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The Barcode Podcast is presented by Titanium CPG Insurance. Titanium protects forward-thinking consumer brands with a range of commercial insurance products and risk management services designed specifically for natural and organic food and beverage companies. Learn more at titaniumcpg.com

A few years ago, Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins were faced with the enviable, but still vexing problem of having created a new product that was flying off store shelves. They were growing quickly and needed help in managing that growth.

They turned to their friend and our guest today on The Barcode Podcast, Robby Sansom. Robby is one of those behind-the-scenes, unsung heroes of CPG that just gets stuff done. We’ll talk with Robby about what he did to help grow EPIC from a handful of people working with the founders to their eventual acquisition by General Mills. We’ll also talk about his new venture, Force of Nature Meats and how they are hoping to revolutionize food production through sustainable agriculture.

 

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BEN                            I’m really happy to have my friend Robby Sansom of, recently, of Force of Nature Meats with us today and, uh, and many people will be familiar with EPIC Provisions where, where Robby was a key part of growing that brand for, for several years, both prior to and after the, the General Mills acquisition. We’re going to go into all the exciting ins and outs of that and I’m really, really thankful that Robby has, has joined us today.

                                    I want to ask you a question that takes you back a little bit. Certainly, we’re going to talk a lot about food and agriculture and things like that but I want you to go back and describe for us your favorite childhood meal. Right? So, maybe it’s something that your, somebody in your family would have made for you for a special birthday meal or maybe it was something that, that one of your grandparents made. But tell us about that meal. Like what was it that really connected with you as a kid?

ROBBY                      That’s an awesome question. Uh, first, thanks for having me here. I’m excited to be here and we, we, we are old friends so it’s, uh, it’s fun to be here doing this with you and I’m looking forward to telling, telling the stories and, and, uh, getting excited as I talk about those what we’ve done and what we’re, what we’re hoping to continue to do with EPIC and, and the great things we’re pursuing with Force of Nature and, and how everybody listening can, uh, can help be a part of a, a solutions based agriculture system, so …

BEN                            I’m excited, too.

ROBBY                      Um, yeah, it’s a, it’s actually an easy question for me, um …

BEN                            Some people it’s not. that’s fascinating when it’s like you just know.

ROBBY                      I’ll probably have two answers. And it has as much to do with the, the situation, right? It’s about who, who you’re with and where you are and the sort of emotion and memory that it invokes. Um, so for me, uh, it’s two-fold. One is, uh, my family, my broader family, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, grandparents, every year we do a one-week vacation down in Port Aransas on the beach. And I just have the fondest memories of us all going out and, and fishing and catching our own speckled trout or red fish or flounder, and then going back and preparing these massive feasts because we had our, our whole, you know, whole family there, right? And, uh, sitting around a table and, and just, you know, sharing stories and, and, and laughing and, and feasting on, you know, just this awesome, tasty food.

And then, uh, and, and, and the second thing is, you know, largely similar, um, every year and even to this day for my, for my birthday, um, I, my, my mother generously prepares a, a massive feast of, uh, of fried venison. And it’s sort of, you know, my guilty pleasure for the year but, you know, as I’ve gotten older and more educated and more, um, particular in my sourcing standards, um, so have our, you know, we’ve gone to gluten-free and better, better oils and, and…

BEN                            And you, you supply the venison now?

ROBBY                      Yeah. We’re doing cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes and, and stuff like that but, it’s home cooking, it’s family, it’s friends, it’s … There’s an occasion of celebration and, it’s just connecting, uh, connecting all the way from the, the front lines of our food, right? You know, on the coast, we were catching our own fish we’re harvesting our own venison and, you know, we’re bringing all of the incredible memories and, camaraderie that comes from being on the land and experiencing those sort of adventures together all the way through to, to nourishing your family and, and sharing those times and moments of, of community that are special, that we’ll cherish forever.

BEN                            That’s one reason why, why food is so powerful, right? It’s so fundamental. It’s a building block of our culture, of our memory and there’s the, there’s the taste, there’s the, the olfactory sense, it triggers so many, so many, uh, you know, recollections from our childhood or key moments of our lives and I think it’s really interesting how the, the decisions that we make around food, you know, independently and, and in community reverberate throughout our lives. So, thanks for sharing that.

So, what I’m curious, I, I want to start … We’re going to talk some, some business stuff, we’re going to talk some, some agriculture stuff. But let’s go back a little bit and tell me how did you first meet Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins?

ROBBY                      It goes, it goes way back. My first memories of, uh, of Katie are of a young girl that was best friends or great friends with my next door neighbor growing up in, in, in our, in our neighborhood here in Austin. So, we grew up in the same neighborhood. Um, and, and knew a lot of the same people and crossed paths and, and, you know, had that sort of acquaintanceship of appreciation for one another from, you know, all the way, elementary age, right?

                                    Um, and then fast forward, for me, to middle school and Taylor and I went to the same middle school and to the same high school. We weren’t exactly best friends but we, we, you know, again, we had, you know, really great, um, and, uh, a- appreciation for one another and, and, and that acquaintanceship. And we played sports together and, um, you know, we always thought highly of one another even though we weren’t necessarily going out and, you know, spending all our time together.

                                    Taylor and I are a little bit older so we were seniors in high school at, at Austin High when, when Katie was a freshman and so they kind of have their story of maybe, you know, passing in the hall one time and, and then, uh, um, later, they went on to college and, and met each other, right. And so …

BEN                            I, I, I believe it was Taylor being blown to one side of the hallway was, is the way that I’ve heard him, I’ve heard him put it. Um, so …

ROBBY                      Taylor puts things in a way that only he can put them.

BEN                            In a, in a powerful way. That’s right. That’s right (laughs).

ROBBY                      You know, I essentially knew them before they knew each other.

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      And then again, fast forward to them, you know, being overtaken by the entrepreneurial spirit and joining forces and, and life partnership and, and being coming, as they would call it lovers in, in college at, um, at Texas State. I learned about Thunderbird and reached out and said, “Hey.” You know, I’ve, I’ve gone this very formal business, get a Master’s degree, an undergraduate degree from UT, go to big consulting Deloitte level stuff, all the way down to some, some smaller local regional things.

                                    And I had at that point gone into the startup world and was working with a, a really successful, um, startup at the time and just kind of reached out and said, “Hey, this is neat what you’re doing. This little thing y’all have created. Um, if I can ever be of any help let me know, I just, you know, I want to support you guys. I believe in you and believe in your missions and, you know, help, creating healthier and better food and for active, for active lifestyles at the time with Thunderbird.”

BEN                            So, and this was at the Thunderbird stage.

ROBBY                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

BEN                            So EPIC, EPIC hasn’t happened yet. So, so that, that means that Taylor and Katie are still vegans at this point, uh, right? So they’re, I mean, Thunderbird was really a different, a different mission that evolved into, into EPIC through their own story. We don’t necessarily have to retell that part of it but how, how did you interface … Yeah, like, so, so you’ve begun to, to say, “Hey, I reached out. Congratulations, guys, you’re doing it. If I can ever help you, uh, let me know.” And then, where, where in the mix, in that transition from Thunderbird Bar to EPIC Bar, how, how did you, how did you actually end up joining the team?

ROBBY                      We were reconnecting, post, um, post Thunderbird initiation or, or, or startup, um, you know, I was also doing triathlons and, and, and getting outside and, and, you know, doing what I would call adventuring, just finding, finding crazy ways to make myself sweat and suffer …

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      … in the hot Texas summers. Um, and we would occasionally go out on bike rides and of course they’d bring their, um, their, their unfit for packaging Thunderbird bars in little Ziploc baggies that looked like giant bricks of fruits and vegetables and stuff. But, you know, we just, we just stayed in touch. And meanwhile my, the startup I was working with, we were, um, number 21 on the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies my first year, number 186 my second year. And I was overseeing everything from a production studio to application development, to online, you know, to, to legal, to digital marketing, uh, accounting and finance, and, our member services department of over 20 people. So I had like 85 people reporting to me in this massive successful startup and I knew, um, very little bit about a lot of stuff, right? I knew enough to know what I don’t know and to know where to go to go get help, and so, um, that was my, you know, offer to them was, “Hey, I can help, help be a guide with this neat little thing you guys have going on.”

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, and, you know, fast forward a, a, a few years and, you know, I, I get, I get wind from them of this idea about this meat bar which seems a little zany. Um, but you talk-

BEN                            Which many innovations are initially zany.

ROBBY                      Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, you know, of course then I tried it and talked with them about it and realized, “Holy, holy  cow, this is brilliant.” And I’m, I’m a, I’m a customer, uh, for sure and there’s … I know there’s a lot of people like me and, um, so I still wanted to help. You know, and again, it was just for me thinking, “Hey, I can support two old, old friends in, in, in their pursuits and, and doing something that I think is really special.” But never really thinking that there was a, a future for all of us to align, right?

                                    Until, um, you know, again fast forward, um, I had, I had left that startup, um, for a variety of reasons and had decided I was going to take a, a sabbatical and spend six months traveling and talking to people and figuring out what’s going on. And I was on a path to, um, move to Houston, um, to go work in oil and gas. Not directly in mining though, in, in, in logistics.

BEN                            Correct. Let’s pause for a second. Where … For that six month sabbatical, where, where were you traveling to? Like what, what, what was on your, what was on your itinerary?

ROBBY                      Oh, man. Um, you know a lot of it was, was local stuff.

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      So, a lot of it was, um, trying to get out to the places that I love more. You know, the … We, we have a, we have a lease out in Llano, and we have some friends that have land out on, on the coast and I just, again, I like being outside. I think it, it makes me … It fulfills me and it energizes me and balances me out. Um, but also I went to, um, Kauai, um, I went to Croatia, I went to, um, Czech Republic, um, Austria. Um, I can’t think of all of the places off the top of my head but a lot of really great places.

BEN                            Did, did, did those, did those travels … You know, coming out of that, that go, go startup phase, did those travels impact your thinking about, about the world, about, about your career trajectory personally? How, how did that, how did seeing and experiencing all of that stuff impact you?

ROBBY                      Well, for me, it was, it was coming out of, you know, having had experience and multiple disciplines within business and then broader strategy and then again in the startup space where you, um, are in-charge of a lot of people and have seen ups and downs, um, and, uh, it was, “Hey, you know, there’s something, there’s something about this. I don’t want to go back to be in a big system, be a cog in a big wheel. Uh, I’m not totally sure what the next step is, let’s, let’s do two things. Let’s grow personally and individually and let’s meet as many people as I can.” And so that period of time, um, I set a goal and it was, I want to spend six months, um, traveling, um, to grow as a person.

                                    And when I’m not on the road, I want to be meeting with as many people in the local Austin community across industries, um, and, uh, learning. I just wanted to listen. I wanted to understand people’s paths, their passions, what they feel they made great decisions about in their careers and where they wish they had done things differently and hoped that that could inform me, um, where the best opportunity that aligned with, with my personal desires would be. And, um, that would, that, that meant scheduling a lo- at least a lunch and a breakfast coffee every single day and in every single meeting my only, my single only goal besides listening was to get them to introduce me to one new person I didn’t know.

BEN                            That’s really amazing. That’s a, that’s a, this awesome kind of learner/listener mentality that I know, I’m sure benefited you tremendously at the time and, and subsequently.

ROBBY                      It was, uh, it was, it was a really awesome experience and something I definitely recommend. You know what, every time I see somebody jump straight from one career into another and take less than, you know take the, the weekend off or less than two weeks off, I, I always try to, to suggest that maybe they consider giving themselves a little more time. And I’d say the other thing, too, is just the perspective it gives you, not having an income and having to …

                                    You know, it’s not like I was a bajillionaire with a ton of resources. You know, there was a lot of, you know, peanut butter and honey sandwiches and a lot of working out and a lot of, um, you know, just becoming comfortable with, “Hey, you know what? The things that you might think when you get caught up in the day-to-day that lead to happiness don’t necessarily.”

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      Um, and you can be, um, happy and, and live on a, on a really constrained budget and feel completely, um, that you’re celebrating life.

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      And that, that, that’s an, that’s an important lesson to learn as you move in back into, you know, the career world where sometimes you can, you can lose sight of the fact that it doesn’t take a lot and, um, you know, pursuit of, of wealth may not be the, the answer for happiness.

BEN                            Absolutely. That’s great, great advice. Okay, so fast forwarding now. You, you’ve traveled, you’ve kind of sucked the marrow out of life in this, in this season and you, you think you’re moving to this energy-oriented Houston career path. What happened then?

ROBBY                      Yeah, so I was going to go work for what was essentially a, a private equity backed, um, logistics organization and they were in the process of purchasing multiple companies in California and Oregon and Texas. And wanted my help to roll them all up, bundle it in a nice bow, and again, this is in the time of discovery of Eagle Ford Shale and fracking so oil is, oil booming and, you know, no- nobody really knows the true implications. We have a lot of learning since then and data that tells us the challenges that make me very thankful that I, I, I didn’t …

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      … I didn’t stumble into the wrong path there. Um, but, um, I had, Katie and Taylor, you know, I had reached out to them. We were maintaining that sort of like occasional bike ride and coffee and touching base and they kind of said, “Hey, you know, this is really working. Um, this, this new meat thing is only a couple months old but it’s already overtaking our, our old vegan energy bar business.” Right?

                                    And, um, and it’s actually growing so rapidly and scaling so much that it’s a little unwieldy for us and we could use the support of somebody that knows how to, how to manage a fast growth and bring some, some process and predictability. And actually there’s some, some larger … Um, you know, we’re looking at exploring, getting support beyond our angel backers and they have different set of expectations for how you, um, how you manage the business and how you, how you produce, you know, reporting for the business and what not.

BEN                            We have, we have to professionalize this stuff.

ROBBY                      (laughs) Yeah.

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      “And, uh, we, we could use some help with that.” And, you know, my thought was, you know, “Great. I’d love to help you with that. I can definitely give you guidance. Um, let me look at what you’re, what you’re trying to do, what you’re trying to accomplish and show me what you’re, show me the role you have in mind and, um, I’ll … I know a ton of people in town, I’ve been networking for the last, you know, 10 years, let me, I’ll, I will, I can help you find the right person for that.”

                                    Um, and that probably was about, um, a month before I was set to move to Houston. So they send me that and I’m about a week from going on a two week trip that will be my last hurrah before I move to Houston. Finally uproot from Austin that I love and never wanted to leave but as a last resort, um, you know my goal was six months of learning and this was the six month mark and it was time to move on and this was, um, in the a- in the world of academia and the professional world I came from this was pretty, a pretty remarkable opportunity.

BEN                            Sure.

ROBBY                      Um, I saw what they were looking for and I thought, “Oh, my gosh. This is actually really cool. Um, if this business wasn’t so tiny and, and, um, uh, small it would be, it would be, it would be really exciting, I’ve love to, I’d love to do the job. Um, but it’s, you know, there’s no way that I can go from where I … What I, what I’ve achieved in my career and the level that I’m at, I’m at and the opportunity that I have before me, um, to, to, to go do this,” And so I kind of just sent Taylor an email just saying, “Hey, you know, geez, this is really cool. I’ll definitely, I’m definitely going to help you guys, guys because I’m excited about it but, you know, I wish, I wish the timing were different and this could be right for me.

                                    And we kind of had emails that crossed and he was like, “Holy cow. You know, I just looked at, you know, more about what you’ve been doing and you’d be so perfect for this. I wish you weren’t taking this other thing.” And, and we, you know, just kind of acknowledged that and I went on a two-week vacation. And over that two weeks, I talked to, uh, Katie and Taylor, I think almost every single night, um, at about, you know, between 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning my time and, you know, about 6:00 or 7:00 o’clock at night their time and, um, we just decided, “Okay, this is crazy but let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s really try this thing,” and you know they brought me on …

BEN                            Maybe it could actually work.

ROBBY                      Yeah. And, and they, and we came to an agreement or where they brought me on at a, at a, at a level that was significantly greater than the, the two of them combined, you know, financially, which was a huge, um, fear and risk and it was scary for them but, you know, they thought they were, they were going to take a chance on me. And, you know, I was turning down a what would seem to be, you know, a remarkable opportunity to take a chance on them. And it was, it was definitely some nervous beginnings, you know. There was tears and frustration. And I was the, I, I always joke with people from General Mills and I was the suit that came in before, before the General Mills.

BEN                            Before all the suits. That’s right. Yeah. How … That’s a really, that, that’s a really fascinating moment because I think for a lot of people, they would assume that really what Taylor and Katie should have done is they should have found someone who knew, who came from a big food background at that point, but you didn’t. You had a startup background and you had this multi-disciplinary approach and expertise. How did your either, how did your naiveté help you or hurt you in those early years, when you … Again, because this wasn’t, this wasn’t what you had, had been doing up to that point.

ROBBY                      I think a lot of what it takes to be … You know, the role that I was … I moved in at was CFO and COO. Um, and in a lot of ways, over time, you know, General Manager. So the way it worked out is Katie and Taylor and I sort of democratically ran and built EPIC together. And, and they did a wonderful job of being the owners and the founders and the ultimate decision makers but truly there was times where I would overrule the two of them, and me and Taylor might disagree with Katie or me and Katie might disagree with Taylor and we, and they did a really great job of being graceful with how they, uh, and, and their willingness to approach that.

                                    Um, but for me, day one, it was, like you had said a moment ago, how do we, how do we professionalize this? And not in the bureaucratic corporate sense but how do we get more out of what, what we, what we have and, um, a lot of that was, you know, kind of the basic fundamental stuff I’d learned in running businesses previously and particularly businesses that are in a dynamic phase of growth.

                                    And what I told the team my first day there was, “You know, my job here is to, to do, really do two things. One, make sure that success is really clearly defined for everybody and you know your place in that. And two, to make sure that you have the tools to be successful.” And it really doesn’t extend far beyond that, right? And of course a lot, a lot goes into that but …

BEN                            Of course.

ROBBY                      Um, then I-

BEN                            What did the team, what did the team look like at that point?

ROBBY                      You know, there was an established Thunderbird business that had been around for a few years and it, while it had grown, it hadn’t grown considerably but it, it justified having, you know, a designer in place and an op- a person in operations and, and a couple people in a warehouse/manufacturing facility. An office team, uh, you know, I should say an office manager and an intern. Um, and then, um, you know, somebody helping out with marketing again with, again with Katie and Taylor as well. So, pretty, pretty …

BEN                            The two are very involved in marketing. Yeah.

ROBBY                      Uh, yeah, absolutely. And, and I would say marketing in the sense of, of, of creative, innovation, brand building.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Casting this very aspirational vision, um, and, um, so to go to, to, to the naïveté part, we were all naïve, right? I mean, we were all, we all had enough experience to, to, to function. Um, and I think that, that for me, success, um, came from being able to take that team of inexperienced people and develop them …

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      … and align them and bring some clarity into our purpose and to help motivate everybody. And, and that motivation and sense of purpose became a force multiplier or an advantage for us. I think being naïve, uh, across the board, uh, and that lack of experience didn’t blind us with preconceived notion and conventional ways of thinking. So we were, we were truly willing to challenge things whether we knew it or not. You know, often times intentionally and often times unintentionally, innovating new ways of doing stuff or just trying things that ended up working out that we never would have tried if we had come in with a, um, a playbook of, “This is the only way or this is the right way or this is the best way to do it.”

BEN                            To me, I think that’s part of the power of, of the innovation that you guys experienced. I’ve, you know Taylor and Katie have told me the story when they, when they transitioned from being vegans to, uh, meat eaters, the, they didn’t know how to cook a steak and so they boiled it, right? Something that, that most people would never even contemplate doing, they sort of backed their way into these, just a radically different approach to everything, really, from top to bottom.

                                    Like how you, how you, how you prepare food, how you think about what it is to build a brand, how you think about what it is to build a team and a culture, everything. And so you didn’t come with a lot of, uh, I think rigid expectations or notions of, of this is the way you have to do it every time. You know, “This is, this is how we did it at my last three food startups,” or something along those lines and that gives you, that gives you some freedom to experiment and, and to try some new stuff, which I know you guys did.

ROBBY                      Yeah. Well and, and, and that combined with, um, you know a, a healthy risk tolerance and a, um, and a incredible bias for action. You know, I, I think saying that we were in a, um, we were oft- we often found ourselves in a place of ready, fire, aim might be generous. We might have moved even faster than that on occasion so …

BEN                            Right. Just fire. (laughs) All the time. So, okay. So you, so you, uh, you dive in now to the, what was, what was fast becoming the EPIC Provisions business. How did you, as an outsider to the food industry, how did you learn that business? Like what, what, what’s your, what was your methodology? Did you … We- were you deliberate in thinking, “All right. I need to understand how this whole meat thing works”? Or did you just find yourself in situations where you accreted knowledge over time?

ROBBY                      Um, it’s a (laughs) … So the, it’s … And, and apologies to your listeners in advance for my, my long winded answers. This one …

BEN                            I love it.

ROBBY                      This one’s at a little bit of a deeper story but …

BEN                            This is awesome.

ROBBY                      Um, you know I didn’t, I didn’t know quite what I was prepared for and I knew the results, I knew what EPIC was, what EPIC was becoming and I saw … Um, I did my diligence coming in, um, on the, on the, uh, on the business but, you know, you never really know what you’re getting into until you’re immersed in it. And I think, you know, I think it’s, it, the … It’d be nice to say I just jumped in and started learning CPG and we were humming along, and, and, um, you know it was just this story of efficiency and, and, and scale, right? But on-

BEN                           And the, and the real story … And that’s one of the things that I, I really love because there’s the, there’s, there’s the staged level story where, “Look, here’s, here’s a ribbon. It was so perfect and everything followed this very linear path.” Rarely is the real story, right? So it’s okay, I think it’s, it’s actually helpful to, to listeners and, and to, to startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs to hear like, “Yeah, I didn’t have it all figured out. And, and I had to, I had to stumble my way through this.”

ROBBY                      Exactly. For us, it was, um, my first week on the job, my first day on the job, um, after of course calling this, this company that was expecting me to move there in, in three days and saying, “Hey, I’m not coming.” And, uh, calling my realtor that was looking for houses for me to move to in Houston saying, “Hey, I’m not coming.”

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      Um, you know, walk into the office and um, say, “Hey, I’m here. I’m excited. Like this is a huge leap of faith for all of us. What is, what’s our plan? What does my onboarding look like? What are my priorities? Um, let’s get going.” And you know, we’re, we’re sitting at a conference room table and Katie and Taylor look at each other and they’re kind of look strangely back at me and just come back with, “We were hoping you would tell us.” (laughs) Um, you know and …

BEN                            That’s a very startup moment.

ROBBY                      Yeah, yeah. A little bit of an awkward pause and a, and a gulp. Um, just thinking, “Okay, well, um, that’s all right. We can, we can, we can build a plan together right now. You know, what is the, what is our, what’s our one-year plan look like right now? What are our goals? Um, I mean give me the, give me a, a role description of everybody on our team so we know what they’re doing and we can make sure they’re focused on the highest and best use of their time and let’s look at what’s in place right now so we can figure out how to, uh, identify the best next moves for us.” And, um, the, you know, similar sort of reaction and response of, “We don’t really have that, um …”

BEN                            We should work on that.

ROBBY                      So, it really quickly became, “Okay, let’s figure out where we’re headed because we’re doing stuff and we’re busy and it’s clearly, um, we’re clearly on to something. Um, and if we can focus that, uh, our opportunities are going to be great or our chances are going to be better.”

BEN                            How did you know at that point that you were on to something?

ROBBY                      You know, I think-

BEN                            Was it just because people were, seemed excited, was it because, “Wow, we’re, we can’t make enough? We’re, you know it’s selling so much.” How, like, I think for a lot of, a, a lot of startups they, that’s even an elusive concept. How do you know you’re on to something?

ROBBY                      There was tangible and anecdotal, um, evidence out there, right? So I think, you know, you could look at the financial data and say, “Hey, this brand that’s only a couple of months old is already outperforming this brand that’s over two years old.”

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      And, and, and Thunderbird. And there was another brand in that equation called Gatherer …

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      … um, as they, as they moved, uh, to, to lower, a lower carb opportunity that was more seeds and nuts. They were doing something that was working in a space that was working, that they understood and then to have this new item come on and get such a great reception from consumers and, and, and retail, uh, customers, they already had relationships with was obviously a, a clear indication, right?

                                    And then there was other, there was other anecdotal stuff, right? Like the press picking up and it being provocative and then, of course, they used the allure of Katie and Taylor. You know, they’re just such unique individuals and they’re so, um, inspiring and it’s, um, you, you listen to them tell stories on the journey and their, their ideals and their vision is extremely romantic and it’s, and it’s easy to say, “Hey, you know what? Um, you know, investing 101 or, or believing in something 101, you got to, you got to believe in people.” And th- those are two people that are real easy to understand. Again, there’s something special there and I believe in them, I believe in what they care about.

BEN                            They’re passionate, they’re charismatic. All of those things. Yes. Okay, that’s good.

ROBBY                      Um, so coming out of … So, but again, coming, coming out of that, you know, that first, those first days not knowing what the, um, what was in store for me or, or the business, we, we wanted to clean stuff up and on the backend, too I was the COO and CFO and so there was just some things that I was working on my own. Um, you know, like you mentioned, we got to professionalize, we got to standardize some, some stuff and make sure our reporting is valid for anybody that might want to, um, you know, loan us money or invest in us, et cetera. I think it was my second or third day on the job that I realized, um, that we were going to run out of money before payroll on Friday.

BEN                            That’s a good moment.

ROBBY                      Um, and again this is after I had just walked away from this like VP level, you know, in this billion dollar company, number two to the CFO.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      You know, again, from an academic background that I was in, you know, not, you know, having heard my whole life that, um, you know, if you do what you love, success will follow.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      You know, I had already … I was in, in a school of, you know, success is what success is defined by, is the industry.

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      And I had turned down something that met that definition of success because I was trying to pursue what I loved and, you know, here I am, you know, maybe 72 hours in realizing this was probably the biggest mistake I’d ever made.

BEN                            Wow.

ROBBY                      Um, or fearing that. Not realizing it.

BEN                            Of course.

ROBBY                      But, but you know, having those thoughts resonate when, when I realized that, you know, my, you know, even the compromised and negotiated, you know, salary and all that is now …

BEN                            Like, “Oh, we can’t afford to pay me that.”

ROBBY                      So, within, within the, my first three months there, we had, um, secured a, a bridge loan so that we could, you know, continue to support our people and our business that … And all, all, and all ways other than cash was going, going well. Um, and, um, we had actually sold, um, the Thunderbird brand and the Gatherer brand to some really aligned individuals who were investors and who truly believed in and wanted to continue to champion the values of those brands. And we had closed a round of venture capital funding. Um, in addition to having a one year plan, um, laid out and had communicated that to the team and had clarified their role in that and got everybody fired up around some annual goals and some, um, some more, you know, aspirational goals and …

BEN                            How long did that process take for you, guys? How, how long did you know again, from you discovering, “Oh, my gosh. We’re about to run out of money,” to, “Okay, let’s get this secured and we have VC backing and some other things like that.” Like was that, was that a few weeks, a few months? How, how long did it take?

ROBBY                      No. Yeah. So, so that was, that was a three-month process, right? So, I started on, on 9-15 and, um, by the, actually the first week of December, again, we had closed a, you know, multi-million dollar round of funding. We had sold those two brands for a good chunk of change and we’d put all our plans in place and secured that bridge loan and, you know, it was, it was basically about two months.

BEN                            So that was a busy two months.

ROBBY                      It was, it was a lot going on. Um, and then, you know, again, going back to your original question, too, you know, how do you learn the … That’s just business 101 and fundamentals, which is an important part of everything. But then there’s the nuance of the industry that you’re in. And so, you know, we’re fortunate for EPIC in that we were able to leverage, um, the experience of the team with Thunderbird, as well as the relationships of the team with Thunderbird, which is critically important. Um, and then, you know, for me it was, um, diving in, you know, pay- sitting in on meetings and asking questions and, and reading, you know, books from people that had, um, you know led mission-driven businesses in the space before that had been revolutionary in changing the system that they were a part of. And, and there wasn’t just the industry, right? It was our mission. I already was a conservationist. I already knew about wild life and ecosystem and habitat and, um, I was already eating clean and had already been, um, you know, eating a more Paleo or a more in, uh, um, ancestral diet of clean fruits and vegetables and lower, lowering carb and sugar intake and, and so on.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, but there was this concept of regenerative agriculture and animal agriculture and the implications of our conventional, commoditized, centralized, industrialized food system and the scale to which all those things were, were significant, um, factors in numerous global challenges that we’re facing and still face today. And so there was a lot of reading and research and attending conferences. Again, both on the industry side and on the subject matter side to become, you know, ultimately somewhat of an expert in the space of agriculture and regenerative agriculture, acknowledging that there are people that can run circles around me and people that can run circles around those people but, you know, I know a lot more than, than the average person fortunately, and I’m still learning.

BEN                            Absolutely. And I, I feel like, you know, you guys, like to your point, EPIC really from the, from its genesis was a highly mission-based organization. Right? So you guys and, you know, Taylor and Katie, as well as, as well as you, are very values-driven people and principle people. And so it was never about, “Oh, how do I just make a buck selling bars?” Right? So you were … Clearly that, that, that came through every, every phase of the, of the journey but it did seem like as you guys learned more about meat, right?

                                    Your, you have this, this bar company that is, that’s growing rapidly and you’re sourcing meat and, and along that, that journey as you’re talking about you are, you’re learning about how does agriculture really work and especially at scale, right? And you had, you had already been familiar with, with conservation and maybe even some of the smaller, smaller format agriculture things. But as you guys grew, you had to, you had to buy more meat. Right?

                                    And so then, then you learned, you learned about this, this process. Talk to us some about how you, how you discovered that like regenerative agriculture. Because that’s, that’s certainly a major theme that, uh, uh, a strand that connects both your EPIC Provisions journey and your new venture, Force of Nature, is the passion that you and your co-founders have developed over the last few years for regenerative agriculture and specifically how it impacts our, our diets and climate and, and, and how we, how we care for, for nature and all of those things. What, talk us through that, that journey. Obviously, you read some books but lots of us read books. There was more to it than that. Wasn’t there?

ROBBY                      You’re absolutely right. And, and without getting too far into the founding story of EPIC, I mean, I think it’s important just to remind folks listening that the reason that that even became a part of the journey was, again, a pursuit, you know, with Katie and Taylor and their vision for creating cleaner, better food that was convenient and portable and packable, right? That originally began with a vegan product and then they realized that, um, their, their health and, and, and their diet for one, um, necessitated a better version of that with a, with a healthy and clean meat product. And so, um, they came up with a new product. Right?

                                    And then, and then it was, “Well, we want this to be healthy, so we got to source the best meat.” And it turns out that the best meat comes from healthy animals. And it turns out that healthy animals come from healthy ecosystems. Um, and, you know, really, truly in peeling back the layers of the onion, that was a process and a journey that we were on. We didn’t know where it was taking us but we knew that to do the right thing and, and to have the best product, um, we had to continue to have a thirst for learning and a, a thirst for pushing our boundaries and our comfort zones and the system, um, to explore what, what the potential was.

                                    Because we knew that the, we knew the shortcomings of meat that everybody hears about, you know. That, that’s assigned to an entire industry unfairly. Um, but we were starting to learn about this world, this smaller world of, um, um, groups of, you know, not for profits and, and researchers that were saying, “Hey, you know, we can work with nature. We can work within the system and we can celebrate balance and biology. We don’t have to use chemistry and mechanical engineering to fight and combat nature and chemical warfare against our agricultural lands, right?”

BEN                            Absolutely. And I feel like you guys did something that a lot of early stage brands don’t do and that is, I remember you guys traveled. You developed relationships with these farmers and ranchers in a way that most people think, “Oh, I’ll get to that someday.” But those were, that, that was really an important part of the journey and learning for you guys, too, right? Was actually developing, visiting the farms and seeing how it works, seeing the difference between a, a small regenerative operation and a giant feed lot operation.

ROBBY                      Absolutely. Once it became clear what, the objective was, was becoming the necessity to source these types of meats then it was where do we find them, right? And then it became sort of a parallel path to learning, right? Both in how do we gain access to, um, and where there’s not access, how do we create it and build a supply chain. Um, then simultaneously learning, um, about how the challenges on the land that become obstacles and hurdles to address.                 

We visited a lot of ranches and a lot of different geographies in different continents and in different, um, species of animals and realized that, you know, just like with so many things in life, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and not everybody has the same financial resources, not everybody has the same human resources, not everybody has the same knowledge, not everybody has the same, ecosystem that they’re trying to work within. And, and to come in and act as if we have the answer, um, and to prescribe for others what they need to do to make improvements is, is, would be naïve.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      And instead what, what we should do is focus on outcomes and how we can support them in producing within their context, um, outcomes that align with what we want to see and what our, our end consumers, um, are looking for. And that’s, that’s where we began to really learn, um, where this movement was relative to the size and scale of the meat industry, where consumers were, uh, in knowledge and understanding of these issues, um, and, and where producers were in terms of, um, you know, desiring actually, um, to be better but, um, having to accept and work within a system that can be punitive towards people who try to do that and significantly so.

BEN                            Right. Yeah, we, so I want to, I want to dive in … We- we’ll, we’ll go into much greater depth around some of that, the, what you’ve learned around regenerative ag in a minute but I want to, and this definitely ties into the topic, as, as you guys … So EPIC, EPIC Bar and EPIC Provisions continue to grow and the opportunities surfaced for, for you guys to be acquired by, by General Mills. And I know that at least part of the calculus there related to your team’s ability to impact this giant big food operation and to, to, to have a, a meaningful impact around, uh, an approach to sustainability and an approach to, to agriculture. How did that fit into that, the decision to, to be acquired and then, and then what was that, what was that journey like as you, as you began to integrate into a, a larger traditional big food company?

ROBBY                      In those first couple of days, um, in my, in my robust onboarding process, um, you know, one of the questions I asked Katie and Taylor was, “What are the goals of this business?” Right? “Is this something that’s going to be, um, a family run business for you that, um, you’re looking to find a way to make sure that, you know, one day your, um, your children are, are in the seat that you’re in and taking care, taking care of and stewarding this? Or are you trying to sell this rapidly or, you know, what … Again, what is your definition of success, what are we pursuing here?”

                                    And, and, and their response to me was, “Um, we’re not looking to just grow this thing to sell it. We don’t have an end in mind. Um, and it’d be great if one day we were running it but that’s not an end that we have in mind either. What we’re really looking for is to advance this mission and to be the best stewards for it that we can. And we recognize that at some point, we may not be the best suited. There may come a scale where, um, we need help or some other, uh, other people or a better, another organization may be more capable of succeeding in those pursuits than us.” Um, and the example that they gave at the time was, “For example, we would never sell to a company like General Mills.”

BEN                            (laughs) Of course.

ROBBY                      Um, which is, which …

BEN                            Isn’t that how it always works?

ROBBY                      Which, I mean, you know, to think that they gave an example …

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      … and only one and it, and it was that company but, you know, I think that’s an important thing to know. We should circle back on that in a minute because we got to talk about what success looks like when it comes to changing food.

BEN                            Absolutely.

ROBBY                      Um, and why that’s, what that’s, why we were where a lot of people are today and why we, we might all benefit from thinking about that differently but you know, the General Mills team would, would routinely reach out and try to, you know, contact us or buy products from us through our, our e-commerce store and we would cancel the orders every time. We’re like, “If you’re going to reverse engineer our products, you go to, go to our retailers and boost our metrics to do it, you know. Um, we’re not going to, we’re not going to make it easy for you.”

BEN                            I love it. Sometimes we would, we would just write handwritten notes and, and actually still, still mail it, just like, “Hey, thanks. Really appreciate your, your fandom.”

ROBBY                      And, um, (laughs) yeah. And, um, you know, eventually they, they, they came and said, “Hey, guys, look, we’ve got this 301 Inc. thing going. We’re investing in brands and you guys are making this really hard on us but we’re super interested in what you’re doing, um, we’d love to, we’d love to talk with you.” And, and, and we just said, “Look, we’re not interested in taking your money. We got plenty of people that want to, want to give us money. We don’t, we don’t need your resources, um, we’re, we’re doing just fine. The only, maybe you can make us an offer we couldn’t refuse for, for an acquisition but other that, um, we’re perfectly content continuing to push this thing along.” And, um, they came back and said, “Well, maybe that might be something that we should discuss.” Um, and, and-

BEN                            Was that a calculated move at the time …

ROBBY                      Um …

BEN                            … from your perspective?

ROBBY                      Somewhat, you know, we were, we were getting large and, and, you know, we were getting more complexity into our business and, you know, there’s, you know, there’s always challenges and there’s always struggles. And, again, you know, when you’re facing so much and you have a lean team and we’re, we’re operating on a lean budget and we’re, we’re truly celebrating our value of doing more with less, um, you know, definitely there’s an appeal to getting a, a support from a larger organization that has resources that can aid in all of the areas that feel like your biggest pressure points.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, that said, we still had that preconceived mindset of big is bad and, you know, when they came back and said, “Hey, we could talk about this.” You know, we, we turned around and said, “Look, you guys can go pound sand.” Right? Like, “We are, we are not going to ever truly entertain that and it’s interesting to know that you might but you are going to cause, um, a compromise in the values of our products and you are going to make changes and adjustments that will be harmful to our partners. And we consider our, the people who are family-run businesses that, you know, package the products and process the products as well as the producers on the land who we’ve, you know, now built relationships and have truly, in every sense of the word, bet the farm on us.”

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      “Um, and, and, and thirdly you’re going to do the same in terms of, um, disrupting and, and harming our employees. And, and for those three reasons we would never truly entertain a conversation with you.” They came back and, and, and at, at this stage they had brought, you know, John Foraker, you know, founder of Annie’s, into the equation and said, and, and, and said essentially, “No, you, you don’t understand. You know, we’re, we’re a big organization that is slowly declining on the top line every year. And it’s very clear that consumers are, are changing their behavior.”

                                    “Um, and you guys are onto something special because your top line is growing, um, at greater than triple digits every year and we would recognize that if we, if we were to acquire this brand that we would be fools to change, um, what is working from a secret recipe. And further, we don’t have the capabilities or the technology to do what your, your partners do. Um, we don’t have any other brands that rely on the, on the, on the sourcing that you’re sort of sourcing to us.”

                                    “We’re not going to compromise the product because the product is what is special, um, and we’re not going to compromise the team because the team is what is special and enabling all of this. And so, for those three reasons, you’re wrong in judging us, um, with your preconceived notions. Um, and actually we’re looking to, um, not only celebrate this brand but learn from you and learn how we can be better as a broader organization.”

                                    And that, you know, sort of took the, that took the air out of all of us and said, “Oh my gosh. Wait a minute. Like this, this is an opportunity to not only, um, make EPIC leaps and bounds more influential and impactful against its own mission. This is an opportunity to change a multi-billion dollar international food brand, um, and to make it better for its employees, and the communities that it impacts and the consumers that it ultimately nourishes and the lands that it, that are impacted by all of it.” Right? Um, and so the next, you know, I’ll spare the, the, the long journey of diligence that was also incredibly taxing and trialing and, and, and frustrating but, but ge-

BEN                            Yeah. Just, just suffice it to say, you don’t get an offer one day and then a, a, a big check or a wire of, of money the, the next day.

ROBBY                      Six months of, um, no sleep and blood, sweat and tears and having to keep secrets from people that you care about and, and be in some ways, you know, in some ways lack transparency when that’s truly a fundamental value for you which feels, um, inauthentic.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, and, and not even telling your family what’s going on and so on. It’s, it’s a hard process, but ultimately, it came down to a, a decision point where, um, Katie and Taylor and I were sitting in our office and, uh, and, and, in our headquarters and, I had prepared some models and all of our advisors and investors and, and mentors were saying, “Don’t sell. And don’t sell on the premise that you guys don’t need to sell from a traditional business standpoint. You’re on a rocket ship, you’re growing. If you wait a year, um, you’re going to make way more money.”

                                    Um, we had this model that showed, you know, the sort of, the sort of opportunity that might, appear if we make a decision to do something now versus doing something later. I remember it vividly, there was the three of us, it was highly emotional, it was highly energized and intense. Um, and I remember Katie, um, particularly, you know, in tears with all of us and just saying, “Look, guys, um, I look at this number and it’s a bigger number than anything I can imagine or have fathomed. And I look at that number and it’s even bigger but I can’t even appreciate the scale.”

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      “What I do know is if we wait even one year, um, to pursue that larger number, that’s a year that we’re sacrificing an opportunity to truly drive and scale this mission. And further, that the partner that comes along at that time may not be as, um, willing, um, or as able to support us and to adopt and to be flexible and think differently about how a small food company can be a part of a big food company and how we can affect, um, our food system and our agriculture system. And so for those reasons it’s a no-brainer for me. Money doesn’t matter. We got to do what’s right for what we believe in.”

BEN                            That’s really amazing and profound.

 

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Back to the episode!

 

BEN                            So you made the decision and then you had to put, put legs to it, right? So then there is, there is the, the season of integration, which I’m sure comes with, with plenty of challenges. I, I know Taylor and Katie and they’re really strong, passionate personalities. And to integrate those strong, passionate personalities into a large, uh, multinational conglomerate is, uh, I’m sure came with, with moments of friction along the way and that sort of thing.

                                    How did you guys navigate when you made that decision, transaction closes, you can finally tell people this happened, that sort of thing, then, then you’re like, “Okay, we’re a mission-based company. Now we’re a mission-based company that is part of a larger company and, and our, part of our goal is to, is to impact the larger mission of that larger company.” How did you, did you guys have a, have a strategy for how you wanted to impact General Mills?

ROBBY                      Strategy is a, a big word, right? I mean, we knew we wanted to we were resolute in that and passionate about it and we knew we’d figure it out. And, um, one of the ways … You know, without having the answers, it’d be foolish to say we had the answers going in, because you have to understand what you’re working with.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, um, and in some cases against, um, in order to, uh, implement that sort of change. Um, I think it, I think it comes with influence. I think influence comes with, um, um, results and I think it comes with people.

We did two things I would say as far as a strategy goes early on before figuring out, you know, atta- much more focused, um, how, how to attack it. One thing was, we talked about it all the time, you know, Katie and Taylor wrote the first letter after acquisition saying, “Um, listen to what we say and watch what we do. I understand that you have your judgments and reser- reservations but, um, you know trust, trust us, give, at least give us the benefit of the doubt and if, and if we prove, um, wrong then, then feel free to blast away but …”

BEN                            And I’m sure you guys had to weather some, some blow back …

ROBBY                      Absolutely, absolutely.

BEN                            … in that moment.

ROBBY                      Yeah, um, but the other, the other thing was internally was telling people over and over and over again, “We’re going to change General Mills. We’re going to change General Mills. We’re going to, we’re going to change the way that people do their jobs and the processes and how we think about our consumers and how we think about our people and how we think about our businesses and their impact on the broader, the broader picture including, you know, a triple bottom line of outcomes.

                                    Initially that was met with a lot of, you know, kind of laughs and, and maybe even some sneers perhaps, um, you know, “Yeah, right. Right? Who are these? The smallest brand in this entire portfolio. You’ve been around for, you know, basically three years at this point and, uh, you’re going to come in and change, and change us? That’s great. You know, we, we know what we’re doing. You guys just stand back and, and, and watch.”

                                    We weren’t going to let that, um, attitude prevail and we weren’t going to let it happen. You know, we were defending something, um, which is why our, our first year our battle cry, um, every year we have, um, a new battle cry for the brand and that first year the battle cry was an adoption of a battle cry in the Texas, um, Revolution of Come and Take It. Right?

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      And for us, this application was, you know, we have something special. We know we’re on the radar for the industry and for our competitors and so if you want to come make a me too product and try to capture share from us, bring it on. Um, you know, you better, you better be really good and you better stand for something really right. Um, because we are and we do. Um, and then, you know the, the double entendre was, um, you know, internally to our own, to our new owner and it was, you know, we’re going to defend what we believe in.

                                    We’re going to hold all of ourselves accountable to the terms of this agreement that we made when we decided to sell the company, which is kind of goes back to those three things. Right? And if you’re going to try to corrupt, or change or compromise something, we’re not gonna roll over on it.

BEN                            I, I kinda picture you guys, you know, sort of raising the Come and Take It traditional Texas flag up above your, your headquarters on South Congress in, here in Austin. And, and I, I actually picture it along the lines of, you know, the, the early stories of Steve Jobs with the, the Macintosh division of, of Apple when they had, they, they hoisted a, a pirate flag a, above their, their little building over there just saying, “We’re doing a really different thing than everybody else over here is.”

ROBBY                      I think we painted a 30 by, a 20×30 foot mural on the side of the building with the, the Come and Take It cannon and the, and a, and a picture, and a bison …

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      … next to it and we used General Mills money to do it. Um, well, all of the money was theirs.

BEN                            That’s right. That’s right.

ROBBY                      They bought, they bought the company but you know, it wasn’t adversarial.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      It was just, it was just a, a testament that …

BEN                            You were literally planting a flag. You could say … Yeah.

ROBBY                      We were just holding everybody accountable to what we had agreed to.

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      And we weren’t, we weren’t going to let … If there had been any component of lift service, we weren’t going to let that s- slide.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, and, you know we wanted to find the path that worked. We knew that it was going to be different, we weren’t opposed to that. But I think the other key thing too though is, is, you know, this all goes back to people. You know there is the system. There’s no such thing as General Mills the, the person. General Mills, the bad guy or gal, right?

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      It is, it is, it’s a compilation of people. And so going back to your question about our strategy, our other strategy was to motivate and to gain the support of and, and, and passion and, um, the General Mills people. And my thought was … I mean, I, if I can get 30,000 people to side with me on the front lines, good luck trying to create a policy that dissuades them.

BEN                            That’s right. Yeah.

ROBBY                      You know, when they’re, when they’re motivated, when they’re similarly motivated by their passions. And so, you know, we started, again, ba- essentially doing within our own organization what we were doing in, in, in, in the press and media and our social campaigns through content and education, talking about these important issues. And I think-

BEN                            And you’re publishing those really, those really nice sustainability reports and, and, I forget what you called them, uh, the, the, the booklets.

ROBBY                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). The impact journal.

BEN                            The impact journal, yeah.

ROBBY                      Yep. And we were, uh, uh, a- amongst a number of other things, I think this is important to note too, because, you know, this is a process of learning for us and, you know, again, big business is fundamentally bad in our, in our preconceived mind but realizing that, “Wait a minute. Every single person, almost, almost to an individual that’s coming out of this team is incredible. They’re experienced, they care, they want to learn, they’re open-minded individuals.

                                    Now when you start plugging into, again, the system and these broader processes, things start to get a little bit more rigid and, um, sometimes the systems and the bureaucracy has a way of, um, you know, chewing up and, and, and spitting out a result that doesn’t align with all of the individual people within it. So we kind of went to work on how can we deviate from those processes.

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      Um, and then ultimately, how can we demonstrate that a deviation can be successful that, such that there’s a willingness to change the processes. And those little sort of sprinkling those seeds, right? So working at the, at the, at the EPIC front lines, ground level, kind of creating an insurgent force within the organization and then modeling, you know, in our own sort of sandbox. Thank, thankfully we had a little bit of a, of a barrier between us and the broader organization up, up front to, um, to think and act differently. Again, you know, testament to General Mills for following through on that commitment to us to think and act and operate differently. Um, they, they truly did and, and continue to.

BEN                            That’s excellent. So, and, and you had mentioned even, you know, that people matter. One, one important people move is in the midst of all of this, John Foraker leaves, right? So how did you guys navigate, uh, navigate the transition when, when John decided to leave Annie’s and General Mills to, to do a new startup – one of the key people who had sold you on this vision that we, uh, we understand, we get it is no longer there? How, how did that impact the trajectory for you guys?

ROBBY                      You know, John, John’s an incredible person and, and, and we still have an incredible relationship with him and, um, there’s no doubt that if it had not been for, for him, the, the deal wouldn’t have gotten done. And if it hadn’t have been for him, we wouldn’t have been in an environment or in the environment and within the structure that we were. And so when he left, um, he didn’t leave our lives, um, but, you know he, he did, um, you know, move, move out of the, the General Mills organization.

                                    But what he left behind was, again, that intention, um, those commitments, that, that system and that model and so we, we continued, um, plugging away with what we were working on and, and we’re even able to, you now, continue to reach out to him and get support because Annie’s had sold a year before us. I mean I think, I think maybe it was some series of events that, you know, maybe one bubble of acquiring Annie’s, acquiring EPIC, making some other investments and then they, I think they, they sold Green Giant. Um, is a, is a, is a series of events that might have been tied together. Above my, above my level in the organization.

BEN                            Sure.

ROBBY                      But it seems, it seems that way. Um, so it was, it was, it was sad, you know, as a, as a, as somebody that was you know, to see them leave their mission and their brand and something that he had built personally as an extension of himself.

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      Um, but he was moving on to something that he was excited about to address, you know. The, you know, issues in feeding the, the future of our …

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      … of our population and, and Once Upon a Farm. He wasn’t leaving Annie’s as much as he was called to do something else and felt that he had left, um, that team and organization in the best hands possible in terms of making that transition

BEN                            Now let’s talk about, you know, a- as you’re continuing to steward the brand under, under the General Mills umbrella now, you are continuing to evolve your understanding of, of regenerative agriculture. Around this time, Taylor and Katie establish, purchase and, and, and, and establish Roam Ranch. Talk a little bit about how, how you guys, that, that part of the journey, how you began to, to really go even deeper down this regenerative agriculture path and, and, and restoring Texas Hill country land and, and the ecosystem.

ROBBY                      You know, I think once again this, it’s just a, it’s just a credit to the people that Katie and Taylor are, um, and the force …

BEN                            Absolutely.

ROBBY                      … um, that they are. And, and you mentioned it before, right? You know, we had a long journey in learning. As in reading books, you know, getting the academic side and the theory side and going on, on to lands and, and getting firsthand accounts of what works and doesn’t works and different applications and, and within different people and different situations. Um, and you know, all that’s great and then there’s doing it yourself in your own application and context. Right? And, um, raising bison, raising chickens, all the things.

                                    And I think for Katie and Taylor to go out and, you know, and to say, “Hey, you know, we’re in a position in life now after what we’ve been through that we could, we could bail on EPIC, um, we could bail on this endeavor and take, you know, take the money that we’ve, um, and the, and the financial freedom that we have and, you know, go travel and live a life of, you know, some- somewhat luxury or whatever.”

BEN                            Sure.

ROBBY                      You know, living on a beach, sipping cocktails, whatever you want to think of.

BEN                            Sure.

ROBBY                      Even though they’re not cocktail drinkers.

BEN                            That’s right.

ROBBY                      Um, but instead they said, “Hey, you know, we’re going to put our money where our mouth is and we’re going to double down on this, on this cause that we, that we truly believe in. And, um, you know, this isn’t a hobby farm. Um, this is a, a now 1,000 acre multi-species with hundreds and hundreds of animals, um, um, operation and, and, and multiple employees that’s doing a ton of outreach, um, creating a ton of education and awareness. Um, we, we, we call it, we call Roam Ranch a, a, an educational facility and field experiment.

                                    So everybody from the senior leadership of some of the top retailers in the country to influencers to press and media, um, to, you know, television, all the way down to the local community, the people that live down the road or, or, or just wanting to learn and see where their food is coming from are coming out there and learning. And I think that’s, that’s incredibly important and at the same time, I, I think there, there was a realization that running these things is, is much more difficult, and much more challenging, and much more involved than, you know, we had even imagined with all of our experience. And again, once you get your own hands dirty, you, you learn and appreciate things a lot differently. And I think it’s been valuable for us to have, you know, that experience. Um, I say us, I use that term generously. This is … You know, Roam Ranch is Katie and Taylor’s own, owned …

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      … solely by them. Um, they, they were, um, generous enough to let me purchase some bison and rent it on, on the land and I get to go out and help with events and, um, participate.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, and, and occasionally get my hands dirty as well when, when they ask. Um, so …

BEN                            Has, has, has that, has that experience, uh, given you guys … It seems like it’s given you a new level of empathy for the producers that you’ve been working with and continue to work with in your new venture.

ROBBY                      There’s no doubt about it. Right? I mean, when it comes to scaling these supply chains and driving this mission, there are hurdles that exist at every step of the way, at, at, at every level, um, and at every role in the value chain. And we’re definitely getting some more intimate understanding, um, of what those hurdles are and, and how they feel, um, as we look for solutions to, again, help people in different situations overcome them.

BEN                            Yeah. One thing that I really love about the ethos that, that, that you and, and Katie and Taylor have, you’re, you’re really fundamentally iconoclasts and like you’re not, you’re not scared to shake up the status quo, you’re not, you’re not scared to run counter to, maybe even 100, 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where, where the Zeitgeist is, is blowing. And so one thing that’s happening right now, particularly in the natural and organic food space is that everything is about plant-based, right? So it’s, uh, it, it, everything from, from pea protein to lab, you know, like lab, uh, concocted meat alternatives and all of this sort of stuff.

                                    And you guys have, have taken a really pretty radically different approach. And not out of dissimilar motives. Like in fact, you are highly aligned in terms of, of, of the emphasis around, around sustainability and climate change and that sort of thing but you have, you’ve reached a series of, of, of fundamentally different conclusions about the solution to that. So talk a little bit about what you’ve learned and maybe how what you’ve learned is different than, than what the, what at least in the popular press gets talked about now.

ROBBY                      It would be wrong of us to overlook a key part of, of the journey to, to, to even get to there and that is, you know, in that process of learning and that, that, that, um, that path that we were on, we were fortunate enough to cross paths with the Savory Institute. Um, and, and Katie and Taylor were fortunate enough to go to, um, on Zimbabwe and meet him on a, you know, formerly desertified piece of land and see firsthand the, the, the, the tangible albeit anecdotal, um, outcomes that can be produced by working in harmony with nature versus fighting it.

BEN                            So a desertified piece of land, just for clarity is a, a piece of land that’s been overgrazed and typically maybe, um, because of monoculture or other things they’re, the, the, the soil content has been depleted. What, like what else, what else would we need to understand about like what, what’s actually happening there?

ROBBY                      The easiest way to describe desertification is it’s sort of what you said, right? It’s a, it’s an exhausting of and the degradation of, um, your, your soil resource such that it may transition from a thriving balanced, um, ecosystem into truly what we know of and think of today as a desert. And we would call a, um, traditional real crop agriculture land a desertifying piece of land. You are mining, um, the resources out of that ground, out of that soil, that, um, a thriving ecosystem created. You’re doing nothing to regenerate or replenish those. Um, the, the, the, the easiest way to, to, to …

BEN                            And, and, and in your, in your definition, the, you know, sort of spraying of that field with nitrogen fertilizer is not replenishing anything. Right?

ROBBY                      No, no, no.

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      It’s, it’s, it’s a really ineffective and, and cheap band-aid. Right?

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      You know, where, where in nature do you see a monoculture? You don’t. You don’t, right? Nature doesn’t want to see, um, 10% of the land mass of the United States covered in nothing but bare dirt and rows of corn.

BEN                            Correct.

ROBBY                      That’s, that is, that is devastating, um, for …

BEN                            Because the economic incentives have made it such that, that is the thing you can make the most money at.

ROBBY                      Absolutely. And then you can add soybeans and, and some other key, uh, cash crops that we’ve begun to, to focus in on. Um, so it’s been, it’s been helpful to understand that, that, that concept of desertification. Now keep, keep in mind, I was, I was going to point this, point to this one thing before we get too far down the path ’cause …

BEN                            Yeah.

ROBBY                      … it’s, it’s, it’s a long one and there’s a lot to, to glean and folks can follow us at, on, on, on EPIC and Force of Nature

BEN                            Absolutely.

ROBBY                      … as we produce this content. But, you know, the way, the way to think about, the way we’ve practiced agriculture broadly in our, in our, um, industrialized model is, um, you know, what comes out of the ground or what is produced on the ground is, you know, sort of like a checking account and what’s underneath the ground is the savings account. And we’ve been taking out of our checking, um, we’ve been harvesting those crops and we’ve been producing those animals. And we haven’t been replenishing, putting money back into our savings account and there’s a, there’s a shelf life to that.

                                    Um, and, the food and agricultural organization of the United Nations released a report recently said that there’s only, um, 60 harvest left or 60 years of crop production on our planet based on our current system. So we can say we’re doing these inputs in our input-based industrial model but those inputs are simply again a band-aid to produce a yield. It’s not substituting or replenishing the actual land and that’s why you see the efficacy rates changing. That’s why you see applications of glyphosates and, and, um, again, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, and fertilizers all having to get more and more application and that’s why …

BEN                            So you … And you’re racing towards systemic collapse.

ROBBY                      Which, which we’ve seen, you know, in dozens and dozens of civilizations throughout history. Practicing organic, practicing non-GMO, practicing local, practicing grass feeding. Um, time and again we’ve seen massive civilizations rise and collapse because of resource degradation. Um, and so regenerative agriculture isn’t just grass feeding, it isn’t just organic, it isn’t just local. It’s, again, trying to practice agriculture in nature’s image. It’s a, it’s a reversal of a chemical input based system and a celebration of biology and balance and how do we dance with and harmonize with nature, um, at scale, uh, to produce our food and, and as opposed to, again, engaging in chemical and mechanical warfare with the land to create a, to create a monoculture as nature tries to restore balance.

BEN                            What does that look like practically for people who maybe haven’t visited as many farms or ranches as, as you guys have? You know, I think there probably is a sense that, “Well, if, if I’m growing some, some crop over here, I can’t just have cattle, or bison or pigs. They, they, if they roam free, then they’re, they’re going to, they’re going to eat up the thing that I was growing over here so I can’t … That doesn’t work.” Ha- what does it actually look like in a, in a working, uh, regenerative farm?

ROBBY                      Again, um, I can, I can give a, a high level for, for brevity but it’s different for every person. You know, you got, you got, you got a, you got a variable set of tools and …

BEN                            And climates and typography.

ROBBY                      … and, you got a different set of conditions and stuff. And so really it’s, it starts with a mindset of, you know, a commitment to trying new things and pushing your comfort zone, um, with an end goal of improving welfare in, of animals and, and improving, um, you know, the land that you’re, that you’re stewarding. Um, and you got to recognize, too that historically, you know, the largest herd of megafauna on our planet since the last Ice Age is, is bison as an easy example.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      And so, you know, 10,000 years ago, um, to, to present, at, at a certain point for the majority of that time, there was herds of, you know, somewhere between … Depending on what numbers you, you, you support, you know, 40 to 60 plus million bison roaming across North America. And, um, and these massive herds intensely impacting lands and, and then moving on. And, um, you know, maybe not returning for some period of time and there’s a, there’s reasons for all of that. Right? There’s birds migrating with them, there’s predator species pressuring them. Um, and again this is the natural way. This is, you know, the balance of life.

BEN                            But they’ve, but they’ve got the excrement, they’re so heavy, they’re actually sort of tilling the soil with their, with their hooves.

ROBBY                      Yep. They’re feeding the, the microbiome of the, of the, of the soil or the rhizosphere. Um, again, everything from what’s going on under the crust, um, to what’s happening up in the, in the solar system, in the, in terms of getting the energy of the sun down into the soil along with carbon in the process of photosynthesis and how these animals help, um, you know, trigger and, and, and, and instill that and, and invigorate that process. So, again a lot of science, a lot of stuff to …

BEN                            Of course.

ROBBY                      … to learn there but we live in a day and age where we don’t, we’ve, we’ve nearly driven that, um, that massive, uh, herd of animals to extinction and, um, and further we’ve fenced everything in. So that’s not … The way that our lands and our ecosystems evolve to function, we’ve, we’ve disrupted significantly, um, and we’ll never be able to return to that.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, but what we can do is recognize that we have a massive opportunity, um, to scale down those functioning systems and to, uh, again, implement those on smaller scale lands. And, you know, Roam is an example where, you know, the bison are in you know, multiple, you know, dozens of different paddocks and they may not come back to one depending on the condition that’s it, it’s in for six months and they may come back to one, another one every, you know, 45 or, or, or more days. Um, again, trying to create that and replicate those, those, um, relationships that existed historically and the, the symbiosis that exists historically in nature and get within the context. So, you know, that’s the idea, that’s the concept, is how do we, how do we farm, how do we, how do we ranch in, in nature as I mentioned and, and aggressively work towards finding a system that works on our scale and in our context.

BEN                            So the typical critique of, of meat eating, traditional meat eating – you’ve commoditized these cattle so that they’re, it’s all just about how, how much weight. So you’re packing them all into these, these really pretty gross environments and they’re, they’re finished, uh, with who knows what, what types of, of products in order to get them fattened up so that you’re maximizing in that moment how much money you’re getting, uh, out of, out of a particular head of, uh, of cattle.

                                    And so, so that’s, that’s that world. But a lot of the critique ends up being around, “Well, you know, actually, uh, livestock are a very inefficient source of, of, of calories, uh, that, that, that cows are responsible for, uh, methane and, and other greenhouse gases to a disproportionate degree and, and this sort of thing.” How do you guys think about those standard tropes in the, in, in the public discourse.

ROBBY                      Yeah, those critiques are, are appropriate in, in, in certain applications. You know what I mean? The system that they apply to is dysfunctional. And when you study dysfunction, the result is dysfunction. Those models are built around, in a lot of cases, you know, um, clear cutting rain forests and, um, you know, planting monoculture crops there with an input based system.

                                    Um, and then you know, shipping those inputs and, and, and outputs back and forth across long distances and, um, using them in an, an environment like you described in a confined animal feeding operation –  to put a ton of animals in a, in a space where there’s the, the intense use of, um, antibiotics to, um, sustain life in an environment that’s not compatible with life and promote rapid growth and, um, you know, generate high yield on a, on a small amount of land with cheap inputs.

                                    And I think if you look at the life cycle assessments done on that system, it shows that for every pound of beef, there’s 33 pounds of carbon, um, equivalent emissions into the atmosphere. Um, and that’s, that’s messed up.

BEN                            And so your, so your corrective to this is that it’s not the cow’s fault, it’s the method of producing the cows, certainly.

ROBBY                      Absolutely. And I, and I think it’s important to note that, you know, the, the system that we’re, that we’re supporting, we take those same life cycle assessments, um, that look end-to-end. um, we were fortunate enough to be a part of, um, performing research on, um, utilizing the same company, um, that Impossible Burger did, showed that in, in this sort of regenerative model, in this particular application, we were sequestering three and a half pounds of carbon equivalence per pound of, um, beef produced. And even Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger are still carbon positive.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      They’re still emitting three-and-a-half or, or four pounds, I think, respectively of carbon equivalence per pound that they produce. So, we’re even a better solution than these companies that are coming on the scene and heralding themselves as solutions. And that’s just on the carbon issue, that doesn’t talk about the fact that they’re heavily reliant on GMOs and monoculture and so on and so forth. And so all that to say, you know, the narrative around agriculture and animal agriculture is, “Let’s take a, um, a deceitful shortcut and take the worst representation of agriculture, of animal agriculture and then sign it to, assign it to an entire industry.” And that’s dishonest.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      It’s not buying meat that’s the problem. It’s buying the wrong meat that’s the problem. And so one of the things that we endeavor to do is create that awareness, um, and with Force of Nature. We’re trying to fight that commoditization model that we talked about and we’re trying to celebrate and, and do what, what we say is, you know, reclaiming the legacy of meat and, and, and producing the best meat on the planet for the planet. Um, so, how, how do we do that?

There is no food revolution without the consumer. Um, and right now, we’re, we’re living in a time where consumers have demonstrated time and again that they vote or they, or they purchase, um, um, in stronger and stronger alignment within their values. Um, but they have to know. Um, they have to know what, what the implications are of their decisions and right now, sadly, a lot of really good people are complicit in advocating for systems that absolutely do not align with their values. And this isn’t one of those contests or those elections where we can just say, “I don’t like you, the party so I abstain from voting.” If you’re consuming, you’re voting.

And the majority of our meat production system is highly challenged, um, and is bad and it does need to change. Fortunately, for those consumers, there are tons, hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth, you know, billions of pounds of, of good meat, um, and by supporting that and by transitioning their purchasing habits and, um, supporting those ranchers and producers and systems and casting those votes, the food system will change. Farmers, ranchers, big companies, small companies, they’re going to give consumers what they want and the, the determination of what consumer want, comes from the cash register.

BEN                            Absolutely.

ROBBY                      And so Force of Nature is trying to do just that. We’re trying to get distribution of good, honest meats, um, in, into as many consumer’s hands and make it available to as many consumers as we can. Whether that be through, through food services or whether that be through retail grocery outlets, whether that be through online e-commerce, whether that be through other creative means. We want to create a brand that, that tells that story and creates awareness of those issues and informs those consumers so that such that within their own context and their own financial and, and, um, values based systems, they can at least be informed that when they make purchases, they’re purchasing something to the best of their abilities that aligns with their own values.

BEN                            So then you’re also creating a market for those ranchers to, who, who may be in a remote rural area, and they don’t have, they don’t have a way to, to produce. Even if philosophically they want to produce better meat, honest meat, they don’t really have that path to market it. And that’s, that’s an aspect of, of, of this, of this ecosystem that you guys are trying to address as well, right?

ROBBY                      Yeah. The industrialized model and the, and, and, and truly centralized model is, is absolutely punitive to the, to the individual on the land. That’s why you see the average age of farmers, um, peeking out over the age of 60 and the future generations of those, of those family owned businesses and farms, um, leaving. They’ve watched their lands that maybe one or two generations prior, they’ve heard stories about how, um, beautiful and, and rich they were and now they’re seeing the results of, you know, their families having to become chemists and maybe how that’s impacting their health and their communities. Um, and they’d love to be, and think and do different, maybe these are land stewards largely.

                                    Sadly, you know, for small producers, where do they, where do they send their animals, right? And you got to think, too that again, going back to that commoditization yield model, if you have, you know, 5,000 cows going through a processing facility in a day, um, coming off of a feed lot that has tens of thousands or millions of cattle in a really confined area, that they’re able to reach greater than full size in, in, in a, in two-and-a-half years maybe, two years maybe. And, and out on the land, it may take 1,000 acres to do what they can do in, um, 100.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      And it may take three or more years to do what they can do in two. And you look at the throughput, they’re able to get a lot more out in a much shorter time and a much lower cost than somebody doing it right. And the other, the other issues are infrastructure and water and fencing and management. There are true costs. Um, we’re trying to accelerate those costs, um, to the present, um, acknowledge them …

BEN                            You’re not pushing them down to your grandchildren’s generation.

ROBBY                      Yep. And, um, and, and recognize them and make sure that we can create a system that supports those producers, those ranchers in overcoming those barriers. And similarly, um, create some efficiency and some flywheels and, and, with, you know, with all of the, the stakeholders between those producers and, um, the end consumer. Right? And so, creating incentives on the front end, trying to address hurdles on the front end, um, creating a pool by, through education and recognition and, and opportunity for consumers to vote, um, for better food and to create that demand.

                                    And then similarly, trying to address everything in between, you know, it’s hard when there’s hundreds of brands out there. How do you know which one is right, you know? And for these producer farmers, too, you know. If they don’t have the ability to create their own website and hire their own marketing digital team and do their own processing and vertically integrate and so on, if they just want to raise animals, you know, they don’t, they don’t have a lot of options.

                                    And so, you know, we don’t have it all figured out but we know that we’re trying to do the right thing on, on, on all ends and we’ve, we’re fortunate enough to leverage our experience with EPIC as, as we, as we can leverage relationships and, and, and understandings as well, um, to try and, to try and address those things. Um, to give, again, you know, like, we’re a mission based company that our tool to drive change is by making meat available so that consumers can vote for what they believe in.

BEN                            That’s tremendously exciting. So what are you … So today, you guys, make what kinds of products?

ROBBY                      Right now, our core products are, uh, that are, that are most widely distributed and it’s fair to say that while we’ve been working on this and learning this industry for a long time, we truly only just launched with an intention to go beyond our own local geography …

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      … a few weeks ago. I mean, like I think it’s …

BEN                            It’s … This is, this is fresh.

ROBBY                      We’re sitting here late December … Or, sorry, late September, excuse me, of 2019, re- recording this. Um, so we’ve been building out our business locally, um, both in retail and in food service. We just launched online, um, recently and we’re officially after launching at Expo East having lar- conversations with larger distributors and, and retailers and, and other avenues. But the products right now that we’ve been able to commercialize are, um, a, a series of, of ground meats, um, both in the retail and, and food service and, uh, based on proteins of bison, um, venison, elk, wild boar, and, um, working on some, some, some other, some other products as well.

                                    And we’ve, we’ve developed an ancestral line, too. It’s part of a whole animal initiative, incorporating some of the, um, the organ meats. And these would have once have been by our ancestors, the most highly sought after cuts, um, of meat. And so we’re trying to reintroduce those into our diet at a time when we’re, you know, for the first time in our history our, our offspring are, have lower life spans than our own.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      And we, we lost touch with the most nutrient dense foods we’ve, we’ve been eating and, and because our palates have changed. So can we, can we reintroduce those in a forum and format that’s comfortable and, and that fits our palettes? We’re doing hamburgers, pre- pre-formed patties, and then we’re doing other, you know, cuts like tenderloins and, and braising cuts like short ribs and ossobucco. And then in, in time, we’d like to get into more traditional proteins as well and we have plans and aspirations for doing that.

BEN                            That’s super exciting and it’s, as we get close to the lunch hour, it’s making me hungry just thinking about it. As you think about what’s next for you guys at Force of Nature, uh, like what, what is your, like … And maybe this is, this is not how you, how you think about it now but like what’s your battle cry now?

ROBBY                      You know, I think what at, at, at EPIC we, you know, our, our moonshot goals were to, to become a household name and convert a, a million acres of land from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture. Which was an ambitious goal at the time.

BEN                            Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ROBBY                      And, um …

BEN                            But one that you accomplished.

ROBBY                      Yeah, one that we’ve accomplished. And, um, and so for, for Force of Nature, we’re still trying to, we’re still toying around with those, those, those truly aspirational objectives but I think, um, two things we, we’re, we’re starting to hone in on so I’ll share them now but we’ll see how that might change as we get, we get closer to it but one is to support the conversion of a billion acres, uh, of agriculture. You know, a million seemed impossible, so why not, why not just …

BEN                            Go bigger. Go big or go home.

ROBBY                      Why not go way, way, way bigger? Um, and quite frankly, we need to. If we don’t get to a billion as a … Not, not, not as Force of Nature, I’m talking about as a planet.

BEN                            Sure.

ROBBY                      As, um, as a species.

BEN                            But if you can be a catalyst to that as Force of Nature then that would be an important role.

ROBBY                      Absolutely. And then, and then the other that we’ve toyed with is, um, you know, trying to get to a 1% share of the, of the meat industry in the, in this country, um …

BEN                            Which would be a substantial business.

ROBBY                      It would be a substantial business. It would be massive by any, by any standard. You talk about 1%, it seems small but I think the reason that that resonates with us is because if we were able to achieve that, um, the ripple effects would be profound. It would mean that we’ve paved a way for other brands, not our own, but other brands who believe in these concepts, um, to come into the scene and, again, create that distribution and create that opportunity for consumers to vote.

                                    And it, it means that we’ve paved the way for those producers to make advances and changes and improvements in how they’re stewarding the land and it would mean that, whether indirectly or directly, we’re influencing that billion acres. And so the implication of being 1% really is the implication for regenerative agriculture. Um, and the implication for a profound impact on all of those things that we’re, that we’re trying to create improvements for. You know, we’re, we’re past the point as a society where sustainable is good enough. You know, we’re racing towards a cliff. So achieving sustainability at this rate, um, doesn’t change the outcome. Um, you know, the conversation has to, has to change from being, from doing less bad, uh, to doing more good. Um, and that’s, that’s really what we’re trying to create an awareness and re- and recognition of.

BEN                            That’s really powerful. Well, is there anything else that … Like as you guys are at this, at this, uh, early stage of Force of Nature that you would want people out there who are listening to this podcast to know about what you’re doing or, or, or how they can support you guys?

ROBBY                      I think one of the things, I, I think I’m going to blur the answer a little bit between Force of Nature and EPIC and, and, um, you know, again, just reiterate that there, that there is no revolution without the consumer. So if anything that we’ve talked about inspires you, um, you know, join the, join the movement, you know. Um, purchase differently, share information, do your own research to whatever extent you’re willing to, to dive in. Um, and if not, align and, and find an organization that you believe in and, and advocate, uh, for them.

                                    Challenge your own preconceived notion and your own conventions, um, about what you are and aren’t willing to do. You know, one of the things that’s paved the way for this, for us to go so far down the wrong path in meat is, um, a lack of understanding, um, uh, and a lack of willingness to engage with where our food comes from and this concept of it takes life to sustain life and, you know, if we continue to proceed with blinders on as consumers because we don’t want to acknowledge that reality that we’re part of nature and that we are part of that process of life, and death and decay, um, and then the emergence of new life.

                                    If we can recognize that we celebrate that balance, we celebrate that harmony in nature and recognize that we have a role, an empathetic role, as, as human omnivores, um, to support that process, um, and, and allow ourselves to remove the blinders, um, to where our food is coming from and to paying attention to the, the, the organizations and their treatment and their values and their applications of, of, of their businesses, um, that’s going to be the way change happens.

                                    And, and then the other thing I would say that we need to challenge is, um, our, our concept of what’s good and what’s bad. You know, big and bad is terrible and that’s how, that’s what everybody, I think, um, who cares starts. Um, and all of us who have fought and advocated and, and changed our values and, and done anything and everything we could within our, our, our abilities to fight for change have to ask ourselves the question that what does change look like. Right? Even going back to my first days at EPIC, what does success look like? Um, I think success looks like the things that we believe in, improvements that we’re seeking occurring at scale.

                                    And one of the greatest opportunity for implementing those things at scale is, is within a large business. And I think, um, you know, I’ll point back to our experience with EPIC and, and General Mills and say that, um, EPIC’s not perfect, General Mills is not perfect, I’m not perfect, but, you know, there’s, there’s been a collaborative, um, force there to try and, to, to try and drive change. And I think consumers have done a phenomenal job of holding all of us accountable to maintaining authenticity to what, what those original pursuits are and, and remain.

                                    And, you know, the example that I’ll give for, for that acquisition in ultimate integration is that General Mills truly did just recently commit to converting a million acres from conventional agriculture to regenerative. I think that largely consumes up all of the supply chains for, for Cheerios and Nature Valley and other things. And so, you know, that goal of EPIC that seemed like a long shot would never have happened if not for, um, a big business and then the willingness of big business to change because consumers directed them to do so.

BEN                            Right.

ROBBY                      Um, and there never would have been an appreciation for a broader set of stakeholders, uh, a broader set of success criteria beyond the bottom line of a large publicly traded company. Um, and since then, the operating unit that we, um, are a part of has changed its name to, you know, the Triple Bottom Line operating unit. Right? Defining success by outcomes produced, um, for people, planet, as, as, as well as profit. Um, profit’s important, it’s okay.

BEN                            Absolutely.

ROBBY                      That’s what keeps … It’s what makes business sustainable. Um, so I think, I think those are the, those are, those are the most important things, right? They’ve also adopted in instilling a sense of mission and purpose behind all their brands because fighting for something that their consumers care about. And so that’s come from, that’s come from small business supported by, you know, somewhat evangelical consumers, um, disrupting and, and, um, a large but willing organization, um, and, you know, that opportunity still exists.

                                    And, uh, I hope that we can, um, you know, transition those, those fans and those followers and those consumers over and educate and, and recruit more and, and new folks to, to this, this conversation and a bigger industry that’s in more households and is a part of more diets, um, so that we can continue to carry the mission that we created there and, and, and bear that torch in, in a new context and one that we specialize in, right? Startups and small businesses that are fast growth and disruptive, and, um, exciting and mission based.

BEN                            Well, I have a feeling that, that, that’s going to happen. So i- it will, it will be exciting to, to follow along. So everything that you’ve said has been insightful and inspiring. And I just want to thank you, Robby Sansom, the, one of the co-founders and, and CEO of, of, of Force of Nature, uh, for joining us and sharing your experience, your stories, your insights, and really the, the heart and spirit behind what you guys are, are building, that, uh, I, I think can impact, uh, impact us as consumers, impact us as, as entrepreneurs, and, uh, and, and just as, as global citizens as well. So thank you again for joining us.

ROBBY                      Thank you, Ben. I really appreciate the time. It’s been, been a lot of fun catching up.

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For links to some of the people and companies we mentioned during our conversation today, be sure to visit barcodestartup.com/podcast for the show notes and a complete transcript of this conversation.

Thank you so much for listening to the Barcode Podcast, and we’ll see you back here next week for a new conversation to help equip emerging consumer brands. 

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