founder

Lil Bucks Founder Emily Griffith on the Future of Food

Summary

Americans are increasingly looking for healthier foods and snacks — but without sacrificing taste or texture. We’re also gradually becoming more aware of unsustainable agricultural practices and the need to find alternative crops that nourish the soil.

Enter Lil Bucks. This startup uses sprouted buckwheat to make breakfast and snack foods that are healthier and more sustainable than many current products. We sat down with founder Emily Griffiths to learn more about how she discovered sprouted buckwheat and her philosophy on the future of food.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Olivia Strobl
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
Emily Griffith

After discovering the potential of an underutilized superfood while living in Australia, I founded Lil Bucks as America’s buckwheat brand. We sell innovative buckwheat snack and breakfast products, while promoting a more nutritious diet and better soil health in North America.

Olivia Strobl
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
Emily Griffith

The idea for Lil Bucks simply started with a life-changing acai bowl by the beach in Sydney, Australia (yup). The reason this eating experience was so impactful was that the cafe used sprouted buckwheat seeds as their granola alternative, and it had this satisfying crunch unlike anything I’d eaten before. The best part: I felt amazing — energized and satisfied — after eating the bowl, and not sluggish like I would normally feel after eating sugary granola. Turns out the sprouted buckwheat on the bowl was providing the satisfying protein, fiber, antioxidants and more, while being gluten free. This kick-started an obsession with sprouted buckwheat, and when I realized America wasn’t aware of the versatility of this super-seed, I decided to bring it back to the USA via delicious snacks and breakfast products. 

On a macro level, the Lil Bucks brand is inspired by Australia’s amazing food culture: awareness of where food comes from, using simple and real ingredients, diverse plates, and an openness to new ingredients and flavors. Healthy, REAL and tasty food wasn’t just for the rich hippies, it was for everyone. At my favorite restaurant in Sydney, the eggs came from the chicken coop in the restaurant’s backyard, the bread from the bakery across the street, and they used a new vegetable I’d never heard of each time I visited. These ideas of local food and food awareness are percolating in the USA, but it takes longer to tackle our behemoth food industry and the practices within it. Our brand hopes to inspire that awareness and desire to eat healthy, delicious REAL food, with a dose of the laid-back Aussie lifestyle and sense of humor.

Olivia Strobl
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
Emily Griffith

After working three years at a digital marketing agency in Chicago, primarily on Hormel Foods and some of their brands (like SPAM!), I moved to Australia to work for a boutique digital marketing agency. Ironically I ended up with a large Australian meat brand as well as some smaller food and beverage companies for clients. It was even more eye-opening to get a behind-the-scenes look at how major American and Australian companies were approaching their product development and communication — how they were similar and different. This experience certainly opened my eyes to what could be created with a new type of food company.

Olivia Strobl
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
Emily Griffith

Through our brand we aim to inspire the love for real, sustainable and nutritious food — and yes, that can taste amazing! Like our customers, we are done with Big Food and the fake ingredients and harmful practices that come with it. We are incredibly transparent on our journey to becoming a better food company and aim to be a leader in the Future of Food, that puts people and planet over profit. We MUST be better for future generations. 

Olivia Strobl
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
Emily Griffith

We’re still a lean team, with myself as the only full time corporate employee. We found incredible contractors to leverage top tier talent at a price we can afford to get us to the next level — Knack PR (helped us get in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Bon Appetit and more), VP of Sales (hiring with Republic campaign funding!), operations consultant, and incredible accountant. In 2021, in addition to bringing on our part time sales manager, we want to bring on an entry level role to support sales and marketing activations. Our advisor Bert Cohen has been a huge help in the financing and operational department, and our newest advisor Angela Rassi has been great for product development and strategy.

Olivia Strobl
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
Emily Griffith

Since we’re the only buckwheat brand, we compete with existing alternatives with our three-pronged value proposition: Taste, Texture and Nutrition. Lil Bucks offers plant-based eaters and crunch seekers elevated taste and nutrition via its unique ingredient usage and product formulations. We compete against the better-for-you breakfast brands like Purely Elizabeth and Michelle’s Granola, and better-for-you snack brands like Rhythm Superfoods and GoRaw.

Olivia Strobl
What does your business model look like?
Emily Griffith

Our revenue is about 50% wholesale through partners like Whole Foods and distributors UNFI and KeHE and 50% DTC through LoveLilBucks.com and Amazon. We’re excited to see foodservice slowly pick up, too, but we are focused on retail and DTC for 2021. We’re solidifying velocities in key natural retailers in California and the Midwest before expanding nationally. We’re also increasing brand awareness and capitalizing on increased ecommerce shopping by building our DTC business on Amazon and LoveLilBucks.com through improved marketing funnels, keyword targeting and advertising.

Olivia Strobl
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
Emily Griffith

Despite 93% of household purchasing being done by women, raising money in food and beverage is inherently harder as a solo female founder. While the public is paying more attention to women and minority founders, it will still take a while to permeate the investing space and change deep biases firms have towards supporting business without a white male founder. Republic democratizes fundraising and allows anyone to invest based on simply believing in the brand, business, founders and/or mission. This allows for the collective individuals to raise businesses the public wants up, rather than just having the small group with the most money decide who gets to succeed (which is still primarily males — not to say there hasn’t been any progress in the space, of course!).

Olivia Strobl
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
Emily Griffith

We intend to be the Quaker Oats of Buckwheat. Our unique brand, fast-moving products, and values will get us there. At that level, our values will be the same:

  • We make sustainably-sourced, next-level nutritious products from REAL whole foods. We won’t cut corners on sourcing or nutrition for our bottom line.
  • Everything we do will be done mindfully with our impact on the planet at the forefront.
  • Our cheeky, Aussie-inspired brand helps Americans live a more balanced, “chilled out” and healthy life, while understanding where their food is from and helping to promote the consumption of more regenerative crops, like buckwheat, in the USA.
  • We are a part of the Future of Food. We will be the change we want to see.
Olivia Strobl
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
Emily Griffith

We’re in an industry ripe for strategic acquisitions and exits. Big Food can’t build brands like startups. Heeding lessons like General Mills’ successful management of Annie’s, large food corporations learned that strategically acquiring fast-growing brands to round out their portfolio is better than trying to beat small companies at their own game. We’ve already had early conversations with General Mills and Kellogg’s. As the first and only buckwheat brand in the U.S.A., even at this early stage we believe we are already in a unique position for a strategic exit in 5-6 years. These are likely acquirers: 

– Boulder Brands: Acquired gluten-free and free-from breakfast brands (like Udi’s Gluten Free, $125M exit) 

– General Mills: Interested in all-natural and convenient snacking brands (like Epic Bar $100M Exit, 4.6x Revenue) 

– Kellogg’s: Interested in breakfast and natural brands (like RXBar $600M exit, 5x Revenue) 

– Mondelez: Interested in better-for-you snacking (like our advisor’s company Enjoy Life $80M exit, 2.6x revenue) 

One important thing to note, is that as a mission-driven brand, we will ensure our Theory of Change for buckwheat and regenerative farming in the U.S.A. is not only upheld but bolstered by our acquirer. 

We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Emily takes the company. Lil Bucks is currently raising on Republic.

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About: Olivia Strobl

Olivia comes to KingsCrowd with a background in venture capital and technology. She spent time at Glasswing Ventures, an AI-focused venture fund in Boston, before joining the KingsCrowd team. There she helped develop machine learning algorithms for the opportunity qualification of preseed and seed-stage startup companies. Prior to her time at Glasswing, Olivia worked in a lab studying the neural correlates of attention. She holds a degree in Neuroscience from Wellesley College.

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