Diana Fryc: Hi, Diana Fryc Here, I’m the host of the Gooder podcast where I get to talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage, and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo, a brand development firm. Our clients include Starbucks, Kind, RCI, PepsiCo, Nike, and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for leading brands in the food, wellness, beverage, and fitness industries. So if your goal is to increase market share and drive growth, or I’m going to say crush the competition, give us a call, and let’s talk. You can find out more at retail hyphen voodoo dot com. I am so very excited to introduce you all to Jennifer Wiese, founder, and CEO of BeeFree Gluten Free Bakery. Jennifer never saw herself as an entrepreneur, but after her eldest son was diagnosed with autism back in 2008, she found herself on a new path while searching for gluten-free foods to help her son’s overall well-being. She quickly found that gluten-free and tasty did not often go together. 13 years later, she’s focused on bringing delicious snacks full of real ingredients to the world while creating jobs for adults with autism. Wow. So exciting to have you on the show after all this time. Jennifer, how are you today?
Jennifer Wiese: I’m good. Diana, it’s nice to see you. And thank you for having me.
Diana Fryc: Of course now you are. We just said this. You are not in Indianapolis. You’re about 50 miles north of Indianapolis. Is that correct?
Jennifer Wiese: That is correct. A little town called Nobles Bell Nobles Valley.
Diana Fryc: Okay. I love it. And we were just talking about my first time being in Indiana was at Sweets and Snacks, which I believe was at 21 or 20. It was in 2021.
Jennifer Wiese: Yes.
Diana Fryc: And just how I was just so shocked. I’m going to see sort of the shock at just what a beautiful city Indianapolis was and how much it reminded me of Chicago. From an architectural and just kind of a city planning standpoint. And so we just had a brief exchange about that. And you live in a much more quaint part of the state. And I feel like I need to go out and visit Indianapolis and kind of the surrounding area, maybe not just the city part.
Jennifer Wiese: You do need to come and visit. I’ll give you the grand tour.
Diana Fryc: Oh, I love it. I love it. Okay. So I look back in my notes and I saw that you and I originally connected back in 2017, which ironically is the same year that TikTok was launched. I don’t know what that means, but I’m going to say it means something and we’re going to leave it at that. It’s been a few years and a lot has changed I can’t wait for you to be able to cover some of those things with our folks here today. So let’s start with the very beginning or not the very beginning, but let’s start with the basics. Tell us a little about free. Let’s start with the very beginning. Let’s hear a little bit more about being free, gluten-free and what it stands for, and how it came about.
Jennifer Wiese: Yeah, of course. Well, it’s a story I love telling. And so I’m a family girl, and my husband and I have four sons. And why this is important because our company B3 was created out of a family need. So one of our sons was diagnosed with autism. And back in 2008, we were looking for support for him. What could we do to wrap around him to give him the best shot at life? And so that introduced us to a gluten-free diet. And if you think back that many years ago, you know the world of gluten-free and the availability of delicious gluten-free foods, it didn’t really go together and there wasn’t a lot of it to be found, especially in the grocery stores. If you wanted to, you know, purchase something that was ready to eat, that was gluten-free back then, it was tough. You know, there were a lot of things that there were choices and we were thankful for the choices that we had. But what I was looking for was real ingredients, foods that tasted delicious, that were nutritious, that didn’t have a ton of chemicals and stabilizers, and all other kinds of junk, as we like to say. And so, you know, because of that, there was a void in the marketplace. And we were seeing some success and some positive things with a gluten-free diet for our son. And we felt like it was worth the time and the energy and the effort to dive a little deeper. And so we just got busy in our kitchen and we started recreating favorite family recipes that fit the profile and the tastes that I was looking for. And so in 2000, we did some farmer’s markets. And tested our food and our concept. And we just got an overwhelming response. I mean, the timing was perfect, too. So this is like 2009, eight, nine, and into 2010. And, you know, 2000 gluten-free was becoming popular then. It was becoming fashionable. You know, it’s being talked about in the media. Some professional athletes were adopting it as a way to increase their athletic performance. And so it was really being talked about a lot. And so we had already, you know, a couple of years of figuring out gluten-free in our own kitchen. And so I feel like, you know, the timing was just perfect for us to really enter the marketplace outside of farmers’ markets. And so, you know, back in those early days, it was just me knocking on doors. And I was offering all my son’s favorite foods. You know, he loved chocolate chip cookies, cakes, and pizza dough. Those were kind of the three staple items that we were selling back then in 2010 and 11. And then we joined as a family, CrossFit, and CrossFit then introduced us to an even more refined way of eating those more paleo-based and more of that holistic hunter-gatherer types of foods. And so what they encouraged us, our CrossFit family, was to find a snack that was shelf stable that they could toss in their gym bag, they could keep in their desk drawer or their car that would offer a variety outside of hard-boiled eggs, almonds and beef jerky. So that was the challenge and that’s what we did. We created a product called Warrior Mix. It is a shelf-stable, ready-to-eat snack. It’s made with really simple ingredients like almonds, sunflowers, and pumpkin seeds. It’s lightly sweetened with honey and you can eat it on the go. It’s made in cluster salad chunks. So you can just put it in the package, grab a chunk, and off you go. So that’s, you know, that’s our product. That’s the kind of idea behind the company. And it really was really just I was a mom on a mission and I still am. But I say that a lot because, you know, it’s really where the whole idea for the company started as a passion to take care of my own family.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, well, so this feels like a bonehead question because I’ve been in this situation better for you for so many years, but I’m going to ask it anyway. So your son has autism and you’re looking for a gluten-free diet. Is there a relationship there or was it just between a gluten-free diet and better care for those folks that have autism? Or was this just a general health direction that you were going into?
Jennifer Wiese: Yeah, that’s a really great question. So don’t be down on yourself for asking that question. That’s a really great question. And so my husband and I attended an autism conference in Vancouver, and that’s really where it was an \\autism-specific conference. That’s where we learned about gluten-free, and that’s when we learned about the connection between gluten, what it does in your body, and then what you do. So it’s an inflammation trigger. So yeah, you remove gluten and other types of food that act like gluten, like dairy. That’s why often gluten and dairy come together when you’re doing an elimination diet for things like attention, you know, other maybe autism-related types of behaviors and just issues that you’re trying to support is going gluten-free and dairy free. Often those two come together because of the inflammation issue. So it’s really all based around inflammation and lowering inflammation in your body so that all of your pathways can work more optimally. So that’s kind of the really general explanation of why it can’t be effective by no means a cure. I’m very quick to say this is not a cure. This is just one support mechanism that we found very effective for our son.
Diana Fryc: Mm-hmm. Thank you for sharing that. Of course, I. And of course, as you’re talking about it, it makes sense, but I just it just didn’t even dawn on me when I was first reading it in your bio, So thanks for that. Was that you were the one that brought the saying to your son tonight, was that correct?
Jennifer Wiese: Yes. Yes. And you had a chance to meet him, I think.
Diana Fryc: Yes, Yes, Yes, I did. Was he this that you brought the son that this is all based around?
Jennifer Wiese: Yes. Correct.
Diana Fryc: Oh, my gosh. What a wonderful human he is. Thank you. I had no idea what a nice connection. Thank you.
Jennifer Wiese: Well, thank you. It was really time for me to introduce him to a lot of the people that, you know, I’d been talking to for years, like you and some. Many others. Yeah. It was nice for them to be able to make that connection and really just see him as the true face behind the company.
Diana Fryc: Hmm. Mm-hmm. Okay. So, Mom is on a mission mantra. And yea, I know we know what drove it initially. We’re into your number 13. Has that mom on a mission changed in any way?
Jennifer Wiese: In some ways, yes. I would say in many ways it has. Just as I am developing as a business leader, as an entrepreneur, as you know, I get more experience and more confidence. And in my space, it certainly has changed a lot. But that core of mom on a mission that’s in my heart has not. There still is a massive need. And so, you know, we talked a little bit about the product and pudding and the importance for our family and many, many others out there in the world to choose gluten-free and clean-label foods as an autism support mechanism. But the other thing that we haven’t talked about is the job piece of it. So our son is now 27. He’s a college graduate and he has, you know, overcome so many obstacles and hurdles. One of the things that are a constant challenge for him and so many others is the job piece is going through an interview and coming out successfully with a job and then being able to keep a job and grow with that job. And it’s just an issue that repeats itself in every community across the world. And it is a growing issue that there are lots of young adults that are coming out of school, out of high school, either with or without a degree that after they or after they get to age 22, there might not be anything for them as far as theirs. Yes. You know, government support ends at age 22. So if there’s no employment option, what do all those people do? A lot of them stay home. And. Yes, and many, many are willing and very able to hold a job. And so we’re really passionate about being a source to that, to that problem. So providing jobs for people who are often overlooked and just, you know, how do we do that and how do we be that example for other businesses who want to do the same?
Diana Fryc: This is fantastic. One of my biggest goals with the podcast is to normalize women in leadership in all roles, whether it’s in start-ups or entrepreneurial brands, or large CPGs. But there’s a diversity component to it because one of the things that I’ve noticed over years is that that natural and better-for-you industry has always skewed towards the upper middle class. Those that have able-bodied, mostly Caucasian, each put in every single type of definition. And I think where it comes from is the fact that innovation came from people who had access to money and relationships and that sort of thing. And they developed products that were for like-minded people. And when you look at the data, then it looks like those are the only people that are interested in better health. The reality is that there’s a huge group of people that need the type of not just products that you have, but also need to be more open-minded to the type of employment that they can offer in this space. We don’t need to be providing entry-level jobs to groups of people simply because we don’t understand. And I love the fact that you’re taking a leadership position here, not just from a product standpoint, but also from a leadership standpoint, from a business growth and opportunity standpoint. This is a really great connection and holistic approach to business and I love it. Love it.
Jennifer Wiese: Well, thank you. Thank you. It’s, you know, it’s really coming straight from our hearts. And, you know, we really feel like so many of those things that are need-based that, you know, those are the things that are super sustainable, I think. And like I said, this is something that is not, you know, just in my community. It’s in every community. You know, autism is a worldwide issue. And so every community is dealing with people in their neighborhoods that have autism that, you know, are willing and able to work. They just need the platform to do so well.
Diana Fryc: So in addition to starting this, you know. Back when you started the company and were developing these products and you were learning a new way of parenting here in the Midwest, as we said earlier. You’re 50 miles north of Indianapolis, not really a region or area that’s known for CPG in general. And I want to say this a little tiny secret. Kind of like what were you thinking? Like, how did you go? This is what I’m going to do. I’m assuming correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming you’re like didn’t just didn’t even know where to start, but you were going to do it anyways. Tell us about those early days and what you were thinking.
Jennifer Wiese: Well, you know, you don’t know what you don’t know, right? I mean, and so, you know, in those early days, I think that you know, part of the thing, too, that I think is really important is that you know, my husband and I really parent from you know, we like to be examples, not just be those words that say, you know, do this, don’t follow me, but just hear what I’m saying. You know, And so we want to be examples of being fearless, being fearless, and doing things that push you outside of your comfort zone. And if you have an idea, you should put it out there in the world. Let the world tell you whether you know it’s a good idea or not. And, you know, so I think those were partly in the early days. Those are part of the things that I was, you know, wanting to set an example for my young sons that if you have a passion for something, if you have an idea, if you have something to give to the world, you should share it. You should not hold it to yourself. You should share, you know, with the world. So that was one of the driving factors for me in those early days. And then, as I said, you know, I was creating something for my family. And I also have a pleasing kind of personality\. You know, I’m kind of a helper. And so I wanted to make lives better for other people. And that was one way I felt like I could do it. It was one thing I could give something that I had already figured out that was really difficult for my family. And if I could, you know, shine a light on gluten-free for another family that, you know, was able to create a delicious meal and an experience around food for them, well, that’s a win. So, yeah, those definitely are. Yeah, I just dug in and I just started figuring things out and I started surrounding myself with people that were way smarter than me, you know, that were a few steps ahead that I could learn from. I asked lots of questions. So I was just curious and inquisitive enough to dig in and try to figure things out.
Diana Fryc: Mm-hmm. Now, am I remembering very correctly you come from hospitality, is that correct?
Jennifer Wiese: Yeah, that. Well, that was part of my career. So, yeah, I am a fashion design student and, you know, in college. And so I had many, many years in retail fashion and buying and merchandising that kind of stuff. And then and then I did make a shift to hotel sales, which is a really great part of my young twenties. And, then after that, you know, I retired to raise a family. So, yeah, so I have experience and that was really what I draw on those days in hotel sales a lot because.
Diana Fryc: Do you.
Jennifer Wiese: Now, I had really great sales training and so it was a really great foundation for me that I use every day now. So great.
Diana Fryc: Well, so in those early days, where did you find you know, I’m talking about the early, early days as you started to make connections, of course, you probably met some interesting people. But where did you start in the beginning? Who were you knocking on to get guidance and advice? Because as before, all of these amazing hatcheries that existed and you know that exist now.
Jennifer Wiese: Yeah, no, you’re right. And, you know, we had been part of\\\ skew which is an accelerated process. It is amazing. But yeah, this was way, way, way before anything right. Had existed. I remember reaching out to a consultant. You know, I was all over the web, like, I mean, I didn’t there wasn’t really a whole lot of other things. There were no, you know, like little groups in my town or even close by that, I could drive to. And but I was just all over the web and, you know, talking to a lot of my grocery store connections, you know, that were category managers and stuff like that. And, you know, just started asking. You know, who do you respect in the industry? Who do you think is doing a really great job? And then I, you know, reach out to other brands that maybe that weren’t competitors, you know, in a different space, you’d be more willing to share. Yeah. And just try to learn from each other that way. I did connect with a consultant, and I can’t even remember where I met her. But once a week for a year or so, we would have a phone call. And this was before you? Like there were no video calls, right? Right.
Diana Fryc: Right.
Jennifer Wiese: Call on a phone with a cord. I’m not just kidding.
Diana Fryc: But mounted to the wall. I had to crank it. No, exactly.
Jennifer Wiese: But. But anyhow, so, you know, she was able to just guide me in some areas and give me some things to think about and make some introductions. And, you know, so kind of just that’s really how I got started. In those early, early days.
Diana Fryc: Well, that’s fantastic. I’m curious now, over this period of time, you know, going from the mom that was that retired professional, they raised that retired executive to here we are 13 years later and your brand. How your leadership has changed and morphed over the years and can you see that it’s changed?
Jennifer Wiese: Yeah I am much more decisive. Um, I think that I definitely have grown in my confidence, in my ability to be a leader, and with that has definitely become, you know, I’ve just become more decisive. I’ve been able to make decisions quicker than before, and I’m obviously a risk taker or I would not be in this space. And so I think, you know, just more able to make some decisions that are maybe riskier than I would have a couple of years ago. So and just really trying to be better every day. I kind of try to follow that motto. I’m trying to be better today than yesterday. And I just kind of just keep trying to keep that going and surrounding myself and being a good listener and always being teachable.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. All right. Well, in the last few years, I’m wondering. I wonder if you can share any milestones or any kind of monumental moments. I’m sure there are many in the last 13 years. Maybe we could look at the last few years and just kind of say because I’ve seen a big pivot with the brand just in the last few years. But for those that don’t know, BeeFree, what are the big milestones that I’ve really catapulted you at in the last couple of years to where you are right now?
Jennifer Wiese: Yeah, sure. Well, you know, we have covered in the middle of those last three years, too. And that’s important in our story. But prior to COVID, a big milestone for us was surpassing $1,000,000 in revenue. That was a really big deal for me. I was really laser-focused on that and we were able to make that happen. And, you know, all the milestones are big. I remember when selling a case was a big deal, like, you know, selling for going from individual bags to a case. And then I sold, you know, a pallet, and then I sold a truck full, and then, you know, so, I mean, like all of those milestones.
Diana Fryc: Are back.
Jennifer Wiese: Because wherever you are at the time, You know, I feel like, you know, you are where you are. And then when you get to that next big, you know, jump, then you look at what’s next ahead. And so just keeping those flags, as Rob Dyrdek likes to say. Right. Keep planting those flags and knocking them down. But another milestone related to COVID was we had a ton of growth planned for 2020, as many, many other companies do. And that was going to be the year we were going to bust $3 million. That was our goal and that didn’t happen. And so but what did happen was we survived and it sounds.
Diana Fryc: Like a big deal.
Jennifer Wiese: It sounds real, you know, tiny. But when so many other companies around us didn’t survive, we did. We clearly, you know, lost revenue from the previous year, but we survived. And I’m still here today to say that, you know, our company has recovered from COVID. It took us about two years to recover and now we’ve recovered and we have this amazing momentum and we’re really focused on keeping that momentum. But yeah, those were those there were some that were really big and I try to also think about and focus on the little things. They’re not all the million dollars or $3 million a year. Yes sometimes it’s the year that you look, we recovered like we were able to stay afloat and sometimes we got to just look at those. What are those little things?
Diana Fryc: Yeah. And sometimes it’s bringing your son to a trade show.
Jennifer Wiese: Yes. And that was so huge for us, too, because, you know, he’s 27 years old. And for me that he made the invitation that he quickly accepted was so heartwarming for me that, you know, he wants to spend time with me. And it was a really, really special time for us, you know, to travel together like that and just, you know, to meet people and for me to kind of watch him in action as a young adult having conversations with people that he’s never met before. And no, he was uncomfortable, but he put himself intentionally in uncomfortable situations so that he could have the experience. So it was really fun. I’m glad you had a chance to meet him, too.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, well, and then you guys were both sharing a new product at the same time that I quickly devoured. And I was as I was planning for this call, I was like, any friend forgot to order some more of those. I’m going to make that happen. Well.
Jennifer Wiese: Shame on me for not sending you another case.
Diana Fryc: I don’t know. You know what? You have plenty of expenses. I can buy my own snacks. I’m good with that. Now, what advice do you give yourself to others on a similar journey as yours and have? Technology has certainly changed, but the mindset is the mindset. What can you share with folks that are wanting to try something new and outside of their skin?
Jennifer Wiese: I like to say that believe in yourself and believe in your product and don’t let other people, you know, don’t let other people kind of knock you off your horse. I say if you’ve got something that you feel strongly about that the world needs to have, then just go for it and keep looking for people that will open doors for you that will let you in and that will come alongside you and support you and build you up.
Diana Fryc: Mm-hmm. Love it. Wow. So that’s what’s next for you for BeeFree? What can we expect this next year?
Jennifer Wiese: Well, you mentioned a couple of new products. So we have some new products. We have some new little mini bars. And they’re one. Yes. Based. And what?
Diana Fryc: That’s what I was talking about.
Jennifer Wiese: And then we have a hot cocoa mix. That’s a Quito hot cocoa mix. And we’re getting ready. So I’ll share this with you. No one else knows this.
Diana Fryc: But we won’t tell anybody.
Jennifer Wiese: We’re getting ready to see if we can make it into a frozen cocoa slushie. So, yeah. So I’ve got a small machine, and we’re going to put it to the test next week. I have to let you know how it goes. And. Yes, and if that’s a win, then we have plans to do some farmer’s markets, and Yes. And some other events in our community. And we’re going to do that. And like a suit with a food truck and.
Diana Fryc: A.
Jennifer Wiese: A really great way for us to bring our autism jobs. Yes. To the forefront of our community. And people see what we’re doing. Let people meet our people and, you know, kind of just see it in action and let those floodgates open, and then we’ll be able to have a lot more jobs available for people with autism as well.
Diana Fryc: That’s amazing. Are there any other women leaders or rising stars out there in our industry or not that you would like to elevate or simply admire for the work that they’re doing right now?
Jennifer Wiese: There are so many. Oh, my gosh. There are so many women doing amazing things out there, either in CPG or not. You know, and I’m all for the underdog, too. You know, I’m a real underdog supporter kind of girl. And I love the everyday moms, you know, that are doing the work. And three of them on my team right now are moms. And one of them has young kids that, you know, you know, she puts to school and then, you know, does her work for free. And, you know, they’re just there’s just so many inspirations. And I just love to draw inspiration from women of all ages, of all different parts of our world. And there’s one in particular, too. So there’s a woman that runs an organization called Janus, and it’s directly in our community of Noble, and she is at the head of this organization and we partner with them to develop. They offer developmental services for people with autism and all other kinds of things that require a little something special. And she just is really doing amazing work that changes people’s lives every single day.
Diana Fryc: That’s amazing. What’s the name of the organization?
Jennifer Wiese: It’s Janus J and U.S.. Janus. Yeah. It’s another great Indiana. It’s amazing.
Diana Fryc: Oh, okay. Well, let’s. I’m going to find a moment to pick that up. Well, we have been talking with Jennifer, with the founder and CEO of Be Free, Gluten Free. Jennifer, where can people learn more about you and your company?
Jennifer Wiese: Sure. You can go to our website, which is beefreegf.com You can find us on Instagram and Facebook at beefreegf and BeeFree Gluten Free. You can also find us on LinkedIn and book with me directly. Jennifer, We see we also have Beefree on LinkedIn as well.
Diana Fryc: Awesome. Thank you for your time today. Jennifer, I am so happy that we got this time to connect and I really look forward to seeing you. I suspect you’ll be exposed.
Jennifer Wiese: Yes. Yes, I will.
Diana Fryc: I love you. I will look for you, too. I’m going to thank all of you, listeners, for your time today. If you like 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.