Hi, Tyler! It’s great to have the opportunity to speak to you today. Thank you for joining us. We’re excited to learn more about you and your company, Cool Beans. Let’s jump in with the basics. How did you get into the food industry?
Sure! I spent about twenty years working in private equity investing for companies across a wide range of industries. However, more than half of that time was spent in the food and agriculture sector. As I began to learn more about the sustainable side of the food and agriculture sector, I started to move more in that direction. I saw big issues in the industry itself, so I began to focus my investments—from a private equity and an angel funding standpoint—on things like plant-based foods, indoor agriculture and upcycling ingredients to reduce food waste. In my view, these were the things that were going to really move the ball forward. After all, somewhere between 35% and 40% of all greenhouse gases are caused by food production. There are ways to do it much more sustainably, and that’s really where I started to focus.
It sounds like you had a good understanding of the space itself from years of working in the industry and your entrepreneurial eyes potted some problems you could solve. What made you take the leap from investing in companies to actually starting a company of your own?
In 2017, I went vegan as a result of what I was learning about the climate impact of animal agriculture. As I did that, I was also starting to learn about the health benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet. But I became very frustrated when I went into the supermarket and there weren’t any options for convenient, whole-food, plant-based meals in the frozen foods aisle. What I found was mostly just vegan versions of junk food. That experience sparked the idea for my company, Cool Beans. We basically make plant-based products from whole-food ingredients that are minimally processed and sold in the frozen foods aisle of supermarkets. We started with burritos, and we’re planning to do a whole range of products.
In addition to Cool Beans, I continue to be an angel investor in sustainable food and agriculture companies.
What a great origin story! Often, the most successful businesses arise from an entrepreneur’s genuine need and passion for the product they create. It seems like that’s the case here, too! You mention investing in other sustainable food and agriculture businesses. How many do you have so far, or how many have you funded?
So far, Beyond Impact Fund II has funded one company, Nowadays nuggets, which is a really cool, very clean, plant-based nugget company in the US. The product is basically seven ingredients, no saturated fat, and it’s high in fibre and protein, which is very different to everything else on the market. That’s very exciting. We’re also currently in the process of funding two additional ones. We’ve completed our due diligence, and I’m just going through the internal process to get those funded.
That must be very exciting. So often, budding entrepreneurs are given the advice to focus on the WHY that is driving their idea forward. What’s your WHY behind Cool Beans? What was the core motivation for starting this company?
That’s a great question. When I went vegan back in 2017 and really started to shift my investment focus, it really was a cathartic event. Although my family aren’t completely vegan, many of them saw the health and climate benefits and made changes to their own diets, too. They’re very happy to eat my vegan cooking at home! Climate is such a huge issue of our time. When I have grandkids in the future, I really don’t want them asking why I didn’t do anything about it. I wanted to do something to try to save the future. Because I believe the planet is going to be fine. It will survive without us. It’s just us humans who won’t be okay. If we want to make this a liveable place for future generations, we really need to change a lot of things. A lot of people, in tackling this issue, are focused on energy, but the change needs to be made across the board, which means in our food production industries, too. That’s what drives and motivates me with Cool Beans.
You mentioned that Cool Beans was sparked by solving your own need for healthy, convenient, sustainable vegan food. Beyond yourself, who are Cool Beans’ products targeted at? Is it just for people who are vegan?
Good question! Yes, while Cool Beans did stem from my own frustration about the lack of products in supermarkets, the food we make is not just for vegans. Ultimately, we’re creating these products for consumers—all consumers. They’re not just for plant-based eaters, but also for flexitarians, people who want to have an impact on the climate, people who want to eat clean and eat better, simpler food. That’s really the movement that we’re trying to start.
In fact, I gave a talk just last week about how the future of plant-based food is clean-label products. In it, I highlighted five food companies that I’m calling the “Fab Five”, that all produce frozen-food products with zero saturated fat. They’re all very minimally processed or have simple ingredients, so they’re pretty clean. And then there are another six honourable mentions that were a lot better than the old stuff. The food and agriculture industry is moving in the right direction, and it’s very exciting to see more and more options available on supermarket shelves.
As entrepreneurs—and simply as humans trying to affect change—it’s essential to think outside the box or take a different approach to things. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve taken a different direction or path in life, something away from the norm?
There has been several of those situations in my life. Certainly, going vegan was a huge change, and I would never go back. It’s been such a great experience from a health standpoint and in terms of how I feel about what I’m contributing to the world and doing for the environment. I’ve also met some incredible people who are so passionate and knowledgeable about climate change, the environment and animal welfare. It’s great to be part of that and to be around like-minded people who are trying to make a difference. That was a step away from the norm for me, and it’s been great!
You mentioned your extensive experience working with food and agriculture businesses from an investment standpoint. How much did that contribute to your confidence when it came to starting your own food company?
I was very lucky to have been immersed in the branded food industry for over a decade of my twenty-year career. In fact, way back in 1997, I was involved with Boca Burger and watched that company grow firsthand. I was also involved with Simple Mills. I’ve seen some really good companies grow, but I’ve also seen a lot of failures, and it’s those failures that you really learn from. When I started Cool Beans with my business partner, Mike Brennan, who used to run Peapod, which is a big grocery home delivery company here in the US, we laid out the three or four biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) space and agreed not to repeat those with our company.
It included things like expanding too quickly in conventional markets (supermarkets and shops), burning through money too quickly, etc. The things that can kill an otherwise great company quickly. I’ve had the benefit of seeing people both succeed and fail, so we tried to learn from those who had gone before us.
That’s a really clever strategy. Mistakes are expensive, so it’s always an advantage to learn from those made by others instead. In business, things never go completely the way we hope. With Cool Beans, were there times when you took a different direction than originally planned?
Yes, absolutely! We launched just before the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that shortly after, there was a period of uncertainty and people were flocking to the supermarkets for food. In general, retailers were focused on just keeping their shelves stocked with the essentials. They didn’t want or need to try out new products or entice customers into stores with novel goods. Essentially, it meant our plan to stay regional at first (in the Midwest and LA markets) was put on hold. We had no choice but to pivot and explore other options, such as chains like Sprouts.
This meant we also had to change our marketing strategy. The typical CPG marketing strategy early on is start in a region and do a lot of demoing, go to a lot of Vegfests, then go to stores to get the product in people’s mouths. We quickly pivoted to digital demoing and partnered with a company called Social Nature that sends out coupons to a cohort of people who have opted into trying products within their diet category, whether they’re keto or vegan or whatever. This allowed us to get the product into people’s mouths despite the pandemic. We also had to be more impactful on social media and try to do giveaways and sampling that way. Ultimately, we just had to look for very different and creative ways to build brand awareness because the pandemic changed everything.
You mentioned previously that you actively identified and tried to avoid the biggest failures others had made in your field. How did that work out for you? Did you still experience some failures with Cool Beans, and would you mind sharing those with us?
Yeah, for sure! There are things we did that haven’t worked. We’re in about 1,500 stores, including Sprouts chains, which is about 360 stores. Although we’re selling well across the board, there are some chains that aren’t doing well. A natural food product is not going to be a fit for every store’s demographic or price point, which is fine. I think we’ve only been dropped by one retailer, which was called Foxtrot. It was a convenience-oriented market, which means it probably wasn’t the best fit for our product anyway. Typically, people who are awake and hungry at 1 am want foods like pizza or ice cream. Nobody is having late-night cravings for premium, healthy, whole-food vegan options and asking for it to be delivered to their house at that hour. It just wasn’t a fit, so we’re no longer serving that market. From that experience, we learned that we really needed to hone in on stores that have a lot of people who are focused on wellness and natural food and are willing to pay a premium, because we’re a small company, which means we’re going to be priced at the high end of the range.
Entrepreneurs are sometimes too quick to declare defeat when things don’t immediately click. You didn’t. You learned and adapted—and it seems to have paid off! When reflecting on the process of getting a business off the ground, many entrepreneurs report experiencing an “a-ha!” moment. A moment when something just makes sense or clicks into place. Have you ever had that experience?
Yes—lots of them! I think how we marketed the product was really interesting. We took both an environmentally focused and health-focused approach, which is unique. The health side of it was around whole-food ingredients that were minimally processed. That was our message. Our products just have beans, veggies, whole grains and spices. But we also wanted to include a diversity of plants in order to foster regenerative agriculture, which is when 13 to 15 different crops are planted. This approach supports biodiversity in the agricultural system, which was part of our environmental focus.
After we launched, a book was published called Fibre Fueled by Dr Will Bulsiewicz. In it, he talked about how it’s not enough to be 100% plant-based. It’s important to also eat around 30 different plants a week because each one has a different type of fibre that feeds your gut bacteria, which is what controls your immunity, your mental health, and what foods you crave. We realised that the biodiversity aspect of our approach meant we already had 27 different plants in our first five flavours of wraps, so we were almost there! That was a real “a-ha!” moment for us. It has become a key feature of how we now market our products.
Wow! Thirty different plants seems like a lot to get through in a week! Are spices included in that?
Yes, they are. It’s actually not as difficult as it sounds. I kept a spreadsheet for a while, and it turned out I was getting close to 50. For example, you might eat blueberries and walnuts for breakfast and a salad or soup with five or six different plants for lunch. Remember, each different type of lettuce counts. When you add spices and flavourings, it adds up very quickly. And if you’re 100% plant-based, you’re probably already reaching this number without realising it.
That’s amazing. I’ll definitely be looking at my food in a different way now! You explained that going vegan was a big turning point in your life and career. For those still eating the standard, traditional diet, that can be viewed as a big sacrifice. What other kinds of sacrifices did you have to make to get to where you are today?
Very good question! Well, when going down this road of entrepreneurship, you certainly take a big hit in income. That’s something you’ve got to be financially able to handle. Other than that, I’m not sure that there are a lot of other sacrifices that were made. I’m lucky in that my family is very supportive of my passion for what I’m doing, and I get to work from home and spend a lot of time with them, which is important to me.
It’s essential to have a work-life balance. It doesn’t matter how successful your company is, if you don’t have that balance, you’re probably going to go down a dark trail.
We couldn’t agree more! So many entrepreneurs burn themselves out before their business has a chance to reach its full potential. And so much potential for change goes to waste that way.
As a planet and as a people, we’re currently undergoing a period of great change. You’ve touched on the idea of building a better world for future generations. With that in mind, we’d love to know how you personally envision the future?
Well, I think climate change is happening. And I don’t know that we’re going to be able to completely stop it. While I do believe we’re going to make some great strides, sea-level rise seems to be baked in at this point, at least for the next couple of hundred years. I think we’re going to see a mass migration away from the coasts and away from places that are no longer able to grow food. I’ve heard some numbers that are horrifying—as many as five million people are going to have to move. It’s very sad.
At the same time, there are some really encouraging signs emerging. There’s so much innovation going on, especially on the food side, to bring agriculture indoors to controlled environments. And then you’ve got all these really interesting plant-based and mushroom-based innovations that are creating tasty, nutritious food without livestock and animal agriculture.
One of the most encouraging things I’ve heard is that around 3% of the total population is now vegan. Millennials are somewhere closer to 6%. And I just read a study three weeks ago that reported that Gen Z is eating vegetarian and vegan at a 23% rate, which is fricking crazy!
That’s amazing! Do you think we could one day have a world where 30% or more of the population are vegan?
Absolutely! I mean, there’s the evidence right there, because that generation is going to be the future. A lot of the shift we’re seeing is about education in terms of the climate impacts of animal agriculture, but it’s also hugely influenced by price parity and the options available on the shelves. Nowadays nuggets is a great example of this. Those things taste really good! I did a taste test with my family and everyone loved them. They thought they tasted like real chicken nuggets. Now, let’s say you’re a mother and you’ve got the option of a chicken nugget versus a Nowadays nugget. The Nowadays nuggets taste the same, the kids will eat them and love them, they’re much cleaner and healthier, and they’re close in price to the traditional chicken nugget. In that case, how could you ever go back to feeding them traditional nuggets laden with saturated fat and chemicals, not to mention all of the death and destruction involved in their production? So, I think having more options on shelves and getting closer to price parity are going to change a lot of people’s shopping and eating behaviours in the future.
That’s a very interesting perspective… and one that’s very encouraging. Thank you for sharing! Is there a book you think everyone should read?
That’s a difficult one. I like a lot of books! One of the best books I’ve read recently—and it’s one I think everybody should read—is called Generation We: the Power and Promise of Generation Z by Annemarie Hayek. I read it because I wanted to understand my Gen-Z daughters. It talks about Generation Z and how they are incredibly different to any other generation that has come before them. It’s the way they think about gender, the way they think about racial equality, the way they think about climate, the way they think about communication. For entrepreneurs, this is so important, because in just five to seven years, they’re going to represent 25% of the world’s buying power, so you better understand how they think! It’s a really exciting generation. I don’t want to put the burden on them to change the world, but they really are very unique. And so, I’m excited!
Awesome book tip! Speaking of future generations—how would you like them to look back on your life and all you have achieved, what do you hope they’ll take away from your story?
Well, I would want to be remembered by my family and by others as somebody who was really trying to make a difference when it comes to climate change—somebody who was really helping. I’m always trying to encourage young entrepreneurs and other folks on their journey as well, whether it’s helping them to network with other people, advising them on different aspects of their business, or helping them to find something they need. I’m always direct and honest with people if they ask my advice and I see a problem with something they’re doing, even though it’s really uncomfortable and painful to hear things like that sometimes. I don’t want anyone to waste three, four or five years going down the wrong path with something that could be easily rectified. If I can help save them that time, I absolutely will. In that way, I hope I’m remembered for being helpful and generous with my knowledge and experience.
Well, you’ve certainly demonstrated those traits with all you’ve shared in this interview. You mentioned the next generation of entrepreneurs. We’d like to give you a chance to speak directly to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, young or old, who are just starting out and are possibly shaping the future through their businesses. What advice do you have for them?
Well, first of all, I would definitely advise anybody who has the bug to be an entrepreneur to just go for it. And the younger you do it, the better. It’s often easier to get started before you have a family and other commitments that make it difficult. It’s very rewarding. It’s hard, but you shouldn’t be afraid to fail. I tried to be an entrepreneur a couple of times before, and even as an investor, I would almost rather invest in somebody who has failed before. It means they’ve tried and learned. Failing at something should be more of a badge of honour than a negative. If you have an idea, just get out there, do your research and test it with people. Ask them to be brutally honest. People close to you, in particular, can tend to go easy on you because they want to be supportive and kind, but it’s actually the worst thing they can do. It might be uncomfortable, but you want them to be brutally honest with you.
That’s some really great advice, Tyler! Like all good things, our conversation must come to an end. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to speak to you today. We’ve got some final questions for you, starting with: If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?
Probably that everybody needs to get serious about the climate crisis. Again, I’m saying this for the sake of humans, not the planet. In order for us to be able to grow enough food and to have places to live comfortably and have enough water, we have to fix this climate situation. We can’t let it continue to spin out of control. That means everybody has got to make an effort, and it’s got to be a big effort. Generally, I think the world is getting that message. I definitely think it has significantly improved over the last four or five years, but there are still a lot of people out there who understand it but are not doing anything—and we all need to get on board together to turn this ship around.
Frankly, one of the simplest things you can do is eat a plant-based diet or go mostly plant-based. An other is to dramatically cut back on your household’s food waste. Don’t overbuy. You can compost any of your post-consumer food waste so that it becomes fertiliser, and you can buy upcycled products so less is being tossed into landfills. I think those are two really big ones. Another (possibly less popular) option is having fewer children. As a society, reducing the population is one of the biggest impacts we can have.
A huge thank you to our wonderful guest Tyler Mayoras for participating in this interview and sharing his wealth of knowledge! If you would like to find out more about Tyler and the amazing work he is doing at Cool Beans (or if you want to try a delicious Cool Beans wrap for yourself), you can find him at: www.eatcoolbeans.com. You can also follow their crowdfunding raise at Cool Beans on Republic. You can learn more about Beyond Impact Fund II on their website.
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