…A team that puts their heart into what they do. At BHU, our team is our treasure. Without them, nothing would be possible. If you have people with you that love what they do, and put their whole hearts into their jobs, everything is possible. Once I was talking to a customer and they shared: “When I bite into your bars, I can feel the love you guys made it with!”
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 Laura Katleman.
Laura Katleman is the founder of Bhu Foods, a conscious company committed to helping people transition away from sugary snacks to healthy superfood alternatives. The company makes all of its own products in house — small batch runs of organic, monk fruit sweetened protein bars, cookies, granola and protein cookie dough in a jar. Laura is also the author of Amazon Bestseller, Skinny Thinking: Five Revolutionary Steps To Permanently Heal Your Relationship With Food Weight And Your Body.
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 grew up in Park Forest Illinois. Every summer, I travelled to Omaha by train to visit my grandma Marge. She was an amazing cook and baker, and I was privileged to learn at her apron strings. Grandma and I spent the last week of my visit baking like crazy — brownies, chocolate chip cookies, apricot squares, pecan rolls, cinnamon rolls to name just a few. It was a whirlwind and we were so prolific that I had to bring an extra huge empty suitcase so she could send everything home with me.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
I was hanging out with some friends and one of them said: Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to have treats that were incredibly healthy with no compromises with taste or nutrition? This was the ah ah? I thought to myself, I wonder if I could create a line of products like that?
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?
Oh my gosh! Our soluble tapioca fiber syrup comes in huge tanks. One day I got impatient and walked away from the bowl I was filling with the nozzle still on and promptly forgot about it. The next thing I knew, we had a river of syrup running down the alley. My neighbors were not happy with me. Everyone had sticky shoes for the rest of the week!
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?
Not making sure the product that they are envisioning is on point and aligned with what the market wants.
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?
Talk to friends and family about the idea and do an internet search to see what else is available.
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?
Start small, even in your house, if you can. Mistakes when you are small are a lot less expensive. Get as much feedback as you can with friends and family. Also, reach out to a food broker to get industry insights about product, packaging, demand, etc.
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 never did in the beginning, but I know that a lot of people do that. As far as acquiring certifications, I highly recommend hiring a consultant.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I don’t have a recommendation. I have bootstrapped up to this point. So many factors play into this decision: capital needs, personality — are you ok bringing others to your decision making process, giving up some control…
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?
Ingredient sources — alway get a sample and try it on its own as well as on your product. Always get a spec sheet and lab testing for each shipment. In the beginning, go to your ideal retailers and talk to the managers or buyers and get their feedback on your product. If the retailer is interested, they will let you know their preferred retailer.
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. A team that puts their heart into what they do. At BHU, our team is our treasure. Without them, nothing would be possible. If you have people with you that love what they do, and put their whole hearts into their jobs, everything is possible. Once I was talking to a customer and they shared: “When I bite into your bars, I can feel the love you guys made it with!”
2. A sense of humor. When we first started out and everyone was wearing a lot of hats, I was helping with production and scaling ingredients. We had a huge tank of syrup that emptied really slowly. I placed a bowl underneath it to fill, walked away and forgot about it. The next thing I knew there was a river of syrup flowing down the alleyway. I think there are still remnants of the syrup to this day!
3. Find the gap and fill it. You must have passion for your product and a belief that others will also see the need for it in the marketplace. And, at the same time, you have to realize that you can’t consume all of the product you plan to make. You have to have an intuitive sense that there are lots of other people out there who are seeing the same need you see and are just waiting for someone to fill it. In our case, I had kicked the sugar habit, but still had a sweet tooth. I still craved that “party in the mouth” experience, but I didn’t want to pay the detrimental health price for continuing to eat cane sugar. In all of the polls I had read, more and more people seemed interested in cutting back on, or giving up sugar, and yet there was a dearth of transition foods in the marketplace. Now, there are more entrants, but most of them rely on artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols, like erythritol, to achieve their low sugar claims. At BHU, we sweeten our products with low glycemic monk fruit. This melon actually has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
4. Tolerance for failure. Friends and family who will tell you the brutal truth about your product. Early on, I was knocking on all of my neighbors’ doors asking if they would sample the new paleo cookie I was working on. The first guy took one bite and immediately spit it out. There was no ambiguity there! And, back to the drawing board I went.
5. Perseverance. When things look dismal, you have to be willing to continue to put one foot in front of the other. Early on and for several years, I used to say that my 12–14 hours days went from disaster to calamity to catastrophe. This was every day for days and months on end. From one day to the next, I didn’t know whether we could pay our bills, make payroll or whether BHU would live to see the next week. What got me through was a simple question, “Can I see the next step to take?” And, if I saw it, I knew I could take it. It was all about taking baby steps until the rest of the path was revealed.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
If you and your team love it, chances are that customers will as well.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
During Covid, our team has delivered our Bhu products to people who were homebound. We also donate 1% of our profits to the San Diego Bank. We send thousands of pounds to the food bank, shelters and school programs.
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.
It would be a movement that encourages people to meditate and do self inquiry.
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.
Rather not say. I don’t want to alienate anyone
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.