Brooklyn Granola is a growing vegan snack food company focused on impacting people’s lives, both nutritionally and inspirationally. We spoke with founder, Margaret Barrow, who created a company that brings her two passions together, food and mentoring young people.
What inspired you to launch Brooklyn Granola?
I’ve eaten granola bars most of my life, but I realized I wanted to make my own healthy snacks when I went from being a vegetarian to being a vegan. I just couldn’t find any bars out there on the market that had the ingredients I needed, plus, the ones you can buy were such a mess. I would find bits and pieces of granola in my purse and I had to remove paperclips from them, because you can't reseal the bags. So I made my own recipe and I made them in the shape of tiny balls. I kept them in a resealable bag in my purse.
When I shared the granola balls with my students and my family, they kept insisting that I open a business because they thought that they were really delicious. My mentees were the ones who were taking them around. They took them to Rutgers University and other schools. They created these surveys and found that a lot of people — family, professors, classmate — really loved them. I just kept on making it. I really didn't think it would be a business.
What channels do you sell through?
We sell through a combination of events, small stores and on our website. Our first event was October 2018, at the Philadelphia Wine and Food event. Miriam, my Mentee, convinced the guy running the event to give us our break and let us in. No one knew who we were that day. It was our first ever event and we made $1,000! Since then we’ve been to several other events around the New York area.
We’re also in about 13 stores now. One of the first places we sold our products was at D’mai Urban Spa in Parkslope, Brooklyn. The owner is someone we’ve known for many years. Then, we sold to the Long Island Welcome Center, which is the part of the Taste New York initiative run by Cornell University. I reached out to them, and they liked our product. Since then, I've reached out to other welcome centers, since that seems to be a great opportunity for us. We’re also in Penn Station and Grand Island now.
We hired a college student to build us a website. It’s beautiful and it was so encouraging to see all these people that want to support our business buying from the site. We even have one of my student’s family in Africa buying the granola balls online!
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced working with retailers?
Retailers have said they would like us to work with a distributor. When you're a small business you have to pay attention to your costs. Our margins are just not big enough yet to have a distributor.
Also, someone wanted to purchase our products, but we declined the offer. We found that the prices they wanted to sell it for just didn’t make any sense for us. We had to think about how much money we would make off of it and how much work we would have to put into it. I didn’t want to get into a situation where I would work for someone else when it is my product to begin with.
Since we are new to this industry we constantly have questions about the food industry, and sometimes it’s hard to get the information when we need it. So we have to go out and ask other people, whether it’s through partnering with different advisors or simply by joining communities on Facebook. That has been very helpful.
At what point did you realize you’d need a barcode?
All of the vendors we met with told me I needed barcodes. I relied on my research background and did extensive exploration to find out what was the best thing for my company and my products. In everything I read, I kept seeing GS1. I went to YouTube and watched all these videos from GS1 US about barcodes and how they work with your products. I learned that GS1 barcodes are really the only ones that associate your brand with the product’s barcode. That’s why we chose GS1. We knew it was important
What does the future hold for your business?
We’re working on a partnership with Whole Foods in Brooklyn and Manhattan. We want to continue to partner with as many independent stores as we can too. We’ll do whatever it takes. Our ultimate success is going international. I can see us in Israel. I can see us in Australia. I can see us in England. I can see us in India and Malaysia. China. Japan. Most importantly, as we grow, we will continue to support community college mentoring programs. We believe that every student, especially disadvantaged students, could benefit deeply from having a healthy mentoring relationship
What advice do you have for other businesses like yours?
Join a community. And if you don't have one around you, create one. You need to have relationships with other businesses in order for you to grow. You're going to make a lot of mistakes, but the way that you grow from them, it's having other people around you who can guide you. Otherwise you will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again and it's just not worth it.