Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Interview: Liane Weintraub, Tasty Brand

It's no wonder my 10th Interview series takes you into the world of Tasty Brand with CEO, co-founder and mom on a mission, Liane Weintraub! From journalist to entrepreneur, Liane has built an uber sweet empire with her organic snack food that sells both domestically and internationally! Find out why Liane takes it to heart when it comes to educating and feeding children, partnering with like-minded organizations, and finds eating healthy to be a piece of cake! Her brand provides tasty products ranging from soft chewy fruit snacks in awesome and addicting flavors to their bite size chocolate chip cookies, and the newest kid on the block...Tasty Brand sandwich cookies! Kids worldwide are crazy about these tasty treats, meanwhile parents can feel at ease knowing that they are certified USDA organic and verified non-GMO!! Liane's mission is clear! This supermom is a rockstar role model for kids, parents and communities alike. In my books, a perfect 10!! 

Kymberly Marciano: How has your career in journalism inspired Tasty Brand and what it is today?
Liane Weintraub: My interest in current events and my training as a news reporter definitely inspired our company and feeds into what we stand for and the choices we make daily. A lot of what we do was inspired by headlines related to the tainted global food supply, and my coverage of Big Agriculture, genetic modification of crops, childhood obesity, juvenile allergies and other such significant health and environmental issues facing us today shaped our commitment to protecting children and their world from the hazards created by previous generations. This is an integral part of Tasty Brand’s mission.

KM: How did you meet your business partner Shannan Swanson?
LW: Shannan & I originally met when she was working as a chef alongside my step-brother at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, Granita in Malibu. From then on, we became close friends. Before we started a business together, we had shared many years of friendship and collaborations on charity events, etc. Also, we had a ball cooking lots of meals together, so a passion for food was always something present in our relationship.

KM: What’s it like running a business with your best friend?

It’s definitely interesting! Our friendship has really been tested as a result of being business partners, and going through all the tough times and stress together, but our friendship has strengthened after weathering the storms as a team. Also, since our business was inspired by our children, that is a very important bond we have in common.  We started having kids around the same time, and they are now a big part of the motivation behind Tasty Brand.

KM: How do you juggle being a mother of two, wife, and an entrepreneur?
LW: Sometimes there are conflicts between work-related travel, yet my children are very much aware of what I do and why I do it, and I would say that my entire family (my husband included!) support the choice I have made to be an entrepreneur. They know that I passionately believe in what Tasty Brand stands for and that, in addition to working to build a successful business, we are trying to create products that embody the values and characteristics consistent with what we believe in. 

KM: What is the creative process when coming out with a new treat? Walk us through it.
LW: The process really differs from project to project, but first there is some sort of inspiration that either comes from myself & Shannan (we are weirdly psychic, so often we have the same ideas at the same time!) or from a suggestion from someone else – a consumer or a retailer. For example, our newest product line is organic sandwich cookies (like a non-toxic “oreo” style cookie) which we started brainstorming when our current cookie factory bought equipment to make that type of cookie. Then, coincidentally, the head buyer at Whole Foods came to us asking if we would consider researching just that item – total kismet! As a result, a year later we rolled out a full line of 5 flavors of cookie exclusively at Whole Foods!

The process looked something like this: first Shannan & I dreamt up all of these cool, retro, bake-shop inspire flavors that we could envision making into a cookie. At that time, we were just “what-iffing” but as soon as the buyer asked us to get serious about it, we got down to brass tacks. Some of our dream flavors were a bit obscure (green tea, for example) to start out with, so we worked on developing the top 6 or 7 ideas, which eventually turned into 5 flavors we put into production.

R&D is the most important aspect of the process because getting the flavors just right is key. Of course people buy our products because they’re safe & healthier than the conventional alternatives, but they have to taste AMAZING! (Unfortunately a lot of organic items don’t.) We spent a lot of time on flavors, tasting way too many cookies.  Both of us have pretty well-developed palates and getting each flavor profile just right is key – no one wants an artificial tasting strawberry or banana cookie! Then we have to pay special attention to sourcing ingredients since all our products must be certified USDA organic and verified non-GMO by the Non-GMO Project.

To me the really fun part is when we dive into package design. Again, Shannan & I are usually on the same page in terms of the visual aspects of our brand, so the design process is generally a lot of fun. We work with an amazing designer, Susan White, who knows our brand attributes inside & out, so the 3 of us have a great connection. Even though we will undoubtedly make tweaks & changes, we are all delighted with the look & taste of these 5 new additions to our product line.

KM: What do you find to be most challenging about eating healthy?
LW: I actually do not find eating healthy to be all that challenging! I am not someone who is particularly attracted to fried foods or heavily-processed foods, so I guess that’s lucky. The part that I find very difficult is determining which products that claim to be healthy are, in fact, good for you. Reading labels is so important and unfortunately many companies are very good at using packaging design and certain marketing terms such as “all natural” to give consumers misleading ideas about their products. Even as someone who has been in this business for years, I have difficulty with it, so I can imagine it would be very challenging for anyone who is relatively new to making better food choices.

KM: Any tips for parents whose kids won’t eat their fruits and vegetables?
LW: The single most important thing in terms of raising kids who enjoy eating fruits, vegetables & other healthy choices is to walk the walk! If they see their parents eating those things, they will more likely grow up thinking that’s just what everyone eats & what they should eat, too. However, if there’s a big struggle in the house over fruits & vegetables and children are “rewarded” with “treats” for eating their veggies, they are likely to come away thinking of them more as an unappealing part of the meal that must be tolerated in order to get to the “good stuff!”

I also have a strong belief in the intelligence of children and their ability to understand basic facts about health & nutrition. Instead of simply telling a child that he/she must east fruits & veggies, parents should consider explaining in some detail why this is important & what plant-based foods do in our bodies. If kids think their bodies are wonderful machines and they have a responsibility to fuel themselves the right way, chances are they will actually make healthier food choices on their own.

KM: Of all the Tasty Brand snacks, which do your kids love the most?
LW: It varies. At the moment, my kids are absolutely obsessed with our new sandwich crème cookies. They are still a novelty (they have had gummies in the house for a while, so the excitement level has relaxed) and they and their friends literally cannot get enough of them!  My daughter is crazed for the vanilla cupcake & chocolate layer cake flavors while my son is mad about the strawberry shortcake & banana split flavors.

KM: I hear that you are a self taught cook! What’s your absolute favorite dish to make?
LW: Yes, I love to cook – it is definitely one of my main hobbies. I am not a “chef,” and I have never attended culinary school, but I’ve picked up a lot of techniques along the way. I also love to travel because I enjoy soaking up different cultures and cuisines.  

KM: What was the hardest dish for you to learn?
LW: I tend not to use recipes, and just cook from my gut, so I have a hard time with baking or making dishes in which all the ingredients have to be carefully measured. I also struggled with meringue for a long time, but I think I may have finally mastered it!

KM: As a philanthropist,which charity/organization is nearest and dearest to your heart?
LW: Well, there are many. Anyone helping children and animals has my undying admiration and gratitude. I am in awe of the work of Mercy for Animals and I love what Baby2Baby stands for. Also, Tasty Brand has a wonderful relationship with Feed The Children, a fantastic organization doing necessary relief work around the world and feeding hungry children here and abroad.In addition, the arts play a very big part in my life and I have always tried to support arts charities. In fact, I founded one called Center Dance Arts, which is focused on bringing the world’s greatest dance companies to perform at the Los Angeles Music Center.

KM: What can we expect to see from Tasty Brand in 2015?
LW: Our new sandwich cookies have literally just debuted at Whole Foods Market stores across the country & so far the feedback is GREAT & we think we have a real hit on our hands! We are busily working on R&D for other new products we hope to launch in the near future, so look out for Tasty Brand!!

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