Starting a brand is hard work. It challenges every aspect of your person. Brands that succeed and grow are born out of a “never give up” attitude and a focused dedication to solving a specific problem. Personalized mission-driven energy accelerates growth.

I’m frequently asked, what makes natural, natural? That’s what today’s story is about. One of the things I love about this industry is the story behind all of the different brands. Today’s story is unique. Many of the brands are natural, are born out of an idea that the founder had to solve her problem. What’s unique about today’s story is that this entrepreneur solved the problem that wasn’t even on the radar of the health profession, she and her husband were racing against the clock, literally, a life and death situation.

What did they develop? The solution they came up with was truly astounding. Not only did they have the courage to try but they also had the courage to get into one of the most difficult, one of the most competitive categories in all of CPG, the salty snack category. New brands come in and leave the category like the wind. Few brands survive and create a legacy. Today’s story is about Jackson’s Honest, a brand that did both. They solved a critically overlooked problem and their growing sales in getting into more retailers across every channel. Today’s story is about an entrepreneur who would not give up.

Ironically, when I first invited her on the podcast, her comment was, “What do I have to offer?” You’re going to be impressed. Her story is inspirational and so is the brand.

Download the show notes below

Click here to learn more about Jacksons Honest

BRAND SECRETS AND STRATEGIES

PODCAST #53

Hello and thank you for joining us today. This is the Brand Secrets and Strategies Podcast #53

Welcome to the Brand Secrets and Strategies podcast where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

I’m your host Dan Lohman. This weekly show is dedicated to getting your brand on the shelf and keeping it there.

Get ready to learn actionable insights and strategic solutions to grow your brand and save you valuable time and money.

LETS ROLL UP OUR SLEEVES AND GET STARTED!

Dan: I'm frequently asked, what makes natural, natural? That's what today's story is about. One of the things I love about this industry is the story behind all of the different brands. Today's story is unique. Many of the brands are natural, are born out of an idea that the founder had to solve her problem. What's unique about today's story is that this entrepreneur solved the problem that wasn't even on the radar of the health profession, she and her husband were racing against the clock, literally, a life and death situation.

What did they develop? The solution they came up with was truly astounding. Not only did they have the courage to try but they also had the courage to get into one of the most difficult, one of the most competitive categories in all of CPG, the salty snack category. New brands come in and leave the category like the wind. Few brands survive and create a legacy. Today's story is about Jackson's Honest, a brand that did both. They solved a critically overlooked problem and their growing sales in getting into more retailers across every channel. Today's story is about an entrepreneur who would not give up.

Ironically, when I first invited her on the podcast, her comment was, "What do I have to offer?" You're going to be impressed. Her story is inspirational and so is the brand. Here's Megan. Hi, Megan. Thank you for coming on the deck. Can we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself and about the brand, and the history of the brand?

Megan: Yes, sure. Thank you having me, Dan. I'm really excited to be here. My husband and I started Jackson's Honest and we started it about six years ago, so making our chips. We were making potato chips cooked in organic coconut oil and we were doing that by hand in this little commercial kitchen in Crested Butte and bagging them, weighing them, filling them, doing all those things by hand, because we thought we had a great tasting product, and we wanted to see if other people thought so as well.

That was how we started, very small scale and now, fast-forward to 2018 and things have changed significantly in both how we manufacture and make our products, and certainly how we distribute them from the early days. If I rewind it or take it back a little bit further, we started making these potato chips at home cooked in organic coconut oil because we were trying to fill this specific need at our house and this dietary need that we had for our son, Jackson. To unpack that a little bit, my son Jackson had a rare autoimmune disorder and it started when he was two and very suddenly, and very slowly.

He was this walking, talking healthy toddler who started to develop some muscle weakness in his feet, and just very slight, but it became more noticeable over several months, and then continued to spread up his body, and became this progressive loss of motor function over a two to three-year period. By age five, he was living in a wheelchair and we didn't have any answers for what was happening. We were taking him around the country trying to find the diagnosis and nobody could help us.

At some pretty reputable hospitals, Children's in Philadelphia, at Boston Children's Hospital, UCLA, anywhere we thought somebody could help us, Mayo Clinic, et cetera. What we were watching, looked to my husband and I, like something like multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease, by this regression. We at that point, within that three-year window, made this assumption that it was something inflammatory-based and that we are going to start addressing it as such. What supplements? What diet? What lifestyle should we focus all of our efforts on in creating this anti-inflammatory space for him?

Because while we didn't have an answer, what didn't want to contribute to through any of the factors we could control like diet, for instance. We didn't want to contribute to any more of an inflammatory load than we thought was happening. That's how we started to go down this nutritional path that many years ago, 12 years ago, 14 years ago at this point was this paleo, ketogenic diet. While ketogenic existed and was very much medically prescribed diet at that point, and was something we discussed with this team of GI doctors we were working with, it was not what it looks like now with the foods that were available to engage and live in this ketogenic space.

While it was a fat protein-based diet, the options were still canola oil and these polyunsaturated vegetable oils and grains, and things that we knew we didn't want to feed him because they would drive up the inflammation in his body. We were examining his diet through that lens but then trying to sort his foods that fit with our lifestyle with organic, very ingredient and label-focused. We were those consumers then in reading the back of the bag for that stuff. We really had to reach far and wide and order things around the country that we couldn't find locally, and definitely make most of our foods from scratch.

Those were things that are very accessible now but were not then like bone broth, and sauerkraut, and kombucha, and jerky. We just had these things throughout our kitchen and like an enormous crackpot that we just made broth in 24/7. There's dehydrator and a crack for sauerkraut that we're just burping all the time on our countertop and somebody would come in to our house. We have like kitchen legs, kitchen feet that I'm putting in the broth and they're like, "What crazy stuff is happening in this kitchen? I don't even understand it."

Twelve, 14 years later, they're like, "I get the bone broth. I drink that every morning before I head off to work." These chips were one of the things that we were making in that same name that we just couldn't find on the shelf.

Dan: I love it. I'm guessing you were probably the favorite house at Halloween or were you the house to stay away from? Just kidding.

Megan: I think we were the house to stay away from. Even now, we'll give out snacks with bag of chips and the parents all love it. They're like, "Go to the Reamer's house. They have kids? You're able to eat those." The kids love them too but my own kids are, they say, "Mom, can we just give out candy like every other house from the block?" Just yeah, it's been fun. It's been this funny adventure. It's something that I never thought would turn into ... those days were very dark for my husband and I, and trying to understand what was happening to our son, and get him the right attention, in medical attention, or treatment options, or any cure.

To be able to turn that into something positive and something to celebrate and be happy and be honest, adventure in this journey about is it's truly bringing it at full circle because I couldn't envision this then.

Dan: It reminds me a little bit about the dentist at the street who used to give out toothbrushes and these kids never wanted to be home. That's exactly why I wanted to talk to you.

Megan: They're like getting the toilet paper at that house and the egg-

Dan: Yeah, exactly.

Megan: Yeah.

Dan: Exactly. My dad was a geologist. Here's a rock. Just kidding.

Megan: Take the geo and go crack it, right?

Dan: Really, a prize inside. It reminds of a book. The picture inside the book, the illustration is a kitchen with a bunch of things boiling on the kitchen sink, or the counter, but yeah. This is really why I wanted to talk to you because this is why we do what we do. Here, you had it solved a problem that did not exist, a problem that wasn't on anybody's radar. Because of your love and passion of food, and understanding of information on how food works, and this is the key that you're able to come up with something that escaped the idea that the insights or the ideas of others, and traditional medicine, I'm sure you just wanted to medicate him.

I think about all of the people that have the issues you're talking about, Lou Gehrig's, MS, et cetera, I wonder how they could benefit from this if they only knew. Let's unpack this a little bit, ketogenic. Could you talk about that for those who don't understand and what's the difference in that in paleo and paleo connected to it, et cetera?

Megan: Yeah, so the ketogenic diet like I said, it was something that we talked to the team of GI doctors that we are working with. My son was consuming a lot of calories, at least 3,000 calories per day, but he wasn't gaining any weight and he was on this gluten-free organic diet, like I mentioned. We were already living in this space. It wasn't like I was feeding him other food that it became this light bulb for me where I thought, "Should I be giving this much sugar or should I be giving him blue yogurt for kids?" He wasn't consuming any of that stuff.

He wasn't eating this highly processed diet but even though we are feeding him this very ... I don't know, this very nutritionally-supportive diet, he wasn't gaining weight. What we started to do was look at the ratio of proteins and fats and carbs, and so what he was needing on this traditional food pyramid diet. My husband who has a degree in chemical engineering and has his chemistry background, he turned on its head at that point and said, "Wait, let's …" like to use your word, "Unpack this. Let's break these fats and proteins and carbs apart and let see if in changing the ratio of these macronutrients that we're feeding him, if that makes any difference in his ability to gain some weight.

Because we're feeding him quality food but it's just not ... he's not absorbing it correctly." It just became this experiment for us around how to play around with those in real time because I had this very sick child looking at me every single day and we were definitely trying to solve not just a problem that may exist along this inflammatory spectrum that eczema or a behavioral reactivity to a certain food or dye. People can try to create this linear equation around, okay, if I see this, then this happens. We were in that the same boat.

My son to that is very primitive elemental, I guess as a better word, level because he was in this downward spiral that we feel a new ... we needed to try to halt, put the brakes on. While there were some physicians that were really trying to help us, there was a whole slew of them that were just scratching their heads and saying, "I have no idea. I wish you the best of luck." At these places that I already mentioned, and so we really needed to be those advocates and we really needed to take matters in our hands in the way that we did.

Breaking these macronutrients apart at this very 30,000 foot level, okay, here are fats. Here are proteins. Here are carbs. What are good fats and what are bad fats, and what are good proteins and bad? What are good carbs and bad? By categorizing them as good and bad through our lens which was, are they inflammatory or are they pro? If there's any link that we can create that this will cause more inflammation in the body, we have to find a substitute, until it was really that trial and error process that took us down this road that became this larger percentage of fat and proteins, then carb in his diet. Then we start to bucket that into a ketogenic diet for sure which had existed for many years prior to us even stumbling on it 12 or 13 years ago, but paleo was definitely new.

That also, those two dietary approaches have turned this carb consumption for energy idea that we've all grown up with on its head and people have started to examine their diet through the same viewfinder that my husband and I were aware of. Perhaps they're not getting answers to some medical questions they have or just this recurring issue that's happening that either pharmaceutical drugs aren’t controlling anymore or someone for instance with Crohn's disease, who may have historically taken medication to try to control their symptoms.

That medication starts to become less effective and so then they're either going on new medication or many people are starting to look at their diet and say, "If I change this, what happens? If I radically change this, what happens?" A lot of that becomes, "Do I want to consume less sugar? Do I want to consume different carbs? If I decrease my carbs, how does my body make energy?"

That's where this keto-paleo diet comes into play because instead of consuming carbs and running through this glucose pathway, you're consuming more fats and proteins in your body. It's making ketones and you're processing that through your liver, and your brain is making energy and turning energy out to a completely different metabolic pathway.

There are a slew of wonderful books and dietary informative options available now from an autoimmune protocol approach to a true keto state to live in to try to change something that's happening. I think a lot of people get there because they were in some version of the story that my son and my husband and I were in managing his disease.

Dan: I want to go back and just to be very, very clear for everyone who's listening, you had a healthy diet before? Your son was not taken off the Twinkie diet or the Oreo diet, not to pick on those products? You were eating healthy before and then still had problems? A lot of people are asking me these questions, and I'm so glad that you're unpacking this and sharing this with us, because I always tell people go back to food. I always say that, "If you are what you eat, then what you eat matters."

Meaning it's not just what's on the label but it goes way beyond a label, how the food was made, how it's prepared? How authentic it was? There's a big difference in my mind between grain-fed milk versus grass-fed milk and that just one example, but you're talking about the fats and all of those other things. I had a really great conversation with Neil Blomquist just couple of days ago, and we were talking about how important fats are in your body. My mom used to always say that fat is what make food taste good and people don't think about that.

I remember when we were talking before and I told you I had experience in the salty snack category. I have a real love for it and that was right around the time that Procter & Gamble came out with the last stop and that was going to be the big thing. My point is that fats have been demonized for just about forever and the sad thing is that people have learned to avoid fat, and there are good fats and there are bad fats. You've made that very clear and I need people that are listening to you, and listening to this to understand, not all fat is bad.

There are different fats that do different things. The fact that you guys were able to identify how those fats work in the body, I think that's fascinating. Your husband is a chemical engineer and you've got your own laboratory. By the way, let me back up. I also want to point out the fact that what you didn't share and it's on your website, and I certainly encourage everyone to go look at it, is traditional medicine effectively gave up on you.

You are creating this laboratory, or trying to understand how things work in real time. You didn't have years to spend on it. You focused on what you knew was healthy nutrition and started to develop strategies and solutions around that, and that gets to the core of the show, and that gets to the core of what makes natural, natural. Healthy natural organic products are designed to fill the needs that you're talking about, not specifically perhaps, but to support people that have autoimmune diseases, and people that have inflammation problems, and we all know people that are in that situation.

I know people who have lupus and various other issues, good health, like you said, Crohn's and so on. It's tackling those problems. It's real solutions that are food-based. Not more chemicals, not more drugs, food-based. I am just so thoroughly impressed that you guys came up with this and the process.

Megan: I think what's been surprising too is that you can really move the needle. I think people really ... I know we did, but we were desperate, and so we were in the space of like we were almost like a chicken with our heads cut off, like maybe it's this. Maybe it's that. Maybe it's this. We were just staying up late at night trying to research things on the internet. The internet was not what it is now 13 years ago, 14 years ago. We were referring to medical journals and maybe it's this genetic disorder or maybe it's this metabolic disorder.

Meanwhile, we're running through those tests at our children's hospital in Denver and everything is coming back negative. For us, it was a bit of the last resort but it was also where we were comfortable existing because we felt like we had some handle on what a healthy diet looks like for us and how it made us feel even then. There are so many versions and you can define healthy by so many ways but we were consuming fast food. We were eating this processed diet. We were consuming cola and pop and so I think even we underestimated how much of a needle mover it was for our son to start giving him a lot of fats, and like you said, never realizing.

For us, it was very eye-opening because we were already living in that space, like I said, but recognizing that there was such a thing as a good fat. Because we have been told and grown up in this low fat, SnackWell's cookies, Olestra, margarine age, and even for us who felt that we were well-educated along this path and already shopping in hope we've been recognizing the value of organic produce and organic milk, and staying away from a hormones in meat and dairy, that that was still very much an educational process for us to get our heads around.

Dan: As a parent, you're not going to give up and that's another key point. New parents will go out of their way to buy organic milk and spend any amount of money to give their kids the very best. As a parent, it's just natural for you to want to do something more than just, "Okay, take two of these and call me in the morning." I'm not trying to be facetious or sarcastic, but the fact that you actually rolled up your sleeves and immersed yourself in this problem, and worked to solve it. Again, kudos to you guys because I think it's amazing what you've accomplished.

Megan: Thank you.

Dan: What I'm also impressed with is your ability to communicate the difference in different fats. We were talking before about some of the guests I've had on the podcast, Gary Hirshberg, John Foraker, Seth Goldman, and all those wonderful iconic names in our industry who built something based upon trying to solve a problem, or trying to make a difference. Someone like you, you said, and I'm just going to call you out, you said, "I don't know what I have to offer." This is what you have to offer, okay?

You need to be celebrated for what you did. You need to be celebrated for the fact that not only did you find a solution for your son, but you helped people understand and learn about healthy fats and why they are so important. You made a mark. This show is about celebrating. It's about you and for you, meaning the audience. I want the audience to hear what you're saying because at the end of the day I don't want someone to not wake up in the morning and say, "There's nothing more I can do or this is enough, or the standards that I have today are fine."

I have a personal story that might inspire my audience to want more and to be more. I'd always been a health nut. I'm a serious runner. I loved running in a lot of 10 Ks, did very well, extremely fast, and I was in a situation in my life where I did not make time for myself as a single parent, and as a result gained weight by changing my diet back to what I knew was not correct. Even though I have lost sight of that, kind of what you're talking about. It's going on to going back to what we know the basics, paying attention to food as nutrition and food is health, and then being able to use that to help improve ourselves as a result, I have more energy.

Let's just talk about how that helps your son and helps everyone else around you. I'd like to understand more about what you're saying in terms of you were saying that the healthy fats increase energy within the body. Now, I understand generically how that works. Can you unpack that? Where I'm going with this is at, again, everyone thinks a fat is something that slows you down and makes you lethargic. You just said the exact opposite. How does that work? What did your research tell you about that?

Megan: It was interesting because if you just think about this very basic level, when you're consuming carbs for energy, you're burning glucose. Your body is producing glucose. It's producing insulin and you get these peaks and valleys of energy levels. I have a sugar rush or I'm in the sugar low. I need to get something to eat and perks me back up. You're constantly in this peak valley, high, low state, and that's how I found myself, and that was the traditional diet.

Like I said, even though maybe I was eating organic something, an organic muffin, or whatever, I was still consuming carbs in a way that were not supporting my lifestyle and not supporting the energy demands that I had. I had this 18 month old son who was starting to show some of these symptoms. I had a brand new baby and I was just physically depleted. My energy level was pretty low just because of those two things like two children under the age of two, but also because the stress is starting to build up a little bit in my body around being this new mother, but also what's going on with my son? What's happening here?

You can imagine, when we first started taking him to doctors and asking questions, he still had all of his function. He could still walk. He could still sit. He could still feed himself. Doctors saw it initially as I was this paranoid first time mother. Boys develop slower than girls, all of those things I heard about my son, and I kept saying, "No, he just doesn't seem like he feels well, like he seems lethargic and under the weather, and low energy." They really blew it off until six months or nine months later when there were clear signs that he was regressing.

At this point, I had a six month old, and then a nine months old, as well as this other child who was just barely two years old. I think even as part of that in understanding his diet, we were all then eating the same way. We were eating this pretty strict paleo-keto diet ourselves, my husband and I, and what I found in changing that approach and how my body was reducing energy and changing the metabolic pathway, in which it did so. It's just a fundamental change if you're burning fats or energy versus burning carbs, burning sugars. Your body metabolizes and processes it differently.

Through that change and through that shift, what I found and I noticed to be true for others who have embarked on this journey too, is that I had this more consistent energy level. I wasn't going through these peaks and valleys. I wasn't up and down. It was this consumption of how and when I was eating fat and protein, and how my diet had shifted, and how body had shifted, really empowered me in many ways both physically, but also mentally in what my energy level was like, what I was up for, how I felt it 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon.

Was I going to go to Starbucks and grab an ice tea with sugar in it and perk up for another hour or hour and a half, and then stay in the same cycle? Or was I going to make some eggs and have an avocado on the side and have this energy level that lasted for four hours or five hours? That was the fundamental shift and there are many peers that I know. There are many consumers who had reached out. This goes back to what you were talking about earlier.

When we decided to share this one product that we had continued to make at home that we were not still finding on the shelve, then that started out the potato chips and evolved in the tortilla, and now this new pop chips that we're launching. It was this conscious decision to share our the story with a wider audience. We had circled the wagons around my son and were just trying to keep him alive quite honestly.

This was a bit of a leap for us to share the story with strangers, to this larger audience, and what came back to us in spades were people wanting to share some version of that story and how they either found diets to help them, and found a nutritional approach that helped them, or that they were on this journey, or they were at the beginning of this journey, and could I share some resources that would help support their understanding and their education around how this might change things for themselves, or their child, or their parent, or their sibling.

It became this very expansive community of people who wanted to share with me their stories and connected me on that level beyond than telling me, "Hey, I really love your potato chip. I think they're great," or they would say, "I'm on this very strict autoimmune diet and your sweet potato chips cooked in coconut oil are my saving grace. They're the only things I can eat on this diet, so thank you." I'd say, "No, thank you. This is exactly why we did it. We existed in that same place and couldn't find these products."

It's getting back to your story around the energy and production. There are so many wonderful resources that I found and have used, and continued to use as these mini Bibles for myself. Even if it's just trying to find new recipes around food that I want to continue to consume and provide for the rest of my family. While we're not nearly as strictly keto as we used to be, we still exist and live along this paleo spectrum and you have to get a little ... it's going a little bit outside your boundaries and swerve into another lane when you've got some kids who want to eat something similar to what their friends are eating.

How do you find a good substitute which is a lot easier these days to do for some of those products they want to consume and feel, "normal"? It's still an evolution for us.

Dan: I love that. This highlights the fact that a lot of people don't give enough credit to their gut or to their instinct, and back when I was super, super healthy, I knew if I was slightly off, what I needed to do to fix it. You hear stories about some mechanic in here, the sound of a race car, and tell exactly specifically what's wrong. Some of these old country doctors can look at someone and just do a couple of simple basic tests, maybe check their pulse or something like that, and know exactly what to do to fix it.

My point is this. There are people in this world that are very in tuned in and paying attention, and they don't allow those blinders to come around. Like you said, you could go get a sugar drink and that would pick you up but in the long run the come down would defeat the purpose so I love the fact you shared that. Then, okay, now what I want to switch to is I want to talk about community. The fact that your community is getting behind you, that you've built a community around this, I was fortunate enough to have you on as a guest on the category management association webinar, and we talked about how, what makes natural, natural.

You were able to share with me that you now have a new community and the point being is this, that we're all in this together. You do not have to do every single thing on your own as a business owner, as a brand. There are other people within this community that are willing and anxious, and eager to help support you. Could you share that story with us?

Megan: Yeah sure, I'd be happy to. I think for us, it also goes back to just starting this business. We had no CPG experience when we launched these chips. We were making them by hand like I mentioned, in this tiny little mountain town, not close to Denver, 200 miles southwest of the front range, and hard to get potatoes there, hard to get coconut oil. Everything has to ship in, and tends to take a little bit longer to get there. Even from the beginning in starting this business like, where can we find a commercial kitchen?

"This friend has a space in there," so really just the connections and the support of community started right there in Crested Butte because a lot of people were also very familiar with us. They knew us well. They knew my son's story very well and they wanted to help and a lot of people had felt powerless to do so when they were watching us in the middle of this very intense process with him in trying to get these answers, which by the way it took 12 years to get a diagnosis. As we were embarking in and very much embracing this nutritional approach, it was the only thing we were doing for him.

He wasn't on any medication. There was no other way for us to control this inflammation, and so during that, we were able to get it into this equilibrium where he wasn't continuing the spiral downwards and he was starting to regain some skills. We could very clearly see when that inflammatory balance was out of balance, when it was, when he had too much sugar maybe or too many carb, then you're thrown into this state that he didn't, that brought some of these symptoms back, the neurological or GI symptoms. It was very clear to us and so a lot of people witnessed that and felt like they were just bystanders and really wanted to help.

When we started this business, we had this support right out of the gate, the potato farmers that we were working with that we still work with. They really wanted to support this story and they really wanted to support us as a small brand taking on what we didn't know then but became this situation where we were competing against much larger brands, the deeper pockets, the bigger balance sheets, and historical consumers. They've been in business for a decade or more.

We had these partners right from the beginning, our co-packer for instance in Denver, like they were wonderful and they believe in Scott and I as parents, and they believed in what we were doing. They went outside of their boundaries and their comfort zone to help us get this business started. I think that also we've transitioned some of our time and have started spending it in Boulder for personal reasons really, for my son in having better access to resources and school choices, and therapy, et cetera, for him.

We started this splitting of our time about three years ago and what I found in coming to Boulder as this mecca of natural and organic product space, and companies, and resources, and mentors, is that community has grown tenfold and that everyone truly does want to help support what you're doing, how you're doing it. There are at least a dozen people that I can reach out to and ask this question like, "Hey, are you seeing these things with this distributor?" If there are ways for me to be thinking about how to go market here that I'm not understanding, very quick detailed conversations.

People are very open and receptive to telling me what they know and vice-versa, "Jean, can you hook me up with this public buyer, and what should I know about them? Do you have any inside information on that?" These conversations happen frequently and are just invaluable to what we're trying to do, and that's part of that webinar that I was participated in with you recently. There were two other people on the call that I was meeting for the first time, Alex from Alpine Start and Chuck from Beyond Meat.

It was wonderful to be part of this call with them and talk about our experiences collectively and individually. Then afterwards, I reached out to both of them and said how much I enjoyed being part of this call, and could we get together at some point? I'd love to stay in touch and that has happened. Alex and I are headed for coffee next week and Chuck as well, as he connected me to the marketing person at Beyond Meat, and we're going to see if we might be able to partner this summer on some fun initiatives that they've got in place.

Really, there was no resistance to that. There was just this openness around how can we collaborate? Because we're all fighting this fight and some days, it's a dog fight, and other days, it feels a little less stressful, but there's no room for carrying down in that phase. It's really how can we continue to build each other up.

Dan: That's so true. Thank you again for sharing that. It's what makes natural, natural for my perspective. It's one of the key things that brings us together, is our community, our sincere authentic desire to help each other and to work with each other. For those who are really familiar with the salty snack category, it is one of the most fiercely competitive categories in the store. I would say that there are three brands in the entire store that are as equally territorial as one of the companies that you're going to find, and my point being is this. You're not going to get their space. You're not going to step on their toes.

I think I shared with you earlier that I had a lot of experience as a DSD driver in the salty snack category, and I managed to ruffle the feathers of the big guy. In fact, it was actually funny because their regional manager came up to me one day and said, "I need to hire you. You're costing me too much money," but the point was, I love the idea that I could wake up in the morning and decide how much money I wanted to make because as a DSD driver, your paycheck is contingent upon how much you sell traditional sales.

The cool thing is that if you knew how to work with retailers and you know how to get incremental displays, and how to get on end caps, you could drive sales and get incremental shelf space. You play in a category that is so unbelievably difficult. Brands come and go like the wind. The fact that you can survive in that category first of all is a miracle but secondly your ability to really differentiate yourself. The magic behind that, I believe, a lot of the magic behind that is your story, is what you've done, the solution you came up with.

The reason I wanted to really focus on this is because retail is changing. Consumers today think differently about their purchase decisions. It's no longer, "I want to buy the red bag, the blue bag, the whatever." They go to the store and they look at the product. They read the ingredients and this is very important for everyone listening. They go beyond the ingredients panel.

They look beyond the four corners of the package. They do research. They talk to their friends and their family. They go out of the way to understand the company's mission and they want to feel good about the products they buy. Not only do they want to feel good because they have healthier products, but they also want to feel good because the company has a mission that they can align themselves with. Another show that I did recently and I encourage you and everyone else to listen to was, Ben Friedland of Lucky's Market. We talked about exactly this.

Megan: Yeah, I did listen to it.

Dan: You did?

Megan: He's great.

Dan: Okay.

Megan: I think Ben is wonderful. I know him personally and he's fantastic but it was a great call. I agree with you. It was a great podcast.

Dan: Thanks. I appreciate that because that's exactly what we talked about, how he as a retailer needs your help, you, the brand. He understands that his success is contingent on his ability to sell stuff and selling stuff generically speaking, that's a technical term, a CPG term for everyone listening. The way he sells more stuff is by getting more customers into the store and he gets the right product and assortment in the store. When he can partner with you, the brand, as Jackson's Honest, to help drive traffic into his store, to help his customers get the healthy nutritional products and solutions that they're looking for.

Then be able to go back to you and celebrate what you're doing. It's that collaborative community relationship that exists. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Megan: Yeah. I think in listening to Ben's podcast, I think he said it well. He knows what he's doing. He's got the experience for sure with Lucky's and Whole Foods about how you create this experience for the consumer. Lucky's can offer the same thing that Whole Foods does that's brought out, that competitors a mile away offer, but why do people go out of their way to go to Lucky's? He shared this story about somebody coming in to purchase meat, and they want to go to that specific butcher because they gave them a great recipe and they want to share what that recipe was, and they want to get a new one for the next time.

I think that for us, we've been able to work on that level with retailers where we've got a story to share. They want to help us share it with their consumers and it's the shared faith. How can we best do that? Is it signage on a display that goes beyond local signage? Is it a shelf tucker? Is it coming in and talking to their employees and going to the break room and talking about why Jackson's Honest chips are different than some of the other chips in that isle, and on that shelf? Any of those opportunities that we're able to participate in and not just talk to the consumers and try to reach them as they're making this quick decision in that isle, and how that comes out if it's again a shelf talker.

If it's having end cap displays and having the right signage on there, and the right attributes that we're honoring and shouting about, but it's also I think trying to partner with at the store level with those team members and trying to find the right opportunities to not just educate them about who we are, but make it fun too. Go drop off a box of chips for their break room and let them snack on them and see how they feel about them. They remember a good product. A lot of consumers come through that register and ask them for recommendations. We want to be one of the products they're recommending.

I think there are a lot of different paths to get there to find the right partnership level with each account and each retailer specifically because they all look a little different, and they all have levers that act differently and you pull differently with each one. For us, we've tried to be a good partner with all of the retailers that we worked with from small to large and that takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort. It takes not necessarily a lot of dollars because things like a hand written note or a phone call from myself or my husband to say, "Thanks, and we value your partnership," that goes a long way.

Dan: I'm so glad you said that and this is exactly the point I wanted to make, so thank you for driving this home. You're not an ATM machine. I know you're laughing but the point is this. If you think about going into business the way that most companies talk about it, and I don't want to pick on anyone so I won't say anything, but in going any further, but you get where I'm going with this. Big retailers look at you as an ATM machine. They go out of their way to charge you for things that really aren't fair in my mind.

I’ve got a news flash. As a big brand, I didn't pay slotting. Oops, can I say that on the air? Yes, I didn't pay slotting. I didn't pay for a lot of the fees. Those big displays that I built back when I was working for Red Seal. We sold Garden of Eden and Clover Club, et cetera, and I owned every income in all the different retail stores around in my route. I once put up a 4,200 bag chip display. My point is that those opportunities did not come because I was able to whip out my wallet and write a big check. They came about because I was able to provide personal service.

What you're talking about, those little incremental things that mean so much, it's salesmanship 101. It's about connecting your product on a personal level with the consumers that will hopefully fall in love with it. Another thing, salty snacks are magical. I don't think a lot of people realize this. You're going to get a kick out of this. One, as a DSD driver, we would drive to the back of the stores and we'd be there before the sun came up usually. Anyhow, the different drivers or the different trucks would share, would trade. I can always trade my stale ships, meaning not stale, but they're out of code.

I can't sell them in the store but they're still good. I could trade a case of stale chips for a case of pizza, a case of pop, I mean anything. The point is that they're magical. Everyone wants them. Everyone loves them. You're in a unique niche where it's an impulse item and it's not an impulse item in some ways, but more importantly you have the ability to really do a lot more for a retailer as a brand, as a product than other products do because it's not a matter of just getting around to a shelf and being able to sell your product. You have the opportunity to get really creative.

This is some of the stuff that I really hope that you're doing that I hope that people who are listening are paying attention, because as an impulse product category, the sky is the limit. You can carve out unique spaces maybe only for a day, maybe only for a weekend, but there are so many things you can do to drive sales. As you said, giving the break room a couple bags of chips, or maybe supporting them during their company picnic, that's pretty easy. It's a low cost way to say thank you, and it is so very appreciated.

Thank you for sharing that. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the other strategies that you have as far as go to market?

Megan: Yeah. For us, it's been interesting because you nailed it pretty well with talking about DSD and getting product to stores in the right way. For us, we started in natural. That's where we felt like the right place to start. When we launched our chips, it was four years ago, four and half years ago, January 2014. We launched with Natural Grocers and then pretty soon thereafter with the Rocky Mountain Region of Whole Foods. For us, it was people understood why the coconut oil.

It was less of an educational conversation around why we were using coconut oil instead of soybean or canola, or safflower. It was easier to get on the shelf for instance. Our distribution in natural grew very quickly and within two and half years, we were national with Whole Foods and national around the country in small to large retailers. All in the natural pretty much and very slowly and gingerly and in a targeted way, trying to go into the conventional area, partly because of what you talked about with slotting fees.

Our balance sheet couldn’t support going far and wide right out of the gate because we just couldn't pay for slotting fees. We also wanted to partner with the right retailers who had more progressive customers for instance or who had more progressive buyers, who really understood what our products were about and how much the story contributed to why we were doing what we were doing, and why consumers responded to our product that it was like you mentioned, beyond just a great tasting potato chip, and turning over the bag and actually reading the story.

There were retailers that we felt we could partner with and really reach their consumers and make it be as successful partnership. Some of those earlier conventional accounts were Wegmans for instance and Publix, and Hy-Vee, and Safeway. While they are large accounts, we went in on a small basis and then have continued to grow the business, but where this has led us is that we understand that even though we're entering into the conventional retailer through our natural distributor, that's where a lot of those buyers are finding products that they want to bring in.

It's not necessarily the best delivery model for how conventional retailers are used to operating particularly in salty snacks. It's a lot like beverage. You need to be DSD and that's the way that runs in the stores. For us, we've had to examine some of our channel strategy around how are we going to enter into … this conventional account wants to partner with us. What's the best way to get our products there so that we're all successful here? The distributor as well as the brand, as well as the retailer? That caused us to change a little bit of our approach in how we're going to market and what the economics look like.

I think for us, it's just been this constant evolution as the business has grown. It's hard to get all the pieces in place as you're growing a business and having it grow faster than you expected it to. You feel like you're constantly playing catch up and it's a great problem to have. It's a great place to be but it still requires this foresight that can really be a leap of faith sometimes. For us, we started to just high level talk about channel strategy. We started in natural. We have put one foot in conventional.

We're getting ready to start putting the other foot there and pressing the gas a little harder. Then we've also entered into the food service space in that channel. Last year, we had some really good movement and growth in food service, and it's a great trial driver for us. We've been really pleased with how that had started and how it progressed that channel specifically. Then of course ecommerce. Everybody's trying to figure out how to play in that channel and that's a completely different piece to be honest, than retail.

Dan: It is, but yeah. What I hear you saying, and this is what's so important for everyone listening, is that you don't have to do things the way your grandfather did it and they're probably not going to work anyhow. You can be creative. That's one of the things I love about natural. We can be small and quick, and agile. We don't have to follow the traditional open your wallet and this is the way we do things type approach. There are lot of companies that go to market, big brand strategies that every company follows, that really ultimately don't work for anyone but themselves.

That's okay to admit that. Okay, are you ready for this? I told you I was going to give you a quiz on your website. You use the term industrialization and co-modification of customers and food companies. What do you mean by that?

Megan: I think for us, it was this understanding around particularly the fats. When did fats change from using saturated fats not just because they were demonized and by the American Heart Association, and by "scientific journals and findings"? This whole industrialization of the processing of oils and the manufacturing of vegetable oils for instance. Having that the way it did after World War II in this highly manufactured industrialized oil production, and then the economics around that, and how that became a substitute for these other fats that have been used pre-World War II, that just became the de facto oil to use in making snack foods for instance.

It's the cheapest to buy. You can reuse it innumerable times and not really have to put in an investment in purchasing new oil after a hundred run or whatever the equation would be. Then a lot of the change came along the carbohydrate spectrum like we'll use corn with quinoa or we'll use sprouted grains, and nothing really change along at that spectrum at all until you started to see some snack foods show up with avocado oil for instance or olive oil, and certainly when we brought the coconut oil chips to market.

For us, we'll always make our products with organic coconut oil. Possibly we'd make them or introduce something, an avocado oil. It would have to line up and check a lot of boxes for us to bring on another fat that we'd like to use, and we also look at it along the carb spectrum. What carbs are we using? These are lot of Ireland potatoes in different varieties/ They have purple potato or a sweet potato. There's a reason that we're offering that and it's not just the traditional white chipping potato with some flavor on it.

Really I think for us it went when we started this approach with Jackson, when we started to I'd say really take a deep dive into what we were feeding him and the percentages of those macro nutrients, we basically ended up cooking like our grandparents did, or great grandparents. Making everything from scratch, using fats that we've been told to stay away from, butter for instance, and certainly lard and coconut oil, and the saturated fat. That was very much this retro dietary approach that was not involved when we first started doing this, but that has certainly become more fashionable now because like you mentioned, consumers are smart.

Dan: Yeah.

Megan: They're not just reading that label. They're sending you an email asking you about it and they want specifics, and they will put that bag back on the shelf and find the next one that really lines up for them in the right way. They're not just buying a product because they grew up with it and that's what they ate for breakfast every morning, or that's what they popped in their toaster oven. I think brands like ours, smaller emerging brands for sure is definitely in the natural and organic space.

They recognize and honor, and value that consumer because I think as soon as you start disregarding that and having any condescending tone toward it, you've lost more than that consumer. You've lost their brand. You've lost their family.

Dan: I'm so glad you said that because the reason I asked about that question was I always say that mainstream brands, retailers and solution providers, tend to commoditize the natural consumer and the natural shopper for exactly the same reason. They tend to overlook us and lump us in the same bucket. We're not. We don't want to be sold. We're not clones and yet we understand better what's driving nutrition in our body and we vote with our dollars. Thank you for sharing it because I think it's so important.

Because as you said, and I remember back when I was working in the industry for a big brand, the innovation back then was a different flavoring. More importantly, a lot of companies talk about innovation being a new extruder so now we can make different shapes of cheese puffs or whatever, and that's not innovation. Innovation is getting back to the basics providing nutritionally beneficial products, so thank you for that. We've covered a lot. I really appreciate your time.

What are the things would you like to share with a budding entrepreneur and then can you tell us a little bit about how people can learn more about you, your story and your company, and find your brand?

Megan: Yeah, sure. I think this is an interesting question about sharing any nuggets with another entrepreneur or someone earlier in that place because I was part of this panel yesterday for a conference. The topic of the panel was resilient leadership and it's really about not just finding your balance because it's very difficult to do that. It's easy to say, "It's very hard to put into practice," because everything goes into starting your business, and so many things fall to the side that while you wish they wouldn't, they just have to.

Hopefully you get the energy and time and space to go back to them and nourish them and take them back up, but I think for me and talking through this yesterday, and the relevance of this question you asked me is I've had to learn what I'm good at and what I'm not good at. I knew that going into it but I've had to get comfortable with what I'm not good at, and exist in it, and press against it, and then go beyond it. It's not just, "I don't really like this part of the business, or I don't really like doing this in this business," but recognizing I have to and take more of it on.

Then press against outside of that boundary and outside of that comfort zone. Then understand, "Okay, I'm too far outside of my comfort zone. I have to pull it back in. I got to reel it back in and get back in this boundary. How do I do that?" It's just been for me a lot of growth, a lot of understanding of who I am, what I'm comfortable with, and then how to try to exist within it. I think that one of the biggest lessons I've learned and I learned it with my son in this experience we went through with him, and it was hugely applicable in starting this business, was to never give up.

I think that you're going to put a fire out every single day. It could be a small one. It could be a dumpster fire. It could be a wild fire but it's going to happen and just keeping that perspective on, this isn't the end of the world. I'm going to go to bed tonight. I'm going to get up in the morning. There's probably going to be another fire. There's probably going to be something to celebrate as well. Those highs and lows in trying to find where your middle is and how to exist within that space is just critical to saving your mental sanity, and preserving who you are in this wild process of entrepreneurship.

Dan: You didn't break along the process, so it just made me laugh a little bit because-

Megan: Not yet.

Dan: No, because again going back to what you said, what do I have to offer? Okay, look at how much you've shared. Thank you for that. You need to be celebrated for that. Entrepreneurs don't know everything. Nobody knows everything at the beginning. You need to align yourself with the resources that can help you. You need to think out of the box. You need to find people that can teach you how to not necessarily do everything but at least know enough about how something works so that you can help and guide people to make sure that they're staying true to your mission.

This is exactly why I do what I do to talk to people like you who are getting up every day making a difference and contributing at extremely high levels. Thank you so much for making time for me. I'll be sure to put a link to Jackson's Honest on the website. If you've got any other resources you want me to share, anything else that you're passionate about, I'd like to include those as well. I look forward to our next conversation. Thanks, Megan.

Megan: Thank, Dan, so much. I've had a great time talking with you today. I really appreciate the opportunity to be part of your podcast.

Dan: My pleasure. Thank you. I appreciate it. I want to thank Megan for coming on the show today and for sharing her insights and wisdom. I want to thank her for making a difference and the commitment that she made to her son that benefited all of us. You can learn more about Jackson's Honest with the link in the website and on the show notes. You can download the show notes at brandsecretsandstrategies.com/session53. Today's freebees, my Retail Math cheat sheet.

You can get in instantly by texting “RetailMath” to 44222 or by getting it on the show notes. Don't forget my free Turnkey Sales Story Strategies course where I teach you how to develop a strategy to build your brand's foundation on. Thank you again for listening and I look forward to seeing you in the next show.

Jacksons Honest: https://jacksonshonest.com

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