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“5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” With Chef Vicky Colas, Sage Dammers & AnnaBlanca Teleky

Sage: Get Help with Branding and Packaging. Humans make a tremendous amount of decisions based on visual stimuli. The way in which your food product is presented, whether online or on the shelf, can determine whether someone will be excited to give it a try or pass by and never experience it. Creating amazing branding […]

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Sage: Get Help with Branding and Packaging. Humans make a tremendous amount of decisions based on visual stimuli. The way in which your food product is presented, whether online or on the shelf, can determine whether someone will be excited to give it a try or pass by and never experience it. Creating amazing branding and packaging is a special skill. If you have this skill, amazing! But if you don’t, it’s definitely worth bringing in some outside help.

AnnaBlanca: Tremendous Work Ethic. Are you ready to work more than if you stayed and worked in a regular job? Because building your own business will take more than what you imagine it will take. I know that I signed up for this six years ago, but I can honestly say that I had no idea how hard we would both have to work, how hairy things may get at times, and how much I would love this demanding, wild adventure.

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 Sage Dammers and AnnaBlanca, Co-Founders of Addictive Wellness.

Sage Dammers is the co-founder, CEO, product formulator, and chocolatier of Addictive Wellness. Fueled by a passionate desire to help people live the ultimate life and create a better world, Sage began as a teenager seeking out information that no mainstream school could offer in the areas of nutrition and traditional herbal systems of indigenous cultures.

He built his knowledge of superfood nutrition and traditional herbal systems, especially Taoist tonic herbalism. He has worked with and trained under the world’s leading master herbalists and nutrition and longevity experts in Costa Rica, Australia, Bali, China, and America.

AnnaBlanca is the co-founder of Addictive Wellness. She was raised in the countryside of Hungary with the purest nutrition and lifestyle which set her on the path for wellness for the rest of her life. She shared her knowledge and passion for health and wellness throughout her decades of world travels and work.

Prior to launching Addictive Wellness with Sage, she worked with ESE Funds, a boutique financial services company based in London and L.A., which focused on building startups in the alternative healthcare space.

She takes great pleasure in dancing, revitalizing her nervous system swimming in the cold ocean waves with Sage, looking out for the well-being of her family and bringing together the entrepreneurial wellness community of Los Angeles.

www.AddictiveWellness.com

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”?

Sage: I grew up in Southern California and had the great fortune to live in a home that transformed into a Siddha Yoga meditation center every Thursday night. My parents were devotees of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the Indian guru in the true story behind Eat, Pray, Love. And once a week, 30–40 people would fill our house for spiritual teachings, chanting of sanskrit mantras, and meditation. So from the very beginning, I was exposed to ways of living, being, and thinking that most people don’t encounter until later in life, if at all. I grew up as a vegetarian, but not a super healthy one by any means. My parents did the best they knew how. Most of what we ate was organic, and our staples were basmati rice and tofu five nights a week. In the categories of love, family support, and overall great childhood environment, my cup was overflowing. But it may have been a little less full in the nutrition department.

When I started to realize the importance of nutrition in my late teens and, more importantly, to feel how much better I could feel when I put some serious nutrition in my body, it really got me thinking. If I had been missing out on these new superfoods for the past 18 years, what else is out there? This really shot me down the rabbit hole of researching and educating myself in the fields of nutrition, superfoods, traditional herbal systems of indigenous cultures, and everything else it might take to make the body and mind thrive. The more I learned, the more new things I would try. The more new things I tried, the better I would feel. The better I felt, the more excited I would get to continue learning. So it turned into this wonderful cycle that continues to this day.

AnnaBlanca: I grew up in the Hungarian countryside in a way that I didn’t fully appreciate till decades later when I was living in California. Health foods that now fill natural food market isles were staples in our lives. Kombucha, fermented vegetables, bee pollen, royal jelly, medicinal mushrooms, homemade apple cider vinegar and fruit preserves, raw milk and cheese, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and eggs, and ample fresh organic vegetables and fruit.

My mother was making all of our meals from scratch and also collected a library for us that lined every wall in every room. We were able to read fluently years before we started school. It was a good thing too since we had one tiny television with one black and white channel that did not offer ready entertainment for children, so we either read a lot or created our own fun. My two sisters and brother and I roamed the countryside barefoot making up games and only started back for a bath once we saw the cows ambling their way home. They were our clock.

My father was a veterinarian, and oftentimes if one of us needed treatment he just did it himself citing that we’re all related in this world anyways. For our earaches and headaches he used far-infrared light bulbs; he taught us meditation, chants, logic games, and the benefits of hanging upside down. I believe now it’s called inversion therapy. We called it “the rope on the cherry tree.” But nothing can explain the philosophy of my childhood better than the day my mother yelled for my father saying “The kids are picking up and eating the chicken poo!” to which he calmly replied, “It is good for them, it’s phosphorus.” (The main function of phosphorus is in the formation of bones and teeth so he was obviously onto something.)

Living in communism was hard on both of my parents since they were incredibly outspoken. My mother was marching against the Russian tanks during the revolution in 1956. She was just 13 years old. My father barely avoided prison for his beliefs, but my grandmother was a supreme court judge who knew how to play the system and kept him safe for as long as she could. But there came the day when my parents decided that leaving the country was in the best interest of their four children. This decision brought long years of painful, scarring separation, heartache, hard work, and loss before we could reunite in Vancouver to start an entirely new life. Now my family lives all over the world, but we couldn’t be closer if we lived down the street from one another. Interestingly our childhood roots run deeper than we anticipated, and health, wellness, and natural living became the center of the lives of the families we’ve built. The organic apples have not rolled as far from those Hungarian backyards as we thought.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

Sage: I first started getting really into health and nutrition in my late teens when I met a gentleman in my local community who produced a hemp protein superfood mix. He was in amazing shape and looked very young for being in his 40s. I started blending up this mix with orange juice and frozen fruit, and although it tasted pretty intense I drank it every day because I was motivated to see results in terms of my fitness and well-being. Sure enough, I started feeling levels of clarity and mental energy that I had never experienced before.

A couple of years later, I was on a surf trip with college friends in Costa Rica, and they would usually have to get out of the ocean after a couple of hours to eat and rest, but I was able to stay out much longer fueled by my “secret superfood” potion. That piqued their interest in what I was doing, and they wanted to try my smoothies. They seriously struggled to get it down, and two of them didn’t manage to keep it down.

It was then that I realized if I wanted to share my passion for nutrition with others, I’d have to deliver it in a different way. I would need to present it in something that was as enjoyable as the unhealthy treats they were accustomed to.

It was around this time that I started to learn about the powerful nutritional properties of pure cacao, the main ingredient of chocolate. It’s the highest natural source of magnesium, the highest natural source of antioxidants, and also a rich source of other minerals such as iron and zinc as well as the neurotransmitters serotonin, anandamide, and PEA, also known as the love bliss chemical. Pure chocolate also makes a potent delivery system for the greatest health-supporting superherbs. All of this made me realize that a carefully and consciously crafted chocolate bar created from the highest quality cacao and traditional herbs from indigenous cultures, but without adding any sugar, could really be the ultimate gateway health food!

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?

AnnaBlanca: I love bringing this story up since I believe that it’s not only useful but also good for morale if you look back and see how far you’ve come! In a nutshell, we firmly believed that the kitchens of the Hilton Hotels were going to assign a staff member to melt and pour our signature chocolate hearts every day, so they could leave a piece on the pillows and also sell them in their minibars.

At that stage of our business we didn’t offer shelf-stable chocolates yet, and they had to be kept refrigerated at all times. We simply made a chunky chocolate bar that needed to be gently melted in a double boiler, poured into a tray of heart-shaped molds, and immediately put into the fridge. These heart-shaped chocolates were so incredibly delicious, though, that we got genuine interest from the new food and beverage manager at Hilton. We were excited. He hadn’t a clue what he was getting into. We tried to be persuasive and explain how easy it would be to prepare these daily and even came up with suggestions for keeping them cold en route to the rooms. I still get the giggles when I imagine how long the chocolates would have lasted on those pristine, white pillows…

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?

AnnaBlanca: When we started, everyone was telling us that we need to do food business as it has always been done.

We were told that

  • We need to learn how to pitch an investor and take on a large investment just to get off the ground.
  • A food company needs to sign up with a distributor.
  • A food company needs to hire a broker.
  • We need to work with a fulfillment company.
  • We must have an in-house lawyer.
  • We have to hire content creators, photographers, and videographers for a professional social media presence.
  • We should give away shares to everyone we need to work with but cannot pay a salary
  • We should start with all the different product lines that we had in the pipeline and see which one will take off.

This advice came from very well-meaning, kind, supportive people both in the entrepreneurial world and the food industry nearly six years ago. The world (in this instance I mean the food industry, e-commerce, brick and mortar retailers, and customer’s interest and behavior) has changed dramatically since then, and the decision to not act on this advice turned out to be the right one for us:

  • We still own 95% of our company, and we are able to make every decision ourselves. These decisions are generally benefitting our loyal, loving customers, many of whom have been with us from the very beginning. We followed the principles of the “Lean Startup,” and it worked out well for us. This does not mean we might never take on investment, but if we do it to expand, it will write a completely different story for our business.
  • Having a distributor and paying the large percentage they ask for was not necessary. We sell directly, both to stores and to customers, and 2020 especially proved us right.
  • Since we are not working with a distributor, we are also able to skip the large retainer fee for a broker.
  • We are selling chocolates, and since it is a highly heat-sensitive item we had to make sure the orders are shipped with extra care and smarts. We’ve kept shipping in-house which means that we are able to use the best eco-friendly packaging, and our contracts with shipping companies provided us with the best rates.
  • Every legal paper we ever needed we were able to get done via an online legal service for a small fee.
  • We create our own high-quality content. We are educated about our wellness world and the ingredients of our products, therefore our content offers value to our customers. They got to know us and understand that we stand behind what we create and sell. Our integrity, caring, and knowledge became an integral part of the brand that they trust and happily support.
  • We started with chocolates since that was the most recognizable, most beloved treat, and it was a pleasure to see the surprise on people’s faces when they tried it and said “I can’t believe this is actually good for me!”

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?

Sage: The most important actionable first step is to find out what people think of the product. Most people will have some friends taste it and give a bit of friendly feedback, but this is only a very small data set, and in such situations friends will often be afraid of hurting your feelings.

So here’s what I would recommend: First make a list of 100 people you know who would be willing to sample and give you feedback. Then create a Google Form with questions for these people about their thoughts on the product. As much as possible, the questions should be quantitative in nature, meaning that the answer will be a number. For example, a question could be “Rate the sweetness on a scale of 1–10 where 1 is not sweet at all, 5 is perfectly sweet, and 10 is overwhelmingly sweet.” This way, you can take the average of everyone’s answers and understand how much the product needs to be changed. In the case of sweetness, if the average score is 5.55, you may want to consider decreasing the amount of sweetener in the product by 10%.

You can also use this method to assess how people feel about texture, for example: “Rate the texture on a scale of 1–10 where 1 is “I want it to be much crunchier,” 5 is the perfect texture, and 10 is “I want it to be much creamier.” The quantitative nature of the answers you’ll get will give you a much better idea of how much change needs to be made compared to open-ended questions such as “What do you think of the texture?” You can also use this method to see how people feel about the price you plan to charge for the product. Ship the product to everyone and ask them to fill out the form for you within a week.

It’s very important to let them know that all responses are completely anonymous and ask them to please be as brutally honest as possible in their replies. Explain to them that if they go easy on you because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, they’ll really be doing you a huge disservice and sending you into the market with unrealistic expectations. We went through this process with our products, and it worked out really well.

Once you have the food itself dialed in, then you can focus on the ingredient costs, production costs, and packaging solutions to get the full picture of what it will take to bring this product to market.

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?

AnnaBlanca: Start your business with someone you like, trust, communicate easily with, and, most importantly, who has complementing yet opposite skill sets.

Sage and I did not consciously plan on this arrangement. We were already in a great and functioning relationship before we started the business, and I could reason that we were able to harness the home front success and channel it into our company. Once we were working on our startup the appropriate roles just found us.

We are equal partners in everything. What Sage does for our business in a day would drive me crazy if I could figure out at all how to begin any of his tasks. What I need to do would make Sage unbelievably miserable, if he even knew how to do my jobs. People often give us individual credit by saying “She is a businesswoman, she started this great company!” to which I reply, not at all, I am a co-founder and wouldn’t have been able to achieve success without my partner. Sage has the exact same response to similar statements. We need each other’s strength, sensibility, expertise, experience, tenacity, and energy. We help each other, and it is helping our company move forward. We even have a rule: “only one of us is allowed to fall apart at a time.” Running a startup, this guideline has served us well over the years and helped us keep our sanity.

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?

AnnaBlanca: I believe that if you have a good idea and you know what you want to create, do as much as you can on your own and push it as far as you can. Make it your own IP. If you get to a point where you do need outside help, please establish boundaries. Will the consultant want shares for finishing the project with you or be content with just a fee? Get the consultant to sign strong non-disclosure and non-compete agreements since the last thing you want is someone jumping ahead and bringing your idea to market before you. I have known a lot of wonderful people who overeducated their competition.

On the other hand, I fully support the idea of outside help once you are ready to start selling your product. I firmly believe it is a good idea to find people who are not too close to your tree, and you can periodically run things by them to make sure the forest is still visible behind it. If you are starting a company that is innovative, original, and based on something that you breathe, live, love, and know inside and out, well then you will definitely need to ask for a different viewpoint!

Allow me to use our company as an example. In 2014, words such as raw, heirloom, mycotoxin-free, sugar-free yet sweetened with beneficial sweeteners, and Taoist, Ayurvedic, and Thai adaptogens were even more of a foreign concept than they are today. Words such as Astragalus, Reishi, Cordyceps, and Ashwagandha easily rolled off our tongues, but to most people they were bizarre and foreign ingredients. Then we went and made delicious gourmet chocolates and described them with these strange words and concepts! To us everything was perfectly understandable. To everyone else it seemed so complicated their eyes glazed over.

If there is someone who can translate and simplify what you see so clearly to your potential customers, by all means it is a great idea to get them on board!

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Sage: It depends on the nature of the product and how quick you think it will generate meaningful revenue. Certain kinds of products like beverages or ice cream would likely require venture capital because you need to start at a certain level of scale for it to be viable. These kinds of products don’t ship easily, so they don’t lend themselves well to an e-commerce business model and will need to be transported to retailers via distributors with cold transport capabilities. However, even in these cases, there’s something to be said for doing it on a bootstrap budget on a small scale, selling through local vendors to build a basic proof of concept before bringing in investors and looking to scale.

Ultimately, I’m a fan of the “Lean Startup” model wherein you get as far as you possibly can on a minimal budget, and if that’s going well you bring in the money you need to get to the next step. This allows you to connect with early customers, pivot, fine-tune your offering, and see what the market really thinks about what you’re selling. You can learn a great deal without risking huge investment and without giving up a big chunk of equity. The further you can get on your own, the less equity you’ll have to give up when it comes time to take on investment to get to the next level.

Some people have the right mix of sales success and growth at just the right speed not to need investment. If you grow steadily and organically the lean startup method allows you to at least give this a shot. If it doesn’t quite work and you need to go the investment route, you’ll be able to do it from a much better position than you would have otherwise.

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?

Sage: Filing patents isn’t something I have experience with. There are certain kinds of food innovations that are worth pursuing a patent, but more often than not, recipes are just kept as trade secrets. Even Coca Cola’s recipe is a trade secret.

I’ve had the good fortune to grow up in and around the health industry and meet people in my travels over the years who have led me to some incredible ingredient sources. Reasonably good ingredients aren’t that hard to find, but really unique and special ones take time in this industry, require personal connections, and sometimes exploration of exotic lands.

My favorite way to source a good manufacturer is to be the manufacturer. We continue to manufacture our own chocolates and love doing it this way. I think you should only use a co-packer if you really need their equipment, technical expertise, or economies of scale to be able to make your product. With a co-packer, you’re paying for the production costs plus the profit margins of the co-packer, so if you can do it yourself, it will likely save you money. But many products just don’t make sense to do on your own. For example, our second product line, called Addictive Wellness Elixir Blends, are single-serving powdered drink mixes in the flavors of Cacao, Caramel, Chai, and Matcha with a solid dose of adaptogens in each. We didn’t have the capability to blend large quantities of powders or the equipment to pack these into single-serving packets, so self-producing was out of the question.

There are many online databases of co-packers and also several online lists of “Questions to Ask a Co-packer.” Start by going through the databases to find some co-packers in your region that make your type of product and pull together a list of questions from different sources that are relevant to your company. Then start sending emails or making phone calls to the various companies and find out who best suits what you need.

From the beginning, I was doing our wholesale calls. AnnaBlanca and I would put together a spreadsheet from online databases of health food stores and retailer lists of other companies, and I would just cold call one after another. You have to be persistent, develop a good script, and find the perfect balance of really respecting the buyer’s time but still making them understand why your product will sell well in their store. Another important factor for us was figuring out the level of health interest of the customers in that area, as not all stores had customer bases that would really “get” our product. The sooner I could find this out, the better it saved time and money both for myself and the buyer.

We’ve never worked with a traditional distributor. For some companies and some sales channels, a distributor is a necessity, but you generally only hear nightmare stories about distributors and rarely ever positive things. I thought it would be much harder to convince retailers to deal with us directly, but in speaking with many hundreds of different retailers, I only ever had a few tell me that they only order through distributors. I think that in the modern world, distributors don’t provide that much of a service, yet they charge a very high price. This either drives up your retail price or cuts into your profits substantially. Many people see working with a distributor as a necessary evil, but if it turns out that a necessary evil can, in fact, be unnecessary, then it is something worth exploring.

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.)

  1. Incredibly Original Idea

AnnaBlanca: We understand that not everyone has to reinvent the wheel to succeed. For example, great bread can still be a smashing success… but you need to have an original idea behind either the product itself or the branding to stand out. What is so special about your product that someone will stop buying what they have been getting all this time and switch to yours? What is so special about it? The ingredients? The way it is made? Health benefits? The taste? Is there a cause you support from the proceeds? Does it have spot-on, fun, memorable branding? Is it packaged wonderfully? Is it easy to order? What is so original about this product that should make me want to pay for it? If you step back, way back, and be honest, would you?

We had to think about all this while we were researching and writing our business plan for a painful six months. Eventually we made a delicious treat that was suitable for every dietary restriction, most health conditions and allergies, and we didn’t just stop there. Our product is not merely health neutral, it is beneficial. We created seven different functions by adding a set of specially selected adaptogenic herbs into each chocolate. Our line currently consists of Energy, Tranquility, Immunity, Focus, Love, Beauty, and Recharge. We created something original.

2. Tremendous Work Ethic

AnnaBlanca: Are you ready to work more than if you stayed and worked in a regular job? Because building your own business will take more than what you imagine it will take. I know that I signed up for this six years ago, but I can honestly say that I had no idea how hard we would both have to work, how hairy things may get at times, and how much I would love this demanding, wild adventure.

Soon after we launched our startup from a shoestring, we learned the true meaning of a hustle! We needed flexible jobs to support ourselves while building our business, so Sage was driving for Uber every night and I was managing and cleaning Airbnb apartments. Yes, that included the toilets. I had flashbacks to my immigrant days in Canada and looking down in those bowls I had plenty of time to reflect on how things have a tendency to come full circle.

This was our life for two years. On top of that the two of us had to figure out every component and fill every role: chocolate production, packaging, shipping, marketing, administration, designer, photographer, food stylist, photo editor, social media manager, content creator, writer, salesman, videographer, nutritional consultant, product developer, researcher, supply management, event coordinator, demo girl, customer service, IT personnel, CFO, CEO, COO… — you get the picture.

If you accept the realities of hard work, find a great support system that will understand that your priorities might shift for a while, and you can also manage a balance between your health and your dreams, I believe you will succeed.

3. Timing

Sage: It’s possible to create an incredible product but be so far ahead of your time that people don’t understand or appreciate it. By the same token, you don’t want to be too late either. I’m a surfer, so I think of it like catching a wave. To catch a wave, you want to start paddling early enough to be up to speed by the time the wave reaches you, enabling you to ride it. But start paddling too early and you’ll find the wave breaking right on top of you. Start paddling too late and the wave will pass you by.

Being deeply immersed in the industry is important, so you have your finger on the pulse and can anticipate a trend. Our business success also had an element of luck. When we were creating our chocolate, sugar-free diets such as the Body Ecology Diet were popular in our tiny microcosm of hard-core Los Angeles health foodies, but nobody had heard of a ketogenic diet yet. The explosion of keto popularity happened between 2014 and 2016, and we launched our first chocolates in December 2014.

Our timing turned out to be similarly spot on with regards to the adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms that we use in all of our chocolates. Outside of our microcosm, few people had known about these even a few years before, but during these same years, mushrooms and adaptogens exploded in popularity.

4. Create Content

Sage: People naturally want to feel connected to the founders behind the brand, as they would have in days of old when everyone purchased exclusively from local markets and small family-owned stores. Evolutionarily, we either hunted and gathered food with our own tribe or obtained it from trusted trading partners. All businesses, but especially food and health businesses, thrive when there is a strong level of connection and trust between the company and the customers. This kind of connection is now possible at scale in a way that was never possible before. Through creating content that adds value to your customers and viewers (recipe and healthy living videos or even a vlog documenting your startup journey), you can connect with your audience and cultivate priceless brand loyalty and evangelism.

5. Get Help with Branding and Packaging

Sage: Humans make a tremendous amount of decisions based on visual stimuli. The way in which your food product is presented, whether online or on the shelf, can determine whether someone will be excited to give it a try or pass by and never experience it. Creating amazing branding and packaging is a special skill. If you have this skill, amazing! But if you don’t, it’s definitely worth bringing in some outside help.

When we were first writing our business plan, our vision for the brand look was dark and luxurious, with a new age Godiva vibe to it. One day we were riding bicycles through Venice Beach when we happened to run into a friend of ours who is an incredibly creative artist. Naturally the conversation turned to what we had been up to, and he asked what we had in mind for the look of the brand. When I told him, he said he envisioned it much differently with the base color as white rather than black to convey the purity of the ingredients and the intention of our hearts. He also gave us the idea of the unicorn as our logo, as a symbol of integrity and longevity. We later learned more about the myth of the unicorn — that its horn, called “alicorn,” could detect poisons and turn them into healing elixirs. Interestingly that was exactly our intention with our products, to take foods that were conventionally “bad for you” and make ultra-healthy re-creations of them.

We had the logo designed through a contest with 99 designs, and it’s amusing to look back at the different design options we were considering! We had a graphic designer on Upwork create a CGI rendering of our chocolate, thinking that people would want to get an idea of what was inside the package. I then used my basic Photoshop skills to design the rest of the packaging.

I sent the files to the company that was going to be printing the packaging for us, but the files weren’t in the right format for printing and I didn’t know how to make this format. I posted on Facebook to see if I had any friends who might have the skills to help us out. I got a reply from the mother of a high school friend, saying that her husband might be able to do it. It turns out he is an absolute master-level graphic designer. We went over to their house with the files on a thumb drive, thinking he would just save them in the right file format and send us on our way. But as he was going through the files, it became obvious that his flawless sense of style found my creations absolutely unacceptable. In an act of incredible kindness and generosity, he immediately started making adjustments and elevated my amateur-level attempt to a top-notch design. It was so incredible to watch this transformation happen before our eyes, and we are forever grateful to these two gentlemen for saving us from our original, stumbling concept!

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Sage: We strive to create products that people feel good about on all levels. Food should deliver an incredible sensory experience, but these days it should strive to do more than just that. It should support people on their health journeys, not just something that they turn to on a cheat day or when they’re feeling down. We all need to take responsibility for our health, and if your product allows someone to do that while still allowing them to enjoy the food experience, it’s a real win for everyone.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

AnnaBlanca: We launched our company on Giving Tuesday in 2014, and although it was not planned, I believe it wasn’t an accident either. Giving back to the world has been part of our business even in the early days when we had nothing to give back. Since day one we’ve been donating 5% of our net profits to environmental organizations to save the only known planet with chocolate.

Both Sage and I chose a cause that was close to our hearts. Sage, who is a passionate surfer, loves “Ocean Cleanup.” It is a cutting-edge non-profit developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. The technology they are developing is autonomous, energy neutral, and scalable with the potential for a single passive system to theoretically remove about half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years.

I loved Sage’s choice; meanwhile, I wanted to save the bees and wholeheartedly embraced “Bee Friendly,” a research initiative started by renowned mycologist Paul Stamets. They are developing medicinal mushroom-based products for bees to help enhance their immune systems and detoxification abilities to withstand the many challenges they are facing.

In the summer of 2020, we decided to focus on and become part of The Rainforest Trust’s Conservation Circle. They are an incredible organization that is not only purchasing and protecting the most threatened tropical forests but they are also saving endangered wildlife through partnerships and community engagements. They strive to be accountable and transparent in all of their work to earn and keep the trust their supporters place in them. Sage and I admire and trust them implicitly.⁠ Our mycotoxin-free, wild, heirloom cacao beans come from ancient trees thriving under the canopy of the rainforest, and we are proud to be part of the efforts to save them.

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.

Sage: I love seeing more and more people actively taking responsibility for their own health. Mainstream medical approaches have their place, but it is the right and responsibility of every individual to determine their health destiny. If you have genetic challenges, you can learn about the field of epigenetics and how our diet, lifestyle, and thought influence genetic expression. If you think you can’t afford to live healthily, you can learn to avoid the “Dirty Dozen” most sprayed foods and do healthy things that cost little to no money, like optimizing your sleep, hydrating well, taking apple cider vinegar and activated charcoal, meditating and exercising in nature, and absorbing Vit D from the sun. If you have no time to learn about health, you can try listening to educational podcasts and audiobooks while driving, exercising, or doing menial work like washing the dishes. You don’t have to do everything perfectly — just start with one or two healthy habits and slowly build from there however you can. Life very often isn’t easy, but when we find ways to take back control of our own biology, we really can live much better lives.

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.

Sage: It would be incredible to sit down and share a bar of chocolate with John Paul DeJoria. I have tremendous respect for the way he came from humble beginnings to build an empire and then proceeded to use these resources to help those less fortunate. I also find him to be an incredibly charismatic storyteller and would love to get his two cents on how to reach more people and do more good with our business.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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