Aimee Yang has crafted her entire career around the pursuit of one day being an entrepreneur. Today, the CEO and Founder of BetterBrand has taken those building blocks to redesign traditionally non-nutritious foods that we crave into delicious, guilt-free versions of themselves. I sat down with Yang to discuss the inspiration behind BetterBrand and her launch of ‘The Better Bagel’ in Whole Foods Market.
Dave Knox: To start, what is BetterBrand and how did the business come to be?
Aimee Yang: BetterBrand is a consumer food tech company leading innovation in the multi trillion refined carb space, with the vision of creating a world where we have the freedom to indulge in the foods we crave without restriction, guilt, or compromise. I’ve heard people refer to us as the ‘Beyond Meat of Carbs’, which I thought was a meaningful comparison that highlights both the innovation and scale of what we’re looking to accomplish.
In terms of how the business came to be, the concept of BetterBrand really stemmed from me trying to solve my own personal pain points around diet and healthy eating. I was always on the cycle of craving something – if I ate it, I’d feel guilty and if I didn’t, I’d feel deprived. It consumed so much of my mind space and was just this huge point of anxiety for me. And I literally used to dream of this world where I could eat the foods that I crave freely, without ever having to worry about weight gain or negative health consequences. The sense of freedom that I would have gained would have been so invaluable, and life would’ve just really been so much better.
At that point, I started to do a deep dive and found that the pain points that I’d been dealing with around diet were very common and rooted in the consumption of refined carbs, which is the leading driver of obesity in the world. Refined carbs convert to simple sugars in the bloodstream, which raises your insulin levels, which is a fat storage hormone. It also triggers a part of your brain called the hedonic passageway, which ties food craving to the system of pleasure and reward rather than being based on actual physical energy needs, which in turn, causes us to overeat. In turn, consuming foods that are high in refined carbs, starts a negative cycle that just snowballs, and is difficult to stop because you literally become physically addicted – to the point chronic diseases associated with obesity are now responsible for two out of three deaths in the world, and the global economic impact of obesity amounts to over $2Trillion annually – about 3% of the global GDP – nearly equivalent to the global impact of armed violence and war. Innovating in the refined carb space not only allows us to create an empowering world, free of diet or deprivation, but it also allows us to contribute macro level impact and improvement to human health and the global economy.
Knox: When did you come to that realization that you wanted to be the one that solved the refined carb problem?
Yang: I’ve known I wanted to be an entrepreneur my entire life, spent my early career building a foundation to prepare myself, and was intentional about gathering the knowledge and experiences that I thought would prove valuable. This ranges from working as a CPA at Ernst & Young to learn the fundamentals of how a company operates, to spending time in Bangalore, India, building EY’s global talent hub to learn operations, to working in litigation consulting to learn data analytics and how to find solutions within large incongruent datasets. I capped off my experience with an educational capstone by getting my MBA at Wharton, where I majored in entrepreneurship and strategic management. I credit those two years at Wharton as being incredibly special – that taught me that not only could I drive large scale impact as one person, it’s my responsibility to do so. And that is actually what led me into the world of food and food tech. It wasn’t about the industry as much as it was about being able to drive significant impact in an area that I was highly passionate about. And that for me, just so happened to fall into food.
Knox: When you decide to start with food, what made you start with the bagel?
Yang: Well what better way to put our stake in the ground as leading innovators in the refined carbs space than by transforming the most carb filled food, the bagel, into the carb equivalent of two slices of banana while being able to keep it highly functional with over 25 grams of plant-based protein, no added sugar, and quality, clean label non- GMO ingredients. I think when someone hears that, there’s this sense of excitement that starts to form. And you can almost see people start to make this connection of, wait, this world where I can eat the foods I crave and be completely free of guilt or repercussions or consequences is possible? I can eat two bagels in the morning if I want and feel great about it? It provides such a special sense of empowerment and hope. And also, once we’ve been able to crack the code and have transformed the most carb filled food, everything else then becomes easier.
Knox: What is the plans for retail expansion that you have with BetterBrand and specifically the bagel in the months to come?
Yang: There’s definitely a lot of exciting stuff happening in the months to come, specifically with us making our debut into retail. We’ve felt really grateful to have felt so much support across the board from the onset, and excited to be able to be easily available to the consumer on shelves nationwide in the next month or so. The initiative we’re actually currently focused on is a partnership with Whole Foods Market, where we’re supporting a global launch.
Knox: Where did you meet the Whole Foods Market team and how’d that story end up happening?
Yang: We met the Whole Foods Market team at the first retail conference that we attended earlier this year! They stopped by our booth, met our team, loved the product and story, and they understood the value proposition and the scale of what we were working to accomplish. That meeting led to follow up conversations, and we really just hit the ground running!
Knox: How are you preparing and scaling the brand for this nationwide launch?
Yang: A couple of different ways. One is on the operational end. This is actually one of the reasons we started DTC, even though we’re not a DTC company – it gave us the opportunity to build up and test our supply chain and operations. We ensured that we were confident that we could deliver, especially on the scale of supporting a Global launch with Whole Foods Market, which in my opinion is the most important thing that we needed to be 100% buttoned up on. And in terms of how we’re preparing from an external lens, our goal is to make BetterBrand’s launch the largest, most exciting brand event in Whole Foods Market in 2022, and have been working with the awesome team there to plan a host of initiatives to drive this effort and excitement. This includes anything from activation with product tasting and demos, promotions, off shelf displays, and exciting media and marketing surroundings just to highlight the brand, our mission, and value proposition, with the goal of driving consumers to shelf. It’s been a really exciting and energizing process. We also have a few surprises planned on the marketing end that consumers will see in the upcoming weeks – go find us in the frozen aisle!
Knox: The freezer aisle isn’t the first place someone expect to find a bagel, much less a nutrient dense bagel like ‘The Better Bagel’ What reaction do you expect with that discovery?
Yang: I believe that consumers today value transparency and authenticity from brands, which first and foremost stems from having a clean ingredients deck with ingredients that people understand. That was actually a huge decision point for us in deciding to be a frozen product – we want to provide products that are Better, no pun intended, in every way – which means free of artificial ingredients and preservatives. Keeping the supply chain entirely frozen also allows us to ensure the highest level of product experience with the consumer, while allowing us to help support our partners, including Whole Foods Market and other key retailers, to help drive significant, incremental growth in their frozen category. I actually love when you said, “Oh, it’s not necessarily the norm today to find a better bagel waiting in the frozen section.” But I think it’s important to add that it’s not the norm to find products like ‘The Better Bagel’ anywhere, because they haven’t existed until now. It’s just such a differentiated product providing so much value to the consumer across the board, whether it’s macros or community or the sentiments behind our mission of freedom, empowerment, and hope. And if our DTC data is any indicator, we think that consumers are going to be really excited when they stumble upon BetterBrand.
Knox: It’s very rare for a brand – especially one without a prior retail footprint to launch into retail on this scale. Why do you think Whole Foods Market wanted to go all in on BetterBrand?
Yang: We feel very fortunate for this partnership, and grateful to the incredible team at Whole Foods Market, who, without speaking for them, I think saw a transformative opportunity to excite their shoppers, with cutting edge product innovation, while driving significant growth to the category.
Apart from the huge opportunity presented in terms of market size, Better appeals to such a wide range of consumer demos – whether that’s natural, clean eaters, low carb eaters, athletes and vegans who love Better for the high protein content, diabetics who look to the fact that we have no added sugar, parents who have finally found a way to sneak nutrients into the day to day of their children’s diets, or anyone passionate about their health and wellness. And, of course, people love The Better Bagel for its taste – we hear a lot of “how is this possible” – which has led to some awesome repeat data.
Moreover, I believe that the mission we’re working to drive forward is a powerful one. – BetterBrand isn’t simply a food tech company – instead, we are founded on a set of simple, yet powerful ideas. We believe unnecessary limits are meant to be broken. We believe everyone deserves to enjoy freedom and joy to the fullest. We believe that a Better world is possible. And we know that together, we’ll create it.
Knox: You’ve been fortunate to have an amazing amount group of investors behind you, with some of the biggest names in investing. How did you go about getting on the radar of the different investors?
Yang: I definitely feel incredibly grateful to our investors. And in terms of how we found them, I think the short answer to that is they found us. I’ve always believed that as a founder, if you believe in your product and mission, you should get it out into the market as early as possible to start learning, telling your story, and bringing the consumer on a journey with you from day one. And I think that also makes fundraising so much easier because as investors organically learn about your brand and products, they become invested in the story on their own accord and will come find you. Which, by the way, also gives you the clarity that these are the right investors who are aligned with your vision and have a genuine love for the brand. That’s how things materialized for us – and we ended up with the most incredible group of investors, including Julien Machot at Verso Capital, Alexis Ohanian at Seven Seven Six, Kyle Vogt, who founded Twitch and Cruise, which is the coolest autonomous driving technology, Sean Thomas of the Wendy’s family, Dorie Smith, Lorenzo Thione, Nicole Cogan, and just so many more incredible people who I’m also really lucky to be able to lean on as mentors.