Bright Greens Shaking Up the Smoothie Industry
Brian Mitchell, Founder and CEO of Bright Greens, worked in the natural food industry for almost a decade. Knowing first hand how great nutrition can lead to a longer and better life, he and his wife drank green smoothies every day, feeling great and living an active lifestyle. However, after the birth of their first child, the smoothies fell by the wayside — who had time for the shopping, cleaning, chopping, blending, and washing up that you have to do for a green smoothie? Brian saw a problem; so after much research and time, he came up with the idea of freezing pre-blended smoothies into small cubes that could be reconstituted with just some water and a shake, bypassing the blender completely. On-demand, great nutrition had finally become a reality.
When Sean Wainwright was introduced to Brian and his product by a mutual friend, he thought it was an awesome idea. So awesome, in fact, that he offered to quit his job and work with him for a few months for free to see if they could get it off the ground. That was 3 years ago and he hasn’t looked back since.
Read more from our interview with Sean below.
Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?
Why did you start Bright Greens?
Too many options in the supermarket promise nutrition and convenience, but fail to deliver. People are bombarded by “easy” options that often contain a ton of sugar, preservatives, fats, or sodium. They trick the busy consumer into making choices that don’t really contribute to their health. Bright Greens was started to give people an honestly healthy option that would fit into their life.
What do you like about food? What drew you to the food industry?
Everyone has to eat to survive, but at its best food can be a way to bring people together. We can contribute to other people’s well being by crafting something with care and serving it to them in an honest way.
What is your biggest business accomplishment to date?
We try to look at every milestone as a huge accomplishment. Selling our first smoothie was a big deal. Selling into our first retail store was a big deal. On a bigger scale we secured investment from Kellogg’s’ 1894 fund, and have gained national distribution in all Whole Foods Markets. We always want to look to the next challenge as the biggest one we’ve ever faced, and every accomplishment as something to celebrate.
What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced to date?
Scaling up from two blenders around a table to a line that can service national retail chains.
What does your typical day look like?
It sounds cliché, but there’s no such thing as a typical day. Running a small business means you wear lots of hats all the time. It might be a full day at a production facility, fixing machinery and testing lines to scale up. It might be meeting with grocery buyers to get on more shelves. It can be preparing for a board meeting, testing new recipes, or holding sampling events. Be flexible and realize that your plans can be disrupted at any time, you just have to keep focused, solve the problem at hand, and keep moving forward.
What is a piece of advice you wish you’d been given before starting?
Nail your cost-of-goods-sold (COGS) down before starting up a new line. Take your time, test, negotiate pricing, and make sure that you don’t get hit with any surprises a month down the line that blow up your budget.
If you had to start all over, would you do it again? What would you do differently?
Absolutely! This is an adventure we’re lucky to be on. If we had to do something differently, we would have hired more early on. We could have avoided lots of pitfalls by getting knowledgeable people in the right positions instead of reinventing the wheel ourselves at every crossroads, and we could have focused on growth instead of putting out fires.
What does success look like to you?
Building a brand that people know they can trust to deliver something honest. We all want to build the next Honest Tea and make the big bucks, but most of us in the food industry have a genuine love for people that comes through in our products. If your customers are happy and your balance sheet is in the black, you’re succeeding.
How did you get into your first store?
Walked in, talked to the buyer, gave her samples. Followed up with emails, then followed up with more walk ins.
What was it like pitching your first buyer? Any tips/advice?
Know your product, know your pricing, know their customer. What gaps are you filling for the buyer? How does your product help the store? How much margin can they expect to make from your product? Answer these questions for them and you’re most of the way there.
How do you encourage repeat sales? Do you demo? Use social media? Events?
Yes, yes, and yes! We’re in the frozen section, which is one of the least trafficked parts of the store, so we have to find creative ways to stay in our customers’ mind.
Where do you want your business to be in three to five years?
Growing, expanding into new flavors and product offerings, and owning the frozen smoothie set.
What is your next big milestone?
We have some internal revenue goals we want to hit before considering another round of investment, but we hope to have the resources in 2019 to mount a really awesome national marketing push!
What was is it like going from a local brand to regional — multi-regional and beyond?
It was tough. We used to be able to make all of our smoothies with a few blenders in a kitchen. As we grew and got bigger orders, we very quickly had to figure out how to make exponentially more at a time, and try to do so in a safe, cost-effective way.
What has been the biggest and most unexpected challenge of scaling a business?
Unless you have a product that everyone makes already (think ice cream, peanut butter, granola), there probably isn’t a co-packer that has everything you need with the push of a button. You’ll need to source equipment, research a ton to figure out what works for your product, test, get financing, negotiate…. When you start a food business you think that you’ll get to an inflection point and move production to a magical co-packer who will allow you to scale production indefinitely, and that’s almost never the case.
How do you engage with consumers outside the DC market?
Demos, social media, PR, and trade shows.
At what point did you consider your business “having made it”?
We don’t! There’s still so much work to be done and we’re always racing towards a cliff while we build the bridge at the same time. As long as you’re still growing and improving, you shouldn’t let yourself think you’ve made it.