Following the startup journey, the Stern Oppy continues its coverage of the $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge with an exclusive interview with Food Period, the winners of last year’s New Venture Competition and the $75,000 prize. Back in March, we caught co-founders Britt Martin and Jenn Kim when they were busy being semi-finalists and today, they’re busier than ever in growing their business.
Food Period allows women to choose a natural alternative over pharmaceuticals when managing their menstrual cycle. Rooted in seed syncing or seed cycling, their Moon Bites are made of mainly raw seeds that “supports [the] body’s natural ability to modulate sex hormone production and elimination,” according to their website. This leads to “happier periods,” creating natural ways to manage cycles more gently, rather than introducing toxins and more to women’s bodies through the use of birth control.
Food Period’s monthly subscriptions boxes ranges from $71 to $75 per month and each subscription comes with two boxes, signifying each phase in a woman’s menstrual cycle: the follicular phase (from period start until ovulation) and the luteal phase (from ovulation to next period). Food Period recommends that women eat one package of Moon Bites daily, which comes in flavors like Carrot Ginger and Chocolate Hazelnut.
Stern Oppy: Britt, Jenn, thanks so much for sitting with us once again. We’ve been so curious as to what you’ve been up to and have observed your business take off! To start, congratulations on winning Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s “Make It in Brooklyn Food + AgTech” pitch contest in September. What plans do you have for the $5,000 cash prize and how was your experience?
Food Period: Thank you! We were thrilled to be part of the pitch-off and then, to win was so exhilarating, not only because of the cash prize, but because it was another set of stakeholders in the food and tech industry who were validating the need for more natural solutions in women’s health challenges. The best part was the line of women that formed at the end of the event to talk with us. They generously shared their own stories of struggle and their gratitude that we were working on a non-pharmaceutical solution.
Stern Oppy: In March, you told us that nearly 60 percent of American women taking birth control use it for non-contraceptive purposes. That sounds absolutely crazy to me – can you tell us a little more about why there haven’t been good alternatives out there? Have things changed?
Food Period: It is absolutely crazy. The fact that these statistics exist, [and that] the last true innovation for women’s health was the birth control pill back in the 1960s is, frankly, unacceptable. From what we’ve read and derived from conversations with those in the pharmaceutical world, women’s health issues (particularly, “period issues”) were never prioritized because, in most cases, women were not in positions of leadership to demand innovation. Having a painful period or an irregular cycle has, over decades, become normalized in our society because they are common. Just because it’s common however, does not mean that it’s normal – it’s a sign of hormonal imbalance. It’s exciting to us though, that as we become more deeply entrenched in this space, we’re finding more and more pockets of female entrepreneurs and practitioners who have been helping women in innovative, natural ways.
Stern Oppy: Being one of the forerunners in this space must have its challenges. There’s a perceived stigma about women talking about their periods, and generally, important parts of our bodies. But we observe the climate changing. MY FLO, for instance, is a period-tracking app for women and their partners to make informed decisions based on menstrual cycles. One of startup Lovability’s products, Lovability Condoms, is aimed towards women who feel embarrassed about carrying around condoms; they come with slogans like “Talk Feminist to Me.” This is a long-winded way of asking: Do you think society’s perception of women’s periods and sexuality is changing? Have you had difficulty communicating your brand because both men and women feel uncomfortable talking about it?
Food Period: Talking about periods is so much easier than we expected. We thought it would be super awkward talking to other women about their periods, but it wasn’t. Women were almost waiting for permission to discuss the problems that plague us all on a monthly basis. You’d be surprised how quickly strangers are willing to recount their entire menstrual histories to us. And we’re surprised at how excited we feel talking about it with them! Another thing that we’ve found, perhaps in the wake of the Me Too and Times Up movements, is that talking to men about periods has been easier than we expected too. In general, we’ve found men to be more conscious of their potential bias and their openness to understanding what women experience each month and how Food Period can help is reflected in the thoughtfulness of their questions. We never expected to have male customers, but we have a dozen or so men who buy for their daughters, girlfriends, wives, and sisters each month. It’s refreshing!
Stern Oppy: That’s great to hear! It’s so important to have men involved in these conversations; male allies are part of the equation to empowering women. In the March interview, you spoke of offering “resources and a community for all women to connect, share stories…” What progress have you made on that goal?
Food Period: We had grand plans of different ways to orchestrate a community for women as we grew Food Period, but what we found along the way is that our community built itself. It might be as simple as women answering each other’s questions on our Instagram posts or friends who live on opposite ends of the country subscribing together as accountability buddies. We have a Customer Advisory Board, who we float new ideas by and garner feedback from, and we’re now integrating more with our network of women’s health practitioners to bring more valuable content to our community. In a way, though, we’ve refrained from being too prescriptive with growing a community and are just mindful of watching what works and doesn’t work for the organic community that has sprouted up and then [we] execute on what they ask for.
Stern Oppy: It seems like the general theme here is natural and organic processes… Is there anything new you’ve learned about seed syncing and Moon Bites since you’ve won the $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge?
Food Period: As a natural practice, seed syncing hasn’t been largely studied and because our customers weren’t asking for double-blind clinical studies, we were always open about the lack of research, but cited the anecdotal evidence from tens-of-thousands of women who have seen success with the practice. Over the summer, we commissioned a literature review of all reputable scientific articles and studies that had been done on each of the seeds used in the practice and their micronutrients or chemical compounds. What we came back with was study after study of how the seeds and compounds they’re rich in have been shown to affect menstrual symptoms from cramping to PMS to menstrual migraines. You can look at our findings yourself at foodperiod.com in the “Seed Syncing” tab.
Stern Oppy: Will do! The Stern Oppy has been following the competition since it’s kick-off and it’s set to look like another amazing year. As winners of the New Venture Competition, what insider’s tips do you have for this year’s contestants?
Food Period: We were both judges in the first round of the $300K challenge and were excited by some of the ideas we read about. I think the single best piece of advice we received last year is that the best way to demonstrate product-market fit is to have paying customers. If you can do that, you no longer have an idea, you have a business.
Stern Oppy: There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with moving from an idea to a business. I’ve been following Food Period’s journey on Instagram and in one of your recent posts, I was shocked to see that you had to suddenly move production when the commercial kitchen Pilotworks closed down effective immediately. Is this one of the biggest bumps on the startup journey? What kinds of new challenges have you faced?
Food Period: Pilotworks shutting down was a huge shock. We received an email late one Saturday night that the kitchen was closed effective immediately and we were scheduled for 10 hours of production the next day. We often joke that we’re at our best as a team in crises, so one of us was rescued our ingredients and equipment that we owned from Pilotworks, while the other found and negotiated a contract with another commercial kitchen in the city. Within 48 hours of that horrifying email, we had transferred our licenses to a new space and were doing a full run. We had orders to fulfill, so our focus was solely on how can we still serve our customers. We also quickly picked up the pace on our conversations with manufacturers and in mid-November, we did our first formal run with a co-manufacturer in Charlotte, NC, letting us get out of the kitchen and focus on growing the business from a sales perspective. This was huge and, although stressful (and incredibly irresponsible on their part), the sudden Pilotworks shutdown forced us to move our timeline up and find a scalable solution. What we’ve learned is that entrepreneurship is a lot of firefighting and you begin to structure all of your decisions to proactively avoid fighting fires, but it’s inevitable and we’ve become less stressed and more focused with each challenge we face.
Stern Oppy: You guys are quick on your feet! Congratulations on signing a co-manufacturer, an important milestone to scaling the business. How are you ensuring customers that the quality will stay the same and that you’ll be keeping a good pulse on production?
Food Period: After a successful test batch (not sold, just testing), we flew out to Charlotte, NC together to meet with the owners and their team, personally. We wanted to know the names and faces of the people who would be making our product and share our story/mission. We’ve found that when everyone is aligned on mission, no one cuts corners, because we’re all working toward a greater purpose. We also flew out to Charlotte, NC (again) to be “on the floor” working alongside their team during the proper first run, which is atypical. But we wanted to observe every aspect, clarifying whenever necessary, and talking through all the reasons for the specific processes we’d developed in our production method. [On an ongoing basis], we’ll be delivered samples from every production run first to taste-test, look at packaging quality, and assess if anything feels different. Quality control is definitely something we have to continue to be on top of, but we’ve found developing strong relationships with all aspects of the supply chain is helpful in proactively mitigating challenges.
Stern Oppy: By the way, I love the new look on the Moon Bites, which went from spherical balls to a flat – but still circular – shape of the moon. The packaging and branding overall definitely has a new look and feel! It seems like the main driver for the change was customer feedback. How important has the feedback loop been for Food Period? What other changes can we look forward to?
Food Period: We’re so excited that you get that the circular, almost cookie-like shape still resembles the moon. Everything we do is driven by customer feedback and this was definitely not an exception. One thing we kept hearing from women is they weren’t sure how or where to store their box of Moon Bites. Our previous packaging was in a shallow, but wide box that took up a lot of counter space. Customers would send us photos of how they’d transferred their Moon Bites into tall glass jars to display on their countertops, which inspired the vertical design; moving to a “cookie shape” [also] made stacking vertically possible. We also heard that customers would sometimes get confused about the Phase of the Moon Bite, so now each subscription gets two distinct dispenser boxes: a Phase 1 box and a Phase 2 box, so you’re never confused about where you’re at in your cycle.
Stern Oppy: Speaking of cycles, we’re just about at the end of 2018. The beginning of a new year is always about New Year’s resolutions. I think that women putting their body first is a great resolution. How can women prioritize their wellbeing in 2019?
Food Period: One of the simplest, most cost effective ways for women to prioritize their wellbeing is just to pay attention to their periods. All you have to do is take note: Am I regular? Was this period painful? How did my mood change in the days leading up to my period? What foods did I crave and eat? Did I get enough sleep? All of these things affect our cycles and I think that just understanding what your body is experiencing, rather than divorcing ourselves from this recurring monthly experience, can do a lot for us as women. We can give ourselves more rest around our cycle, stock the fridge with healthy treats in preparation, recognize that maybe we’ve been dealing with a symptom that is debilitating and seek out a solution for it. Your period is a unique characteristic that only our gender is privy to and it’s the best non-invasive indicator of your health, so we urge you to listen to what it’s trying to say.
Stern Oppy: While we’re on resolutions, what’s your New Year’s resolution for Food Period?
Food Period: We realized that we’re great at working towards short-term goals that all contribute to our long-term vision, so we have an active subscriber KPI that we aim to hit in the first quarter. In essence, it’s an effort to really suss out what paid growth strategy works best for our company. All of our growth up until now has been organic, which still blows our minds, but we want to decipher that scaleable, repeatable pattern that will catapult us into the next stage of our vision. Another customer-driven goal is to move away from plastic packaging completely; this is important to our customers, so it’s important to us and it’s at the top of our product development to-do list in the New Year.
Stern Oppy: Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Britt and Jenn. Best of luck as you continue to grow the business!
Stay engaged and follow @food.period. Read up on their March interview with the Stern Oppy here.
Photo Credit: Food Period