The Next Brand, Episode #15

My annual review, 2021 goals and fighting food waste

Hi there, and welcome to The Next Brand - my take on health, wellness and brand building.

In the last 4 years I’ve founded 2 health brands (Kettle & Fire and Perfect Keto), which each do tens of millions in revenue. I’ve raised ~$20mm to build Kettle & Fire, gotten into 10k+ retail stores, bootstrapped Perfect Keto, launched 80+ SKUs… and have a small portfolio of Shopify apps I run on the side. Previously, I worked in tech and had no experience in CPG, DTC or any other 3-letter industries.

If you missed past episodes, you can catch up here (Episode 11, 12, 13, 14). Otherwise, let’s dive in!

🆕 What’s new

It’s become somewhat fashionable lately to poo poo goals, say they’re stupid.

Well, I think that’s stupid. When done right, goals are tools to make decisions and narrow down options. Today, most of my friends suffer from too many options, not too few. And all those options are paralyzing! 

I’ve been doing an annual review exercise every year since 2012 and found it tremendously helpful (I use a modified version of this one). Going through my goal-setting exercise allows me to really hone in on 1-2 major things I want to achieve in a given year. Most importantly, it helps me think through tradeoffs.

In 2015, my main goal that year was to start a business that would make me financially independent. Every other goal that was not this goal was less of a priority. Sure I wanted to get stronger, but not as badly as I wanted to launch a business. On days where I had to work but hadn’t hit the gym yet, my high-level goal made it simple to figure out what to do.

2020 review

Though challenging in many ways, 2020 was a surprisingly productive and fun year for me. I’ve often been known to pack my schedule (and life) quite full, so a year of no travel, no meetings and a lot less going on meant that I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands.

It meant I could pick up some hobbies for practically the first time in my life (biking and cooking were the 2 big ones), experimented with communal living over the summer, launched a non-profit (well, technically two of them), got engaged (!!), and my businesses did well.

Each year I set specific goals in 4 areas (based partially on Naval’s tweet that’s always resonated with me):

  1. Fit body

  2. Calm mind

  3. House full of love

  4. Business

Under those high-level categories, I add a few specific goals for each. In 2020, this looked like:

Fit body

  1. Lift weights at least 3x/ week

  2. Stretch and/or do a ROMWOD session 300 days of the year

  3. Fast 2x/month, 3 days 1x / quarter

  4. Learn to swim well enough to swim the length of Barton Springs (in Austin)

After a year of getting a personal trainer (thanks to Central Athlete, which I highly recommend if you’re in Austin) I’m easily the strongest I’ve ever been. I also barely hit my “stretch” goal (heh) and did 301 sessions in 2020.

I did manage to do two separate 3 day fasts, but after the pandemic started fasting (and learning to swim) just totally fell off my priority list. I instead got into biking and cooking!

Calm mind

  1. Meditate 300 days

  2. Read 2 books on meditation

  3. Go on 1 meditation trip

  4. Do 2 therapeutic psychedelic trips

  5. Find a meditation or spiritual coach to deepen my practice

This was probably the hardest area for me in 2020. I didn’t go on a meditation retreat, find a coach or do 2 therapeutic trips (only managed 1). I also only meditated 250 days instead of 300.

My approach is going to change here for 2021. Rather than try to force myself to meditate, I’m going to experiment with a bunch of different kinds of meditation to find one that resonates with me. Otherwise, I suspect this will be a struggle for another year... and I’m not a fan of struggle.

House full of love

  1. Be mindful of defensiveness in my relationship and poor communication habits – work on as main areas (with partners and close friends)

  2. Call family and 3 friends each week in 2020

  3. Host monthly second degree dinners

This was probably the area I’m most thrilled about. Yes I failed to host monthly dinners, but instead spent 5 months living with 15+ friends in beautiful mountain towns all over the country, and doing 10+ person dinners every night. I’ll take it.

I also made major strides in my communication habits and defensiveness, which culminated in proposing to my girlfriend in December. Yay!

I also found it was an easy year to stay in touch via phone. With everyone’s social lives ramping down, people had a lot more time for phone chats and longer catch-ups, which were fun.

Business

  1. Get Kettle & Fire to $Xmm in revenue

  2. Get Perfect Keto to $Xmm in revenue

Though really up and down, both my main businesses did well in 2020. Overall I’m grateful that we weren’t wiped out during the pandemic and actually managed to grow!

2021 goals

2021 is shaping up to be another good year. My high-level goal this year is to “graduate”: to take what I’ve spent the last few years doing to the next level. This applies to my relationship (getting engaged), businesses (continuing to scale them and take some swings at new innovations), the newsletter, and taking some things off my plate that made sense years ago but no longer do.

Specifically, my goals for 2021 include:

Fit body

  1. Stick to lifts 3x/week, 300+ workouts

  2. Stretch / ROMWOD 300 days of the year

  3. Do 3 fasts of at least 3 days

  4. Complete a Whole30

  5. Learn a new sport

Calm mind

  1. Find a meditation practice I enjoy, do it 300x

  2. Re-read Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

  3. Do 2 psychedelic journeys

  4. Set and stick to boundaries around how I use email / Twitter each week. Really focus on calming down my inbox, my schedule and the amount of stuff I use so I can be generative

House full of love

  1. See family 4x in 2021

  2. Start a regular weekly event that I host, and make hosting a regular part of my life

  3. Work on being better at managing my commitments and not changing my schedule as much.

  4. Schedule a weekend trip with 4 smart, thoughtful friends to hang and jam on ideas.

Business

  1. [redacted]

  2. Get 5000 newsletter subscribers

  3. Learn something! I’m planning to pull together a self-study course with a few friends. Either to level up my persuasion skills, or something in the neurotech world.

This year, I’m also writing down some stretch goals. Ones that I won’t get upset if I don’t hit, but at the same time would like to reflect on monthly as I do my monthly reviews. These are:

  1. Go on 2 hunting, fishing trips

  2. Draft a short book like Let My People Go Surfing with my outlook on the food system, how it’s messed up, and how consumers can fix it

  3. Start a men’s group that meets monthly (at least)

  4. Send 150 tweets and grow twitter audience to 35k people

  5. Launch 1 new content platform (podcast, YouTube, or the like) that fits my strengths

  6. Do another summer of co-living

  7. Kick off a politically active organization or play. I have a lot of ideas here but need to better flesh them out.

  8. Take a self-study class (publicly) on becoming a better conversationalist.

And that’s it! If I get even 70% of the above done, 2021 should be a great year.

I’d love to hear how readers are thinking about their 2021. What’re your goals, and how can I help?

Cheers to the new year!

🤑 Biz stuff

Several companies have entered the “ugly produce” business in the last few years: ones that buy fruits and veggies too hideous for the grocery store beauty pageant. They take these veggies and sell them to you: the conscious, waste-fighting consumer. 

These companies (Imperfect Foods, Misfits Market and Hungry Harvest among them) have turned environmentalism into big money: the biggest of them, Imperfect Foods, recently raised $95mm at a $700mm valuation. Easily one of the most successful food startups of the past decade (sorry, Juicero). 

As someone in the food system and who deeply cares about fixing what I view as one of (if not THE) most broken system in the US, I wanted to know… how much of an impact are Imperfect Foods and their ilk actually making? 

According to Imperfect, here’s how things work: 

  1. They find foods (ugly fruits and veggies, broken almond bits, broken pretzels) that they purchase that would otherwise go to waste. 

  2. They purchase said food and turn it into something their eco-conscious consumers buy. 

  3. Everyone wins! 

As I dug into the food waste problem, I realized it goes much deeper than ugly vegetables. Yes, food waste is a big problem (we’ll get to that in a second), but the bulk of the food waste issue is not food rotting in fields due to cosmetic imperfections. If only it were that easy! 

Though tremendously messed up, something the food system is actually pretty good at is squeezing every penny they can out of the crops they grow. As Sarah Taber mentions in more detail here, ugly produce often does not get thrown out. Instead, it makes its way into soups, sauces, jams, butters… anything where the visual perception of each fruit and veggie matters less. 

Now, that doesn’t make what Imperfect Produce is doing bad. Not at all: these companies are doing good, growing quickly, and getting cheaper fruits and veggies in the hands of millions of people. Cosmetic imperfections are indeed a reason why farmers leave produce unharvested, and to the extent that Imperfect can create demand for this produce, hats off. After all, according to Refed, addressing the imperfect/surplus produce problem would save nearly 3mm tons of food waste.

Alas, food waste problem goes much deeper than ugly produce. 

According to FoodPrint, food waste costs the country ~$218b each year, as between 125-160 billion pounds of food are wasted. Where does all this waste happen? 

From the excellent Refed overview

Unfortunately, it happens at pretty much every level of the food supply chain. At the farm level where Imperfect Foods operates, most food waste is driven by market conditions, where farmers over-plant more than consumers demand to hedge against pests and bad weather. 

There’s also the issue of cost. When you see an apple at the grocery store, 60%+ of the cost of that apple comes from harvesting, processing, transportation and re-selling costs. 

This cost issue drives another huge bucket of food waste: often, the market price for an apple just doesn’t cover the farmer’s cost to pick and process the apple from their fields. So they go unpicked, and get plowed into the ground to act as fertilizer for next season. 

55% of food waste occurs at the consumer-facing and household level 😟. Consumer-facing businesses (grocery stores, restaurants, foodservice) account for 28% of all food waste. At the grocery level, a lot of this comes down to the fact that it’s damn hard to forecast what consumers will want: if they under-order, they lose money in an already low-margin business. Overforecast? They’re now contributing to the problem of food waste. 

At the restaurant level, the problem is us: 70% of waste is at the plate level, from customers who don’t eat everything they’re served. And, in just about the dumbest policy move I can imagine, restaurants can’t feed leftovers to the homeless or food insecure due purely to liability reasons. So, that 70% of food just gets tossed. 

What does this mean for you? 

Let’s talk about the biggest way you can impact this problem: by understanding “use by” and “sell by” dates on labels. 

At the consumer level, “date label” concerns (ie the little bug that tells you when to sell or use a product by) accounts for 50% of food waste at this stage. 50%!! 

What most consumers don’t realize is that these best by / sell by labels are not generally regulated by governments, but rather set arbitrarily by manufacturers and retailers. According to Stop Food Waste, here are what these labels actually mean: 

  • "Best if Used By/Before" indicates best flavor or quality. It is not a safety date.

  • "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.

  • "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula*.

In short, you can use and eat most products well beyond the “use by” date. Perhaps though just at slightly less quality. 

Despite the magnitude of this problem, I’m hopeful that we’re making some progress. There’s some cool stuff coming down the pipeline to fight food waste. Things like Apeel can help extend fruit and vegetable shelf life, and Coldhubs in developing countries (where food spoilage is the #1 driver of food waste) seem to be gaining adoption. 

There are also some companies using waste streams to create new products:

  1. Regrained is re-using grains used to brew beer in consumer products

  2. Coffee Cherry Co is using coffee grounds to make a flour

  3. Pulp Pantry uses pulp from juice to make veggie chips. 

All awesome stuff. For more reading on this complex topic, see resources here, here, here, and here for a big PDF report. 

😌 Dope stuff on the internet

Some of my favorite things since the last newsletter (note: I don’t get paid to recommend anything here):

  • 📰  Article - I talk to a lot of people who want to "start a company" and they often look to other successful founders as guides on how they should be & act. This usually isn't very smart since you really only know the public version of founders and their company stories. My friend Trevor wrote an essay in his newsletter on why you should basically ignore founders' stories on how they started their company. He uses Sam Walton as a good example - WalMart wasn't started until he was 44, after a 2 decade career in retail.
    Beyond that specific article, Trevor’s newsletter How It Actually Works is solid & covers a lot of the same themes I do - entrepreneurship, personal productivity, etc. Highly recommended.

  • 📚 Book rec - Endurance chronicles Shackleton’s voyage to the arctic and the utterly insane journey back he + his men survived. I can’t say more than that without giving it away, but wow is it ever worth the read.

  • Cool product - Admittedly, this month’s product feature stretches the boundaries of what one might consider “cool”. But whatever - I love these things and eat them regularly. Organ meats (especially liver) are one of the most nutrient-dense foods known to man, yet in our modern diets we hardly get any of the vitamins and nutrients in organ meats that our ancestors would fight over. I’ve been chowing down ½ a bag of these beef liver chips most days, and have found I actually enjoy them. That said, after bringing them on a recent hiking trip, others’ reviews were a tad less glowing 😂.

  • 🎵 Music - This set in Norway is one of those sets I come back to time and time again.Though it’s a little less deep (and a lot more synth) than most of the stuff I listen to, it’s still a favorite and a great one to listen to while working. Plus, the camera work and setting are just absurd.

  • 🏀 Random - Earlier this year, I gave my youngest brother a Macbook so he could learn to code. With just one laptop and $50 worth of Udemy courses, he’s since taught himself programming, built and launched an app, and is working with a Code Mentor to help him level up his skills.
    I want to help more kids improve their lives with just a small grant. So as a test, I’m becoming big and important and opening up the Justin Mares Trajectory Changing Grant™️. If you (or someone you know) is under 25, works hard and a $2k grant could legitimately change the trajectory of their lives, apply above. I want to help more kids start companies, acquire new skills, make art, do science, push boundaries, and improve themselves overall. 

***

This month, I want to try something new. I’m planning to schedule a Clubhouse chat to discuss some of the topics we hit on in this newsletter. Planning to hold the discussion next Wednesday afternoon / evening. 

If you’d like to hop on Clubhouse and chat with other readers, enter your email on this form and I’ll send out details. Should be a fun experiment!

Cheers,

  • Justin