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“Why you need commitment.” with Sarah Brandow

First and foremost, you need a delicious product! Commitment to producing high-quality food, genuine passion for what you do, scalability and consistent execution are all equally essential. 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 Sarah Brandow, […]

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First and foremost, you need a delicious product! Commitment to producing high-quality food, genuine passion for what you do, scalability and consistent execution are all equally essential.

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 Sarah Brandow, a Public Health Nutritionist who specializes in plant-based nutrition and prevention of lifestyle-related diseases. She graduated with a Masters of Scienceat the top of her class from the University of Westminster in London, UK in 2014 and has worked internationally as a nutritionist ever since. Sarah has consulted for companies, restaurants, and hotels in over 10 different countries, helping them optimize menus and provide meals that are balanced, delicious, and truly nutritious. She also works one-on-one with professional athletes as well as individuals looking to improve their health status by embracing an anti-inflammatory diet.

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 am fortunate to have had a really amazing childhood. I grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario, surrounded by incredible forests and a wonderful family. Despite both having demanding jobs, my parents made sure that my brother and I always had nutritious family meals, amazing adventures, and plenty of time in nature. Sitting down as a family every night for dinner was such an important part of my childhood. Food has the ability to bring people together, to be a form of celebration, and can even be a tool for healing. As I got older, however, I also realized that food could harm instead of heal, and that everything we eat matters. I became a Public Health Nutritionist and dove into recipe creation in order to help others reconnect with the important things in life: health, sharing with loved ones, and care for the planet.

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

When creating our products, I saw obvious gaps in the market for plant-based foods that were truly healthy. As a nutritionist, I am very mindful of things like added sugar, salt, and fat in meals. I don’t like to eat foods that are preservative-laden, heavily processed, or fried. I seek out ingredients that are wholesome, sourced as locally as possible, and cooked with methods that don’t compromise the nutritional integrity of the food. I also only like to eat grains and proteins that have been ‘activated’- a process by which they are soaked in filtered water, strained, and then allowed to sprout at room temperature to unlock more nutrients and make them easier to digest. There are currently no other companies I know of who are doing this on a large scale. Over the years I have had so many clients compliment my recipes and tell me they wish I could just make all of their food for them, so they could stick to a plant-based diet with ease. I am also often quite busy and wish I had more time for food prep. My ‘ah ha’ moment came when I realized I could solve both of those problems- create nutritious and delicious food the way I like to eat, while making it easily accessible for my clients and so many others who don’t have time or the know-how to plan out each meal.

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 initial recipes reflected the way I cook at home. They called for things like ‘a pinch’, ‘a handful’, or ‘season to taste’. Of course these things don’t work when we need precision and specific measurements. I’m sure the culinary team wasn’t thrilled with me in the beginning, but with their combined experience and expertise in scaling recipes for large production we created the delicious (and specific!) recipes that are enjoyed today.

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 having a clear mission and vision. In the highly competitive food industry, it is essential to set yourself apart by doing something well, and doing it with authenticity. I truly believe that a lot of VitaBowl’s early success is a result of investors and vendors seeing how genuinely passionate our team is about our mission to heal the world with food. We have been presented with many opportunities to modify ingredients or cooking methods to lower costs, and we have declined them all. Our commitment to producing the highest quality foods is at the centre of our brand ethos, and it’s not something we will waiver on, even if the average consumer doesn’t know the difference yet between a regular or a sprouted chickpea. They will start to notice a difference in how they feel after eating our food, and that is the most important thing.

Starting a company isn’t easy, and it comes with a ton of unexpected stresses, obstacles, late nights, and personal sacrifices. If you have a strong ‘why’- your purpose for starting the business- then that will help you navigate through these hurdles with confidence and resiliency.

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?

First, see if it already exists in the market. If so, determine what you would do differently. How would you do it better? What problem are you solving? Determine who your ideal target demographic is, and how you would market your product as an alternative to what already exists. If you have a truly unique idea, file a patent.

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?

Find the right people to help you execute your vision- know where the gaps in your abilities are. Having business partners or co-founders can help you ensure your vision is an achievable one, while providing feedback, support, and experience. Study entrepreneurs who have experience setting up the proper framework for a successful business. Don’t try to do everything on your own- know when to consult others to help you execute your vision beyond what you are capable of alone. Create a thorough financial model, plan the necessary phases of your business and make sure your idea is feasible. Research and understand your market. Develop a plan for marketing and sharing your product. Determine your source of capital.

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?

Hiring a consultant can be a great idea when faced with tough decisions, or for anyone wanting a neutral perspective on their product. Consultants have typically worked with many companies in the past and may offer invaluable advice about dealing with specific problems. Successful consultants will also likely be highly innovative individuals with experienced perspectives on the factors that help companies succeed. I think that’s a decision that each entrepreneur has to make for themselves, but in my opinion it’s rarely a bad idea to seek professional opinion when first starting out.

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

Venture capital can catapult growth in a much shorter amount of time, so it can be a very appealing option. Bootstrapping allows an entrepreneur to avoid selling any company equity or taking loans, but isn’t sustainable for everyone. Firstly, it’s important to determine if your business is even venture capital material. Is there an opportunity to produce huge returns for VCs through a scalable business model? Is the overall market large enough, and does your business have the potential to grow to $100 million and beyond? If not, then bootstrapping or alternative methods of funding will be your best bet.

If so, then your company would be appealing to VCs, but at some costs- you lose a large portion of ownership, they will likely want to weigh in on important company decisions, and it may be harder to pivot if you feel your business needs to change directions. There are some major benefits to taking the venture capital route however, which go beyond the obvious appeal of money. Having a venture capital-backed company can help you gain immediate credibility in the market, open up connections and networks to help you grow more rapidly, and offer a sense of financial security in the early stages of your company.

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?

While it’s possible to file a patent on your own, I recommend hiring a professional patent attorney if you can afford it. They can ensure you get the best protection and help navigate the filing process smoothly. They will also greatly reduce the likelihood that your patient application is denied.

For sourcing good raw ingredients, first you need to determine which suppliers are able to meet your standards for quality and certifications. At VitaBowl, we wanted our ingredients to be local and organic where possible, and strictly non-GMO, so we had to find a supplier who was able to meet those requirements. Look for online business and manufacturer directories in order to browse profiles for many manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors in your country. Also, reach out to your professional network to see if anyone has recommendations, or if they know someone who might be able to offer a referral. If you reach out to suppliers but cant seem to find the right one ask them if they can suggest another supplier in the industry who would be a better fit. Be patient, it may take a while to find the perfect fit.

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.)

First and foremost, you need a delicious product! Commitment to producing high-quality food, genuine passion for what you do, scalability and consistent execution are all equally essential.

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

Design a product that solves a problem. For us, that problem was the fact that it is incredibly difficult to find foods for busy lifestyles that are accessible and delicious, while still being genuinely healthy. A lack of nutritious foods in hospitals was a problem that has concerned me for many years now, and landing UCLA Health as one of our first retailers felt like a massive step towards changing that. Staff and visitors can now find our foods in the cafeterias, which is especially important after salad bars had to be closed due to Covid-19 regulations. For people to become ‘crazy about’ your product, it has to improve their life in a meaningful way.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have been very fortunate to be able to use my success and social media to raise awareness about the fundamental issues within our food system, as well as the powerful health benefits of a plant-based diet. Most of the leading causes of death in the United States are related to diet and lifestyle factors, many of which are largely preventable. The current overconsumption of animal products has a great cost on both the environment and on public health. For change to occur, first we need to provide education on these issues while also offering realistic solutions. I have seen many clients of mine learn to manage, and in many cases even reverse, chronic ailments and health conditions by changing their diet. By sharing their stories and transformative journeys, I hope to inspire others to do the same.

I have also had the incredible opportunity this year to start a not-for-profit organization in Belize to provide emergency food aid, in addition to education about the role nutrition plays in chronic disease. Being able to use my social networks to fundraise enough to feed over 1600 families with a week’s worth of plant-based food was incredibly beautiful and humbling. This experience made me realize the importance of community- even an online community- who will rise up with you for an important cause and to try and make the world a better place.

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.

I hope to inspire people to consider the larger impacts of their everyday choices, and to never think that one person can’t make a difference. Something as seemingly insignificant as reducing meat intake can actually have a very profound impact on the world, especially as the movement grows. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and ocean dead zones. Over 40% of earths landmass is currently used for animal agribusiness, including growing the feed for these animals to consume. This way of living isn’t sustainable for long, but we can still reverse much of this damage before it’s too late. Try out a new plant-based option at your favorite restaurant, support a vegan business, partake in meatless Monday, and leave animal products off your plate whenever possible. Your body and the planet will thank 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.

Ariana Huffington. Not only is she is an inspirational female entrepreneur with an incredible list of personal and professional accomplishments, her book ‘The Sleep Revolution’ was an absolute game changer for me. She offered significant insights into the ways technology disrupts our sleep and thereby our relationships, productivity, performance and overall health. After reading that, I implemented some major changes which yielded direct results on my ability to achieve and surpass my goals. Having the opportunity to pick the brain of someone with that kind of wisdom and experience would be monumental.

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

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