Loren Brill, Woman Entrepreneur, Sweet Lorens
I meet with consumer product entrepreneurs on occasion. I say on occasion because as much as I do love food businesses I am well aware how difficult and cash intensive a consumer product business is. I was familiar with Sweet Loren because I had tasted her wares at the Fancy Food Show at the Pier this past summer. One of the women that I am invested in asked me if I she could introduce me to Loren as she needed some advice more than anything else and that is how Loren ended up in my office.
People always ask me how do you decide on what companies that you invest in and my answer is consistent. It is first about the entrepreneur. Certainly the longer you do it the better you get at just having that hunch about a person on the other side of the table. Loren is one of those entrepreneurs that you just know that she will figure it out at every turn. She is dynamic, smart, driven and resourceful. As I told Loren, I really do not want to invest in any consumer products right now but after we talked and I experienced Loren, I never say never.
Loren grew up on the Upper West Side of NYC going to Bank Street for elementary school and on to Riverdale until she graduated from high school. Her Mom was an entrepreneur and lawyer as she was one of the founding partners at Jacoby and Meyers, a law firm here in NYC. Not only was she an entrepreneur she lived with leukemia for 12 years. Her father lives in North Adams, MA and owns an art gallery. Her parents were divorced in not the most amiable way when Loren was 13. I can totally relate.
Loren decided that for college she should really move far from NYC and opted to move 3000 miles away and go USC. Before getting into USC she got certified as a yoga instructor. She has always been into health and wellness. USC was big enough and the perfect academic place for her to explore new things. Her junior year she spent abroad in Florence her first semester and Amsterdam for her second semester. It was the perfect balance as Loren was a communications major with a minor in painting. Painting in Florence, communications in Amsterdam. She stayed after school was over and traveled the entire summer returning to Los Angeles in the fall to finish up college and get her degree.
The idea was to stay in Los Angeles after graduating but her Mom got really sick. She returned to NYC to spend time with both her sister and Mother and right before she was about to return to LA she noticed that her lymph nodes were swollen. A full month of testing and she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. It was the fall of 2006. It was incredibly scary. She cancelled her return trip to LA and stayed in NYC to spend the next six months in chemotherapy. The good news is that it was totally curable but of course it changed everything.
Loren was always active and positive. She used the next year to study nutrition and take cooking classes. The more she studied nutrition the more she saw a huge disconnect between what we eat and what we should eat. She decided to cut all the bad stuff out of her diet but she always had a sweet tooth so she began to create recipes for healthy cookies using her sister as the taste tester. She cleaned up the entire apartment getting rid of anything with processed ingredients. Her cooking became the creative outlet that she needed. After one year she was completely healthy but the cookies still remained.
She did not return to Los Angeles but decided it made more sense to stay close to her family. She took a job at a PR company where she was miserable. She took another job at a wine company which was a little better but still miserable. Then she got a job opening up a restaurant and managing it and although it was a little bit better than the others it still wasn't great. She realized that working for someone else did not work for her that she needed to figure out how to work for herself.
Loren entered a baking contest at the Lower Eastside Girls Club and she won. Gina DiPalma judged the contest, the baker at Babbo, and she told Loren you should follow what that makes you happy and you should do something with these cookies. Loren told her Mom she was going to pursue this entrepreneurial venture. Her Mom said something which was really smart. She said I will let you live with me for six months to figure out how to build this but that is all you get, six months.
Her first client was Red Rabbit, a company that provides healthy food for over 4000 charter schools. She took a short course to learn how to write a business plan. Then one day she asked someone who was stocking the shelves at Whole Foods how she got her product in their stores. He followed up and got her a meeting with the head buyer at the Columbus Circle store in NYC. She connected with the buyer who loved that the product was the least processed cookie they had ever seen. Whole grains, no kale, no dairy, no preservatives and it tastes great.
A month later Loren won the New York City contest for best new small food business that can scale. They won the peoples choice and also best big new small brand. Loren then relaunched the product with new packaging and got into Fresh Direct, Zabars and all the Whole Food stores in the Northeast. She got on the Today Show and was noted as top entrepreneur in Marie Claire.
I agree with what Loren says. Entenmanns is not relevant today. Her product is the next Pillsbury 2.0. She sells the product in the freezer section so the customer can bring it home to bake and eat fresh out of the oven. There are so many amazing bakeries in NYC but how do you take delicious products and spread them across the globe with a long shelf life? The freezer section. She is going to also begin selling one off cookies to sell at the register letting the customer know they can pick up the makings in their freezer section for later on. Smart idea.
Shipping freezer products is not the easiest but trust me Loren will figure out how to grow. She has boot strapped her business so far and I would say she has done quite an awesome job. The cookies, well they are pretty damn good.
Nutrition as an ingredient of delicious is the future.I’m tracking down this product.
totally agree. nutrition is the future
Inspiring — thanks for doing these Joanne. I love them! Also, obviously I’m buying some the next time I’m in Whole Foods.
I Love Loren! Her energy and passion is contagious. She makes everything happen and her cookies are amazing!
Another amazing story. I love the line about entemanns no longer being relevant. Though i grew up in a house where all meals were home cooked and where fast food was never had, we still had junk food around. Today, I can’t imagine ever feeding my hypothetical kids junk food like entemanns. That’s where brands like this come in (and I’ve actually sampled them at whole foods. One problem I see with this niche is price. Healthy snacks are often more expensive than consumers think they should be. Until that attitude shifts or competition drives the price down, growth for these companies may never be exactly what it was for pilsbury and the like.
The hope is that perhaps through Crowdfunding or pure boot strapping that these healthy type businesses will eventually be purchased by Pillsbury and alike. That purchase will help drive down the cost for the consumer. It is the reality of the value a large company brings. The large companies are not capable of building these type of products inside but can buy them which is a bonus for all consumers.
Really interesting to know. Thanks for sharing! (surprised then that the large companies have yet to catch on…)