Claire Herminjard, Mindful Meats, Woman Entrepreneur
I started investing in the food space six years ago. We all know how the food space has not only exploded but has changed dramatically since then. My investments cover one end to the other although certainly some areas I have opted against investing because I am not so sure I believe in their scaleability. As a whole I am interested in the space and the changes that will take place over the next decade and how each piece connects with the other. I continue to meet and talk to "food entrepreneurs" and that label covers the gamut. When I was introduced to Claire I was happy to hear about what she is doing. After we spoke I became more fascinated. Mindful Meats brings non-GMO, grass-fed organic meat to market and this is something that more consumers want access to.
Claire grew up in North Carolina. Her father is Swiss and her mother is American. Her father picked her Mom up hitchhiking in Switzerland, they spent the next decade together in Europe. When Claire was two her parents divorced and her Mom returned, with Claire in tow, to the states. Her Mother taught french in the public school system eventually working with academically privileged kids in under-served communities. Now she teaches international baccalaureate french and english. Her father is an electrical engineer. Her step-father has done editing for the audubon society, written books on bird watching and works in the family publishing business to fund his real love, bird-watching.
Claire traveled mostly around North Carolina exploring her own backyard as a kid but did take one journey out to Carmel, CA at 10 where her uncle ran the naval base. It was then that she fell in love with California. After graduating high school Claire went to Duke where she majored in public policy studies. She was interested in the decisions made around governance in regards to our lives and resources. Moral leadership and social entrepreneurship ended up being her policy major. Claire chose not to go abroad because she co-founded the Duke Notes Court. This organization creates competitions for high school students to come to Duke and debate constitutional law. She ran the organization her junior year. Her second semester her junior year Claire was given an opportunity to live in NYC attending the NY leadership in the arts program. Fifteen Duke students attend and spent time working on ethics and how they relate to aesthetics. It was a total immersion in the arts of NYC. The head of the Opera and the head of education at the MOMA puts them in situations where they had to figure out exactly how to respond. It was life changing.
After graduating from Duke, Claire evaluated three paths. Microfinancing for women businesses in under developed countries, going to NYC to work in the arts or following her boyfriend to SF who just got accepted into a program. No surprises, she followed the boyfriend. I laughed out loud because the number of women I meet tell the exact same story. She loved CA and had a desire to become a social entrepreneur with a bend towards domestic issues as she wanted to make a change.
Claire never thought she'd work in technology but ended up taking a job at Salesforce.com while doing volunteering on the side. It was a great experience as the company was going through such growth. She really liked their one model where the company would give back to the community. Funny enough she ended up in sales. She didn't expect to be good at it but she was great at the organizational process. I am a big believer that sales is one of the keys to life. Claire became obsessed with data and data management. She knew that she did not want to be a career sales person so she stayed a few years hoping to move into global marketing in another start-up. She also had an inner burning desire to get back to her original interest; social entrepreneurship.
Her next gig was at Lookery.com, a demographic targeting technology that partnered with platforms that generated product user data. She joined at the fifth employee in Biz Development and Sales. She ran their customer development. They had amazing investors so it was really interesting being part of the start-up process. They had taken money two times from angels until they pivoted into becoming an enterprise software business. She was offered founders status. The company was going to do a third round of capital but they realized through the evaluations process it made more sense to sell…and so they did.
On the side Claire had begun to look into the food space. She had some great offers in the tech space but wasn't willing to commit to a few more years before she figured out exactly what made sense for her next move. Her policy and data obsession took over and she began to do lots of research in the connection between global research, food production and climate change. Agricultural is one of our major wastes. Livestock production has been tied to antibiotic use. On the other hand the impact on global health is surrounding the desire to have more non-GMO, organic products. This has taken an interesting crossover in the livestock business.
Our livestock consumes over 80% of the grains that we grow in the United States. Of the GMO crops, 98% grown goes to livestock consumption. Claire decided based on all the information she was reading that she was going to start a meat company. Mindful Meats was born. On the intellectual side, she thought about how do you grow these products, why do we allow our livestock to consume antibiotics and what are the major long term implications eating those meats. She began to do volunteer work on farms. She did a butchering internship at a restaurant and also worked on a chicken farm. She wanted to become attached to the product before starting her business endeavor.
The beginning thought was aroud the whole farm to table concept. How do make a raw product and get it to the consumer. Where could she create value in the meat chain? Claire did her own feasibility around meat production. The process had become incredibly commoditized. She wanted to run a production facility but be true to her desire to get organic meat. Putting on her technology hat she began to do more research. We harvest 36 million cows a year and in turn that is a $79 billion business. From a sustainability side she began to look at dairy cows. The USDA sites that between 9-15% of our beef in the US comes from the dairy industry. These animals product cheese, milk and butter and beef before they are sold to market for beef production. The second largest category of dairy cows are organic cows. Most of those dairy cows just go into regular production. If you can lock down those organic dairy cows and separate them into an organic production facility then there is a business to be had. Claire found a niche that nobody was really going after.
She started working with a non-GMO organic producer in Northern California and started buying organic dairy cows as they were coming on the market to go to production. She began to distribute that beef under Mindful Meats to restaurants and a few small grocery stores in the area. They have some of the largest organic distributors calling them. They are running a green facility and are non-GMO organic certified. Claire is even working on public policy around this area. What she is doing it making an impact in the livestock area. It is giving consumers a choice. The hope is that one day she will have a Mindful Meats ranch that grows the cattle that produces cheese, butter, milk and meats that are totally organic. This is really big picture thinking. I admit, I am kind of obsessed.