Healthy food can (and should) taste great. That’s the belief that led founders Beth Porter and Jake Kneller to launch Sweet Nothings. A single-serve healthy frozen anytime snack with limited ingredients (all of which are plant-based), Sweet Nothings is an inventive treat that’s unlike any other on the market. Working as bi-coastal business partners — with Porter in San Francisco and Kneller in New York City — they’re connecting consumers across the country with a healthy new way to experience frozen treats.
We caught up with them to learn more about the company, how they’re building their team, and how they’re actively growing their consumer base.
ForceBrands: Walk us through your respective backgrounds. What experiences best prepared you to launch Sweet Nothings?
Beth Porter: I started my first company 15 years ago, which provides services to hundreds of children with autism each week. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to provide health and wellness support to so many people. At the same time, I have always been an enthusiastic home chef. I decided to take the same passion that inspired me to help children with autism and focus on the epidemic of unhealthy eating.
Jake Kneller: I worked in investing after college, but always found our investments in food companies most interesting. I left the world of finance to work at Impossible Foods before returning to Stanford for my MBA. When I started at Impossible, the product was in three restaurants. I worked on our expansion strategy across channels and geographies. I loved the fast-paced, learn-as-you-go culture, and I knew I wanted to start a healthy food company going into business school.
FB: How did you connect with each other and what do your roles look like within the company?
JK: We were introduced through a friend of Beth’s husband, Brook. Beth was working on the initial version of the product, and I was working on some ideas of my own in the plant-based breakfast and snacking space. When I tried the product and realized Beth’s passion and vision, I knew I wanted to work on this full-time. We quickly decided to become partners.
BP: And I loved Jake’s experience consulting for plant-based companies, working with brands like Deliciously Ella, Matthew Kenney Cuisine, and Chef Dan Barber’s Row 7 Seed Company. As in any small, fast-growing company, we both wear multiple hats, but I focus my efforts on things related to product and logistics: improving our product and creating new flavors. Jake focuses more on the day-to-day business, go-to-market strategy, and brand. And now we are lucky to have a small, awesome team working with us to scale the business. It sure beats the days where the two of us produced every cup by hand in our commercial kitchen space.
FB: How did the idea for Sweet Nothings come about?
BP: My interest in health and wellness led me to create Sweet Nothings. I became frustrated with the challenge I faced when looking for healthy, nourishing foods. While the market is ostensibly filled with “healthy foods,” when I read nutrition labels, I found it nearly impossible to find snacks made with whole, unprocessed ingredients, and not filled with added sugars, chemical stabilizers, or otherwise unpronounceable stuff. I concluded that the product I was looking for didn’t exist so I started on a journey to make it for my family. I replaced added sugars with fruit, fats, and oils with nut butters, and gums and stabilizers with superfoods like flax and chia. After testing many, many iterations, I formulated recipes that my kids, my friends, and my husband were begging for every day. I knew at that point that I wanted to bring Sweet Nothings to everyone.
FB: Who is your audience and how are you targeting them?
JK: We have two pretty distinct audiences today. The first are on-the-go millennials who want to eat healthily. These people turn a label over, love trying something new, and are looking for healthy, delicious snacks to power their busy schedules. Similar to me!
BP: Second, we’re targeting health-conscious parents looking for healthier grab-and-go options for themselves and their children. They’re bored of the current snacking options and thoughtful about not feeding their children fake sweeteners, stabilizers, and flavors. Similar to me!
JK: To date, we have been very selective about where we’re available. We wanted to work with partners who would be willing to provide us with a lot of data, and allow us to experiment with messaging, price point, and flavors. We are available at about a dozen corporate cafeterias (including Apple, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, FabFitFun, Twitter, and Levi), and a few select health and wellness-focused retail outlets (Hu Kitchen in New York and Foxtrot in Chicago, for example). Lastly, we deliver directly to your door from our website, Good Eggs (grocery delivery in San Francisco’s Bay Area), and Mylk Guys (a vegan online marketplace). This approach has allowed us to constantly test out what is working with consumers and what is not. If we get the same feedback on a flavor from someone on Good Eggs in San Francisco, at Foxtrot in Dallas, and at Goldman Sachs in New York City, we can feel pretty confident that it is useful feedback.
FB: What differentiates your product from others on the market?
BP: There are so many products that claim to be healthy, but are filled with artificial sweeteners, added sugars, fillers, gums, and preservatives. We asked why do we need to eat all that stuff? Can we find a different way to make whole, organic foods taste great? It wasn’t easy, but the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
JK: We emphasize our product is for all-day snacking. We see customers eat it as a grab-and-go breakfast, a 3 pm pick-me-up, and a guilt-free dessert. All of our flavors come in single-serving cups that are about 100 calories, contain no dairy or added sugar, and come with a spoon in the lid. We consider our competitors to be protein bars, snacks, and yogurt — not ice creams or other frozen desserts.
FB: How have you approached team building and sourcing key talent?
JK: Force! Kidding aside, the whole team at ForceBrands from Josh Wand down has been immensely helpful in brainstorming how to build the team thoughtfully, helping us to write job descriptions, and more. We have been lucky to convince some pretty incredible people to join us on this journey, including some former Impossible Foods colleagues. While prior CPG experience is a plus, above all else, we’re really looking for hustlers. We love people who are ready to get their hands dirty and share our passion that healthy food can (and should) taste great.
FB: What excites you most about the future of the company?
JK: The reception to Sweet Nothings so far has been incredibly energizing. People want to eat healthily, and are realizing simple ingredients can taste delicious. I can’t wait to continue to build these relationships with customers.
BP: I’m excited about getting more products from our test kitchen into the world. We have found creative ways to make delicious products from just fruits, nuts, and seeds, and are eager to bring them to market.
Interested in working at an innovative food company? Explore our FoodForce division.