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January 7, 2015

Q&A: Adrian Reif, Chief Goodness Warrior, Maker of Yumbutter™ // Mouth Rockin’, World Changing Nut Butters

Q: How did you and Matt D'Amour come up with the idea for the Yumbutter product?

A: Well, first of all, we call our offerings “potions,” not products. Our potions are so much more than something we sell. And they also contain love. Seriously, look at the ingredient list.

Yumbutter has been inspired by a combined 15+ years of passion for food and wellness. Matt and I have been crafting our own homemade nut butters for years, always experimenting to make them tastier and more nutritious. One inspiration in particular -- the impetus for our Spicy Thai peanut butter -- took place at an altitude of 15,000 feet in the Nepal Himalaya, when I was trekking in 2009. Headed toward Mt. Everest Base Camp over 3 weeks, one lunch stop manifested the sprinkling of sichuan spices on some crappy peanut butter and crackers I had packed. But the combo was amazing. I attribute it to oxygen deprivation. Today, our Spicy Thai potion is a fan favorite and has even been enjoyed by the likes of Martha Stewart, whom we met in 2013 at her American Made Awards.

With all of this inspiration for outta-this-world food, Matt and I wanted to build it on a conscious business platform, using it to improve people’s lives. So, we added ethical sourcing and the BuyOne:FeedOne model -- for every jar or pouch of Yumbutter you buy, you help feed a child with malnutrition. Over the years, Matt and I have traveled quite a bit, getting to see parts of the world where a little amount of resources could go a long way. I’ve spent some time in Guatemala and built a relationship with an amazing non-profit working to alleviate malnutrition in the second most malnourished country in our hemisphere.

All of this combined into the inspiration for Yumbutter.

Q: How did you first launch the product?

A: Yumbutter launched out of my sister’s kitchen, where I began dialing in recipes in early 2010 in a small food processor. From there, I wanted to see if people would actually pay for such things like Spicy Thai and Cranberry & Coconut peanut butters. So, I bought a few more food processors, a bulk bag of peanuts, and got a food processing license from the state through Bloom Bake Shop in Middleton, where Annemarie was so kind to rent me her kitchen one day per week. From here, I signed up for the Hilldale Farmer’s market, bought a tent, and began selling Yumbutter. By the end of the first summer, people were coming back for more and it gave me the confidence to take the next step.

Q: What is a Certified B Corporation and how has the designation helped your business?

A: Certified B Corporations use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. At Yumbutter, we realize how critical this period is in Earth’s  history, where humans have never been unhealthier or unhappier and the Earth has never been so depleted.  We feel a responsibility to serve others with a responsibly run company that makes super clean & nutritious food, sourced ethically, made responsibly, and gives back to those with the least.

B Corporation Certification is our way of proving we walk the talk -- like organic is to food. It’s a third-party verification for transparency. It’s also our connection to a community of over 1,000 other B Corporations (only three in Wisconsin though) like Patagonia, Etsy, Seventh Generation, and more, who are building this movement collaboratively. We’re all working together to build a better world.

Q: Were there particular resources or assets in the Madison Region that helped the business get started here?  Who are your top partners in Wisconsin?

A: Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen helped Matt and I step out of filling every jar by hand so that our business could grow. We gave them our equipment and they have now become a key partner in churning our potions. Commonwealth Development also worked with us before this to provide space to make Yumbutter after moving out of Bloom Bake Shop. Sarah Hole and her team were amazing to work with and very patient.

The Willy St. Co-op and Whole Foods Market both were early adopters to bring Yumbutter into their stores and be patient with us in the process. Several people at both stores have been big Yumbutter fans and mentors the whole time and really allowed us to start small and learn before expanding regionally, then nationally.

A gentleman named Ben Birkett, who worked for over 20 years in the natural food industry, found us early on and mentored us in the early stages and really changed our understanding of the industry and what it takes to actually make it. After working with Ben, we met Tera Johnson of teraswhey, who has coached into the next level.

And finally, we’ve picked the brains of almost every other food entrepreneur in Madison -- Quince and Apple, RP’s Pasta, Black Earth/Conscious Carnivore, Underground, and the list goes on -- to learn about what they've been through. This helped us make better decisions. We couldn't be more grateful for the collaborative atmosphere they've created.

Q: The Madison Region gets a lot of attention for its tech start-up scene, but clearly companies like yours in the food + beverage industry are prevalent as well. What makes the Madison Region an advantageous location for food + beverage start-ups? What advice might you have for other local food entrepreneurs?

A: The key driver for food + beverage is that people in this region care so much about food and wellness. It’s a small market, but the people love their local companies and we wouldn’t have been able to make it without caring customers here in Madison, and other parts of the state as we grew.

The other entrepreneurs here also set the region apart. We’re not competing; we’re all working together.

Other than that, Madison actually lacks the infrastructure for food + beverage compared to Boulder, SoCal, Bay Area, and Portland/Seattle. Probably Austin now, too. There aren’t many investors with experience and the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen (and now the FEED Kitchens) are the only manufacturing partnerships around, making it hard for young startups to get going. I’m really surprised this is the case. Fortunately, there are lots of people working hard on this (like MadREP, Tera Johnson, and more). I hope to see more investment and more curriculum around starting a food business in the coming years in the Madison Region.

It’s so inspiring to see other food entrepreneurs putting in the effort to get their ideas going. It’s so challenging these days. It takes money, know-how, a little bit of special gift, knowing the right people (or at least not being afraid to network), and a truckload of patience. In coaching other entrepreneurs over the years, the key areas I point to are: 1) Make sure you’re really freakin’ passionate about this whole business thing, not simply that you have Grandma’s recipe that is really good. Those days of entrepreneurship are over. 2) Your idea must add significant value (i.e. well-being, in my opinion) to customers and the world at large to make it in the marketplace. And it’s about more than just the making of the food. 3) Find really smart people and get them on your team, as key employees, advisors, investors, etc. 4) Get out there and do it! Get something produced and see if people will pay for it -- and come back. Do this with as little upfront costs as possible.

Q: I understand that you participated in the Ultimate Frisbee Championships in Toronto.  How do you go about balancing work and pleasure?

A: The work/life balance is crucial for entrepreneurs for so many reasons, so we really try to make it a priority.

I played with the Madison Radicals (everyone should go see a game at Breese Steven’s Field)  the past two years and both years we made it to the AUDL (American Ultimate Disc League) Finals. The 2014 finals were in Toronto. Ultimate frisbee has become my physical outlet where I’m 100% focused on something other than business decisions and to-do’s, so it’s an important part of my life. I also do yoga and started mountain biking this past year.

In college, I played football, which took up 70-80 hours of my time per week during the season and 20-30 hours in the off-season, plus I worked at the campus library and as a TA, and found time to take 15-18 hours every semester.

Now, the work is far more demanding, so I’ve had to scale back some of the play and try to find space for down time. It’s still challenging, to be honest. The past year was particularly hard mentally, so I’ve had to evolve my schedule a bit to get back to balance. I also recommend meditation for entrepreneurs. It’s been part of my life since 2009 (not always so consistent), and I’ve come to believe it’s an amazing tool (not only for entrepreneurs) to give the mind some space and train it to be more equanimous, which leads to making better decisions and living more skillfully and deliberately, and ultimately more moment-to-moment happiness. I don’t think Yumbutter would be here without it.