How I Started a Vegan Cookie Company (part 2)
I met so many people who said things like: I needed a ton of money, it’s really hard, or that I’d never succeed in the food business. Wow. Why try? But, no other doors were opening. I tutored kids part-time to pay bills and worked on starting the company. My first priority was to find a bakery that could make my cookies. It took 2 years of asking around to find a bakery that could make the vegan cookies and do a good job at it. I headed down so many dead ends. I was warned not to show my formula to others without having them sign the 5 page Non-Disclosure Agreement someone had drawn up for me. I remember my cousin once saying after two years, “You still haven’t made any money from that?”
What kept me going? Well, I had gone to the library and read books such as “One Smart Cookie” by Mrs. Fields, and “The Inside Scoop” by Ben and Jerry’s former CEO, Fred Lager. I discovered it is a big deal to go from a 1 pound batch in the kitchen made lovingly by hand to 400-800 pound batches made by big, metal equipment. Also, it wasn’t just baking, but, what do we put the cookies in, what are the nutritionals, and a barcode costs how much? You mean if I order 1,000 labels they are $0.35/label but if I order 25,000 they are $0.05 each? That’s a lot of labels and commitment. Choosing a label company, buying boxes, and learning about Quickbooks and pallets also came with the territory. In short, I realized that to make these cookies available to lots of people there was the cookie end, the packaging end, the money end, the quality end, customer service end and the sales end. I had experience only in the cookie end and only in my kitchen. It was intimidating. However, from reading those two books, I learned that some people had been helpful, others had been rude, and others dishonest to Mrs. Fields and Ben and Jerry. I figured if they could weather it, I’d give it a try. One chocolate sales rep refused to send Mrs. Fields some chocolate chip samples because her company was too small. Ben and Jerry constantly had problems packing their ice cream because it was too chunky. Their belief was since their ice cream was so difficult to make, it would give them a competitive edge. So, when some people were rude or dismissive to me, I remembered to persevere and find helpful people. I tried not taking it personally or getting discouraged. When the bakery told me my cookies were the hardest cookies to make because of the chunkiness, we worked together to make the cookie a success.
The first sale I made was 4 cases of cookies to my local health food store. I was so uncomfortable with rejection that any time a store or person didn’t like my cookies, I would feel upset. The first time that little store sent a check for the 4 cases of healthy cookies and then reordered, I had tears in my eyes. After 2 years of effort, it was starting to work. One of the best things about Laura’s Wholesome Junk Food for me is that we make a vegan cookie without any white sugar that is enjoyed by non-vegans and vegans alike. My goal was to provide a vegan, wholesome option to be enjoyed without consumers feeling as if they were sacrificing taste or satisfaction. I wanted our healthy cookies to be staples in every pantry, like Sun-Maid raisins or Morton’s salt; a brand you can trust that feels like home. It has now been almost 10 years since we started Laura’s Wholesome Junk Food. I continue to learn and make mistakes and get better at making cookies. It saddens me to retire flavors that are no longer top sellers. There are lovely emails from customers every week who email to say thank you for making a great tasting cookies that they, their spouse or kids enjoy. I feel a sense of family with customers and appreciate the trust and loyalty they demonstrate by purchasing the product. After running a vegan cookie company for 10 years, I have seen public awareness increase about vegan eating. I feel good about being able to intentionally make a vegan cookie that has mass appeal and is still around. I also feel good about persisting through the many issues that come up and staying a small, private, woman owned business that does our best. The best part about being vegan was not having to deal with egg and dairy issues, and also, enjoying vegan cookie dough freely!
-Laura Trice, M.D.
To enter the contest, please comment on this post (anything!), and I will choose the winner with a random number generator on Friday, April 15th at 10am CST.
The winner will receive an Athlete’s Friend variety pack, which includes one 7oz tub of Mint Double Fudge bite-lettes and one 6.5oz tub of Cole’s Cashew Chocolate Chip bite-lettes, an $11.98 retail value. They are gluten-free, and more information can be found on the website.
**US entries only, please!**