It all started with joint pain. “I was in high school when I first noticed my joint pain,” Katlin Smith, Simple Mills founder and president, said in an intro video of her brand. “I guess in my early 20s, one of my friends mentioned to me my joint pain might actually be caused to the food I’m eating.”
After a suggestion from a friend, she cut out a lot of pre-processed food from her diet, and in her video, she talks about how she felt better and the pain was gone. She started making baked goods from scratch using almond flour and other ingredients, and when she brings some to her friends, everyone loved it.
An entrepreneurial flame ignited in her. “I really thought [baking mixes] was the easiest way to get started. I wanted to bring healthy options with simple ingredients to people, doing it in a way that simplified people’s lives but also tastes really good,” she told FoodNavigator-USA. “I brainstormed a lot, like thinking about starting a meal delivery service. But I think, because [baking mixes] are dry ingredients, I don’t need to think about the long-term shelf-life of it.”
Kick starting blues
Before starting a baking mix brand, Smith worked as a general consultant at Deloitte; in other words, food wasn’t something she had much experience in, let alone being her specialty.
She started Simple Mills with $70,000 she had saved up. “I still worked full-time and travelled four days a week, and worked on Simple Mills very early mornings or over the weekend,” she said about the early days of the brand, which was first registered in 2012.
By 2014, the small sum eventually dried out, but her parents pitched in, scrapping together money they could give. “They actually reversed mortgage their house so they could give me some money,” she said.
“When I first started raising money, I thought all of the money we would ever need as a business was $200,000, which was incredibly naïve,” she recalled. It wasn’t long before Smith realized she needs (a lot) more money to keep Simple Mills sustained and growing. Around this time, she found her seed round investor, and over six months, they raised about $2 million by July 2015.
“You just try to network the best you can,” she said about finding investors. “You’re talking to pretty much anybody that would listen.”
“The only co-packer online”
Being new to the CPG industry, Smith didn’t realize how difficult it was to find a co-packer, and how secretive the facilities would be. “I found what looked to be the only co-packer online,” Smith joined. “They were good in that they would do small production runs, but terrible in every other way.”
As Smith’s network expanded, she found a new co-packer through referrals, and she has stuck with the same one ever since, especially because of the independence her company gets with sourcing materials.
“When we introduce an ingredient, we take a good look at the certificate of authenticity,” Smith said, adding that they won’t take any with unlisted ingredients (“We found most pumpkin powder had up to 20% corn—unlabelled!”).
As of now—a search engine can prove this—Simple Mills is the only almond flour bake mix on the market, and they’ve been expanding nationwide since 2015. According to Smith, the vast majority of other baking mixes use ingredients that contribute a lot of carbohydrates that are turned into sugar by human bodies. “Almond flour is really nutritious, it has protein, vitamins and minerals in it,” she said. “And it doesn’t spike your blood sugar.”