How to get your CPG food brand stocked in Wholefoods, with Lil Bucks Founder Emily Griffith

Today’s episode is brought to you by Klaviyo and I’m chatting with Emily Griffith. Founder of Lil Bucks.

After discovering the potential of an underutilized superfood while living in Australia, Chicago-native Emily Griffith founded Lil Bucks, the buckwheat company with a mission to offer innovative buckwheat snack and breakfast products, while promoting a more nutritious diet and soil health in North America.

We’re chatting about how she got into Wholefoods, pitfalls to look out for when you’re in the CPG space and building your network.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

So my name is Emily Griffith, I'm the founder and CEO of Lil Bucks where America's buckwheat brand. Um, so we make different crunchy snacks and breakfast toppings from activated buckwheat seeds.

00:04:24Edit I got this idea which we can get into. I was living in Australia and kind of found widespread use of buckwheat there and yeah, so right now we're still like whole foods in the midwest online amazon, both retail and online are huge parts of the business. Um, and we're expanding quite a bit this year. So lots to share on this journey. Let's just share. It sounds like it and I love that. This starts in Australia obviously being Australian? I love it, Let's go back to that time. What was the light bulb moment or what was the experience that got you thinking about buckwheat of all things? Yeah, So I mean, I'm from Chicago originally, so similar to London. Bit of a joke, There's a Perma cloud over Chicago for summertime shack. That's a good time. But so I always been California dreaming and when I was in college, I studied abroad in Sydney and really felt like I was coming into my own there and I was like, oh my gosh, I need to go back. So I got a job, I got an agency, ad agency to sponsor me in Australia and went back down under, living my best life, like trying to learn to surf.

00:05:35Edit Like loving the food team, obsessed with just like the Aussie brickies and like spreads and like going to the beach and like having every kind of dip and I felt like it was, I was still blown away by it because to you in Australia and you're probably like, yeah, whatever. Like we have great breakfast, like, but to me, it was just so interesting because I felt like healthy food was so integrated with life. Like, it wasn't just for like the health hippies or like the hardcore like L A like weird potion drinking people. Like, it's like everybody's like, yeah, cool, this is beet dip or whatever, like this openness to ingredients first in the US, like we're like a little afraid of you think, especially in the midwest, where like a lot of the trends takes years to get to the midwest and then there's a lot of they're a little scared to try things. Not everyone obviously. Yeah so I'm living in Australia loving all that, loving the food culture, loving my ah zebra keys and I have a life changing a sybil there at this wonderful cafe in bronte by the beach.

00:06:43Edit What's it called? Bare naked bulls. Um They started in Manly and now I think they have like a few locations but highly recommend right shout out to them, going to check them out and I can't wait to go back and be like you guys like it's part of you start this business that is now like all over the U. S. Uh But so they use sprouted buck. We activated buckwheat is what I think Australians and new U. K. People say. But so that you sprouted buckwheat as a green free granola replacement on the bowl. And I just loved the crunch, big crunch fan. So first and foremost blown away by like the texture of it. And then more so after the fact like how I felt after eating it. I just felt amazing verse maybe having like a really sugary granola and a stable with like honey and a lot of you know you kind of get a sugar rush and might feel a little sluggish after and I just felt like really satisfied and energized so so much so I went back to the cafe and I was like what are these weird seeds activated buckley?

00:07:45Edit I start seeing it just used as a hero ingredient in a lot of breakfast products there, cafes, putting it on like avo toast salads, just even in desserts, like there's some dessert, chocolate company is putting it in desserts and I was like this is so interesting, how is this not a thing and I was like maybe it's a thing in new york and L. A just hasn't made its way to the midwest but turns out americans were missing out on this country, super food. So I was like it kind of started as a simple, I was a graphic designer and I was working on an ad agency side marketing experience, I was like how hard could it be, I'll just launched its brand and you know, starts out like buckley oh my God, I love it, I just want to focus more on this kind of light bulb moment because you know I see things all the time that I'm like wow, this is amazing, love it. Cool, high five done, you know what I mean? Like how do you actually think I'm actually going to turn this into a brand, I love it so much that this is a vibe and like how did you go about validating the idea and sort of thinking it through to building it into a business Yeah, it's funny, I could have actually had a lot of people would be like, oh, like did you always think you're going to be an entrepreneur?

00:08:59Edit Like, were you looking for an idea? And this was just like the one and I was like, I wasn't, that wasn't the case, like looking back and looking at my personality and how I work, it makes a lot of sense that I fell into entrepreneurship, but I was by no means looking for an idea. I was not feeling like I fit in with the traditional ad agency model and this was my second agency in Sydney and I was like, I mean I had great friends there and learned a lot, but I just really did not feel like my career, it was driving with me, so I was struggling in that way, but then that's still, you know, I still, there wasn't really that when your jump from, I'm gonna go from ad agencies to like buckwheat business, but it really was just a genuine obsession with the sprouted buckwheat seeds. Like growing up, I always loved healthy replacements to like unhealthy things are, you know, like paleo pancakes or even like a solid gold. I love because you can literally, if you make them right, like it tastes like ice cream. So I just love that. So I think, I mean, I'm not kidding, I didn't just think of a good idea.

00:10:02Edit I started eating sprouted buckley every day, so I was buying it at the shop going through like a pound bag a week. And then once I was kind of just this habit is getting a little expensive. Um I started learning how to make it at home and I was like this isn't that hard, like you just sprouts and seeds and dehydrate them and I didn't have a dehydrator. So I was like rigging our oven to make it work. And then it really started like genuine kitchen exploration. I started making like, oh you can have a flavored granola, like a chocolate granola. Then why can't you have a chocolate buckley seeds? We just started messing around with it. And then at the time just like this isn't that hard and I should try to, you know, I'm a graphic designer, american, make a cool logo, like let's just start sharing this with americans. And I think it also came from a place of just loving my experience in Australia and not really being ready to leave. But when I quit the agency job, I did need to leave because I was on a sponsored Visa. So I was like a way for me to bring some of that inspiration from the Australian food culture back to the U.

00:11:06Edit S. With me. Like via this buck we idea. But yeah, I feel like the idea gods just like bestowed this idea on me and I became obsessed and it really like was never in question whether or not I would do it, it's always worth case it fails but I can't not do this. Like buckwheat will be the thing in the US and either I'm going to be a part of it or I'm gonna attempt to be a part of it. You know totally whether it works or not we'll see you followed the buck wheat crumbs. Yes. You made your own pathway. You you're following the trail literally. What were the people around you saying that we're like trying the buckwheat that you were making at home and you know your friends and your family. What was the vibe? I mean I think people are a little Confused at 1st. They're like I mean like well the Australians are kind of like okay like we have this like you know that's cool. And then my american friends, I've actually moved back to the U.

00:12:09Edit S. And was doing some tests while we're waiting to move in together. I was like living at my boyfriend's place with his two other roommates and I'm like hey guys like doing buckwheat tests in their kitchen. So they probably loved that. But they were there for the ground shattering moments of little bucks creation. But yeah I mean they were like oh this is good but you know I think people didn't really think anything of it. Like they're kind of like Emily's on this book anything but he's on this buck weight thing like whatever you know it's so foreign and not the buck weeks in florida because actually are buckwheat that we get is grown in the US and you know, now it's kind of becoming more widely understood partially thanks to us I think. But you know, there's kind of like Emily's moved back from Australia, she's going down this buckwheat rather whole, who knows what it is? Maybe it's gonna be a cute like farmers market granola brand, which is great, but I don't think they really saw what I was seeing in my mind, I was like, this is gonna be in every pantry in America, like got it, got it, you know, it's a while and I couldn't have to like learn how to talk about the products and explain it properly.

00:13:14Edit So like when I started sharing, you know, my early real bucks recipes, I'd be like, hey, do you want to try my green free green free high protein, high fiber, like super food, whatever. And people like that sounds gross because how concerned to be that healthy, then it doesn't taste good. So then when I started leading with like, oh try this crunchy delicious, then you can put in your yogurt smoothies. People like, okay, and then you're like, oh also it's really healthy so I'm just gonna have to learn how to talk about it as well, had a lot to learn, especially Being a new entrepreneur, I was 25 I think when I moved back to the US. So new to the industry new to trying to start a random food business that seemed random at the time. So really interesting insight on the, you know, the importance of language when you're trying to sell the product and tapping into consumer behavior and what consumers actually want and what they're, you know, struggles and pain points are versus what you think they want and what you think you should be saying, oh that's a classic and like such a good lesson for.

00:14:17Edit I mean obviously in consumer packaged goods because you're literally asking someone to basically not by something else and instead buy your product so that communication and that messaging but in anything obviously is so important. I think copyrighting like I've taken some courses on like I've just read building a story brand and I think whether it's service based or product based business. Yeah like messaging it and putting it away to make it something people actually want rather than forcing something on them because I'm like trust me, like it's so TC and so good for you. You're gonna feel amazing like you need to like speak to them in their language and like pull out like they want to try it. But I even use like trends dot google dot com to look up like you can look up different even like for flavor research, I'll look up like what people the U. S. Are more interested in right now. And even early on I was calling you know we're like little buck's activated buckwheat but that's actually turns out is more of an activated is a more common term in Australia and the UK and in the US we say sprouted but it kind of means the same thing.

00:15:28Edit So early on I did a switch, it was very early so it wasn't a big deal but hadn't ordered too many activated buckwheat stickers yet. But yeah it was like I've been just doing that simple research. I was like oh people are searching for this way more. Yeah that's super fascinating. Yeah crazy. So I want to go back a little bit to actually how you started the business, what were the key steps to getting this off the ground in terms of manufacturing the product and getting that product or getting your first order or whether you made it at home and how you sort of started putting that out there into the world. Yeah so I think one of the biggest things for me, I moved back to the U. S. And started just playing around the recipes. Of course I already have the brand ready because as a designer and I'm very brand forward and had a lot again like you said to do in the background of like manufacturing, getting packaging, like how do we finance this all these things and I'm very much a learning by doing person and did not have startup experience, so from the perspective of like, okay, we have an idea in our business plan and now we're going to go raise $1 million dollars to like build out a team and like do that, like, I did not know anything about that world, and I'm very much a learning by doing person, so I was like, I'll just, I freelanced, I had my own marketing consultancy when I moved back to the US, I'd put the job in Australia, so I was using and that was going very, very well and I was using that money to bootstrap little box, so using any profits from that, besides paying my rent to that, and just, you know, by mass buckwheat by the packaging and all that.

00:17:08Edit So from that perspective, that's the route, I went with financing, but then obviously there was a ton to learn on the manufacturing side, and I think the best thing for me was meeting on other entrepreneurs in this space, so you just learn absurd amounts from people in your industry, and especially you're going into something, I mean, I'm sure for someone with you, like, you know so much about podcasting that would just like, you could have a 10 minute conversation with someone who's just trying to learn about it and blow their minds and like that's me with the food industry now, so I went to a panel where there were like four people, major Chicago food entrepreneurs that have done really well and so obviously to talk to them after and got introduced to an organization in Chicago called the hatchery which is a non profit for that helps food businesses in Chicago grow. So basically they're just trying to provide resources, like they literally had a starting a food business one on one class and I was like oh my gosh this is the perfect class for me.

00:18:10Edit And then you know started getting into their courses like getting the proper licensing to produce in a commercial kitchen because we didn't start manufacturing. Like I started making the product which is a whole other thing because it's very time consuming to be freelancing full time and trying to sell the little box and make the little bucks at night was really intense. But yeah I just kept like every step of the way like okay now I need to learn what the requirements are for packaging, how do I get a barcode? You know if they I didn't have a resource for it, they would introduce me to someone who did. So it's really just networking and talking to as many entrepreneurs and industry folks as I can. Like in Chicago there's a lot of big food businesses as well, so getting connected to like I think Bell brands, their U. S. Headquarters in Chicago. So even just I worked with a packaging specialist for like six months who she was just doing it for fun but we