Simple. Clean. Whole. Three words that characterize current healthy lifestyle trends centered around clean eating, non-processed, simple foods and low carb, gluten-free, non-inflammatory diets.
From Whole30 to Paleo, these popular diets encourage a focus on clean eating and healthy meals made from scratch with whole and nutrient-dense foods.
As a result, entrepreneurs like Katlin Smith, founder and CEO of Simple Mills, have created successful niche businesses based on the demand for clean, natural and non-artificial products.
How Simple Mills started
Simple Mills, which Smith launched six years ago, began as a natural baking mix company. It has grown tremendously in those six years and nearly tripled brand growth and revenue in 2018.
Its expanded product line now includes crackers, cookies, and frostings. Its footprint encompasses 16,000 grocery stores, up from 1,600 just 3 years ago.
In an interview on NBC’s Today Show, Smith said her company is the largest natural baking mix brand, second largest natural cracker brand and third largest natural cookie brand in the United States. And, Simple Mills has more than doubled in size every year it’s been in business.
Not bad for someone who didn’t plan on starting her own company. Smith told entrepreneurs at Startup Grind Chicago’s May meeting that although she didn’t envision starting on this path, “I think you kind of end up in the place you’re supposed to end up.”
Employed as a consultant for approximately three years, Smith said she worked long hours and traveled a lot. “I was eating a lot of processed food, and a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have been eating,” she added.
“I really wasn’t feeling my best, and I wasn’t feeling like myself. And I was talking to my friend about it, and he suggested to me that I might clean up my diet, and that might change my health. It really didn’t occur to me at the time that food impacts more than your waistline.”
So, Smith decided to experiment with clean eating alternatives. She replaced the processed food and sugar in her diet with simple, wholesome ingredients.
“[The results] shocked me,” she said. “Everything changed. And I just couldn’t believe that food could impact all these aspects of our mental and physical well-being. And once I realized that I was like, ‘I have to do something about this.’”
Smith decided to start her own food company because that was the best way to change what people eat.
“I think business drives a lot of what happens in the world,” she explained. “It’s much easier to change the world through business than it is through other things. So, I kind of realized that if I could make a company that made a product out of very simple, whole food ingredients, things that were more nutrient dense and worked harder for you, but also kept it really simple and tasted really good, then eating well would be a lot more personal for people. And the more personal for people, the more people are going to do it. That’s the easiest way to change how people are eating.”
Smith used her spare time on the weekends developing recipes, baking and doing product demos at Whole Foods.
Within three months of launching in stores, Simple Mills became the best-selling launch of mixes on Amazon, she said.
When asked what’s next for Simple Mills, Smith said “… we in general really just believe in taking all of these places in the grocery store where you see a lot of processed ingredients, a lot of ingredients you can’t pronounce, and also a lot of empty food. Food that has a lot of carbs and sugar and isn’t working very hard for you. We have a lot of ideas. Certainly, in the categories where we play and in other categories as well. And I just think there’s a lot of places in the grocery store where we can help make things easier and tastier.”