The Unofficial Shopify Podcast: Entrepreneur Tales

How ‘Made With Local’ Scaled with Values

Episode Summary

w/ Sheena Russell

Episode Notes

Made with Local started as a simple farmer’s market table and is now a B-Corp certified food provider available at stores across Canada–but it’s still baked at home (that is Dartmouth, Nova Scotia!), by locals with local ingredients.

Founder & CEO Sheena Russell is on a mission to inspire mindfulness and conscious consumption through community connection, storytelling, and food.

A Certified B Corp, Sheena and her team at Made with Local are committed to creating delicious snacks that have social impact, baked-in.

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Episode Transcription

The Unofficial Shopify Podcast
Sheena Russell

Kurt Elster: Surely, you’ve done this before, right my friends? You crack open whatever packaged food bar, because you’re like, “I just need the calories to keep going through the day,” and as you’re eating this thing you’re going like, “What is going on in my mouth? What combination of definitely not from my kitchen natural ingredients combined to make this Soylent Green food bar I’m eating?” And there’s a move toward natural foods. Real foods. Things we can pronounce, right? There is definitely a cohort of the population that appreciates this, that wants this, and what’s interesting is I think it has its origin in farmer’s markets, and I love businesses that started in places where they’re able to talk one on one with customers from day one.

And so, businesses that started in events, in farmer’s markets you hear a lot with this, are really quite fascinating to me, because we always say one of the best things you could do is talk to your customers. Well, when you’re one on one, face to face in that environment, developing the product in real time with people you may be seeing week after week, that’s really quite an incredible experience that often leads to a really good product. And not all of them leave the farmer’s market and not everybody wants to, but those that do and succeed I really think have an advantage over other brands that may have been developed maybe unknowingly, but in more of a vacuum.

And so, we’re joined today, of course, by someone who’s done this. Shopify merchant Sheena Russell, who is the CEO and founder of Made with Local, is gonna share with us her journey on staying true to her values while scaling fast with a food product, a consumer packaged good. And so, Sheena Russell, Made with Local, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and she is inspiring mindfulness and conscious consumption through storytelling and food. They make real food bars, is what they call it, and they’re a Certified B-Corp, and so they’re creating delicious snacks with social impact baked in. That’s such a great tagline.

Sheena, welcome to… Oh my gosh. I forgot to tell everybody who I am. This is The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, and I’m your host, Kurt Elster.

Ezra Firestone Sound Board Clip: Tech Nasty!

Kurt Elster: Sheena, welcome.

Sheena Russell: Thank you, Kurt. That was amazing. Thanks for having me.

Kurt Elster: Oh, my pleasure. Okay, so I hope I didn’t butcher it too much. You are from… You’re in Halifax and your brand is Made with Local., correct?

Sheena Russell: Right. Yeah. Absolutely.

Kurt Elster: And when did we start this venture?

Sheena Russell: This venture started as a pure side hustle back in 2012. We were a little five foot table at the farmer’s market, like you mentioned in your intro, and those early years, those first two years of being a weekend market vendor were honestly the best, pun intended, market research any budding CPG founder could ever dream to experience, right? Like you said, we’re face to face with hundreds of customers every single week, watching how they react to our prices, to our flavors, their real time feedback about the sample that they have in their hand, their ideas about future innovations. It was just such a fertile time I think in the company, and we really approached it with our ears and eyes wide open.

And it was an incredible start and a really important part of the story of Made with Local.

Kurt Elster: So, 10 years ago you’ve got this bar and you’re selling it locally at a farmer’s market. How long does that go on for?

Sheena Russell: We were at the farmer’s market from 2012 to 2014, and those early years were us on Saturdays going to the farmer’s market, bringing our products there, and then our way out of the farmer’s market, picking up the ingredients from other farmer’s market vendors that we would then take to our friend’s café after hours, on Monday nights, bake into bars, and then bring them right back to the market the next week. And this very circular economy sort of concept was right at the advent, I think, of the local food trend. I don’t want to call it a trend, the movement that perseveres today. In 2012, that was really picking up a lot of steam in our corner of the world, so it was the perfect time, I think, to bring something this delicious, this nourishing, and this aligned with those values into the world. So, we were there until 2014 and then I got pregnant by surprise, so that put an end to the farmer’s market days.

Kurt Elster: Surprise!

Sheena Russell: Surprise!

Kurt Elster: But all right, so tell me about the original product. When you’re at that farmer’s market, what is the… Help me understand what the thing you were selling was.

Sheena Russell: We, to this day, have been making these really beautiful, soft baked bars, made using as many local ingredients as we can get our hands on. And that means for us here in Canada Canadian-grown oats, natural nut butters that we would source from small, independent nut butter companies. They do exist. Our bars are also sweetened exclusively with local honey, which is another massive differentiator for us in the category. Most other energy bars are made with some kind of weird syrup, or these no sugar sweeteners that are horrible for your gut, or dates. Those are kind of the three categories of sweeteners you see in our space, so honey is our only sweetener that we use and it’s really a really beautiful ingredient.

And then, of course, dried berries, and chocolate, and things that we could find that we felt a strong connection to the supplier. That really was the governing force on how we dreamt up our recipes and brought these really delicious and good for you products to the market.

Kurt Elster: And when you first… So, the products you were selling 10 years ago, the same as, largely similar as what we’ve got today?

Sheena Russell: Super similar. We have right now two… We just launched into Costco in Eastern Canada and the two flavors that are in the Costco box are the same flavors that we brought to the farmer’s market 10 years ago.

Kurt Elster: That’s awesome.

Sheena Russell: And with many of the same suppliers. Same local honey suppliers, same chocolate suppliers that are fair trade and organic certified. We’ve been able to scale this, I think, against all odds, and yeah, so the bars now… I would say they’re definitely more consistent now than they were in those early days when I was making them, because I am not the best granola bar maker in the world, turns out, and we’ve got an amazing team now who does it a lot better than I ever could.

Kurt Elster: So, when you’re first doing this by yourself, in your kitchen, where’s the idea come from? What has to break in someone’s brain to go, “I am gonna sell locally sourced granola bars at the farmer’s market for the next two years.” With survivorship bias, 10 years later this has worked out really well it sounds like. You’re in Costco. But back then, people probably thought you were crazy?

Sheena Russell: Yeah. If you would have told me in 2014 that we’d be in Costco a few years later I would have also told you that you’re absolutely crazy. So, not to go too back into the weeds, but my personal origin story is that I grew up on a small island in Eastern Canada called PEI. It’s a farming community. I grew up on a farm. And my dad’s actually also a baker by trade, so I have a lifelong history of being very connected to community agriculture and baking, and specifically grocery store baking, because my dad runs grocery store bakeries. So, a really unique perspective even as a kid on connecting local food to retail, and then honestly the aha moment for me was my girlfriend and I were kicking around after the gym one day and thought, “Oh my God. There’s all these crappy energy and power bars.”

Because 2012, we did not have like the 50-foot section in your grocery store that had energy bars in it. There was Clif and PowerBars, which were super gross. So, we just knew that we could do better.

Kurt Elster: The old PowerBars. I don’t know how people ate those things.

Sheena Russell: Yeah. I mean, they’re OG. Don’t get me wrong. They’re the grandfathers of the category and that’s no shade at all. But we just knew that we could do better, right? And I knew that given my connection, and history, and drive to be able to create something not that only tasted better, but also had this really beautiful story and impact within it was… I just knew I could do it. I had no idea, again, that we would ever scale to where we’ve been. Us really going for it has been a last three to four years phenomenon, I would say, but in those early days I always just thought that was gonna be a fun little side hustle until I got bored of it and decided to go onto something else.

Some days I’m just as surprised as you are.

Kurt Elster: I think there’s an advantage to when you start it… Intentionally setting the bar a little low to take the pressure off and go, “You know what? This is something I want to try and it’s for fun. I’m gonna approach it like a hobby or interest.” And then seeing where it goes. Is that kind of how you started with it?

Sheena Russell: Absolutely. And then we started to feel the pull from the market, right? And a lot of people around me who were entrepreneurs, or in business, would say like, “You know this isn’t always the way this happens, right? This isn’t normal to have started a business and then to have this massive momentum pulling into local retail,” and the growth, that at the time we were not doing any outbound sales. We were getting everything inbounded and there was massive momentum in the business with very little sales or marketing effort on our part.

So, when I realized that we were onto something really special, and there was that product market fit, which is a term I now understand and know about, it was like, “Okay, you know what? Let’s ride this and see where it goes.” And that was kind of that kind of 2014 to 2016 era of the business, was very much like, “Okay, let’s see. Let’s see what we can do with this.”

Kurt Elster: On this show we talk about looking for, finding, and absolutely leveraging the heck out of your unfair advantages, and in your case it’s your childhood experience. You grow up on a farm, in an agricultural community, with a parent who is a baker and selling into it sounds like local grocery stores. And so, there’s a lot that you gain from that, both practical skills, and seeing behind the curtain of food supply chain, and I have a lot of respect for that. I live in Lake County, surrounded by a lot of agriculture, and so I’m always jealous of the kids who got to do 4-H, right?

Sheena Russell: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: Just because I’m like there’s just so many practical skills that they got as kids.

Sheena Russell: Absolutely.

Kurt Elster: It’s like normal to them, that I missed out on growing up in the suburbs of Chicago Metro and Cook County. Not that I’m complaining about it. So, you’ve got this skillset, and like, “All right, I’m gonna approach this. I’m gonna make this with local ingredients and then I’m gonna try and sell it at a farmer’s market.” The surprising thing to everybody else was on your first go of it, right? Is this your first attempt at a business?

Sheena Russell: Oh, absolutely. I, in a million years, never planned to be an entrepreneur. I have an environmental science degree from a university in Nova Scotia called Dalhousie, and I was well on my way to be rising through the ranks in a career of sustainability and environmental practice. So, yeah, this was not the game plan for me at all.

Kurt Elster: You start selling in this farmer’s market and I guess it’s really successful. What was the first indication where you went like, all right, this should be… We should do more with this. This can be more than a side hustle.

Sheena Russell: That feeling, that energetic pull from the market, getting inbound requests for retailers to carry them constantly, people asking for new flavors, people buying them by the dozen, not just by the two or three. We just started realizing, “Okay, yeah. This thing has legs.” Constant feedback, again, at the farmer’s market. When you’re there, you’re seeing people’s faces when they try your product, and then they start telling you stories, which is like the real juice when you come to marketing, right? Somebody coming up and saying, “You know, I’ve always just eaten Clif Bars religiously and I will never eat another one because I’m obsessed with your bars now, and I buy them for myself, and I buy them for my run club, and I’m telling everybody I can get my hands on to come and visit you next weekend at the market.”

Those sort of stories were not uncommon. So, we knew at that point that if we could scale this thing we would be onto something really special.

Kurt Elster: And how quickly did that happen? You’re at the farmer’s market two years. How quickly do you have retailers like, “Can we have this?” And you got people buying it by the case.

Sheena Russell: For us, I do think it felt like very gradual growth. Two years at the farmer’s market, followed by about four years of regional steady growth, so then into pockets of grocery stores, growing our online presence, and it was pretty linear growth from that 2014 to about 2018, and then in 2019 we put a lot more energy behind scaling our manufacturing, which has always been a challenge for us until recently, and that’s not a problem anymore, which is great, but we at that point around 2018-2019 started going nationally into the largest grocery chains in Canada, and that’s when we really started to dial things up.

So, it was call it four to six years of quite a slow startup mode for us.

Kurt Elster: Were you working at this time? It’s a side hustle? Or do you start… When do you start trying to make this a full-time thing?

Sheena Russell: Yeah, so I quit my job after I finished my maternity leave, which is a thing that we get in Canada for a whole year.

Kurt Elster: Lucky.

Sheena Russell: I know.

Kurt Elster: In the U.S., they’re like, “All right. 48 hours and then get back.”

Sheena Russell: Don’t even get me started, Kurt. That’s a whole other podcast rant that I could go on that probably doesn’t belong on this one. We get a year maternity leave here, paid maternity, and I did that until 2015, and then in 2015 when I was supposed to go back to that job I decided to take a leap at Made with Local. So, we had been in business at that point for three years, and then for another year it was just me hustling with my baby in a bucket seat, driving deliveries around and just kind of taking her everywhere with me doing it, and we hired our first employee in 2016 who’s still with the company today.

Kurt Elster: And so, you’ve got this environmental science background, so obviously sustainability is a focus for you. The bar itself, you’ve got you’re selling it at a farmer’s market and people love it, so you know you have product market fit there. When does the message start getting added to the product? Like the message plus the product is then how we get to the brand, right? How does that happen? On day one, are you referring to it as Made with Local?

Sheena Russell: Absolutely. Yeah. From day one, we started up our Facebook page back in 2012 and that was from the very beginning, this is a purpose-led brand. Even before I think I even really had that language, this was gonna be a company that stood for more than just a singular nutrition component, or just being the least expensive. That’s not interesting to me as a brand at all. I’m like, “Who cares to talk about that? Let’s talk about people, and community, and connection, and deliciousness, and the way that food can nourish you in a way that’s totally bigger and above and beyond just how many grams of carbs are in it or whatever.”

So, yeah, from the very beginning we made this rock solid commitment to source our ingredients as much as we possibly can from small, sustainable farmers and food producers, and that was the bedrock for the brand starting on day one.

Kurt Elster: So, there’s two things going on here. We have A, we’ve got a great product, right? We’ve got this all-natural product which appeals to people and importantly, it really… It sounds and looks like it tastes great, and especially like if we think back 10 years ago to alternative options are much more limited then. And then at the same time, we have this message of, “Hey, this is made all locally,” which dramatically reduces carbon footprint producing the product, and also helps keep the dollars in the local economy. And so, there are warm and fuzzy feelings that go around with this messaging, and it is genuinely beneficial for everyone.

But what’s the important part there? Increasingly, I suspect people want to buy from brands that align with their values. But also, I want a good snack bar. It has to be tasty. What’s the important part here? Why are they buying?

Sheena Russell: If it doesn’t taste good, people are not gonna buy it. End of story, right? That’s non-negotiable. And it is a big mistake, I think, for any food or beverage founder to make, to think that their customers ultimately, over a long period of time, going to consistently buy your product if it doesn’t taste good. Sensory, deliciousness is the most important thing. I don’t care what anybody says. It is.

So, we have to prioritize that, right? And luckily that also goes very hand in hand with sourcing ingredients that are fresh, and are real, and by virtue of us sourcing the type of ingredients that we do from farmers and food producers, the bars also taste amazing because it’s just a familiar, delicious experience. Like our peanut butter blondie bar that I have sitting right beside me right now, if you crack that open and take a bite, it tastes like a soft baked peanut butter cookie and you can taste the peanut butter, really, and you can taste the sweetness from the honey, and the crunchiness from the pumpkin seeds, and the chunks of milk chocolate. It tastes like homemade, right? And we’ve really continued to prioritize that experience because it dovetails with the rest of the brand.

So, it’s not really… Those two concepts are integrated for us. We’re delicious because we are made with care, and we’re delicious because we’re made consciously, and with mindfully sourced ingredients. These are disjointed factors for us, right? It’s cause and effect.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. I like it. It’s not something that you tacked on. It all goes together and that’s what gives it all-important authenticity, right? This is not… You’re not trying to manipulate people into feeling a certain type of way. This just is what it is.

Sheena Russell: Yeah. People often give us the feedback of our bars tasting very nostalgic to them, like it reminds them of something that their grandmother would make. That is one of the best compliments I think that we can receive, because who doesn’t love feeling that connection to something warm and fuzzy, right? And that’s a very powerful marketing moment, as well. If something makes somebody have that emotional connection, it’s… You can’t ask for anything more than that, so that’s one of my favorite pieces of feedback that we get, is that nostalgic feeling.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. It tastes like grandma used to make. I mean, essentially it’s like, “Hey, I’m gonna sell you time travel,” right? Take a bite into it. You’re going to remember this delightful moment in your grandparents’ kitchen from when you were six.

Sheena Russell: Absolutely.

Kurt Elster: How cool is that?

Sheena Russell: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: So, all right, we have the initial success. We get our first customers at the farmer’s market, and so real easy to get those first local customers. At what point do you start shipping this stuff?

Sheena Russell: In the very even earliest days of Made with Local, we had a pretty rickety old WordPress site that we were doing some pretty elementary level eCommerce through. And that was a way that we were reaching people. We even had a subscription service, like I think as early as 2013 or 2014, and that… We still have customers on a subscription from those days, believe it or not.

And that was one channel that we were using to reach people. We also then started expanding out into local cafes, local health food stores once our production capacity could keep up. That was our kind of first foray outside the farmer’s market, was in those local independent retailers, which, no surprise, they’re really into what we’re doing too. So, it just continued to really amplify the message, I think. We had a lot of people on our side and a lot of people really buying into the vision because we were kind of selling directly to the folks in our community who were brand evangelists of the concept of local within their own company, too.
So, it was a really, again, next big, important piece of bedrock to be laid in the brand.

Kurt Elster: All right, a picture is starting to emerge here. By starting with great product, filling at the time a void in the market, and then attaching this local message to it and fulfilling on it by it is made from local ingredients and we are selling it at a local farmer’s market, you end up unintentionally, I would think, recruiting brand evangelists. Only those brand evangelists are… Many of whom sound like are going to be local community leaders. And so, now you end up, people are buying… I love like, “Hey, I’m buying a case for my run club.” You know, it’s going into local community organizations and now you start getting into local community cafes, and the whole thing is available online, as well, for people to buy and ship with convenience and share.

All right. Once we get that far, initially you’re making it yourself in your kitchen. How do you make that… When and how do you make that jump to manufacturing? Because that’s the part that scares the heck out of me.

Sheena Russell: As it should. As it should. We, in 2014, when I became pregnant with my daughter, the visual that I paint for people is that I was literally… My belly was getting in the way of rolling out pans of bars, right? I was like physically incapable of doing it at this point. And we really needed some support on the manufacturing side, so for those not in the food and beverage space, somebody that you partner with to do your manufacturing for you is usually called a copacker, contract manufacturer.

So, we were actually inbounded. This is a theme for us. Inbounded by this social enterprise organization here in Nova Scotia that employs adults with barriers to the mainstream workforce in a bakery program, and they were looking for more work for their participants, and they called me and said, “Hey, we’ve heard that you guys are growing really quickly. Wondering if you need some help on the manufacturing side.” And I remember sitting, I was in my company vehicle at the time, because I was still working full time and I was like eight months pregnant. I remember just sitting in a parking lot having gotten this call on my flip phone or something and just sobbing tears of joy, because I was like, “Oh my God. Thank God I’m finding a solution.”

Because honestly, I didn’t know what I was gonna do. I didn’t really have a plan. I just knew that this business was continuing to grow, and I was gonna keep doing it for as long as I could, but of course I went down and visited this bakery, and connected with this organization called The Flower Cart Group, and we got together and we made some bars over the course of a couple of days, and spending time in their bakery and seeing these… The local honey come in, and the blueberries, and the chocolate, and the oats, and all these things come into this bakery from the local farmers and food producers, and then get turned into bars by adults who maybe for the first time in their lives are experiencing dignified, gainful employment, and it’s making an incredibly positive impact on their lives, I’m seeing these bars go out the door now to retailers and saying like, “The impact that is being created through multiple layers of this bar’s creation and existence is incredible and nobody else is doing anything like this. And I know there’s people who would value this in their lives.”

So, that first foray into co-manufacturing was with a social enterprise bakery in 2014, and we grew in partnership with that social enterprise from 2014 all the way up until about a month ago, and it was and continues to be a really, really beautiful partnership. And I joked earlier about manufacturing being a lot. I say that as I sit in our own, currently, our very own manufacturing facility that just got up and running in the last few weeks here in Nova Scotia, as well. So, we’ve taken it in house because we needed more capacity, as is a theme, and it’s been incredible.

Kurt Elster: It is incredible. I mean, both the timing, how aligned with the values this manufacturer was for you, your copacker, and then how you were able to work with and stay with them for many years, and now have moved onto establishing your own manufacturing facility. Which, that sounds even scarier, though I assume with experience… How was it? You feeling good about it?

Sheena Russell: I mean, I would say how is it. We’re in the belly of the beast right now, Kurt. It is really intense, but amazing, and I think a theme that continues to shine throughout the course of the Made with Local story is how important people are, you know? And community. We bought a building from our original peanut butter supplier, so there was a little peanut butter factory in the small town in Nova Scotia called Windsor, and the couple that ran it for 30 years, a couple named Dave and Connie, decided they wanted to retire. They’re in their early 70s and they called us up and said, “Hey, Sheena. Have you ever thought about purchasing a manufacturing facility?”

And immediately I was like, “Yes.” Yes. We’re doing it. Because of course, I’m not one to pass up on a sentimental full-circle moment, and the timing was just impeccable, right? We knew that we needed to scale, and we were kind of… You know, the folks at the Flower Cart Group, rightfully so, they’re like, “Listen, guys. You’re growing faster than we can handle.” And they were really excited to hear that we were gonna carry on the kind of legacy that we built together in this new site, so we’re in it right now. Our team is absolutely incredible. I can’t say enough positive things. I’m literally looking through a window in our boardroom onto the production floor right now and just… They don’t know I’m talking about them.

But it’s been amazing. And we’ve been able to grow our company exponentially. In the last quarter we were… Yeah. We’re growing very quickly at this time and scaling into thousands of more retailers across Canada in the last few weeks, so yeah. Yeah. Not without some tears shed and lumps and bumps, of course, but yeah, we’re just really, really proud of where we’ve gotten to so far.

Kurt Elster: Oh, as you should be. Hearing you tell it, it is easy to say, “Oh, she got lucky,” repeatedly. And when you see that where it’s like, “Oh, it just seems like opportunities keep dropping in this person’s lap. They must be lucky.” I think that’s where I start thinking about this concept I learned about in a Ted Talk years ago, which is a luck sale, and it’s when you make it clear to the universe through personal branding, through messaging, through networking, through conversations, what you’re about, what you’re looking for, and that’s clear to other people, well then obviously you become top of mind for people when these opportunities arise.

And so, being so focused on being hyper local, I think there were network effects to that that have really benefited you from beginning to now through this journey.

Sheena Russell: Yeah. And I think a value that’s really important to us here at Made with Local, too, is trust, right? Trust and transparency. Transparency, of course, in the supply chain, and in our production partnerships, and even in our social media, you’re getting behind scenes peeks all the time. We’re very open and transparent with our community. And trust, right? And that’s so important in this day and age to consciously foster for your brand, and I think it’s really… It’s been really impactful for us to focus on building trust and transparency with our online community.

Kurt Elster: And so, to do that, it’s clear that your values are being ethical, transparent, sustainable. It’s consumer packaged goods and you’re shipping it nationally. As you scale it, as you grow, what challenges are you facing? How hard is it? When it’s smaller, it certainly feels like it’s gonna be easier to stick to your values.

Sheena Russell: Yeah. I think a lot of the slower growth that we experienced in those sort of middle years were the years that we spent ensuring that the flavors that we were selling were ones that we were confident had that scalability factor through supply chain, and that we built, again, strong relationships with our community, and just knew that we were gonna try and build something for the long haul. That’s been something that has been really important to us, for sure.

Kurt Elster: You’re a Certified B-Corp, right?

Sheena Russell: Mm-hmm.

Kurt Elster: What does that mean?

Sheena Russell: It means that we have been rigorously assessed through every nook and cranny of the business for the level of sustainable and ethical practices and processes that we have in place here at Made with Local. And it is… Yeah. It’s a really intense certification process. One of the best pieces of kind of feedback we’ve ever gotten about it from a customer was like, “Oh yeah, I know that if a company is B-Corp, that they’re not messing around. Nobody in their right mind would do the B-Corp certification just for shits and giggles.” It’s not fit for anybody looking into greenwashing.

So, yeah, it’s a really intense program where every facet of your business is put through an assessment, and at the end you are given a score out of 200. You need a score of 80 to pass. There’s only I think even less than 5,000 B-Corps in the world, and for the average business, to take a B-Corp assessment they would score somewhere in the 50-ish range, where you need an 80 to pass and we, on our most recent assessment… You get reassessed every three years and we just had our three-year assessment. We’re landing somewhere in the vicinity of 140. Which is in amongst the top 5 or 10th percentile of B-Corps in the world.

Kurt Elster: All right, so certainly your money, your business practices are on message, are putting your money where your mouth is. I’m fascinated by this Certified B-Corp concept, because like when I see certifications, and badges, and claims, I’m skeptical. I’m suspicious. And rightfully so. Discover like, “Oh, that thing you thought was right for the environment? Actually, you’d be better off just setting a bonfire in your backyard.” Greenwashing is just a horrible, horrible thing that companies do. Give me a couple examples of what this B-Corp Certification looks like in practice.

It sounds like it is just really painful.

Sheena Russell: Well, and I wanted to mention too, you’re absolutely justified in having those feelings, and I think greenwashing is especially rampant in the… I’ll use air quotes here, the “natural wellness” category, or that kind of organic section of the grocery store is especially… can at times be more vulnerable to that. So, an example of the B-Corp question, so for us, there’s five sections to the assessment. They want to know how well are your workers being paid, is that in line with local living wages, what is the gap in wages between your lowest paid employee and your highest paid employee. For local ingredient sourcing, which is something obviously that we’re very dialed into, they want to know how many of your suppliers or how much money you’re spending within a 200-mile radius of your location. They want to really understand how much money are you actually pumping back into the local economy and does that meet their threshold for being considered a locally impactful business.

Everything from benefits… There’s environmental stuff, as well, of course. Your waste management, your energy usage. When I say it’s intense, it literally is every single nook and cranny of your business you are looking at through a magnifying glass and through the lens of sustainability and the highest standards of ethics, so it’s not only something that is used, I think, in business to kind of grade your past or current behaviors, but it’s also really powerful to use it as a future roadmap. So, as we continue to grow our business, I look to the B-Corp platform to understand, okay, well, HR wasn’t really much of a thing when we’re a three-person company, but now we’re a 15-person company. What are the B-Corp best practices for HR? What are the B-Corp best practices for now owning a manufacturing facility instead of it just being a partnership that’s kind of third party?

So, it’s really… I think that’s where the juice of B-Corp is as a founder, is using their deep community connections and established standards as a roadmap of growth for the future.

Kurt Elster: Obviously, it aligns with your values. Customers who are aware like it. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of your growth through wholesale, and you mentioned you’re getting in Costco now. We’re expanding intentionally and thoughtfully through that channel. Does having that B-Corp certification, do you think that makes you more attractive to wholesale, to retail?

Sheena Russell: I think certain channels value it or certain retailers value it more than others. I would say the Costco customer probably is probably a lower priority on their list, potentially, but there are other retailers that absolutely. It’s a big selling feature for us into them, to the point where even certain retailers are setting up B-Corp sections, or have events around B-Corp month, which is in March every year, so it is. It’s absolutely gaining steam.

I find especially on the West Coast, which is no surprise to anybody. I think there still needs to be some development in our neck of the woods here on the East Coast, but it’s something that we’re really proud to be kind of part of as an OG adopter, and I think riding it out and proving that it’s something year over year that we’re doubling down on is gonna be a competitive advantage in the future as it continues to pick up steam.

Kurt Elster: Oh, 100%. All right, so you said you had an online store early. It was on WordPress or WooCommerce and currently it’s on Shopify. I’m looking at your site. I recognize it. I swear this is Parallax by Out of the Sandbox.

Sheena Russell: It is.

Kurt Elster: Did you do this yourself?

Sheena Russell: Yes, I sure did. Yeah. It’s pretty basic. It’s on Parallax. Yeah. It’s just like I think a pretty basic experience, but… I mean, she’s done well. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve grown our eCommerce really significantly over the last few years with that little site. We are in the process right now of putting up a custom site, with the Shopify backend, of course, so I’m really excited for that to roll out because I just see so many opportunities for improvement on my work that I’ve done over the last couple of years, but yeah. Yeah, it’s really exciting.

Kurt Elster: I will say everyone who sets up their own store immediately is… They’re also their worst critic. I think this site… I think it totally works. I think it looks great. And the thing that you did that really brings it to life, it’s like it’s clean, it’s on brand, it’s on message, but you took the packaging. The packaging has these really great illustrations. And throughout the site as backgrounds, I see the packaging illustrations. I see that, those colors, those fonts come through, and that’s really what makes it a cohesive experience. That’s like the easy hack that I think people miss when they’re setting up their themes, is like if you already hired the package designer, you’ve got that Illustrator file. Everything you need to make a really fancy site is hiding right in that file.

Sheena Russell: Absolutely, and that’s… We actually just recently refreshed our brand pretty significantly, and we only just launched that in September, so we’re working with an amazing agency based in Maine called Pulp + Wire and they’ve been awesome to deal with, and exactly that. They revamped our packaging look on the cartons, and on the bar pouches, and just hand over a big, fat file with all the little illustrations, and little odds and ends, that we’ve been able to go then and put on every little piece of marketing material that you then really realize you have to update. And they’re also the ones who are supporting us on the website relaunch, as well, so we’re really excited to bring that out in the world early in the new year.

Kurt Elster: I’ll put the link to their site in the show notes. I just fired it up.

Sheena Russell: Awesome. Thank you.

Kurt Elster: It looks like… It’s a great looking site. It looks like they do all food. All CPG.

Sheena Russell: Yeah. Specifically natural CPG. And what I love about Pulp + Wire is they’re like a female-founded agency with a ton of women on the team, and that’s really rare, and they’ve just absolutely knocked our brand refresh out of the park. I cannot say enough good things about Pulp + Wire. And yeah, we’re just… We started off with one project and now it’s like, “All right, let’s just take this thing to the moon. So, we’re growing into all kinds of new projects in partnership with them.

Kurt Elster: And on Shopify, is there like a favorite app, like the one you can’t live without? Makes you money or saves you so much time?

Sheena Russell: Recharge is pretty great. You can’t really go wrong with Recharge. We’ve got a really strong monthly recurring community on the subscription platform, so that’s been awesome. Yeah. I would say that’s the one that I also interface with the most. We use Stamped for our reviews, which is also good, but yeah, I would say Recharge is the one that gets the most action at Made with Local.

Kurt Elster: And so, all right, so our two… Because I saw you’ve got reviews throughout the site, which I think is important. You’re using Stamped. Stamped I like a lot as a reviews app. Reviews is an interesting space. There’s so many that do essentially the same thing, so you have lots of good options, but certainly Stamped is one of them. And Recharge are kind of the OG big player on subscriptions, especially for Shopify.

When you have a consumable good, whether you’re selling shampoo, or you’re selling food, that 100%, you should have a subscription program in place, right? Because to get that predictable recurring revenue is just tremendous. It really smooths out a lot of the revenue and forecasting issues that come along with selling a physical good.

Sheena Russell: Yeah. Absolutely. And like I mentioned earlier, we have some subscribers that have been getting monthly boxes of Made with Local bars sent to their house for like 5 or 6 years. It’s incredible. And I love being able to really treat those people, too. You know, we see them come up every month and it’s just so awesome to be able to pick out the monthly recurring folks and just surprise and delight as much as we can, because you cannot ask for a more important customer than the people who’ve literally eaten thousands and thousands of our bars over the course of the last few years. It’s pretty incredible.

Kurt Elster: Now, when you started this, at this point there is no one who would argue with you that like this isn’t a real business. But when you started it, you described it as a side hustle, and there ends up being a transition period in between side hustle and where you’re at now where people might describe it sometimes derisively as lifestyle business. How do you feel about that label?

Sheena Russell: I have mixed feelings about that label because I use it to describe my own journey sometimes, but I also remember how much I fucking hated people when they called me that when I was at that stage of business. That’s like… I’m like, “I can call myself that, but don’t you say that to me.” It does feel like a trivializing… Maybe it’s also coming from an old white dude to a young female founder, it can feel like trivializing or paternalistic or something like that, like, “Oh, look at this cute little thing you’re doing. Nice little lifestyle business.”

When, you know, I think like, “Holy crap.” For somebody to dial into a business that sustains them fully and that is what it does, and it doesn’t gobble up every spare brain cell and moment that you have in your life, and it runs like that, I think that’s actually incredible. And if that’s what kind of lifestyle business is defined as, it’s a one-person show and you work on it on your own, and you take what you need from it, and it does its thing, I think that’s a huge win.

We were… Again, I keep saying this, kind of pulled into the market beyond that. I probably would have been happy if I could have ran Made with Local as a one or two-person show, and I think, honestly, there are times right now where I’m like, “Oh my God. What are we doing? This thing is a monstrosity.” In the context of where I ever thought it would be and you know, sometimes you second guess, if I’m being super vulnerable, like just is bigger always better? And I don’t know that it always is. I can say where we’re at right now, 99% of the time I know that we’re doing something really special and really impactful, and that’s where the impact piece for me kind of helps me out of those tougher moments, but yeah, so I do have… I have a mixed feeling about the concept or being called a lifestyle business, but I think… I don’t know. There’s definitely… There’s absolutely merit to it and if somebody can rock it, all the power to them.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. No, I like your approach to it, like if I want to identify my own business as a lifestyle business, fine. For someone else to apply the label, I wouldn’t do it. Much in the same way you couldn’t pay me to ask your age. Don’t do it.

Sheena Russell: Well, you know what? Maybe lifestyle businesses need a rebrand, because you know, maybe they’ve gotten a bad rap for being something historically that has been seen as this cutesy little thing that nobody takes seriously, and maybe they should be thought of as actually an amazing model. Like I said, if you get everything you need from this business, and it’s sustaining you, and it’s not consuming your entire life and then some-

Kurt Elster: That’s positive.

Sheena Russell: Why wouldn’t anybody want that?

Kurt Elster: But you’re right, it tends… There’s a lot of truth in what you said. I tend to see it applied more to women-owned businesses, which is certainly unfair. If it’s a dude, it’s like, “Oh, it’s a side hustle or a startup.” And then if it’s a woman it’s like, “Oh, it’s a lifestyle business.”

Sheena Russell: Absolutely.

Kurt Elster: In that context, it ends up being coded language. Two other watch… When you use lifestyle to describe how it could be diminishing, you use little and cute. If you have someone who describes what you’re doing, whether it’s your business or something else, as little, cute, or lifestyle, that person’s a low key hater. Do not trust them. They’re undermining you. I have learned this with experience.

Sheena Russell: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kurt Elster: Where do we go from here? What’s next for Made with Local?

Sheena Russell: We are riding the wave bigtime right now. We are scaling into Costcos, like I mentioned, right now in Eastern Canada. We just launched into a large chain here, as well, called Shoppers Drug Mart. They’re a pharmacy chain with 900 locations. We just launched into them with four of our SKUs, which their buyers told us… I’m using air quotes here. It was the “largest launch they’ve ever done of a brand not called Clif,” so that is incredible. We’ve just gotten those orders out the door in the last couple of days.

And yeah, we’re really looking forward to continuing to drive velocity, which is a big focus for us right now. You know, we’ve got incredible distribution in Canada. We’re in 3,000 stores and counting right now. And we just really want to crush it within these Canadian retailers in the next 12 to 18 months.

Beyond that, we will be setting our sights on the U.S. on a very strategic entry probably into the Northeastern U.S. because that’s our neck of the woods. We’re on the East Coast. That will be the next big leap for us in the probably 18 to 24 months range, and we’ve got some really exciting innovation coming down the pipeline in the next couple of months to a year, as well, so no rest, Kurt. We’re just-

Kurt Elster: I was gonna say, you hear that, haters? Who’s got a lifestyle business now?

Sheena Russell: That’s right.

Kurt Elster: So, all right. I need some of these bars. Where do I go? How can I get made with love food bars?

Sheena Russell: So, we can ship into the U.S., and we do all the time. Despite actively ignoring our beautiful American neighbors online, we still get weekly eCom orders from American customers, which is super cool. So, you can find them online for now. That would be your main route in the U.S. And then in Canada, I was joking with somebody the other day saying honestly, in Canada you have to kind of work hard to not find our product at this point. You’d have to work pretty hard not to bump into a Made with Local bar. We’re in every major grocery chain here and again, like I mentioned, Shoppers Drug Mart, and of course online.

Kurt Elster: Fabulous. Fantastic. I’m gonna order some. Get my hands on some. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this. I think what you’re doing is amazing and I loved hearing about your journey. Sheena Russell,, thank you so much.

Sheena Russell: Thanks, Kurt.

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