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Target Forward Founders: Meet the Cohort

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Target Forward Founders: Meet the Cohort

This is the seventh installment in an interview series with the 2021 Target Forward Founders cohort. Participating companies are sharing details about their innovative companies in their own words. All interviews have been conducted by the Target Forward Founders Program Management team.

Meet Kokada.

Kokada is the original coconut spread and is similar in texture and uses to your favorite nut butters (but rather than based in nuts is based in coconut)!

About the ko-founders.

Breanna Atkinson, kofounder & CEO

Breanna was passionate about food, sport, and health from a young age, leading her to pursuing Division 1 volleyball at Duke University. After meeting the love of her life, Jared (also a varsity athlete at Duke), Breanna graduated and pursued careers both in consulting and as a member of the Jamaican Women’s National Volleyball Team. Breanna fell in deeper love with her Jamaican roots and with other cultures that she experienced through sport. While traveling for work, she was constantly looking for local markets, and eventually discovered a coconut product that she fell in love with. Unfortunately, she could not find anything like it back in the United States and decided to make her own version. She brought together coconut treacle, a traditional Sri Lankan ingredient discovered during her travels, and dried coconut, and after almost eight months of trial and error, Breanna realized that she had created her new favorite product. What started as a fun culinary experiment turned out to be something that she fell in love with, soon realizing that her lifelong passion for food ultimately led her here, where she is able to share her love for authentic foods and real ingredients with the world.

Jaared Golestani, kofounder & COO

Throughout his entire life Jared has always had a love for sports, fitness, nutrition, and diet. He was fortunate enough to play Division I collegiate soccer at Duke University where he met his love, Breanna. Following school, Jared went on to work in consulting but continued to focus on leading a healthy lifestyle (playing sports, running marathons, and eating well!). While consulting has offered Jared an incredible opportunity to grow as a working professional, he had a goal of at some point merging his personal passions with work. Given his love for nutrition and healthy foods, Jared was very intrigued by the coconut product that Breanna brought back from her business trip and encouraged her to experiment in an effort to create a version of her own since there was nothing like it in the US. As the prime benefactor and lead taste tester for Breanna’s culinary experimentation over the course of 8 months, Jared satisfied his sweet tooth and began experimenting with different ways to use Kokada in meals throughout the day. Together Jared and Breanna began to discover the endless possibilities and uses for Kokada and realized they wanted to share it with the local community / the world!

Breanna & Jared: Kokada is one of the only sweet coconut spreads on the market. We are answering the need for individuals who are looking for a “better-for-you” sweet spread that are maybe gluten sensitive, vegan, or have peanut or tree nut allergies. We like to say that our products are a “better-for-you treat for all to enjoy”. Similar to almond butters rise, we see a potential to make a spread like coconut spread a staple in pantries as we aim to fill the gap for healthier sweet spreads that are allergen friendly.

Breanna & Jared: We hope to learn from two different perspectives: from other entrepreneurs/suppliers and from experts in the retail and mass market space. We hope to answer the question of “What can we do to best service our retail partners?” For us, that question comes down to being prepared for growth, knowing how to service current accounts (especially larger accounts like Target hopefully someday soon!), how to sustainably market our products to manage through growth (i.e. right now, we heavily market both in person and digitally in our current region but how do we drive brand awareness in other regions where we are not physically present?), and how to think through scaling our company and team size to keep up with growth.

Meet Mesean Spices.

Spice blends inspired by flavors of the African Diaspora.

About the founder.

Dominique Tolbert, Chief Spice Officer & Founder

Dominique Tolbert, Chief Spice Officer & Founder of Mesean Spices, is a first generation American, with family from Liberia, West Africa. She holds a Bachelors degree from NYU in Hotel & Tourism Management (’15) and an MBA from George Washington University (’21). Dominique’s background is largely in restaurant management, culinary arts, & entrepreneurship, working with clients in both domestic and international markets through companies such as MGM Resorts International, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, and TLBRT Hospitality, the company that started her entrepreneurial journey. Mesean Spices is Dominique’s brainchild, allowing you to create community through food & culture.

Dominique: I grew up as a first-generation American to family from Liberia, West Africa – in our culture, Sunday dinners were a thing and communal/family-style dining was what we knew. My first great food memory was my aunt frying fish, making pepper sauce, and baking a rum cake, while Bob Marley blasted in the background. Those flavors, smells, and sounds are what I aim to recreate when cooking for myself and others. Through travels, I found that Sunday dinner and family-style dining was a thing not only in Liberian culture but in several Latin American cultures and Italian and Chinese cultures, specifically, which led me to believe that this experience was relatable for just about everyone. I found that ingredients we used back home in Liberia, were also used in Trinidadian, Haitian, Puerto Rican, etc. cuisines as well. Food and flavor transcends across location and is brought together through the dining experience. Mesean Spices aims to bring that to others as well – the flavors of the African Diaspora found through a collection of curated spice blends, at home, in your kitchen, for you to experience while cooking for those eating at your table. For me, food is about bringing people together, and the flavors and cultural experiences that come from the African Diaspora make it easy to do so.

Dominique: I’m looking forward to learning more about what it takes to grow and scale a business to be ready for retail shelves. I’m also expecting/looking forward to building a community of like-minded individuals. Oftentimes, entrepreneurship has felt very lonely/isolating for me, especially in the food and beverage industry which operates in a completely different way than others. I’m looking forward to being able to share stories, tips/tricks, and advice with others, while learning from others at the various stages of their journies.

Meet Mighty Gum.

A brand of functional chewing gum.

About the founder.

Mathew Thalakotur, CEO & Founder

I am an ex-P&G and Coca-Cola Brand Manager gone rogue. I’ve been in love with packaged goods for as long as I can remember. However, it wasn’t until I started working on the Crest brand as an intern that I realized that this would be my life’s work. I love creating products and brands that are fun, functional, and scalable – this trifecta gives me tremendous joy. This is why I am so proud of the work I’ve done with Mighty Gum. Entrepreneurship has always been a part of my identity. I grew up listening to stories about my great grandfathers and the businesses they built in India. The reverie I held for them molded my desire to build my own company. My parents work “normal” jobs, so building Mighty Gum in a way is a return to our family’s roots. Also part of our family’s identity is the responsibility we hold for taking care of our fellow human beings. I am a firm believer that for-profit businesses in partnership with well-run non-profits have the potential to eliminate some of the greatest challenges we face. This is why Mighty Gum has partnered with Vitamin Angels on its mission to eradicate infant mortality due to malnutrition by 2030. I’m having the time of my life, and I’m just getting started.

Mat: When looking at the supplement category, about 60% of US HH buy vitamins, but only 50% of those folks take them with any regularity. Some people just don’t like swallowing pills, and the rest have a tough time with the habit. So, Mighty Gum takes a habit a 165MM Americans have and hacks it to deliver more value. Chewing gum has been around for over 100 years. And in that time, it’s transformed from a sweet treat to a breath freshener. However, there has been no material functional innovation in the category since then. This is where we come in, by helping consumers feel as fresh as their breath. The chewing gum category had been declining before the pandemic, but with social distancing, the need for fresh breath has been less relevant, so the category took another 30% hit. With Mighty Gum, we’re giving consumers an intrinsic benefit to come back to the category for. The reliance on promo has driven the category ARP down. Mighty Gum is positioned to help buck this trend, and reframe value expectations from the category. I like to think we’re ushering in the second wave of chewing gum.

Mat: Retail is a super fragmented space, and I’m not sure where to start, and how to do so. I’m hoping to walk out of the program with a roadmap for how to scale within brick & mortar. Ideally, I’d like to understand which type of retailers I should start with: specialty, natural, grocery, drug, mass. And, how to strategically step up from one retailer to the next, and when should I take that step? What does success look like, and what tools do I have that can create disproportionate impact relative to investment? I’d also like more tactical guidance on how do I connect with retailers? Should I go direct or work with a broker? And how do I line up a distributor to help with that? And another nebulous space is pricing and promo incentives by retailer/distributor. Should I use off-invoice allowances or chargebacks, when do I use one or the other? I just don’t understand this space or how it’ll impact my P&L.

To learn more about each brand or to shop their products, click on their logos below!

Post topic(s): Target Forward Founders Early-stage

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