“Meeting the needs of the consumer and meeting the needs of the environment sometimes is tricky.” – Kate Flynn
This week on the Gooder Podcast, I had the pleasure of talking with Kate Flynn, the founder and CEO of Sun & Swell Foods. We discuss the history of Sun & Swell Foods – one of the first food and snacking brands leading the way in the use of compostable packaging. We also learn about the evolvement of sustainable packaging and Kate’s leadership in driving this hot topic. Along the way, we learn the amazing journey of a passionate leader in creating more inclusive, accessible, and affordable real food products for all consumers.
In this episode we learn:
- About the history and inspiration of Sun & Swell Foods.
- Sun & Swell’s brand transition from a traditional CPG brand to a direct-to-consumer brand.
- Kate’s journey from being a consultant in a firm focused on retail and consumer products to having a CPG brand herself.
- The evolvement of compostable packaging technology.
- How to create accessibility, affordability for mainstream consumers in the healthy food category.
- The advice she finds herself consistently giving entrepreneurs who have family members or loved ones as their business partners.
About Kate Flynn:
In 2017, Kate Flynn, and her husband and co-founder, Bryan Flynn, launched their natural food company, Sun & Swell Foods. Their mission is to make healthy and sustainable eating more accessible with their collection of sustainably-packaged, organic, plant-based pantry staples and snacks. Sun & Swell is the first food company in the US to offer a wide array of healthy foods in compostable, plastic-free packaging.
With a background in business economics and nutrition and a penchant for creating her own healthy snacks, Kate brings a unique set of skills to Sun & Swell Foods. Early on, she pursued her academic career at UC Santa Barbara and graduated with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School. Kate’s professional career included a consulting role as a brand strategist in the retail and consumer products space, where she focused on brand and growth strategy for various leading CPG brands. After spending nearly ten years in the consumer products world, she was looking to do something more purposeful and fulfilling that would positively impact the world. In 2017, Kate took a leap of faith to follow her real passion for health and wellness to start Sun & Swell Foods with Bryan.
Leading up to this, Kate had switched to a more natural lifestyle, including eating only ‘whole foods.’ She realized that eating a whole food diet made her feel better, both physically and mentally, and realized that she wanted to keep eating this way. However, when she looked around for packaged foods to accommodate this new way of eating, she realized there were no options available. Most packaged foods are made with artificial ingredients and loaded with added sugars, preservatives, and flavors. This realization sparked an idea, and Sun & Swell Foods was born.
When sourcing ingredients, Kate and her team buy organic ingredients as close to the source and farm as possible, seeking out small family farms. Sun & Swell is a Certified B-Corporation and a member of 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of the revenue to environmental non-profits addressing two areas the founders are deeply passionate about: regenerative farming and ocean health.
When not running the company’s day-to-day, Kate loves frequenting Santa Barbara’s local farmers’ markets and beaches and spending time with her husband and newborn daughter, Leila. Kate is also a Certified Culinary Nutrition Expert.
Guests Social Media Links:
Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.
Earth Day is an annual event on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First held on April 22, 1970, it now includes a wide range of events coordinated globally by EarthDay.org including 1 billion people in more than 193 countries.
Kurt Salmon was a global management and strategy consulting firm formed by the merger of Ineum Consulting and Kurt Salmon Associates in January 2011.
Accenture plc is an Irish-domiciled multinational company that provides consulting and processing services. A Fortune Global 500 company, it reported revenues of $44.33 billion in 2020 and had 537,000 employees. In 2015, the company had about 150,000 employees in India, 48,000 in the US, and 50,000 in the Philippines.
Clif Bar & Company is an American company that produces energy foods and drinks. The company’s flagship product, CLIF Bar, was created by Gary Erickson and Lisa Thomas. The company is based in Emeryville, California, and is privately held.
Trader Joe’s is a German-owned chain of grocery stores in the United States headquartered in Monrovia, California. By 2015, it was a competitor in “fresh format” grocery stores in the United States. By November 2019, Trader Joe’s had over 503 stores nationwide in 42 states and Washington, D.C.
For over 50 years, ECOS’ mission has been to protect the health & wellness of people, pets, & the planet with sustainable & affordable cleaning products.
Walmart Inc. is an American multinational retail corporation that operates a chain of hypermarkets, discount department stores, and grocery stores from the United States, headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Costco Wholesale Corporation is an American multinational corporation which operates a chain of membership-only big-box retail stores. As of 2020, Costco was the fifth largest retailer in the world and the world’s largest retailer of choice and prime beef, organic foods, rotisserie chicken, and wine as of 2016.
The Kroger Company, or simply Kroger, is an American retail company founded by Bernard Kroger in 1883 in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is the United States’ largest supermarket by revenue, and the second-largest general retailer.
The United States Food and Drug Administration is a federal agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2009, Tory Burch launched the Tory Burch Foundation to advance women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the United States by providing access to capital, education and digital resources, as well as a Fellowship program.
Tea Drops are organic whole leaf tea shaped into fun drops that melt into finely ground plant fibre.
Peloton Interactive, Inc. is an American exercise equipment and media company based in New York City. It was founded in 2012 by John Foley and launched with help from a Kickstarter funding campaign in 2013.
Diana Fryc: Oh hi, welcome to the Gooder Podcast. Thanks again for joining us. I’m your host, Diana Fryc, as partner in CMO of retail voodoo and award winning branding agency. I have met and worked with some of the most amazing women in the natural industry food, beverage, wellness and fitness. As such, I decided to create the Gooder Podcast to interview these great people and subject matter experts and have them share their insights, expertize and passions to help businesses around the world become gooder.
So today we get to talk about reducing single use plastics and seizing opportunities. And I’m super excited to tackle these topics, especially if I could get a word out correctly, because I’m tripping all over myself with my guest, Kate Flynn who is CEO and founder of Sun and Swell Foods, whose mission is to make healthy and sustainable food accessible with their collection of sustainably packaged, organic, plant based pantry staples and snacks. Sun and Swell is a very exciting the first food company in the US to offer a wide array of healthy foods and compostable plastic free packaging. Welcome, Miss Kate. How are you?
Kate Flynn: I’m doing wonderful. I’m glad to be here.
Diana Fryc: Yes. Are you in Santa Barbara today?
Kate Flynn: I am, yes.
Diana Fryc: Okay and weather’s good? I’ve heard that California is doing a little bit of topsy turvy in the last few days?
Kate Flynn: Yeah, it’s unusually I don’t want to say cold because it’s not cold but for us here in Santa Barbara, it’s a little chilly than we’re used to for this time of year. But I can’t complain. I grew up in Ohio, so I know what those brutal winters can be like. So it’s still not too bad.
Diana Fryc: And Springs, because I am pretty sure Ohio got a fair bit of snow this week, am I right?
Kate Flynn: Yeah, I think I know that Massachusetts had snow. I thought that was a picture for like a couple of days. I’ll say it’s about 65 degrees weather.
Diana Fryc: Oh my Gosh! I was talking with somebody from Denver two days ago and they had I think seven inches of snow and then they said in three days it’s supposed to be 75. And I’m like, welcome to spring. That’s just crazy. It’s crazy. I didn’t even know this when we booked this and maybe it was kismet. But when we scheduled the recording for today, today is Earth Day and people aren’t going to hear this on Earth Day, but we’re recording this on Earth Day. So how appropriate that the stars aligned for that recording to happen today. And then I also want to throw in that your B Corp. So we’re kind of sisters, you’re in B Corp so we’re sisters, right. So what a great day for us to be able to connect and I’m sure you’re quite busy. So thank you so much for your time.
Kate Flynn: Of course, it actually fun fact Earth Day was started here in Santa Barbara. I learned this a couple of years ago, but yeah, I thought when I realized that we had accidentally booked this on Earth Day, I was like, wow, it can be a more fitting day for us to chat about getting rid of single use plastic.
Diana Fryc: I know. And a little bit about how you got there, because I think there are a lot of people who are on fire about it. But I think how you came through it and how you got to this idea and then the subsequent leadership that you’re bringing at a national level is really going to be exciting to talk about. But before we go down all of those rabbit holes, why don’t you tell us a little bit where you’re at Sun and Swell Foods, as it exists today, why does it exist and what it’s all about?
Kate Flynn: Yeah, so where we are today, our goal is to really help eliminate single use plastic from the grocery industry and to help people live healthier lives. So we’re on online plastic free health food store and really we just want to make it easy for people to make healthy and sustainable choices. We don’t want people to have to go out of their way to make those tradeoffs. We want to make it simple. So we view that as our role and also just we are proud to be a pioneer in this space and kind of pushing the boundaries when it comes to using sustainable packaging and whatnot. And I think as a young emerging, we have the permission and ability to do that in a way that more mature company just aren’t able to do for totally understandable reasons.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, well, and then the pioneering component can normalize it and then it just becomes something that they can do. It’s always fun when I can see and I’ve interviewed people from really large multinational organizations to see ones where there’s literally a single founder owner.
And what I find to be most interesting is the little guys always think the big guys have got it together, but the big guys are kind of going, we’re so big that there are things that the little guys can do better than us and they’re learning from you all. So, I love that it’s symbiotic and I think if we can just kind of talk about the fact that there is a symbiotic learning relationships between your strengths are always your weaknesses and so if we all work together at some point, we can be taking care of things across the board rather than pitting ourselves against each other. So I love what you’re doing.
Kate Flynn: Totally agree.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, let’s start with this journey, right? So before you created Sun and Swell, you were in management consulting and I believe there was some CPG food and beverage in there. But I’ll let you talk about that a little bit more. And what was that transition or what were those things that took you from taking the experience that you had and trying something new? What did you take and what did you want to learn and what did you want to do differently?
Kate Flynn: Yeah. So, yes, prior to starting Sun and Swell, I was working for a firm, the firm’s name is Kurt Salmon, it’s since been acquired by Accenture, but our focus was on retail and consumer products. And the specific group I was in was helping both private equity firms when they were looking to acquire CPG companies. So that diligence side of things, but also working on strategy with big retailers and consumer products companies with their like executive teams and whatnot.
So I knew I was deeply passionate about the world of consumer CPG. Like I knew that that world was where I was really excited about. I did consulting for about four years. I loved it. I learned a lot, but kind of had that like classic moment where I was like, this isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want something where I’m really in a little bit more fulfilled, whatever that means. I didn’t know what it meant. I left my job at the same time, moved to Santa Barbara with my husband, and we just wanted to see kind of where the world took us. I also knew I had a passion for health and wellness, and I kind of experimented with a few different things. I was looking into becoming a health coach. I was taking classes and I started Sun and Swell.
Sun and Swell started to take off and I kind of found it to be the perfect mix of being able to use all my skills that I learned from consulting and my prior, everything that I’ve learned in my career thus far, but also using a single product in our business to really try to help change the world in a meaningful way. When we started, we were really focused on solving the problems around health so that the whole idea of us playing in the world of plastic free, honestly, that wasn’t on my mind when we started the company.
When we started the company, I had just gone through a personal journey with my health where I found the value of eating whole real foods and how impactful that was to my life. I found it hard to find whole real foods snacks in stores. So that was kind of when we launched, we were trying to make whole real foods snacks more accessible to people. But quickly into my journey, I realized, okay, I’m solving this problem of health, but we’re creating another problem, which is single use Plastics and it just wasn’t sitting well with me, like I was so proud about. I’m so proud about what we’re doing, but then also I was like almost like ashamed of this other part of our business although we started trying to solve the health problem, we started to transition pretty early on into trying to think about both health of people, but also health of our planet. I kind of found our niche in this world of solving the single use plastics problems along the way.
Diana Fryc: It’s such a challenge. We work with so many brands. And single use is of course, that’s where the money is. You can make the value packs. Yes they come into play, especially when the pandemic came around, those value size, family size, mega size, single packs became really easy to sell because we were centralized in our world. But now with coming at a pandemic, I think single use is going to take off again or continue to take off. I don’t know how to talk about that because people are going to have to relearn how to not have their world be 360 in their home. And what do we do if we go for convenience? We can have all the glass containers and the reusable containers in our house. But if we’re not set up and prepped for that, we’re just going to grab something that’s a multipack and go.
And now we’ve got expanded way. So I can understand that. And meeting the needs of the consumer and meeting the needs of the environment sometimes is tricky. So I can appreciate that. So now Sun & Swell started out as a traditional CPG brand, right? I mean, basically selling products through wholesale channels and now you’re wanting to make a bigger impact turning it from simply, I mean, you’re already like you’re making some big movements and impacts on the planet, but turning it, that’s a DTC e-com type of thing where you’re relying on other people to a much bigger, more retail concept, is that right? Do I have that right?
Kate Flynn: Yeah. So basically, when we started a couple of years ago, as I just mentioned, we were trying to make grab and go snacking, real food snacking more accessible. So our product line was a line of grab and go snacks and we were actually focused more on the alternative channels like operate offices and coffee shops and something like that, but also some grocery and stuff. But the ultimate vision for that brand was to be like we aspire to be somebody like Clif Bar, like a household snack food brand is kind of what the vision was for the brand. The reason we kind of pivoted away from that is because when we started to make that transition to plastic free packaging, compostable packaging, when we first started to make that transition, the goal was, “Hey, let’s just convert these snacks over to compostable packaging, let’s just do that.” We did it really quickly. And we just made the switch.
We started pushing it through all of our wholesale partners. And we quickly realized that compostable technology where it is today or at least where it’s evolving more. So it could look very different in the future, but we were trying to roll it out. We’re like, it’s not ready to go sit on. It’s not ready to go through distribution channels and keep it on the shelf. And there is several different reasons why. But we kind of realized we either need to pick a lane like we either need to stay a traditional CPG brand, keep selling through all these traditional wholesale channels and go back to plastic because compostable packaging is not ready for it or commit to this plastic free side of things. And we need to evolve our business model to accommodate that.
And that’s where we decided, “Okay, it’s really set up for direct to consumer, not really wholesale.” So we kind of made that transition direct to consumer. But then we also not like our customers are constantly asking us, like, how can I buy? It’s great that your snacks and compostable but like, can I buy more things and compostable packaging, like they’re not just looking for one snack, they’re looking for everything.
And so we set the past year building out our product assortment to not just include our single line of snacks, but now include all shelf stable, but things that you could use to stack your pantry. So nuts and super foods and flowers, always all super healthy. But really now our vision has evolved. Instead of becoming like this, looking toward something like Clif Bar that we’re trying to aspire to, our vision has evolved to be more of like can we be like the next Trader Joe’s? But an online model, a plastic free model. So that’s kind of where we shipped it over the past year. I want to serve our customers in a better way.
Diana Fryc: I love that. And the other thing that you mentioned when we were preparing for this was this concept of you wanted to have a Whole Foods kind of standard of product ingredients and products in general. But you wanted pricing to be more in line with Thrive. And that conversation came around about through this conversation of accessibility, affordability for a more mainstream consumer. And I love that. And where are you in that process?
Kate Flynn: Yeah. So this especially has become really important to us as we are trying to make a big dent in the market and eliminating single use plastic. And that’s great if we can help the Whole Foods shopper make that switch or either the customer who would typically spend their money at Whole Foods or some like that. But what about the people who aren’t shopping? What about the person who’s shopping at primarily Trader Joe’s? Like they want to make a switch, but if our price points are too high for them, we’re not making it easier for them because they either want to make a trade off. Yeah, they might be buying higher quality food, but maybe that’s not how they were intending to spend their money. So we have thought of a lot about like we don’t want to be exclusive with this.
I think that happens a lot in the world of sustainability. I mean, like electric cars, all these things are like you can afford if you have more income? And so it’s like, we definitely want to remain a health food company because I also don’t want to hurt people’s health. So I want to be a part of line health foods. But the main thought that we’ve been having recently is do we expand from offering 100% organic foods, which is what we currently do. Do we expand offering to include at least some conventional items and maybe not for everything, but for like our grains and our nuts and those staple products that we know people are buying and people aren’t always looking for organic with those products. The same way that when you shop at Whole Foods or any health food store, they have both organic and nonorganic offerings, like it’s not a way for us to, like a; make it more accessible.
But then the other thing we do is we try to cut out as many middlemen as possible along the way. The best way that we source products, which we do for about half of our products, is we’re actually buying direct from farm. So we’re buying from farm, and we are shipping it to the Sun & Swell warehouse. We’re packaging it and we‘re sending it out to customers. That’s the shortest supply chain we can create. And that’s what we do with a lot of the products we sell, and that’s where we can really get the cost saving because we’re not paying for all the people along the way. We can’t do that with everything like with cashews are grown in the United States. We aren’t importing yet. Maybe we will someday. So we do have to work with an ingredient supplier for that. But that’s, I think, shortening the supply chain and also thinking about expanding our product just to make everything more inclusive for people who are looking to shop sustainably.
Diana Fryc: Wonderful. I’m like really good about getting four thoughts, wanting to come out at the same time, with Kelly Vlahakis, she’s the CEO of ECOS and that’s how they’re managing their costs too. They have very similar POV on like, well, if we have to cut the costs out, where do we cut the cost? They own their entire supply chain, aside from the form factors. But then they’re also doing things like opting into programs like Loop where people can reuse materials. But I’m hearing a theme here. We make our better for you products accessible to everybody and not just the upper middle class people that can afford to be healthy. Like I think that’s the thing that I’m trying to shake up here is, is that just because the people that have the wherewithal to be healthy are not the only ones that want to be healthy. Quite frankly, people who were economically disadvantaged have more of an incentive to stay healthy because they don’t have the resources to get sick or to care for an illness. And so I love this concept of looking at every component of your business and taking out what isn’t necessary when possible.
Kate Flynn: Yeah. I think that I definitely have been hearing more and more this idea of like a more vertically integrated supply chain. I think for a while at least, like what I was hearing when I was starting the company was, investors don’t like you to own your own manufacturing. They want you to work with Co-packers. They want you to work with three PL’s. It was always like investors don’t want you to do this and it’s hard to not listen to that noise. Our journey along the way has been, nobody is going to do it as well as us. And not that I do think that there’s room for outsourcing things, of course. But for us, we’re one of the things that has really allowed us to do what we do today is because we own our manufacturing, our packaging and our distribution. That’s what’s enabled us to build what we have and where there are times earlier on in the company where we thought about outsourcing more things. I’m so grateful it didn’t work out because it kind of forced us to build and as a result, we’re in a much better place that we can serve our customers better and we can manage the supply chain better. We can make sure everyone along the supply chain is being treated the way we want them to be treated and all that.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, more control. And it’s tricky because it’s not really a one size fits all type of solution. There are some organizations where like co-manning and co-packing absolutely makes a difference. And I think you want to work with a VC or an investment person who can look at your exact situation and what you want to do with your business and make the right choice for you and not just kind of go, “No, this way always works or this way never works.” And that type of things. I like the dialog, for sure.
Kate Flynn: I think it’s a matter of like, what is your goal that you’re trying to do with your brand? And like where does that fall?
And that’s the same thing I tell people all the time. I get a lot of people ask me about, like transitioning to compostable package. If that’s going to be like the thing you’re leading with, yes. But if you’re just trying to check a box and sustainability like go check another box because being the first person to use the material is not easy. And yeah, there’s a million other sustainable things you can do that are amazing but it’s the same, it’s like what is your ultimate strategy and goal at the business and build your business around that I think is worth hearing somebody else do that. I need to do that too.
Diana Fryc: Yes. Smart. I love this visibility and as we’re talking about this health and wellness bubble that we’re trying to bust here, I think marketing has done such a good job of maybe an overly good job of making health and wellness kind of this premium thing and. But it’s such a strange dichotomy, because Walmart and Costco and Kroger are huge natural and organic retail methods. And you said something to me that I resonated with, and I just love this. You said that doesn’t need to be organic, to be healthy. Kind of what you said to me earlier. I think we get caught up, those of us that financially have the resources, we get caught up on, well, I needed to be fair trade and organic in this and I need all 47 of my certifications, which now makes my product three times more expensive. If you’re not in that financial space to be able to do that, that doesn’t mean that you can’t eat healthy. And how are you when you’re kind of along the line of when you’re talking with other people about, if you’re just checking a box, are you having those conversations with folks that you’re talking to?
Kate Flynn: Yeah, definitely. And I mean, like, the way that we think about it is like in the ideal world, everybody would buy all of their stuff from a farmer’s market and local farms with all of the organics, they’re like, that’s not the reality that we live in. And so we’re trying to connect the dots from like that to the packaged food industry with where it is today. And there is so much improvement to be done every single battle. For us, I got a little bit caught up on the regenerative agriculture movement, which I think is amazing, but our battle is plastic free packaging. That is the battle we’re fighting.
Diana Fryc: Choose your one battle.
Kate Flynn: Exactly. And if we were to fight the regenerative agriculture and single use plastic, if we were trying to do both, our product assortment would be like such a small amount of items because there’s only like a very small assortment of products that are certified regenerative organ right now. I think they’ll be more in the future. And we’re excited to be part of that movement. But we also can’t say, hey, for us to sell something, it has to be regenerative, organic, certified because we wouldn’t have anything to sell or we wouldn’t have brought us over to sell. So I think that’s like my biggest advice when I talk to people is like, pick your one thing that you want to be known for and maybe it’s redoing the rag, maybe it’s plastic re-packaging, maybe it’s up–cycling. Like there’s all these different, like, really cool movements in the industry or in the food industry going on right now. It’s like, pick that niche that you want to be known for and just be really good at that and be the leader in that and then everything else be on top of the trends, be ready to move on them when they become more accessible, but you don’t have to be the person leading in everything.
Diana Fryc: And it’s tricky because from a brand position, at least, if you have too many evils that you’re fighting, you can get stretched and you can get your messaging becomes complicated and operationally, it becomes a challenge to commit to it. So I think you’re Vise, you’re just kind of stick to the one evil or the one good thing, however you want to position it and just double down behind. That doesn’t mean that you’re not paying attention to it, just like you said, or that you’re not interested or you’re not making efforts towards those things, but just stand for the one thing so that a consumer and a retailer and a distributor and a supplier like they can check in or check out really easy. Make it easy for the end recipient of your message of what you stand for. I love.
Kate Flynn: Yeah. And another thing you said that really resonates with me is the messaging, because that’s the other thing. Like we’ve personally struggled. We’re like, okay, are we leading with health or we leading with plastic? What is the one thing that we’re leading with? And we can be a health food. Like for us, like selling healthy food is kind of just like that baseline of quality, like Patagonia. All their stuff is quality like that’s what they’re known for. But then they are also known as like this purpose driven brand that does all these other things in terms of the purpose to the planet.
But we’ve personally had to go through that struggle over the past year or so is like, what are we leading with and how do we message that? And honestly, it’s taken a lot of refining based on talking with customers, understanding why they’re buying us and stuff like that. But it is even just figuring out how to talk about it is complicated.
Diana Fryc: It can be and what I find is, and you’ve got gone through this, so you know exactly, but the more complicated it becomes, I always find is always the scientific. Well, you want to be, like, really earnest about what you’re saying and then it gets really scientific. The end consumer is just like, well, is it good for the planet or bad? Like that’s all they want. Just give me those two choices. And everything in between is like irrelevant except for the point five percent that want to get out on it on your website.
We talked about compostability here and kind of the direction why you went there. We all know that there’s an expense associated with this. And so this next question that I was going to discuss with you kind of already covered. So maybe you can talk a little bit about what has happened in the market with you and with your relationships and how you are starting to be looked to as an advisor and a leader in this kind of waste reduction, packaging, alternatives, compostable packaging. Tell us a little bit about how that is starting to show up for you and what kind of impact and what we’re seeing at a national level from your involvement.
Kate Flynn: Yeah. So I think that one of the reasons I’m a good resource when it comes to this is because I actually, although now our model is selling plastic free food online, we actually tried to do it the traditional way and failed. And that’s the thing, most brands today looking at compostable packaging already have an established supply chain and a huge presence and brick and mortar and grocery and stuff like that. And for us, we were small enough that we could literally, like, pivot our business model and just design output. But that’s not the reality for most companies out there today. One of the things that we talk about is the cost per unit being a challenge.
Personally, I think that’s the smallest challenge. That is a challenge. Like it does get a little more expensive. But the bigger challenge is that the packaging itself has a shelf life. Unlike plastic packaging that is meant to last for hundreds of years, compostable packaging has a shelf life and it’s meant not to last. And over time, the packaging starts to degrade. It doesn’t mean it’s going to disappear on the shelf, but it’s going to get wrinkly and the edges are going to curl and it’s just not going to look as beautiful as a plastic pack, even when you first use it, it’s never going to be that like matte finish, like bright colors, it just doesn’t work the same as plastic. And so that’s one of the things we learned was like that. That was the challenge that we had, that the technology at the time we tried to push it through wholesale just really wasn’t ready. And I think that’s like one of the best ways I can be a resource to people each and every day. So like in six months or maybe there’s even some materials out there today that would do really well on the shelf, but I think part of the way I help people understand me whether they should make this change is helping them understand, like it’s not just the court.
That’s like one little thing. You really have to be prepared for it to, like, disrupt the whole supply chain. For example, it slows down co-packer machines. So we don’t have a Co–packer, we packinghouse. But if we were using a co-packer, that would be a challenge. It would be another cost increase and it could cause some challenges with co-packers. So I think we’ve just had the experience of trying to launch it in traditional food channels and having it all. And I definitely think there’s room for that to be done. And we hope that in the future, like we can have a role there, too. But I think the biggest thing is technology is improving every day. It’s going to get better. But I don’t think technology ever will get as good as compostable packaging, nor do I think it should. Why should compostable be as amazing their qualities as plastic that’s meant to last forever? I don’t know if we’re striving for the right standard. If that’s what we’re striving for, I think really we need to be reinventing our distribution systems around the packaging if we want to use it.
Diana Fryc: So I’ve got like 17 questions now. Do you ever see that episode of Adam Ruins everything where he talks about the best buy date and how the whole best by date became established by the FDA?
Kate Flynn: I haven’t seen that, but I will write it down.
Diana Fryc: I’m going to make sure I send you a link.
Kate Flynn: I would love to Diana.
Diana Fryc: Do you know Adam Hanover?
Kate Flynn: Yeah.
Diana Fryc: Great. So the thing that’s kind of colliding in my head here and bear with me, I’ll see if I can articulate this concisely. If we’re manufacturing food that have a four year shelf life simply because we can, then compostable packaging isn’t going to be a thing, right. But in the last, I don’t know how many years, really our manufacturing processes have been skewing more closer to a JIT, just in time type of program where you don’t have more than a few months of product at a time with a turnover. If we start shifting our heads from okay, well, if we kind of take away this kind of best buy date, like relying on our senses, like this doesn’t smell good, I probably shouldn’t eat it or there’s things growing on it, I should probably not eat it. And this is really around those products that are packaged with some sort of packaging film because cans and glass, different thing, different situation. If it’s just a matter of our system kind of reevaluating what is actually happening with our food chain and how quickly our product cycling through and how much inventory, do we really have a 12 year supply of Fritos sitting out there somewhere that needs to be in a film base? If we start having those kinds of dialogs with ourselves, do you feel like we could make that shift to compostable or am I correct?
Kate Flynn: No, I think that’s spot on. And I think as an industry, we need to stop trying to like, I think we’re looking at the problem wrong. I think the problem is like our food systems are like, nothing should have a four year shelf life, unless it naturally has a four year life.
Diana Fryc: Our disaster preparedness.
Kate Flynn: Totally. But like the same thing, it’s like, if I get a bag of nuts from my cupboard, it’s been there for four years and it’s still good. Great. But they naturally last a long time and that’s fine. But like it was really funny. Like I said, we like to sort things from direct from farm as much as possible. And we’re talking to a new farm right now that just sent us some samples, the samples showed up last night. And they were like the most amazing dried fruits I’ve ever had. They had these like dried persimmons. It’s like unreal, like nothing I‘ve ever had before in my life, juicy and sweet and so good. And they sent them all to us in paper bags with a little sticker on them. And I’m like, why can’t we just sell things in paper bags with the sticker? I mean, it was just funny because I know why we don’t. It’s funny because I was like, “This is what would happen if we were buying things closer to the food source, there’s basically no packaging.” And I think that, like, it’s just a matter of like, how do we rethink our — especially now with technology and the ability to deliver it. There is just waste, our supply chains’ pretty archaic. We’ve been doing the same food supply chain for years and years and years and years. And it’s like I think it’s time to switch that up. And I think that will enable us to do things more sustainably on all other fronts.
Diana Fryc: I love it. My head is like, okay, what’s our next project? Kate, you and I are going to go have a drink somewhere. We’re going to go save the world on something else. So I love talking about this. Now, I want to switch the topic here a little bit and segue towards the relationship that your business partner is your husband. And I’d like to bring this up. I work with my husband and I think there’s a lot of people that maybe don’t know, like maybe might be like thinking of starting a new business with a family member or spouse or a friend. And I would love for you to talk about how in the early days or maybe even now, because it is still kind of early for you guys. How was that experience of being able to build a business and get excited and not get brought down by some of the painful moments? How do you guys manage life or is it still kind of a little bit like one day to the next on who’s on first when it comes to business and personal and family?
Kate Flynn: Yeah. So I think a couple of things, like one of the reasons that things work really well for us working together is because we both share similar work ethic and regardless of whether you’re working. And work can be working on the business, or work can mean like staying up late to make our daughter’s lunch for the next day or whatever it is. Work can mean business related, it can be things around the house, it could mean things in life. But we share that same drive and work ethic in terms of like just getting stuff done and continue forward and stuff like that. And we share the same goals with the business. So we’re very aligned with what we want to do with the business where we want to see it go. And in some ways I feel like that probably I always think about all the time. But what if I had, like a co-founder that wasn’t Brian that we didn’t see the same thing with the business? That would be so hard.
So for me, I think it makes it easier because we’re aligned on those things and another thing that works well for us is we’re kind of different people in terms of personalities. So I’m like super type A and really particular. He’s more laid back and Brian also, we separate our roles. So I’m in charge of like product development and creative and marketing. And he’s more on operations and sales. And that works really well together that we like each know what our roles are. And at the end of the day, like certain things stops with him and other times it stops with me. I think the last thing is just like we had our daughter last summer, she’s 10 months old. I honestly feel like that was also easier to navigate because we can kind of flow. Like there’s a day that I need to spend more time with her and I will. And he picks up the work stuff or vice versa. And so for us, it works really, really well. I couldn’t imagine it any other way, but I hear it’s like you work really well with your partner or you don’t work so well with your partner and neither way’s the wrong way.
Diana Fryc: Right. I have people out in the industry when they learn that my business partner is my husband, they always say, “Before I enter into this new idea that I have with my insert whomever, what kind of recommendations, what should I be looking for and what should I not be looking for?” I always feel like you’ve already kind of leaned in towards maybe a couple of bits of advice. But do you have something that you’re like, “Yeah, make sure your … is in place and that will help you guys through that transition?”
Kate Flynn: Yeah, I think the two main things are separate roles and responsibilities and knowing that, like knowing who owns different things. And then I think for us, the other most important thing is because we both love what we’re doing so much and it’s our whole life, it’s all we want to talk about. It’s all we want to do. Our whole life is that and, of course, our daughters is at it now. But it’s all we talk about and stuff like that. Having a daughter has made it way easier because we’re like, you know what, we’re coming home in the evening and we’re literally setting aside these three hours for just dinner with her, it’s bath time, before we come home, work out and then get back on our computer. Now we have a reason that we feel responsible, that we have to take time away from work, but we have to be really conscious.
I always tell people, like if you’re working with your partner, like pick a day or like don’t work Saturdays or something like that because it can all blend together. And even though you don’t, it’s not like the typical kind of burnout where you’re working 20 hours a day, you kind of are because you’re always thinking about and talking about it. And so I think after there was a period of time where we’re like, wait, we feel like really exhausted. Like we just start taking some days off on the weekends so we get like clear our minds.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, I think scheduling, scheduling the break like you have a wee one that is really dependent on you. We have older kids that if I just checked out, I could work until 10 and they would run their own life. But I think literally having a reason to stop and kind of going, okay, six o’clock, I’m going to make a meal and I’m going to hang out and we’re going to do this thing. And dedicated time away from it helps the brain, too.
Kate Flynn: I do, too. And treating those like personal things as appointments, like, oh, six o’clock.
And not feeling bad about that. Like I feel like growing up and starting my career in professional services, not that any one particular person ever told me I need to feel this way, but I always felt like it wasn’t okay to like leave early for dinner. But you have to keep working and keep working. And so it’s been a really big mental exercise for me to not feel guilty when I’m not working, like when I put down the computer, I feel like I really had to work on that. And it’s hard to give us permission sometimes.
Diana Fryc: Totally. Well, last thing before we get into the wrap up here. I like to talk a little bit about mentoring now, you have people mentoring you and you are mentoring people. I see that you’re a Tory Burch fellow, which is super exciting. I spoke with somebody else from Tea Drops Sashee recently, and she is as well. Tell me what you’re getting out of that fellowship right now and do you look to others as well or do you kind of keep your scope small when you’re looking for advice or just kind of a sounding board?
Kate Flynn: Yeah, so what I love about that, I feel like I have a lot of really good — I don’t know if it’s called peer to peer, but I feel like there’s a Tory Burch Network and I have a couple other networks. I mean, that’s really good. Just like a founders’ around a similar stage. And what’s awesome about, like, those networks, like just speaking to Tory Burch specifically, like Sashee business is a little bit of head of ours. So like since I’ve started, I got connected with her early on and she’s been like an amazing resource of like helping me. Like, if I have a question about something like she’s usually already been there. And then there’s other people, like in that fellowship program that maybe we’re a little bit ahead of, not necessarily on size but sustainable packaging or something like that. So for me, that’s what I found super valuable, is like this network of other founders that are similar stage. Maybe we’re a little bit smaller or bigger or whatever, but similar stage of our journey that we can just have as a sounding board or to ask questions to. And to me that’s been just a really valuable network to have.
Diana Fryc: I just love your journey so far. And I’m a big fan of kind of like entrepreneurial businesses, because you guys are. Well, I don’t know. I’m just there are meeting so many amazing women at all stages and sizes of companies is really excited to be able to talk to you. Being a big fan of compostable and recyclable and reusable before it was a thing, before a lot of people who are in the industry or even around. Sometimes I feel like I’m dating myself. But I love the work that you guys are doing. And before our time is over, I’d like to kind of just switch it up and move off topic. Not tremendously with this first question, but I always have a few questions that I ask everybody, the same set of questions and the first one which you have already identified. But we can see if there’s something else, if there’s some sort of interesting fact like a happy hour fact, something that you like to share with people, that they go, “Oh, my gosh, no way. I’m going to tell my friends about this.” Do you have something about your industry?
Kate Flynn: Yes, I just learned this the other day that the very first — this is so random, but the very first plastic bag was brought to grocery stores in the US in the 70s. I think was from Exxon. It was from the oil industry that we went to the back. Customers, like, rejected it. They didn’t want it. It was like a 10 year PR effort to, like, get these. Yeah, this was great. I was like, wow, the history of this. And now, of course, like, we’re trying to get rid of plastic bags for grocery stores. But I thought that was so interesting. I was like, oh, of course, that came from like an oil company was like the end. The oil companies are still behind with the plastic bag today. But, that’s my random fact.
Diana Fryc: Oh, my gosh. I even think I remember when that switch started happening because I was in the 70s and 80s and I distinctly remember when it switched from paper to plastic. That felt odd for the longest time and then of course it switched back. Tell me, are there any other women leaders or even rising stars out there that you’ve got your eye on, that you like to elevate or simply admire publicly?
Kate Flynn: Yeah. Actually I feel like this is like my kindred spirit in the world of starting eco friendly companies.
Somebody I met through the Tory Burch Fellowship, her name’s Stacey and her company is Kent, K-E-N-T. And she make sustainable underwear for women. It’s so funny because we’ve just kind of stayed close throughout the past couple of years. And what we realize is the things that we’re trying to tackle and the way we’re trying to tackle them with like the standards that we’re trying to achieve are so similar. But like we’re doing in food and she’s doing it in like undergarments. She was explaining how her underwear itself is compostable because it’s organic cotton. But then also like the lengths that she’s gone to, to get like compostable biodegradable plastic. So yeah, I love her company and I love everything she’s doing and like I said, same passion, but a totally different world.
Diana Fryc: Wow. What brands or trends do you have your eye on right now and why?
Kate Flynn: Yeah, I think the two that I’ve been following the most, we touched a little bit on this earlier are regenerative organic farming and also upcycling, I think we work with a lot of organic farms. But I think that next step, when it comes to sourcing ingredients, I’m just super interested in, it’s like I’m hoping that we do have a couple of regenerative organic things that we sell right now. But I talked before why we’re not spending all of our time on those areas, but definitely like that’s what I’m following. And I would love the more and more we can be playing those roles the better.
Diana Fryc: Love it. How are you keeping yourself sane and centered these days with a new business and a new baby, like are you?
Kate Flynn: Actually, I feel like I’m more centered now than I was, like I said before baby. But it’s because I have these fourth break. So, there are two things that like, make my day good is if I can go on a long walk and usually with the stroller to listen to like an audio book or something and just like enjoy it, because I have to feel like I’m multitasking. So my audio books keep me busy during my walks. But that’s always nice. And then also like exercise is like just so that I whether it’s my Peloton or should I like to do bar classes about that. That’s like a make or break thing on my day. If I don’t do it, I just don’t feel as good about it.
Diana Fryc: I understand. And then if people wanted to connect with you, what’s your preferred method?
Kate Flynn: LinkedIn is perfect. That’s usually the best place to connect.
Diana Fryc: Awesome. Well, hey, thank you, Miss Kate. Thank you so much for your time and your commitment to just the community in general. The work that you’re doing, I think is going to have just a far bigger footprint. Well, you probably have an idea of how big of a footprint it might be, but I think changing the world is pretty awesome goal. So thank you so much for your time and the work that you’re doing, and I hope you have a great rest of your day. And to everybody else, thanks for listening. And you can catch Miss Kate and her brand Sun & Swell Foods at, is it sunandswellfoods.com?
Kate Flynn: Yeah, exactly.
Diana Fryc: So check her and her business out and we’ll see you next time.
This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo, a Creative Marketing firm specializing in growing, fixing and reinventing brands in the food, beverage, wellness and fitness industries. If your natural’s brand is in need of positioning, package design or marketing activation, we’re here to help. You can find more information at retail-voodoo.com. And so there you go. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to this channel and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do gooder.