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How To Succeed in the Refrigerated Snacks Space Featuring Leigh Keith, Perfect Snacks

Co-founder and Co-CEO of Perfects Snacks

In this episode of the Gooder Podcast, host Diana Fryc sits down with Leigh Keith, the Co-founder and Co-CEO of Perfect Snacks, to discuss the entrepreneurial journey as a successful refrigerated snacks brand. Leigh talks about Perfect Snacks and some of the challenges of running a business as a young person, their acquisition by Mondelēz International, leadership strategies, and her advice to other entrepreneurs.

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Key Takeaways

    • Leigh Keith talks about Perfect Snacks and what it stands for

    • Leigh shares what worked and didn’t work for her when running the business at age 19

    • Leigh explains what failure means

    • How Leigh knew that they were headed in the right direction

    • Where did the name “Perfect Bar” come from?

    • Mistakes that were pivotal to the success of Perfect Bar

    • Leigh talks about their acquisition by Mondelēz International

    • How Leigh’s upbringing and current work environment influence her leadership style

    • Mentors that were instrumental to Leigh’s success

    • Leigh’s advice to other entrepreneurs — and what’s next for Perfect Snacks

    • Women leaders Leigh admires

Quotes

Chapters

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Transcript

Intro 0:05 

Welcome to the Gooder Podcast where we talk with powerhouse women in CPG about their journeys to success. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo, a brand development firm guiding mission-driven consumer brands to attract new and passionate consumer base crush their categories through growth and innovation and magnify their social and environmental impact. If your brand is in need of brand positioning, package design or marketing activation, we are here to help. You can find more information at www.retail-voodoo.com.

Diana Fryc 0:44 

Hi, Diana Fryc here and I am 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 on the industry. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo. Retail Voodoo is a brand development firm. Our clients include Starbucks, Kind REI, PepsiCo, Highkey and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for brands in the food wellness and beverage industries. So if your goal is to crush your competition by driving growth, and disrupting the marketplace with new and innovative ideas, give us a call and let’s talk. You can find out more on retail-voodoo.com. Well today, I’m super excited to introduce Leigh Keith, who is Co-CEO and Co-founder of Perfect Snacks and I say Co and Co because she does that alongside with her brother Bill. We’ll learn a little bit more about that in a minute. They are makers of fresh-from-the-fridge protein snacks. Now at 19 years old Leigh alongside with her brother launched the brand. That would later go on to revolutionize the protein bar category which is right around $9 billion. Is that right Leigh?

Leigh Keith 2:05 

Yes.

Diana Fryc 2:06 

And they built an entirely new set of Grando fresh snacking options. If you guys haven’t seen them, they’re in the refrigerated section. So as Co-CEO, she remained steadfast in building healthy communities from the inside out. Now in July of 2019 Perfect Snacks gained a majority interest acquisition from Mondelez International, the global snacking leader. Leigh and Perfect Snacks have also been awarded and next year award from New Hope media. She’s received Women of the Year finalist by San Diego Magazine and Perfect Snacks, I see here your best workplaces from Inc Magazine. So lots of kudos for all the incredible work that you guys have been doing. Now, before we get into our conversation, I do want to give a big thank you to Jess Windell for making this connection happen. Jess is the founder of Maven Consulting. You guys have heard her name a few times before now. They are Strategic Communications and Public Relations consultancy working with consumer brands, and to learn more about how they might be able to help you, you can check them out at www.mavenconsultingco.com. Okay, well welcome Leigh. How are you today?

Leigh Keith 3:31 

Hi, great. Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Diana Fryc 3:31

Yes. And are you in Southern California? Is that right?

Leigh Keith 3:37 

We are, here in San Diego.

Diana Fryc 3:40 

San Diego, excellent, okay, well, I’m curious because the sweet and snack show before we get into the neat of things was a couple of weeks ago, did you and your team attend that?

Leigh Keith 3:53

My team sure did. Yeah. It was a great show for them.

Diana Fryc 3:57 

It was okay.

Leigh Keith 3:58 

I wasn’t able to go because I’m eight months pregnant. So I will definitely be there next year. But it was an awesome show.

Diana Fryc 4:06 

Okay, good. Now, I missed that this year. I’m in school and multiple scheduling conflicts, but I was just wondering how the show went just because last year was a little snoozy from an attendance standpoint, but the activity was pretty great. So I’m glad to hear that it was a really productive show.

Leigh Keith 4:25 

It sure was and great for a lot of our team members that we’ve hired over the last year to meet each other. So we really use it. It’s just time to connect as well for colleagues.

Diana Fryc 4:36

Oh, yeah. So I’m sure you much like many other companies out there now have employees across the US.

Leigh Keith 4:45 

We have, yeah, since really the pandemic set in and we became a remote workforce. We still have a headquarters here in San Diego about 35 of our 85 employees.

Diana Fryc 4:58

Wow, that’s a lot.

Leigh Keith 5:00 

But a ton of our new hires. Now if you’re interested in ever working for Perfect Snacks, were a lot more flexible on geography and have employees, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Florida all over the place. So, we’re able to really get the best of the best talent for continuing to build out our team, which is great.

Diana Fryc 5:19

I love that. Okay, well, so for those people that might be wondering, let’s start with the basics. Love it when an entrepreneur like yourself, gets to tell us about their brands. So tell us a little bit about Perfect Snacks. And what does it stand for?

Leigh Keith 5:36 

Oh, thank you. So we started our business 17 years ago, I believe that it’s like a 17-year overnight success, I think it feels like that. And really way ahead of our time in 2005, refrigerated bar. As a family though we had really fallen on hard times. I’m one of 12 children. And my parents later adopted my youngest sister making it a baker’s dozen 13. But my dad was the breadwinner. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and he had been diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in the early 2000s, and our family really facing difficult times financially, just needed a way to even take care of our dad as well. And so, we got together I was 19, my brother was 21, 22. We had grown up a super eccentric childhood homeschooled. My dad was a holistic nutritionist, so, all over the United States in a motor home, eventually a converted school bus, he worked in the health and wellness space throughout his career. And so we knew it, as kids gonna wait and see how he provided for us over the years. But when it came time that he really wasn’t able to continue providing there was nine kids still at home under the age of 18. So a lot of kids, the youngest was three. And then, I say all of this, because this is why we started Perfect Snacks, we needed a way to keep a roof over everyone’s head into a table and certainly wasn’t that consumer trends, we’re going to validate a refrigerated bar launching into the category because it didn’t exist yet. That was the same year Chobani founded or time founded, I think within a year, so ton of disruption was just starting to happen again, in the ambient bar category, let alone what Chobani was really paving the way and brands like body within Miyoko category. Yeah, it wasn’t mainstream. So really quite ahead of our time. But we had come together and our peanut butter bar was the original recipe that we grew up making would make them for friends and family and ziplock bags. And just what we heard, what we felt ourselves. And what we heard told back to us this is the best tasting protein bars is so different found in the fridge, the taste, the texture, and it’s really satiating. And so, that’s about all we had to say, hey, why don’t we get together and sell our parents property, their house, I had candy wrapper machine off of eBay. And we were all in with a candy wrapper machine that we didn’t know how to use it or have money to even buy the wrappers. I mean, really, really some wild beginnings. But it’s amazing what you can accomplish as you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and solving one problem at a time. And we were all in from day one and started selling our little recipe and farmers markets, small little retailers or cooperatives. And then finally two years into the business. And we got into one Whole Foods Market. And that’s a long story for another day, but had a 30 day test in the Berkeley Whole Foods. And my brother showered at the 24 Hour Fitness, slept in his car in the parking lot. And we sold record numbers to that store because that was our big break. And from there, we built our business in the natural channel really, very, very grassroots, all self-funded, bootstrapped for the first 10 years. Because, we weren’t really a brand you could raise a bunch of money because it wasn’t necessarily on-trend. It was a fantastic product, but the retail landscape really wasn’t ready for the bar. There wasn’t a home for it yet, right and so we could play it a little bit slower so to speak. So we really grew where you could demo the product and sample it and have people taste it and try it. But then from there 2015 we were really starting to see there were refrigerator changed, that peripheral iOS, were really taking shape. And so that’s when we brought in our first private equity investment with VMG partners, which is incredible rocket ship growth that led to our acquisition, which is so fun and we can dive into but it has been a wild journey. And for Perfect Snacks, really our core is our bars. So original, refrigerated protein bar. But beyond that, we really feel we launched our umbrella brand perfect snacks a few years ago, we really feel that we have the credibility and the space to be able to launch into new snacking occasions, delivering on better taste, texture and nutrition being put in the refrigerator. So right now we have our peanut butter cups that we launched or refrigerated peanut butter, double the protein, nearly half the sugar of the leading peanut butter cup makers, and we feel we can continue to do that into different spaces as we build out our innovation. There’s the 17 years in a few minutes.

Diana Fryc 11:04

Wow. Well, excuse me, I’m so sorry. In 2005 what’s curious is, I remember I interviewed Cynthia Tice, about a year ago about her journey. She also kind of had this slow burn with Lily’s. But one of the things that she mentioned was it was in I think, 2003 or 2005 timeline, when she was in at a retailer’s event. And all of the retailers were just talking about this kind of naturals category, it was still a little sleepy, it was all the produce, because was kind of questionable looking, you really had to be comfortable knowing that this is what real food looks like, of course, food science is really done a lot. But she mentioned that that’s right around the time when Whole Foods started doubling down on their acquisition market acquisition strategy and really going, this is something that we want to grow, and they took off. So your energy maybe was aligned with their energy, or maybe the world of energies were lining up for you at that time and starting to put things in motion? Yeah. And this energy or this protein bar category, especially in the refrigerated space, I still think there is a lot more room for growth there. And it’s so great to see you guys just really just growing and growing and growing. Every time I am in the store, I get to see another slot here and there are new product, it’s pretty great.

Leigh Keith 12:50

Oh, I love when innovation comes into our set from what we call our brand buddies in this set. Because the more that we can build-out, the refrigerated snacking really started as a goal certainly for refrigerated bars. And maybe they’re with enough innovation. But we’re really broadening that. But we found that we’re broadening that with our retailers to refrigerated snacking, and really encompasses that portion control. So anything from the bento boxes to fresh-cut fruit to a protein or even a better for you indulgent whether that’s a pudding cup or refrigerated chocolate, like you really can have multiple occasions that you would eat throughout our snack throughout the day under this designated set, and the more legitimate products that has healthy velocities building out that set for us. And so whether that innovation comes from us, or comes from the outside, we just continue to see it change just year after year. So excited to see what that will look like five years from now. Right now it’s primarily sitting in produce in some retailers like Target or adjacent to dairy. Yes. In you know, really having it be very shoppable to the consumer and have the right product mix in there. Still, it’s the Wild West still, which is so fun.

Diana Fryc 14:24 

Yes, I agree. Wow. Well, I didn’t do as much research as I have done in the past on your background. So I’m like hearing all of this and I’m like, oh my goodness, where do I want to go? Let’s just kind of stick to what we had thought we were going to talk about now. I want to talk about this age of 19. Now I can understand why I mean with the history and why you created this business. Looking back 19. Let’s talk a little bit about what worked for you because you were 19 in the category and what ended up being a hurdle for you, because a lot of people don’t, even younger entrepreneurs that are in their 20s that may have had some exposure are still not taking as credibly as I think they could have. So let’s talk about that. Okay, you’re 19? What’s working for you? What’s not working for you?

Leigh Keith 15:22 

I think age doesn’t work in your favor, right? Necessarily, whether that’s your own confidence and getting in your way taking you that serious. So certainly that, but also being kind of young and naive in the space, you just are ready to tackle whatever comes your way. And I think we had a lot of blind competence in those early years. And if we were to now look back or look at maybe other brands, you go, whoa, you’ve got a big hill to climb. But for us just having that kind of that youth that energy behind us was really valuable. We sure didn’t know a lot of that. I credit being so fearless launching into this kind of this space that didn’t even exist. Because we saw that with our parents growing up, like, our childhood, or the way we were raised really played a big role in us being kind of groomed to be entrepreneurs, I went to school organized day of school in a classroom a day in my life. It’s a lot of school years that I woke up in Yellowstone, or Yosemite or a new national park somewhere. And my parents just wanted us to be so immersed in nature and spend time with each other. And my dad just had such an eccentric outlook on life as kids with him on the road with my mom. And so growing up kind of without the confines of what societal pressures would put on you like the house and the end of the street. Your dad has a briefcase, your mom has it. Like I never saw that type of structure. We kind of were wherever the wind blew us. And so I think now I certainly don’t raise my kids that way, they are in a classroom. And it works for some and doesn’t work for others. But I do very much appreciate the out-of-the-box life we had, because when launching into, when launching our business, we just felt like we were fearless. Because we didn’t understand. We didn’t know what failure look like, because it was a win-or-lose type life growing up. It was so free-spirited. So I appreciate that now, yeah. Can you all you kind of resent that you didn’t have that traditional upbringing or stability, we crave stability, right, a mailing address silly things like that you take for granted. But it really did shape kind of the courageous thinkers that I believe that we were through those early years.

Diana Fryc 18:09

Well, what is so amazing about that, is that there’s no definition of what failure looks like when you said that, but it’s kind of like, a lot of us go through school and if you get an F that’s failing and blank, or you get a D, and that’s inappropriate. But without those confines that you said, you can use that fearlessness in business is we don’t really know what failure is, you just keep going until you decide you don’t want to. Failures when you stop, right? We hear that all the time. But we live in a society where there’s a lot of rules, and super curious.

Leigh Keith 18:49

The grading, it drove me crazy when I was a little kid that my mom because I was probably one of the more tight-paid children that she had. She wouldn’t grade any homework that the kids would do. And homework was by choice, you could do if you wanted to, but it was really more free school than homeschool. If you felt like learning books were available. And if you didn’t want to then go out and play really interesting way. It works. And it doesn’t work in some ways, right? So you kind of navigate and all you can do is hope to learn right and pass on to the next. What did work and what didn’t work. And it kind of depends by personality have thing but she would not grade the papers and she and they would be blank. No answers filled in and it just A’s all around because it meant you tried. And I finally figured out how to grade a paper at 10 years old, I think and I started grading all of my siblings papers. So it kind of just gives you a little look into Really very free-spirited thinking without that, like, pass or fail type thinking it’s really more about trying yourself. And being curious. And learning. So yes.

Diana Fryc 19:19

Wow. Well, I’m just fascinated. I’m curious when we’re looking back at Perfect Snacks now, you told us a little bit about this first moment at Whole Foods. But when did you guys know when did you and Bill know we’re headed in the right direction. This means something and maybe it was that whole foods, but I’m wondering if there was another one, another moment where it was a little bit. There probably was about 47 more moments, but I don’t know if there’s one that stands out.

Leigh Keith 20:45 

A lot along the way, for sure. There’s different times throughout for any young brand, right, where it’s really make or break. And it was certainly getting into Whole Foods and taking that opportunity and getting it to work. It was figuring out how to cobble together and build a manufacturing kitchen that would be accepted by Costco. Costco, that was a huge make-or-break moment. It’s been an incredible partnership with my brother because we’re really the yin to each other’s Yang. I’m a little more what maybe would be operationally minded or conservative or kind of analytical and reserved. And then he would be kind of fearless, shoot and then point type thinking with just having to pave away and always be moving forward. And so I think our balance of really complementing one another where he’d be kind of dragging the business forward making decisions, and then I would be kind of the operations behind the scenes kind of making it happen. And so he had come to me when we were still making bars with rolling pins, 12 bars at a time hand-rolled small mixes and a little mixer and he said, we’re launching into Costco. I know you said no, but houses and it was going to be great. And so we get back and, and it wasn’t just Bill and I all along the way it was absolutely our siblings at 1.7 siblings were working together. Always along the way. A couple of sisters a couple of brothers always working with us. And as we built up our Costco business we had our sisters ran the Costco roadshow program our brothers had sales my other brother ran our manufacturing plant and so we really just went wherever the business needed us to go and to have shared such an interesting childhood with one another kind of sleeping in that school bus rattling around as mom and dad can took us wherever the wind blew and then to really go shoulder to shoulder together and take this family recipe and make something out of it was what arrived and it continues to be.

Diana Fryc 23:07 

I’m curious about the name Perfect Bar.

Leigh Keith 23:11 

So when we were little my dad, we started making, I sold my first it was called perfect foods bar. I was 10 in a Ziploc bag with a sticker kind of labeling. You check which flavor it was with a sharpie marker, we did we kind of sold those bars to help make ends meet for our family, not out of the question that us young kids would contribute to our family. And so that’s why I think when times got tough with we just assumed of course, this is all part of our responsibility to look out for one another, but it was perfect foods bar. My dad gets credit for naming it that perfect was a word he loved to use. And so when it came time to rebrand, I think in 2015 we had gone through our first real agency rebrand. I own the trademark perfect foods bar. 10 years in business without that, and so perfect bar was available. And it obviously, is more clear on shelf as well. So that was a great next step for us.

Diana Fryc 24:20 

Oh, Dad, that’s awesome. Well, I’m curious, as you guys have gone through, you’ve told us, you’ve already told us a few of these stories. I’m wondering if there was a particular mistake or lost opportunity that is pivotal in the success of perfect bars. Does that make sense what I’m asking?

Leigh Keith 24:49 

Yeah, we definitely have had our fair share of short-sighted mistakes, right. That’s kind of the path, where it’s definitely it’s just a line that you have to toe when you are strapped for cash whether bootstrapped or just minimum. I like being in that space, it really makes you very prudent with your dollars. Focused right on building a really healthy p&l, and every dollar really has to work its hardest. When we had raised money in 2015, my biggest fear is that we would get too comfortable, that all of a sudden having pressure quote-unquote, taken off where we were bootstrapped, self-funded for 10 years, growing our business to 20 or so million in revenue, all with that original money from those early days to taking $1 and make it into two, injecting a handful of millions of dollars into the business, I did not want to lose sight of that really healthy p&l And not aware, we couldn’t really afford to go as a brand and spend for sake of spending or try and look bigger than we were. So that was just really important for us to continue being good stewards. But I mean, gosh, mistakes along the way. I’m sure every business faces them and continues to when you’re smaller, silly words. But look and go, oh, gosh, I’ll worry about this later. And it’s like, well always strike that balance. Where do you really envision the business going? One in particular, for us, it’s so silly as we gave ourselves a mistake worth hundreds of 1000s of dollars. We needed to put a barcode on her wrapper and it was like $3,500 to register with GS1 add your registered prefix. Well, we certainly didn’t have $3,500, we probably could have come up with it if we really took it serious. But I remember finding via barcode.com $25 got you a barcode. And I was like, that’s fantastic. I have barcode owned the prefix, and it said, but that’s why this will not work in a Walmart or Kroger. And I was like, when we’re in Walmart or Kroger, I will be in a much better place than we are right now. Well, that $3,500 ended up costing us probably at least a half a million dollars, had to completely discontinue our product line, and we launched under a registered barcode to ourselves. So, I mean, we can play the hindsight is 2020. But always try your best to strike those balances, really play out something in your head as much as possible. And I think we probably could have done a slowdown and did a little bit more of that. But there’s one example. I feel like it’s all about mindset, though, isn’t it when you make mistakes, have the mindset that a mistake happens. And you’re like, wow, wasn’t that a lesson learned. That at all living in a negative space, because you can really get down on yourself. Mistakes are part of it. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not growing.

Diana Fryc 28:24 

Agreed. Well, so a lot has happened, obviously, since those early days. And in the more recent timeline, we’ve got a new kind of business that’s supported by Mondelez. And I’m curious if that was a goal, if getting acquisition was part of the goal, and maybe how it might have in part of that story of like, I don’t want to get too comfortable. How is it sitting with you?

Leigh Keith 29:01 

Certainly, when we launched our business, it was a way to make ends meet until we had a better idea. And then we really started to gain traction. We brought in private equity, we now became responsible to their money. And so the idea was always okay, we either would buy them out when private equity kind of, their money comes or matures, their investment. We can either buy them out, or at that point in time, find a new partner. And so when we set out with VMG, we had it really baked into our contracts that that was our option. Either way. So over the course of being with them just over four years, we really had to continue stepping back and seeing what was happening in the marketplace and that our brands at being maintaining this foothold in this new category. And we absolutely could go out and around and do that or find a partner that was really like-minded that could help us punch above our weight class, so to speak, which we like to say, and then obviously, the opportunity to take our brand global and sort of find the right that has both, obviously, domestic powerhouse, but also the global reach that they do. But yet being fully acquired and rolled up into a business with that would really just do a disservice to the brand, nor are we finished, right? We’re just so charged up for what the future holds for our brand. Even after 17 years in business. It’s really just getting fun. And so how can we strike a balance and have the best of both worlds? And that’s what we found with Mondelez. They were the largest snacking company globally at $20 billion dollars in revenue, being caretakers of legacy brands, like Oreo being over 100 years old and what strikes me about brands like Oreo, they’re able to really take their reach and have such an impact, whether that’s from a sustainability standpoint, or social impact when they have to really move the needle socially and represent underserved voices or whatever it may be. Really, I’ve moved by what Oreo continues to do as a brand, specifically, so you see something like that. You go, okay, ultimately, what would be the greatest goal for us as a family is that our product could be on the shelves, 100 years from now still serving families. Because I think food is so personal, I’ve come to learn over the years, maybe why my dad took us on the road and sat there, working with folks on their health, wellness, nutrition. It plays such a vital part in someone’s life. And the testimonies we’ve received over the years from different customers that would write in and just share how personal it was that this was made available for them to feel better, eat better, and keep up with their busy lives or to nourish their children. So that idea sitting there, how do we continue holding the reins and driving this thing into the future, but really give ourselves the opportunity to be a brand that could be there 100 years from now? And the stars aligned and Mondelez was definitely the right pick for us.

Diana Fryc 32:26

That’s awesome. I want to go back to the food is? What did you say exactly?

Leigh Keith 32:35 

It’s so personal.

Diana Fryc 32:36 

It’s a personal thing. Yeah. And there was a while there, where I used to talk to people. And I said, food is actually in my opinion, is an expression of love. Like we give food to people because we want them to feel better to console them. We want to nurture them in some way. We want them to live a healthier life. And I think when I hear your story from your dad, your dad’s influence on creating the bar and your life, I feel like the perfect bar is very much an expression actually, of your dad’s love. Not just to you and your family. But to everybody out there like the perfect bar is a way of helping people live their best life. How is that not an expression of love? You know?

Leigh Keith 33:26 

Oh, I love that. I wrote that down, by the way. I might have to steal that in some campaign. Yeah, but that is beautiful. And it’s so true. And in the other half of my household being my mom is a stay-at-home, mom, breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table. Right? So absolutely, I think that’s so relatable to everyone in anyone, right? It’s beautiful.

Diana Fryc 33:52 

Absolutely. You have friends come over my kids gift boxes of candy to their friends for their birthday, because that’s apparently what teenagers do now. And that’s an expression of their love. It’s very interesting. It has different translations, but it’s really all the same thing. And Mondelez I think is definitely a brand that understands that with Oreo being that’s an expression, they are unapologetic, they don’t pretend to be something that they aren’t. They don’t say we’re a healthy brand or anything. But when you look at their campaign and the whole dunking component and sharing those moments with families that we’ve seen expressed in campaigns across my life, it’s all been about relationships and love and so what a really great partner to have found from that perspective, for Perfect Snacks I love that. I really do.

Leigh Keith 34:09 

And we definitely feel like we found that in spades when we got to meet with the Oreo team and you get the behind the scenes on how they navigate you know, very to me trysts, the last few years. Able to say let’s lean in let’s use that stay playful, right? The nostalgia of this brand, the happy and warm feelings that it brings. But let’s also stand up for voices that are and to do that as a cookie. Yes, exactly. And so, what amazing shoes to fill there. And what I loved in what they recognized in Perfect Snacks is, we can address that emotional as they say, right we offer emotional benefit, right the fitness, but also we can deliver functional nutrition with our product. And so to be able to continue to strike that emotional chord into just elevate our game and years to come and how we market a product because we deliver this very sound functional benefit as well. Product is really exciting space to get into. And I appreciate that. Brands like Mondelez, or companies like Mondelez whenever they put their dollars into emerging categories or brands that really do it differently than they do. Yeah, some aspects, but they’re putting their dollars there because they want to continue being leaders in this space.

Diana Fryc 35:02 

Yeah. Well, I want to take a moment to talk about leadership because I know leadership is an important part of your universe. Anybody who’s an entrepreneur, I mean, it’s just part of your DNA to feel like you want to guide people in some way, shape or form, but I want to approach it slightly different angle. Now. You’re obviously very much a family mom like you want to be.

Okay, so I want to talk about leadership now. But it’s from a slightly different perspective, you are very much a mom, you’re very much a leader, you’re very much an entrepreneur. And you mentioned that you had a stay at home mom, and you guys traveled all around the country. And I am curious now, here you are, I know that you’re interested in modeling something different for your family, your girls, girl number three on the way soon, something different than what you grew up with. But I also know that this modeling extends to the next generation, generation Z and all the other women and men and anybody that’s coming up through the ranks that you can be a mother, that you can be an entrepreneur, you can be all these things. But there’s that balance that you talked about earlier. So I’m wondering, and then this is kind of an evolving subject, but how are you wrestling with the terms of leadership in this business environment? Just as yourself. And of course, we can incorporate the components of being a mom or a parent or that sort of thing, but what are you wrestling with now? And how are you coming to terms on what leadership looks like, based off of your upbringing and the current work environment?

Leigh Keith 38:36

Yeah, that’s like a multifaceted question. I hate addressing it in our own ways. We come with all of our own unique histories and what we witnessed and saw and for me having a stay at home mom, whether you’re recognizing it or not, consciously, subconsciously, as I became a mom for the first time, almost five years ago, so much guilt, right, in that I don’t think I was a good mom, but that I just, I wasn’t putting three meals on the table. I wasn’t at pickup and drop off, it wasn’t able to do all of those things. And we all do, and I continue to you have to cut yourself some slack and kind of like, do what feels right for you and your family. And then not listen to the noise or not trying to follow what you think is perfect for somebody else may not be perfect for you. Whether that’s how are they strike their balance in their household whether they have kids or not, or whatever that may be. But for me, it certainly was, oh, really shaking that feeling of guilt that it looks so different in my household than what I saw. I may ever really acknowledge oh, wow, I did have a mom that didn’t like work traditionally in the workplace and that is actually affecting how I’m jet between myself and for my daughter, like I’m lesser than, because I’m really helping get rid of those feelings in my head and realize, actually what I’m modeling for my daughter, which isn’t any different than what my mom modeled for me. But it’s being true to yourself doing what makes you happy. Showing that you’re passionate about wherever you’re applying yourself every single day and into the world in a positive way. And for me, that’s through athlete better for you snacks supporting my team. 63% of my team are female, if my leadership table are female, and so much that I can model to my girls, wherever life takes them, whether stay-at-home mom or whatever profession it could be. Just show up and contribute and be passionate about whatever you do, whether that’s putting food on the table or providing food for other kids lunchboxes, like we do, so much of it is well, all of it sits in our own control, right? Blocking out the noise and paving your own path.

Diana Fryc 41:11 

Yeah, I’m curious. I’m thinking of leadership. I’m wondering, who may have been instrumental mentors, I guess anybody that was an active mentor maybe somebody that you looked up to as you navigated from this age of 19. And I’m sure at different stages of your business, and different stages of your life, you may have had different people, but there’s somebody that’s been along the ride with you on this journey that you consistently go, yeah, that is how I modeled myself or what I look towards.

Leigh Keith 41:50

Definitely, there’s been so many incredible women along the way, women that I work with today at my company that manage in their own way to strike that balance or continue to aspire to right. A woman in particular, for me, the greatest influence in my professional career was Kara Roell, and she was the co-founder of VMG Partners and Kara passed away not too long ago from cancer, and through that battle was obviously incredible to just witness her continue to show who she was and what a strong woman she will always be to me. But in the early years, for the years, I got to work with her and have her become a mentor and a really close friend of mine. And I’ll never forget dating back to 2015 prior to them making an investment with us. I was super leery of getting, like I said raising money, need it like it’s going to change us. You hear private equity, the whole business kind of gets crippled by private equity behind you and it becomes a distraction not actually a help. I’m so afraid of all this but we didn’t know to really capitalize on the opportunity we needed to build out a team of people who are smarter than us. And so Wayne Wu for those in this space understands Wayne is amazing VMG was kind of our point person and he set up a dinner and introduced me to Kara and I walked into a restaurant and saw her and it’s another moment in time right where you recognize what just seeing it in action really means. And seeing it modeled for you just like having a stay-at-home mother and then not seen modeled for you a working mother you have to sit there and kind of find that elsewhere and look towards those who’ve been there and done that and for me with Kara I’m seeing such a warm welcoming Big hug like this just gracious mother figure right and big sister figure and yet she was private equity and this powerhouse of a private equity person to boot if she left that dinner before dessert because she needed to go type hello Christian into bed with a little sad. Yeah, just her been just wearing all parts of her front and center or on her sleeve and not trying to posture and be only this or only really was everything sitting there. It just left such a lasting mark with me that you can be this really warm and gracious and in a certain kind of mother right? I don’t know you start to kind of buildup in your head that you have to be this tough exterior and certain kind of, you know, boss woman to be heard. And it’s like no, you really can just be yourself and if you want all these different things. You can have it all, you just have to get off your own back on what that ends up looking like for you.

Diana Fryc 45:04 

Yeah, we get in our own way, don’t we? Yeah. And some of that has to do with maturity, right? I think in our 20s, we feel like we have to prove a lot either because media tells us or who knows, or childhood tells us that we need to prove something to somebody and then we get knocked around a little bit by life, and we start to pay attention to those things just kind of sounds like you had that moment where a lot of stars aligned for lack of a better description when you met Kara, and all of a sudden, maybe a lot of things made sense in that moment, that had been there all along, that you just really weren’t paying attention to.

Leigh Keith 45:53

Or you just have never seen it. Right. It’s why having diversity and in the right seats at the right table, isn’t just the impact they have sitting, it’s all of the folks coming up the ladder under them seen that that person has at that table in whatever shape or form. And so for me, that was that spark with Kara, that moment, I will never forget just being this really gracious, like, so kind, warm mom, but this powerhouse, finance woman, and the relationship in the influence that she had in the years to come for me was always, whether I was toiling with my own confidence in something or something I was presented with, or having to work through, she’d rather be questioning himself like this, right? Like, what makes us incredible leaders is that we do question ourselves and think through, maybe more than some of our male counterparts. Not always nothing, nobody put in any box. But it is such a tendency that makes us great caretakers, right, of a team or brand or a family and to lean into that, and see that as a quality, but then you can put the question in a way take action. Understand, let competence shine through and, and continue realizing how capable you are. So that was just time after time, conversation after conversation that it really helped mold me into being what I believe has grown my competence so much over the years. And I hope to follow in in her gracious footsteps of making time and space for years to come for entrepreneurs, and business leaders or moms or whatever it may be to be a mentor and just, you know, pass on that same advice that was given to me.

Diana Fryc 48:00

Yeah. Well, what advice do you find yourself, giving others on a similar journey as yours? And I got to say, I’m not sure that I know very many people that have had a similar journey is yours. Or maybe the question is, what advice do you find yourself giving out a lot these days?

Leigh Keith 48:23

Certainly, we talked a little bit about it. But I think if you’re going to step into entrepreneurship and build a business, to have the mindset to find the good in everything and anything, and just have that mindset that every misstep is taking you somewhere that will ultimately be the right direction, learning and growing. And not getting too hard on yourself and just having such a curious open mind. And then that fearless part, right you really to be able to be decisive and ultimately mean vision. And so, getting off your own back, not ruminating on the mistake too long and then continuing to just move forward. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. Definitely, that can apply to anybody in life as well or your own careers, whether that’s your own business, working within a company, always be curious and always be pushing yourself and it’s amazing to see how far Perfect Snacks has been able to grow. Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined in those early years, that ziplock bag with a sticker and that was peanuts. I mean, it just was such humble beginnings. And so taking that story to young business leaders and females in particular too, in applying kind of I on are sharing my lessons learned along. Like don’t underestimate what can happen if you just continue putting one foot in front of the other. And so it’s beyond humbling but so fun and now so curious to see what the future holds. And what really will be that next chapter for our brands?

Diana Fryc 50:23

Well, good segue, what is next for you? Well, we know kind of what’s next for you. We have daughter number three just around the corner. What about Perfect Snacks? What can you share about what’s next?

Leigh Keith 50:38 

So Perfect Snacks, we obviously still the core part of our businesses, perfect bars or refrigerated protein bar. Prior to the pandemic, you would have seen a lot of buzz around our innovation pipeline launching into new occasions, peanut butter cups, we launched perfect kids a step right in there. And then pandemic, right. And so brands, especially bars, we’re 40 of our consumption is on the go, we really had to step back. And really, so much of our growth came from price pack architecture, writing, but value packs snack size, figuring out all the right ways in this ever-changing environment to configure our hero products, and then be best in class and filling those orders through the pandemic. So really not that exciting when it comes to huge innovation, but being the absolute best when it comes to delivering on time in full-term retailers. So that’s been our focus over the last couple of years. And now finally, as we really continue to see things rebound, and we feel pre-COVID really consumption and numbers and people around, what a storm we’ve all weathered. We can now very excited can get back to sharpening their pencils, and looking at that pipeline of innovation. I see all of that, with nothing new to announce here, but to say that really what’s next for our brand is continuing to launch, let’s make sure that we have all of the right tastes and textures in that bar space that station, launching our snack size, we’ve now launched our enrobed fully covered chocolate price, which would mean the protein, the low glycemic sugar kind of all of those brand principles for us, but can really deliver a more indulgent, maybe afternoon eating occasion. But beyond that, oh, it’s so exciting to see the work that’s happening within our innovation team. Where do we go next? Is it a different taste and texture to breakfast, is that picking up a new occasion in the afternoon? And having refrigeration in our back pocket, it gives us a lot of play for how we can improve on even food products that we let we know and love like a peanut butter cup, but make it more nutritious you found in the fridge. So a ton being loaded in that pipeline to continue to start rolling out over the next few years.

Diana Fryc 53:22

Wonderful. I love that. I have enjoyed our time together and our prep time in this call together. It’s been really wonderful. We need to wrap it up. Of course I have a couple of questions I like to ask everybody before we wrap up and the first one is and you’ve already given us so many nuggets, so I’m not quite sure what this might be. But I’ll put it out there. Do you have like a happy hour fact or tip tidbit that you might share with our audience about Perfect Snacks or the category just something kind of fun that people can coat did you know that?

Leigh Keith 53:57

About our category in particular?

Diana Fryc 54:00

Well it could be about ingredient it could be about refrigeration and how that helps or just anything.

Leigh Keith 54:08

I think certainly ingredient that’s so important to our brand, whether that’s texture or just how it holds up over time as our honey. That’s certainly a cornerstone of our brand is and for our taste. But that absolutely is such an important part of our core today. And so I would say certainly what is kind of the most magical part would be kind of our fresh ground nut butter and our honey really makes such a difference.

Diana Fryc 54:44

I love it. Are there any other women leaders in or rising stars even in our category or not that you’d like to elevate or simply admire for the work they’re doing right now?

Leigh Keith 54:57 

Well you opened it with Jess Windell maybe build team. Jess was with me at Perfect Snacks our Head of Communications eight years. And then it’s now over the last year or two, launched her own business. And she is just doing incredible things. Talking with her yesterday, her goal is around really growing conservatively and building just a lasting reputation. And the patience that she has, work that she’s putting in it. It’s just been so fun to see her grow as a person. And then I would say, Cassie Nielsen over at VMG Partners at a talent acquisition, or head of talent. And she is doing some incredible things, obviously, just raising women up within the workplace in a CPG, first, but also projects like women on boards project and worked with Kara, alongside some incredible women to launch a few years ago, and really working to help fill the gaps where each female along the way that is totally qualified or needs to kind of bridge that gap in skill set to find herself on a board. So we can get more females on boards across this industry and beyond to represent our part of the population and to model that for our children. Seeing a woman in that position means so much not just the impact that they’re having while in that position, but for the generation coming out. So Cassie, I feel like she’s everywhere in anywhere. Always really looking to inspire, motivate and help continue supporting women in business.

Diana Fryc 56:58 

That’s awesome. Well, we have been talking with Leigh Keith, co-CEO and co-founder of Perfect Snacks. Leigh, where can people learn about you and your company?

Leigh Keith 57:11 

Well, if you go to perfectsnacks.com, you get the whole story and all of our products there and like you said, find us in the fridge at pretty much any retailer across the country from Starbucks to Target, Walmart, Whole Foods Market, Costco, really go to our store locator and please give us a try if you haven’t yet, I think you might get hooked.

Diana Fryc 57:35 

Yeah. I love that. Well, thank you for your time today. Leigh was so happy to have spent time with you and I really look forward to seeing what comes next. I think there’s some big things. And I want to thank all of you listeners for your time today. If you liked this episode, please share it with a friend. Otherwise, have a great rest of your day and we’ll catch you next time on the Gooder Podcast.

Outro 58:07 

We hope you enjoyed this episode. And if you haven’t already, be sure to click subscribe and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do gooder.

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For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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