Around these parts, we like to learn about and from people who are running their own businesses – business we love and admire, and the ladies who are running shit behind the scenes. In this edition of mind your business, we talk to the co-founders of Munch Better, a healthy food box subscription business based in Toronto featuring nourishing local treats. In this interview we find out what it takes to start a business like this, and how to get started even before you’re ready to make the jump to full-fledged entrepreneur.
milieu: Tell us about your backgrounds, professionally and academically, and why you decided to go into business for yourself.
Erin: I went to school for journalism, and worked as a magazine writer and editor for a couple of years after graduating. Eventually, I switched over to the digital marketing side and worked as a web content editor for a big retailer. During that time, I started a digestive health blog called Fix My Gut, and that’s how I became interested in healthy eating and wellness. I learned a lot about ecommerce at my job, and a couple of years ago I saw subscription boxes as an emerging trend, especially in the U.S. We noticed a gap in the Canadian snack subscription market – especially a box that featured mostly Canadian-made snacks – so we decided to give it a go.
Amanda: I went to Ryerson for Graphics Communications Management, and worked in print production jobs after school. I joined a company called PhotoBook Canada in its early stages and doing business development for them taught me a lot about growing a startup. In 2012, I decided to go back to school part-time at the Institute for Holistic Nutrition. I graduated last year and became a Certified Nutritional Practitioner. It made sense to start a business related to healthy eating because that’s what I’m passionate about!
m: How did the two of you meet and begin working together?
Erin: Amanda and I met on a softball team in Newmarket when we were 12 or 13, and ended up playing on the same team a bunch of times. I went to university in Ottawa, and once I moved back to Toronto, I got back in touch with Amanda and we hung out a lot, including weekly America’s Next Top Model-watching dates! For a couple of years we kept talking about how we wanted to start a business together and would occasionally bounce ideas off each other. But it wasn’t until the snack subscription idea came up that we were both like, “That’s it!”
Amanda: Yes, there was always the motivation to one day work for ourselves and try to escape jobs that weren’t fulfilling to us.
m: When you decided to start your own company, what steps did you take?
Erin: It took about six months of research before we actually launched. We looked at the competition, shipping rates, ecommerce platforms and payment gateways. Deciding on a back-end system and understanding how that whole thing works probably took the longest! Another big part was researching health food companies and products and making a big list of people we wanted to contact. Neither of us are developers, but Amanda has some great graphic design skills, and we put together a website before we started pitching people on the idea. That helped people understand the concept, which was key.
Amanda: I was already in nutrition school when we began researching the business, so that training was really important to have. It made us examine what “healthy” meant to us and what kind of products we wanted to include. Choosing snacks can be pretty confusing because there’s a lot of misinformation and “health-washing” going on. We steer clear of products with artificial ingredients, refined sugar or empty calories.
m: Did you research other food box services? What niche does Munch Better fill?
Erin: Yes, definitely. We researched companies in the Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and noticed a couple of different models – either sourcing snacks from a variety of food companies or offering your own branded snacks (working with a company to create private-label products). We decided on the former because we really wanted to work with small-batch vendors making snacks that we felt deserved a bigger reach. We’re lucky to be based in Toronto where new products are being launched all the time. Our box provides a quick way to get a product to people across Canada, and help them discover snacks they might not have otherwise found.
Amanda: I think we fill a niche by offering a box that features a lot of Canadian companies, and also for being super choosy in how we pick products. We examine ingredient lists and won’t include anything we feel iffy about. One of our goals is to get people comfortable eating more plant-based protein and good fats, which are great for boosting energy and keeping you satisfied.
m: How have you been getting the word out about your business?
Amanda: Getting media coverage early on and around the holidays was great for us. We introduced one-time gift boxes in December, and we’ve just released a Hungry Mama box for new moms. Our office snack box program is another thing we’re focusing on because we see a real demand there! It’s basically a bigger version of our regular subscription box to feed people at work, whether it be for a meeting, event or just as an alternative to a vending machine. We do some advertising, like Facebook ads and a bit of paid search. Being a small business, you have to constantly be looking at where you’re getting the most traction and bang for your buck!
Erin: Our business has grown a lot by word of mouth. Every month when the box goes out, we pick up subscribers because people see the box at their friend’s house or in the office and want to try it. We focus on making the box an “experience” you get in the mail – so we have printed boxes, and we wrap the snacks in kraft paper and twine. We also include a printout of what’s in the box every month and an inspirational quote. SEO has been pretty important to us, so we’re constantly looking at optimizing our website and adding relevant content. We also work with select bloggers and interact with people a lot on social media.
m: What is the most rewarding part of running your business?
Amanda: Seeing orders come in is really exciting! It shows people are interacting with and responding to your product, so that’s really rewarding. And the feedback from subscribers is always amazing to hear. We were recently saying that even when people cancel, they’re always expressing how sad they are to leave, or that they’ll be back when they have more room in their budget!
Erin: We love watching people share the box on social media and talk about the products they love. And seeing how we can benefit other small businesses by getting their products out there – that’s a huge motivator.
m: What is the most challenging part?
Amanda: As we’ve introduced more products and services, managing the back-end of the business and keeping up with ordering and logistics is a constant challenge. And then there are the emotional ups and downs of running a business. But it’s totally worth it!
Erin: Keeping things fresh and interesting every month is a fun challenge, but a huge one. We can never sit back after a monthly box has gone out because we’re like, “What’s the next box looking like?”
m: Do you have any advice for women who are looking to become entrepreneurs?
Erin: Start something on the side if you have an idea. A side hustle is definitely doable these days because there are a bunch of platforms to start your own ecommerce site. If you can launch a product or service and test and refine it while you still have a regular job, it’ll make a huge difference in making the leap to full-time entrepreneurship if that’s the route you want to go.
Amanda: Look for people around you who can help. Erin and I both know we’re not the best at finances, so we hired Erin’s cousin to do our books and keep us on track for filing taxes. One of our best friends is an amazing photographer, and she’s been a crucial part of making our website look more professional!
m: Any plans for expansion? Where do you see yourselves in 5 – 10 years?
Amanda: Our office snack box program is a huge focus right now. We’d love to grow that, first in Toronto and then Canada-wide so it’s just as popular as our regular subscription boxes. We also have plans to introduce customizable boxes later this year. It’s hard to say where we’ll be in 5-10 years, but I think entrepreneurship is here to stay for both of us.
Erin: I know I should be thinking that far ahead, but for the foreseeable future, I think we’re working as hard we can to make this a sustainable business, and grow it to a level we’re comfortable with.