I stumbled upon a magical product hiding in my Sun Basket order. This thing called “granola butter” seemed like a quirky version of almond butter, but that was before I tasted it. Little did I know that this complimentary gift will soon become my latest obsession. I found myself paying unplanned visits to my kitchen just to stuff a spoonful of granola butter in my mouth. 5 minutes later, I’ve consumed half the jar without even realizing it. It was so good, I wanted… no, needed to know more about this brand and company. That is how I got a hold of Ali Bonar, the creator of the world’s first spreadable granola. She joins Her Life By Design to chat all about creating the world’s first granola butter and scaling an e-commerce biz.
Creating the World’s First Granola Butter and Scaling an E-Commerce Biz
Aside from “which flavor is your favorite” (Ali’s is vanilla), I had to ask how she came up with the idea to create granola butter. “The genesis of our company was so random,” Ali recalls. For many years in her young adult life, Ali struggled with an eating disorder. However, she never felt like she fit into the stereotypical category that you’d associate with eating disorders. She never looked frail or malnourished, and she was at a “normal weight” for her build. On top of that, she hid her eating disorder very well by remaining social and going to parties. After years, she came to the realization that obsessing over food and not being able to focus on conversations was allowing life to pass her by.
Bringing Her Love and Joy Back Into Food
Ali was tired of bingeing, eating out of the trash, and a slew of other destructive behaviors that came with eating disorders. “It really came back to this feeling of just me not being worthy, me not being lovable, thinking that changing the way my body looks would result in people liking me,” Ali confesses.
That was when she started her journey to healing her body image. Before she saw a therapist, Ali started an Instagram account in conjunction with her recovery. She would follow fitspo and wellness blogs, but eventually, her interaction on Instagram grew into so much more.
“Instagram was like an art medium, and I started creating these really insane over-the-top, drippy smoothies with lots of edible flowers.”
Instagram reintroduced Ali’s love and joy for food that eating disorders stole from her. Along her road to recovery, Ali found herself having fun in the kitchen again, experimenting with recipes and getting her hands dirty.
Slow and Steady Beginnings
Ali started reintroducing certain foods back into her diet during her recovery. It was then that she found out how hard nuts were on her gut. Her nutritionist recommended that she hold off on nut butters as she explored other alternatives. This led her and her boyfriend down a rabbit hole of experimentation in the kitchen. She was on a mission to create a nut butter alternative that was nut-free and tastes good.
“We would get that Trader Joe’s vanilla almond granola, and we would just dump bags into my VitaMix with some coconut oil.” She recalls.
However, her experiments were not an instant hit. She remembers friends and family testing the product out through pained smiles and forced enthusiasm. But Ali didn’t give up. It wasn’t until she got in contact with a chef in Paris, who happened to be a friend of her boyfriend’s, that granola butter was brought to a sellable place.
Initially, Ali launched her product to her Instagram audience of 15k. Unlike most of the overnight success stories you hear, Kween Granola Butter’s growth was slow and steady.
“I wouldn’t say it went viral or anything. And I think that’s always been the case with us is like slow and steady growth. It’s obviously the least sexy thing ever, but a lot of people just hear about these overnight successes. And oftentimes they’re just so many years in the making.”
Fast forward to today and Ali is now operating a 12,000 square foot facility that produces her one-of-a-kind granola butter.
Scaling an E-Commerce Biz
Identifying your target audience and creating a great product is just the tip of the iceberg. So what happens next? This is especially tricky for physical products as there are two common routes. The first would be to sell directly to consumers through your website. The second, get your product into retail locations. Ali decided to play to her strengths in the very beginning. She knew her way around social media marketing so that’s where she started.
“We really started small and I reached out to my girlfriend’s in the influencer space that also had food Instagrams.” This resulted in a very natural and organic growth method. Eventually, Ali’s scrappy and resourceful beginnings would prove to be effective, landing her a deal with Whole Foods.
Ali sought this opportunity by reaching out to a buyer as she sifted through emails on LinkedIn. She sent several pitches out before she ever got a response. “What I learned through that experience was grocery buyers are very busy. So if you’re in the food industry, keep following up.” Ali advises that unless you get a hard no, just keep following up.
The proof is in the pudding as Ali eventually sent this buyer some samples and went through another long period without hearing back. But later down the line, the buyer reached out again informing Ali that they wanted to bring Kween Granola Butter into 50 different Whole Foods locations.
3 Tangible Tips for Growing an E-Commerce Biz
“If you’re just starting, you need to back up and take the time to identify your why.” Ali shares. Entrepreneurship is over-sexualized and glamorized in this day and age. Look up #entrepreneur on Instagram and your feed will be flooded with Ferraris and yachts. If you want to start and grow an e-commerce, or any type of business, you need to be rooted in your why.
The truth is entrepreneurship is a tough and long game. And the dubious assumption of glitz and glamor is not enough to pull you through the entrepreneurial grind. Being firmly rooted in why will keep you determined and focused.
Next, Ali suggests diving into the story behind your why. “Why did you create your product? What inspired it? What was the founding story?” Ali emphasizes that as humans, it is in our DNA to love stories. And your story should show up in your marketing efforts. She reminds new entrepreneurs that you don’t need to hire a publicist to tell your story. Instead, turn to social media to tell your story yourself.
“We treat our business account on Instagram, as an influencer platform. You see my face almost every day, you see our employees, we’re showing you the behind-the-scenes, we’re showing you what we’re eating for lunch, and it’s not just like, 20% off Memorial Day Sale. Yes, we push that when it’s necessary. But it’s rare.”
Finally, Ali reminds you to find your support system and focus on your mental health outside of business. Admittedly, Ali neglected her mental health for the first two years of her business. Not only did it take a toll on her personal well-being, but it also affected her friendships. “there’s a time and a place to grind and really push yourself. But know what your boundaries are and have people around you that can help you and hold you accountable.”
Turning Struggles Into Successes
One thing that Ali has is her ability to show up authentically as herself. She shows up unfiltered and she uses her struggles to create a better solution. Ali’s willingness to open up about her struggles with body image and eating disorders ultimately led her to create something valuable. But even so, she pushed her way to the top and kept on going, especially when things weren’t easy. Ali’s entrepreneurship journey is more accurate than the falsely portrayed magnificence of what you see online. Tune in to this episode, hear her story, and find strength in your struggles. You never know what problem you might solve for someone someday.
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Ali’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alibonar/
Kween Granola Butter: https://kween.co/
Ali’s podcast: https://kween.co/pages/kweencast