How to Create a Meaningful Brand and Impact the World w/ SweetLeaf CEO Michael May
For today’s episode we welcome our guest, the owner of SweetLeaf, Michael May. Michael recounts his father’s incredible journey starting the company.
We learn about alternatives to sugars, and the laborious process of getting FDA approval. Mark, Justin, and Michael discuss the lessons they’ve learned that are crucial for the success of starting a company.
Michael talks about applying his military strategy training to being an entrepreneur and the challenges COVID has provided for CPG products getting on the shelves of retailers – and all the necessary preparation and planning that goes into it.
Michael May, Justin Girouard, Mark Young
Mark Young 00:20
Welcome, everybody to this edition of CPG Insiders. I'm your host, Mark Young and my co host, Justin Girouard. Justin, we just got back from Expo West. And what an enormous show that was oh my God, there was like 94,000 people there on Friday.
Justin Girouard 00:40
It felt like it. It was insane.
Mark Young 00:42
No, that was actually the number!
Justin Girouard 00:44
Mark Young 00:45
94,000 people went to that show.
Justin Girouard 00:48
Mark Young 00:49
Yeah. Which, I mean, I don't know how there could be 94,000 people in the in the healthy food business, but a lot of fascinating things there. A lot of me too products. And folks me too is not the place you want to be. But there was a lot of it there and some innovation. But why we were there we we talked to a new friend of ours to the podcast, Michael May, and I'm excited to have him on today. Now, you may not know his name, but you'll know his company's name. So his company is called Sweet Leaf. SweetLeaf Sweet Leaf is the artificial sweetener brand. They're on all the shelves all over America. You may have seen them on the side of NASCAR,
Justin Girouard 01:36
Mark Young 01:37
with the SweetLeaf logo and the their waterdrop product. And we're going to we're going to talk to Michael. So we're going to learn about how the business get started. We're going to learn about where the business is going. And I want to just ask Michael, some of the questions that I think earlier stage companies might want to ask a successful entrepreneur in the CPG world. Because in this show, we have people in all kinds of categories. We have people who are you very well down the road that have sophisticated companies, but we also have people that are brand new and just trying to get into the consumer packaged space. And it's always super invaluable for somebody that's new in the business to get a chance to hear from somebody who's done at all. Yeah, who's already been through all this stuff. And I've already and quite frankly, Michael know what I'm talking about. It's nice to talk to somebody who's already been been hit 15 times in the head by all of the things that can go wrong in the CPG business. So Michael, welcome to CPG insiders.
Michael May 02:46
Well, thank you very much. It's really great to be here. And I'm great to be here with with both of you. You know, it's you made that comment about the 94,000 people at Expo West. And I'll just say this, and I'm grateful that there are more than 94,000 people in the health industry that that helps us all. You mentioned some of the different challenges and difficulties of establishing a brand. You inferred that I I faced them all well, I'll just say that my father, who started this company 40 years ago, faced them all he he really pioneered a natural sweetener industry at a time when sugar and artificial sweeteners dominated the marketplace. And you really didn't have you know, any natural sweeteners in the marketplace when my father first brought stevia to the market in 1982.
Mark Young 03:33
And 40 years ago, people didn't worry about the health problems of sugar. So for the sake of our listeners, I'm going to switch hats for a minute, I'm going to stop being the marketing guy, I'm going to be the doctor guy. Sugar itself is a drug. And if sugar was invented today, sugar would probably be a controlled substance, the amount of damage that it can cause to the body through things like diabetes through AGEs is through, you know, the residual damage that it leaves in the organs and the muscles that ages the skin. It does all kinds of horrible things. And you guys have so let's start with the product you guys have the solution into then I think you have two solutions to that, right?
Michael May 04:20
That currently we have we have a stevia based products, and monkfruit. Stevia is a plant originally from Paraguay is a plant and the plant form it's 30 times sweeter than sugar. When you extract the sweet components from the plant. It's 250 times sweeter than sugar without any calories. Monkfruit is a fruit it's from it's from the melon family. And it grows in China. And it is also if you extract those sweet components about 250 times sweeter than sugar without the calories.
Mark Young 04:48
Why is this, and I realize your brand has grown considerably but why are people still using sugar and not using this? Why Is anyone still using sugar and not using this?
Michael May 05:01
Because there's so many different sweet components within the plant within the study of plant and the leaf and the technology early on, as you drew some of those sweet components out, and sometimes they had some some aftertaste, sometimes the way they were extracted added to added to that. And so I think people tried it early on, they had a bad experience, okay. And because they had a bad experience, they think it's, they think it's a commodity, they think it's like table sugar, everything tastes the same, it's all the same. Well, that's not true stevia really isn't a commodity, and how you use it in products, and how and what of those components you extract is really important to the taste. So the technology, the science behind how you how you bring that nature and science together has really improved to offer very clean, crisp tasting sweetness. That, frankly, is very good.
Mark Young 05:58
So how did the company get started?
Michael May 06:00
So my father, Jim May, he actually started out, he was a hospital administrator, this would be the late 60s and the 1970s. And he was asked to start an end Renal Disease Program, okay, he was not, he was not a medical doctor, he was he was a businessman working at a hospital. And he also ran the Arizona Kidney Foundation. He left this industry, really because he, he saw with dialysis, you know, we're extending life. And it was a wonderful thing that we can do, you know, with dialysis with, with with kidney disease, and really helping people extend their life through that the great thing that the medical community is able to do, except he also saw that they weren't improving their quality of life. So he really wants to improve quality of life. And he was introduced to a Peace Corps worker in 1982. And this Peace Corps worker basically showed him some different herbs from the rainforests of South America. And, you know, he said, there's a lot of healing qualities in these herbs. And, you know, he's from the medical industry, so he didn't believe it. He put, he said, just put this in your mouth. So he put the stevia leaf in his mouth. And he was stunned by how sweet it was. And immediately because my father was really a visionary, immediately, he could see what this could become. He envisioned, you know, the billion dollar plus industry in the global study industry that we're going to have here in a few years. That's this projection in 2030, he could see that from the beginning in the early 1980s. He immediately wrote this piece called worker a check for basically all his life savings. As you can imagine, my mother was not happy. I was I was a little kid at the time, and I do remember this, this, you know, starting out and my father started out in the exact way you hear some of these, some of these things started out, it really was, you know, bringing products from South America, and putting them in our garage. Loading up a van, and he would take it store to store and sell it in throughout the whole Rocky Mountain area, and not come back until the van was empty. And then we'd load it again. And he'd go back. And that's so that's how he established it. That's how he had to work for for years in the beginning. And early on, you know, you mentioned the sugar, that the issues with sugar. And I will just add that, you know, my father early on had had some difficult challenges he had to overcome, because by 1985, the makers of aspartame weren't keen on having stevia in the marketplace. And so the FDA banned Stevia and 1985 to be sold as a sweetener before that you could bring stuff into the marketplace was no big deal. And in 1985, you couldn't. So he worked with the FDA he worked with, with all the different agencies in the government over the next few years to try to get stevia approved as a sweetener, so that he could sell it in the United States because he knew what it would do for people. Finally,
Mark Young 09:06
Let me ask a quick question really quicker. When they banned that they banned that for some some cause that they came up with, or they banned that because Big Pharma and big food didn't want it to be on the marketplace.
Michael May 09:18
Really, it's the latter.
Mark Young 09:21
And I knew it was.
Michael May 09:23
it's you know, I mean, let's be honest, it's you know, if you're if you're a manufacturer of an artificial sweetener, in the 1980s. And all of a sudden you have a natural alternative, even though very, very, you know infantile in its footprint in the marketplace compared right? You don't want that because that potential of that has drawn millions of dollars away from your products, and you don't want that kind of competition. And so, it did however, my father worked with work to help get the DSHEA the dietary supplement Health and Education Act 1984 [sic]. And in that act, stevia was approved to be sold as a dietary supplement, except they told him what you cannot do is, is tell anyone that it's natural, or that it's sweet. Okay?
Justin Girouard 09:23
Mark Young 10:16
So we deal with this all the time.
Michael May 10:20
So he was he, you know, he struggled with thinking about what he could do. And that's when he developed the brand that we sell our products now. He developed the brand SweetLeaf, because it tells us it was the name of the brand, it could tell people that it's both sweet, and that it's natural simply by its name. So that's where the name Sweet Leaf comes from.
Mark Young 10:42
So the first lesson I want our listeners to come away with from this interview, this is great interview. The first lesson is, when you're bringing your product to market, you need to understand whose ox is about to be gored.
Justin Girouard 10:59
Mark Young 11:00
So when you're Mark, when your products coming to market, who are you about to take money away from? Who are they? How big are they? What potential do they have to come after you? And what kind of clout do they have with federal or governmental agencies? These are the things that you need to look at when you're bringing your product in. The second item, which Michael's already covered is just because your product does a bunch of things doesn't mean that the federal government's going to allow you to tell people that. This is why if you're a regular listen to this show, you always hear us talking about the need to have your team around you. And your team needs to include a capable FDA FTC attorney, who can tell you how to stay out of prison and tell you how to stop people with a lot of authority and sometimes guns from coming to your office and padlocking your door. So that's our first two lessons. Now let's get current. Justin, you had a question. Go ahead.
Justin Girouard 12:13
The question that I had was, was really when your father came up with the name Sweet Leaf, which again, is a great other brilliant way around these things. And, and if you're listening to the show, you've heard Mark and I talk about this that, okay, once you get that list of everything, you can't say, that's when you really need that advertising a marketing partner to come in and say, okay, here's how we can get away with it. Here's how we can still communicate it and SweetLeaf. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
Mark Young 12:46
I'm gonna give another example of this another client of ours, Michael, you'll love this. According to the FDA, you cannot cure toenail fungus with a topical product. You can only cure it if you take a pharmaceutical. Absolutely. Right? Now, there are many topical products on the market that will treat toenail fungus quite well. But if they don't have a drug monograph, you can't say that. So one of our clients named their topical product fungi cure, which you can't say it cures and he can't say it's for fungus, but you can call the product whatever you want to call it, which is kind of the same. It's a very good example of Sweet Leaf. As being fungi cure, the name tells you what is about to happen without actually saying what is about to happen.
Justin Girouard 13:35
Exactly. Right. So So my next question is, so how did how did your father take a business that he was selling literally door to door and scale it?
Mark Young 13:50
Yeah. And I first want to want to point out that your father did something which is very typical for entrepreneurs. And let me throw in there, Michael, that early on in my career. I also took money out of our 401k, and mortgaged our house and sent it off to a foreign country. Because that's what we do. And it's probably not something I would do again today because I don't need to but back in those days is like this is the only way this is going to happen. And there is a direct correlation between risk and reward especially early on in your in your business. But sometimes you have to do that stuff. But what your father did, your father did something listening to what I'm hearing. He refused to take no for an answer. When he was told you can't tell people this is sweetener, you can't bring stevia into the country. He didn't just fold up his tent and say, Okay, I'm done. I can't bring this into the country. He dug in. Obviously. He dug in and changed the laws. And these are the type of things that sometimes as an entrepreneur, you need to be willing to go after How committed are you, obviously, you and your family and your father were committed to this. And I always equate this to, when people talk to me about going into their into business for themselves. I always tell people, here's what I want you to do, I want you to envision a big long rope bridge going across a, a big gully that has hundreds of feet to the bottom. And you have to walk from this side of the bridge to the other side. And as you first make your first step onto the bridge, you set the rope on fire. And now you need to run all the way over to the other side and get on land before the rope bridge burns through. And there is no turning back. And if it burns through before you get up, then you probably need to learn how to climb a rope and get back up to land. Is that a safe, would you say that is that is a fair analogy of your childhood and your business career here?
Michael May 16:03
Yeah, yeah, that's that's pretty close it you know, it's interesting. In my childhood, I never, I never knew that my father didn't even make a penny for the first four years. I didn't know most of this stuff I did, you know, grew up in high school, I worked in our the company's warehouse, I, I worked in sales in college, I did different types of things all along the way. But one of the things that my father was was very good at was doing, at the same time, while you mentioned burning the bridges. You know, at the same time, he's doing that he was also introducing some other some other products from from South America that he that he sold, so that he could pay the bills, pays employees, you know, take take care of things and have enough money, so you could scale. So you couldn't grow because the time for stevia actually, even though we have this. So two things basically happened for us one, we had the great advantage. And I wished this advantage on every one of being first to market. Okay, so we have that advantage that we're basically the first to market. But also when the time for stevia and for natural sweeteners really came, which is 2008, when we were the first company to have stevia approved as a sweetener, so legally, it's a sweetener, and then basically, it blows up from there. And so that you have to lay that foundation, especially if you're a small company, if you're a startup, if you're just kind of climbing your way, you need that foundation, because chances are, unless you're some large established, you know, very big company, you're not going to be able to take advantage of that moment in the marketplace. And just put all the resources behind it. If you can lay that foundation, if you can, as you mentioned, Mark, burn those bridges if you can, if you can do that, you can be first and you can basically swim with the big fish. You know, if you're, if you can get in there, because that's kind of what happened. A lot of big people started coming into the steady industry in 2008 and 2009. Because all of a sudden, it's a sweetener now. And then everyone knew, you know, and we were able to come in because, well, you know, my father introduced stevia to the United States, you know, one of the one of the great privileges I had when I came back with the company because I was I was away working for the Air Force for a while. When I came back with a company. It was really fun traveling around the world, because my father was introduced all over the world as the father of stevia, regardless of who, you know, where it was, he was he was introduced that way. And I thought that was that's, that's pretty, that's pretty nice. You know, he passed away a few years ago now. And you know, that was that was good for him to finally get that kind of accolade for what he did and really establishing a natural sweetener industry in the US.
Justin Girouard 19:02
Mark Young 19:03
What drew you back into the company because you had your own career going you were working with the Air Force. Tell us a little bit about what you were doing and, and what what brought you back into the company? I mean, did you always plan on you'd be there eventually? Or what was that about?
Michael May 19:16
No, you know, actually, so like I said, I was I was doing some, some sales or for my father's company when I was in college, but I you know, had my own career goals in mind. I I ended up getting a PhD in military history and military strategy and I taught at the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College and in Alabama, for about eight, nine years. It was great, you know, I had an envision coming back with with the company but between about 2007 till I came back in 2013. You know, my father and my mother, were talking to me about coming back with a company you know, hey, can you can you do this? Can you do that and eventually, sometimes it's just feels like that right time, you know, I grew up with two things, this kind of desire to work in military history, which I did for a while. And then with this company, and you know, I grew up with this company, I packaged products by hand, these two things were in my blood, and it was just, it was just the right time. And, you know, it's one of those things where you just decide, you know, what, it's time for me to, to kind of go back to my roots, and to help my father out. And my mother at the time who was working in the company, they were both getting a little older. And so it was, it was the time.
Mark Young 20:39
So here's something I find, and this has happened in my life. And, and I find it happens in a lot of people's lives, especially as entrepreneurs, we've had multiple careers. We started down this path, and then we went to school for this, and then we ended up doing this, and then we ended up being entrepreneurs. How did your how did your education and your career in military history affect your management or your thinking when you came back to run SweetLeaf? Because I'm gonna bet and say that somehow there was a convergent someplace where you were able to lean back and say, you know, what, I have these other set of skills over here that I just acquired, that are actually going to help me at this.
Michael May 21:26
One of the things that I when it came to studying history when I was in college, and in grad school, as I was, I always wanted to apply, I always wanted to apply the lessons you can learn from certain things in the past to the present. And so you can map out a better future. Okay. And so that's what drew me to the military, because that's what they use their history for. And that's also how I can apply those same principles back into back into business, and specifically here at SweetLeaf. is, you know, what kind of things can can we learn? How can we grow? What, what markets, what categories? What other channels? Can we get in? How are we going to? How are we going to operate under some constrained resources? You know, when you talk about military strategy, it's strategy because you're trying to figure out how to get to a specific objective under a constrained resource.
Justin Girouard 22:23
Michael May 22:23
Sometimes constraints, and that kind of thing. That's everyday in business, you're always under constraints, whether they're FDA constraints, or, or monetary constraints, constraints where you mentioned before, just just, you know, 240, different products have different kinds of Nutritional Bars out there. And you want to find a niche for yourself, you want to be able to deliver some type of some type of value in your product that's not currently in the marketplace. I think all of that those kinds of things translate. Because, you know, strategy in the end is strategy. And the story around it might change, it might change from establishing an industry or a business, to taking a military objective. But in the end, it's all strategy and how you're going to get there.
Mark Young 23:17
We always work from the premise of your offer has to be bigger than your ask.
Michael May 23:23
Mark Young 23:23
So whatever it is, your product is offering me the benefits your product offers me needs to be bigger than the cost or the price of what you're asking me for it. That's always been our strategy. But you do bring it you do kind of make the point though, in most entrepreneurs' life, entrepreneurs tend to become very multidisciplinary people. I mean, your father didn't set out to be in the sweetener business. But you have these epiphanies, you have these moments. And what we always equate them to as is really true, great entrepreneurs. All believe every one of us believe we have a secret. And the secret that we think we have is we know how to do, make, create, build, we know how we know how to do something better than everybody else. That's the secret that we have to believe in. And I want to tell our listeners, if at this moment, you don't think you have that secret yet. Your products probably not ready for primetime yet. Because you need that secret. What is it that I can do better than anybody else? And is my offer bigger than my ask?
Justin Girouard 24:34
Mark Young 24:35
So you came back to the company in 2013?
Michael May 24:38
Mark Young 24:38
So roughly, we're coming up on about 10 years now.
Michael May 24:42
Mark Young 24:43
How has the industry changed in just that 10 year period? What was what did you find when you got here and what's different today than just 10 years ago, which wasn't that long ago, but the industry has changed significantly in the past 10 years.
Michael May 25:00
I think we've seen a continual and continual increase of natural products and natural foods being accepted in the mainstream. We've also, we've also seen just a change in, in the marketplace, where you know, before if you wanted to buy SweetLeaf, stevia sweetener, you were going to a natural foods store. Now you're going to a grocery store.
Justin Girouard 25:24
Michael May 25:24
Because the grocery stores across across the marketplace now have grown either have natural sets, or they're just integrated into the main aisle. So you've seen just in the past 10 years, this kind of switch from where it was still kind of kind of niche was still kind of, you know, you had that natural specialty store kind of, in the industry was, was just basically small.
Justin Girouard 25:52
Michael May 25:52
I mean, it was it was growing, but it was still smaller was still a little more insular. And you saw that, and we see this continual transition, we're still seeing it today. You know, you can go to your natural products now to Walmart or Target, you can go get, you can go to clubs, stores have it, you don't have to go to Whole Foods and Sprouts. And I'm not saying you shouldn't. Okay, that's where you want to go go. You can get it anywhere.
Mark Young 26:14
Yeah, I literally bought SweetLeaf products yesterday at Publix, which is a mainstream, you know, grocery store chain in the Florida area. I'm down in Florida this week. But yeah, literally was in there on the shelf to buy it. How would you say the landscape has changed dealing with the retailers in the past 10 years?
Michael May 26:33
You know, it's interesting, because you almost have to break up the past 10 years, I think in two segments, almost like the pre COVID segment, and the COVID post, because things really are, they're still kind of changing, and how we deal you know, used to be with with retailers who went in to make, you know, buyer presentations, you're going face to face you're doing, you're doing cut ins, people are trying your products, or they're trying different things out, and then all of a sudden, it becomes very virtual. And, and you know, you're talking to someone on Zoom, or, you know, or teams or something like this, and all of a sudden, it's really different. You have to you have to have that presentation, locked down, and you're only gonna get 15 minutes, maybe anyway, but now they're not trying it. So now you got to you got to convey the value that you're going to add, you know, to, to that buyer to its shelf, to their shelf space and everything sometimes, you know, with even without them getting the chance to try your product, which is a difficult thing. And I will tell you this for us at SweetLeaf. It was a difficult thing for us. And I will tell you why we we have found that three fourths of consumers that actually try our product, end up buying it. When people say look, I've tried stevia I don't want but just try ours. That's all I'm asking you to do. And then you make your decision yourself. Well, some of them, well, my father was establishing this, this brand and getting buyers to put it on their shelf when no one was putting stuff on their shelves. It was based on on taste, they would actually taste it, we used to taste that at the time buyers would taste your product. Okay, that tastes pretty good, I guess it is, you know, put it out there, I'll give it a chance, then it sells and you kind of keep building and growing. That's kind of the grassroots way of building our relationship with retailers. You know, it's really important, I think the landscape has has changed. But in the end, it's it's exactly what you mentioned earlier, in the end is what value are you going to bring to your consumer? And if that value is going to your consumer, what value are also are you going to bring to your retailer? How are you going to convince that retailer that your product is worth putting on that shelf taking inches away from your from somebody else? And that value needs to be tricked needs to be translated? Sometimes just speaking virtually.
Mark Young 29:03
Yep. And it gets back to the offer needs to be bigger than the ask. If the ask in this point is if the ask is give up these four inches of shelf space than the offer needs to be I'm going to make you more money on those four inches of shelf than the item you're going to take off to put me back in.
Justin Girouard 29:22
Mark Young 29:24
And your and your answer can't be because I make a better product. Your answer needs to be I have a plan. And I can show you my plan of how I'm going to make this happen. Mike, I want to talk to you about racing you got into into NASCAR racing, what motivated you to get into the racing program and how is how has that been for you? Two, two motivations, one, very simple that we need to get our brand. When we when we talked about kind of the changes of the past 10 years. We talked about, about natural will becoming more mass? Well, one of the one of the things is we need to get our brand before in front of more people. And NASCAR fans also have a, a significant portion that are diabetic or pre diabetic, you know, they're trying to eliminate sugar, were one of the answers for that, and someone's in someone's, you know, diet. And so we wanted to get our brand out there, we wanted to introduce our products to a demographic, perhaps, that you know, hasn't seen it. When you when you're when you get the whole industry kind of moving into bass and grocery, you need to get your brand out in front of the people that are going into mass markets and the grocery. And so we needed to do that. And NASCAR was was a great vehicle for us to do that. The other thing is, you know, it's really important for us to grow. And to and to really, you know, I used to talk about this a few years ago of almost like democratizing our products and our brand getting it to more people, how are we going to do this? How are we going to? How are we going to give people because what they want to do, you know, you know, the great thing about about democracy and the fundamental thing behind it, you get a choice? Well, if I want to be an impact for good in someone's life, if I want to deliver them a product, that is going to be better for you, they need to be able to choose it, they're not going to be able to choose it if it's not on the shelf. Okay, so I have to figure out a way to get it on the shelf, so that the consumers can have a choice. And NASCAR was was one of the vehicles that that we could use to really do that. How it's working. It's working out great. You know, it's it's, we're, you know, we've had, you know, we've heard things back that that people are being introduced to our brand into our products through NASCAR. Then what happened any other any other way that we, at least we could do it for, you know, over time. Yeah, racing. The racing audience is a very loyal audience and all the race programs, customers have a tendency to sponsor to shop with the people who sponsor racing. So let me give you another lesson, I want to recap a lesson that you just explained to people. You had two opportunities. When you started the business or when a business was early. You were in health food stores, and the whole foods and places like that. Which meant you were you were preaching to the choir at that point. You were talking to the people who are looking for healthy alternatives. What Michael's demonstrating is when they moved into into racing and NASCAR, NASCAR specifically index is really high for things like diabetics for being diabetes, and obesity and things of that nature. What you were doing, or what Michael was doing was, he was now expanding his universe. He was now saying, instead of just talking to this group of people who already know what stevia is, and they're already looking for alternatives, let's make our universe bigger. Let's talk to more people who are outside of our universe. And let's start preaching to the unconverted not preaching to the converted today, which gave you more people to talk to. And by going to NASCAR, you took you actually took the problem to the people who have the issue, which which I applaud you for it, because I mean, it does get back to preaching to the converted, you know, is, you know, is your church a tent where the converted meet? Or is it a hospital for the hurt and the broken? You actually reached out to find the hurt and say, Hey, we know you have an issue, we have a solution to that issue.
Justin Girouard 33:49
And the and the other thing that just did is he was not just introducing a brand to a new audience, he was introducing a new category to a new audience. So this is this is a this is a very difficult thing that happens with a lot of products. When they say great, okay, I've reached a certain limit. And we'd say, well, you have to actually expand the category, which means you have to change consumer habits. So at this point, you're not just converting consumers from another brand, you're introducing them to a whole new product line and changing their buying habits. It's very difficult. How can we do that? You are able to leverage the loyalty that NASCAR has of their fans, you were able to draft off of that to introduce them to a new category that they might not have ever considered. Or to your point, when you talked earlier about and this is something else, you may have an answer or not. But there are a lot of people that you stated earlier who have experienced stevia in the past And were like aww it was awful. I didn't like the taste or it, it had digestion issues because they consumed too much all these different things when they were consuming inferior products. So there might have been a lot of consumers that will I've tried that already before, but not your brand, and you're still able to get them as well. Why? Because of NASCAR's hold on that consumer. So that was I think, really, that's really smart. And again, a critical point when you're talking about trying to make a major consumer choice change, not just from brand to brand, but actually getting them into a whole new category.
Mark Young 35:37
Now, Michael, how do you separate yourself from the other artificial sweeteners? Because there's lots of artificial sweeteners on the market. And you know, some of those are sugar alcohols, some of those are not good for you, how do you help the consumer? You know, because a lot of people think of sugar and artificial sweetener. They don't think of sugar and these different types of artificial sweeteners.
Michael May 36:02
So we differentiate herself in two ways. We differentiate ourself from sugar and from artificial sweeteners as natural sweetener. So you have stevia and monk fruit are natural and why they're natural, instead of artificial is artificial sweeteners are actually, I mean, they're created in a lab. They're they're truly artificial. Yeah, they're chemicals. Exactly right. Step stevia and monk fruit are just this week, they're called glycosides, or a monk fruit they're called mogroside. But anyway, there's a sweet components of that leaf for that fruit that's extracted through an extraction process. And so they are they are natural sweetener, so so we can differentiate ourselves that way based on the science, but at the same time, how we differentiate ourselves to a consumer is that, you know, we are you're zero calorie, you're natural, you're not going to have some of the harmful side effects that come with some of the artificial sweeteners, you're not going to have the calories or some of the other side effects that come with sugar. It doesn't, it doesn't have the same kind of effect on the body that sugar does, because it technically is not a sugar. And so it's it's a stevia and monkfruit are different in that way, that they're not actually metabolized. And so they're because they're not sugars. And so they they are sweet, and they are components of the plant or the fruit. But so there is there is a there is a difference, just in definition, but what we have to do to a consumer. So any consumer, I mean, we grew up in America, we love sugar, right? Americans love their sugar, everything tastes like sugar. There's two basic tastes that we have when it comes to sweetness. It's sugar and high fructose corn syrup, right? Because we're
Mark Young 37:58
The average American by the way, it's 54 pounds of sugar a year.
Michael May 38:04
That's, that's amazing.
Mark Young 38:06
Mind blowing, isn't it.
Michael May 38:07
And so what we have to do is we have to craft a product made from from this natural sweetener without removing any of the good. Okay, but make it taste more like sugar. Otherwise, consumers are gonna go wait a second, that doesn't taste right. If they grew up with the taste of stevia, and there's something interesting that we've discovered, as we, you know, we have these, this, this, these monk fruit products, even though they're both sweet, those who grew up with a taste of stevia, they're, they're, you know, children of homes that were in the natural market, you know, for for years, they don't like the monk fruit because it's the wrong taste of sweet cat like how people who grew up with sugar, you know, majority of people, and they're not sure about the taste of, of either artificial sweeteners or natural sweeteners or other things because they're used to sugar. And, you know, it's a very interesting thing. So, what we have to do is, is make it taste more like sugar, also to get it to that, you know, broader, that broader consumer base and then consumer education and this is absolutely essential for any for any product that you are launching in the natural food industry. What sets you apart from, from the other products that are unnatural or whatever on the shelf, is you need to educate the consumer. My father built this based on consumer education it had to because he started out going store to store and door to door. He had to educate people, and people would buy things simply because of their trust in him often because they didn't know what they were, what they were starting out with. But that consumer education is really important. And then delivering that, once you educate the consumer on why this product is really important, why this is going to make a difference in your life, why it's going to make a change for you, then the product has to actually need to deliver on that. And once the product delivers on that, and you've educated them, now, you've built a lifelong consumer. Now that marketing spend into doing that educating the consumer, making the making the great product, because they've tested it, and they've tried it, and it's made the difference, maybe it's taste, maybe it's a, maybe it's a function of the product, that will give you a lifelong consumer, and that makes loyal consumers.
Justin Girouard 40:42
So I want to, I want to take something that you just said there, and I want to make sure that the listeners heard what you were saying. Product delivery is the key to lifetime consumers. The product must deliver on the promise and the experience. That's the key. So branding may help introduce it. But it's product delivery, if it doesn't give the consumer what they're looking for, then you will never build a lifelong relationship with the consumer. That's the key.
Mark Young 41:16
Yeah, and all the advertising in the world will not keep a bad product alive. If the product doesn't deliver on what the brand promises.
Justin Girouard 41:24
Mark Young 41:25
We can continue to go out and buy new consumers for for a while.
Justin Girouard 41:29
Mark Young 41:29
But eventually the word gets out, we run out of being able to buy consumers and we can't buy them cost effectively anymore. And then that's the end of your brand, the brand. I always tell people, this is something that Michael hasn't heard us say, as an ad agency, most agencies always tell people that you know, they build brands. And we always tell people, no ad agencies don't build brands, great products, build brands. Ad agencies are a dating service, the ad agencies job is to just get you more first dates today, it's your job to get a second date and to get engaged and to get married. Because the advertising isn't going to do that no different than you're not going to go on match.com and expect match.com to find you a marriage proposal. You're going to find match.com to find you a lunch meeting. And it's up to you. And that's and that's the key of what you're doing. You you had to make. You have to continue to make products that people that delight people that bring people coming back and buying it. What's what's in the future for SweetLeaf, don't you know, not asking for the trade secrets. But what's what's in the future without without, without tipping anybody off of anything that's a surprise. So in a sweetener category, we need to innovate within that category, we need to ensure that we're delivering the brand promise that we have with our consumers by continuing to innovate. So we started our brand is known for innovation, because obviously the first market we started that industry, we have to deliver that. You can't get stagnant within within your own category, you need to innovate, you need to deliver. And so we're going to be doing that you'll see in the next two to three years, there'll be innovation within the sweetener category that hasn't been seen. And we think it's going to deliver a value that is different. And we think it's going to, it's going to, you know, be able to, to maintain that, that that core SweetLeaf consumer that's looking for the new innovative types of sweetener products. At the same time. When we when we like we talked about NASCAR getting to that new consumer base building, expanding the marketplace, we need to do we need to move some of our products into into other categories. And by that I mean you know, we have a division of our company that sells commercial B2B ingredients and we supply we provide proprietary blends of sweeteners for other people's products. Well, the time has come for us to make some of those products ourselves and to do some of those things because how we can how we can replace sugar in a an already better for you product that's out there. We we think we can do it in a way that will deliver some some function and taste in a way that that will differentiate it. And it will allow our loyal consumers to see that brand in other places in Okay, now I can become part of their marketing. I can become part of consumers life not just in sweetening coffee, not just in sweetening something they're baking with that day. But now they're taking some different, they're eating different things during the day. They're they're using different products during the day, that SweetLeaf is becoming that partner for them to make a change for a happier, healthier life. And so we want to do we want to do that. And what I mentioned before about democratizing, getting it out there to a broader people getting more, having consumers being able to make that choice. We're we, you know, we continue to grow and expand international. And, you know, going out to marketplaces internationally is very important for us. So there's, there's a lot of populations out there that are diabetic, you know, and pre diabetic like India and the Middle East and a lot of different places. And we, we do sell internationally, but we have a lot of plans over the next few years to grow that, to grow that footprint to introduce our products there to expand that customer base abroad. And so those two things expanding here domestically growing into new marketplaces and channels. And then growing internationally is what we're going to see in the future. I'm gonna go to put on put the doctor hat back on for a minute. Sugar is hidden in everything. And I want to remind people that so if you take, this will, this will shock most people, if you take a bottle of ketchup. And you look at the amount of sugar in it, a typical bottle of ketchup, a third of the contents of that bottle is sugar. So look at a bottle of ketchup look 1/3 up the bottle, that's how much sugar is in it. Another one that is that will just blow your mind is looking at a can of baked beans. And you'll see that that little can of baked beans is a quarter, the quarter that can is sugar that's in it. And by the way, whether it's white sugar, brown sugar, it's sugar, or whether it's fructose, it's sugar. There are 65 different names that manufacturers use for the word sugar, to be able to sometimes disguise it on labels. So you really have to be a labeled detective, and go through and look at it. And the last thing I want to leave people with is you're talking in the health side, as you're talking about, you know, pre diabetic and metabolic syndrome and people that are on the verge of diabetes. In the brain health area, which is a place where I spend time there's a belief now we're all coming to a strong conclusion that there is now what's called type three and type four diabetes. And type three and type four are basically dementia and Alzheimer's. Type three being dementia and Alzheimer's with obesity, which is now being referred to as diabesity. And then there's type four, which is actually sugar induced diabetic brain damage on patients who are not physically obese. So you can actually have someone whose weight is you know, conforming, but they still are having the dimension you Alzheimer's. And we're going to find out very soon that dementia in this country, which affects 25% of people that have reached the age of 80 is going to be sugar driven. That's going to be the basis of all this. So not only is your product sweet, and it's fun, and you've got fun labeling, and there's great flavors and stuff. This is this is more than a sweetener. This is this is this is a health product. This is the me I look at your product. And I think your product is, again, I know it's a sweetener, it's not a medical device. It's not a medical product. But it will help you not have the drug like effects of sugar on your body. And as I said earlier on sugar sugar is a drug. So we're getting a bunch of great stuff in the show that shows really mix it's part business and part entrepreneur and part science. Michael, you've been awesome guest I really enjoyed you. I want to ask you one more question. That is where you sit today in your company. If a if a young entrepreneur launching their first CPG product was to get a moment to sit across from you at a desk and ask for advice. What would be the things you would tell them?
Michael May 49:23
Well, first, I'd say go for it. There's all kinds of reasons. And you mentioned very early in this show different challenges, the different roadblocks, the speed bumps that are going to come along the way and they will anyone anyone starting out is going to hit those. It could be financial, it could be you know, regulatory, it could be whatever, and
Mark Young 49:44
Tough times are coming.
Justin Girouard 49:46
Michael May 49:49
And I guess what you really need is just just that that dog did that dog had excuse me, kind of willingness to move forward. against the odds, be passionate. Understand that that passion is going to is going to get you up in the morning, when you're facing the challenges. But then something you mentioned earlier is really important that that passion gets you to a point. And then you mean, then you have to deliver, you need to deliver on the products you need to deliver on, on the value added to your consumer, you need to deliver on how you're going to educate the consumer, you know, you need to do it, you know, I, I love, I love college football. And it's the blocking and tackling, you know, you got to do the blocking and tackling of, of putting that product on the shelf. And a lot of times when somebody's when somebody's buying it for the first time, they're buying it, because you told them something about it. If your product is great, be as good as your product. So that person you know who's going to draw because they're basically trusting you. And they're trusting you through that product through that service, the product is providing through that job, it's fixing for them during the day, but they need that product for and so so you know, move forward and don't give up. Because you're gonna want to at some point.
Mark Young 51:23
Yes, you will.
Justin Girouard 51:24
Mark Young 51:24
And I will tell. And I will tell you that every every breakthrough product was a crazy idea the day before it started selling.
Justin Girouard 51:34
Mark Young 51:37
That's the world of being an entrepreneur is people are telling you, you're crazy. You can't do this, this is a bad idea. Why would you risk your 401k? Or why would you risk your home? Or why would you quit your job? I mean, think about that your father decided he was he was going to run off and sell sell a plant leaf.
Michael May 51:57
Justin Girouard 51:58
Mark Young 51:59
I mean, that doesn't even sound rational for a guy who's married with children to say, Oh, my goodness, I found this leaf in a foreign country, I think I'm gonna go buy these leaves, and try to do something with it. And yet here, you sit. Michael, I have one quick question for you. If any of our listeners are working on food products that are in need of a great sweetener, how do they get in touch with you?
Michael May 52:29
Well, one easy way to do it is to go to our website Sweetleaf.com. And you'll see on there just a link that will get you in touch with me or with our r&d department. And we supply you know, we work with companies all the time on removing sugar from their products, having our sweeteners work directly with their products. And if you go to sweetleaf.com. And if you if you go there, you'll find a link into how you contact us directly to work with you to get remove sugar to create a new product. We can work with you on that too.
Mark Young 53:08
Yeah, you have chemists, you have you have r&d people on staff don't you?
Michael May 53:13
We do we do.
Mark Young 53:16
That's great. Michael, I really appreciate you being here. Any other questions for from you? Just me. It's been a great show. I mean, I've really, enjoyed having you here.
Justin Girouard 53:25
No, no. I mean, this has been amazing. The only other not even questioning but but comment is I want to make something that I hope wasn't lost on the listeners when we talk about expansion. Because I think again, if we're going to summarize this story, your father found a real problem, a real need in the marketplace and a space he could provide value. He discovered his secret, Mark, as you describe something he did better than anybody else. So not just the need, but he had a secret. Right? Then he was persistent through the tough times every time. Another bump in the road came, he created a plan he executed he didn't give up.
Mark Young 54:09
And refused to take his use refuse to take no.
Justin Girouard 54:12
Bakley the first guy to the wall is always bloody. So he got through it. Right? Then maximizes reach. And that's what you've been doing over the last with more retail distribution, getting the right message with the education. But the last piece you just talked about with the next phase was through expansion expansion through innovation. But I want to make sure this is clear too, is that true innovation, so what you talked about, I think were two key things. One was expanding to other categories. Great. Here's a different spot that we're not into which our technology does work. So we're introducing into a new space, or you talked about complimentary items. Here's other sweetener type products that we're not in yet. So it's not a bunch of me too products will work quote unquote, innovating. And at best, we're taking someone who buys you know, one of our products, and now they're going to decide between one or two. But we're not actually creating more business, we're just slicing up our current business.
Mark Young 55:16
Innovation is not now available in family size.
Justin Girouard 55:19
Exactly. So it's true innovation, and you're laughing. But this is what this is what entrepreneurs are used to seeing. They look at the big brands, and they're like, okay, this is how they do it. We're gonna have seven different flavors now. And it's like, but does the consumer want seven different flavors? No. So now you actually just lost the business you had when you had your two. Right?
Mark Young 55:43
And as we discussed on this show in the past, innovation doesn't come from the big multinationals.
Justin Girouard 55:49
Mark Young 55:51
Now available and family size are now available in our drip proof bottle is innovation at the big guys. The innovation all comes from the small companies.
Justin Girouard 56:01
Mark Young 56:02
It's where all of the innovation comes
Justin Girouard 56:04
Absoluetly. But I want to make sure it's very clear that great The next phase is true innovation and executing it properly and executing a way that can continues to bring value to the consumers because that's what's important.
Mark Young 56:17
Well, Michael, thanks for being with us. Really appreciate it. It's been a great guest. Folks, we'll have show notes. So if you're looking for the link to SweetLeaf just go to the show notes at CPG insiders and the link will be there. If you enjoy the show, pass it on, give us a good review wherever you get your iTunes or, you know, iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcasts from. And as always, you can reach out to Justin or myself if you have a topic or something you'd like to hear us cover on the show. Other than that, that's it for this week, and we'll be back on the next episode of CPG Insiders. If you're looking to greatly increase sales on your CPG product, don't hesitate to contact us at Jekyll and Hyde advertising and marketing. By the way, the only advertising agency with a guaranteed result. Just go to Jekyll Hyde agency.com Or feel free to give us a call at 800-500-4210