If you’re not familiar with Moon Meals, you will be very soon. Moon Meals, Inc. was founded in 2012 by LaForce Baker, a brand strategist for companies like Kraft, Conagra and Nestle. Baker launched Moon Meals as a healthy, on-demand food ordering service for professionals who work late hours. The Fiesta Wrap was the company’s first grab-and-go product, and it has been featured in local coffee shops and several Whole Foods locations. Here, we caught up with the South Side Chicagoan entrepreneur to hear his journey with launching his vegan product…
MADE: Can you tell us how Moon Meals came about? Are you vegan, if so, for how long?
LaForce: I worked late nights when I worked in corporate America and I wanted an alternative to pizza available to me to avoid gaining so much weight. Therefore I founded Moon Meals as a late-night healthy meal delivery service to get people healthy but tasty meals late at night. Over time Moon Meals evolved into a manufacturer and wholesaler of grab and go healthy vegan meals.
Yes, I am vegan! I became fully vegan in January of this year. I really wanted to live in the problem of our consumer. When we first started the company the focus was on healthy meals, with vegan options. However, I realized over time that were selling so more vegan meals 5 to 1 over our other meals, so we decided to focus on that. By living in the problem of our consumer, it inspired me to create even more options for people interested in plant-based meals that tastes good.
MADE: Walk me through how you were able to quit your corporate job to start your own company.
LaForce: I made a decision that I was going to leave my corporate job when I felt that I could develop products that were better than some of the ideas that were being green lighted by some of the brands I was working on. Next, I saved a significant amount of my paycheck for the last 6 months of me working my corporate job; moved back home with my mom and liquidated my 401k to give me the start-up capital to bring to life the first version of Moon Meals.
MADE: What mistakes have you made in business that you want other people to learn from?
LaForce: A big lesson I learned is that just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come. What I mean is that you really have to build a product and a service while listening to the customer that will buy your product. In the first version of Moon Meals, we didn’t have enough resources to reach the end consumer and get the word out about this late night healthy meal delivery service. So, on the first night we launched, I spent thousands of dollars on rent, inventory and staff only to get 2 customers. One of the things I had learned is that we need to partner with larger institutions to access the end consumer instead of us trying to target them directly. So then we made the shift from delivering to just individuals that worked late night, to corporations; then opened up to daytime delivery for company events and lastly we started supplying major retailers via wholesale grab & go versions of our products.
MADE: What are some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make during your journey of entrepreneurship?
LaForce: I’ve had to miss close friends’ weddings, to put that money in business. I’ve almost went homeless 3 times, to make payroll for employees. I’ve had to give up most of my leisure time to invest in marketing our products. I haven’t watched TV at home in years since I had to spend my free time developing new recipes for customers looking for meal prep inspiration for our brand.
MADE: You’ve endured a lot. With that being said, congratulations on getting into Jewel Osco! How did that partnership come about? What were some of the challenges? What is their criteria for entering the stores? Most big box stores want to do a test run at 1 or 2 locations, how were you able to get into all 180 stores?
LaForce: I reached out to executives at Jewel-Osco for almost 6 months before I got a response. We started off with a trial in three of Jewel-Osco’s stores about 2 years ago. After the product showed significant traction in the test stores, Jewel presented us with the opportunity to scale our product to all their stores, about a year ago. We then went out and built the infrastructure necessary to scale to all 187 Jewel stores in 3 states. In terms of challenges, we had to overcome preconceived notions about the viability of a vegan product for mainstream consumers. But the consistent movement in the test stores over time proved that consumers were yearning for a product like this. So the retailer embraced it!
MADE: Outside of Chicago, where can someone try your product?
LaForce: We are available in Indiana and Iowa at Jewel-Osco stores. At this time we are not available at other retailers. However, you can request our product at other retailers by talking to your favorite stores’ store manager and deli managers, so they can reach out to us at email@example.com to make it available to you.
MADE: Is the fiesta wrap the only product you have?
LaForce: Currently, yes. But we are working other meal solutions with other popular flavors that are plant-based. Feel free to email us suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MADE: Is there anything else you would like to add?
LaForce: We are looking forward to hearing feedback from consumers on what they think of the Fiesta wrap. So, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com with feedback!