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Full Transcript

Sari 0:04
I'm Sari Kimbell and I've done just about everything in the food industry. I have helped hundreds of packaged food business entrepreneurs and now I want to help you make your delicious dream a reality. Whether you want to be successful at farmer's markets, online, or wholesale on the store shelves, Food Business Success is your secret ingredient. I will show you how to avoid an expensive hobby and instead run a profitable food business. Now let's jump in.

Sari 0:38
All right, everyone, welcome back to the podcast. It is the week of Christmas and I thought this is going to be such a great episode to talk with Tamra Ryan of the Women's Bean Project. It's such a phenomenal organization and it relates so perfectly into CPG and in the packaged food. And it just lined up so wonderfully. So I am excited to welcome Tamra Ryan, and she is the CEO and accidental food entrepreneur of the Women's Bean Project. So welcome, Tamra, thanks for being here.

Tamra 1:12
It's nice to be here, especially this time of year.

Sari 1:15
Yeah. So I mean, I want you to tell us all the things you're going to do such a better job at explaining all of this, but you were on a panel recently for Colorado Food Works Women in CPG. And I just love that, you know, Women's Bean Project is a nonprofit. I have worked with a couple of social enterprise groups out of CSU in the past that wanted to start a packaged food business, you know, in hopes of giving people working skills and helping them grow into other skills and move on. But I've never actually worked with anybody who actually did it, or talked with anyone. So you know, this may be something that some people are contemplating, or in any case, it's just such a wonderful example of doing good in the world with food and helping others. So can you just tell us more about what the Women's Bean Project is, and a little bit more about you?

Sari 2:16
Well, we are really two businesses under one roof. We are a food manufacturing business, we make a line of food products that started with bean soup. So that's the genesis of our name, now consists of dry food mixes from bean soup to baking mixes, and then some instant beans and rice cups to snacks and popcorn. And we've expanded our product line pretty extensively. But in 1989, we started with one bean soup mix and employed two women who were experiencing chronic unemployment. And how we define that is a woman we hire typically has not had a job longer than a year in her lifetime, though the average age is 38. So they have long histories of typically addiction and incarceration and domestic violence and homelessness, and all the things that would get in the way of being able to get and keep a job. So that's one business that we're running, we're helping women move from chronic unemployment into mainstream employment. And how we do that is by employing them in our food manufacturing business.

Sari 3:20
I love it. And then I was reading on your website that you provide training as well. So not just in the food manufacturing, but you provide some other trainings. And all of that is paid work time as well. So right.

Tamra 3:34
Right, every woman is hired for a full time job. And that job last six to nine months, average is about seven months. And during that time, she's paid for the full time job, 70% of her paid time is spent working in the business in some way. So on the production line, in our shipping department, maybe in our retail store so helping us operate the business. Then 30% of her paid time is in program activities. So they're sort of non revenue generating activities, if you think about it from a business standpoint. There's time when they're working, we call it the YOU job, the Y O U job. So when they're working on themselves, so that might be a computer class, or it might be a class set where they're thinking about what their triggers for possible relapse might be. We really try to address the whole person because the funny thing about work is we bring our whole selves to work. But we don't necessarily always as employers think about that, and train for that. So what we're trying to do is help women address all aspects of her life that have really gotten in the way of her getting and keeping employment.

Sari 4:42
Yeah, your work is a huge part of your daily life. And I always say that with entrepreneurship like if you want to bring up all your crap and you want to deal with all your stuff, like become an entreprenueur. You'll have all sort of time to deal with all the triggers and all the things that you know, we each need to individually deal with our own stuff. So I love that you provide that space and recognize that these women need that extra support. So do you actually have staff then that are trained in those specific pieces? Or do you partner with other nonprofits to help provide that?

Tamra 5:20
It's both, we have staff who are program staff. So again, like we're running it, as I said, we're running two businesses. So we have our business operations, people who are helping operate the food manufacturing business. And then we have our program operations, people who are social workers and case managers, and they're working with the women during that 30% of their time. So they're doing that and then we're bringing volunteers from the community so for instance our computer classes are not led by our staff, they're led by community members who use that as an opportunity to both give back and also relay skills that they uniquely have. And we're not talking super, you know, technical skills, we're talking about really basic computer skills, which anybody who works in a, you know, with any technology would have, or bankers who come in and teach financial literacy. So a lot of what we do in a year, we probably have 350 or so volunteers who help us in a variety of ways. And so we get a lot done with people who are giving their time and supporting us in that way.

Sari 6:28
Yeah. So how many people do you have typically employed at a time? I saw you every month, you do some hiring and whatnot, bring people on?

Tamra 6:39
Right now we have a max capacity of about 15 to 18 women. We're in a great old building, firehouse number 10, located just north of downtown Denver, but we're out of space. It's a 10,000 square foot building and we couldn't find a square inch, you know, save our lives. So in the spring, we're moving to a 20,000 square foot building and that will allow us to grow our business but of course, hire more women. And that's the business we're in, you know, we're a sales driven organization, but sales create jobs, that's our purpose for creating sales so that we can hire more women. And it'll be really awesome to not have the space be the constraint for hiring women. In a year, right now we hire between 50 and 60 women, because we're hiring every month but also every month women are leaving us to mainstream employment. So it's kind of a revolving door of employees. And then we have 12 or 13 full time staff members who stay, our mainstay, and provide the services or support the business. So it's a weird way to run a business because we hire intentionally women who we don't know if they're going to come to work every day, they're going to be on time, what else they've got going on. And you know what health issues or housing issues or things like that, we help them become stable. And then they become great employees. And then by the time they become great employees, it's time for them to go and become somebody else's great employee.

Sari 8:11
Yeah, what are some? I'm sure you have a couple of, I'm sure you have lots of success stories, but do you have one or two that stand out, have in your mind that you're able to share?

Tamra 8:22
Well, I've been doing this for a while. So a lot of stories come to mind. One in particular is a woman named Joy. And Joy, when she was 12, she was trying to find a way to spend more time with their parents who were drug users. So she started selling drugs to her parents friends, so that she could, you know, be around them more. That didn't really work so well. So by the time she was 16, she was using, by the time she was 17, she was a mom. And then she continued to sell drugs and became a pretty big time drug dealer. And she said to me once, when I was growing up I didn't know anybody who worked, like everybody was sort of involved in this life. Eventually she was such a big time drug dealer that she was convicted on federal charges. So that's pretty big time. And by then, she also had four kids ranging in age from basically 8 to 18. So there are no federal women's prisons in Colorado so she was sent out of state and she left her kids behind. By then her mom was sober so her kids stayed with her mom. When she came back and got her kids back, she was trying to, you know, get her life together and keep her kids in school and not following her path. And she had gotten her GED. She had enrolled in college and she started working at the bean project. And she was also getting $150 a month on food stamps and she was figuring out how to feed 4 kids on 150 bucks a month. Because she started working for us, her food stamps got cut to $20 a month. And, you know, we had this long conversation about how she was going to make that work. And you know, at the time minimum wage was like 875. And that's all she was making and had, you know, 20 bucks a month to feed her kids. She figured it out, she graduated. And I think sort of poetic justice that she went on to work for a food distributor, making $18 an hour, leveraging the forklift training that she's gotten while she was at the Bean project. And I love that story, because it goes from this place of, you know, no role models, to knowing she wanted her kids lives to be different in the long run, to figuring it out, and not going back, even though kind of the system was working against her. And then ultimately, you know, oddly enough working for a food distributor, which I think is, you know, like, that's an awesome full circle. Yeah.

Sari 11:00
Yeah. You're like, do you sell to her now?

Tamra 11:04
Well, she's not still there anymore. But I just heard an update and she was just hired by a company who were friendly with and they have a special initiative to hire Second Chance employees. And that's a term that's used for people with felony backgrounds or people who've spent time in prison.

Sari 11:25
So cool. So well, I loved your story about how you just you, like you said, you're an accidental food entrepreneur. So if you could just kind of share, you know, your journey, how you came to the Women's Bean Project? And you know, and then we'll get into, I'm sure you have had so many challenges and learnings of being thrown into basically CPG, right? You're like, oh, I now own a packaged food business, basically.

Tamra 11:54
Exactly. Well, I have two science degrees. And so that, you know, it's just starting with that doesn't make any sense. But my first job after getting my master's degree was with subsidiary Rush Medical Center in Chicago, and we were taking concepts out of the medical center and taking them to market. And that was my first taste of entrepreneurship, we got to take concepts and we got to put shape to them and take them to the marketplace. And that was when I realized that the science was a great background to have. But what it really excited me was entrepreneurialism and creativity. So that's kind of been the theme of my career, I worked for a couple of different companies in a much more entrepreneurial space. And when I initially became acquainted with the Bean project, I was working for a tech company from 1999 to 2003, I was working for an internet company, which was a really cool time to be in that space. But the company I was working for was based in New York and I was here in Denver. So I didn't have a connection to the local community and I was looking for a way to volunteer and give back. And I started volunteering at the Bean project. Because I loved the business model. I loved this idea that the better the business did, the more women could be served. So it wasn't necessarily about food, though, like, I guess I'm kind of a foodie. But it was more about the business model and the mission. So I volunteered for about six months. And after about six months, the position of CEO came open. And I thought I knew the perfect person and that was my girlfriend, Sarah. I tried to talk her into applying for the job. And according to her, I just went on and on about what it was, until finally she said, if you think it's so great, why don't you apply? And that was 18 years ago. So she apparently was right. So it was accident on all food entrepreneur in that, you know, I didn't come here really because it was a food company. It was really much more because of the purpose. You know, why we do the work?

Sari 14:04
So what have been some of the challenges being specifically a food business? Because if you were just making scarves for instance, I mean, not that that might have some of its own challenges, but I feel like a lot of times with, with all my people who start food businesses, it seems so easy to create food that you can share with people, right? Because it is from our home kitchens and food brings us together and connection. But then there's the actual, like, business of a food business.

Tamra 14:37
Well, gosh, I mean, where do you even start? It's well, first of all, the food business, the food world has changed a ton since 1989. And it really, you used to be able to very easily just sort of, you know, put up a table on your garage or your kitchen and make food and sell it and that just is not the case anymore. It's so much more regulated. And of course, you know, we were founded with $500 investment, and making one bean soup mix and putting 2 women to work. And now, of course, we're much different operation. And so of course, that complexity is much different. And we're sourcing materials from all different kinds of companies. But I think the maybe the biggest challenge is learning how to run a food manufacturing operation with all the regulations and all the, you know, SOPs you have to have in place and you know, I joke sometimes where nobody should ever wonder whether or not our food is safe. You know, we're, most of our food is kosher, so the rabbi's come, FDA inspects, the health department, the weights and measures people check our scales. I mean, there are so many ways that, you know, that we're regulated and checked, and that people, you know, customers should rest assured.

Sari 16:04
Yeah. I mean, people who do self manufacturing, I think that is greatly underestimated. And I know, you know, you can get started self manufacturing on a small scale. But anytime it starts getting large, like what you guys are doing, I mean, you basically like, that's where I'm like, maybe go find a co packer who is doing all of that for you. Or else you have to take on all of those roles and do the food safety audits and have all of the inspectors and make sure you're crushing your teeth and dotting your eyes, because that's a lot more.

Tamra 16:38
Yeah, our founder when, gosh, I was probably a couple years into the job. And she had started the company in her late 50s, she had gone back to school to get her master's in social work degree. And she was volunteering at a daytime homeless shelter for women and kids. So this for her wasn't about starting a food company. This was about starting a means for which the women could learn about working more work by actually working. So she said to me once that the first time somebody wanted a case of bean soup mix, which at the time was 12 units, she couldn't believe somebody wanted that many. So it wasn't started, like a lot of companies, it wasn't started with a mindset of how would we produce on a mass scale? And literally, for the first 20 years of our existence, maybe even more, everything was filled manually. And we have said some of your listeners might remember 10 bean soup from Women's Bean Project and it used to be in these plastic sleeves, and there were 10 layers of beans. And those were filled one quarter cup at a time, every single one of those bags. And you know, so it's also that evolution for, you know, food companies of what scalable and what's essential to your brand and your business and then what is just, you know, not scalable, and you just have to let go.

Sari 18:08
Right. Like maybe we can mix the beans together.

Tamra 18:13
Exactly. And what we did was we went to our beans supplier and they mix them for us. So they arrive premixed with all 10 beans in it.

Sari 18:23
That's working smarter for sure. And you're still doing the plenty of work on site.

Tamra 18:29
Still 10 Bean Soup. Yeah.

Sari 18:30
Still 10 Bean Soup, yes. I'm so curious when, her name is Josie. Jessie. What? Where did she sell the first soup? Was it just like to friends and family? I mean, I'm sure she chose dried soup because it's food safe, right?

Tamra 18:49
Exactly. And well in the funny thing was, there was no research or anything, she noticed that a lot of her friends were eating bean soup for health reasons. And so she's had a chef friend develop a recipe for a dry soup mix. So what you get in our mixes is you get all the beans and you get the spices. And then you typically at the end for 10 bean soup, you add tomatoes, and you know, and then you have your soup. So it was, initially she sold to friends and family, it was very much that. The interesting thing was from that $500 investment. This was the fall of 1989. You know, so they made soup for the holiday season. They made $6,100 in sales. And I'm not I don't know what the price point was but that's a pretty good ROI. If you think about it. We were really fortunate. A couple of things happened fairly early on, one was that in about, so that was 1989 and I believe about 1992, we got into King Soopers. And one could argue we had no business getting into King Soopers but that was a really awesome partnership and to this day, we're in every Kroger store in the state of Colorado. And then some of your listeners might have heard of 10,000 Villages. And they're at its peak, there are about 125 to 10,000 Villages stores around the country. And we got into those, we got a relationship and we're still one of the only food companies, A and B companies that are not 10,000 Villages sourced that you can find in a 10,000 Villages store. So those two things happening pretty early in our history, made a pretty big difference to our trajectory, I think.

Sari 20:45
Yeah, I love that. And you just, you can't predict those things, you don't know what's gonna be the thing. You know, I talk, a lot of people are like, tell me the map, like, what's gonna happen first, second, and third, but once you get a product, like I don't know exactly, we're gonna try a whole bunch of things and you're gonna put it out there. I just had one of my clients just texted me right before we got on and he said, I just got on a radio show, my friend is a friend with a producer, and he bought a case and like, they're talking about me on the radio. You know, that's like, you just can't predict that stuff! Like, you don't know what the thing is that's gonna catch, right. But you keep on trying.

Tamra 21:28
Or for whom? Yeah, I mean, if you don't know that this one person, it just happened to us. This past week, I had gotten an email from someone who had received our a gift box from somebody last year. And she had on our list that she needed to get in contact with us. And she, you know, it took her until this year to do it. And she and I had a phone conversation and at the end, she said, I'd like to make a contribution to your capital campaign, you know, we're moving to a new building. And this week, we got a gift. So she's a first time donor and we got to gift her a capital campaign, it was really all because this original person sent them a gift box. So you know, those kinds of things. What I've learned to trust is those kinds of things happen all the time. But I think the key really is, I guess maybe it's interrelated but twofold. One is, it's really about your story. What story do you have that's going to ignite somebody's imagination? You know, I've joked that since I've been at Women's Bean Project, I've become a lot more interesting at cocktail parties. But it's really because someone says, what do you do, and I'll say, I'm CEO of Women's Bean Project. And you know, we might be at this big table, and it gets quiet, because everybody wants to hear about it. Because people want to understand or want to hear the story that's different and unique. And so I think that is part of it. And then also, knowing that if a customer knowing that their purchase makes a difference, and I don't think you need to be a nonprofit, for that, I think if you can do a good job, whether it's on your product, or you know, on your actual packaging, or through your marketing, talking about the impact of somebody's purchase, I think people more and more want that. They want to feel like I'm not just buying this product and mining, you know, some venture capitalists pockets, but I'm really making a difference to an entrepreneur and their family. And you know, and the survivability of the business.

Sari 23:39
Yeah. I mean, I think you can extrapolate that. Telling a story about your business and about your brand is so important. And I think, yeah, experiential eating, experiential purchasing in general, is definitely on the rise I think with younger generations, millennials, and things coming up too. I mean, it just feels good. It feels good that your money that you're spending, like, it's a value exchange. And in addition to getting bean soup and getting to me all, I'm also getting, like I'm supporting, I'm helping, you know, there's a whole other layer of feel good. And I think you can do that in even like I said, even if you're not a nonprofit, but, you know, what is your story as an entrepreneur, I have a number of clients that give back, you know, to pets, you know, pet organizations or other nonprofits. So I think you can tell that story in different ways that has an impact on people's buying habits.

Tamra 24:39
I agree.

Sari 24:41
You had a story too about, I think you were featured in a magazine or an article?

Tamra 24:48
Last year, we were featured in The New York Times Holiday Gift Guide in 2020. And we didn't know it was going to happen. One of our supporters is a contributing writer to the New York Times and so the staff was asked who they'd recommend for the gift guide. And it wasn't even like the big gift guide. It was just the like little wellness gift guide. And we were, you know, maybe there were six companies listed and we were the last one listed. And it ran the day before Thanksgiving. And from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, we did as much orders in those five days as we normally do for an entire holiday season. It was overwhelming. Well, so the funny thing is, a follow up to that, is that this year, we said, hey, if you put us in your gift guide again, could you just give us a heads up? And they said, no, no, we never mentioned people more than once. And so we went into the Holiday season like okay, we don't have to worry about that. Well, on Thanksgiving Day, New York Times put into their gift guide and the big winner for the 2020 holiday gift guide is Women's Bean Project and they put a link to our site. It felt like a really good backhanded compliment, right? Like it wasn't really, they didn't mention us. They just mentioned us from last year.

Sari 26:06
And was a crazy sale?

Tamra 26:13
Yeah, we're up year over year. But it's been a little bit more metered. So that's been good. It's been, you know, instead of that big lump that, you know, that we have to get through the system. We have a little bit of a lump but it's not the same. And anybody listening to could relate to, I think back in the early days in the internet, there was this one commercial where this company launched a website. And they're like five people standing around the computer waiting for the first order. And the first order came in, they were like, yeah, all celebrating. And then all of a sudden, it went, you know, a little a little a little bit, you know, order after order, and the website crashed. And, you know, it felt a little bit like that last year. Like New York Times Holiday Gift Guide, are you kidding me? Who wouldn't want that?

Sari 27:03
Right? You know, I've been talking a lot this week with my founders that I work with saying, you know, there's this, and you as a CEO could probably speak to this, but there's this notion that it's like, I shouldn't at some point, I shouldn't have any problems in my business, like, what are all these problems? Why does there another one? And I like to say like, the sooner we can just accept that we're always gonna have like 10 problems floating to the surface, and we just get really good at solving problems. I mean, that's a great problem to have. But it's still a problem, right?

Tamra 27:42
Yeah, I think of it really, it's not that you ever solved the problems. It's just a whack a mole game. Right? Like, I'm gonna, okay, I'm beating down that problem so that another problem can pop up, you know, over somewhere else. And it's, I mean, I think the day you stop having problems is the day you probably stop having business, which is a whole other problem. Because we're moving to larger space and so much in the last few years, so much of our problems, how we would think about them, have been space related. What's interesting to me, as the leader is thinking about, okay, if we, when we take away, you know, our use air quotes, the excuse of the building being too small and we move to space twice as big, what problems are we going to uncover? Because there will be other ones that the space doesn't forgive. But, you know, certainly for a long time, the space has been our challenge, we've really, so we've not only made our own products, but we really would like to expand to doing work for other companies. As long as we're creating jobs, it doesn't have to be only Women's Bean Project products. And we've had quite a few opportunities to do that and the space has been the constraint. So I'm looking forward to being able to work with other companies, whether it's, you know, packaging. We've worked with Empowered Bars to take single flavor cases and put them into mixed flavor case, pretty simple work, but perfectly suited for our kind of, you know, our kind of shop. So I'm looking forward to not only taking the problems but more importantly, taking the problems that we have and making them into opportunities.

Sari 29:32
Yeah, some real opportunities there. I mean, there's so many food businesses and around the area but be careful what you wish for. I can already think of a number I'm like, oh!

Tamra 29:48
Well, and what a good problem to have for us. Because, you know, just because we move to bigger space doesn't mean our sales will automatically grow. But what it does is our capacity grows and so our capacity to not only do our own business, but to potentially do business for others is a lot greater. So I'm really excited about that. And I also think with respect to problems, I think the most important thing, particularly as a leader of a company, and I think this would apply to a leader of a department or leader of a team, it's about your approach to the problem, if you approach a problem from the standpoint of, I have the confidence, we can figure this out. But let's not have the paralysis of sitting here and trying to anticipate all the problems because I guarantee, we'll anticipate the wrong ones and will solve for them in a way that what makes sense when the problem actually comes up. So at some point, you just got to go and feel comfortable and confident that you can address the problems as they arise. And I think often, there's so much fear of problems that, you know, we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot.

Sari 31:02
I love that because I have either people that never get started, right? Because they're like, but what about this? And what about that, I mean, I just did an interview with a client that was like, you know, it took me months before I finally like made the decision to do this, because I was all up in my head and was trying to anticipate all the problems. And it's like, you always have to start before you're ready. But then also, just going like that I am capable, I can figure this out, we can figure this out. And you know, find resources like myself or, you know, find resources to help you, like don't do it in a vacuum. But you know, you're not alone trying to figure out these problems every entrepreneur doing is the same thing.

Tamra 31:45
Exactly. Well, and also, one thing I know for sure is that you never build the infrastructure first, but you put it in after the fact to fix the pain. So you don't sit around and create an HR department and you know, an accounting department and all these things before you have revenue and employees and all of that, you create all those things for the situation that you're in. And I think that sometimes can get overwhelming because you look at a company that is, you know, it's been around longer or is bigger. And you say, well, but I can't start because I don't have this and this and this, but of course you don't because you also don't have sales and employees.

Sari 32:27
Right, you don't need all of those things like you will get there. Yeah, I'm in the middle of doing some team restructuring and things like that and thinking about how do I step more into a leadership role in my business and how do I help other founders do the same, you know, go from being a solopreneur to now maybe having an employee or working with other contractors, and how do you lead? And all of that stuff, I couldn't have built it three years ago. I didn't have a need.

Tamra 32:59
I think of it as the difference between working in your business versus working on your business. And that's the transition you're talking about, I think is now if you get to take a step back, you can work on your business instead of being chief cook and bottle washer. Right?

Sari 33:15
Right. And then you guys expanded how long ago into other products because now you have quite a few and I think you bring in a lot and then repack them. Is that right? How you're doing it?

Tamra 33:26
Yeah, some of our newer products are snacks and things like that, that are already made, and we're packaging them. So from the very beginning, we had bean soup mix and we have six different bean soup mixes. Cornbread mix was pretty early in our history. But we've added brownie mix and cookie mix. And what I like about baking mixes is for somebody who's not a baker, to get a mix and just add butter or an egg or whatever then you have no leftover flour and sugar and all that kind of stuff. But you look like you're totally a baker! It's really awesome for somebody who's not. So the challenge we've had though is that bean soup does not say summer. And so we have been very winter seasonal our whole history and anybody who's in a seasonal business can attest to the fact that it's really hard when you make for ice cream. Like we make 70% of our sales between September and December. And you know, so we've introduced other products in an attempt to sort of even that out a little bit. What I'm finding is that the, you know, the tide is rising but we still have the peak during this time of year and that's fine, but I just don't want it to be crickets in July. We had this great opportunity to hire Sterling Rice Group a few years ago, and they helped us think about how, you know, being a 32 year old company is great and I think in some ways could potentially make us vulnerable. In that the way people ate in 1989 and the way they ate in 2021 isn't necessarily the same. So we wanted to look at how people eat has changed, and what products could we introduce to augment our bean soup, not to necessarily to replace it. But that was a bit more contemporary with how people eat. And so that's where the snacks and the popcorn, the instant beans or rice cups, that's where those all came in. The great thing about that work was that we still have a new product pipeline that will carry us forward into, you know, the next several years. And that's pretty exciting. For me anyway, to think about what else we could do?

Sari 35:44
That's really neat. Now you can update, I guess you have to update the instructions for instapot, right?

Tamra 35:58
We did. Yeah, we did do that. You know, it's funny because everything was changing and people weren't really eating at home or making soup and then instapot came out. And so you know, the great thing about that is, once we needed to figure out how to do it, we got an instapot and we made it and you know, it's super easy. Then people started eating at home again. And I think they went back to there, in some respects, went back to their slow cookers last year. So now we're set regardless of which direction it goes, I suppose.

Sari 36:34
Yes, exactly. Crockpots, instapot. But yes, that's how somewhat how things have changed over the years. But now I read on your website that you cover about 60% of your costs with the sales of the products, and then I'm assuming the rest is fundraising and donations.

Tamra 36:56
Exactly. It's grants and donations, were not typically government funded in part because we've just found the flexibility we have with grants and donations has served us well, we're not subject sort of the whim of a new administration or things like that. So we have, you know, several thousands donors who support us in a variety of ways and at different levels. And it's really much more grassroots kind of support that we tend to get. If you go to our website and you make a purchase, you have the option to round up. And you know, so there are lots and lots of donations that have come in at a couple of dollars. But you know, in the course of a year, what that does is it allows us to pay the women during the time that they're say in a computer class, or they're working on their own resume or getting ready to go out for job search. When a woman gets to the point where she's finished the program, it's time for her to start finding a job in the community, we pay her during the time that she's looking for a job. So grants and donations allow us to pay them and then also bring the resources in for the classes that you know, we do need to pay for. So the nice thing is we you know, if you were to silo the business, the business pays for itself, the sales pay for the business with a small profit, small contribution to the program. But really grants and donations are what makes the program possible.

Sari 38:29
Very cool. I was yeah, actually it was my question, was trying to figure out how to word it, in the right way, like sensitively, but like, yeah, is the food part of it profitable? Because a lot of people and they finally do the numbers, and they're like, oh, I'm like, maybe breaking even or I'm actually paying, you know, paying money every sale I get. So I was curious how the profitability measured up and assuming that all of the other hours and those pieces?

Tamra 39:01
It's profitable, definitely with a small p. Because as we all know, you know, we all know that food is not a high margin, you know, product. So, that's the, you know, the biggest challenges, you know, we're we're making, you know, our average price point is probably $3. And so, you know, it takes a big hill of beans to make, you know, a couple million bucks.

Sari 39:36
Yeah, I know sometimes people look at me like, what, wait a second, I'm like, yeah, like we're talking, you know, 3 to 5% like at the end of the day, like if you want to be rich, I don't know the food industry is where you want to go. You know, most people get into it because they're passionate about their food and they want to be an entrepreneur and try their hand like this is their passion.

Tamra 40:02
Exactly as some people have said, you know, often because we are a 32 year old nonprofit social enterprise. And many nonprofits, you know, are looking for ways to find a revenue source that doesn't have strings attached, so to speak. And in that, I often say, I would not recommend food. For all the reasons we've already talked about margin and regulation, you know, that said, you're one advantage of versus you know, you use the example of scarves earlier. It's great to be in a consumable product business because we have, and but there are only so many scarves, you know, you want to buy, so that has, I think, definitely worked in our favor. And we have customers who will tell me that they've been customers since the early 90s. So that's, you know, and now, we also, you know, have the next generation where someone will say, I remember my mom volunteered, and yeah, and that's, I love that part about it, that we have this mainstay within the community where, you know, people remember us and have memories of Women's Bean Project as part of it growing up.

Sari 41:19
Yeah, it's been, I mean, I'm fairly new to Denver and somebody told me about a couple years ago, and I was like, oh, my gosh, that's so amazing. What a neat story. So it's so fun to be learned more about it. And I'd love to get more involved as well and check it out. So.

Tamra 41:35
You know, I know I'm biased, because I've been here for a long time. But I will say it's one of those places that really makes you want to know more and as witnessed by the fact that so almost all of our products have a sticker sealing the product that says lovingly handmade by and it's a signature of a woman in the program. And I can't tell you how often we get letters from somebody in New Jersey, let's say, and that person says, you know, dear Susan, I just had your bean soup and it was so delicious and I love what you're doing. And, you know, it's really a marketer's dream come true. If you think about it, we never looked that customer in the eye because they bought it at a store in New Jersey and yet they felt compelled enough, based on the story of the company to write a letter, or send an email or yesterday, I picked up the phone and it was a lady saying, you know what, I got your soup as a present and I just made it and I just called to tell you it's so delicious. Like, nobody would do that like Campbell's. Nobody.

Sari 42:41
Probably not happening.

Tamra 42:44
I mean, how cool is that to actually, you know, have a job where, you know, get the opportunity to hear people's appreciation.

Sari 42:55
I love this. So tell people where they can go to buy the products, how they can support you, I'm assuming you're on social media as well, to some extent.

Tamra 43:06
We are on Instagram and Facebook, and Twitter, you can find us at Women's Bean Projects so that's super easy. To buy, where you can find all of our products, it's www.womensbeanproject.com, then you can find us in all the King Soopers and Safeway stores, and then every Whole Foods in the region. So we're, you know, fairly easy to find in grocery, not our whole selection necessarily. In King Soopers, we're in the dry beans section and then Safeway, we're in the soup section and Whole Foods, we actually have a couple different aisles where you can find our mixes and our soups. But those grocery partners have been really awesome for us.

Sari 43:56
They're feeling good, right? Like it's just a win win win.

Tamra 44:00
It is, but I will say it's not, if we don't sell through, we don't get we don't keep our shelf space. So you know, it does require management and it does, you know, it's not a given that we will get to stay in. So I don't want anybody to think that you know, we get this advantage because and literally because of that, you know a lot of times we end up like on the bottom shelf, if you go into King Soopers you're gonna find us on the bottom shelf is definitely not great placement, or in Safeway were like way up at the top where you can't reach it without, you know, a tall person. So, but Whole Foods actually does give us really awesome placement on shelf. So, but we got that because we sell through.

Sari 44:47
Yeah, we went to, we had our holiday event and we were doing gift bags or putting together bags for Metro and we bought a bunch of product from Locavore and we just like clear the whole shelf so you guys got a big order.

Tamra 45:02
That explains it.

Sari 45:05
You're like, oh my gosh, look at those. Oh great. So yeah, so and then those went to Metro.

Tamra 45:12
So that's awesome. Yeah. A few years ago, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority bought a pallet of 10 bean soup and gave and donated it to Food Bank of the Rockies. And totally coincidentally, somebody else donated a pallet of tomatoes, canned tomatoes. And so they were able to pair those because you know, the 10 bean soup calls for tomatoes at the end. And it was, you know, sort of a match made in heaven. It couldn't have been better.

Sari 45:43
Sure, those things just if you allow them, if you're open to them, you don't get so focused on the day to day grind of things. You're like, wow, like I bet. You know, miracles like that are just happening all the times.

Tamra 45:55
The universe tends to align, I've learned.

Sari 45:59
I love it. Well, thank you so much for being with us, being on this podcast, sharing the story. I think it's such an inspiring different path of a CPG brand. But I appreciate your leadership and doing what you're doing. And, and those women that are, you know, changing their lives. It's pretty amazing.

Tamra 46:21
Well, thanks so much. It's great to have the opportunity to talk about the the work that we do.

Sari 46:26
Yeah, you bet. All right, happy holidays. And thanks so much for being here.

Tamra 46:30
Thanks, you too.

Sari 46:32
I want to wish you guys a really Happy Holiday, maybe filled with lots of delicious food and celebration and connection because we are all bonded together in food and the way that it brings us together. That is one of the huge reasons why I got involved in this industry. Because I saw the power of food and how it brings us together and creates communities. So you guys are my community, I want to encourage you to come join me inside the private Facebook Group. That is where we can have more of these conversations. I would love for you to post your wins and be listing your gains and the progress that you have made this year as the place to start having these conversations and surround yourself by other like minded people doing amazing things in this industry. Until next time, have an amazing week.

Sari 47:33
Are you ready to start that delicious idea that you make in your home kitchen or grow your existing packaged food business and take it to the next level? The most successful food business entrepreneurs have support, guidance, focus, and accountability to help them make it happen quickly without wasting time or money. Plus, I think starting your packaged food business should actually be fun. Food Business Success is your secret ingredient to creating your food business dream. Please don't go this alone. Check out the private free Food Business Success Facebook Group to connect with other foodpreneurs. Get your questions answered quickly. Share your wins and receive special training.




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