Founder Molly Wilson said that craft beer’s momentum is helping propel her brand. “America loves craft beer right now, so we’re bringing something to people who love craft beer and having fun with cooking,” she told FoodNavigator-USA.
Her sentiments reflect data from The Brewers Association, which recapped 2016 as ‘a big year for small beer’ due to increases in brewery counts and production volume.
Part of the charm of these bread mixes is its custom personalization aspect. Bakers can mix molly&drew bread mix dry ingredients with beer or any other carbonated beverage, which means the only limit to what type of bread will come out is the bakers’ imagination, a quirk that taps into consumer demand for personalization.
A treasure hunt at a state fair
Wilson’s background is in politics, where she was driven by a personal mission to empower women and children. The small-town Iowan worked on The Hill for the late US senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota for five years, where she directed his public policy initiatives for women in poverty, and domestic violence survivors.
But the Midwest kept calling her back. She remembered a local Hallmark Gold Crown gift store in her town and bought it for an opportunity to change gears and become a retailer and job creator. This entrepreneurial experience helped her for her next chapter in life as a brand owner.
“[With my children], we used to go to this state fair, it was the world’s largest state fair…year-after-year there was this woman selling this mix of bread with lines longer than anything else in the state fair,” she recalled. People were buying bags and boxes full of it. It would become molly&drew’s original product.
Becoming a woman-run company
Wilson got to know the woman, who came from a town of 1,000 people, and offered to buy the mix to try to sell at Wilson’s gift store. “It wasn’t packaged for retail, of course, but it sold!” she said. Wilson kept coming back for more for her store, until the woman eventually sold the recipe because it became a feat to balance time and the project’s scalability (though she did still offer to help make it).
This was molly&drew’s taste test phase. “I trusted my gut, I bought the recipe. I had this vision for a brand that fills a void in the marketplace—something fun, quirky, and uses beer, where a lot of gourmet foods are pretty traditional,” she added. The Hallmark store was sold, and the baking mixes became Wilson’s focus.
Mostly self-taught with some help from a food scientist from the University of Nebraska as well as her co-packer, Wilson grew her brand’s portfolio to include multiple flavors of beer bread mixes, most recently adding what she calls a ‘Pinterest-worthy’ mug cake mix line.
Distribution is done in house, and it’s Wilson, together with a team of other women employees, that manages inventory and sends free samples to retailers around the country. “When you walk into our facility, you will see an all-woman owned and operated company. The picture you will see is women driving forklifts,” she added, emphasizing that employing small town women has been a core mission of her company.
From the heartland to the rest of the nation
Since its founding in 2013, the company has sold mainly through the gift store channel, especially in mom-and-pop stores and independent local chains. It’s also sold in Nordstrom and Cracker Barrel. Its first grocery store deal was with Hy-Vee, which started 18 months ago, and the brand has been growing significantly there. Today, molly&drew products can be found in around 4,000 stores.
As many new products in the food and beverage sector tap into the diversifying flavor palate of US shoppers, Wilson wanted to bring her ‘county fair’ flavor of the heartland to the rest of the nation.
She’s confident that her brand’s products will build a strong foothold in the grocery sector. “In the past we’ve held back so we can sustain and ramp up production, but now we can do that, and we’re excited to bring more product into more homes,” she said.