December 5, 2014

5 Min Read
Entrepreneur Profile: Neil Grimmer, CEO of Plum Organics

What was the inspiration for your business? What inspires you daily?

Following the birth of my first daughter, my wife and I quickly realized there needed to be a better way to provide convenient, healthy, organic food for our little one. We were both working parents, cooking and pureeing fresh veggies at 11:00 at night, when finally it dawned on us: We needed to make life simpler for parents, but also healthier for babies and kids by taking a more innovative approach to baby food.

A group of parents (Sheryl O’Loughlin, Gigi Lee Chang and I) then came together on a mission to change the way kids eat by bringing the very best food to kids from the very first bite.

To this day, my two daughters remain my main inspiration. 

What have been some critical factors on your road to success? 

a. Leading with heart.

b. Making it a mission.

c. Tapping into a cultural movement.

d. Finding mentors to help guide us along the way.

e. Hiring the right team members who shared Plum's mission.

f. Never losing sight of why we started the business. 

Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it? 

As we started to experience significant growth, we hired too fast. Now, we not only focus on talent, but also the right cultural fit.

What’s your best piece of advice for your fellow entrepreneurs?

Give purpose and passion to the work that can deeply connect with you. If you aren’t personally driven by a specific mission or to achieve something bigger, then you’re not going to have the motivation to overcome obstacles that start-ups face. 

Where are you going? What is the vision for your business in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? 

Looking ahead over the next five to 10 years, we hope to continue growing our company by moving beyond the baby/tot aisle. Our goal is to be in every household in America, and our recent acquisition by Campbell puts us in a great position to reach more families.

This fall, we expanded into the adult snacking category with the launch of Plum Vida, our first snack made for grown-ups on-the-go. The new product offering is a direct response from Plum consumers. We heard from moms to runners to college students that they were looking for organic fruits and veggies in a portable format, because they were constantly noshing on our baby food pouches!

What was the first retail account you landed? 

We started out at Whole Foods. However, in 2008, we had a chance meeting with the buyer from Babies R Us during Natural Products Expo East that was a game-changer for Plum. We knew that any meeting would be critical for Plum’s future success. During that time, Babies R Us was actively looking for healthy options for families and the buyer was intrigued by Plum’s mission. Following our first encounter at NPE, we met for dinner and told him about our spouted baby pouch concept. He gave us the opportunity to sell the Plum spouted pouch nationally at Babies R Us, in addition to introducing us to every new mom in America through their baby registry program…the catch was that we needed to produce hundreds of thousands of units in three months’ time – an almost impossible task. The pouch was still a prototype during the discussion, but that didn’t stop us. It was a defining moment for our company.

Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers? 

I’m always impressed with the nimbleness of independent retailers and their willingness to try new, unproven product innovations. Being nimble and innovative has always been the backbone of Plum. 

How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?

No matter the audience, we’ve always positioned Plum Organics as a brand that is dedicated to creating culinary-inspired nutritious, organic food for babies, tots and kids (and most recently grown-ups). Many of our products are made with sophisticated ingredients like quinoa, kale, amaranth and blueberries, with the belief that kids can have access to delicious flavors at an early age. 

How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company's story?

At Plum, we’ve always focused on people first and take the same approach to our retail partners by building personal relationships. In many cases, its parents talking to other parents, sharing similar stories about their kids…whether that’s worrying about a picky eater getting the right nutrients or celebrating a major life milestone such as first steps. Our company mission impacts everything that we do and with that our brand story comes to life. 

What most helped market your product in the beginning?

Our brand was built on scrappy grassroots marketing, word-of-mouth and earned media. On any given weekend, you’d see our Plum team out and about having genuine conversations with consumers and handing out samples on the streets of San Francisco and in New York City. We held dozens of field events nationwide to spread the word and connect with people. 

We take a humanistic approach to everything we do, which dates back to when we first introduced the Plum spouted pouch. We knew that moms didn’t want to just talk about the products they were feeding to their kids – they wanted to connect with brands that understood the universal challenges that come with raising children as well as the everyday rewards of parenthood. To help connect with families, we became early adopters of social media which enabled us to create meaningful, engaging conversations with our consumers. In turn, not only did we talk about kids and nutrition, but parents began to share their own amazing moments through thoughtful tips, stories and photos about their little ones. 

What's a guilty pleasure of yours?

New York-style pepperoni pizza (organic, of course!)

Give us an inside scoop on yourself.

As a kid, I played in a punk band and I’ve applied a lot of the lessons learned from my early days to working at Plum. Playing in a band is like starting a company: You develop a POV about the world and shout it from the mountain top, with a group of people activating around a common cause/objective. With that, your creativity works to then inspire and move the community around you.

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