Good For You Granola: The Founders of Jolly Oak on their Goal to Inspire Healthy Eating

Interest in healthy snacks is on the rise. From gluten free snack bars to quinoa clusters, consumers are looking for natural, good-for-you foods to share with their families. The explosion in this market has given way to a number of new businesses and has created more competition than ever. One such company is Jolly Oak Granola, launched by Chicago entrepreneurs Mandy Fayne and Kim Strauss just over two years ago. With a mission to create a healthier, better for you granola that you couldn’t find in stores, their grab and go granola does just that.

We sat down with Mandy and Kim, the co-founders of Jolly Oak, to discuss the rise of the healthy snack marketplace, their goal to inspire healthier eating habits and how being moms helped them on their entrepreneurial journey.

Healthy Snacks are on the Rise

According to the New York Times, Retail Insights, a consulting firm that specializes in the natural products industry, estimates that the industry has grown from around $1 billion in the early 1980s to $63 billion in 2014. Noticing that trend and frustrated with the high-sugar, high-calorie granolas that she was finding on the shelves at the supermarket, Mandy set out to make her own recipe. Once she created a recipe she was satisfied with, Mandy shared it on her food blog.

“Friends and family encouraged me to try selling it, but I didn’t know anything about the food industry,” Mandy shares.

Mutual friends connected Mandy, a former lawyer and adjunct professor, with Kim, a former consultant and digital marketer at Google, to help make selling granola a reality. With kids in the same class, they sat down at a Starbucks near their school before pick-up one day to discuss the granola.

After their meeting, Kim went home the same night and baked the granola to see what it was like. The first thing she did after that? Call Mandy to say “take the recipe off the internet!”

“That was the first thing she said to me,” Mandy laughs. “‘Take it down, take it down! I’m going to do this with you.’”

Because natural snack foods are such an explosive market, one of the best ways to get the word out about a new product is through taste tests.

“In the stores that we’re in, whether it’s Walgreens or Plum Market or Mrs. Greens, we’re always doing demos just trying to get the word out about our product,” explains Kim. “It helps when Mandy and I are there too because people do want to meet us and talk to us as well.”

Mandy and Kim met their fair share of detractors when introducing the granola to new markets. Getting people to try Jolly Oak and spreading the word about what makes the granola so unique were two of Mandy and Kim’s biggest challenges starting out.

“When people say no, it’s about determination — saying they will say yes, you know they’ll come around. And just not giving up and working as hard as we can,” Kim shares.
“We went door to door, it was a grassroots effort. Introductions definitely helped, but everybody has to try it [the granola]. There were some places that would turn us down and then maybe come back and pick it up, but it’s definitely pounding the pavement. “ Mandy explains.

Mandy recommends using networking and existing connections to help build an advisor network, especially if you are launching in an unfamiliar industry.

“When we wrote our business plan, a big part of it was to figure out who we knew and how we could get this going. And so from that, we kind of built the team that helps us out.”

Inspiring Healthy Eating to a New Generation

Mandy and Kim agree that educating people on how to eat healthy and inspiring people to eat better are the best things about running Jolly Oak.

“It’s not just your typical granola, it’s actually a combination of a granola and a trail mix with nuts and seeds and good for you ingredients.” Mandy shares. “It’s trying to communicate that we use premium ingredients, we don’t use the processed and cheap soybean oil or canola oil, that we actually bake with extra virgin olive oil. That it really, truly is way healthier.”

When they thought about the type of product they were creating and the packaging to highlight it, they knew they wanted to showcase both the cheerful, happy-go-lucky side but also the healthy, earthy side of the product.

“Nothing makes me happier than when my kids are eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds — because it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge whether you’re 5 or you’re 40,” says Mandy. “We grew up in an era where fruit was fruit roll-ups and fruit loops, and now we’re learning that clean eating is the way to go and that clean eating can taste good,” she continues.
“For me it’s seeing the smiles on the kid’s faces when they eat it,” adds Kim. “We’re capturing an audience at a younger age where they’re going to learn that eating healthy also means eating something delicious.”
“It’s about making a healthier choice and making it easy,” Mandy concludes.

Mompreneurs: How Being Moms Helped Them On Their Entrepreneurial Journey

“We found that women-owned companies really support other women-owned companies,” shares Kim.

Mandy and Kim built their distribution network from the ground up, and really emphasize the importance of using your network. They used all their resources to get the company off the ground and grow to where it is today.

It took Mandy and Kim about four months to write the business plan and find the right location to produce Jolly Oak granola. They ran the numbers carefully to see if a bakery or shared kitchen space would be the most economical way to start the company.

One mutual friend had a connection with a local bakery. It was a woman owned bakery and she really wanted to help Kim and Mandy get started, so they began baking the granola in her small Humboldt Park shop on Chicago’s northwest side.

“We first started in a little Humboldt Park bakery, packing it ourselves in single serving size plastic bags, putting the stickers on, heat sealing it, and found that it was really working — we were actually generating revenue!” Mandy tells us.

As a team of two, balancing being moms and career-minded women, time always plays a huge part.

“There’s not enough hours in the day!” says Kim. “Growth has been a challenge in that keeping up with our growth and being conservative in production at the same time — finding that equal balance.”

Prior to starting Jolly Oak, Mandy was an adjunct professor and Kim was doing some digital consulting. They were both exploring how they could do more work-wise, but weren’t sure what. Starting their own company allows them the freedom to create their own schedules and both being moms, they understand the need for flexibility and understanding if something unexpected comes up.

Looking Ahead

In the future, Mandy and Kim would like to grow the footprint of the product.

“Ultimately this [granola] was just one of the products that we’d like to offer under the Jolly Oak snacks brand, so we’re working on different products to provide to our customers — a wide range of healthy snack options.”

Now, Jolly Oak can be found in about 50 stores in Michigan, Indiana and Arizona. You can also purchase Jolly Oak directly through their e-commerce site, Amazon, Peapod, Artizone and Abe’s Market.

“It’s growing — slowly — but it’s definitely growing,” Mandy says.

This article first appeared on The Vault on Bolstr.com.

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