Justin! Amy! Meet the Faces Behind Your Favorite Food Brands
These business owners turned a passion for eating well into a recipe for success
Are you the kind of person who eats Justin’s peanut butter by the spoonful? Or maybe your pantry is always stocked with an array of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flours. If so, then you’ve probably wondered about the people behind these supermarket staples.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, eight business owners open up about how they turned their passion for eating well into a recipe for success.
Justin Gold from Justin’s
As a longtime vegetarian, Justin Gold, 41, was always on the hunt for delicious ways to add protein to his diet. When he couldn’t find good nut-butter options in the store, he began making his own butters at home in a food processor but quickly ran into a problem: “My roommates would eat them all,” he says with a laugh. “So I had to write ‘Justin’s’ on all the jars.” While working as a waiter in 2004, he started selling four nut-butter flavors at his local farmers’ market. They were a hit, and his company took off. In 2016 he sold Justin’s, which now makes over 30 items (including the first organic peanut butter cup), to Hormel Foods for $286 million—but he still feels connected to his customers. “It’s really neat when somebody tastes our product for the first time and goes, ‘Wow, this is great!’”
Amy, Rachel & Andy Berliner from Amy’s Kitchen
When Rachel Berliner was put on bed rest during her pregnancy in 1987, her husband, Andy, struggled to make their dinners. “I bought a couple of frozen lasagnas,” he says, but Rachel didn’t like them. “We knew there must be other people like us, who don’t have time but want a delicious meal.” That year they would give birth to their daughter Amy and also to the organic, vegetarian frozen-food company named after her. They started with pot pies, and sales took off: “There wasn’t anything else on the market like that,” says Rachel. Amy, now with a 3-year-old son of her own, sits on the board of the company, worth an estimated $500 million. “We’re very committed to staying a family business,” says Rachel.
Lara Merriken from Lärabar
Lara Merriken always had an entrepreneurial spirit. “I had a paper route at 10 years old,” she says. “I did everything from lawn mowing to dog walking to grocery shopping.” On a hike in 2000, while eating a bag of trail mix, Merriken, now 50, had an idea. “I thought, ‘How can I take something healthy, like fruit and nuts, and make it taste indulgent?’ ” From there she created Lärabar—a line of bars inspired by dessert flavors like cherry pie and cashew cookie. “I had no idea the company would become what it is,” says Merriken, who sold it to General Mills for an estimated $55 million in 2008. “I had just hoped to make a positive impact by making healthy food.”
Maya Kaimal from Maya Kaimal Fine Indian Foods
Award-winning cookbook author Maya Kaimal decided to take her traditional Indian dishes from the pages of her books and into the grocery aisle when she realized there was a “massive missed opportunity,” she says. “We traveled to India when I was a kid and you couldn’t help but just be knocked over by the food when you’re there because there’s so much more to it then what you find on an Indian restaurant menu.” Kaimal, 53, turned her family recipes into jarred simmer sauces and ready-to-eat dals, which are sold in more than 7,000 stores nationwide. “The whole idea is that they’re convenient but you’re not sacrificing on flavor.”
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Bob Moore from Bob’s Red Mill
A blind date in 1952 with his future wife, Charlee, set Bob Moore up for the career of a lifetime. After the couple married a year later and quickly started a family, health-conscious Charlee decided “we needed to change our diet,” says Bob, 90. “We became quite enamored with all whole-grain, healthy food.” At the same time, Bob became “unhappy” owning a Firestone store, and the pair opened a stone-ground flour mill, where they would eventually produce the hundreds of healthy cereals and flours made today. (Charlee died at age 90 in October.) On his 81st birthday in 2010, Bob gifted the couple’s $100 million company to his employees to honor their role in its success: “They made us the ultimate company that I’m proud of.”
Michele Hoskins from Michele’s Syrup
The recipe for honey-cream syrup had been passed down in Michele Hoskins’s family for generations. But instead of sharing the sweet secret with her own kids, Hoskins, 68, “wanted to start a business with the recipe and pass that on.” She quit her job as a school teacher in 1984, “sold everything I owned,” and made her first batch in a 55-gallon drum in her basement. Hoskins still has only one full-time employee—her daughter Keisha—but has fans all over the country, selling 200,000 bottles last year. “It’s been a very interesting, very prayerful journey.”