In this episode of Actualize, Rob catches up with Margaret, the founder and CEO of Nuts for Cheese. They discuss Margaret's journey from starting at a farmer's market to becoming a manufacturer of dairy-free and organic cashew-based products now available in over 2000 stores in Canada and U.S.

Margaret shares about their flagship line of cashew-based cheese wedges, cream cheese spreads, and the recently launched Nuts for Butter.

Tune in for an insightful conversation about Margaret's business and the growth of Nuts for Cheese.

"The more folks can lead by example, be brave, and put themselves out there, the better." - Margaret Coons

[00:02:09] Becoming a vegetarian.

[00:03:37] Eating less meat and animal products.

[00:09:24] Challenges of scaling a business.

[00:10:31] Hunger for growth.

[00:14:07] Hiring and relinquishing responsibility.

[00:17:58] Perfectionism and finding balance.

[00:21:02] A rare mentorship experience.

[00:24:06] A giant marketing war.

[00:28:00] Inclusivity and prejudice.

[00:31:17] Supporting employees with challenges.

[00:36:17] Wellness routine.

[00:39:07] Pursuit of feeling better.

[00:43:23] Coaching vs. therapy distinction.

[00:46:29] Innovation and new product launch.

Follow Margaret on LinkedIn and Instagram

Follow Nuts for Cheese on LinkedIn and Instagram

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Episode 22 - Margaret Coons

[00:00:00] ​

[00:00:00] Rob Pintwala: [00:01:00] Hey, Margaret, thank you so much for joining me today on Actualize.

[00:01:46] Margaret Coons: Thanks so much for having me. So fun to be here.

[00:01:49] Rob Pintwala: Yeah, we were just catching up very briefly before starting this, and I was telling you, I was trying to get caught up on your life between now and grade 12, which is uh, probably when we last [00:02:00] hung out at, at high school together. So, yeah, I'm very excited and I've been watching you from afar and your business and have tried the product, but very excited, to get caught up here.

[00:02:10] Margaret Coons: Yeah. Well, likewise, I've been really enjoying following your journey as well, so this is so fun. It's like a throwback and a catch. Up at the same time.

[00:02:18] Rob Pintwala: Yeah, yeah. Maybe we could just get started for folks who don't um, aren't familiar with nuts for cheese or you, or both maybe we can just, yeah. Fill everyone in on, what your company does, the product, and like maybe a little condensed version of the journey. I'm sure like where people can find it, might as well throw that in right at the front.

[00:02:40] Margaret Coons: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So I founded a company called Nuts for Cheese in 2015. Started at a farmer's market in London, Ontario, where we're based. But essentially we're a manufacturer of dairy-free and organic cashew-based products. So our flagship line of products is a cashew-based cheese wedge and we have seven different varieties of that that are sold in [00:03:00] Canada and the US and then we also have cream cheese spreads. Just launched a product called Nuts, fruit Butter, which is our cashew-based butter line. But all of our products are fermented, they're organic, they're dairy-free, of course. And then we're, we're sold you know, all across Canada and pretty much every major retailer uh, and then in the US, in about 2000 stores in the natural channel.

[00:03:20] Rob Pintwala: It's incredible. I love that. Maybe yeah. To, to jump into next, 

[00:03:26] Rob Pintwala: I heard you talking about on different podcasts that you have been vegetarian from fairly young, I think, or you said around 12 maybe. And then. More so vegan around, I don't know, 19 or 20 or something like that. Tell me a little bit more about how at 12, what did you do, you became a vegetarian.

[00:03:46] Rob Pintwala: Like what was, what influenced that?

[00:03:49] Margaret Coons: So I'd never really been a huge meat eater as a child. It never was, you know, one of my favorite food groups. It was always kind of the last thing I left on my plate. I actually was at summer camp and I had noticed that there was [00:04:00] like a vegetarian salad bar option. And you know, being around 12, I was like, oh, I'm gonna try this.

[00:04:04] Margaret Coons: And came home for the summer from summer camp. And I told my family, oh, I'm a vegetarian now. And they're like, no, you're not We're not, we're not cooking two dinners. You know, we don't know how to make all this vegetarian food. And I kind of faltered a little bit back and forth around that time. And then I happened upon a pita video called Meet Your Meat.

[00:04:22] Margaret Coons: So you can imagine it was kind of rough slaughterhouse footage that was not super great to watch as a 12-year-old. And that was kind of what did it for me. So I had a pretty young kind of animal rights standpoint in terms of the way I was eating. And then over time it really evolved, you know, I went to boarding school with you in St.

[00:04:41] Margaret Coons: Catherine's and was able to really kind of choose what I ate all through high school. And then going to university, I got really into cooking and ended up becoming vegan around the age of 19, but. A lot of it was through, you know, a lot of culinary exploration and like learning to, to love to cook.

[00:04:56] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. Yeah. And I know the product [00:05:00] is not just for vegans or vegetarians. And I know that there's this huge, you know, mo movement, which I think is fantastic 

[00:05:08] Rob Pintwala: for eating less meat and less animal products, even if you're not fully, you know, 0% to animal products. I also want to talk about, you know, university. So I understand you worked at a restaurant and that's sort of how this all came about. Maybe you can share a little bit about that.

[00:05:25] Margaret Coons: Yeah, absolutely. So I started working at a vegan restaurant during my undergrad. So I went to Western and was again really into cooking as a huge foodie and really exploring lots of different recipes and making up new recipes. And my dream was to work at the local vegan restaurant. It was like the only restaurant in town I ever wanted to go to. And I started working there on the weekends just as a prep cook, helping out in the kitchen. Was so thrilled to get that job, honestly, I would've volunteered there if they hadn't hired me. And it was, you know, so fun from a young age to, you know, get to be around like-minded people and really [00:06:00] kind of continue to, to hone my skills and my love for cooking.

[00:06:03] Margaret Coons: And I. Following my undergrad, I actually took a culinary program as well and that really kind of dovetailed nicely with my work at the restaurant and had kind of worked my way up through the restaurant there and had a lot of opportunities to, you know, create menu items and do cooking demos and do a lot of community outreach on behalf of the restaurant. And so when I was kind of ending my time there, my original plan was, you know, I wanna start my own vegan restaurant, or I wanna take this restaurant over and I wanna really continue in this industry. But I thought at 24 I might start with the farmer's market for the summer because I'd been making these vegan cheeses for the, for the restaurant menu and doing different flavors every week and starting to ferment some of the products and doing a lot of experimentation and getting really great feedback on the products.

[00:06:48] Margaret Coons: And you're right, they're totally not just for people that are, you know, vegan or vegetarian, but at the time in 2015 there was so Much less availability of products like this and so much [00:07:00] less familiarity with the category as well. Like now everyone drinks almond milk, but in 2015, not everyone drank almond milk or like had someone in their family who was avoiding dairy, for whatever reason. And so it really kind of started with, I'll try a farmer's market for the summer, take these cheeses there. I was renting the restaurant kitchen in the middle of the night to make the products and then it just started to snowball a little bit.

[00:07:23] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. No, it's such a, like, it just seems like such an authentic story. I mean, been thinking like we've talked to founders here in the, you know, on the podcast, and I love talking to founders, but I, I think, you know, I was speaking with someone recently just about, you know, almost like entrepreneurship as an art form or like, you know, creation through business.

[00:07:45] Rob Pintwala: Even if it's not, you know, a big business, right? It could be you, you don't even need to sell anything. I, you know, I just, being creative. Whereas like, I think. A lot of people get caught up in just the numbers or they watch, you know, the news or, you know, the stock market [00:08:00] or something like that. And then there's a lot of people in the world that treat business numbers first, right?

[00:08:05] Rob Pintwala: But it strikes me that you, that's not your, that wasn't your approach. And I just think that's amazing. I wanted to know a little bit about like, what do you remember, like what propelled you to. Start outside of that restaurant and go to those farmer's markets, like, like, you probably could have got a job that maybe had more guaranteed life income rather than just risking that.

[00:08:28] Rob Pintwala: You know what, like was it more of a creativity thing or was it, what was it?

[00:08:32] Margaret Coons: I think it was a creativity thing. And it's funny, I was talking to someone the other day about this, about just how, when people start businesses, I think if they, especially in CPG or manufacturing, if they really knew what they were getting into, like would they have made that same decision years later?

[00:08:46] Margaret Coons: Looking back, I, you know, I'm, I'm so grateful for the journey that I've had, but it's definitely been hard, right? And there've been So many challenges, so many things that I would've never anticipated. So many things I didn't know. And it's kind of like, thank God you didn't know because that would deter [00:09:00] people from actually kind of taking the leap.

[00:09:01] Margaret Coons: But you know, it was definitely a creative outlet for me. And then I think it just really fed into the fact that like whatever I'm doing, just as a personality trait, like I'm doing it 150%. So I never really liked it. Thought about, am I gonna be doing this in eight years or am I gonna be selling products all across North America.

[00:09:19] Margaret Coons: It was just kind of like one day after the other. What's the next thing? What's the next thing? And it was super fun to, you know, start to build something out of nothing. And, and it still is 'cause there's so much, you know, opportunity and you can take things in whatever direction you want. You know, within reason.

[00:09:34] Margaret Coons: And 

[00:09:34] Margaret Coons: I think it's, you know, when you're, when you're building something, you get to really do something new. Whether it's a product that's existed before or not, you can kind of make it your own.

[00:09:43] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. About the hard parts that you, you know, were native to, and 

[00:09:49] Rob Pintwala: I think, you know, I am and was naive to some of the hard parts about growing a business as well. But I think, do you remember any, like, [00:10:00] you know, really hard experiences that you questioned continuing? Like, do you remember what those were?

[00:10:06] Rob Pintwala: And do you remember why you didn't stop?

[00:10:09] Margaret Coons: Yeah, I mean I think a lot of it has been, and I've done a lot of reflecting on this 'cause there's like no shortage of challenges when you're scaling any type of business. But I think in manufacturing and production, like it's a, it's a physical and laborious thing to scale when you're a bootstrapped company especially.

[00:10:26] Margaret Coons: And I bootstrapped for the first seven years of the business. Hired people and, you know, somehow purchased equipment by funneling every, you know, dollar profit back into the company and taking advantage of grants and things like that. But a lot of it was, you know, me being the person who was right in the thick of all of the production for, for quite some time, and I.

[00:10:46] Margaret Coons: You know, I've always been the person that, you know, whatever needs to get done, I'll be the person to jump in and do it. And where we're at today is very different from where we were five or six years ago, where we've got, you know, an incredible team and a lot of support on the manufacturing side.

[00:10:58] Margaret Coons : But, you know, a lot of it [00:11:00] was, oh my God, we've gotten a massive order in and we don't have enough people to fulfill it. And so I, you know, I'm at the facility at midnight with my family, packing an order, whatever friends could, you know, come in to, to help and support and. I think there are a lot of things around like equipment malfunctions or challenges with people over the years that I think you don't really anticipate. And especially when you're growing a business, it's just trying to figure out how to do something bigger, faster, more with limited resources if it's always interesting to him.

[00:11:30] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. Yeah. The fact that you remain bootstrapped or self-funded for that long is incredible, especially with that type of business like is incredible. On that note, like how. What was kind of driving you for growth? You know, like where did this, where did this hunger for growth come from, you know, in your personality, do you, do you know, have you reflected on that?

[00:11:55] Margaret Coons: I think I am, I think I'm a competitive person, but I'm competitive with myself [00:12:00] and so I'm always trying to push myself to, you know, do better, do more kind of every day and, and do things in a, you know, more efficient or, or unique way. And I feel like my timing has been really, I. Great.

[00:12:13] Margaret Coons: Throughout the whole kind of journey of the business. You know, when I first started out, we were one of the only companies making a product like this, and there was a lot of need for it in the market. And so the opportunity was there. And you know, I think when you have that kind of feeling of momentum and you know, you're filling a need for people and providing something that people really, really want and don't have access to. It's so exciting and it gets kind of addictive, right? And then you, you start to have this team that you're building and you want to, you know, continue to grow with them and have the journey continue. And so I think that that's probably a lot of the motivation is yeah, the consumers that love the product and then the team that's grown with me.

[00:12:49] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. Yeah. When people look from the outside and they see and they hear that you're in yeah. Thousands of locations and you have this big facility and,[00:13:00] you know, I think perhaps people, especially, maybe even before you fundraise, but people, you know… Probably think that you, you know, have made it or are really successful.

[00:13:10] Rob Pintwala: You know, I, this is a guess, but I'm guessing that you haven't taken that much time to like, reap the rewards or relax or, you know, buy something really nice or something like that. You know, like, can you talk a little bit more about that? Like, how do you still feel like you're in the thick of it? Or have you been able to step back and kind of, you know, relax a little bit?

[00:13:30] Margaret Coons: Oh, I, I, yeah, I mean, it's, it's something I think about a lot because I'm, I'm absolutely in the thick of it, but, you know, a lot of that is by just like the kind of passion for the, the project and the company. And I like to be in the middle of everything, but I do think that one. Opportunity, for growth is to be able to celebrate the wins a little bit more because I think when you're so close to everything, it's so easy to not see how magical and exciting stuff is.

[00:13:56] Margaret Coons: It's so easy to only see the problems and you can have a major win, [00:14:00] and then immediately you're thinking about like a shipment that didn't get out on time or something that was supposed to be delivered that wasn't, or whatever the problem might be. And I think that that's like a huge growth practice for, for any founder to Acknowledge that the moments as they're happening, 'cause otherwise the journey just goes so fast.

[00:14:17] Rob Pintwala: Is that something that you're actively working on and, when have you, like when did you start to work on that? Yeah.

[00:14:26] Margaret Coons: Oh, I think I, I've been working on it for years and, you know, some days are easier than others. And, you know, I, I think it's, it's interesting we were talking to a person who's been helping us with some of our content creation strategies recently, and just talking through some of the stories of the brand and the company.

[00:14:41] Margaret Coons : And you know, from an outsider's perspective, someone can be like, oh my God, slow down. Stop. That's such an interesting thing. I wanna pull this out. I wanna tease this out here. And when you're so close to it, you're just like, I didn't, you don't even think about these things. You're just kind of running and trying to keep everything together.

[00:14:55] Margaret Coons: It's like, you know, building the plane as it's taking off kind of feeling almost all the time. And [00:15:00] I think that that is like part of the excitement and the adrenaline that kind of keeps founders hooked on, on, growing something and. I think the scary part is like, how I feel sometimes, like if I am not like that, are things gonna start to fall? So if you're not running and keeping everything and always worried and always, you know, making sure that everything's okay and everyone's okay, like, will I kind of drop the ball on something? Which I, I think I, I kind of credit to, you know, how I've gotten this far in life, but I do think that there's probably opportunities to, to let go and, and relax and enjoy the little moments a bit more.

[00:15:33] Rob Pintwala: Yeah, I mean, I imagine you've had to with, you know, hiring a team and you know, not being solely responsible for every single thing, even though I'm sure it all rolls up to you still, Tell, tell me a little bit about like, hiring and, and relinquishing responsibility or, you know, delegating any particular like learnings or challenges that you've had with people?

[00:15:56] Rob Pintwala: Like, did you hire friends by, you know, [00:16:00] like just because of, you know, you knew them? Like, what have you learned about like Yeah. Putting the right people on the bus as some folks say in the business world.

[00:16:09] Margaret Coons: Yeah, I think it's an evolving journey. You know, in the early days for sure, it was, you know, friends and, and family who could, you know, help me for a couple of hours a week just putting shoes in boxes and, and getting it out the door. And, you know, I think our strategy around team building and culture has changed a lot over the years, but I.

[00:16:25] Margaret Coons: I've always found that my role personally has like encapsulated everything, but it's also changed every six months pretty much since I started the business where there's always been something that I've had to let go of in order to do something else or do something differently. And I think, you know, in terms of change management for myself, I, I'm okay with that. I think that that's where sometimes when you're building a team, when. You can run that fast and you can adjust your kind of schedule that fast, you can expect that other people are gonna be up for that as well. And that's really like such a startup life mentality. And I think as you're building the team, you do need to kind of find people that have [00:17:00] a little bit of that intrapreneurial spirit so that they can really kind of embrace the speed of a startup growing quickly. But our team's really evolved and changed a lot, particularly in the last couple of years. And you know, I mentioned we were bootstrapped for the first seven years we Raised our first round of funding in June of 2020, and that's, you know, allowed me to add some really key hires to the team that has definitely taken a lot of my plate and changed my role pretty significantly. And I still work very closely with, you know, every single one of 'em and dabble in, in every department, probably more than I should. But I've definitely got some amazing experts who, you know, have far more experience and, and know a lot more about what they're doing than I might in a specific arena. I

[00:17:45] Margaret Coons: feel very fortunate for that.

[00:17:47] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. That's amazing. I want to, I, I have five questions to ask you right now, but before I get too far ahead of myself, I wanted to. Make sure we don't skip past the, like, [00:18:00] self-competitiveness part that you mentioned. 

[00:18:01] Rob Pintwala: And, and like how, you know, how do you, how do you be competitive with yourself, but also not like beat yourself up on the regular I.

[00:18:12] Margaret Coons : Yeah, I mean, I, I think that's a good question. I think that that's something that, again, has been attributed to how I've gotten to where I am today, but it's something that I could definitely soften a bit because I'm for sure the hardest on myself and definitely have perfectionist tendencies. You know, always wanna make sure that everyone else is good, kind of ahead of anything else. And I think that you know, the drive for wanting things to be, to be good and to be right is really helpful. But I also think that it can kind of get in the way sometimes. And, you know, we've been talking about it like a senior leadership team recently.

[00:18:45] Margaret Coons: Like a, you know, a lot of us have this kind of perfectionist, streak to us, or like a aspect of our personalities and where can we find ways that, you know, we can be good and run fast rather than be perfect and, you know, take longer [00:19:00] than we need to to get something done. And that's definitely advice I've received from, you know, mentors over the years.

[00:19:05] Margaret Coons: And it is how I operate for the most part. Like if you've got something, you know, 60% baked, do you feel confident enough to kind of run with it or do you need to wait until it's, it's 90 and. It's something I see with younger founders too. I do, you know, quite a bit of mentorship with early-stage founders that are starting food businesses and a lot of people really wanna like to have the business plan buttoned up.

[00:19:27] Margaret Coons: They wanna have some financial projections, like maybe they've gone to business school. Like I did not go to business school. I was an English major, I didn't have that traditional learning around How to structure a business. You know, I didn't know how to read a financial statement when I first started, and all these various things.

[00:19:41] Margaret Coons: And I think you can kind of detail yourself to death. And it's important to find that, that right balance, and I think it's good to be hard on yourself, but, you know, with a level of compassion for, for everything that you're handling and, and how far you've come as well.

[00:19:55] Rob Pintwala: Yeah, no doubt. Well, as you mentioned before, maybe if you did go to business school, you [00:20:00] could quite possibly not have founded this business… Yeah, it might not have worked out. Maybe it would've been on Bay Street or Wall Street… yOu mentioned mentors, um, and that you are sort of a mentor now. Even before you took on funding, did you have people that you could call on, whether they're like in the business, you know, field of CPG or just family or 

[00:20:26] Margaret Coons: Yeah, I. 

[00:20:27] Rob Pintwala: Who did you rely on?

[00:20:28] Margaret Coons: Yeah, I've had a few really great mentors over the years and one in particular who actually um, if you know, became a partner in the business since it's on our board of directors now. His name's Mike Jane and he was a former CFO of Pepsi, Canada. I met him years ago through my mom, actually.

[00:20:44] Margaret Coons: My mom was, had moved into a new neighborhood and had invited all of her new neighbors over for a cocktail party, and I think I was doing it. Demo sampling our products in the early years and I was, you know, standing in a grocery store with a table and it was downtown Toronto. I was like [00:21:00] hauling all this stuff back to my car.

[00:21:01] Margaret Coons: It was such a, you know, long day, big drive, like a big effort kind of day. My mom called me and said, there's this really interesting guy at my house. You should stop by on your way back to London. She lived in Lancaster, and so I ended up popping into her house and this guy Mike, you know, really was asking me a lot of questions.

[00:21:18] Margaret Coons: I was still working part-time at the restaurant at the time. It was kind of that first year. He's like, what are you doing? You gotta quit your job. You gotta do this. Like, think about this. And just gave me like all of this really like, kind of big topics to think about. And that night I left and I was like, who was that? He, you know, called me a week later and said, you know, I think you need a mentor and I can help you. And he has been like my partner in crime ever since. He's been totally like, you know, a person. I lean on when I need advice and I'm so happy that he sits on our board now as well. He is a good friend and a great advisor.

[00:21:49] Rob Pintwala: I find that fascinating. So. sounds like your mom pretty much sold you on to this guy that she just met at her neighborhood party, and [00:22:00] then he somehow likes to see something in you that early, gives you all the speed guidance, and then calls you a week later. Like, that's so rare.

[00:22:10] Margaret Coons : You know, I feel so lucky about that experience because yeah, it's truly changed the trajectory of the business and just having such classical product experience having come from, you know, a company like Pepsi and I. Also just having really great sense of people. I've had, you know, really great guidance and team structure and, you know, org chart and, and finance literacy over the years

[00:22:32] Margaret Coons: from with him.

[00:22:33] Rob Pintwala: Sounds like that's the NBA that you didn't get

[00:22:36] Margaret Coons: Yes.

[00:22:37] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. 

[00:22:38] Margaret Coons: 10, 10,000 hours of entrepreneurship is you know, similar

[00:22:43] Margaret Coons: to MAI think.

[00:22:44] Rob Pintwala: Wow. That sounds, that sounds incredible. Let's talk a little bit about your three commitments to nuts for cheeses listed on your website. Yeah. Maybe you can explain what those are 

[00:22:55] Margaret Coons: Yeah, 

[00:22:56] Rob Pintwala: have they always been that way? Yeah.

[00:22:58] Margaret Coons: Yeah, I think, you know, [00:23:00] we've got a lot of different kinds of company commitments that are, you know, significant to us. And I think, you know, some big ones are around sustainability and culture and inclusivity and I, I think they all kind of, I. Form this holistic approach to how we think about things.

[00:23:14] Margaret Coons: You know, we're an organic, high-quality premium product. We're plant-based. We're, you know, focused on the environmental sustainability aspect of the product, but also, you know, the sustainability of the team and the company and making sure that we've got great sustainable relationships with all of our external partners.

[00:23:30] Margaret Coons: And I think that that really ties into our inclusivity piece as well, because we're, you know, a. LGBT-founded organizations where a women-founded and led organization have a lot of diversity within our team. And I think all of those, you know, commitments really kind of tie together from the, the product to the people, to the, to the customers to create a little bit of a, and that's where she's worldview.

[00:23:53] Rob Pintwala: That's, I, I resonate with, with those values. I wanted to maybe talk about two of [00:24:00] them 

[00:24:00] Rob Pintwala: more. First maybe the sustainability piece. Like We, we live in this kind of world now where if you're lucky to have the education or you know, you're savvy on the internet and can kind of figure out what's healthy to consume and, and what's not.

[00:24:16] Rob Pintwala: A lot of the info points towards non-processed foods like plant-based foods. Maybe I'm, maybe I'm getting my information from the wrong place, but that's at least what I, what 

[00:24:26] Margaret Coons: What side of. 

[00:24:27] Rob Pintwala: and consume. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. But you know, I see all these, like, firstly I have some friends in the CPG world and as you know, sort of a family history being in that world as well.

[00:24:39] Rob Pintwala: And I just see it like, so firstly competitive, 

[00:24:44] Rob Pintwala: But to do it so often from, from an outsider's perspective, 'cause I'm not in it personally, it kind of looks like just a giant marketing war. It's like, well, these are all just packaged foods. many of them [00:25:00] these days are labeled as healthy or sustainable or both, um, but they really might not be because they're packaged foods and processed.

[00:25:10] Rob Pintwala: how do you think about sustainability, from that perspective? Yeah.

[00:25:15] Margaret Coons: Absolutely. I mean, I think it's an interesting time and I mean, you don't have to go to too many trade shows to see, as you can be at a natural foods trade show and the amount of Plastic wrap and shipping and flights and everything that it took everyone to get there is not a sustainable experience necessarily, but I do think it's. Really interesting to see how the space has developed in terms of natural foods or plant-based foods because there are a lot of products that aren't necessarily great for you, or they're not great tasting, or they're not particularly sustainable. It's, you know, different products that are kind of flown in from different places in the world where they're processed to be secondarily processed and, and manufactured and So for us, it really does feel like a, a true core pillar because we do manufacture all of our products using real whole food [00:26:00] ingredients and really try our best on the packaging side to be compostable or recyclable at the very least, and all of those things. But I think from a plant-based standpoint in general, you know, it's not. Any surprise to anyone that, you know, animal agriculture is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions? And so for me, from a young age, it was that animal rights piece, but then it was also environmental sustainability and then health. And those are kind of the, the three pillars of why most people choose to, you know, adopt even a partly plant-based diet or Arian kind of approach are those three things.

[00:26:34] Margaret Coons : So, you know, we're, we're trying as an organization to be better all the time. And of course, we have to Do things like ship products all over the place too. But I think the closer you can kind of get to, you know, a clean-label product with real foods in it that has a functional benefit for the consumer, the better.

[00:26:51] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. Just outta my own curiosity, do you see the public being a little bit more savvy [00:27:00] and educated? Like reading past some of the, you know, like, this is healthy or like this is less bad. Like, have you seen that? I know it's amazing that you've kind of approached this in such a authentic way 

[00:27:14] Margaret Coons: Oh yeah, I do think so. I think people like it kind of comes and goes in waves. I think a lot of people are a lot more conscious about the ingredients in their foods and, you know, some of it I think can be some, you know, propaganda from whatever, you know, marketing angle, the. Big money in the industry has You kind of have to read things with a grain of salt. But I definitely have seen consumers become a lot more aware of how the food, particularly that they're eating makes them feel.

[00:27:39] Margaret Coons: And that's, I think the biggest shift that I've noticed is that, you know, a lot of people might adopt a plant-based diet because they think they're gonna make it, it's gonna make them feel better. But if they're eating only highly processed foods or you better high in sodium, or you know, various seed oils and things like that, it's not gonna necessarily make you feel great. And so I think people are Becoming more in tune with how foods make them feel. And then [00:28:00] that's exciting for me because we're not a product just for plant-based people.

[00:28:03] Margaret Coons: It's, you know, a product for people that don't consume dairy for any variety of reasons or wanna reduce their intake. So yeah, I think so.

[00:28:11] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. No, that's great. And so for the inclusivity, you mentioned a little bit about why that's important to you. I'm curious if you've kind of either witnessed or personally felt. Some, you know, prejudice or, you know, mistreatment, you know, either in former jobs, schools, workplaces, like has had, did any, you know, is there any particular like scenarios, circumstances that have motivated you to be more of like clear about your value of inclusivity?

[00:28:49] Margaret Coons: I mean, I think, I think so, and I think I've witnessed it in terms of, you know, how people in my life have been treated over the years as well, and I think. The more folks [00:29:00] can lead by example and, you know, be brave and, and put themselves out there, the better. I think more than anything I've, you know, found myself in an industry that is, you know, very like male-dominated and I've had lots of experiences where like I was young when I started.

[00:29:14] Margaret Coons: I was, you know, young and female and you know, I had a lot of instances where people would never assume that this is my company or. Asked to speak to the boss or whatever it is. I'm like, none of that, like that kind of rolls off my back. It's, it's fine, but it's, I think more about how do we set up inclusive structures and I.

[00:29:33] Margaret Coons: Really take up space and set good examples for people that like may or may not feel comfortable being themselves. And I think that as a, you know, a female founder as an LGBT identifying person that's something that when you're, you're growing up, you may not necessarily know how to take up space or how to be represented if you don't have great examples.

[00:29:51] Margaret Coons: And so I like to try to be the best example that I can for other people that may be feeling a little bit, you know, unsure about themselves or how they can [00:30:00] present in, in the world.

[00:30:01] Rob Pintwala: Mm-Hmm. . No, that's lovely. Like it's incredible. I'm curious about whether you've had any challenges sort of balancing. You know, so if you're, let's say you're attracting a lot of folks who, you know, might not feel welcome in other workplaces. And, you know, when they're seeing other injustices happening in the world, whether that's locally or on a global scale or whatever on TikTok, right?

[00:30:32] Rob Pintwala: And so much of that you know, I know that for these folks, can be like triggering, quite triggering for them and, and, and, you know, unsettling and of, of course, like, understandably so. 

[00:30:45] Rob Pintwala: Do you have any, like, have there been any sort of challenges like, uh, you know, keeping like the business, you know, objectives in check and kind of everyone focused on, you know, [00:31:00] the task at hand and doing their jobs versus.

[00:31:03] Rob Pintwala: Any sort of like, you know, more like activism, tendencies or anything that, like that, I might be like fully like out 

[00:31:10] Margaret Coons: No, it's a good, 

[00:31:11] Rob Pintwala: a terrible question here, but

[00:31:12] Margaret Coons: No, that's

[00:31:13] Margaret Coons: a good question. It's funny, I was thinking about, well, I mean, not specifically this, but I think, you know, when I first started the company I was definitely like fresh outta university. You know, I was like, had, you know, a lot more political lens really in front of mind in terms of how I approached every single thing that we did. I think the most important thing as a leader is to try to have Opportunities and channels for clear communication and I think give people a lot of grace. I think we've been super fortunate to have, you know, people that are super professional in the workplace and can. Generally, kind of, you know, come in and stay focused on what they're trying to do.

[00:31:49] Margaret Coons: But of course, like life happens, and whether it's a politically motivated challenge or something personal in their lives, there's always gonna be stuff that comes up. It's just part of working with humans. And [00:32:00] so I think we have some, you know, some good systems in place for making sure that people have the support that they need and try to improve on that every day.

[00:32:09] Margaret Coons: But I mean, you're, you're a little bit of an expert in the area, so totally defer, like, defer to your experience on how to. Support people in that way.

[00:32:17] Rob Pintwala: I don't know about being an expert, but I, I know there's a lot of challenges in the world and, and it's in upfront and center in everyone's phones whenever they wanna look at it or perhaps don't wanna look at it. And I know, just even my partner working at a very I don't know, like a woman-owned business that's, you know, has a lot of social justice kind of values.

[00:32:37] Rob Pintwala: Like it's, it can be a challenge to kind of like do all the business things, but also.

[00:32:42] Margaret Coons: Yeah,

[00:32:44] Margaret Coons: Well, it's hard, right? Because there are so many big, scary things happening in the world, and every once in a while you are just like, wow, So it does make you feel existential to see, all the pain and suffering that's happening everywhere.

[00:32:58] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. Yeah.[00:33:00] I wanted to ask you a little bit more about motivation. And we touched a little bit about like when you started and just kind of like this sounded like a creative outlet that just kind of, I. One foot after another rolled into this. Have you ever had trouble with motivation or have you had to like refind where you get your motivation from or has it been pretty linear as far as, you know, you still wanna keep getting this product out into the world and that sort of thing?

[00:33:29] Margaret Coons: I think I've always had the motivation for getting the product out into the world for sure. But I think the kinds of sources of motivation have shifted and changed over time. And, you know, I think it's. It's still really much, very much getting, you know, great products into people's hands and, you know, creating a better food system and giving people products that make them feel good and are full of good, healthy ingredients.

[00:33:54] Margaret Coons: But I also think I have such a strong motivation now to, you know, really support the growing [00:34:00] team and. To continue to give people opportunities to grow in the company that I built. And we have such good partners that we work with now too, externally to the business. And so I think it's, it's really become this kind of nice symbiotic relationship where I've got all these people that I feel very fortunate to, to grow with, and I wanna keep doing that. And then I think another thing is like I still do all of our product development. So I love creating new products and formulating new recipes and things like that. And so that's really fun for me and motivating to think about, you know, two years from now, could we launch this type of product or where does this fit in the marketplace?

[00:34:36] Margaret Coons: And I'm gonna try a new recipe on this and I'm gonna try to improve this product that we already have. And that's really fun and motivating for me as well.

[00:34:44] Rob Pintwala: That's amazing. How has it been having to like to learn? You know, in terms of just like I, I've heard others, you know, founders of fast-growing businesses say that you know, they have to learn as fast or [00:35:00] like faster or grow faster than the businesses growing. Does it feel like a lot sometimes, like especially as you've hired these other external professionals to come in now with your team, like do you feel any sort of imposter syndrome ever, or how do you 

[00:35:15] Margaret Coons: Oh 

[00:35:16] Rob Pintwala: maintain the Yeah.

[00:35:17] Margaret Coons: Yeah. I mean, I think even before that, you know, imposter syndrome is a big part of it. But I do think like that is one place where I feel like when I'm feeling the most crunched and overwhelmed and like I'm up to my ears in a million different things, it's typically because I haven't had time to do my meditation, to get some exercise, to get any downtime, to let my thoughts process or let things percolate.

[00:35:40] Margaret Coons: That's when I'm like, okay, if I'm not doing my personal development work, then it's 10 times harder to keep up with everything that's happening in the business. And then I think for sure, you know, in the last year and a half we've become a, you know, institutionally backed company. We've got a governance structure and a board.

[00:35:55] Margaret Coons: Now, you know, I am doing this role of CEO much differently than I was [00:36:00] before, where, you know, I have a board to report to and senior leadership team to, to continue to grow with every day. And I think that that's. caused me to, you know, try to level up quickly in a short period.

[00:36:13] Rob Pintwala: Yeah, that's an incredible adaptation. let's talk a little bit more about yours, your. You said I think personal development, like your sort of wellness routine. How long have you had this, this, or like, you know, tell me a little bit more about that. Has it remained consistent? 

[00:36:29] Rob Pintwala: Have you added things, dropped things to keep you, now, fresh and not burnt out?

[00:36:35] Margaret Coons: Yeah, I feel like I'm, I'm adding new things all the time. I've got all kinds of like, funny things around the house that I do for a couple of weeks and then forget that I have. But no, I think my kind of mindfulness journey started pretty young. I started practicing yoga when I was in high school and I took my yoga teacher training while I was doing my undergrad at Western as well.

[00:36:53] Margaret Coons: So I taught yoga for about seven years in my early twenties until about a year and a half after I [00:37:00] started the business. I. Kind of had to step away from the yoga teaching and just really found that when I was teaching a class, I was like, I need this so much more than I need to be teaching it.

[00:37:09] Margaret Coons: So

[00:37:10] Margaret Coons: it was a kind of clear sign that I needed to find some, some wellness practice for myself, but

[00:37:15] Rob Pintwala: switch back to being a student

[00:37:17] Margaret Coons: Exactly. Yeah. But no, I try to prioritize. Some movement, some breathwork, some meditation or mindfulness and healthy eating, you know, staying hydrated, taking my supplements, and, you know, I'm, I'm always, I'm up in the wellness industry too, so I'm always interested in what, you know, different companies are putting out there in terms of, you know, adaptogenic remedies and things like that to help handle stress and help, you know, feel good naturally, but. I've got all kinds of fun things like a chi machine and a spiky mat, a sauna that, you know, I kind of rotate between things like that as well to amplify the good feelings.

[00:37:53] Rob Pintwala: Is that sauna something you bring with you when you move places?

[00:37:57] Margaret Coons: Yeah. I did. [00:38:00] I had to break it apart into panels and move it here when I moved into the new house.

[00:38:04] Rob Pintwala: I love that. That's incredible. Where, and, and the meditation piece, so that, that, did that evolve out of, out of doing yoga when you were younger? 

[00:38:13] Margaret Coons: Yeah. That's really 

[00:38:14] Rob Pintwala: been able to maintain that?

[00:38:16] Margaret Coons: Yeah. I sometimes do guided meditations now. For the longest time when I had a more quiet mind and things were less kind of hectic before starting a business, I was able to just kind of sit down and close my eyes and kind of get into that state more quickly. I. Sometimes feel like that's accessible. And sometimes I like to listen to guided meditation, and I've got kind of a handful of guides online that I'll, I'll go to. And sometimes I'll do some yoga with Adrian-type meditations if I'm feeling like something a little bit more fun. And I like her guided classes as well, or dabbling in the Joe Dispenza universe as well for some more, you know, serious kind of out-of-body meditation experiences.

[00:38:57] Margaret Coons: But. I like to have those kinds of [00:39:00] resources that you can lean on when you're not feeling like you've got the capacity, to do it on your own.

[00:39:06] Rob Pintwala: And I'm curious, like how would you describe your, you know, it sounds like from a very young age you were interested in wellness, where did that come from? I know that's like, it's weird to think about that. That's kind of like still the minority of people. , you know, it's maybe, maybe different now, but like when, I guess when we were in like, you know, high school and like I don't, I don't know.

[00:39:29] Rob Pintwala: I wasn't that concerned about being

[00:39:32] Margaret Coons : Yeah, I mean, I think I've always been kind of chasing the, how can I feel more good kind of thing from, from a young age. And I don't think it was always super spiritual or well focused on, on wellness and, you know, definitely liked to, you know, have a lot of fun. When I was younger too, I was a lot less serious, but. You know, I do think it's kind of that pursuit of like, how can I feel a little bit better every day? And I think when you're. You know, growing up and going through all kinds of different things, [00:40:00] especially when you're, you're a teenager and, you know, I had a bit of a more chaotic kind of childhood experience growing up and then being out of the home from a, from a young age.

[00:40:07] Margaret Coons : Those kinds of things were good pillars for me. When I was starting to be a little bit more independent as an adult, I really found yoga, for example, was something that kept bringing me back to myself and helping me kind of ground when. Like, there's various things going on, including stresses of being in school and, and working and having roommates and, and all of that.

[00:40:27] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. Yeah. And I, I just, there's so many different ways that I've learned to like, look after yourself, it's amazing to hear, you know, what works for you. And like some people might be like, super into journaling or therapy or whatever, like, whatever. If they can afford that, um, have a coach all the time or something like that.

[00:40:48] Rob Pintwala: But some people. Just can kind of do it themselves through yoga or maybe at home even, and that sort of thing, which is 

[00:40:56] Margaret Coons: Yeah. Well, I mean, I, I do therapy and coaching too, so

[00:40:59] Rob Pintwala: [00:41:00] Okay.

[00:41:01] Margaret Coons: everything, 

[00:41:03] Rob Pintwala: That's amazing. Yeah. And do you, do you feel like coaching and therapy, is getting more like from, I mean, I'm in the therapy world of course, but I'm starting to see more founders, more executives, and just like high and highly respected people in the business world. Talk more about therapy and coaching.

[00:41:22] Rob Pintwala: And I know there's still this like the stigma is changing, but I know it's still just like. The primary reason for people starting therapy usually is because they're in pain or they're in quite a bit of pain, something that's unbearable. But I, I've personally had experiences where you can really just evolve therapy into just mostly focusing on wellness and getting better and improving.

[00:41:47] Rob Pintwala: And of course, there's things that happen that you want to help with and resolve, but yeah. How has that changed for you and did you? Have you witnessed or do you not even care what others are doing? , 

[00:41:59] Margaret Coons: No, [00:42:00] I love to see people talking about their experiences with therapy. I think it's so cool and I think it's, it's something that for sure, like I, you know, I've gone to therapy for a long time, and. Started, you know, dabbling with going to therapy when I was a late teenager and I've, you know, been going to the same therapist now for God, I think like seven years and layered on the coaching recently.

[00:42:20] Margaret Coons : And it's changed my life. And I think in times when I've had really hard things going on and, you know, burnout and lots of stress and, you know, various other, you know, personal things happening, it's been such a kind of port in the storm and something that's, that's so helpful. And. I think everyone has those things, and I think everyone talks about them with their friends.

[00:42:40] Margaret Coons : And so, you know, instead of only dumping things on your friends, you can go get some professional support as well, and then still have those same conversations, but from, you know, a more supported and kind of emotionally responsible place where you're, you know, doing some of the emotional labor yourself and then getting the support where it's appropriate.

[00:42:58] Rob Pintwala: Yeah. [00:43:00] What do you think about coaching? What motivated you to start coaching after years of being in therapy? And, and how do you, like, how is the relationship with your coach different from the therapist? Or maybe a better question is like, what's the subject matter difference between a coach and a therapist for you?

[00:43:16] Margaret Coons: I think I found that I was starting to talk about work so much in therapy that I was finding that it was helpful to have different kinds of outlets to talk about, you know, personal stuff that is obviously still related to work. 'cause work is such a huge part of my life. But to have something where I could really kind of focus on work and, you know. Leadership responsibilities and how to evolve me as a leader and how to, you know, grow me professionally. That, you know, my, my therapist is amazing and has definitely spent a lot of time listening to me talk about work, but you know, isn't necessarily the area of, of expertise in terms of, you know, thinking about raising money or leading a team or, you know, business structures and, and things like that.

[00:43:59] Margaret Coons : [00:44:00] And so I found that. Kind of distinction is really helpful. And I haven't found that there's been much overlap. I kind of thought I would, that, you know, I was, I'd interviewed other coaches in the past and had a couple of free sessions and I kind of found like, I'm like, I'm already getting this, what I need to hear from therapy.

[00:44:14] Margaret Coons: I don't need this. And the coach I've been working with for about the last year, year and a half, I've found something different with, so

[00:44:21] Margaret Coons: you can call. 

[00:44:23] Rob Pintwala: And, and how, and this is kind of a selfish question of this whole topic because I'm, I'm fascinated on, on it as well and kind of in the, in the market. but I think others would be interested, like, how did you choose this coach? Is it someone who has industry expertise? Is it someone that, and how does that coach differ?

[00:44:46] Rob Pintwala: Is it more like now that you have a formal board and, and, and raise money that you can't, did you feel like you needed a formal coach instead of just your former advisors are like, kind of angel investors 

[00:44:59] Rob Pintwala: that [00:45:00] maybe you couldn't open up to them as 

[00:45:01] Rob Pintwala: much?

[00:45:02] Margaret Coons: I mean, I feel like I'm very fortunate with the board and the investors that I have, and that we have a, like really, you know, great kind of working relationship as well, where I do feel like I can go to them with, you know, different challenges or ask for advice or ask 'em to hop in a call with me on something or, you know, do a strategy session together.

[00:45:20] Margaret Coons: So I don't think it's really. That necessarily means that I don't feel like I can go to them with the same things. It's just more how do I best optimize the time that I have with the board and spend that time in a really focused way and then, you know, work with a coach kind of separately and another kind of more like personal business development type stuff, I guess that, does show up for sure in the, in the board meetings as well. But in terms of how I found her, it was a recommendation from another female founder who actually lives in Victoria, who I love very much from DB's Organics. And so my friend Dion had recommended this, this coach to me who's been awesome.

[00:45:56] Margaret Coons: And she does coach another number of other women founders, both in Canada and [00:46:00] us.

[00:46:01] Rob Pintwala: Incredible. Incredible. I know we're coming up on time here, but what are you looking forward to in the next year? What's keeping you excited at work?

[00:46:12] Margaret Coons : Oh, so many things. You know, I think that innovation piece that we were talking about, about some kind of secret projects up my sleeve of a couple of things I'm, I'm working on, but we, we just launched a, a new product line, our cream cheeses earlier this year, and so they're just starting to. Hit more distribution in Canada.

[00:46:30] Margaret Coons: We're launching them in the US right now as well. So that's a lot of fun. And a ton of travel coming up in the next year as well. And a lot of its trade shows, which you know, can be tiring. But it's also, I just find it so exciting to travel to different places and then go see our product on the shelf, in a store, wherever, wherever I am, and get to keep meeting people, and getting the word out about the product.

[00:46:53] Margaret Coons: And so I think those are, those are some of the things for sure.

[00:46:56] Rob Pintwala: Amazing. And so [00:47:00] what are some places in Canada? What are some of the top places in Canada? People can find nuts for cheese, just as this is more of a Canadian focus.

[00:47:07] Margaret Coons: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. In Canada, our top customers would be, you know, Sobeys, Metro, Loblaws, Longos, and Whole Foods. You know, in the West we're in Save on Foods nesters, or lots of great accounts, kind of right across the country. Choices would be out near you as well. But we have

[00:47:24] Margaret Coons: a store locator on our website that has a whole list.

[00:47:27] Margaret Coons: So you can just put in your postal code and it'll show you the closest store to you, but. Shouldn't be too far. We're in about 2000 natural food stores in Canada and major retailers.

[00:47:36] Rob Pintwala: That's incredible and it's nuts for

[00:47:40] Margaret Coons: Nuts for and nuts for cheese on Instagram and LinkedIn and everything as well.

[00:47:45] Rob Pintwala: Awesome. We'll link all that out here in the show notes as well. But yeah, Margaret, I could talk to you for another hour easily, but I know you're busy and you have lots of stuff to do, so we'll call it there. But thank you so much for joining me today. I [00:48:00] appreciate it.

[00:48:00] Margaret Coons: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. This was so much fun.

[00:48:02] ​

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