Snack food company finds purpose a key ingredient for success
Can a purpose statement unite founders in a way that makes execution and decision making easier? There’s a lot of talk about how purpose motivates employees and helps leaders translate and operationalize a vision across a business. In this interview, we learn that a company purpose statement can be a key ingredient for navigating challenges and clarifying objectives, helping three founders find the focus they need for success.
- Solving a market problem and community need with a business model
- Purpose grounds business decisions
- Purpose attracts investors and aligns co-founders
- Giving back as part of the business plan
- Working-moms, the originators of going beyond profit
What’s the market problem and community need your business intends to solve?
“It all started with our desire to figure out how to solve some of the problems that we saw kids facing when we were working in schools. But we also wanted to build a profitable business as the way to real solutions. At the time, I was really focused on childhood obesity, food insecurity and access to wellness and nutrition. I’d become familiar with the fact that one in three children become obese or overweight by their fifth birthday in the United States.
The very specific targeting of junk food, disproportionally to less advantaged families and children who frankly already have less access to quality food, less availability, concerned me. It started us thinking that there was need for innovation, for food specifically created with kids in mind, a brand and company that put kids first. This was the catalyst for Bitsy’s. A company committed to being very intentional about what we are feeding kids – convenient, crazy good real food that kids will love.”
How does Purpose ground your business decisions?
“I think the heart of it is really “helping build a healthier and more thoughtful world for children, bit by bit.” The “bit by bit” is where our name came from – the idea of building a company where the little pieces add up together to something meaningful.
It’s been an evolving journey. When we first started the company, we intentionally said we don’t want to just sell healthy products to help people, we wanted to put ingredients in there that would really be good for kids. So, we started with a focus on vegetables and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. High quality ingredients drove our prices up and we had to quickly learn how to create a product that meets our high standards but also has solid margins and can be priced in a way that makes it accessible to all communities.
How do you balance profitability with wanting to give kids everything good you possibly can?
We let purpose be a lens to help us understand our marketplace. It’s really been eye opening to learn about the food space in general and the issues at every juncture from agriculture to supply chain to how to get good foods onto the shelf. Learning what’s being offered in different communities and just how different the choices are from one community to the next.
Over the last ten years there’s been an emerging category for specialty organic foods. There was a defined path that you would go into natural food stores and independent retailers and then into major natural food retailer. As a result, these products all ended up in more affluent communities with higher prices at the shelf. But people in these communities already had access to better quality food while food deserts continued elsewhere.
On the other side, the junk food category continued to market and see sales growth in places where the higher priced, higher quality food wasn’t available. It created this crazy cycle where junk food sales grow in select markets not necessarily because people prefer to buy junk food but because that’s the only food available. If you only have access to low quality food, that’s what you are going to eat. It’s really hard to break the cycle. We are swimming against the tide, trying to do what’s right. But our purpose keeps us clear.”
You believe Purpose helped you overcome obstacles, attract investors and align you as co-founders?
“Absolutely, our purpose of providing quality food for all with a focus on accessibility attracted Gabrielle Union to Bitsy’s as an investor and co-founder. She was actually a customer first. And she’s very aware that while she has access to quality food, not everyone else does. Our purpose and her purpose became the same – together wanting to make an impact and bring access to high quality food for everyone.
Gabrielle is a talented actress, author, entrepreneur, mother and very much an activist who speaks her truth. She’s been a real and authentic partner helping us solve some of our problems and champion our products. She’s really helping us swim against the tide. All of her talents together and her authenticity – she’s an incredible partner helping us overcome obstacles and bring healthy, nutritious foods to everyone.”
Why consider Giving Back as part of the business plan?
“There’s been so much food insecurity over the past year and it just continues to grow especially with kids out of school, not getting their meals that they would normally get at school. So that’s where we really focused – working with school food distribution sites. We donated snacks to be added to drive-through meals. We also provided snacks for community outreach efforts with Souper Jenny and Compassion Kitchen Project.
As a business, I don’t think we will ever get everything figured out perfectly. I mean we are growing and evolving, we hit road bumps and unexpected turns in the road no matter what’s going on in the world. But there’s always something to give. No matter what, there are moments when you know you have something to give, you have something available that someone needs and you simply find a way to give back. You make sure that’s part of the plan. It’s where our passion is still, invested in kids lives. So, call me, I’ll give you snacks, I just can’t say no.”
You’ve called women, especially moms, the originators of the go beyond profit approach. The past year has disproportionately affected women in business. Is there some encouragement you might give to your fellow business moms?
“Absolutely! First, I’ve got a lot of self-talk going on with catch phrases that I tell myself to keep me motivated. But honestly, whatever you’re going through, whatever you are dealing with right now choose how you are going to navigate and if you’re going to let it make you be someone you don’t want to be. Let go of what you can, remind yourself that are you doing your best, be proud of yourself. It’s not going to be a perfect road and things are going to be hard, don’t dismiss it but try to live in it, choose your perspective, decide that you are doing your best.
And know there is a sisterhood between us. Between me, and Alex and Gabrielle and every other working mom. It’s important to be each other’s safe space. In a meeting, before we talk about an important branding thing, we stop and give each other five minutes to talk about this mom thing that’s on our mind. Give people a little grace for the crazy zoo going on in the Zoom background or the little head that pops into a meeting.
Let’s be honest, women and moms originated the go beyond profit way of doing things. It’s important that we give each other the great gift of really seeing each other as smart, successful, open, real, imperfect. We’re striving for purpose not perfection.
A purpose driven life is what it’s all about. Being able to authentically focus on trying to make a difference helps you get through the uncontrollable factors that happen in business, the surprises and turn of events. Whatever it is, with purpose you can weather the storms and have peace with yourself.”