A Startup Sparked by Dark Days with Ali Bonar
Oat Haus’ CEO & Chief Vibes Officer, Ali Bonar joins us today to talk about the companies focus on nutrition and the world’s first-ever oat-based spread, Granola Butter. Ali shares her industry experience and the story of how Oat Haus was founded. Additionally, she discusses the importance of smart marketing practices, placing emphasis on a healthy diet and consuming natural foods.
To round out the episode, Ali talks about the milestones she has achieved and the contributing factors that have given rise to the success of the company. These successes have led her to become an expert at giving advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and reflect what’s to come for Oat Haus and the future of the brand.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline. More information can be found at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Today’s episode is hosted by Diana Fryc of Retail Voodoo, connect with her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dianafryc/
-The “why” behind creating the first-ever oat-based spread, Granola Butter
-Company experience, meaningful milestones and achievements
-Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
ABOUT THE GUEST:
Chief Vibes Officer, Oat Haus
00:00 | Introduction
04:03 | Eating Disorders Struggles
05:29 | Suffering in Silence
07:00 | Making a Better Nut-Free Food
09:25 | Better Food Marketing Practices
16:35 | An Eating Disorder Turned Into Positive Momentum
22:02 | Learning To Be a Leader
29:24 | Therapy & Support Systems
33:54 | New Products & New Ways of Working
38:35 | Fan Girl of Incredible Women
39:40 | Sea Moss Gel Trend & Sub Wellness Micro Trends
41:27 | Learn More About Ali Bonar & Oat Haus
This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo. A brand consultancy focused on building, growing, and revitalizing brands in the food, beverage, health, and wellness industries. If you are ready to find a partner that will help your business create a high-impact strategy that gives your brand an advantage, please visit retail-voodoo.com/contact to set up a discovery call today.
Produced by Heartcast Media
Diana: Hi, Diana Fryc here. I’m the host of The Gooder podcast, where I get to talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage, and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights into the industry. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo. Okay, retail voodoo is a brand development firm. Our clients include Starbucks, kind RCI, PepsiCo, Nike, and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for brands in the food, wellness, beverage, and fitness industries. So if your goal is to increase market share, drive growth or disrupt the marketplace with new and innovative ideas, give us a call and let’s talk to learn more. You can find us at retail hyphen voodoo dot com. Well super excited to introduce our guest today, Ali Bonar, who is CEO or chief vibes officer if you’re checking her LinkedIn profile status and co-founder of a food company on a mission to bring fun and playback to food. Their flagship product, Granola Butter, is the world’s first oat-based spread and was born out of Ali’s eating disorder. A recovery house is available in just over 1200 stores, including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, and more. And Ali lives in Philadelphia with her partner Eric and their dog, Squishy. I love that. That’s so awesome. Hi, Ali. How are you? I’m good.
Ali: Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Diana: Yes. Thank you so much. Okay. So you guys are in Philly. Are you going to be at the Expo?
Ali: We are, yeah. We’re exhibiting. I forget our booth number, but we’ll be there. I mean, it’s a smaller show, so you’ll probably find us. Are you?
Diana: Oh, yeah, totally. Yes, absolutely. Going. We won’t have a booth. I go around and I get to visit with people like you during the show. And there’s also a pitch slam that I’m judging on Wednesday. Is that right? Yes. On Wednesday before the show. So I’ll be there for that as well. Yeah. Yay.
Ali: So excited.
Diana: I know. Well, so let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about Oat Haus and why it exists.
Ali: Yeah, definitely so. Yeah. So our product, Granola Butter, is the world’s first Oat-based spread to think of the texture of peanut butter, almond butter. But we actually use oats instead of nuts. So it feels safe. Nut free. All the things. But it doesn’t taste allergen free, I promise you. So, yeah, the idea came out of my eating disorder recovery. I had struggled for over a decade with multiple eating disorders, mostly orthorexia, which is lesser known, but it’s becoming more well known. But when I was struggling with it, I, you know, no one talked about it. But basically, what is this obsession with eating perfectly clean all the time? So sort of like healthy eating is taken to the extreme and especially now with the rise of the wellness industry. I think that’s why there’s more awareness around it. Like how it presented for myself was just, you know, almost this OCD type tendency around food where it was only allowed. I had very strict rigid food rules. I only allowed myself to eat certain things and never went out to eat because that was really stressful for me because I didn’t know what was in. So as you can imagine, it was just very stressful and toxic. And so, yeah, that was sort of the main thing that I struggled with. And then also I binge eating as a result of that because obviously when you’re restricting food so heavily, your body just taxes swings the other way. So I’m really passionate about talking about this stuff because, you know, number one, I didn’t look like I had an eating disorder, you know, just weight-wise, because I think we were all taught that, you know, if you had an eating disorder, you were emaciated and you were right. And obviously, with the restriction and the binging, like, my weight would fluctuate a lot. And so that’s something I’m really passionate about. You know, spreading the word about is just how eating disorders don’t have a look because it kept me stuck for a long time, just feeling like I didn’t deserve to get treatment or I didn’t, you know, I wasn’t sick enough to look a certain way. So, yeah, that was, you know, I struggled with that for about ten years and then, you know, really hit my sort of rock bottom, so to speak, I think it is around 2016. When I graduated college, I was living in San Francisco. I was actually working in tech, as some people do in San Francisco. And yeah, the cliche, you know, trifecta. Yes. From Berkeley to a tech startup.
Diana: Oh, my gosh.
Ali: And yeah. And I was just really tired. Like I was just mentally so done with everything I was putting myself through. And I think. I think people, you know, they say that you realize, you know, you’re operating a certain way and sort of I think once you hit that rock bottom, even though it’s scary as hell to kind of, you know, venture into the unknown of what this other life would look like, I just knew I couldn’t keep continuing the way I was going. So I reached out for help. I told this therapist who I started working with, she was the first person I ever told that I was struggling with any of this stuff. It’s just a whole nother piece. Yeah, that is interesting about, you know, eating disorders so many people suffer in silence. And so I felt like I was the only one in the group going through this and it’s just like a lot like now I talk about it so openly and so people just come out of the woodwork. It’s like everyone has a story with food. Yeah, it’s a spectrum, obviously, but it has had, you know, moments where there is a little bit of disordered relationship or just body image insecurity. You know, we all kind of struggle in certain ways. So it’s very common. We just don’t talk about it. It’s becoming more common to talk about it, which I’m proud of. But yeah, and so that was sort of 2016. And then, you know, the idea for a company came out of my recovery, as I mentioned. So, a big part of my recovery process was adding my fear of foods back into my diet. So okay. Yeah. So the almond butter, the peanut butter, some of these nut butter I was really terrified of for some reason. And so as I started to add them back in, I really had a hard time digesting the nuts. Yeah, just because my body was obviously a mess from treating it, like, for ten years. And so my nutritionist at the time was like, you know, you should try sunflower seed butter, soynut butter. Like some of these nut-free options just when you get your body kind of back to optimal. And I tried them and I was like, these are so bad. Like, I can’t believe that you know, people with nut allergies have to eat these, like, objectively, they’re just not good.
Ali: And so I was really, I mean, it came out of my own need, but I was just pissed and I was like, I’m not eating these, like, you know, and I don’t even have nut allergies. So it was 2017 right around when oat milk was sort of like coming on the scene. Yeah. So this epiphany, you know, why don’t we do an oat-based spread? That would be fun. So that’s where the idea came from. And then, yeah, we’ve been running it for about four and a half years from there. So yeah, that’s the origin story.
Diana: Wow. So. That’s it. There’s a lot in there, right? Like.
Ali: Just a little. Just a little.
Diana: Yeah. You know, it’s so interesting to me that you know, it’s interesting to me that somebody who struggled with, I should say, not struggled as in past tense. It’s probably something that you will have lifelong, I’m guessing.
Ali: Or like the thoughts definitely still come up. But I think it’s about how I have the tools now. I mean, I have the best I’ve ever had with food. Like, I barely think about food now, but I would say, yeah, it’s not something where I’m like, the thoughts are gone. Like, I still have bad body image days, you know? And it’s like, Oh, okay, that’s an interesting thought, you know? But I’m not going to treat it as, like, the truth.
Diana: Yeah, well, let’s talk about this then. Right? So. Where you and I spent a lot of time on your product most of our clients are in the naturals industry and the naturals industry. And how we currently still represent real healthy lifestyles is probably doing a disservice to a lot of people. Kind of like yourself, like over-emphasizing features and benefits or all the marketing. Like all the women look the same and all the men look the same. As you’ve been going on this journey and you’ve been creating this brand, you probably have a different way of looking at marketing it. And in light of just your, you know, your story, your founder story, what do you recommend that marketers consider as they’re doing their marketing so that they don’t contribute or accelerate this type of thinking for the category as a whole?
Ali: Yeah, that’s honestly such an important question and one that I’m just so grateful that you’re even asking because it’s not something that people even think about. And it’s especially insidious around New Year, New Year’s time. I have been known to call out a few brands on my store on my Instagram stories just because it’s like, you know, the detoxes and it’s like it’s so unnecessary. And I get it. Like, from a marketer’s perspective, let’s be real. Like the Facebook ads that do the best Instagram ads that do the best are things that are sort of very dramatic, you know.
Ali: Yeah, transformations and before and after and like all of that stuff. And yeah, that’s what the algorithm unfortunately prioritizes and, you know, applauds. But I will say it’s I think, you know, the damage is worse than the pro. And I think you just have to take into account what impact you are putting on young men and women. Obviously, eating disorders are mostly women, but there are a lot of men that are afraid to speak up because they think of it as a female disorder becoming more prevalent too. And so, yeah, I just encourage people to just take a second, you know, just take a beat and like really take a step back and question, you know, is this content I’m putting out really beneficial or am I just doing it because that’s what the algorithm really prioritizes. And I think if you really think about it, there are other ways to go about it. For us, we really emphasize taste like that’s the biggest thing. And it’s like we could easily go out there and be like, We’re better for you cookie butter. Our ingredients are better, our nutritional panel is better. But, you know, and we’ve played around with that and it’s just like it does well. But then there’s this, like, icky feeling that I have of like, well, then I’m just like demonizing another product. Yeah. Or what, you know. And then me watching this and all they can afford is cookie butter, right? You know, and all of a sudden they feel guilty for eating it. So I don’t know. It’s just it’s obviously no one’s perfect, right? And like, we all have businesses to run, and like, that’s important too. But yeah, I think it’s just being more conscientious about it and just thinking for a second, are there other ways to do it? So yeah, we really take, you know, more, more mindfulness around, you know, prioritizing. Yeah. Based and kind of like food porn like look how delicious this looks because I think that’s something that everyone can resonate with incredibly well. It’s kind of like sex sells when it comes to food, but it doesn’t demonize anything. Right, you know, almost like life-altering benefits. So.
Diana: Yeah, yeah, it’s super tricky because. You know, I think we’ve been habitualized our side of this industry, which is on building brands both from a business standpoint and then also from a creative standpoint. And there are times, I would say more so in the past than now when we would bring more health. Looking people into kind of comps and mood boards and that sort of thing and get a little bit of pushback saying, well, that’s, you know, that doesn’t look like a healthy lifestyle. And I’m like, that person’s a size double zero, you know, or not an a00. But, you know, they might be a size eight, you know, and. And the reality is, I think that there’s this disconnect. And correct me if I’m wrong. I think that the industry as a whole and this could be our culture as a whole too, has kind of subscribed to this idea that we must always be looking at. Our ideal, anything that’s ideal is a stick. Meaning, you know, I only want to see women who are successful in a size zero and making $1,000,000. And the reality is, I think there are more people out there that would like to see real people represented in marketing. But I’m not talking about it all the time either. Like a healthy mix is a healthy mix. So I think it’s tricky, particularly when some of the younger brands hire younger employees and they may not be struggling with weight issues at all at that period of time or they might be kind of like you where you came out of nutrition. And I think you were talking about when we were prepping for this call that it was really easy to kind of hide that this thing was going on because. Remind me, what is specific? It’s not.
Ali: Yeah. Orthorexia.
Diana: Yeah. Orthorexia likes the fact that people don’t know that you started describing that and I was like, oh my gosh, I now know that there’s a person in my life that behaves that way. And now I’m like, Oh, that’s that kind of behavior. I wonder if that’s what’s going on in there. But the hiding, the hiding between height, weight, proportionate, and having it all pulled together is tricky for us. And I think it’s good for us to remember that representation is not a little bit broader than just being around people or just being women or like there are a hundred ways to look at the fact that food means different things to different people and to take that all into consideration.
Ali: Mhm. Yeah, absolutely. And I think you know what brands to what. Yeah. Representation matters in all different ways but I think you know when it comes to food like you said, yeah, it’s so emotional, it’s so cultural, it’s like political, it’s social. Like there’s food actually we just think of it as, Oh, it’s just food. You know, it’s not that important. It plays a huge role for every single person on this planet. So, you know, sometimes I kind of joke, which I shouldn’t, because it’s like I’m almost dismissing myself. I’m like, Oh, I’m not doing brain surgery. Like, I’m literally just a granola company, you know? And but it is important and I think it does, you know, it’s you who can make a difference even if you are just, you know, it’s just food. Like, I would disagree because it’s something that people it’s three-plus touchpoints a day. So yeah, I think the food industry is really important.
Diana: Yeah. Well, let’s go back in time, if we can, a little bit. And when you’re looking at your career, I always like to think, I always like to ask, is there some period in your early work history that you see as being instrumental to the building of this brand? Was there an experience or a person that you met that absolutely contributed to this brand?
Ali: Yeah. I mean, so many I think I mean, I think obviously the eating disorder experience played an instrumental role.
Diana: Absolutely. Yeah.
Ali: Obviously, I wouldn’t be here without that experience. But I think I mentioned that and I love talking about that because for anyone listening, it sucks when you are just like at rock bottom or you’re struggling with something and you think it’s like, oh, like, you know, f this, like, why is this happening to me? And I’ve felt that for a long time almost. It’s like, woe is me like a victim mentality. And now looking back, I’m like, that was the greatest gift in my life. Like, you know, I’m so grateful that that happened. So I think obviously when you’re going through tough moments, it’s annoying to hear that because you’re just like, Go away. I’m struggling right now, but if you can try your best to remember that there’s always a lesson or there’s always some silver lining within those tough moments, it does help sometimes. So but then I think another experience or moment in my work history that really contributed was coming from the tech industry. Like I had never worked in food before. I think a lot of us like how we got into Whole Foods, you know, for example, I didn’t know how the food industry worked. I didn’t know brokers or distributors. I’m just the buyer on LinkedIn. And then I figured out what her name was. So I started trying different combinations like first name dot last name at Whole Foods dot com. And I just kept sending emails until I didn’t get a bounce back. And so I think that naivete of not knowing how the food industry works actually benefited us for a long time because, you know, we weren’t paying all these middlemen, and we kind of just.
Ali: Slid our way into different stores without knowing how it works. Obviously, you get to a certain point growth-wise where, you know, that doesn’t work anymore. But in the beginning, it actually did help because we thought about things from a tech perspective. We didn’t think about things from the food industry perspective. To be honest, I think our industry is pretty antiquated compared to other ones. So there’s a certain thing where every time I approach it, I’m like, Why are we doing it this way? Is there a better way? Do you know? So actually yeah, we haven’t used any broker’s point obviously now not in the deal. Yeah. And like you know now we’re starting to approach some of the more conventional players and so, you know, we probably should. But yeah, it’s just like that mentality of like, well, everyone else is doing it. Like, Yeah, is there a reason for that? Like, why do I have to give up 5% or whatever it is like, right? And the buyer wants to hear my story from my mouth as the founder. So yeah, I don’t know. We’ve just been approaching it that way, which I think it’s better, but I’m just saying it’s different.
Diana: Yeah. Well, at some point that’s not that won’t be scalable. You’ll get so big and there’s only one of you, so you’ll have to find different ways. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be brokers. It could be other people on your team that speak from that place of passion, particularly if you make it as if it’s possible to make it a priority to hire other people that have a similar background with food with you, then you get that authenticity from multiple people. It doesn’t have to then just be your story. It could be our story, right? Like I think that’s really powerful. But definitely on that front, you know, I get that it’s so funny the things that we have to do in business, even on our side, to where you’re just like, okay, well, I guess this is how you pay it. You know, you have to pay to play. At some point, you have to make the decision to cross that bridge. But boy, hold on to that 5% as long as you can, right?
Ali: Yeah, totally. Yeah, I know. And that’s the thing, too, it’s like, I think that it’s been our greatest, you know, like a blessing. But also it can be like our downfall and our toxic trait of Eric and me. My partner and I are Ari, our third co-founder. We’re all just very stingy when it comes to money. And also, like I mean, we bootstrapped this company for so long. And so, yeah, it’s like, you got to spend money to make money. I get that. But then there’s always that part of me that’s like, do we think? Like, I don’t know if we could just do it ourselves. So I think that’s also been an interesting learning experience as we’ve grown because we’re now at this stage, we have about 30 employees where it’s like, okay, like you said, it’s not scalable for me to respond to her Instagram DMS like. So yeah, outsourcing and delegation have been challenging for me to have that control. Yeah.
Diana: Totally get that. You know many people who’ve been listening to this podcast know that I’ve gone back to school for my MBA and that is like one of the things that we’re doing right now is financial tools and starting to monetize. So like, you know, what do you look for if you say $50? Doing it this way. But if you’d pay the $50, you could make 100 million, you know, like, totally. Yeah. So we’re, you know, we’re learning about. Well, my cohort is learning about that. I am learning about that. It’s super dorky, geeky fun.
Ali: I love that. Yeah.
Diana: Well, maybe let’s talk about a milestone here that you’re proud of, whether was with Oat Haus or something else, something that you’re like, you know, if I was too, you know, the one or two things where you’re like, this is what I’d like to be known for or what I like to look back and say, Yeah, I did well here.
Ali: Oh, yeah, I love that question. Yeah. Do you know what’s interesting? Like when I started this business, I thought, I, I thought these milestones would be when we got into Whole Foods, went on start date when we got into whatever when we hired our when we made our first million dollars. Like all of those things I hoped would fulfill me and would light me up. And they’re cool. Like, don’t get me wrong, they’re super fun for a split second. But it’s been really sobering to realize the more we grow, I’m just like these. This isn’t the fulfillment. This isn’t mine why? Yeah. And that has changed because when I started the business, I, you know, coming from the tech space, my goal was to exit and exit quickly. And I thought that was going to be where my fulfillment came from. And I’ve never been driven by money, but I’m more driven by sort of that wow factor. Yeah. And I think, you know, having a big exit is like a big wow factor. And yeah, it’s just it’s changed so much like as we did this and now I’m just, I mean, of course, you know, I want our business to succeed, whatever that looks like. But those things I realized aren’t going to fulfill me. And it’s taken moments of extreme loneliness and emptiness during this journey and feeling like, why am I doing this? To really realize that those aren’t. And so I think a lot of founders realized that too along the way. But yeah, I think those milestones that actually really kind of sink in for me are like learning how to be a better leader and learning how to manage employees in a way that serves them and serves our company. And like that was all new to me. I’d never been a leader before. And then also, just like, you know, seeing people interacting and enjoying our product and like giving friends and giving their friends. And I don’t know, that’s really cool. I think it is a milestone for me actually, which is so funny. I was on a walk like I just go and walk around my neighborhood every morning and I saw an empty granola butter jar that someone had littered on the street. Oh, I was like, Oh, my God, we made it. I like litter. Like, I like you fucking made it. So that was really funny because I just, I don’t know, it’s like moments like that that you’re just like, oh, my gosh, like something like.
Diana: You know, somebody littered my stuff.
Ali: I like not telling people to litter, but it was just, yeah, yeah. Something in the wild in ways that you don’t expect. So yeah, I think that’s been kind of cool, but it’s more around enjoying the process and it sounds so cliche and annoying and I would have liked to roll my eyes for really sinking in now where it’s like you can’t live for this end goal in the future, that may not even come because yeah, it does. You know, and I’ve talked to founders who have exited, they’re like it’s kind of like it’s not that great. Like you’re excited for a second, you see your bank account go up, you know, obviously, it’s life-changing money, but then you’re like, Now what? You know you work so hard on this journey and then it happens and I feel lost. I think.
Diana: Yeah, I, you know, we have been in contact and we’ve worked with lots of brands. We have had brands come to us that have said, to build us for an exit, or we have had other companies who have said an exit would be nice. And what I know, in all these years that we’ve been working with brands and then also meeting amazing people like yourself is whether it’s a brand inside a company like PepsiCo, they acquire somebody or they spin something off or somebody like you that is starting from something from scratch. What I have found is. I feel like people are, like, you’re saying, dissatisfied with an exit. Unless they’re really like serial entrepreneurs. And that’s just a high that they get, you know? But those people build a brand out of a place of love and community or whatever. The exit and exit to exit never feels satisfying, you know, versus, you know, you could be like Cynthia Tice who exit, you know, sold lilies to Hershey’s after 30 years. And it was like because the time was right, you know like it was time. But usually what I see is those people that are like, I want to build this really big so that I can sell it. And then they’re disappointed with what happens next. Like they’re no longer part of the brand. Somebody comes in and optimizes it and starts doing things with the ingredient profiles or changes the marketing, and then you realize, Oh, crap, you know?
Ali: Yeah, well, and you know, it’s interesting. Like, I just thought it was, we were talking like, yeah, very, very recently actually I, I just become more as we’ve grown, I become and we’re still small obviously. But like, yeah, you start to delegate things. I became more disconnected from our customers and I liked that I was the one responding to DMS, I was interacting with the whole demos. Then lately I’ve been feeling so unfulfilled and sort of empty and almost like my back in my 9 to 5, you know, because I’m like, Oh, I’m optimizing email flows, but like, who am I affecting? And so I think it’s either just natural progression that happens for founders when you become less connected to your end customer and you don’t see that interaction, you don’t see the impact that you’re making. Yeah, that’s been challenging for me, just being, you know, realizing that. So I’m trying to re-incorporate that in certain ways because otherwise, you’re like, Well, what am I doing this all for?
Diana: Yeah, I mean, I get that. Like, part of it might be that you need to. You know, I. Operational. Move operations to somebody else so that you can be the interface or you don’t need to be responding to DMS, but you could be going to events and interacting with people and that sort of thing. And you’ll find your way. You’ll find your way. Entrepreneurs, especially, you know, those first few years sometimes are just a matter of what it is you’re willing to give up really. And what are you good at? Right. That’s my big thing what am I good at? Sometimes I’m like looking at this going, right, I’m not as good as really should I really be doing this? Yeah, you know, and we’ve been doing this. I’ve been working with David since 2006, and I still have those moments like, why am I doing this? This is not my zone of genius, as we like to call it here internally. So you’ll get there. You’ll get there. Yeah. Well, let’s talk about it. Well, let’s say I’m going to contribute to this. I’d love for you to kindly tell us what advice you would give to somebody who might be following in your footsteps of either a new food brand or a new brand.
Diana: Or newer?
Ali: Yes, absolutely. I, I always love to take the approach of just the mental health side, because that’s mine.
Diana: Important, my.
Ali: Love language. So I’m sure people want more logistical things, but.
Diana: I don’t think so.
Ali: I think yeah, yeah, I don’t know. But I wish I would because I just, you know, started going to therapy on a regular basis probably almost a year ago. And I wish I would have done it sooner. Like I wish I would have done it. The stuff that you have an I know a business idea or even if you’re not starting a business like obviously ever, it’s important for everyone. So I see a talk therapist and then biweekly. So every other week and then the weeks I don’t see her, I see a somatic therapist which is like Northeast Therapy, which has been really cool. So anyways, yeah, but I think just having that support system, whether it’s therapy, whether it’s, you know, friends, whether it’s your partner is so important because it really is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And it’s just mentally, you know, you need that support. And I think that’s why therapy is my first tip because, you know, it’s just as a professional, they know the questions to ask, and yeah. Not an objective third party is so yeah if you know someone who’s connected to you, they’re going to have a biased viewpoint perspective. So yeah, that’s the biggest thing I would say. And then the second thing is I know in the beginning it’s, it’s harder to find that work-life balance or carve out that play in that fun for yourself. But I got so burned out like the first, you know, the first few years, like a year or two. Yeah. I mean, Eric, Ari, and I, my co-founders, made the first 100,000 jars ourselves. And before we hired our first employee, we were pulling like 16-hour days. We were working in this windowless kitchen. You know, I remember I would get in when it was dark outside. I would leave when it was done, my gosh, you know, and it was just soul-sucking. And I think what I wish I would have done was maybe, yeah, we would have, you know, maybe we saved a little bit of money doing it ourselves, but like hiring someone, you know, just to give you that cushion. So, I mean, I didn’t take a weekend for years like I.
Diana: Worked all my gosh.
Ali: Yeah, it’s not sustainable. And, I don’t think we should glamorize that because yeah, it’s just unhealthy and I agree. Yeah. And I got really sick from it and so and really burned out. And so that was sort of I had to, you know, reassess and take a step back and be like, Wait, why am I doing this? So yeah, even though in the beginning it feels like you have to do everything yourself, you really don’t. Yeah, there are people that can support you. So yeah, you would be like my top two tips, I think.
Diana: Thank you. I love that I just got hired. Oh, well I’d say in our household, we just hired what I call Alice. I’m franchising this concept. Do you ever watch The Brady Bunch? You know that show, right?
Diana: You know who Alice is?
Diana: Yeah, we hired an Alice. Yeah. She doesn’t live in our house, but, yeah, I have an I’m going to school. My husband and I both spend a jillion hours working. We have two kids and a dog in the house. It kind of gets barely maintenance. And I was like, well, hire house cleaner into this and then that. And then it’s like a hire, can I hire an Alice? And then I felt like it was super boujee of me to do that and it started feeling like guilt around it and found somebody who only worked two days a week and is like, does all my meal planning, does the house, and like so getting health help does not necessarily have to be getting help at work. It could be getting help homefront too.
Ali: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. I remember when we were filming Shark Tank, I started paying for a mail delivery service just Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner. And I see that scene with you. I think women, I don’t know, we just feel guilty about everything. And I was like, this is so bougie. I remember it was like $13 a meal and I was like, This is so expensive. Like, why am I doing this? And I just never canceled it because I was like, this is life-changing. Like, yes, food. I love cooking, but it’s not, you know, during the week, I don’t want to have to think about when I like what I’m making for lunch. Opening the fridge and just having something I can heat up is life-changing. So I agree with you. I think it’s like those little things that maybe to someone else wouldn’t be life-changing. But you have to find, you know, what’s like a priority to you.
Diana: Agreed. Wow. Well, so what’s next for you or Oat Haus? What’s anything that you can share? Give us a peek into the future.
Ali: Yes. So we are working on some new products. Can’t share what they are. But I think that. But it’s outside the jar. So using our product in different ways, if that makes sense. Which is super exciting. So we’re in R&D with that, which I mean, we do so with our granola butter, we obviously R&D indeed everything ourselves. And it’s the first time we’re working with a third party like a Food Science Company and it has just been night and day. So life-changing because obviously, they have just the expertise that we don’t. So again, talk about delegating and so that’s been really cool to see. And then what else we are growing? I mean, we’re just like growing the team and we are talking to some conventional retailers, which is now because that’s always, I think, kind of the scariest part as a natural product is just like, is this going to resonate with the mainstream consumer? And that you have to do that if you want to grow to become a household name, right? It’s like when everyone shops at Whole Foods and not right that. And so yeah, working on, you know, new formulations, do we want to do a conventional SKU that’s a little bit cheaper and more for more price-sensitive customers? It’s not organic, you know, a no-stir option. So not everyone is open to separation. So do we want to incorporate something like palm oil to create a no-store alternative for the conventional shopper? Those sorts of decisions are what we’re working through right now. Gotcha. And it’s hard. It’s like there’s no right answer because, you know, you don’t want to alienate your customer base. That’s super novel and like super against palm oil. But at the same time, you know, someone who’s buying Peter Pan peanut butter isn’t going to want a nice little oil slick on the top of their jar when they. Okay. Yeah. So.
Ali: Those conversations we’re having right now.
Diana: No, those are really super awesome. One of the things that I’ve been drumming into this industry for a while and if anybody’s listening to the previous podcast is the naturals industry and our target audience is actually quite narrow in the opportunity for growth and the opportunity to make a really amazing impact on people’s health is and the not traditional better for you consumer. There are people that are never going to go to kale chips, but they will try something like yours if it tastes good and it doesn’t look weird. And, you know, all the things that are barriers for people who were mainlining Mountain Dew and Cheetos, which I love. So there’s no dis but yeah, you know, how do you get people to move from there to here is our baby steps and addressing those things like the way you guys are talking mobile, the way you guys are doing it is exactly how we get them to take the baby steps.
Ali: It’s so true. And you know what’s so scary in a brand is the customers. So we baby stepped it when we sort of did these more indulgent lines. We did like yeah.
Diana: Yeah, yeah.
Ali: And we started using natural flavoring and we had never used that in our products. Oh my gosh. The people like, it’s like the most vocal force and like that you feel like that’s the majority. So all of a sudden we’re like, shit. Like people were angry about these natural flavors and then we realized, Wait, this is actually a really tiny subset. They’re just exactly right.
Ali: Yeah, it’s the same thing with the allergen-free consumer. You know, for a long time we thought that that was our customer and we realized, you know like our product is allergen free, but we’re not an allergen-free company. Like we just happened to be allergen free because that market is so, so tiny, but they’re just obviously super vocal because it’s like threatening allergy. So yeah, it’s that’s been, I think, scary because as a brand and especially a startup, you don’t want to alienate everyone or anyone because you’re like, I can’t afford to lose anyone. Right.
Ali: PepsiCo, they’re like, man, we own pretty much everyone anyway, so it’s fine. So yeah, but you have to make those hard decisions sometimes because you’re right, it’s like that market just expands dramatically when you can get the customer who’s, yeah, like guzzling Mountain Dew for breakfast, and then maybe you have them make a choice like vanilla butter. Okay, maybe it has a little palm oil in it, but it’s like gluten-free oats, you know, everything else is pretty much going to be an upgrade for them nutritionally.
Diana: Absolutely. Wow. Great conversation. You know, we’re coming up on the last couple of questions that I like to ask everybody, and I’ll start with this one. Are there any other women leaders or rising stars out there in our industry or not that you would like to elevate or just give a shout-out to for the work that they’re doing?
Ali: Yes. I am such a fan of Tara Bosch from Smart tweets. Okay. Yeah, she’s one of our investors and she’s just been such a mentor to me, you know? I mean, any time I have anything, I could just text her. And she is growing this massive company but is always so quick to respond. And it helped me a lot with the mental health side of being her founder as well, which has been more impactful than actually liking the business side. So yeah. I think what she’s doing is incredible.
Diana: Awesome. Okay. And personally, any brands or trends that you’re following, you’ve got your eye on and why?
Ali: Yeah, let’s see. In terms of brands and I’m trying to think, you know, what’s interesting to me is this like the C gel trend. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it. No, this is like very niche wellness. But I think what really fascinates me is this subculture that is sort of more like I see it on social media a lot, but it’s like the Erewhon like super, you know, L.A. wellness influencer.
Ali: Where like, do they pick out these ingredients? It’s almost like what chia seeds were probably like ten years ago, where someone was like, chia seeds. Like, what is that like, gels up? Like what? You know, I’m never eating that. And then it became this green thing. And so I think, you know, I don’t know, I just like to see these little micro trends and just sort of bet with myself and predict, like, what’s going to actually become mainstream.
Ali: There’s this thing called, see, it’s SGA. So I like to see myself.
Ali: Like that e mos gel and you’re li it’s really good for gut health. It’s sort of like aloe vera, like, okay, feeling for or whatever anyways. But it’s like this. It is just so fascinating to me cause this disgusting-looking gel is like grouping it into their smoothies and eating this shit up. And I’m like, and people are charging, you know, they’re charging like 20 bucks, of course, for this stuff at Erewhon. And so that’s kind of stuff to me is so fascinating because objectively you’re like, this should not succeed. You’re like, it’s expensive. It looks gross. Like, Yeah, it sounds gross, but people but then you have the, you know, this like wellness influencer kind of yeah. You know, yeah, that just blows it up. So that’s what I don’t know. I’m just fascinated by stuff like that. But that’s one thing that I’ve been following and I’m like, Oh, I wonder, like, I just can’t imagine that ever being sold at Kroger. Walmart, you could.
Diana: Never do you just never know, right?
Ali: You never know, you never know.
Diana: Stranger things.
Diana: So, yes. Oh, my gosh. Okay. Well, this has been awesome. We’ve been talking with Ali Bonar CEO, chief Vibe officer, and co-founder at Oat Haus Ali. Where can people learn about you and your company?
Ali: Yeah, so you can find me personally. I’m just on Instagram. It’s just my name, Ali Bonar. And then the same thing with our company. It’s actually Oat. Haus on Instagram. And then that’s also our website. There’s no .coms just oat.haus. Awesome. And then in stores yeah sprouts Whole Foods Fresh Market we have a store locator you can look at our site I don’t need to list.
Diana: All yeah.
Ali: But yeah.
Diana: We’ll be here for 30. Normal.
Ali: Well, yeah, maybe. Okay.
Diana: Well, thank you for your time today. I really have enjoyed this time and I’m learning more about what you’re up to. I really like how I love the impact that you’re having on the community and challenging everyone to think differently. How we approach product development and product marketing in the marketplace. So thank you for the work that you’re doing.
Ali: Yes, thank you so much for just giving me the space to share my story and everyone for listening.
Diana: Yeah. And I’m going to thank the listeners for their time for your time today. Hey, if you like this episode, please share it with a friend. Otherwise, have a good rest of your day and we’ll catch you next time on the podcast.