Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz  20:31 

You think you were just ahead of your time with Feed Granola? Because we’re talking 2005, I mean, today, obviously, there’s a huge push towards, you know, healthy stuff, a lot more healthy stuff than 2005, at least.

Jason Wright  20:49 

Yeah. So I’ll sum it up. Jeremy Bare Naked was there, they were about two years ahead of us. And they outperformed Feed, outperformed some other granola companies. And they eventually were acquired by Kellogg’s in 2007, I think, November 2007. And so what I learned after that acquisition was regionally, everyone has a granola, every region has their own take on is itself bake? Is it crunchy, even spicy down in the southwest. And granola is something that you and I can create tonight in our kitchen. So the barrier to entry is super, super low. And it just got saturated. Like, when you start to look around after the Bare Naked acquisition, to my knowledge, there’s not been another granola, a brand that starts just as a granola stays as a granola, and exits. That has not happened since Bare Naked to my knowledge, there’s been other brands that as a line extension has said, hey, we’re going to go into granola, just as a product extension to show brand can go in that category. But they didn’t start with that category. And I think that’s just to the fact that in today’s world, people are looking for innovation. And then, in the early days, you could redo a potato chip, you could redo a cookie, you could redo things that were traditionally just saying conventional, but in today’s world, like you see people coming out with, whether it’s a new fruit or something they’ve discovered in another country, or using fermentation on certain products and things like Wilde Chips that had never been done before. So I think today’s competition is so much more tough.

Jeremy Weisz  23:05 

So the Feed Granola kind of led you to the next natural foods, companies and including the Yumnuts, and then POM. What did you learn at Palm from being the national sales manager that you take the Wilde?

Jason Wright  23:20 

Well, I’ll tell you what I learn and it was not on the sales side, the resident was very keen on vertically integrating their businesses. So when they would buy, for example, when they bought a farm with the pomegranates on it, they planted more pomegranates, they expanded their production, and then they built the facility to clean package or squeeze turn into juice, the pomegranate. I learned then about you know, vertically integrating from opening the farm to the facility to the brand. And I really took notion at that. And so when we started Wilde, I really set out from day one, I wanted to build my own manufacturing facility. In the early days we worked with some co-manufacturers just because we didn’t we were trying to get proof of concept before we went built our own facility. But they want I thought how can I you know really controlling your quality is all about being able, in my opinion, to to control you know, from the raw ingredients coming in to the packaging, leaving off to the distributor off to the retailer.

Jeremy Weisz  24:54 

Yeah, they own the supply chain. They get rid of the control quality you mentioned barrier to entry. Right? And because this had not been done, really, at what point did you decide we just need to create our own manufacturing facility? Because again, that’s labor intensive, it’s time it’s now something, it’s kind of like I don’t know, renting versus buying, right? It’s like the furnace breaks, hey, you send someone how to fix a furnace as opposed to spending the money. If you own it, now you have to fix the furnace. So what was the decision to actually do it? And how did that process work?

Jason Wright  25:39 

Yeah, so 2019, we raise capital, and one of the investors really encouraged the board in me that, hey, we believe we should look at building our own manufacturing facility. So in the early days, we were working with some code manufacturers, we were doing what I call the Wilde potato in Chicago, and then we would freight to Virginia, to crisp season and package. And as you can imagine, the economics were not pretty. But we use that to get proof of concept. And by 2019, we had enough a proof of concept that people around the table were encouraged and confident enough that they thought let’s go build our own manufacturing facility. So 2020, we discovered or found a site here right outside of Lexington, Kentucky. And we teamed up with Ron Tierney and his son Patrick Tierney, which are two real estate developers here in the great state of Kentucky. And we went to work. And we built a 50,000 square foot facility, where on one side of the plant, we bring in fresh chicken breast just like you buy whole foods, and bone broth and egg why. And on the other side of facility, we are crisping seasoning and packaging product. And so that process took about eight months to build. And I would tell you if I hadn’t done that, I think where we’re sitting today, I hate to even think about what it would look like. Because I think none of us would want to see what it would look like today. Had we not made that decision, then.

Jeremy Weisz  27:42 

Jason at the point now it takes eight months to build your manufacturing facility. What was distribution like right before the manufacturing facility, where were you across the country.

Jason Wright  27:55 

We were in Whole Foods, who was my first customer from day one, we were in the natural channel. So sprouts Fresh Market, natural grocers. We were selling on Amazon. And we were selling on our own direct to consumer, our website. And outside of that we were not really anywhere else I’d made the decision early that we were going to really prove the concept out before we tried to scale it. And I really just stuck to the natural industry. And we were nervous about, in the early days of working with co-manufactures and having our equipment in there. We were nervous about production controlling our own destiny. So we were not expanding until we built that facility.

Jeremy Weisz  28:47 

That’s a huge undertaking. I mean, you’re managing the whole business you’re distributing and I don’t know how much it’s got to be another two full-time jobs starting up this new manufacturing. How did you manage it all at that time?

Jason Wright  29:00 

I’ve got some great team members. I’ve got a Fleet Bernard who was a Operations Manager a Cray Jerky. He joined me in 2018. And he really took on a lot of the build out. I was there every day as well. And yes, it was a difficult time trying to run a brand trying to run a project where we were making, building a manufacturing facility trying to order special equipment. There was a lot of, it just all kind of blends together. There was no like start, no days off. But we had to do what we had to do and this was the really turning point of Wilde.

Jeremy Weisz  29:57 

Talk about how Whole Foods for a second and first getting into Whole Foods.

Jason Wright  30:06 

Yes, so day one from my feet days, had some relationships there. And they were the first retailer on my radar. I worked with David Lafferty, who’s a good friend of mine also worked with David McCormack, and David Woods, the three, David’s, and these guys believed in what I was doing. They supported me. The early days, we had a lot of out of stocks where we just could not produce the product needed. And a lot of retailers get upset, and I understand why they do not want it be shelves. There were days when I thought I was going to get the phone call that David would say, Jay, we like what you’re doing. But in the day, you can’t keep us supplied. And so when you figure it out, come back to us, but for right now I need to take you off the shelf. And that day never came, David Lafferty stuck with me supported me. He believed in the concept, it was unique, it’s something that’s never been done before, there really wasn’t a replacement out there for it. And so he stuck by me, and I thank him till this day, when he and I get together, I’m like, man, I would not be here without you, David.

Jeremy Weisz  31:35 

That’s pretty amazing. And then what is it like today, working with whole foods?

Jason Wright  31:42 

Yeah, today is very similar, those guys still support me. If I have a new flavor launch, they will always love to be the one that gets the flavor first. We’ve even toyed around with some unique, exclusivity or some concepts that we may do in the future. And they are still one of the largest customers that I have. I really value their relationship. And I think, I’m a big hole food shopper myself, for the last 20 years, I’ve lived beside Whole Foods, I live the side of Whole Foods in New York, in Austin and Boulder, and now in Nashville. And here in Lexington, I actually live beside Whole Foods. So I don’t know if it’s just been something I sold out or coincidence. But I go to Whole Foods probably four or five times a week, if not more, just to get small things. But I’ve always been a big fan of what Whole Foods has done.

Jeremy Weisz  32:53 

One of the things I love, Jason, about your story is that, you know, you’re all these overnight success after 10 years, right? So like it see, oh, he started this protein chip company of chicken brass. But really, you’ve been doing this for probably over a decade at this point when you started Wilde, and were with the Feed Granola, grinding with sales, forming relationships. And now that paid off when you started Wilde, right. So I want to talk about attracting talent. You know, you mentioned I think his name is Fleet. I mean, seems like from what you describe very, they could go anywhere, possibly, like he could probably go to Kellogg, you could probably go to a large company that doesn’t have startup issues or challenges. So how did you attract people like him to on the Wilde journey.

Jason Wright  34:06 

With Felipe, so when I talk about the code manufacturing, he was at that CO manufacturer for Crave, and Crave had recently sold to Hershey. And so Crave or Felipe was really looking for his next entrepreneurial experience. And so we connected there was one hotel there in the little town where the co-manufacturer was that we all stayed at this one hotel, and he and I connected. And I think he this really liked the concept. He thought that we, I had a big idea. And he knew of other brands out there. Craig being one of them, that was actively looking to do something like I was doing, and he had tried products. And when he tried mine, he felt that we were, you know, farther along than anyone he’d ever come across. And so he was wanting to join the team and be a part of something that had never been done before. And so I think that was a big attraction to him was being a part of something that’s never been done before. And I even to this day, is we attract talent, and we hire partners. I think there’s a couple of things. One that I look for is the entrepreneurial spirit and the grit spirit and the grittiness, and I’ve been very fortunate, even Mike Senn who’s my president, Mike Senn, was the senior VP over at Cohn Snacks. And, Mike, if you really sit down and have a conversation you quickly learn. Mike’s an entrepreneur, maybe he didn’t start, you know, a company like Bill, Moses started Kavita, but Mike could have, and you start talking about these entrepreneurial spirits. And this willingness is grit. And the one thing we all share in common is we like to do things never been done before. And we all have that never give up attitude. And we don’t have a start time and a stop time. The passion is really moving the needle forward. And that requires working all the time, but that lifestyle is not really work to us, we enjoy seeing things, progress we enjoy, see progress being made, and that’s what’s attracted, or helped me hire a lot of our team members as we move forward. And I think the attraction on the opposite side is here, let’s be a part of something like Wilde, this never been done before.

Jeremy Weisz  37:06 

Talk about some of the advisors.

Jason Wright  37:09 

Bill Moses is a huge advisor, Bill Moses started Kavita was acquired by PepsiCo. I want to say 2017, Bill and I met at a trade show where he tried the Wilde Chips for the first time, and just really liked the product. He believed in the concept. He believed in me, and he was a huge advocate. You know, he basically led me to Alan Carr, who is my largest investor, over a Carp Rally. And without bill, I don’t know if, if Alan would have found me, but Bill really was a huge supporter. And he is to this day, you know, he now has Flying Embers which is hard Kombucha can cocktail and, and Bill and I probably talk four or five times a week. He’s always giving me advice. And he’s always telling people in his circle about me, and about the awesome product we have at Wilde. So he’s a huge supporter. And, yeah, I mean, I have a laundry list. You know, I wouldn’t be here without a lot of support by a lot of smart people.

Jeremy Weisz  38:31 

Ambassadors, right. So you make this chip, it’s for you, but when you put it out in the world, certain people are attracted to it. So talk about some of the ambassadors out there who have really taken to it and spread the word.

Jason Wright  38:45 

So we really found a niche in the CrossFit community. Last year Wilde was the official protein chip of CrossFit. So we went to the CrossFit Games August of last year, August 5 through the seventh, we had a big tent on the outside we had it vendor village, or a vendor row and an inside at vendor village. We had a tent inside. That’s where we met we started to meet some of the CrossFit athletes. Sydney Wales brought Wales Tia Claire to me and we formed relationships. They love the product. The girls are looking to get protein in their diet, but they won’t have snack you know they can get protein from chicken breast and other meals, but they also just want a snack that they feel good about eating and it Wilde they feel good about eating Wilde Chips and where they could get the taste and texture of a traditional potato chip, but yet they get 10 grams of protein per serving. So we brand ambassadors Sydney Wales we’ve worked with Tear, we’ve worked with Brooke. And we find that the CrossFit ambassadors, their audience is looking for similar products. And so that’s been a great market for us. And then just overall fitness ambassadors like that’s where we really, fitness foodie we call is our target demographic. And that kind of brand ambassador Net community has really helped Wilde, as far as our awareness grow and to put us on the map.

Jeremy Weisz  40:36 

Who else do you think would be a good ambassador? For anyone or reach moms?

Jason Wright  40:43 

When I look at kids with who love chips and crackers and cookies, we have chicken and waffle, which I believe chicken and waffle. And I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Kids love it. The waffle, the maple syrup has that sweetness to it. But from the mom’s side, they love giving their kids chips that has protein or has something more than just empty calories. And for kids, they have no precondition on comparison. Right? They’re discovering a lot of things for the first time. And so when they have Wilde, it’s a win-win. They get the crux that they want, they get the flavor they want moms feels good about the nutritional benefit of Wilde.

Jeremy Weisz  41:33 

Yeah, for sure. Is there anyone else you call upon for advice in the industry when you’re facing a decision that you have to make?

Jason Wright  41:43 

Yeah, I mean, Jerome Metivier, he wants he’s one that comes to mind. So Jerome is the CFO and Nature’s Made. Jerome was the CFO of I’m drawing a blank on the Naked Juice. I don’t know why I draw a blank there. But anyway, so Naked juice, which is owned by PepsiCo, or was owned by PepsiCo, he was the CFO there. He’s been a friend of mine for 20 years. And He’s a board member. And he called them him for advice. He’s a well-seasoned vet in our industry. And I call on him for advice. I could go on and own. I call them own team members for advice, you know, Mike Senn, who’s a Senior VP at Khan, and now the president of the wild, a call on him for advice. And then there’s this many more that I’m drawing a blank on. But there’s a lot out there that I call on for advice.

Jeremy Weisz  42:52 

Talk about this. So I’m was on your site, if you’re looking at the video, there’s a bunch of ambassadors here. How did these people discover you?

Jason Wright  43:02 

We got into, whether it’s the music industry, you know, of us being Now in Nashville, or it’s just extreme sports. You know, a lot of these people, Matt and Jake, here, we discovered them, they wrote in and said, hey, we love your product. And they were just looking for some free product. And we partner with them. And then we had them do, basically show the love of what their sport or their talent through music? And then how do they eat Wilde? Or how do they enjoy Wilde while they are chasing their dreams and their passion. And so we want to highlight that you’ll see us this summer, we’re going to highlight more of folks, ambassadors, who have found Wilde discovered Wilde and integrated Wilde into their everyday lifestyle, and we want to fuel their passion as they follow their dream just much like, you know, that my dream was to create a protein chip, that we can all feel good about eating and we want to help people you know, on their quest to really discover their dream or find their dream we want to help fuel their passion.

Jeremy Weisz  44:27 

Jason, I have one last question. First of all, thanks for sharing your journey with Wilde Brands and people can check it out I mean, at Whole Foods or local grocery store. Wilde Brands is to learn more you can get on Amazon, you get it on their website. I’m a huge fan. I’m a avid customer. So whenever I’m in a grocery store, I’m always looking for it. So thanks for what you do. I love the product and consume it weekly. Your favorite snacks? Last question, what are you some of your favorite snacks that you like to consume?

Jason Wright  45:11 

Well, back to where I started. So if you look at my refrigerator to the right, there’s seven fogey yogurts in there. And beside there, I’ve got, whether it’s RX bars granola, bakery omein granola, purely Elizabeth’s granola. So I go back to my roots of how I got started. Like, I love snacking on yogurt and granola. I’ve always done that. I’m a simplest, I’m very simple as far as and I’m a creature of habit. So when I get hooked on something, it’s hard to turn me off of it. So really yogurt and granola is my go to snack. And Wilde Chips. I mean, I do have the luxury of walking across the street here behind where I’m at, and eating hot chips off the lawn. And I got to tell you, when you eat a hot chip off the line, it really is almost like the Krispy Kreme donut hot sun zone nail variants, it’s hard for you to go to store to buy it, you know. So I do eat Wilde Ships every day. I’m a big fan of snacking on Wilde. And I’m a big fan of snacking on yogurt and granola.

Jeremy Weisz  46:37 

And then there’s I think that you were saying before hit record about some kind of special ketchup that you like to.

Jason Wright  46:45 

Sir Kensington. So, Scott, which is one of the founders of Sir Kensington, Scott Norton, he reached out to me during Expo this year, and I’ve been a huge fan of Sir Kensington growing up in the Carolinas I love ketchup I put ketchup on everything. I discovered Sir Kensington, probably 10 years ago maybe. And just been a huge, I don’t get kind of I don’t know if star strokes the right word to say but you know, I don’t ooh and aw about someone who created a product that often but when I met Scott, I was like, oh, this is a sir Kensington guy. And you know, I have cases of Sir Kensington in my apartment. So fast forward, he and I started talking, he’s now at a fun Devon Shire and out of Boston. And, you know if there’s potentially that we might form a partnership, so I’m super excited about getting to know, Scott and his team. And just the fact that you know, they created Sir Kensington and they had that experience of bringing a brand new market was a huge deal to me. So enjoy and get to know that to know Scott and his team over Devon Shire.

Jeremy Weisz  48:14 

Jason I want to be the first one to thank you. Thanks for sharing your journey and check out to learn more, and thanks, Jason. Thanks, everyone.

Jason Wright  48:23 

Jeremy, thank you so much, man. For all you do. It’s been a great conversation. And I’m looking forward to having many more with you.