that. And the number one reason why people were buying it was a trial size, the sample size. And so someone be like, oh, almond butter $10. Oh, look a squeeze pack. Let me try that for only 79 cents. Oh, wow, that's really good. Yeah, you know, I'm gonna buy almond butter now but I'm gonna buy this brand that I've already tried and liked. And so it became this whole thing where people were buying their own trial, which was brilliant. You know, I wish I had thought of it, you know, just kind of like, it's kind of worked that way. And so.
Happy accident though, that's part of entrepreneurship. It was happy accident.
And that really gave me a reason to now, you know, honestly travel the country, go to New York, go to LA, go to San Francisco, go to Chicago, say something really new, that was innovative, that was, you know, worth the store bringing in, because being just another nut butter in a jar wasn't enough. And that really gave reason for buyers nationally to meet with me. And then some I'm selling squeezed pack, some selling jars, things are like really starting to move and show some promise in a minute. I mean, a whole foods, you know, and I always eat a salad before my demo, because I want to be healthy. But after my salad, I'm like, alright, I need something sweet. You know, like, I just got this insatiable, sweet tooth. So you go to the chocolate section. And I'm like, where are the peanut butter and chocolate? Like cups? Like what's going on here?
Brand exist in the natural space.
Like, why isn't anyone really, you know, creating an organic, amazing chocolate peanut butter cup? I'm like, yes, I'm gonna go do that. And so I talked to my board and my mentors and advisors. And they're like, wait, let me get this straight. You have a peanut butter company and almond butter company. And if jars and squeeze packs is doing really well. And you want to take your focus off of that and create a new product that's in a completely different category. That's a candy product that's organic in natural food store. They're like, no, that's a terrible idea. Focus on what's working. And I'm like, you know, I just can't focus. And I was like, no, I like, I'm going to do this. And I'm going to do that. I have to, just please like, let me do this. They're like, alright, so it took me about a year to find the right chocolatier that was willing to work with organic ingredients. And, and I was able to formulate, you know, the peanut butter cup filling, which is super fun, because I was making chocolates and candies at home. And you know, and then you know, I came up with this idea that organic peanut butter cup and people are like, look, dude, there's one peanut butter cup company out there, they're gonna crush you. Like, why would you ever, you know, go after a company like that. I'm like, I'm not gonna go after them. Like, they're not at Whole Foods. So we need a natural alternative organic alternative. And I think that it'll do well. And maybe it's only ever in Whole Foods in the coops and the natural food industry. That's fine. That's all I care about. And so we launched the product. And we launched it into Whole Foods and a lot of other natural food stores. And people loved it. And they loved it so much that Starbucks wanted to bring it in. And Target wanted to bring it in and Kroger wanted to bring it in. And so not only did it do well in Natural, but it did two things. One is one of the first organic candies that helps kind of, you know, think about the set is more than just chocolate bars. And so it helped kind of grow people's perception of what organic candy can be. And then it was a really like clear crossover into conventional grocery. Because people do want to have, you know, sweets and candies, but they want to feel good about what they're eating, knowing that it's less sugar, or it has a, you know, a smaller carbon footprint or, you know, made with Fairtrade or sustainable ingredients. And so that was really cool. And that did really well. And so now the, you know, the company is doing really well, and we're growing and blowing. And a few things happened. You know, one thing was I didn't invent peanut butter. And I didn't invent the squeeze pack, right? I was the, was really the first person to put them together in a way that was, you know, marketable. So I had a really healthy case of paranoia that if I don't move fast, and get this product out to all these stores, before somebody else does, I'll have nothing here that's a value and I'm going to have to go back to waiting tables. And so I needed to grow fast. And the only way I knew how to grow fast because I didn't have, you know, 20 years to grow this business. I'm going to do it quickly. So now I'm like, you know, eight years into the business. And so and so now I'm like, alright, well let's start raising some money. So I went out and I raised some angel money from here, the local Boulder community and the idea was, let's use the money to hire people who are way smarter than I am, who I can learn from, well, I can bring into the business who have experience running different, you know, natural food companies, whether it's sales or marketing or operations or finance and bringing them into the organization to fill in the spots that I'm either not gifted in doing or don't know a lot about or honestly like not passionate about. Let's grow this thing in a meaningful way. So we can, you know, have a company that doesn't get taken out. And so run an angel investment was growing the company, was doing extremely well by hiring the right people in Boulder, such a great company, a great community, because people are here from these really amazing companies, and they want to be a part of the next, Izzy or the next Verizon and they want they want to be involved in these companies. And so once I started taking on investors, things got a little more serious. And then we got to a point where, you know, we're now national with was with some natural food stores. And we have King Soopers. And we get into some Kroger stores. And we got into our first recall, our first and really only recall.
It was terrifying because what happened was, at this point, from an operational standpoint, I taken all the equipment that we had and we outgrew my capacity to be able to make it. And so we found a local company here that was making a lot of food products that was very professional and said, look, here's our equipment, can you make it for us? Can you handle the operational side, but we focus on the sales, marketing and finance side. And they said, sure, we'll take we'll take over the operational side for you. So the company is making it for us here locally in Boulder. And they were buying peanuts in the open market. And they bought peanuts from a company that maybe they shouldn't have, because this company doesn't have the best reputation. But I want you know, long story short, this company was selling peanut butter to Trader Joe's, there was a salmonella recall at Trader Joe's from this company, they trace it back, this company wasn't keeping any records on what was going where. And we were buying dry roasted peanuts, not peanut butter from the same company. And the FDA just goes, hey, look, anything this company has shipped to anyone and to anywhere, you know, bring it back. And that included Cliff and Lara, Power, and all these other companies. So now we do this nationwide recall. And it wasn't like you know, a store reads the recall this and they just take, you know, those lot, lots off the shelf, they take everything off the shelf, and they're going to charge you to take it off the shelf. And then you have consumers, you know, and they're not looking at the exact, you know, lots and explorations. They're looking, they ate peanut butter or on a no and they felt they had almond butter, and now they have a stomach ache and they feel sick. And they're gonna call you because they heard about the recall. And we're like, well, it's actually our peanut butter that was recalled. Not our almond butter. No, no, no, I swear. Now it's in people's minds, right? And then it gets into your mind. Like, what if? What if this food company that we created to provide, you know, nutrition in good in the world make someone sick? And that trust they have in his brand and in us to deliver great food products? And what if that person gets it? What if that person dies? That's on me, you know, my name is on the jar. And this is this feels terrible. Like, I can't believe we were so blinded how important, you know, the operational aspect is to the business just to like, you know, trust that someone's doing it and not verify every step along the way. And so that was a really big awakening for us. And so we were about a million dollars in debt because of the recall. And the company that you know, put everyone in the recall went bankrupt, so we couldn't recover any funds. And at that point, I knew I had to go back out and look for more investors but I didn't want to bring on any more angels. The angels are great. But, you know, they kind of, you know, give you their money. And they're like, okay, good luck, you know, that's what makes it is they don't have the conditions and the requirements and really the accountability. And so we're like, alright, well, I need some help. And so now I went out to some serious investors in the private equity realm, in private equity, you know, they're gonna bring in resources. And if you can't live up to the promises, that you're making an expectations that you said, you'll deliver on, they might take you out and put someone else in who will. But they sure as heck, they're gonna make sure you're making a safe product and you're thinking about this holistically. And you have the right people in the room to make the right decisions. And that's what I needed. I needed help. So we found the right private equity group, and they're out of San Francisco, BMG, and they made a minority investment. They'd help brands like Kind Bar and Pretzel Crisp, and Pirate's Booty and Vega. So they really knew and understood the how to scale a natural food company. And when that happened, like the business changed, right? It was less about, you know, this fun adventure of, you know, growing in as many places as we could, and more of how do we create a healthy, sustainable safe food colony. And once they made their investment, they said, you realize that we need our money back, you know, within five years, that's how this works. And you know, if you can pay us back, we're gonna have to go out there and try to find someone who wants to acquire this. And I was like, all right, well, five years is way down the road, we'll get there when we get there. And, but that was kind of the deal I had to make, you know, in order to keep this business together and keep it going. And then what happened was, the business just kept growing and got more and more successful when we became kind of like, you know, the darlings, honestly, a really sleepy category and nut butter, and even in candy. That was really exciting, and really fun. And so after about four or five years, you know, four or five companies came out, and they all wanted to try to acquire us. And I felt really fortunate that I was able to choose which company acquired, and I chose based on not, not the final dollar amount, but really based on, you know, do I feel like this company will be a good partner, that allow us to stay in Boulder, that's not going to change our mission, vision or values, it's going to keep all the people involved who want to stay involved, and that's going to be a good steward for the brand. And is there an opportunity to maybe even make them better, and see the world the way we see the world. To be, you know, an agent of change, you know, that's larger than who we are. And we found an organization that I think was a really good example of that. And that was about six or seven years ago. And I've stayed involved for the first five years, I was day to day, every day, to make sure that the handoff was really genuine and that everyone felt inspired and was really excited to be around. And, and then, you know, after five years, you know, I was starting to become more of an advisor to them to the business. And it really freed me up to focus on like I said, from the very beginning, my family and the community. And it also kind of keep me available, open, and creative, to maybe think about what my next venture might be. Whenever passion and problem intersect. You know, that's where I think is really a sweet spot for me.
Oh, my gosh, wow. It's a lot to unpack. But I want to ask you a couple of questions. And I'm gonna go back to the beginning. I know I thank you for sharing that. I hadn't heard the whole story. And I was probably part of the recall at some point or and I remember the peanut butter cups coming out and be like, because it is my favorite combination of things for sure. So how long going back to the beginning? Like, how long did you do the farmers markets for? And do you feel like that was a really? Do you feel like that was a good move that you started there?
Wow, what a great question. The farmers market was the best move. And because at a farmers market, what you can do is you can instantly get feedback from a customer instantly. You may not like the feedback is gut wrenching, honestly. But it's feedback in what really like the biggest feedback just around like, you know, messaging on the on the jar, flavors, price point. You know, net weights, you know, sizing, all that stuff I get instant feedback on. But what blew my mind the most about the farmers market, we did it for about six years and festivals and all of that. It's really exhausting. And I loved every moment of it. And then we outgrew the Farmers Market, which was kind of sad in a way but it was also great to give the next company the opportunity to get a start there. So farmers market did a lot of things for us, number one gives all that feedback and also seeds your local market. So it seeds it so that way, you know, when you're not at the farmers market, you can tell people hey, go just go to Whole Foods and buy it. You go to natural grocers and buy it. Because eventually like I may not be here forever. So start learning to get it there. So you seed the local market and the second thing it did is it gave me direction on flavors. And what was so fascinating is we would have like seven flavors at the farmers market so, oh my gosh, this is so cool nut butter,you know like okay, I'm going to take the tour is that okay? I'm gonna try them all. And we're like yeah, of course, of course. Okay, cinnamon. Oh wow. Really good. Honey. Oh, that's really sweet maybe too sweet for me. This is a maple almond, I can taste the maple that's really nice. Cayenne pepper, ooh, pepper, not like that but interesting combination. And then they would, you know, blueberry cashew. Wow, it's really okay. What do I buy? What do I buy? Oh my gosh, what do I buy. And maybe like, do you have just plain? I just want to buy plain. Like, plain be like, well, first of all, we call it classic, you know, nothing is plain. But I was like, yeah, I have classic. And I'm like, but you get classic peanut butter anywhere. Like, why would you? Why? Well, because I really like you. I like what you're doing. I like the brand. And and I want something I can have every day, not just once in a while. And so I was like, wow, that's a really cool insight. And so like when I would go present to Whole Foods or to a grocery store, they'd be like, well, you know what flavors you have like? Well, if cinnamon and pumpkin pie and maple like well, I'm bringing the cinnamon because we don't have any cinnamon nut butter here. And I'd be like, whoa, you know, let me tell you like, that's not what people buy. They want to buy like the honey or the classic. Let's start there. And they're like, ah, okay, and so like, it was good for me. Because, you know, a lot of retailers that did bring in like these, you know, more flavorful products, they wouldn't sell well. And in grocery, it is about providing differentiation of products. So it's also about turning products. And so gave me insights on what would do well at grocery, which I thought was really interesting.
Yeah, so good. So six years. You hang in there. Yeah, they're, they're exhausting. But they're so valuable. And I love that. I mean, it is it's the people listening this are in the same exact spot, like somebody was saying, oh, you got it, this most amazing salsa. And this is the most amazing cookies, or whatever it is. And they're like, so what made you think you could be an entrepreneur? Did you grow up as like, around entrepreneurs? What made you think you could do this?
That's a really good question, too. So it's funny, I've spoken at a lot of entrepreneurship classes, you know, around the country, and at CU. And, and sometimes I kind of giggle a little bit like, can you really teach entrepreneurship, you know, like, you can teach, you know, how to read a P&L and how to understand, you know, go to market strategies, or marketing or how to make something. But entrepreneurship, is this, this deep, deeply rooted desire to solve a problem, and to never give up and to always be optimistic that, you know, success is right around the corner. And sometimes I don't know if you can really teach that. Now, I will say that I grew up in an environment where my parents always encouraged outside the box thinking and always encouraged, you know, trying new things and doing things a little differently. I grew up where my dad was a dentist, and he didn't love dentistry, but he loved the building the business and thinking outside, you know, what is the business look like? You know, what's my marketing materials look like? How do I grow this business, I don't want to do the work in western PA is not famous for oral hygiene, you know, back in, like the 80s. So, you know, but he loved growing the business. And then on my mom's side of the family, they had a vitamin store, you know, in Pittsburgh, before vitamins were for and the business did okay, but it just gave me this mindset that, you know, if you don't like what's happening, you know, create some your own reality. And, and I've always kind of, you know, marched to my own beat, which has been helpful and sometimes, you know, challenging. But I feel like it's this sense of optimism that we really can make a difference and that optimism has to be strong.
And I talk to people a lot about you have to have a really strong why. You have to have a future statement that gets you out of bed in the morning, that even when things are, you know, when there's a recall, or you need money or things or equipments breaking, or you can't get, you know, the peanuts you need when you need them. Like, there has to be a reason for you to get up and keep doing this and keep going and a belief that it's possible.
Yeah, know your why is really big, and it has to be more than just making money. Solving problems that are, you know, fundamental to, you know, nutrition or, you know, future sustainability or climate change. And then if you solve those problems in a meaningful way, I think that, you know, the money will come and people will show up.
Yeah, and one thing I heard from you throughout that whole story was patience. And I think there's a little bit if I can just be blunt, there's some entitlement by people starting businesses now where they think it should just be easy, and it should happen really fast. And why isn't my business, you know, profitable after the first year or even sooner and why am I not in Whole Foods yet? Why am I not in Costco? Like, there's a little bit of expecting their business to provide for them very quickly. And I guess what I heard from you is like you gave it time, like, things took a year and a half to develop and so what do you what would you say about patience? Was that a big piece of your success?
Yeah, no, I was definitely not patient, I was always pushing always, like, you know, asking questions, and you know, it's never fast enough. The issue is, it's all about timing, timing in the world. And for some companies, the timing is so spot on, that it's a rocket ship. And those companies, you know, there's a lot of work going on, there's a lot of suffering, you know, to make it happen, make it look easy. And, but their timing was perfect, you know, maybe their execution wasn't, but their timing was perfect. And for a lot of companies, it's a slow burn, you know, like Clif Bar was a really slow burn. They've been around for 25 years, you know, and, and so. But they, their timing was good, you know. And so, I think that, for a lot of entrepreneurs who have a really great idea, a really good product or with a good team, they have to be impatient. And they have to be like, okay, well, if the timing isn't now, you know, what can we pivot to, to give us the fuel to then wait, wait it out? Or, you know, what can we pivot, it's a product that can work now, this idea that we have a work later, or how can we, you know, get the right celebrities or people or, you know, physicians involved, to make the timing, extend, accelerate the time. And so, it's, it's about the timing, in some timing, you can't predict, you know, for instance, like, coconut, you know, everything has it has a day, like coconut water had a day. And then chia seed had a day, and then froyo had a day. And then now it's oat milk is having, you know, its moment, nut butters had a moment, you know, and in your moment might come, we just don't know when. So to accelerate the moment, let's get celebrities to talk about it, or famous doctors to talk about it. And maybe that'll give you a moment of spotlight. And I think some brands have been really good at doing that. And some brands, you know, could make it in some brands, the moments there. And they come on just a little too late. Because you know, that they oh my gosh, oat milk is where we need to be this created a brand. They're like, they show up and there's 30 oat milk brands already, like, oh, why isn't this working? And you're like, well, you're late, you know. And so it's all about timing. I think that, you know, being patient, you know, is nice, but at the end of the day like if it's not working, you know, we have to try something else. Like we have to be patient in the long run. But right now, like, we still need sales. And I think it's people to know how with their pivot looks like.
Yeah, I hear what you're saying. So it's not, I don't think it's about sitting around being like, I'm just waiting for it to happen. Like, you gotta be taking action every day and being very on it and taking bold moves and making offers. And let's try this, let's try that. But we ultimately the span of time, like things did not happen overnight. It took you a year and a half to get the squeeze pack and you know all of those things, but you are consistently taking action and keep going. So.
And things are things are happening faster now, you know, with direct to consumer brands. And with now, you know, these big retailers, you know, looking for smaller brands to highlight, things are moving faster. I'll agree. But if things aren't moving as fast as you want, I think the message is, you know, your time will come if you're patient, and you work hard. And you're ready,
Right. I'm sure people can be like, well, Justin was just so lucky. He just was lucky. He just started at the right time. And he was just lucky. But luck is that intersection of where opportunity meets preparedness. And you were like, let's keep going. I'm willing to keep investing. I mean, you raised a lot. You had to get a lot of money to make this happen to.
Yeah, absolutely. No, I agree. Luck favors the prepared mind and all of that, like, you've got to create your own luck a lot of times, you know, luck isn't just going to, you know, come up and find you. You've got to go find it, right?
You had great timing for sure. You just happened to me in that magical moment. But you also created a lot of it. You went got to work and you raise, you invested your time and your money and other people's money, which is a huge risk. Right? And you were taking a lot of risk on. Oh my gosh, okay. Well, I know we're coming up on time. What was the value and I heard you say you brought in mentors and I know you had mentors at the beginning. What is the value of getting outside of your circle? And you know, just your roommates and friends and family and like, connecting with community and mentors and coaches and advisors.
Gosh, you know, it was everything for me, you know, I does a lot of things, you know, having mentors, not only does it give you direction and give you, you know, sometimes some sage wisdom that you otherwise may not have, we can also give you credibility, you know, those mentors will talk about you, where you can talk about them, how they're advising you, or helping you gives you credibility to, you know, grocery buyers, or new hires or investors that, you know, you're not in this alone, and you have smart people helping you. And, and it's just great to build these friendships and relationships. And a lot of times, you'll find out that the problem you have are faced with, like, you know, aren't unique to you, like, a lot of people have gone through this. And they've been solved before, and a lot of the solutions that have worked in the past might work again. And, and I've really enjoyed it, and the best thing about mentors is you never go around, asking someone to be your mentor, right? And no one wants that, that responsibility, it's a lot to take on. You just become their friends. And you ask them questions, and they give you good advice. And before they know it, they're mentoring you and they don't even realize it. And so that's how that works. And I have different mentors for different things, you know, like, I have some mentors who are credible business leaders, and they're not great, you know, fathers or mothers, you know, or they're not great husbands and wives. And I have some mentors who are incredible, you know, husbands and wives and parents, but not so good at managing their money, you know, and so I take in share, you know, from different people, different things, and it's helped me like, establish a great network of friends, relationships, and, you know, learning.
Well, last, maybe last thing to wrap up on is, I look at entrepreneurship, I mean, you set out to be a lawyer, and then took a hard, hard turn, and sort of stumbled on entrepreneurship. And I like to tell people that I really believe entrepreneurship is just, it's a path, that's going to quickly accelerate your personal growth, because unlike having like a nine to five job and kind of following the usual path of society, you are taking all this risk, and you are, you know, having to manage your mind and you're putting yourself out there to be rejected. Right? And so, what, what kind of what, what would you say about that? Do you feel like this, like you are a better person, a better human that you on the other side of this?
Wow, it's interesting, you know, I don't know how to answer that question. I've never been asked that question.
I mean, what if you did not sell? What if at all, like, you ended up at the end of the day? Would you still be proud of the work and that you did? You're a better human?
It feels like, what if everything failed, and all I had left was some really cool T shirts, you know, that like? I don't know, you know, I, gosh, I've never really thought about failure, and what it would feel like, because I was so visualized and focused on success, I would like to think that I would still be proud. And I've learned a lot and taken what I've learned. And I've been able to find success and other things. I would like to think that I'm that type of human and that resilient. But I don't know, you know, I am. Failure is really hard. And it's and I think was challenging with entrepreneurs, as you, as you kind of take things personal. You don't mean to, you don't want, but your life is so wrapped up in it, that it is personal to you. And when you don't succeed to your highest potential, you do feel like, you know, you've let some people down, you've let yourself down. And that has to mess with you. And I know that there's a lot of learnings and it's all perspective and mindset. And but I think that it would be really hard. I don't know, you know, I think that I would be grateful and have learned a lot and be proud of what I learned and be able to take that in other things. But I think deep down, I would hold a little bit of resentment that like I worked just as hard as that person. And I wasn't lucky.
Well, I appreciate your honesty, but I think I'm guessing like if you looked at the two paths of like, I could have gotten on both the attorney and a lawyer or some other firm, right? Like, the opportunities for growth would have been so much smaller. And so, you know, at the end of the day, like you're a better human because you went on this journey.
What I would I do love about the journey is, you do feel like that anything's within reach, and anything can be solved or achieved. And I think that we forget that, you know, and I always teach my kids like, if you don't like the way something is, fix it. You know, don't complain about it, fix it. And I think that a lot of people forget that, that they do have power, they are in control. And some people feel really powerless. And I have learned that through entrepreneurship, if you don't know something like, well start asking questions. And so I really enjoyed that. And I think whatever I would have done in my life, I think I would have brought a great level of curiosity and passion. And I'm just grateful that it was something that I'm deeply care about. Food is so much fun to talk about. It's something that everyone can share. I just wish that some people weren't allergic to nuts, the system, the bomber, and we still don't know why, we're working on it, but we don't know.
Ah, well, thank you so much. We can leave it there. I really appreciate your time and your sharing of your story. And this is such a pleasure for me, really. So thank you.
Hey, that was really fun. Thank you so much for the opportunity, love being a part of it, great questions.
Stay with me until after the outro for a little behind the scenes conversation that Justin and I had after we finished the podcast, including you can learn what Justin's a favorite book is that he credits for his success.
The smartest thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to invest in a who to help you with the how, to speed up your journey and help you skip the line. When you are ready for more support and accountability to finally get this thing done, you can work with me in two ways. Get me all to yourself with one on one business coaching, or join Food Business Success, which includes membership inside Fuel, our community of food business founders, that includes monthly live group coaching calls, and so much more. It's one of my favorite places to hang out. And I would love to see you there. Go to foodbizsuccess.com to start your journey towards your own Food Business Success.
I've done 100 episodes so far, about half of them are mindset and half of them are interviews.
Thanks. Yeah, so I am a business and mindset coach for the packaged food industry. I got certified as a life coach last year. And so it's life coaching that masquerades as business coaching.
It's funny, I get asked a lot and I'm sure you do too. You know, what's the one business book I need to be reading in order to like get ahead? Is it is it Jim Collins Good to Great? Is it, you know, what, what is it and, and I always say, you know, the business books are all kind of the same. I think the most important thing you can do s watch this one documentary. And it's nothing to do with business, it has to do with mindset. And then I'm like now it's really cheesy, you know, back in, like the 90s or early 2000s. It was on Oprah and was it's really big deal. But everything that it touches about and touches on are all the things you already know, but you forget to do on a daily basis. And I think that separates really successful highly functioning people from failure. Do you know any ideas what the book?
I'm gonna guess. The secret?
Yeah, it's The Secret. And I love it. And I, it just blows my mind how we forget about the Law of Attraction. You know, and we forget about, you know, visualizing success to generate feelings, in this feeling set in motion. You know, a lot. A lot of what we want in the world, and the golden rule, and all these things that are just so fundamental, these like, like these truths that we just forget.
Well the fact that you were like, I am focused on success, there is no other option. I'm not giving up. Like you're focusing on what you want to attract, not will I fail? And what will I do if I fail? All right. If there was any doubt in your mind, you now know how important mindset is, and if you are looking for help with that, if you want to help clean up your thoughts, really get focused on what's possible, and get rid of all of that baggage of insecurity and fraud complex and failure and rejection and all the things holding you back. Please reach out, go to SariKimbell.com and fill out the application there to schedule a call with me to see if coaching is a great fit. I would love to help you speed up your journey.