In the lead-up to FWE’s annual Gala on February 20, 2017, we sat down with Pitch for the Purse Finalist, Dionne Laslo-Baker of DeeBee’s Organics Ltd. to learn about her foray into the world of iced novelty treats.
Q: Why did you start DeeBee’s Organics?
Dionne: I started DeeBee’s Organics serendipitously. I am actually trained as PhD in medical science, with a specialty looking at toxins in our environment and how they affect health. I wasn’t looking to go into the food industry but when my son was 8 he didn’t eat any artificial colouring, flavouring, or refined sugar, and we were finding it was really hard to find and purchase any treats. One day we were in the kitchen making popsicles and the kids were arguing over who would make what with me, and one of them said “mommy let’s make teasicles” – it was one of those light-bulb moments – that’s when TeaPops were born. I can remember I stopped in my tracks and thought, wow… nobody is doing this, nobody is making natural alternatives… and I can teach my kids that I can use my medical scientist background in creative and innovative ways, thinking outside the box to create an ethical food company, based on the best business practices for the better good, healthy ingredients for our bodies and our communities. Now, we’re a certified B corporation, meeting the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency and this is how it all got started, the moment in my kitchen that set us on this path.
Q: How are you (is your business) different from the competition?
Dionne: So the reason we are different, and I think this is where being a scientist comes in, every single thing we ever produce is completely new and disruptive to the food industry. There is nothing else like it available on the market, everything is innovative and everything must meet the highest standards: organic, non-gmo, fair trade, and kosher. We do research to ensure that there is demand for the products we produce and that no one else is producing anything like it. We fulfill that need for healthy alternatives, and really DeeBee’s is growing from novelty to owning the snack category across the grocery industry, by next spring we should be on almost every major-chain grocery shelf in the country.
Q: What is the best business advice you ever took?
Dionne: Know your customer, don’t make what you think is the best; really study the target market that you are aiming for. Is there a need? Do they want what you’re making? When you are getting feedback, it might not be what you want to hear but listen to it. Be real and hear what your customer is saying even if it’s not the answer you want. There is no one you shouldn’t listen to, and you need to take information and be humble about it… listen to it, study it, learn from it. I think sometimes we put blinders on and say, “this is a great idea, I know there is this market” – but is there? You don’t know until you have actually studied it.
Q: What was the greatest obstacle you overcame and the lesson you learned from it?
Dionne: Our biggest obstacle, and this relates to listening to our customers, is that we originally went out with product that was super healthy but the taste actually wasn’t that great. We used coconut sugar because that was the consumer choice alternative to refined sugar, but people didn’t want something that didn’t taste like a conventional popsicles and treats – they didn’t want something to taste healthy. They wanted it to BE healthy and taste amazing. For us, that means our TeaPops needed to satisfy what could be considered conflicting criteria and be healthy and ethical but also taste amazing, amazing. So, we brought on one of the top dessert chefs in Canada and said, this kitchen is your domain: this must taste amazing, AND meet all our criteria. And I had to step back from the kitchen and let the chef do his thing. I knew we could have all the certifications we wanted, but if it didn’t taste great, no one would want it again.
Q: What inspires you to grow DeeBee’s Organics further?
Dionne: I don’t do things half way. I want to see us in every store across North America and in Europe and Asia. We want to own that snack category and set the bar high enough that other people want to follow us and try to reach for a higher standard so that the food available to us in general, is simpler and healthier without compromising on taste. So, I see us owning the snack food category and setting a new standard, so we don’t have all the junk we don’t need in our food affecting our children and future generations. I was told there was no way we could make our product satisfy our criteria and taste great, and I thought to myself… well, watch me. In the future, hopefully other people feeding our nation won’t have to use the junk available now because they will see it can be done differently. You can make food that tastes great and be good for you – but we’ve done it and we hope that others will too, however we are going to own that category first. My other motivation is to foster the success of the other people in my life that have helped DeeBee’s grow. Our live-in caregiver now runs our test kitchen and does all our research with our chef – one day I want to buy her a house and help bring the rest of her family here, and when I achieve that, and I see her walking in the front door of her own home, I will feel like we have arrived. My husband is an ophthalmologist and has also been a huge supporter as we’ve grown, he works full time and hard but he has been able to help me with the kids as I fly around attending meetings to help grow DeeBee’s. I’d like to see him realize his dreams of volunteering with Orbis and performing eye surgeries to vulnerable populations in remote places where care might not be available. It’s not about owning the yacht; it’s about making a difference, countering all the negative in the world with something positive.
Q: Is there an app or business tool you use to help you stay focused and on track?
Dionne: I live by my calendar; I have my whole life in it. If something isn’t in my calendar I probably won’t arrive at it. That said, I also have a notepad next to my bed and came up with a lot of our names and ideas at 3 o’clock in the morning with a pen and paper. If I didn’t have that, I’d be in big trouble.
Q: If you’re awarded the $25,000 Pitch for the Purse prize, how will you use that money?
Dionne: We have been given the opportunity to put our “PopCycle’s”, promotional TeaPops vending-bicycles, across all our key markets. The funds would enable us to buy approximately 20 popcycles for our events across Canada and the United States, and would enable us to launch our entire marketing campaign in all our key markets.