For Jess Price the path to food entrepreneurship began with stints inside CPG giants. The Quaker and Snapple veteran was inspired to start Maker Oats by her search for a healthy, no-fuss breakfast that worked with mornings that veered between hectic and crazy.
Since launching Maker with Honest Tea co-founder Barry Nalebuff in 2018, Price has seen their business blossom and develop a nationwide footprint. Among the places you can find Maker’s non-GMO, organic, vegan overnight oats? At over 1,200 Publix grocers across America.
Price chatted with Foodboro about entrepreneurship, why brick and mortar still matters, and why having a co-founder has been a huge asset.
What was the inspiration for Maker Oats?
Being a mom of young children AND working full time, mornings at my house were crazy. I wanted a breakfast that I could feed my family that was convenient, but also healthy and tasted amazing. So often there is a trade off between taste, convenience and quality.
How did you and Barry, your co-founder, connect?
Both Barry and I come from larger CPG companies so had many shared connections before coming together to start Maker.
What were the early days of business like?
Maker Oats started as a project at an incubator at a larger company (you can probably guess from my background). A new CEO led to us spinning out as our own brand. We launched in 2018 and have since gotten into Publix, The Fresh Market, Natural Grocers, Earth Fare and select Whole Foods regions (Mid-Atlantic and Southwest).
How did your time working at Quaker and Snapple influence starting Maker?
Having previous experience in CPG allowed me to form a network of connections, which I have since leveraged while building Maker Oats. Also, working in the food industry prior to starting Maker Oats gave me an understanding of what was missing in the market and how I could fill that white space. For example, the hot cereal category lacked innovation which gave me the idea for Maker.
E-commerce or traditional retail: where is your primary focus?
While e-commerce provides a low barrier to entry, which is great for early stage entrepreneurs, you need traditional grocery to be a credible player in the industry. We focus on an omnichannel approach, with traditional retail being where we put the majority of our resources. Amazon is a small portion of business.
How have you overcome hardship as a founder?
One challenge we had coming from a larger company was building out our inventory. When we first secured Publix as a retail account we did not have inventory ready, which could have been a major problem! But by being clear and communicating our situation with both Publix and the distributor, sharing the planogram and building trust, we were able to save shelf space.
What has been your proudest moment so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
Looking back there have been several milestone moments that I am proud of. Just to name a couple: Successfully spinning out of a larger company and on to retail shelves; Conventional grocers showing support for our product was very reassuring; Getting into 1,225 Publix locations and doubling our exposure overnight… making our product accessible to the masses.
What advice do you have for early-stage entrepreneurs?
I urge all early-stage entrepreneurs to stay lean for as long as possible! When it does come time to build a team, however, it is important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and build a team that compliments them.
When you have a passion you look at everything differently… and as cliche as it sounds, your job doesn’t feel like a job.
What has been your experience working with a co-founder?
I couldn’t possibly imagine building this business without a co-founder. I think it is so important and helpful to have that yin and yang, and to have someone to bounce ideas off of. I am fortunate to have a partner that shares the same vision as me.
What is your long-term goal with Maker Oats; what do you hope to accomplish?
Ultimately our mission is to make nutritious, convenient and flavorful products more readily available! To do so, we hope to eventually be acquired (as do many founders!) by a larger company… because bigger companies = more resources. Large food producers are increasingly recognizing the challenges of building their own “on-trend” brands, so are purchasing smaller makers. Obviously, though, we want to partner with the right company.
What can we expect from Maker Oats in the future?
We are working through a rebrand to better position ourselves for product extensions, all centered around nutritious, convenient and flavorful alternatives. Be on the lookout for new products under the Real Made Foods name in 2020!