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Female Disruptors: Dawn Kelley is bringing healthy butters to the masses

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Kelley, president and CEO of Barney Butter.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Kelley, president and CEO of Barney Butter, grew up in Lexington, Ky., where she developed entrepreneurial aspirations at a young age. With a dream of making something positive for the world, she set out to grow a tiny California almond butter company into one of the nation’s leading producers of almond butter. At Barney Butter, Dawn successfully leads the brand’s day-to-day business, including sales, marketing, operations and product development, and has developed the mom-and-pop operation into one of Inc.’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies and the third largest almond butter brand in the US.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky, I went on to work in leadership roles within the technology and e-commerce industry.

I held executive positions at United Tote, Orbitz.com, and Careerbuilder.com, but knew I needed to listen to my inner voice telling me to follow my dream of creating something beneficial for the world.

Around that time, I met my now husband, Steve Kelley, who had just invested in Barney Butter. With a touch of serendipity, we purchased the company together in 2010, which finally allowed me to act on my passion for the symbiotic relationship between health and food.

As CEO, I’ve been able to help turn a teeny-tiny brand into the fastest-growing business in its category, with well over $20 million in sales and shelf space in more than 15,000 stores nationwide.

Why did you found your company?

I truly believe you are what you eat, and as Socrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I’ve always wanted to change the fact that nourishing, whole foods cost so much more than the processed junk food you see on shelves.

I want to see a shift in accessibility and the distribution system, which is something Barney Butter allows me to work toward every day.

I am a big believer in leaving things better than you found them, and when the opportunity to make something positive for the world presented itself, I set out to take Barney Butter to new heights.


What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

As one of the few specialty nut butter brands devoted exclusively to almonds, I’ve helped evolve Barney Butter into a category leader through implementing the use of only the best grades of California almonds.

Barney Butter is the only specialty nut butter that uses blanched almonds for its almond butters, meaning we remove all of the skins. This allows us to eliminate the phytic acid known to cause stomach pains and digestion difficulties.

It also creates an ultra-smooth texture that sets Barney Butter apart from competitors.

All of Barney Butter’s products are produced in our very own 100 percent peanut-free, certified organic facility to ensure they maintain the most conscientious, quality-focused goods on the market. Since they are allergen friendly, parents can feel safe about sending their kids to school with all of Barney Butter’s products,

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

There are so many! I am fascinated by the semantics of success and by people who live well and authentically. They say you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with, and given the amount of time spent at work, those teams of people are the ones that have helped shape me.

Having said that, I think I inherited my work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit from my mother. She was a single mom and a great example of hard work, grit, perseverance, creativity and success.

A few other notable people that I take away great abstract ideas and tactical advice from are Brene Brown, Cheryl Strayed, Tim Ferris himself, as well as his Tribe of Mentors — thank you Tim Ferris for pulling that together!


How are you going to shake things up next?

We most recently launched Barney Powdered Almond Butter, the first-ever powdered almond butter and first Paleo-certified nut butter powder in the nation. It has 93 percent less fat and 75 percent fewer calories than traditional almond butter, making it only 45 calories per serving, with 6 grams of protein and just 1 gram of fat.

We are looking forward to launching a chocolate flavor of the Barney Powdered Almond Butter next month (September), and have several new innovations in the works that we can’t wait to share!

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  • Know all the jobs. I make it a point to know just enough to “be dangerous,” and understand the different functions, challenges, and meaning of the metrics. One great example is social media because things change so rapidly. In a business like ours, social media plays a big role in how we communicate with our consumers. I make it a point to keep up so that I can be a part of the conversation.
  • Avoid the “shiny new object” trap and the 80/20 rule is a real thing. We strive to be really good at what we do, which is making the best almond products on the market. As with many industries, there is always the pressure to constantly innovate and come out with new exciting products and flavors, making it difficult to say no. As a result, many companies get caught up in this and wind up putting products they haven’t quite mastered yet on the market too fast. We’ve learned that both moving quickly and pivoting are imperative for a company’s success. .
  • Hire Slow, Fire Fast. I would also say this is the one piece of advice that I continue to struggle with, and time and time again it proves true. There is nothing more important than team dynamics.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

This is a tough one as I am an avid reader and especially love a good behavioral economics book.

I’m a huge fan of anything by Malcolm Gladwell, and am constantly intrigued by the “why” behind trends, purchasing behaviors, and brands that really take off. As I mentioned above, Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss is also a great collection featuring an excellently curated group of people.

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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

We’re in such an interesting time where the lines are so blurred between these categories, especially in the consumer products world where you have celebrities crossing over into food and lifestyle brands.

I love this quote by Ashton Kutcher, “Be polite, on time, and work really *#@*#!* hard until you are talented enough to be blunt, a little late, and take vacations, and even then…be polite.”

I wanted to share this quote because I believe the people that work the hardest happen to be luckiest, they have grit.

There are a ton of people that I could mention, but right now I’m loving what Reese Witherspoon is accomplishing, both in Hollywood and in business with Hello Sunshine and Draper James, all the while staying completely relatable and likeable.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Originally published at medium.com

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