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You know Eric, on the show time and time again, founders talk about the importance of hiring great employees.
Eric Hornung 0:07
And they always say it’s so hard and so important early on to hire the right person.
Jay Clouse 0:13
It makes a lot of sense that it’s difficult because most founders don’t have experience doing high level searches or hiring top level talent.
Eric Hornung 0:20
And they’re also limited to their local talent pool a lot of the times.
Jay Clouse 0:24
That’s why a lot of founders choose to work with SPMB, the one of the fastest growing executive search firms in the country. For over 40 years, SPMB has specialized in recruiting upper management and board members to early stage VC funded startups and larger growth stage companies too.
Eric Hornung 0:39
They bring the knowledge of a large global firm and combine that with the personalized service and attention of a boutique.
Jay Clouse 0:46
They have a dedicated team focusing on the Mountain West and Midwest emerging tech markets. So no matter where you are in the country, if you’re trying to hire top level talent SPMB can help you out.
Eric Hornung 0:56
If that sounds like you, you can go to upside.fm/SPMB to learn how they are closing hundreds of C level searches annually.
Sharon Cryan 1:11
What is the most commonly consumed product in the market right now? That is the most ultra processed and that led me to cereals and breakfast cereal so 95% of children still start their day with an ultra processed breakfast cereal.
Jay Clouse 1:28
The startup investment landscape is changing and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside.
Hello, hello, hello and welcome to the Upside podcast the first podcast fighting upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse and I’m accompanied by my co-host, Mr. Healthy Lifestyle Decisions Himself, Eric Hornung.
Eric Hornung 2:08
I am all about the healthy lifestyle decisions now Jay. I’m a rededicated to the peloton. I’m going to the gym, no alcohol, no caffeine. It’s a whole new Rick.
Jay Clouse 2:17
Rededicated to the peloton so I’m on the peloton train now. Yeah, sure, we’re friends on Peloton. Are we friends on Peloton?
Eric Hornung 2:22
You never friend me anywhere.
Jay Clouse 2:24
That’s not true. That’s not true. Don’t say that.
Eric Hornung 2:27
That’s true. We’re friends on Twitter and IRL, I think.
Jay Clouse 2:30
How do you search for or how do you decide which peloton class you take?
Eric Hornung 2:35
I pretty much only take Alex Tucson’s classes.
Jay Clouse 2:38
I don’t think I’ve even taken one but is that a man or woman?
Eric Hornung 2:41
It’s a man, he is incredible. He’s just all energy, all hype. It reminds me of like the weightlifting coach from back in high school just getting after it so I like that kind of energy. I’ve taken when I first started I said I wouldn’t do the same instructor twice so I did like 20 different instructors. And then I was like Alex is the best vibes most of my style so I did a lot of Alex Tucson. And I like high intensity interval training workouts and he does a lot of those.
Jay Clouse 3:10
I haven’t heard you mentioned the playlist so playlist is not the is that even in like your top three deciding factors?
Eric Hornung 3:17
Well, you can always mute it and turn on your own music if you know you really wanted to. But yeah, no I so for me, Alex usually listens to like some mix of rap and EDM, which is right up my alley. That’s I would listen to anyway.
Jay Clouse 3:29
Very high energy, very high energy, yes. I’m on the pop punk train. Actually, I’m a big fan of Bradley Rose, which I hear is pretty controversial. But he does a lot of pop punk rides, which are very fun for me.
Eric Hornung 3:40
So you’re just like out there screaming and stuff like do you sing along with the tunes?
Jay Clouse 3:46
No, it’d be exhausting. I mean I try, I’m not I like now the long but to actually project in push air out of my lungs as I’m getting up out of the saddle. I don’t think it would work very well.
Eric Hornung 3:57
Well, it’s nice living a healthy lifestyle, Jay. You know, I’m I’m still in the transition. So you kind of have that three to four weeks where you feel sluggish and tired. But once you come out of that I’ve done it before you feel like a whole new man. So I’m excited about you know getting there in about two, three weeks now.
Jay Clouse 4:14
Well, you only have one life on this planet, Eric. You got to live that one life you have to live the best way that you can.
Eric Hornung 4:19
And if you dear listener want to live the one life you have the best way you can, you can go to our friends at Ethos Wealth Management at upside.fm/ethos or you could follow Jay and I on Peloton.
Jay Clouse 4:29
Tell me about the food side of your healthy lifestyle. What are you doing in the food world?
Eric Hornung 4:33
You know, one step at a time, Jay, I’ve really started with the exercise cutting out stuff before I’ve started with what’s going and stuff. And I know that that’s a huge part about it. I know the nutrition side of things is important, but I only have so much discipline. And I like the way some things taste.
Jay Clouse 4:49
I recently saw a doctor for the first time in several years and I told her that I was concerned that I was having a harder time keeping weight off than I used to and she said yeah, you’re 30 and I said, well, I’m not eating that badly. And I kind of described what I eat and she said, and I told her that I run a lot to I was like, but I get a lot of exercise and it used to be that if I exercise, it’d be fine. And she said, well, you can’t outrun your diet. It was, hit me real hard.
Eric Hornung 5:17
You can’t outrun your diet is not something I ever wanted to hear.
Jay Clouse 5:22
Follow your heart.
Eric Hornung 5:23
The good thing about healthy food is it’s becoming more prevalent, it’s becoming everywhere. And you know, we do eat a lot of healthy food, we go to Whole Foods, a lot of stuff that is organic or non-GMO or whatever is supposed to be healthy. I’m not going to claim to be an expert here but it actually tastes pretty good too.
Jay Clouse 5:40
And that would be what today’s guest believes as well. Today we’re talking to Sharon Cryan, the founder and CEO of Foodnerd. Foodnerd was founded in April 2017 in Buffalo, New York and it specializes in 100% plant based superfood products that are designed to increase the world’s understanding and accessibility of truly nutrient dense foods. We’re talking about raw, sprouted, organic ingredients that are GMO free and never pressurized or treated with chemicals or preservatives.
Eric Hornung 6:12
Before we dive into this episode, Jay and I are not scientists. Wait, Jay, are you a scientist?
Jay Clouse 6:16
I am not a scientist and I do not play one on TV.
Eric Hornung 6:20
You do kind of play one in a podcast though, a separate podcast.
Jay Clouse 6:23
That’s true, that’s true. I’m depicted as a scientist.
Eric Hornung 6:25
Mad creative scientist, Jay Clouse, if you want to check out Jay’s other podcasts, it’s Creative Elements, you can find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. Back to this podcast, we’re not scientists, we don’t know all the science behind stuff. I recently changed to almond milk from regular milk. I think that’s a good decision but I didn’t go down the rabbit hole doing all the research and all the studying. So our guest today is going to make some claims and thoughts about what she’s discovering, what she’s seen. And we’re gonna ride along and assume that she’s done the research that Jay and I have most definitely not done.
Jay Clouse 6:55
And unfortunately, I was not available for this interview so you’re going to be hearing a lot of Eric in this interview. Not a lot of me but I will rejoin you for the debrief, the deal memo, Eric, you ready to jump in and talk with Sharon?
Eric Hornung 7:07
Let’s jump in. If you have any comments on this episode, you can hit us up on Twitter @upsidefm or if you have something a little longer hit us up at email@example.com and we’ll get to that interview right after this.
I hate that we’ve demonized scheduling links, Jay.
Jay Clouse 7:27
Scheduling links are actually one of my favorite things. I love the ease of someone saying here’s where you can book a time with me and then I can choose when it’s best for me too.
Eric Hornung 7:35
Whenever I get an outreach and someone says what time looks good for you. I asked them, hey, do you have a scheduling tool, and you know what the scheduling tool I wish they had?
Jay Clouse 7:43
Which one is that?
Eric Hornung 7:44
It’s a new scheduling tool called SavvyCal. SavvyCal makes it easy for both parties to find the best time to meet.
Jay Clouse 7:51
SavvyCal makes the scheduling process even more savvy than any other scheduling tool that I’ve seen and I mean that. It makes it so easy to personalize your link, you can say hey, this is a meeting time for Jay and Eric. And it just looks so professional, so sophisticated.
Eric Hornung 8:07
So much so that we’re going to be using it for Upside, going forward and maybe even rolling it out to the Upside network.
Jay Clouse 8:14
You can use SavvyCal as well, you can sign up for a free account at savvycal.com/upside, that’s savvycal.com/upside. And when you’re ready to upgrade to a paid plan, you can use the promo code upside for a free month.
Sharon Cryan 8:35
I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. I was the youngest of six, I was raised by a single mother on disabled on welfare so that is really what kind of formed me and my opinion of the world. As I got older, it was kind of really surrounded by lots of chronic disease so that is what really kind of made me passionate about what I do now. And then further on, I decided that I wanted to get a degree in International Business and Economics because I wanted to do international law. And which led me to study abroad in Japan, which was a huge another turning point for me and my education, came back went to law school. And now I’m a certified UBE attorney and over 35 states now. And then I decided to to leave all that behind and start Foodnerd and now I am living my passion and helping people in a way that means the most to me.
Eric Hornung 9:31
What’s a UBE attorney?
Sharon Cryan 9:33
Yeah, so it’s actually a uniform bar and so up until, actually 2016 was the first year that the UBE was issued, I believe it was 2016. And basically instead of individual states having their own bar, they all kind of collectively got together, most of them obviously not not some of the major states like Florida, California, they still have their own distinct bars but New York, actually adopted in 2017 the UBE bar. So I was the first class that took the UBE bar off New York State. And basically it is kind of like a handshake agreement with other states and allows you to practice outside of your jurisdiction.
Eric Hornung 10:11
I’ve worked, I had the privilege of working with a lot of lawyers over my career so far. And one thing that I would say that the law lifestyle does not have is like a health track. I feel like it’s not the most healthy profession of all times, a lot of late hours, a lot of late food. Was health always a big part of who you are, or did that kind of come up later?
Sharon Cryan 10:38
Yeah, I totally agree. And it wasn’t until I was, well, I was a, health started for me when I was really young, my mom developed multiple sclerosis and she was actually diagnosed while she was pregnant with me. Until I remember when I was around 13, her and I started getting worse. And so for me, I was really kind of hypersensitive to that because it wasn’t just her, it was my brother, it was other people in my family that have chronic disease. But it really wasn’t until I would say every, like five years I started, you know, just educating myself more on it. And then when I got into law school, you know, just like everything else, you’re burning both candles, you know, both of the candles, you are not thinking about your health, or that’s the last thing on your mind, you’re thinking about school or thinking about work. And I knows everybody around me, looked and felt their worst. That just didn’t make sense because I had just gotten back from a study abroad in Japan where I experienced, you know, another level of health and everybody, you know, that I lived with and in the community just health was was a major focus no matter what you were doing. And so coming back and plunging into law school, and just realizing that we weren’t even drinking our waters the way we were, we weren’t eating food, and then lo long eating really toxic and in on healthful food, and eating at the wrong times, and pretty much everything you can do wrong with your health, I feel like everybody in law school does. And then I started, you know, I didn’t have the luxury to you know, I had to work throughout school so I was extra exhausted. So I was like, you know what, I can’t do this anymore so I started taking care of my health, like it was my job. And I was bringing a cooler with me everywhere I went, I had you know, fresh juices, my fermented foods, buy raw foods, it was just everything. And I just felt like a superstar and people around me noticed because that’s what true health does. When you are actually helping, you actually give your body the tools it needs, you are in completely different level. And so people in schools are, you know, jokingly calling me like the food node or the food drug dealer and because I would make their food for them, because they would ask me, and then when I would stop making food for them, you know, they would feel that instant law. And they’re like, you know, I feel terrible, I have no energy, I can’t think clearly. And I’m like, what do you have for lunch? They’re like Applebee’s. Well, like, well yeah, I mean, that’s why you don’t feel well, you know, you probably just put 200 different, you know, food preservatives in your system. And so it was, you know, for me, noticing that, it’s usually in the, I think across the board in America, we don’t focus on our health in the way that actually changes our health. But it wasn’t until law school and then I got into practice, I realized, oh my gosh, like, here we are, we’re eating pizza and chinese, and we’re having all this processed food. And then every attorney was like hitting a midday wall and everybody felt lethargic. And to me, I was like, this is like the peak, we should feel our healthiest right now. And so that really is what kind of pushed me over the edge to realize like, if we don’t take care of ourselves, you know, we can’t take care of our clients. We can’t be our best selves or anybody. And so really, the biggest thing for me was mental clarity. The mental clarity I achieved from from having my highest level of health was unmatched. So it was absolutely is what tipped me over, was seeing just the legal profession and in how we are just burning, burning both ends of the candle.
Eric Hornung 14:07
What did you see when you were in Japan? You mentioned there was a another level of health care. Can you give us some anecdotes about what Japanese do that we don’t do?
Sharon Cryan 14:17
Oh, yes, I can talk about this forever. One of the main things and I decided to live with the host family because I wanted the full, I wanted the full experience. And so you know, my host mom, and this was we were in a, you know, a relatively pretty wealthy area, you know, village and in Japan, you know, my host parents had a BMW, they were successful professors. But regardless, this was across the board how everybody around me even in the non-wealthy communities were eating, they would go to the fresh local markets, get fresh produce. Food was the first thing that they thought about in the day, what what am I going to feed my family, what I’m going to feed myself, what do I need to do to prepare for the day, so there was always you know, rice sprouting, there was always green vegetables everywhere, every meal, it was just, it was a priority. And then the biggest thing I would say, besides it being really fresh was the quantity that people ate. It was such a small quantity but no one was starving. And it was almost like, food was a thought, but not in the way that it is here in America. It’s like, we live for our food here, where their food was nourishment. And if they were hungry, you know, they would eat but they wouldn’t eat, you know, excessively, they would eat just the right amount. And then they move on, they would, you know, they wouldn’t, you know, fantasize about food all day, it was just another part of your day, like drinking your water. And that really resonated with me because I’m from Buffalo, right? And buffalo is so focused on our food, you know, Buffalo chicken wings, and pizza. And I grew up like just eating such high levels of high fat, high salt, high sugar foods, and they’re addictive. And if I wasn’t thinking about my next meal, it’s what motivated me. You know, it was very food motivated, like most people, and it’s not like that there, it’s really not. And it blew my mind honestly.
Eric Hornung 16:06
What was the most surprising health related thing you found in Japan?
Sharon Cryan 16:10
I would say, you know, I would say that, the way, the way that they, it’s like an education level that everybody has about food, like here in the US, if you’re if you you’re not a dietician, you’re not a nutritionist, you’re not a personal trainer, you know, you don’t have if you don’t have that extra nutritional training that you go for, we don’t really know, we just we just assume that if it’s in the food supply, it’s safe, and we just blindly eat anything. Where in Japan, it’s like everybody has a basic level of like, this is what is good for me and it’s just common sense, right? And for, for here, you know, oh, you know, moderation is key. But for example, my host family, for dessert every day we all, the whole family so five of us, we split one or two pairs, that was dessert. We would take a delicious, fresh pair that was we just bought the market that day, we slice it up, and then we’d all enjoy that. And I was the first time I was like, really like, where’s the chocolate cake? I don’t understand how is this dessert. But after, you know, a few weeks of doing that, I didn’t want dessert, you know, like in the way that it was just full of refined ingredients like that pair was amazing to me. And it cleanse my palate and it felt I felt satiated. And the treats that the kids would get, I mean, once every month, once every two months, maybe it was really rare and it was small amounts. It’s not like it was here. So it’s just a common consensus that you are what you eat there. And everybody knows that even the children know it. So they’re not, you know, crying for sugar all day because they’re not used to it so their brain isn’t craving it. So I was just really impressed with the level of health across the board.
Eric Hornung 18:05
Maybe that’s why they have the most centenarians of any country. I want to take us back to law school and hopefully this will transfer us into Foodnerd. You mentioned that you had this cooler and you had fermented foods and raw foods. How did you, I feel like there’s so much in the food world that’s like fad, or this is good now and then maybe it ends up not being good, or we think this is good, or here’s some story about what’s good. How did you find out what was actually good? Like everyone knows processes bad, everyone knows quantity, a lot of quantities bad? But like, how did you find out what’s the right stuff to do?
Sharon Cryan 18:42
Yeah, so I, you know, I kind of had this moment when, like, my first year of law school, and because obviously in school, you you learn, you know, everything is corrected in our system through through the court system, right? So anything that was wronged, you know, we have to figure it out through case law. And we’re going through, you know, we’re in torts, and we’re going through personal injury cases, and we’re going through product liability cases, and, and I just remember sitting there and I was eating something out of a bag, you know, because that’s pretty much all, what up we all ate. And I was just looking at the ingredients and there’s just, you know, three or four or five different ingredients I couldn’t pronounce. And I just had this thought like, how did this get into the food supply? How did these chemicals, right, these manmade chemicals get into the food supply? And then kind of led me down this rabbit hole of looking at the regulation behind our food manufacturing and food processing from an attorney’s perspective and not you know, and then also saying, okay, well this makes sense, why the regulation is built this way, right? Because the FDA does not have the manpower, right, to go and make sure and test every single food. And it just made me realize that our our entire food regulatory regulatory system is a retroactive system, right? That obligation, the duty is put on food manufacturer to make a safe product, which is terrifying, right? Because that would that really now, PM, these large conglomerate food companies that, you know, their main goal is to not get sued. Their main goal is to put a product out there that is safe and not, helpful isn’t it word, the regulation for the FDA is not concerned about health. They don’t have the manpower to make sure everything’s healthy, all they want to know is that this isn’t going to cause harm to somebody if they eat it, which is safety, which is great for public health concerns. But what it has led to is food manufacturers looking, saying, okay, in order to not get sued, I need to make sure this food is safe and what does that mean? I need to apply so much processing to this food that there’s no likelihood that anything would grow on it because it’s so it’s been cooked to such high temperatures, it’s been processed and pressurize and all of these, you know, chemically altered, which is the complete opposite of what our body needs, right? Like our our bodies are designed to have natural food from from nature, right?And so this idea that the food manufacturing system started going towards, okay, let’s make shelf stable products that I have great margins on and that I can’t get sued for. Okay, well, that product is ultra processing, right? However, the human body hasn’t evolutionary caught up to be eating such Frankenstein foods so our bodies need these nutrients. And so while I was diving deep into the legal realm, I was also diving deep into nutritional research and realizing that they did not connect, right? So what we need in our food are nutrients, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, phytochemicals, so and so crucial. But then also our macronutrients are fats, carbs, and proteins, they need to be in their whole form. And none of that is discussed in the regulation, which means the system isn’t set up to produce healthy foods. So I was sitting there saying, okay, how did this get into our food supply? I knew why, I knew how it got into the food supply. And you know, today, for example, 2021, we have over 10,000 manmade chemicals in our food supply. Just 20 years ago, we had maybe maybe 2,000 and the other thing is that those chemicals have not been tested, you know, improved safe for an, it’s called bioaccumulation, right? They have not been tested safe, if we have this every single day for 20 years, is this actually safe? And they’ve never been tested in conjunction with each other so we don’t know what the chemical reactions could be occurring. And so it was really just kind of blew my mind and realizing that not only are ultra processed foods, not the answer, but they’re also harmful on a level that we are just now through scientific research understanding. So I went back to kind of the basics, I went back to what does already need and what foods and in what form are those nutrients most bioavailable and that is raw fermented foods, and then also sprouted foods. And that really, you know, set up the entire equation that Foodnerd is based on.
Eric Hornung 23:10
I can’t believe that 2,000 to 10,000 jump makes me want to start looking at ingredients more. What is sprouted foods? I’m familiar with raw, I’m familiar with fermented, but what’s sprouted foods?
Sharon Cryan 23:24
So let me just step back first, so anything that is I’m going to call it a seed, anything in nature, plants produce seeds so they can continuously reproduce even if humans mess it up, right? So even if we can’t grow food, nature will continue to grow food for us and so seeds are the general name of it. Sometimes we call them grain sometimes, we call them all these different types of names. But at the essence, if it can germinate and sprout into a plant, which then produces you know, whole nother offspring, that is a seed. And so most of the diet that we eat is based on seeds, right, so it’s based on on wheat and corn and soy, those are all those are all seeds. However, the way that we are processing processing those seeds are not natural and there are against the way that we are biologically supposed to eat them, which is another reason why the processing of these become harmful. So seeds in and of themselves, whether it’s a soybean, a black bean, chia seed, a flaxseed, sunflower seed, almonds, cashews, right, those are all these like condensed micro how, like micro nutrient houses that have enough energy and intelligence inside of them to grow an entire new plant that will then sprout off millions of offspring seeds, brilliant. Nature, every time I talk about I’m like, wow, like nature is just incredible but what happens is those seeds when you buy them at the store, and they’re raw, they are dormant, they are shelf they are shelf stable. And that’s nature’s way of saying if something bad happens, you know, this seed I have in case it was these phytic acid acids and all these compounds to make sure that this plant is not going to die off, right? And it could literally sit untouched on a shelf for 25 years and as soon as you add water to that seed, it’s going to come to life. And so sprouting is taking that seed and changing it from a dormant state to an active state. And in that transition, literally just miracles happen, right, that those, the first thing that happens is when you sprout a seed is all of the macronutrients begin to break down. So the fats break down, fatty acids, the proteins break down to amino amino acids, and then the complex carbs breakdown to the glucose. And really, that’s the plant’s way of pre-digesting everything so we can utilize it for growth. And that transition that that basically pre-digesting the nutrients for us, it makes it so much more bioavailable, and so much easier for our bodies to utilize and that’s the macronutrients. The micronutrients sides it really depends on the seed, but it can increase the micronutrient quantity and bioavailability, hundreds of times whether it’s 250 times, but also it activates the enzymes, and the enzymes are what go to work and they make all of these amazing properties happen. And so basically, a seed germinates, that’s when it’s, it’s soaking in water, it’s basically nature saying, hey, come to life, it changes all of this molecule, and then it starts to grow into a plant. And that’s what we see at the grocery store in those little clamshell containers we call sprouts and we usually use them as garnish and toppings. Those are usually sprouts that have been growing from anywhere from 8 to 12 days so they’re leafy, they have you know, a few leaves on them, they have a long tail. I call those teenagers, right, because if they were to you plant that it will grow into a mature plant. But you can eat sprouts even sooner than that too so I call those embryonic baby sprouts, right? And that’s what we really work with here at Foodnerd because the amazing thing is, is that right after they germinate, and they pop the tail, some fruit depending on the plant, that’s the peak nutritional point. And so really being able to understand that plant and what’s happening to it, we are able, at Foodnerd to then really harness all of those nutrients and stop the growth when we want to, you know, hardest one particular phytochemical or, or really get the most viable that bioavailable proteins, right? And so sprouting is something that we have always done, it has always been in our history. But because of the Industrial Revolution with our food supply the last 50 years, sprouting went out the window because it is a you know, it takes a few days, where now basically, we can harvest wheat from the field and within three hours, it’s a loaf of bread. So we have gone so efficient, we have just machined our food supply to take these dormant seeds that need to go through the sprouting process in order to become truly helpful for us in a way that we can really get all the goodness. But we completely skip that process, it’s like we’re ignoring nature is one thing that we’ve been doing for forever. So sprouting is an incredible process and it can truly make the difference in your health.
Eric Hornung 28:10
We’ve spent a lot of time on kind of the ecosystem so far, I do want to get to what Foodnerd is. So can you tell us what Foodnerd is in your own words?
Sharon Cryan 28:17
Yeah, absolutely. So Foodnerd is a food tech startup. Really what we do is we produce the healthiest shelf stable foods that are completely raw bioavailable and we maintain up to 98% of the nutrients. So whether it is our incredible cereal that’s made from raw fruits and vegetables and sprouts, or it’s one of our snacks or one of our baby products, all of our meals are completely raw bioavailable, so when you eat them, it’s like you’re eating a bowl of raw fruits and vegetables. And that was my goal, how do we still get the crunchy, delicious, convenient, processed, you know, benefits without getting all of the negative. And so we’ve developed a proprietary technology that allows us to really grow these plants and process these plants in a way that doesn’t destroy anything, if anything, it builds them up even more and captures all the good stuff. And it’s sooner is really looking at the food industry, from how do we disrupt the processing. And then the amazing technology allows us to then apply it to so many different product lines. So Foodnerd is is in my way is writing a lot of the wrongs that have been done by food processing over the last 50 years.
Eric Hornung 29:23
When you were talking earlier about why manufacturers do what they do, why the regulations are set up, how they are it’s all to provide safety. And that seemed like there was a inherent trade off between safety and health and the ability to be scalable. Is what you’re building something that can be both scalable, safe and healthy?
Sharon Cryan 29:41
Yes, absolutely. And that’s what you know, four years of R&D got us, it got us that process because you can’t compromise, right? You can’t have a product that is super shelf stable and super safe but healthy, right? So we have to find a way, you know, Foodnerd really like that was our goal. We weren’t gonna come out of the lab until that was, until that was done and that’s exactly what we have. So we have created a whole new processing methodology and equipment that’s never been used before. And yes, it you know, it is so scalable. And the end product is something that’s beneficial for our human health but also the planet and sustainability. And everything that we know is the future of food. And that’s exactly what our motto was, was based upon so it is extremely scalable. You know, it’s just the tipping point, I’m so excited to see what the technology does and how we continue to evolve, you know, over the next few years.
Eric Hornung 30:34
You mentioned you were in the lab for four years. Can you tell me about that experience? Who was actually in the lab? Were you in the lab doing tests? Where, do you have a team?
Sharon Cryan 30:41
Yeah, absolutely. We have a team and yes, me, myself, I was in the lab because I think that’s one of the things that, you know, we all have our unique skills from the way that we have them, right? So I have our chief food scientists that we work with. And then it was it was really three of us, it was a few scientists, it was myself and then it was one of my partners, who is you know, she is a mom, right? So, she is the person that is at the grocery store struggling every day to feed her three children healthy foods. And so I wanted to have as many viewpoints in the R&D process as possible because I think that’s what’s missing, you know, I think that we’re not listening to, and having that unique perspective from the person that’s actually wants and needs these foods versus, you know, the the food scientist that’s looking at it from their point of view, and I wanted to, to really look at it from okay, what, what hasn’t been done before? And where is the regulation going to go behind this, right, because that was, you know, we’re creating this whole new gray area. And that excites me as an attorney because that means we’re making progress, if we stay where we’re at, and we just keep doing exactly what’s been done, we’re going to get the same chronic disease that that we’re getting, right? And unfortunately, our generations children are the generation that has been has consumed the most amount of ultra processed food sets since in utero. And they’re expected to have a shorter life expectancy than ups, which was terrifying. And, you know, that’s kind of where the R&D process, we had to have all perspective. And now our R&D team is just massive, right? And now we have some of the top leading researchers on, you know, and physicians, everybody now is, I’m pulling it up in geneticists, for poleon phytochemical specialist, and because I think that’s why the food supply is so broken because we have all of these isolated groups. But we have to look at it collectively as as a team and say, how do we, how do we get everybody healthier? How do we do the right thing? And so so yeah, so that four years of lots of trial and error because you can make something amazing, but if it doesn’t taste good, people aren’t gonna eat it. So it was just a lot of back and forth. But I’m really proud and honored that we just got of R&D, this last in 2020, end of 2020, we just finished and now we’re really excited to scale these products and bring them to every home because they deserve it.
Eric Hornung 33:01
It sounds like you had the idea from the beginning. So I don’t think it was a good idea breakthrough. But you also mentioned this trial and error phase. Did you have a like, oh, we’re onto something moment at any time during those those four years?
Sharon Cryan 33:17
Yeah, absolutely. That moment I think was when I started saying to team, okay, how do we measure, how process something is? Like, there’s no standard, right? There’s, you see all these food labels for non-GMO and organic, right? But that doesn’t say anything about what was done to the product, right? You know, we’re all brainstorming and like, they’re, you know, they’re signs out there, I was aware of signs that could measure the quality of the nutrients. But it wasn’t until we all kind of had this like aha moment that they’re called AGEs, advanced glycation end products and we have known about them. And I discovered them back when I was in Japan and that was one of the big takeaways from Japan. They actually discovered them, of course, it did right, before years ago. But basically, it’s what happens when you take a fat carb, a fat carbon protein, and you cook them. And you add, basically you degrade the nutrients in a way that is irreversible, and it it’s toxic, and it causes damage to our, to our bodies. And I knew that our processing was was lightyears ahead of, you know what we do now which is roasting, baking, you know, boiling, blanching, dehydration, like that’s what the food industry is based on now, and extrusion, and frying and all of that, right, which is all high heat. And our process was not a heat process and I knew that it was but I was like, how do we actually measure and so AGE testing just absolutely changed the game for us because I knew what we were doing was lightyears ahead but I didn’t realize till we got the lab results back from our third party testing of oh my gosh, like this is 700 to 900 times less processed. Like it was way more, I thought it was gonna be 200, 300 times last, 900 times last process, it was like Christmas to me, as I knew that we were on to something, you know, giving people real nutrient back, but I didn’t realize to this extent. So AGE testing is is absolutely the breakthrough I think for us. I think it’s also a breakthrough for the food industry, you know, for consumers because as up into this point, a consumer isn’t in the grocery store. They look at two products, they’re like, oh, this bar versus this bar, they have no idea what the difference is. They can say the same exact gradients, let’s say they say, oh, there’s oats, there’s brown rice syrup, there’s, you know, chocolate chips, whatever. There’s whey protein, you know, there’s pea protein, the consumer has no idea how the food manufacturer made that bar, and what the difference is, but the quality could be night and day between those two bars. And so I was like, wait a minute, like consumers deserve to know what was done to the food. And so that’s kind of how the I started working with the top AGE researchers in the world. And together, we formed a non-profit where we are, we’ve created an entire the first processing food certification label that actually now can standardize so consumers have another tool in their arsenal to to make healthy decisions.
Eric Hornung 36:16
I love that idea of like an AGE score or certification. Turning back to Foodnerd, why did you start with breakfast over any other meal of the day?
Sharon Cryan 36:26
Yeah, you know, when I first started Foodnerd it was actually Foodnerd meals and it was it was raw, science based food. And because that’s what I was preparing for myself and preparing for others. But I quickly realized that one, it’s very expensive having shipping fresh food is you have a short shelf life, it is expensive and I was only helping people that were wealthy and had the education. It wasn’t helping me to do I want to help, which is everybody that needed it. And so I realized that having to make these products shelf stable and accessible and affordable is key, right? Because, you know, I’m going to pay $25 for a healthy salad, right? But, but then afterwards, I’m like, wow, that was so expensive and most people can’t afford this. So being able to, you know, to say, okay, we’re going to make this shelf stable, make this accessible to everybody was key for us. And it wasn’t until, you know, realizing that what is the most commonly consumed product in the market right now, that is the most ultra processed. And that led me to cereals and breakfast cereal, so 95% of children still start their day with an ultra processed breakfast cereal. That blew my mind because it is the most ultra processed in the grocery store. And it is full of additives, preservatives, artificials but it’s such a staple and it’s so convenient. And they just do brilliant marketing, that I knew that was the place to start, I said if I can if I can make a cereal that is raw and made from fruit and vegetables. And you can completely change the health of the child if you can give them a healthy breakfast for the entire day. And so cereals where I wanted to start and then also you know, my nephew has autism, a big mission of ours is is disease targeting and on the autistic cereal line is also something we’re in developing right now. And, and one of his favorite foods is Froot Loops. And as you know, for the artificials that are in Froot Loops have been proven to be toxic, you know, and they’re, they disrupt, do neurotransmitter production and they’re very toxic to children who need to focus. And so for children with autism, it can cause how, you know, wreak havoc on their their daily mental clarity and health. And so I was extra motivated to make a very healthy cereal because that’s unfortunately, what I saw all my nieces and nephews eating every day. So disrupting the cereal aisle then became Foodnerd’s first mission.
Eric Hornung 38:56
Have you funded Foodnerd for the first four years? A lot of R&D with very limited sales.
Sharon Cryan 39:02
Yeah, absolutely. So for the first two years, it was self-funded. And in hindsight, I still don’t even know how necessarily I bootstrap so much because it wasn’t like I came in, you know, with a huge savings I just had what I had, you know, for my salary from being an attorney for for a little bit there. But to the last two years, we did have a friends and family round. And so I’ve just been really lucky and really blessed by the ecosystem here in Buffalo that, you know, saw that this was going to happen, I was not going to give up. And so we raised, you know, friends and family round fundraising is huge because as you said, R&D, you know, it’s not it’s not cheap R&D. Most investors really want to invest in growth. They don’t really want to invest in R&D per se because you don’t know and it’s expensive. But the good thing is is you know, our R&D is behind us now. And now we’ve developed and designed everything and now it’s just a matter of scale so that’s really where we’re at now.
Eric Hornung 39:58
Oh, Sharon this has been awesome. If people want to learn more about you or Foodnerd, where should they go?
Sharon Cryan 40:04
Yeah, so you can check out foodnerdinc.com or you can message me directly on our Instagram, obviously, Instagram, Facebook, those are our two big platforms. And on our website, you know, that’s really the easiest way to connect with me.
Eric Hornung 40:18
If I was gonna order one thing on foodnerdinc.com right now, what should I get?
Sharon Cryan 40:23
So you should definitely get the banana bread cereal. Cereal is what we call our cereal, cereal, fruits and vegetables in your in your cereal and that’s everybody’s favorite. And most disappointing, most adults don’t eat the cereal, they just eat it like a snack and that’s what I munch on all day. I have customers reach out and say, this tastes like my grandmother’s banana bread, like how did you get her recipe. And it’s just, it’s literally just all sprouts and fruit, that’s really all it is. And it’s, it’s amazing, you know, when you have because your grandma didn’t use artificial flavors, right, when she made her banana bread. So it is it’s funny how we’re able to kind of bring people back with their palate to a really great place without using, you know, natural flavors and artificial flavors. So if you’re a banana bread person, I would say definitely start there. And if you like Froot Loops, then I would say try our fruity fantasy cereal because that is definitely you know, something I’m really proud of.
Jay Clouse 41:20
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Alright Eric, you just spoke with Sharon Cryan, the founder and CEO of Foodnerd, you feel a little bit more nerdy? You feel a little bit more equipped for your healthy eating lifestyle?
Eric Hornung 42:47
I feel like I had no idea what sprouted was before this. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think it’s a bad thing that I didn’t know about it. It’s a good thing that it exists out there. And maybe it’s a bad thing that we don’t talk about it more broadly as a society. But like I mentioned in the intro, not a scientist, logically, it makes a lot of sense, do less stuff to your food and it’s healthier.
Jay Clouse 43:11
Yeah, it’s like if you eat the food in the form that it was grown and humans have been eating it for centuries, probably better for you than introducing some man-made processes. It brought me back to an early interview we did with Lindsey Moeller of Concur, which was all about microbiome on the skin. But similar wavelengths here, I think that Sharon is on in terms of, hey wake up the way that we’ve processed and repair things for stocking shelves in retail stores, not actually what our body needs.
Eric Hornung 43:45
And here’s here’s a big thing that I’ve noticed on Upside Jay, we have some of these kind of macro trends that we’ve noticed across 200 plus episodes, they pop out and you kind of see them again and again in these new businesses that are being created. In the health and wellness space, a return to more, natural is not the right word because I feel like that’s almost been tarnished by all the marketing going on but just like what we were before processing, whether it’s makeup or skincare or its food, that seems to be a trend that I’m picking up on across at least the country, I’m not sure if it’s the world.
Jay Clouse 44:19
It’s definitely something that I’ve been thinking about a lot more over the last few years because it feels like even going to restaurants but especially like fast food, we’ve we’ve food science to our way into cheap prices and things that are no longer actually food. You know, like you can’t eat a Big Mac and feel good.
Eric Hornung 44:40
While you’re eating it, sometimes it’s pretty tasty.
Jay Clouse 44:42
While you’re eating it, sure, sure.
Eric Hornung 44:44
Right afterwards though, yeah, you always feel bad. There’s a little bit of guilt.
Jay Clouse 44:47
There’s guilt and like you have, I have just my body does not respond well to it. You can feel a difference when you have something that is less processed, that is plant based. Sprouted as you said is a term I was not familiar with but now I’m a lot more familiar with it. But the the challenging thing I find or would expect in this industry, and we talked about this in the Concur episode as well, we got here because food manufacturers want things to be shelf stable, and to have a longer period of time where they could be purchased and consumed. And I imagine this type of food is harder to keep shelf stable.
Eric Hornung 45:26
And I think I want to dive in the history of that for a second because that inherently probably wasn’t a bad thing, when it first started. I think we look at it now and we say oh, shelf stable, high fructose corn syrup, whatever. All of those innovations at the time, were to make food cheaper, more accessible, and to probably lifted a lot of people out of like food poverty. Now, that being said, it also put people into health poverty, we didn’t see the long term implications of it. But I think that there was probably some level of capitalism back good intention, when all that was happening. Now, take that forward to today, I love the idea of what Sharon’s building to make a shelf stable, sprouted product, something that’s healthy, but can also sit on the shelves longer than you know, your produce department, where things are getting turned over all the time. And one thing, as we dive into our deal memo here that we talked about with Sharon is just the level of depth, it appears that her and her team have gone into to both understand the entire system, from the science part of this, to the manufacturing part of this, whole logistics part of this, how everything kind of works and all the R&D they’ve done. I can’t verify whether or not it’s right but I feel like based on how long they’ve spent on this, trying to tackle this problem, they have some deep insights into what needs to change.
Jay Clouse 46:49
Yeah, one of the pieces of the interview that really stuck out to me as I was listening to the recording was, Sharon said she really wants to disrupt the processing industry. And so a lot of the work that they’ve been doing behind the scenes in R&D for Foodnerd, is laying the groundwork to compete in different areas of food with a different processing process.
Eric Hornung 47:11
Yeah, I feel like when you when you talk to most brands, something that’s new, or like a epic jerky, you know, they just want to make better jerky. They weren’t saying hey, we want to disrupt the entire processing supply chain. That’s a much bigger vision with a brand that happens to be the consumer facing aspect so I really like that. One other point that I wanted to note from the interview that I think gets to the heart of how big this problem really is, is Sharon’s juxtaposition between the US and how we live for food versus Japan and how food is nourishment and the education behind how we think about food in the US and I’m guessing Europe too, since our culture’s are fairly intertwined. Because it’s such a staple such a basic when we think about our buckets of how big is this problem, Jay, this is one of the biggest. Food is every day all day. You’re thinking about it, I’m thinking about it. It’s skyline chili, it’s apples. It’s literally everything that we consume is food.
Jay Clouse 48:14
I’m thinking about food right now.
Eric Hornung 48:16
What do you have for breakfast?
Jay Clouse 48:17
I don’t usually eat breakfast, that’s the thing. I am feeling really hungry but I haven’t had my coffee yet either. Sometimes coffee is my breakfast.
Eric Hornung 48:23
Good thing. You could have a little thing of cereal.
Jay Clouse 48:27
I wish I could they’re sold out. We do often make overnight oats though, which is a very similar food meal to the overnights product that Foodnerd sells.
Eric Hornung 48:39
Well, I also did get a chance to try Foodnerd. The cereal, the banana bread cereal was good. I wasn’t that big of a fan of the chocolate, I’m gonna be honest here. But the oats product, the sprouted oats, I really enjoyed that so I’ve ordered and reordered.
Jay Clouse 48:56
But we didn’t touch on a little bit here is Sharon’s background, which she spent the last four years going really deep in R&D for Foodnerd specifically. Before that, she was doing this for her own benefit, that’s where she got the nickname food nerd because of the things she was learning in the way she’s applying them to her own diet. But a background in law was not what I was expecting Eric, possibly an unlikely hero, but it’s an it’s an interesting tie in or you can see the tie in between how she started to explore as she said, how did these preservatives and these chemicals enter the food, the food supply. And she shared that regulation in United States for food, food regulation is reactionary is what she called it. And so that’s part of why the system was created in such a way where manufacturers are looking for a way to be safe and not get sued. Have these shelf stable products with great margins. I don’t know if you get to that insight without going through the legal pathway. Even if you’re not a lawyer I feel like she understood the how we got there moment. Which I appreciated that backstory because it’s not something I’ve thought about before either.
Eric Hornung 50:03
Unique perspectives and the foundations tend to yield unique results. So I think Sharon and the Foodnerd team is on to something here. I think they’re directionally correct with how society is trending, I love that they’re trying to disrupt something bigger than just a brand. And overall, I’m very bullish on kind of what they’re building. And they’re doing it all up in Buffalo, New York, which has been a fun market for us to jump around, play around in and we’re gonna have a couple more conversations with buffalo founders here. Jay, what do you want to see in the next 6 to 18 months from Foodnerd?
Jay Clouse 50:35
I need to understand better and see what their order volume looks like and delivery times because you know, as I shared earlier in this the segment, it feels like the turnaround time and the shelf life of this product is a really important thing to get down. Thankfully, if they’re going B2C, which it seems like so far they are seems like the going direct to consumer, they have some control over that, I think it doesn’t need to be necessarily shelf stable if they’re doing things on demand. But going to the website today, the cereal was sold out, I wanted to I wanted to try some cereal. So I want to understand better their order velocity and how well they can fulfill that and what the the price point looks like because the overnights product, for example, it’s $5 per overnight product. If I want to buy a week’s worth of that we’re talking $35 plus shipping, it’s not a small expense for a breakfast product. So if they can get that cost lower while still, you know, making it safe and healthy and getting it out there. I feel like that’s kind of where the market will push a product like this, it seems like a difficult thing to achieve. So all that to say I want to understand better their manufacturing process, their distribution process, where they’re trying to head with pricing, because I think the there’s got to be some alchemy in all those ingredients.
Eric Hornung 52:02
Yeah, I would, I would agree with everything you said and also looking at distribution as a function of that. So as you can out in the next 6 to 18 months, I want to learn more about their distribution plans, going B2C is great. The problem with B2C is that you don’t have the volume discounts of producing at scale. So that pricing is going to be directly correlated to how many repeat orders you’re getting through the website because you need to be able to forecast and plan for your inventory. So if there was some sort of omni channel strategy developed, I would love to see this and like a whole foods that would give me a lot of comfort around their ability to scale and grow. It feels very on brand for the kind of Whole Foods ingredient selection basis and that there might be some hurdles there. But yeah, seeing retailers take this on as well so it’s not purely B2C would be an omni channel strategy that I’d be looking at See.
Jay Clouse 52:52
We’d love to hear what you think dear listener about Foodnerd and the opportunity here. You can tweet at us @upsidefm or email us firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk to you next week.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear what you think about this episode so tweet at us @upsidefm or email us email@example.com and let us know. You can learn more about us and browse our entire back catalogue of episodes at upside.fm. And if you love our show, please leave a review on Apple podcast that goes a long way in helping us bring high quality guests to the show.
Interview Begins 8:35
Debrief Begins 42:37
Sharon Cryan is the founder and CEO of Foodnerd.
Foodnerd specializes in 100% plant-based superfood products that are designed to increase the world’s understanding or accessibility of truly nutrient-dense foods.
They use raw, sprouted, organic ingredients that are GMO-free and never pressurized or treated with chemicals or preservatives, allowing them to maintain up to 98% of nutrients.
- UBE Attorney 9:31
- Japan Healthcare 14:07
- Law School to Foodnerd 18:05
- Sprouted Foods 23:11
- Foodnerd 28:18
- Lab Experience 30:33
- Foodnerd Funding 38:56
Foodnerd was founded in 2017 and based in Buffalo, New York.
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