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EPISODE 392 52 mins

From Fungi to Functionality: How Fōrij’s Mushroom-Powered Granolas are Elevating Breakfast

About the guests

Parker Olson

Kunle Campbell

Parker is the founder of FORIJ, a nutrition-focused cognitive health company. He’s a Management Consultant turned Founder and has a background in Neuroscience. Parker is oddly obsessed with the fringe where no one is looking or things that no one is doing. Parker finds value & self-pride in beating his drum to his own beat. His business, FORIJ, is all about mushrooms & infusing mushrooms info foods to work for you & your health goals. In 2018, Parker spent 18 months trying different diets for 30 days at a time. One of those months and the month where he felt truly the best was spent supplementing with "functional" or "medicinal" mushrooms.

On today’s episode, Kunle is joined by Parker Olson, Founder of Forij, a healthy and sustainable granola and meal bar infused with mushroom’s brain and body benefits.

Parker Olson’s love for how the brain works led him to love neuroscience and became a self-proclaimed biohacker. His curiosity about his nutrition made him experiment with different nutrition regimens until he found mushrooms. Parker tried different products like mushroom tea alternatives, mushroom coffee, liquid extracts, etc., but none made him love to take it every day because of their taste so he did his own decoctions. He researched, joined their local mycological society, and worked with a chef until he created something that he loved.

After finding himself joining a startup conference, Parker found himself an investor but challenges do not end after getting funding. As he mentioned, they are “taking it day by day.” He also identified three challenges with customer subscriptions, one of which is very interesting.

It’s an insightful episode as you’d hear Kunle and Parker talk more about Forij’s successes and challenges, the importance of customer feedback and running market tests, as well as making sure to get the packaging, pricing, and placement right.

Here is a summary of some of the most important points made:

  • Forij’s name is a play on “mushroom foraging” and the spelling of the brand’s name is its phonetic spelling.
  • Tryptamines, a phytonutrient in polysaccharide level, and Beta-glucans are the active ingredients that drive value to medicinal mushrooms.
  • FDA has a policy called GRAS (generally recognized as safe) and hasn’t been able to review Chaga and Cordyceps yet.
  • Healthy fats and spices help balance the taste of the mushroom’s dull and earthy flavor.
  • “I would advise taking your time up-front and making sure you’re getting the packaging, the pricing, and the placement all right and all understood before you start trying to make a big push in the channel.”

Covered Topics:

On this episode, Kunle and Parker discuss:

  • Forij and the Mushroom Man
  • Mushroom Supplements and Extraction Processes
  • Mushrooms in Granola
  • Blending the Ingredients
  • Balance in Taste
  • Getting Into the Market
  • Pricing and Manufacturing
  • Parker’s Vision for Forij
  • Funding
  • Forij Distribution Strategy
  • Lightning Round


  • 05:59 – Forij and the Mushroom Man
    • Parker fell in love with neuroscience and became a biohacker.
    • Parker tried different nutritional regimens for eighteen months.
    • Parker felt the best when he was supplementing with mushroom teas or powders.
    • His primary mushrooms were Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, and Turkey Tail, and he would eat button mushrooms.
  • 11:44 – Mushroom Supplements and Extraction Processes
    • Parker was testing out different products starting with MUD/WTR, and mushroom teas but didn’t love them so he started sourcing and brewing his own decoctions.
    • He also tried liquid extracts and powder extracts.
    • Tryptamines, phytonutrients in polysaccharide level, and beta-glucans are the active ingredients that drive value to medicinal mushrooms.
    • How the mushrooms are grown and what parts were used for the supplement also affect the quality and quantity of the compounds in bioavailable formats.
    • Water-based extraction or oil or alcohol is one way to extract nutrients from mushrooms.
  • 15:49 – Mushrooms in Granola
    • Parker was looking for creative ways to get the mushrooms and their compounds into his diet until he tried to put them in a granola concept.
    • He also joined their local mycological society, a big, official mushroom club, and became one of their board for about two years.
    • He went to a startup conference and found an investor who is one of the sponsors of the conference.
    • With Forij’s new branding, they have these stickers of little, fun, and playful creatures that consumers can build. Collecting them will be useful for future purchases of Forij products.
  • 24:47 – Blending the Ingredients
    • Forij has an energizing blend and a recovering blend which are two different SKUs.
    • FDA has a policy referred to as GRAS and it has not formally approved the use of Chaga and Cordyceps because they weren’t able to review it yet.
    • GRAS means Generally Recognized As Safe.
    • Parker pivoted out of their standard blend because of the FDA policy and partnered with Monterey Mushrooms based in Monterey, California.
    • Parker was able to get unique access to specialty strains that are generally recognized as safe through Monterey Mushrooms to which they created their current mushroom blend.
  • 28:21 – Balance in Taste
    • “We worked with a food scientist for about a year and a half on the concept and getting into where it is today.”
    • Mushrooms have a dull and earthy flavor.
    • Healthy fats and potent spices “recreates this sweetness sensation in the mouth and does a good job at blending in that mushroom flavor.”
    • They were testing on flavor for two-plus years.
  • 33:34 – Getting Into the Market
    • Forij went into the market through digital and retail spaces.
    • They do not have much of an Amazon presence anymore because they were flagged down as a CBD product.
    • In their first year, they were D2C-focused and transitioned to retail alongside organic search traffic.
    • They don’t have a huge subscriber base but have a solid repurchase rate of around 30%.
    • Three reasons why their consumers don’t subscribe: challenge with the price point, people eat the entire bag at a single eating which is an interesting problem, and consumers were not used to buying granola online.
  • 38:17 – Pricing and Manufacturing
    • The cost of the mushroom and ingredients and the details in taste make up for the price of the granola.
    • “It’s an easier concept to grab and go. They’re packaged for daily consumption versus the eight-ounce bag, some people will eat the whole thing and some people can parse it out.”
    • They ran into some challenges in manufacturing trying to do different sizes at scale.
  • 41:46 – Parker’s Vision for Forij
    • Forij’s next stage will be expansion through the same category of a meal bar for morning meals/snacks.
    • The meal bars are not protein bars.
    • Parker is not interested in the ready-to-drink market because of the too competitive nature of the market.
  • 44:51 – Funding
    • “We’re in some diligence right now with three smaller funds.”
    • “Deal terms are solid. It’s an upfront payment and margin-healthy.”
    • Parker is always curious to look for other ways to raise money.
  • 46:02 – Forij Distribution Strategy
    • “For people who are looking to go into retail, if I were going to go and work with you and talk to you about things, I would test on a hyper-local scale in your own market.”
    • Go and be friends, and run some tests with locally-owned markets.
    • “A lot of people will design packaging and all these things and will order it without even first getting a legit sample, going and putting it on a shelf, and looking at it.”
    • Take the time to make sure that you’re getting the packaging, pricing, and placement all right.
  • Lightning Round

Lightning Round:

Q: Are you a morning person?
A: Yes.

Q: What does your morning routine look like?
A: Get up, coffee, shower, organize the day, and then start the day.

Q: Are you in sports?
A: I do triathlons.

Q: What is your favorite team or who’s your favorite athlete?
A: There’s a triathlete I like and his name’s Lionel Sanders. He’s a psycho and he’s funny to watch.

Q: What two things can’t you live without?
A: My eye mask for sleeping and probably my AirPods, which I’m embarrassed to say.

Q: What book are you currently reading or listening to?
A: I’m reading and listening to two books, Empire of the Summer Moon, which is the history of the Comanche Indians. It’s good and is an awesome story. It’s cool. I’m listening to Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which is a bestseller book. It’s about relationships and it follows the relationship of a girl and a guy throughout their entire lifetime. It’s cool.

Q: What’s been your best mistake to date? By that, I mean a setback that’s given you the biggest feedback.
A: There was a major investor we were going to take on and we blew the deal. It was devastating at the time but part of why he was going to give us money was because his son was going to work with us. His son didn’t end up working with us. It was overall positive for everybody and a good lesson to learn.


  • There are different ways to extract nutrients from mushrooms, two of which are water-based extraction method and the dual extraction process (where they can also use oil or alcohol).
  • Look for a dual-extracted supplement to get the real and authentic compounds in the mushroom supplement.
  • To offset a mushroom’s dull and earthy flavor is to balance it with sweetness from healthy fats like coconut oil and potent spices.
  • Run tests and understand how your product is selling before making a big push.

Links & Resources:



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On this episode, the Founder of Forij, Parker Olson, shares how he’s building and scaling his mushroom-infused functional CPG food brand through rapid experimentation, branding, retention, fundraising, and distribution.

Welcome to the 2X eCommerce podcast show. I hope you’re having a good day. On this episode, I’m joined by Parker Olson, the founder of Forij, a digital-native consumer package goods brand that sells functional nootropic mushroom-infused granola cereals. Parker talks about how he is scaling his business both in the director-to-consumer and in-store front through branding, retention, rigorous testing, and expansion into new product categories. He also shares his thoughts on fundraising and distribution strategies.

For some context, Forij started when Parker realized he couldn’t find a high-quality granola that met his dietary needs. He wanted something that was not only wholesome, gluten-free, and low in sugar but also cognitively functional. As a self-professed foodie and biohacker, he set out to make his own granola experimenting with different ingredients and techniques until he found the perfect recipe that integrated the mushroom called Lion’s Mane and Chaga, which are believed to support brain health, immune function, and energy levels. The mushrooms are extracted and blended with other natural ingredients to create Forij’s unique products.

After sharing his granola with his friends and family, he received overwhelming positive feedback and decided to launch Forij as a business. The brand’s name is inspired by the word forage, which means to search for and gather food, reflecting the company’s focus on using high-quality natural ingredients.

Why should you read this episode? First, you are going to learn about the building blocks of a good food brand business with the most fundamental being the importance of sourcing high-quality ingredients creating a unique brand, and finding the right distribution channels. The second is you’re going to learn how to test on a hyper-local scale in your own market before making a big push into other channels, he has personal experience in that. Parker got into packaging mock-ups made and put them on the shelves to see how they were sold in relation to other brands as it is important to get packaging, pricing, and placement right before making a big push in other channels.

Finally, you’re going to find out the importance of customer feedback. Parker emphasizes the importance of listening to customer feedback and adjusting the products accordingly. He discusses how Forij has made changes to its packaging and pricing based on customer feedback. If all this sounds exciting to you, then pay attention because Parker and I geek out to bits on functional mushrooms as traditional medicines and their numerous health benefits at the start of this conversation. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Parker, welcome to the 2X eCommerce podcast.

I’m stoked to be here. I’m excited to talk all things about the background of Forij, eCommerce, retail, and selling. I appreciate you having me on.

We’ve been LinkedIn connections watching each other’s posts from time to time. I’ve always wanted to have this conversation and I’m glad we finally made it happen.

Likewise. I hope the readers at least get maybe the strangest candidate you’ve ever had on here, for sure.

I like strange, I like the sound of that. Forij, let’s start out with the name. You’re the Mushroom Man. Every time I see you, you have a mushroom emoji by you. Why Forij? Let’s get some background on that first.

I promote the mushroom ethos, I’ve gone all in on it. Forij is the name of my brand. It’s a play on mushroom foraging so you hit the nail on the head. Long story short, I originally was a neuroscience nerd and I fell in love with neuroscience because I took a course through MIT when I was in high school and it was all about what all the different drugs do to your brain. That is where I became a biohacker type of person. It was like, “You can control your brain with anything.”

Originally, I went pre-med in neuroscience and I bailed on that when I saw how many years of school that was going to take. A double major in finance and neuroscience. I took a consulting job out of school in Seattle and got curious about my nutrition. A fundamental belief and a part of how I’ve lived my life is not being a non-conformist of a bit. It’s not an issue but it stems from a deep childhood connection. I had an older brother and we always looked alike so I always got compared to him. I grew up with this need to want to be my own person.

I decided I’d go vegan for 30 days, I’d document how I’d feel, and I did that and it was pretty cool. I felt pretty good after about seventeen days. I said, “Screw it, I’ll do it again.” For eighteen months in a row, I tried different nutritional regimens. I was full-on experimenting on myself one month at a time and documenting how I felt. The best month of how I felt out of that whole eighteen months was when I was supplementing with these mushroom teas or mushroom powders. It was like a coffee alternative. You see them all over the place now.

MUDWTR and there’s one in the UK called Space Goods. There’s another one in America, which is big, it’s Space Goods equivalent.

Everyday Dose, Ryze, Four Sigmatic. I got into that and I went through this month of supplementing with these teas. I wasn’t drinking caffeine or any other supplementation and felt good by the end of the month. I put my nerdy hat back on.

How do you mean you felt good?

I was humming on all cylinders. I was super efficient at work, I felt cognitively focused where I’d show up at work, I knew exactly what I had to do, I would do what I had to do, and I would be done with my work day I was finishing my work days 30% faster than previously. Physically, I had a lot of energy to go be active. My room was super organized, I was sleeping well, and feeling overall in a positive outlook and mood. Overall, I felt good. I felt dialed.

Energy, calm forecast, mental stability, and agility. That translated to your physical accession, your workouts, and at work, your cognition.

It was out super active. I wasn’t feeling super achy or sore. I didn’t have miscellaneous muscle issues. It’s not like I do all the time but the body felt healthy too.

What was your diet like and what were the top mushrooms you used at the time you saw the result?

I promote the mushroom ethos. Click to Tweet

For the diet, I was trying to eat no specific diet in certain because I wanted to control for variables. The mushrooms that I specifically was honed in on, there were a couple of primary ones and then I would bring other ones in and out. For me, it’s Lion’s Mane, which I imagine a lot of your audience has heard of. Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, and Turkey tail were the core mushrooms for me. I was eating a lot of mushrooms too like brown button mushrooms.

How did you ingest it? Was it in powder form? Was it in capsule form? Did you take them in milligrams? We give our kids Lion’s Mane on a daily basis, for instance. One of our brands, Lean Caffeine, one of our top-selling coffees has Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, Reishi, and some other mushrooms I cannot pronounce even if you put me at gunpoint. How were you taking these mushrooms to see these results?

I was testing out different products. I started with MUDWTR. I don’t love the taste and I tried a couple of other ones. I wasn’t doing coffee. These were all mushroom tea alternatives. I didn’t love them. I started going and sourcing my own mushrooms from the apothecary nearby and I would brew up decocted teas. I was also sourcing hyper-extracted powders or liquids. I was honestly testing several different things but I enjoyed making my own. I didn’t do any pills but I did some liquid extracts and some powder extracts, and I was brewing my own teas at home.

I’ve also found with the extracts that some sellers would say it’s a 10 to 1 extract ratio and others would say it’s a 4 to 1 and that confuses the heck out of me. I’m like, “What do you mean?” When you read it, it’s like you’re studying organic chemistry again.

I don’t know if we want to get into that. I would say the reality is for anybody who’s reading and interested, “How do I gauge the quality of a supplement?” It’s about tryptamines, which is a phytonutrient and a polysaccharide level. Beta-glucans fall under the polysaccharide category. Those are the active ingredients that are driving a lot of the value that people are seeking from these medicinal mushrooms.

The most common one and something that we use in our products is Lion’s Mane. Those nutrients within Lion’s Mane that are driving some of those scientific benefits or cognitive and neurological benefits, it’s all about the quantity and quality of beta-glucans, polysaccharides, and tryptamines within the actual mushroom. Depending on how the mushroom was grown or what part of the mushroom is used for the supplement, there are going to be different amounts of those compounds in bioavailable formats.

There are different ways of extracting these nutrients from these mushrooms. You can extract nutrients with a water-based extraction method or with oil/alcohol. The tryptamines and the polysaccharides are getting extracted in one of the other methods. If you’re consuming a Lion’s Mane supplement that’s been water extracted, that’s only drawing the tryptamines and maybe the polysaccharides. I may be switched around on this.

To get the holistic micronutrient profile, you want to look for supplements that are going through what’s referred to as a dual extraction process. A quick disclaimer, it also depends on what are the benefits or what are the specific compounds you’re looking for. A safe bet if you’re like, “I’m interested in these. I want to start trying them and I want to know that I’m getting a supplement that’s real and authentic.” I would look for a dual-extracted supplement.

Which is the water and the oil or the water and alcohol. Thanks, that clarifies things. You get to this realization that this is truly life-changing because it affects the brain. The brain affects our emotions and how we turn up in life. It depends on the decisions you make but this is the baseline. What do you do next?

I became pretty enamored. For me, that was it, I felt it. After I felt it, I was like, “What’s going on here?” That’s when I dove into the research. I joined our local mycological society, which is a big mushroom club, an official mushroom club, and I sat on the board there for about two years. I got into mushroom foraging.

I was looking for creative ways to get these mushrooms and these compounds into my diet. Still to this day, I don’t love mushroom coffee. I don’t think the teas are satisfying. It doesn’t taste good. It’s not something I’m like, “I want a cup of that.” I was experimenting with different ways to get them into my diet. For a while, I was eating oatmeal so I started putting it in my oatmeal in the morning and then I was bringing it to work and talking to people about it.

I then started putting it in a granola concept and I was bringing it into the office and, for my own creative endeavors, was having other people try it. At first, people were like, “It doesn’t taste good. It tastes like dirt.” I’m like, “Okay.” I then continued to go back and reformulate. I was working with a friend’s sister at the time who’s a chef. Finally, I got a product that was good. I was eating it myself and giving it away. I found myself at a startup conference. Kunle, have you been to startup conferences ever?

No, I haven’t.

Those that are reading that have been on know exactly what I’m talking about. Everybody at these conferences is asking, “What are you working on? What are you doing?” I made it up. I told them I was building the first food-focused mushroom supplement brand, that’s how I framed it at the time, and 9 out of 10 people looked at me like I had ten heads. People were like, “I don’t know what that is or why I should care or don’t care.”

Finally, one of the major sponsors of the show, I was randomly chatting with him and he was interested and he’s like, “This is going to be huge. This is going to be a massive trend. I’m a huge believer. The guy who puts on the show is a huge believer, let me go introduce you to him.” That was when it became a little bit more serious for me.

I interviewed the founder of You Super. You Super is a vegan superfoods branch, a big brand that has done well, and they exited also. She was at a startup conference and she met her first investor and then that got her into 500 Startups Asia. She learned eCommerce there and it was growth from that point forward. It’s interesting.

Some of those startup conferences can be cool because you’re almost like engineering. It’s like putting out into the world what you believe or what you’re trying to do and the people that are attracted to that are hopefully doing the same and you can connect with people.

It only takes one person.

That is true. That was how I got into the space and became passionate about it. It’s how I started down this journey. That was over three years ago and since then, we’ve been through a ton. We’ve linked on LinkedIn and I bought a vintage popup camper van and lived out of that for a year, drove around the country, and opened up retail. We have one of the leading blogs on the Lion’s Mane search term on Google. We’re building a brand all around personalizing the customer experience and building the customer into part of the brand. Have you seen any of our endeavors? We have little creature emojis, have you seen those?

No, I haven’t. The mushroom one seems to be dominant and that’s because I follow you personally.

We built this internal function where our new branding has these little fun and playful creatures, it’s all these little creatures. What we’re doing are post-purchase and even in-store displays. We’re pushing consumers to build their own. They effectively become part of the brand when they build their own little creatures. Probably a lot of your readers won’t see but I’ll show you. This is an example of a little creature. I’m showing a sticker on the screen right now. Here’s another one. They’re almost all real-life NFTs. Every single one is unique and we build them for the customer.

What happens then is that for all of our new packaging into the future, all of our new branding, and our website, we are selecting real people and what we call foragers, they’re these little creatures, and we’re putting them out there and we’re tagging people. It’s a way to continuously engage with the consumer on tons of different levels to say, “Your personal forager could be on our package or is on our package.” It’s a way of building long-term loyalty around a brand when a consumer legitimately has a personal tie.

Going back to the concept of your granola, which is a breakfast staple, and then integrating your daily dose of Lion’s Mane, are there any other active mushrooms in it? We give our kids and we grab a glass of milk and then open up a capsule. For our 12-year-old, we give him a capsule and a half. I don’t know what the dosage is. He then mixes it. The milk doesn’t taste the same way. For granola, because of the taste of granola, it should blend right in. What other active mushrooms or ingredients are in there on nootropics?

We had an energizing and more of a recovering blend so we were doing two different product SKUs. We found it to be confusing so we did pivot out of that but originally, it was Reishi and Chaga and it was a Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps. We then pivoted into doing a standard blend because the consumers were confused about that.

Taste is king. Click to Tweet

Our standard blend was Chaga, Cordyceps, and Lion’s Mane. We sold our products with Chaga, Cordyceps, and Lion’s Mane for about a and a half until we discovered that the FDA had not formally approved the use of Chaga and Cordyceps. There’s an FDA policy referred to as GRAS. Have you heard of this?


GRAS is generally recognized as safe. The FDA will review newer ingredients and then determine, “Do we think that this ingredient is generally recognized as safe?” The reality is that they haven’t reviewed Chaga or Cordyceps yet. It hasn’t been reviewed. It wasn’t that these mushrooms were reviewed and determined not to be safe. It’s a reality of the FDA probably has a massive backlog. They’ve reviewed other mushrooms that they’ve deemed as safe so Lion’s Mane is an example.

There are several retailers and there are some nuances online retailers where you can’t sell products unless all of the ingredients are generally recognized as safe by the FDA. We then pivoted out of that and partnered up with the largest mushroom supplier in the United States. They’re also the number one strain developer in the world. They’re called Monterey Mushrooms, they’re out of Monterey, California.

What we partnered with them is to get unique access to come up with a couple of their specialty strains generally recognized as safe. Our current mushroom blend is the Lion’s Mane and then it’s a specialty brown button mushroom that is super high in vitamin D. Our mushroom blend has proven amounts of bioavailable Lion’s Mane and then bioavailable vitamin D and that is our core concept around cognitive health and nootropic.

With the granola, the taste will come at the top, particularly to shoppers, people who want to eat it on a daily basis, that’s the aim.

Taste is king.

You have sea salt cacao. I love cacao, by the way, I take it daily. You have vanilla almond that sounds yummy and healthy. You have toasted cinnamon. How did you formulate the taste and make sure that it’s optimized for taste? The ingredients are given. The vitamin D, mushroom, and Lion’s Mane are given. How do you balance the taste and make sure that this is better than other options on the aisle?

We came to this understanding that taste is king. If the product doesn’t taste good, people aren’t going to be interested in eating it. It’s a similar issue I ran into with teas, I wasn’t super satisfied. We focused on low sugar, we focused on using whole food ingredients, which both pose challenges to flavor and taste. Oftentimes, products can mask the poor taste with lots of sugar, or fake ingredients that can block certain receptors on your tongue. Some of the science is wild.

We worked with a food scientist for about a year and a half on the concept and getting into where it is today. What we found is mushroom flavor is this dull and earthy flavor. A good way to off-put it is more of a sweetness sensation. If we’re staying low on sugar, how do we get there? We were experimenting with all sorts of things.

What we landed on and what we have continued to find interesting and has continued to be a base of how we develop products is we found healthy fats and potent spices. For healthy fats, think of coconut chips and coconut oil with nutmeg or cloves, or strong cinnamon. It almost recreates this sweetness sensation in the mouth and does a good job at blending in that mushroom flavor where you don’t even realize it’s there and compliments them super well.

That’s clever. That is amazing. Coconut chips with cinnamon, that’s interesting. To give you some kudos, I’m looking at the page. Unfortunately, I’m in England so I haven’t bought a Forij, but next time I go to the States, I will. Three grams of sugar, five grams of protein, gluten-free, no GMO, low sugar, high vitamin D, whole food ingredient, and vital brain nutrients, how I know this good stuff is when you look at the ingredient list, it is short and simple.

All the names there I could see, I recognize them. I could see gluten-free, sunflower seeds, pure maple syrup, coconut chips, coconut oil, chaya seeds, coconut sugar, cacao powder, which is my favorite, sea salt, which is for your cacao, organic Lion’s Mane powder, organic vitamin D mushroom powder, and then it contains coconut. Clean stuff and taste good. How long did you go through this journey with getting the taste? How many iterations did you go through to get the taste right?

40 or 50? I would say we were probably testing on flavor for two-plus years. We’re selling and then it’s like, “How can we make it a bit better each time?” Every single manufacturing run is an opportunity to look at, “How can we tweak this?” Once the nutrition label is set, it’s not like you’re switching around a ton of stuff but you can always tweak things.

It probably took us about six months early on to land on the concept, like, “We are in on healthy fats and we’re in on potent spice and those together create this magical relationship.” If you take some coconut chips and you bake them with some cinnamon or nutmeg, you’re going to get a sense of some of the bases of our products. The fat and the flavors are satisfying in the mouth.

Only 4% carbs per serving, it’s about 12 grams. I geek out on this stuff.

I love it.

To me, this is good stuff. Where did you start the battle getting to market? Was it digital-first or the other way around, retail?

It was a little bit of both. I had no clue what I was doing at first. I’ve learned and understood some things since. It was getting local feedback. We were selling in some food surveys. We were selling at some local shops. We were selling online. We were originally on Amazon. We don’t have much of an Amazon presence anymore and that’s a whole other conversation. We’ve gotten flagged and taken down there so many times, it’s been frustrating for us.

Do you know the reason why?

Early on it happened where we got flagged as a CBD product and we’ve had things deleted and then it’s happened since. I’m not sure if the brand is tagged with a CBD alert. I don’t totally understand that. We’ve worked with Amazon experts before. We do some minor selling on there but we’re down on Amazon, which is a huge bummer. Early on was some local testing in retail. For the first year, it was D2C-focused and then it transitioned to start building out a retail presence on top of that alongside our organic search traffic, which I briefly touched on earlier.

On the D2C front, you have lots of customer data. You are interacting with customers. You do lots of research. What’s retention like? How many people are hitting that save and subscribe button?

Interestingly enough, we don’t have a huge subscriber base. We have a solid repurchase rate of around 30%. We see people returning and what’s interesting is I ask them all the time, I’m like, “You’ve boughten 5 or 6 times in the past six months.” On average, people are reordering once a month is where we see. We ask them, “Why don’t you subscribe? Why isn’t this something that you need to have every single month instead of making the conscious decision?” It’s honestly out of curiosity.

What we hear are three things. One and probably the most challenging one to overcome is the price point. People are like, “It’s an expensive product. I like this product and I’ll continue to buy this product but it’s not something I’m willing to spend X amount of dollars on every single month automatically.” The second one, which is interesting and nuanced, is some people say that when they get the product, some people can’t help but eat the entire bag and they find that to be a problem, which is interesting.

In some sense, I get that people are like, “It’s an expensive product and when I buy it, I eat the whole thing. That’s not good for me,” which I find interesting. The third piece of pushback we often get is, like, “I’m not super used to buying a granola concept online. I would rather buy this in-store. For me, this is something I order and then maybe I’ll buy some other granolas in store, and then I’ll be craving yours again and I’ll order it again.”

For them, there seems to be a disconnect of online shopping around that category. I continue to hear that they’re like, “I buy this type of concept in-store.” I’ve heard this before, people are like, “It feels weird for me to spend 40$, 50$, or $60 on granola at a time. Even though I may be eating that amount, I’m not used to this.” It seems like there has been some tension around actual consumer behavior of purchasing habits of categories. Have you seen similar things to that?

Yes, but what we’ve done is we have created size variations so there’s value. Our mushroom coffee, for instance, comes in 412 grams standard, it’s ground. We blend it with the mushroom extracts. What we did was we added almost a 900-gram version of it so double that and then there’s or 30% to 40% saving on that. If you buy big, you spend more with us, you go through it, you get more hooked to it potentially, and you come back again. That’s the only thing.

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Looking at $30, it makes sense from their perspective. A $30 price point is hefty for granola that’s about the size of a bag of coffee, at least a UK coffee. Coffee bags are bigger in the US. It’s 8 ounces or 226 grams. What is taking a chunk of that $30? Is it the cost of the mushroom or is it the detail in the wholeness and the wholesomeness of the ingredients for that taste?

It’s a little bit of both but if you look through cogs, we use solid ingredients, it’s a part of it. The mushrooms help justify using some of the ingredients. The price point is high and part of the reason for moving into meal bars, and I mentioned a little bit earlier doing a meal bar concept, is we’ve found and done some testing that consumers are way more comfortable purchasing this type of item online.

It’s an easier concept to grab and go. They’re packaged for daily consumption versus the eight-ounce bag, some people will eat the whole thing and some people can parse it out. We’ve run into some manufacturing bottlenecks around trying to do different sizes at scale. It has been a challenge. It’s something we’re still looking at as well. That’s how we’re thinking about the problem and remedying it.

The bars are not yet live on your site. Are you going to test online first before you attempt to push out to retail?

Yeah. We’ve been testing with our current consumers for a bit. Especially with retail, online testing is like, “Is the flavor there? Is the product a good product? Yes or no?” We’ll also do some testing at local stores. There are some relationships that I have where I can walk in, I can put something on the shelf, and we’ll come back after a week and see how well it’s sold. It’s like, “Is the packaging right? Is the price point right? Does it stand out?” There are a lot of those questions that can be addressed but you need to be in-store rather than totally online.

Great stuff. What’s your vision for Forij? Do you see Forij as a mushroom nutrition brand or a nutrition mushroom brand? Do you think you might be on the breakfast table through other products? If granola is not quite your thing, it could be cereals or it could be whatever people eat for breakfast. Where do you see Forij taking the next steps?

These meal bars will still be categorized as breakfast like a lot of meal bars are. We’re not a protein bar. The next stage is expansion through that same category, that same eating occasion. The granola is a somewhat smaller segment and you’d have this at home, a lot of people eat it like cereal or with yogurt. The meal bar is a bit more addressing the on-the-go market. It’s can be a slightly different consumer. Beyond that as well, we’ll continue to look at different categories. At some point, it will make sense to make the jump more into a legitimate snack.

Today, we’re focused on that morning eating occasion. I hate to call it breakfast because if you ask a lot of people if they eat breakfast, a lot of people will say no. A lot of people still consume something around the morning occasion or it’s like a morning snack. There are different ways that people define that now. For the foreseeable future, it’s definitely morning focused and probably looking at a couple of different channels and opportunities. From there on out, it’s maybe looking at a different food aisle or category altogether.

Do you ever see yourself going into selling drinks?

I’m not interested in drinks. Maybe a mushroom coffee or something that is shelf stable. From what I’ve seen about the ready-to-drink market, I have no interest in playing there.

What have you seen?

I’ve read a couple of market reports from some friends who work in venture capital and have gotten reports since and seen reports that, on average, for every single dollar, a ready-to-drink beverage makes in revenue, they’re spending $10 to acquire it. I’ve seen some stark stats about the competitive nature of that market that I’m not super interested in competing in.

There are many options for consumers, I can imagine.

In general, there are. You can say that about a lot of categories but that category in particular.

You’re pre-seed at the minute. What does your cap table look like? Is it just Angels?

We’re looking at a seed round. We didn’t jump into this and I don’t think we have time to but we’re looking at an international opportunity that could be a good funding source. Deal terms are solid, it’s an upfront payment and margin-healthy. You need a lot of money to run a food business and scale food business.

We’re always curious to look for other ways. How can you raise less money in dilute equity less? The cap table is pretty solid, a little bit of family and friends, a couple of bigger Angels, and a couple of small funds is the stage where we’re at right now. We’re in some diligence right now with three smaller funds. Taking it day by day if you will.

I’m also looking at your distribution strategy. I looked at the store locater on your website and you’re national. What tips would you give to readers who are starting and looking to get into grocery, retail, or in-store?

Some of the national presence has been more pull. We don’t super push a lot of national accounts. There have been certain accounts we’ve targeted and have been like, “We think that account in that region makes sense.” For people who are looking to go into retail, if I were going to go and work with you and talk to you about things, I would test on a hyper-local scale in your own market. Try and find a market that you think is a good cross-section, like, “They carry premium goods. They also carry super conventional goods. There’s a lot of traffic in and out of here.”

A locally owned market where you can go and become friends with that owner and go and run tests. Get packaging mockups made, go put them on shelves, and see how they sell to get an understanding. Will your product succeed in the market or not? Some of those tests can be telling. A lot of people will design packaging and all these things and will order it without even first getting a legit sample, going and putting it on a shelf, and looking at it.

It’s crazy how much you can learn by going out there and putting something on the shelf and looking at it against its environment. What else is it sitting next to? What is the consumer seeing? Some of that upfront work oftentimes can get delayed and then a lot of people are backpedaling into it or are shifting on the fly, which has been us in the past. I would advise taking your time up-front and making sure you’re getting the packaging, the pricing, and the placement all right and all understood before you start trying to make a big push in the channel.

A valid point. Context is everything in retail. If you test small, you fail small than going big. I’m not going to take too much of your time. I’m respectful of your time but I can’t let you go until you get into our lightning round. I’m going to ask you 5 or 6 questions and if you use a single sentence to answer them, it’d be great. Are you a morning person?


What does your morning routine look like?

Get up, coffee, shower, organize the day, and then start the day.

Are you in sports?

I do triathlons.

That’s pretty good. What is your favorite team or who’s your favorite athlete?

There’s a triathlete I like and his name’s Lionel Sanders. He’s a psycho and he’s funny to watch.

What two things can’t you live without?

My eye mask for sleeping and probably my AirPods, which I’m embarrassed to say.

The next question is what book are you currently reading or listening to?

I’m reading and listening to two books, Empire of the Summer Moon, which is the history of the Comanche Indians. It’s good and is an awesome story. It’s cool. I’m listening to Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which is a bestseller book. It’s about relationships and it follows the relationship of a girl and a guy throughout their entire lifetime. It’s cool.

Finally, what’s been your best mistake to date? By that, I mean a setback that’s given you the biggest feedback.

There was a major investor we were going to take on and we blew the deal. It was devastating at the time but part of why he was going to give us money was because his son was going to work with us. His son didn’t end up working with us. It was overall positive for everybody and a good lesson to learn.

That’s my favorite answer. Parker, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I love weird, I didn’t see anything weird here. We got along pretty well. For those who want to catch up with you, it’s Forij.co. You are active on LinkedIn. Thank you so much for coming and making it to the 2X eCommerce Podcast.

Thanks, brother.

About the host:

Kunle Campbell

An ecommerce advisor to ambitious, agile online retailers and funded ecommerce startups seeking exponentially sales growth through scalable customer acquisition, retention, conversion optimisation, product/market fit optimisation and customer referrals.

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