…A story. Empty brands don’t work anymore. There must be an authentic story driving your brand. This is what will resonate with your customers the most.
…A great relationship with your co-packer. This is straight-forward but so important. It is the make or break the success of your product.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Wilson. BelliWelli developed out of Katie Wilson’s personal struggles with gut health. After 6 colonoscopies, 4 endoscopies, 26 rounds of antibiotics, 3 naturopaths, and endless supplements, Katie and her husband Nick knew there had to be a better alternative to constant discomfort and a lack of easy-consumption options for people with similar needs. Throughout their journey, the Wilsons have been overwhelmed by stories shared by the passionate and growing community of gut sufferers who, just like Katie, are surprisingly vocal about a need for a better alternative- considering the sensitive subject matter. Influenced and inspired by the stories within the community, BelliWelli has captured the essence of gut-safety snacking for all, made specifically for those who suffer gut complications regularly and striking the perfect balance between healthy and indulgent.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I spent 10 years of my life as a matchmaker and will forever be a matchmaker at heart. Now, instead of finding the right partner for someone, I’m matching tummies with the right snacks. BelliWelli came about because I developed debilitating gut issues six years ago and I quickly realized I wasn’t alone. In fact, 70% of the US population is reporting daily gut issues. After years of trial and error (everything from colonoscopies, to diets, to breath tests, to antibiotics), I was feeling frustrated, discouraged, and in need of sweet treats that I could actually eat. With the help of a food scientist and a dietitian, my husband got to work and spent hours finding the perfect “IBS-friendly” treat from our home kitchen. Five months later, we launched our bars and saw sales sky-rocket overnight. We decided to go to work raising capital, building a brand, and iterating on the product to bring the gut-challenged community, BelliWelli bars.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My husband, who had no prior baking experience, is from England. They use a different measurement system. In one early recipe testing session, he accidentally added 3 cups of ascorbic acid vs 3 teaspoons….you can imagine! Thank goodness it was only recipe testing at this point. We learned early on to pay attention to the recipes we were developing.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Product-market fit. There is nothing more fun than imaging and ideating on a great, new food product, but it’s so important to test that it’s a product that people actually want and need.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I’d recommend making a test version of your product and having your friends and family give you feedback. Do they like the taste? Does the idea resonate with them? Better yet, send people surveys for market research and find out what values people really care about. We spent a long time formulating an incredible BelliWelli grain blend that is full of natural, superfood grains. We are still really proud of this, but we’ve come to realize that our audience doesn’t prioritize ancient grains in the way we thought they might.
I’d also recommend starting a social channel to post all of your behind-the-scenes images. Gone are the days of flooding feeds with perfectly curated product images. People connect with the “real-life” element of a brand so bring your brand to life through sharing the step-by-step story.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
Do a little bit each day. Move the needle on your business or idea in some way, shape, or form every single day. And remember that the barrier to entry is never quite as great as you are probably imagining it to be.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I think it’s important to always go with your gut (no pun intended!). That being said, I have relied on many friends, mentors, and advisors for support along the way. I have had a great experience in the past working with CPG consultants but I do prefer to engage with consultants for help with the more tangible tasks (building a deck, connecting me with brokers, outlining financial strategies, etc.) rather than receiving their help for ideation.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Everyone will offer you a new and valuable opinion on this topic. I raised capital and because we have a table of talented and value-adding investors, it’s been a great strategy for us. We bootstrapped for as long as we could, but at a certain point, I think you have to decide what you want your business trajectory to look like and plan your strategy accordingly. We wanted to grow quickly which is why we pursued outside investors.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
We initially did this ourselves, and ultimately turned to Sherpa CPG (a co-packer broker team) to help us with both formulation, ingredient sourcing, and pairing us with the appropriate co-packer. This was a decision that I would highly recommend for anyone looking to start their own food or snack company. It freed up our time to focus on driving the brand and business forward, but still meant we got to be intimately involved in the development process.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Product-market fit
Is this something people really need? Who will see this and say, “that’s SO ME!”
- Tenacity (are you willing to stay up until 4 AM every night for a year to make this happen?)
Hopefully, you don’t have to do this, but you have to be willing to grind. You have to really love it and have a passion for your product.
- A brand vision
What will this brand look like? What will it say? How will the IG look? Will it have a community attached? Where and how will you build that organic community?
- A story
Empty brands don’t work anymore. There must be an authentic story driving your brand. This is what will resonate with your customers the most.
- A great relationship with your co-packer
This is straight-forward but so important. It is the make or break the success of your product.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
I recommend camping out in Facebook groups, or Pinterest, or even TikTok for a day to find out what people are talking about. Don’t guess or assume what the market wants. I have talked to a number of experienced CEOs who said that their winning product ended up being something that the community requested rather than something that their internal team brainstormed.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I couldn’t and wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t truly believe that we were making the right products for the gut-challenged community. It’s such a huge need that isn’t currently being addressed by other company’s and I’m grateful that I’m able to provide a solution to the problem so many are currently facing.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Start every conversation with, “tell me all about you” and mean it. Listen intently for the next two minutes and make it a point to ask two thoughtful follow-up questions. This is a trick I used to share when I was still a full-time matchmaker and I’ll carry it everywhere I go. This builds and fosters real and meaningful connections with the people around you.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I am dying to sit down with Amy Schumer. Her honesty is out of this world cool.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.