For most people, a diabetes diagnosis is a wake-up call. For WholeMe
co-founders Mary Kosir and Krista Steinbach, it was a business opportunity.
In the mid-2000s, Kosir’s husband developed adult-onset Type I diabetes—an unusual, but not totally unheard of, condition that progresses differently than the age-related insulin resistance we know as Type II diabetes.
The news forced the family to eliminate gluten, grains, and most dairy products from its diet. Kosir embraced the new restrictions, sharing experimental cereal and bar recipes with friends, neighbors, and associates at her local CrossFit gym.
That’s where she met Steinbach, the former pastry chef at Minneapolis’ Bachelor Farmer. Steinbach was coming off a lifestyle change of her own: In 2011, she’d competed in (and won) a 30-day “food challenge” that required contestants to eliminate refined sugar, gluten, grains, and certain other substances from their diets. By the contest’s end date, her chronic gastrointestinal issues had vanished and her energy levels were higher than they’d been in years.
“The challenge taught me how much food impacted my daily life,” she says, “and pushed me to learn more about nutrition.”
The two women had a lot in common, so they officially joined forces in early 2013. Kosir’s first creation, the energy-dense DateMe bar, was already making waves—“Everyone was telling me to start selling them,” she says—but Steinbach brought years of culinary expertise to the table. In addition to the DateMe bar, the duo created the WakeMe cocoa bar and EatMe cereal.
And so WholeMe was born. Thanks to their CrossFit connections, the co-founders had a ready-made market of active, health-conscious clients. Kosir and Steinbach also have stocking arrangements with gyms across the metro area, and they’re looking to find other places, like yoga studios and food co-ops, that attract a similar clientele. “We want to be closer to our customers,” says Steinbach, not tucked away on a shelf at a big-box store.
WholeMe’s bars and cereals are made from whole foods that haven’t been treated or altered in any way. “Our goal is to create relatively simple products where taste comes first,” says Kosir. “At the same time, we need to be mindful of what we’re putting in our bodies.” She’s quick to note, wryly, that WholeMe’s only preservative “is a refrigerator.”
Kosir and Steinbach think they’ve found a sweet spot for their products. “There’s lots of room to grow in this segment,” says Kosir. Many “healthy” foods don’t taste very good, she argues, and most tasty foods aren’t that healthy.
The two women hope WholeMe’s simple promise—healthy, delicious food for all—resonates beyond Minnesota’s borders. Less than a year after their official launch, they’ve already shipped to gyms and stores in North Carolina, California, and Hawaii. Their burgeoning e-store puts the rest of the world at their fingertips. In March, they hope to make some new friends at the Natural Foods Expo West in Anaheim, California.
It doesn’t hurt that they have a cheeky, catchy brand campaign and an experienced chef. They plan to expand their “gear concept” with more merchandise options, like T-shirts and hats, says Kosir. They expect WholeMe’s “beta testing” arm, branded NewMe, to produce seasonal or limited-release products exclusively for online sale. If a NewMe creation is well received, says Steinbach, it could become a permanent addition to the lineup.
Ultimately, Kosir and Steinbach would like to see WakeMe, DateMe, and EatMe—and whatever else they dream up—in the likes of Whole Foods, Lund’s, and Byerly’s.
Their ambition doesn’t come cheap. To cover their travel expenses and fund WholeMe’s ongoing expansion, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign
that aims to raise $40,000 by February 24. To encourage participation, Kosir and Steinbach plan to give donors dibs on the first-ever NewMe creation.
Source: Mary Kosir
Writer: Brian Martucci