As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristy Lewis.
Kristy Lewis is the Founder/CEO of Quinn Foods LLC, based in Louisville, CO. Kristy, mom of three little boys, and wife of Coulter Lewis, Founder/CEO Sunday, launched Quinn Foods with no prior food industry experience just three days after her first son, Quinn, was born. She succeeded in her mission to clean up microwave popcorn by inventing a patented Pure Pop® microwave popcorn bag, the first bag without chemical or plastic coatings, such as PFOAs and PFCs. Kristy continued her mission of making better-for-you classic snacks (never compromising on flavor) by launching a line of gluten-free and grain-free pretzels. Since the beginning, Kristy has been a pioneer in ingredient transparency and is pushing for sustainable agriculture in the food industry. Quinn’s ‘Farm-to-Bag’ Policy connects consumers directly to the source where the ingredients come from and their ‘Be Better. Do Better.’ mission takes these ‘Farm-to-Bag’ relationships a step further by encouraging their growers to improve agricultural practices that will not only benefit them, but also the planet.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in the 80’s, and from an early age, I loved fresh food. It really started with the book Stone Soup. This idea of bringing a community together with simple ingredients and of course stones. When I was 10 years old, I had my family eat the concoction I had made, with the stones sitting at the bottom. Food growing on trees, growing in the ground, was so enchanting to me. Pure magic. My obsession with pulling out chives on the sidewalk, picking wild raspberries along the edge of our house, it all just made sense to me. Oh, this is real food. I began to question the food in our pantry like Cheese Wiz, canned orange juice, and microwave popcorn. It was when I learned how to make butter in a glass jar on a 7th grade field trip, in the cool basement of a 1700’s historical home, that pushed me over the edge. I became hooked. The simplicity of real food, it feeds our planet, our bodies, it nourishes us.
Fast forward a decade later, I am in my 20’s, living in NYC, working at an organic restaurant and picking out produce at the Union Square market. Going to The New School by night, working by day, trying to figure out if I want to be a journalist or an actor. A few years later, we are living in Florida, hating my job, and coming home in the evenings to binge watch movies and make stove popped popcorn. I hated microwave popcorn because of the chemicals and plastics that lined the bag, the artificial flavors, the corn. Where did all of it come from? Did it have to be in there? Has it really not evolved since I was 10 years old? Why? So, I started experimenting, popping organic popcorn in the microwave, with a brown paper bag, and then pouring expeller pressed oil, butter, and fresh herbs and spices on top.
The obsession was real. 9 years real. It consumed me, but there never seemed to be the “right time” to jump in. Three days after my son Quinn was born, I was on maternity leave from a company I LOVED working for, Harmonix Music Systems, the makers of Rock Band. I decided it was now, or likely never, and the rest is history. By the way, I don’t recommend starting a company 3 days after you birth your first child.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have many, but the one that stands out is Kentucky. My husband, who was then the co-founder of the company, and I were so sleep deprived, that when we went to print with our first spice pouches, the Parmesan cheese pouch said “from Kentuky”. It was our life savings, and we couldn’t re print, so we just rolled with it. Maybe no one would notice? Honest mistake. It was hysterical and mortifying all the same time. The funny part is that we triple checked that artwork, and we still didn’t pick up on it. We learned that going forward “slow and steady wins the race”, and that it wasn’t wise to spell or check for grammar at 2am. It has taken us a long time to get here, and we still have a long way to go, but I am a big believer that Rome, and other great cities and companies, were not built in a day!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The journey I have been on has required a lot of business and “self-help” books. I could list dozens of books and podcasts but the ones that stand out are the following: The Tim Ferriss Show, How I Built This, and Super Soul Sunday Podcasts have been game changing. A few of the books that have kept me going are Good to Great, Great by Choice, Shoe Dog, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The Energy Bus, Traction, Untamed, The Surrender Experiment, The Alchemist, Conversations with God, The Power of Now. I spent years asking people for what they thought, “was this the right way?”, “what do you think?” I never trusted what I thought. I learned over the years that my gut and intuition was always spot on, so I stopped asking and started listening to my inner self. All of the above helped me get there.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The reason I started Quinn was because I wanted to clean up the microwave popcorn category, which ultimately led to cleaning up the rest of the salty snack category. That wasn’t our purpose though. The purpose was to do this by leading with transparency, by leading with ethics, by being real, wanting to do good in the food industry, to have a lasting impact on Agriculture, for our planet. It was this quest and drive to always Be Better and Do Better. For our children, our families, future generations to come. To lead by paving a new path, challenging the norm, questioning everything, and never stopping. Because once you stop, you give in, you don’t continue to make progress and change what you hope to see in your lifetime.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
To Be Better. Do Better. Always. Even if it is not easy; especially when it’s not easy. We definitely have never taken the path most traveled, but that is the point. Easy isn’t change. The actions tied to change are HARD. No matter what we get thrown, we will always lead knowing we are doing all of this for the common good, even if it’s the hardest option there is. I am always reminded that I never set out to create products. I set out to challenge the status quo, and to create lasting, and positive, impact. Knowing this has always kept me going through all the ups, downs, and failure after failure. It was a mission of it should be, therefore it must be. This mantra has always picked me up when I am flat on my face.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Building Quinn from nothing, to something, has thrown me every challenge in the book, except the challenge to pause. For almost ten years I have put my soul into my business, and ahead of everything else. Working non-stop like my life depended on it, trying to prove my ideas, my worth, at the sacrifice of my family, my health. Covid-19 has made me hit the pause button. To stop, and wonder, is this what life is supposed to be like? I am not dashing to the airport, or racing to another meeting, running home to make dinner, read stories, put my kids to bed, then to work until midnight. I am not forced to wear multiple faces, a mask maybe, but I have been able to morph the mom, wife, CEO, faces into one. I have finally been given the permission to do my best. I realize this situation is extremely difficult for many, and I am grateful for everything we have. Our health, our backyard, our jobs…. The ability to stay put and work from home. To see my 3 boys every hour, is thankfully not a challenge, it’s a blessing. As a working mom, there is so much you miss, regret, and struggle with. The challenge to pause has allowed me to show up in my children’s lives. It has allowed me to show up for others, and to be an active participant in our society. To do good outside of my business, but in my personal life.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Let me just preface that food is deemed essential right now so we are among the lucky ones. Yes, we have production challenges, and distribution challenges, and out of stocks, but we just do our best to resolve them as fast as we can. Like everyone else, we really don’t know what each day is going to bring. I have learned from years of running a company that our largest asset is being adaptable. It seems that things change almost every hour. I used to joke that when you felt on top of the world, that next email or phone call was going to send you crashing down, and it usually did in the early days. Our team is extremely resilient and can act quickly. For example, we all realized we were binging on Netflix and Disney + with our families and eating a ton of Quinn microwave popcorn almost every night. So, we leaned into this opportunity and launched a DTC Movie Night Box. Hands down the best move we ever could have done for the business. Who doesn’t like movies and popcorn? Well, if you don’t, call me. I’ll get you hooked!
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
A have a lot of ideas, but I’ll cut them down. First, turn off the television. Put your phone down. Stop letting your Instagram feed dictate what you see. It’s non-stop, and that amount of info is likely to make anyone become extremely anxious. If you would like updates, but you find that the news is too dramatic, I would go directly to the source, like The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or The World Health Organization. Second, do your best. If you need to take a break from homeschooling one day, it’s not going to be the deciding factor if your child will read or learn how to do math by the time he/she graduates from High School. The increased responsibility of managing your home, work, and school is a lot, and you don’t need to create additional stress for you or your family. Do what you need to do to get back on track. Watch a movie in the middle of the day. Go for a nature walk around your neighborhood. Call your parents, your sister, your best friend. Even better, facetime them. There is such a loss of human contact, but funny enough, I don’t think the human race has ever connected on this level before. Third, and this has helped me a ton in the last few years, is to make time to be grateful. There is so much uncertainty, fear, and loneliness, but there is also so much good that is happening in the world. We are, for the very first time in the world’s history, united, as one. There are so many positive and heartwarming stories being shared, that I would try and focus on those.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
We have just been given time. More time. We are shopping way more online, not running here nor there nor everywhere, and carving out the time to connect with our family unit as best as we can. We have been given permission to slow way down and, in many cases, to stop altogether. The race to get things done, the action of doing just for the sake of doing, will hopefully disappear. So many of us have become truly aware that time is so precious, and the more we can do to protect that time, the better. Anything tied to giving time back to us will become an essential part of living after Covid-19. For me, more time means the ability to show up and be present, to connect, to truly live in the moment. Imagine all the good that will come from this. I can.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
There is so much we have learned from Covid-19, and I hope that our society is great enough that we will walk away from this time in history knowing that humanity, as a whole, is good. That we are resilient, kind, hopeful, and most of all, we have proven we can come together in time of need. We have been forced to stay home, and then realizing home is where we should be. That we can work and have a family, and relish in the small things. Chat to our neighbors, walk the dog, play a game of UNO with our 4 year old. We are thanking our medical providers, writing notes to our service workers, and we have felt more alive than we have ever known life to be. For the first time we are not judging the book by it’s cover because we are in the same book. We are all on the same cover. Covid-19 has unified all of us with this one common experience. I love this quote from R. Buckminster Fuller. “And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.” In the past few months, we have all been that one person. My hope is that we will not go back to what it once was, and that our history books will carry the message that our society was at its greatest in the year 2020. That mankind learned the importance of social and emotional connection, and for the first time, we became active participants in our society.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We are leaning in to just being us. Just real people on a mission to do good in the world, and we are going to tell that story in a way where it connects us to all. How do we connect to the families and people buying Quinn? What do they need right now? What are they going through? How can we show up for them and what does that look like? Humans need to be heard, seen, and our snacks play a part in their journey. Quinn brings people together, it’s a part of these small moments, whether sad or happy, happening in daily lives. We are in the hospitals, in the food banks, on the couch, at the dining room table. Quinn is a part of the journey, and as a company, we want to support and be there for them, rooting them on, in their story. Connect. Engage. Act. Show up during their life and support them as best we can.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Exactly the same as above. Build deep and meaningful relationships. We need them now more than ever.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are many life lessons I have learned, and many quotes I live by, but my favorite has been What you Resist Persists. The way I stopped resisting was when I learned how to surrender. I am type A, have always been this fighter to do, accomplish, achieve. It was this knowing that I could always do more. I always had this need to put all my effort into something until it worked, even when it clearly just wasn’t working. Whether it was people, project, products, I would keep hammering away until I cracked, it cracked, or it miraculously worked. After living my life this way, for almost 7 + years, I learned to let go, to truly have no fear in what I didn’t know or understand, and trust to surrender to whatever may come. It changed my life, and the trajectory of the business.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Twitter: @QuinnSnacks and @BeKind8DreamBig (don’t judge just getting into it)
Thrive Global: Kristy Lewis