One priority at a time — If you want to make some changes to improve your health and wellbeing, focus on one priority at a time and give yourself at least a week but up to several months to focus on just that thing.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hannah Barnstable.
Hannah Barnstable founded Seven Sundays in 2011 with four muesli recipes, an old Raleigh bike, some rented after hours kitchen space at a friend’s restaurant and a crazy desire to flip the breakfast aisle on its head. Hannah’s food philosophy is simple: Food is an experience to be enjoyed, and should remain as close as possible to the way Mother Nature intended it to be. Which is why Seven Sundays uses ingredients like small sustainable whole grains and wild dried berries in its modern muesli mixes. Prior to starting Seven Sundays, Hannah worked in finance with food companies in New York and Chicago. She graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with a BBA in Finance and emphasis in Entrepreneurship. When Hannah isn’t buried in Excel spreadsheets or off selling muesli, she is running, browsing grocery stores or in the kitchen making meals from scratch for her sweet family of five.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial household and became the first in my family to get a college degree: finance with an entrepreneurial “certificate”. The first 7 years of my career were spent in investment banking working with food companies on mergers and acquisitions. When Brady and I got married at the end of 2009, we were both working crazy hours in New York and decided to travel to New Zealand for our honeymoon. Over the course of six weeks of hiking and camping, a nourishing breakfast became extra important, and new-to-us muesli became a staple that we looked forward to each morning. When we couldn’t find a good muesli option in stores after returning home, I decided to quit my job to start a company that would flip the cereal aisle on its head. Our first bag of muesli was sold at a Minneapolis Farmer’s Market in the summer of 2011. For the next few years, I bootstrapped the business with an old Raleigh bike and trailer and rented hours at a friend’s restaurant kitchen. Our business has grown quite a bit since then — we are in over 4,000 grocery stores across the country with 12 different muesli and grain free boxed cereal products, but these humble roots continue to shape our company today. We now have three kids (2, 5 and 8). When I am not out slinging cereal or buried in Excel spreadsheets, I love to go for runs outside year-round, leisurely pace through grocery store aisles, and make meals from scratch for my family and friends.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
In only our second year in business, we were approached by Target (unsolicited), and they wanted to carry our muesli cereal. At the time, we were just beginning to expand our distribution beyond the grocery store customers we had established in Minnesota. Shortly after launching in a test set of about 90 Target stores, we ended up going into all 1,800+ Target locations nationwide. It was definitely “too big and too fast” for our new and relatively unknown brand, but it was a great learning lesson in that it helped us understand how to position our new products to broader audiences that might only be familiar with traditional boxed cereals. While we lost that initial Target distribution from the early days, we are happy to report that today we are back on shelves at over 500 Target stores across the U.S.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started Seven Sundays, my goal was to create a better breakfast. Additionally, I wanted to create a sustainable brand that considered the impact on the environment in everything that we did. As such, I sourced a compostable bag to package our muesli into to sell at the farmers markets and local grocery stores. And then I realized that the package, due to the very fact that it was compostable, was attracting moisture and resulting in our product tasting stale just a few weeks after we made it. Because of this, we were at risk of becoming more wasteful (from quickly expiring product) than if we used a food package that came with a proper barrier. From this experience, I learned how important it is to fully consider and vet important decisions, weighing all the factors. Recently, we decided to start packaging our muesli in post-consumer recycled plastic bags — made from things like old milk jugs. During this process, we considered new compostable technology as well as recyclable options and determined that the recycled plastic would have the largest impact on reducing virgin plastic production. It is important to have passion and work toward change, and it is equally important to do so in a way that is truly effective and makes an impact.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Everyone on our small but mighty and passionate team has been so instrumental in getting us to where we are today. One particular person, Brady, my partner in life and in business, deserves a special mention. At the very beginning, I recall him acting like quitting my finance career to start Seven Sundays was a non-negotiable move. He is a good sounding board and visionary, always connecting the business back to our mission and the greater good. He led our transition to a B Corp in 2019 (this means we meet the highest standards for environmental and social impact). And most importantly, Brady keeps me balanced by reminding me that there is a bit more to life than our company that we run together.
Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I started Seven Sundays with a single mission — clean up the breakfast aisle. I believe that the way we start our day matters. When we eat well in the mornings, we are able to rise and shine for the world the whole rest of the day.
At Seven Sundays, we are helping make an impact in two important ways: 1) We are delivering cereals made with simple, real ingredients like wild blueberries, organic buckwheat groats, and wildflower honey. 2) We support small family farmers and increase the demand for sustainable regenerative crops like oats, sorghum, buckwheat and sunflowers and flax.
For example, our newest line of grain free Sunflower Cereal that recently launched into Whole Foods stores nationwide, is completely unique in the world of boxed cereal. Our new cereal features sunflower protein (a sustainable by-product from U.S. grown sunflowers) and contains just one-third the added sugar and 2.5X the protein as compared to the leading Cocoa, Cinnamon and Berry boxed cereals. The cereals are also sweetened only with dates, coconut sugar or real Minnesota maple syrup, and contain no grains, gluten, GMOs, refined sugar or artificial flavors.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1. Eat a balanced breakfast — They don’t call it “the most important meal of the day” for no good reason! In all seriousness, I believe the way you start your day matters, and it impacts how you eat and feel the rest of the day. So start healthy and energize yourself with real food (not a lot of sugar).
2. One priority at a time — If you want to make some changes to improve your health and wellbeing, focus on one priority at a time and give yourself at least a week but up to several months to focus on just that thing.
3. Practice daily gratitude journaling — I like the Five Minute Journal, but any regular practice that fits your routine works. This is a quick and gentle reminder to stay positive and focus on what is important.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Focus on ingredients. The diet trends often have people focusing too much on the stats in the nutritional panel (Exhibit A: the fat-free craze from the 90s!). Our bodies are complex, as are the foods we eat. Stick to simple ingredients, that you can read, that you can find in your own kitchen, that you can easily tie back to the all-powerful mother nature. I wholeheartedly believe that you don’t need diets or drastic restrictions if you simple choose real and unprocessed foods. You will see physical and mental benefits.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. Start a mission, not a product. While we do of course sell cereal products, what they look like — from flavor profiles to packaging — have changed quite a bit over the years to meet new trends or consumer standards. It is important to be flexible with your product. Our mission, on the other hand, has never budged from day 1 — clean up the breakfast aisle!
2. Character is most important in business partnerships. Things will go wrong, and it is in those moments when working together and doing the right thing is so important. Choose your partners based on those who are aligned with your values and you won’t regret it.
3. Working with your partner is great. I can’t count how many times people cringe and ask “How do you work with your husband?” So many times, that sometime I still second guess it, even though the reality is that it has been fun and effective! We have different roles and work well together. We have the same priorities in any given day — which feels essential with three small kids.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Sustainability. We have an obligation to leave the next generations with a beautiful, nourishing planet. We also must be able to pass along sustainable habits, choices and practices to teach next generations how to live their healthiest and best lives. I am drawn to the word ‘sustainability’ not only for what it means for the environment, but also that the word represents a focus on the long term vs. short term (and often short-sighted) gains. From the beginning, I decided that it would be most important to understand each and every ingredient we select and source — from its impact on farmers and soil health, to its impact on our health and wellbeing. This is our obligation as a food company.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
We keep most of our company news and fun stuff flowing through Instagram, and our handle is @sevensundaysmn.