Episode #41: Diane’s Backstory: the Evolution of Balanced Bites

DRIVEN: A podcast for modern entrepreneurs. Diane's Backstory: The Evolution of Balanced Bites

In today’s episode, Diane’s husband, Scott, interviews Diane about the backstory of Balanced Bites and how it has evolved to the business it is today.


Diane Sanfilippo: I feel like there’s two sides to things. One is like; well, here’s how it’s done because this is how the industry is, and this is what people buy, and this is what works. And I’m like; yeah, but there’s a better way. And if you raise the standard, then you can raise the standard. And I think…

Dr. Scott Mills: Telling people how to cook better food for themselves. Teaching people about the nutrition; the importance of that. And also, that next step of actually getting these products into their hands.

Welcome to Driven; a show about business, life, and wellness from two confident, curious women who are pulling back the curtain on what it’s like being an entrepreneur. Each week, join hosts Diane Sanfilippo and Cassy Joy Garcia talk about being your best, showing up for your dreams, and kicking self-doubt to the curb.

Diane is a business whisperer, best-selling author, and plant-hobbyist based in San Francisco. Cassy Joy is the founder of www.FedandFit.com, best-selling author, and casserole enthusiast. She calls San Antonio, Texas, home.

Diane Sanfilippo: In today’s episode, I am interviewed by none other than my husband. He’s going to be asking me all kinds of questions about building Balanced Bites. I hope that you enjoy this episode.

Topics:

  1. Shop Talk [1:19]
  2. Balanced Bites, the origin [3:43]
  3. Back to school [11:49]
  4. Becoming an author [22:12]
  5. Designing the brand [31:38]
  6. Moving forward [39:50]

1.  Shop Talk: [1:19]

Diane Sanfilippo: Shop Talk. In this segment, we talk about what’s going on in our businesses and our lives this week. And I’m just going to give you guys a quick update for this Shop Talk. This episode will be airing on Memorial Day; and as it turns out, we’ve got a big Memorial Day sale going on for Balanced Bites spices. So if you guys have been curious about trying them, you can check that out. We’ve got a 20% off sale going on over there. So that’s been really fun to kind of get ready and get that out.

And we have new meals that are not yet launched, but I think I told you guys last week I tasted them and just yesterday I had a great conversation with our kitchens talking about tweaks to the first round so that the next round are a little bit closer to perfect. So we’ll see where we get with those. And it’s really fun to have those in development. We’re going to be working in stages where we have 5 new recipes at a time that we’ll keep developing, and then be able to add kind of to our recipe library, so that over time we can start rotating our meals a little bit more quickly. The goal is that we’ll eventually get to a time and a place where we are rotating meals every single month. Right now, it’s been a little more seasonal, then with this whole COVID thing we definitely had this menu kind of living a little bit longer than we had planned. Lots of things going on, but that’s been really fun to just kind of keep working on that.

Some other things going on; team Balanced Bites we have a video editor joining our team. So really excited about that. We had a video editor for quite some time; she was fantastic. Just kind of moved on to some other work, so now we have a new one coming onto the team, and we’re really excited about that. So expect to see more fun videos coming from us in the coming weeks and months.

And just lots of new ideas cooking up. I’ve been talking to a lot of you guys through Instagram stories about your cooking flubs and; I mean, I think it’s funny to use the expression cooking up, but I’m definitely cooking up a bunch of new ideas for ways that I can help you guys troubleshoot in the kitchen and just figure out how to get your food tasting better and how to execute a little bit better, and keep things simple, and master the basics. So I’m hoping that will be helpful to everyone going forward.

2. Balanced Bites, the origin [3:43]

Diane Sanfilippo: Alright, this weeks’ episode; I have a special guest. Except he’s actually going to interview me for this episode.

Dr. Scott Mills: Won’t that be fun. {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: Welcome to the show.

Dr. Scott Mills: Thanks for having me. Who am I?

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs} So, my special guest today; or special guest. I feel like I should call you the special guest host.

Dr. Scott Mills: There you go.

Diane Sanfilippo: Because you’re really kind of hosting it. Is Dr. Scott Mills; also known as my husband, also known as @FullBodyFix all over social media. And yeah. I think we just decided; let’s do an episode where he interviews me and asks some questions and talk a little bit about my story and how I got here. I figured; I always like to hear people’s stories.

Dr. Scott Mills: I like it too. And I’ve heard, obviously, your origin story of some of the businesses. And I’ve been around for most; a lot of the iterations, but definitely we can take it back to the beginning. It will be a fun conversation for the day.

Diane Sanfilippo: Ok.

Dr. Scott Mills: You want to dive right in?

Diane Sanfilippo: Let’s do it.

Dr. Scott Mills: Well take me back to Balanced Bites; the inception. What started this whole business?

Diane Sanfilippo: So, Balanced Bites, for those of you who may not know right now; it’s an organic spice blend and frozen meal business. And that’s kind of the current state of affairs, but hopefully that will be expanding in the not so distant future to different types of things. So that’s right now.

Back in late 2007, I started to conceptualize a meal delivery business. So late 2007; so crazy!

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs} A little ahead of the curve.

Diane Sanfilippo: It’s so crazy. I was learning about nutrition, studying nutrition, and making meals for friends and I was balancing them differently for their macronutrient needs.

Dr. Scott Mills: Were those macros type plans.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. I mean, I was working with my trainer; our friend Dave.

Dr. Scott Mills: Sure.

Diane Sanfilippo: And a couple of other his clients/my friends. Some who were athletes, some who were just kind of training for life; not anything in particular. And right before that, I had worked with a nutritionist who really gave me a very specific macronutrient target to hit. So it was kind of based on what I learned from working with her, and then my own education. I did this whole gluten free thing.

Anyway. A friend of mine from college; we were spit balling names, and since I was balancing meals for different people, Balanced Bites was where that name came from. It was really from the very beginning, that’s where it was.

{laughs} He’s smiling like, oh that’s a nice story.

Dr. Scott Mills: That was nice. And actually, I think when we first met in 2012, I feel like that was kind of your handle for a bit, wasn’t it?

Diane Sanfilippo: Oh yeah. People used to call me Balanced Bites. Like, hey BB. Hey Balanced Bites. And I’m like; that’s actually not my name. I have a name.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: I think now people are much quicker to be like; Full Body Fix, oh that’s Scott.

Dr. Scott Mills: Sure.

Diane Sanfilippo: They’re quick to notice what your name is as well. But ok, maybe not. He made a face as if maybe not. Ok, so that was really early on. I had started studying nutrition going into that. I think I had my Chek Holistic Lifestyle Coaching certification before I started Balanced Bites as a meal business. I can’t remember all the timeline of everything.

I remember I got through that many months of cooking meals for people. I was cooking over in the East Bay in Alameda. I had a commercial kitchen space.

Dr. Scott Mills: So you weren’t cooking these out of your SF apartment.

Diane Sanfilippo: Well, when I was cooking it for about 4 to 5 friends, yes I was cooking it in my apartment. But as soon as I was going to be cooking for strangers, I had insurance and did the whole food safety thing. When it went to about 10 to 20 or so clients that I was cooking for, that’s when I legitimized it. because to cook in that kitchen, I had to be food safety certified.

Anyway. Now, in the kitchen cooking Balanced Bites meals, that’s when I started making these giant labels for my spice jars where it would say rosemary and garlic, like really big. Because when you’re in a commercial kitchen; first of all, you can’t be using tiny jars of spices because you’re going to use the whole jar every time you cook. And second of all, you can’t find anything if the label is not glaringly obvious.

Dr. Scott Mills: And it’s partially shared kitchen, a well.

Diane Sanfilippo: It was a shared kitchen. So they were labeled. I think I wrote Balanced Bites on them. But they were labeled, so nobody could mistake if someone was using a jar of garlic that it was my garlic.

Dr. Scott Mills: Yeah. And some of these labels live on in our kitchen, I believe. We still have a few jars.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. Some of them are extremely dirty. Some have been replaced. But that was kind of the first iteration. It wasn’t actually blends yet. But then I started making blends with salt, because I had too much rosemary from the farmer’s market. Literally, that was kind of the first thing that I made, was just this rosemary salt and a sage salt. Those are all recipes in Practical Paleo.

So anyway, cooking meals for people. I did that for several months. I found a cooler on Craigslist. I found a really awesome cooler. It was hideous. It was like that fake brown; what do they call it when it’s in a car?

Dr. Scott Mills: Like a wood veneer.

Diane Sanfilippo: Burlwood? Is that what they call it? Yeah, like a wood veneer. It was like, it was just hideous. I covered the whole cooler in white contact paper. I got new shelves; thank you internet. New wire shelves for the thing. It was nuts. But I would deliver meals around the city, and I would deliver them to a cooler in a gym. So a lot of CrossFit gyms now have had that type of setup, and I was doing that back in early 2008.

And I definitely was ahead of my time, in a way. I don’t know. People were buying it that way, but people didn’t really do this. It wasn’t really a thing. So yeah. That was the very beginning. And I burned out really quickly, after several months. It was myself, and I had an assistant who at first volunteered and then very quickly I was paying her. Because I think that’s the right way to do things. But I burned out. I remember I would show up to try to go to a personal training session, and I was just exhausted. Like, probably super drained adrenally.

Not just the effort of being in the kitchen, but I constantly had this anxiety. Like, I cannot ruin this meat that I got from Golden Meat company, whatever it was. I can’t ruin this flank steak. I was so nervous.

Dr. Scott Mills: You had one shot.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, I had one shot. {laughs} Every time, I was like; I have 20 pounds of this protein, and I better not screw it up. And frankly; who the heck did I think I was? {laughs}

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs} Well not only that, at the beginning, it’s your recipes. It’s your cooking. You’re trying to find new clients. You’re delivering, right?

Diane Sanfilippo: I mean; you know the skit on Sesame Street where Grover is the waiter, and he’s the chef.

Dr. Scott Mills: Sure. Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: It’s like; that was me. I’m in the kitchen, and then I’m delivering it, and then I’m putting the new meals on the website, and then I’m printing the orders, and then I’m grocery shopping.

Dr. Scott Mills: It’s a lot.

Diane Sanfilippo: Honestly; only someone who is not this age {laughs}

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughing}

Diane Sanfilippo: Can be doing that. So I was doing all of that right before and right around when I turned 30. That’s what I was doing.

Dr. Scott Mills: Wow.

Diane Sanfilippo: So, burned out from that and decided to go back to school and study nutrition. So that was the beginning of 2008, or whatever point during 2008 was when I realized I needed to go back to school. But I think I went back to a job. I got a desk job for another year and a half after I closed the meal business.

3. Back to school [11:49]

Dr. Scott Mills: Right. Now, as this business kind of shut down on one phase, was it always in the back of your mind; I’m going to do this someday. I’ll do some meals or some spices at some point?

Diane Sanfilippo: It was not. No. So I shut down the food business. I had actually started it with a couple of catering gigs locally, and then rolled into the meals thing. And then went back to a job. I was doing a user experience design job at a startup here in San Francisco. It’s called YOLA, for anyone curious. So it’s a competitor to Square Space, but I think it’s much smaller right now. Of course. Because Square Space kind of crushes everything; not sponsored.

So, while I was working at this startup, I was actually blogging about food and health. And during that time, as well, I went back to school. So I actually; I think probably the second time in my life that I went for, I don’t know if she was a psychologist, not a psychiatrist. Because I was just really struggling after a breakup, and I needed some help. Look, no shame in that game. But I remember talking about my job, and I was really bored at work. And she’s like; you’re bored because you’re not challenged, and you need to go back to school or do something so you can learn a new skill or do something. Because; I think she said, you’re too smart for that job. And I was like; ok, I’ll take that. {laughing}

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs} Thanks, therapist.

Diane Sanfilippo: Thanks therapist. I went to a therapist, thank you. I couldn’t get the word. So, that was actually the best thing that came out of that therapy, was that she kind of hit the nail on the head that I needed to be challenged more than I was. So I went back to school while I was at that job. I remember I was tweeting about nutrition, I was blogging about nutrition. I remember getting a box of grass-fed meat delivered to the startup in the office, and they were like; what?

Dr. Scott Mills: Your coworkers were like; you’re eating meat?

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. And I was at that job for a total of 18 months. I remember that I had gotten Larabar; I was one of their early, I don’t know if they called it ambassador or something like that. Where they would send me a case of these little minis.

Dr. Scott Mills: Oh yeah, the little bite-sized minis.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. And I would teach a class about healthy breakfast or whatever it was and bring those and feed people, because you have to feed people at these classes if you’re going to teach a class like that. Anyway. So yeah it was always this dual thing that I’ve always been passionate about food, and cooking, and feeding people. And helping people understand how to feed themselves. And the burnout I had on Balanced Bites initially was; I was doing it for people, but I wasn’t teaching them how to do it for themselves. And that felt like; I don’t know. Part of it felt fine, but most of it felt like it just wasn’t the right expression of what I was meant to do at that time.

Obviously fast-forward now and Balanced Bites is a frozen meal delivery, but I feel like I spent almost a decade doing the teaching and creating resources so I can point people in those directions. Just in hindsight, I see that. So at the time, it was like; you know, teach a man to fish.

Dr. Scott Mills: True.

Diane Sanfilippo: So, anyway. I was doing that at the same time. And at whatever point; I remember it was not even a year into that job. I was like; I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I managed to do it for another 6 months or so, and then had the day. This always happens; the day I call my mom, and I’m like; mom I’m going to quit this job. {laughs} I just can’t take it anymore. And it’s always happened. And I think this is an interesting thing for people to hear, because this may be you and it may not, but every time I’ve tried to quit a job it’s always like; no, what can we do to make you stay? And I’m like; you don’t even know. I’m so far gone before I ever say anything, you know, that I’m like; nope, I’m done. If you need two weeks, I will give it to you, but I would like to leave tomorrow. {laughs}

And the way I always knew that I was done with the job is I would call in sick. I didn’t want to, because I wasn’t sick, and I didn’t want people to think I was sick because I was the healthy person in the office.

Dr. Scott Mills: Right {laughs}.

Diane Sanfilippo: But I was like; I’m sick of this -ish. I’m sick of that job. That’s the sickness that I have. I just didn’t want to go in. So yeah, that was what happened. So you were asking before if I knew I would always come back to it as a meal business, and no. But you know, it’s like I always had this passion to talk about food. And I was talking about it on Twitter a lot at the time. Twitter, my blog, and Facebook, and all of that. I think it was happening basically while I was in school. I was sharing about what I was learning. About healthy fats; that was one of the first things I started talking about. So it just kind of happened in the corner, I would finish my work because it didn’t take me very long. Little office space.

Dr. Scott Mills: So you’re finishing up nutrition school, and the next step for you is what; teaching?

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. So actually my nutrition school was two separate school years, the timing of it. At the time it was two separate certifications through Bauman College. And after the first year, I actually started teaching seminars around the country while I was in my second year of nutrition school. I didn’t wait until I was totally done, because I knew that what I wanted to teach was really basic stuff. I didn’t need the deeper, slightly more clinical approach that our second year of school had. That’s really where a lot of the information people see in Practical Paleo was rooted. What I learned in school and what I did with my clients one on one. More therapeutic nutrition, targeted supplements, etc. So that was really not the kind of stuff I was going to be teaching to a group of 20 to 100 people, for example.

So I just knew; I could teach people the basics of balancing their blood sugar and what their digestion should be like. So, that’s where kind of the Twitter stuff came in. I remember just deciding; you know what, I’m going to teach about the basics of paleo nutrition. I went to Robb Wolf seminar, and I was like; ok, this makes sense. This was back in; I don’t know what year it was. It had to be 2009 or 10. I honestly can’t remember. It might have been 2010.

But, taught in my own gym and then was tweeting about nutrition, writing blog posts, and made connections with gyms all around the country.

Dr. Scott Mills: When you started teaching those seminars in the gyms, was it Balanced Bites seminars?

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. It was Balanced Bites nutrition seminar at the time. Yep.

Dr. Scott Mills: And this was right at the beginning of the paleo groundswell; Robb Wolf started that. Mark Sisson was talking about his stuff in Primal land there.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. And for a couple of years, I was back and forth between calling it Balanced Bites nutrition seminar and Practical Paleo nutrition seminar. Because paleo was growing, and I wrote this eBook to give to everybody who came to the class. And I called it the Practical Paleo nutrition guide. And it’s just so bizarre to think back at how all these things that we do; it’s just, I don’t know. It was just this little eBook that I wrote that evolved, pun intended. But evolved over time to this vision for an actual book.

But yeah, I was giving that to people who came. It was like a 30-page eBook. And eventually I think I switched it over to be calling Practical Paleo. But then I think I switched it back. I think it was Balanced Bites first, then Practical Paleo seminar, then Balanced Bites again, because Liz started teaching with me. Who cohosted the Balanced Bites podcast for 8 years, as you know because you edited that.

Dr. Scott Mills: Shout out, Real Food Liz, Liz Wolfe.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. So we were teaching the seminars together at a certain point. So we went back to calling it Balanced Bites. So, {laughs} identity crisis.

Dr. Scott Mills: At what point did the podcast launch for you, in that timeline?

Diane Sanfilippo: So the podcast launched in August 2011. So it launched about a year before Practical Paleo came out, which was August 2012.

Dr. Scott Mills: I’m liking establishing this timeline. I think it’s interesting for folks to kind of hear the different iterations, ups and downs. Going back to school, teaching, bringing on a cohost. I think all of that is really interesting. Sort of this whole thread of wanting to help others learn throughout the whole thing. So that eventually culminated in what became Practical Paleo, the book.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yep. Practical Paleo, I was writing that pretty much from, I don’t know actually when I really started writing it. At some point in the spring; oh, I think it was I got the contract right around my birthday. Big things always happen around my birthday. So we’re in a pandemic.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs} Sounds about right.

Diane Sanfilippo: Things like that. But I remember actually I was at the gym over at 24-hour here in the city. I was at the gym when I got the phone call about getting a contract for the book, and I think it was either my birthday that day or the next day or something like that. So that was end of April. And I was writing it through the next April or so. Because I had the first copy of it at some point in July in my hands when I was watching the CrossFit games somewhere near LA. Wherever.

Dr. Scott Mills: That would have been Carson City.

Diane Sanfilippo: I think so. Yeah. That was the timeline. I was working on it from whatever point; it was about a year, maybe 15 months of work. That was the hardest, I think, I’ve ever worked is writing that book. But yeah, that was the timeline on that.

4. Becoming an author [22:12]

Dr. Scott Mills: That’s good stuff. Well let’s get back to kind of this Balanced Bites as a company. Let’s fast forward. Obviously, you’ve written a bunch. Well, Practical Paleo went on to New York Times’ bestseller many, many weeks over. Wrote 5 more publications? Maybe 6?

Diane Sanfilippo: I don’t know how to count, because; 21-Day Sugar Detox released in October of 2013, I think. And then a little more than a year after Practical Paleo. And then 21-Day Sugar Detox Cookbook released in December of that same year. And I did that because I wanted to make sure they were both in print before January. So those two came out. And then after that, I actually co-authored Mediterranean Paleo Cooking with Caitlyn Weeks, my good friend and her husband. So that wasn’t all my recipes, but it was a lot of work, also, to coauthor that.

And then what?

Dr. Scott Mills: Daily Guide?

Diane Sanfilippo: No, then I rewrote Practical Paleo.

Dr. Scott Mills: Oh, that’s right. {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: I think next. So people probably don’t think of that as a new publication.

Dr. Scott Mills: I was there. It was. {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: I would say it was about half as much or 30% of the work of doing it the first time. But doing that book the first time was like writing three books, so it was rewriting a whole other book. And then the 21-Day Sugar Detox Daily Guide. And then Keto Quick Start. So 7 times being published, one of them coauthor, one of them was a rewrite. So it’s 5 separate titles that are mine. Anyway. That’s the story there.

And in hindsight, it’s very much a blur, and I feel like I’ve blacked out all the pain writing those books. But not too much that I’m deciding to sign up for any new ones or anything.

Dr. Scott Mills: Nothing in the works, right? No announcements to make today?

Diane Sanfilippo: He’s asking because he’s just as curious as those of you listening. No I don’t have any books bubbling. Actually, it’s really nice to have product ideas and things like that instead. Because it’s a much more fun process for me to ideate instead of having to come up with the idea and the concept for a book and then actually writing it. I think what a lot of people don’t know is that there are a lot of cookbook authors; I say cookbook authors with finger quotes in the air, that don’t actually ever even write recipes. But they publish a cookbook, and that’s really strange to me. Because it’s such a labor of love to cook food, and write what you’re cooking, and take the pictures, and do all of that. And there are a lot of just authors in general who don’t write their books. If they don’t say it was grueling, then they probably didn’t write their book. And even if they say it’s grueling, if they didn’t write it, it’s just not. It’s not the same, at all.

Dr. Scott Mills: Well it’s a good point, too, about all the recipe writing. Because that’s what we’re going to touch on next.

Diane Sanfilippo: Ok.

Dr. Scott Mills: Let’s talk about spices. Obviously there were spice blend directions, recipes.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, in Practical Paleo.

Dr. Scott Mills: In Practical Paleo, the first publication. Some of those which eventually became Balanced Bites spices. And this was launched in 2016; at what point where you like; I should get these spice blends into some jars and out to the people?

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. So when I was writing the book, one of the things I did in creating the recipes. This is not good advice {laughs}. Do as I say, not as I do. But one of the things I did; I didn’t think ahead and write meal plans up front for people. I actually went to the grocery store and saw what was there, and made recipes.

I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before. But I would write down ideas. Maybe I would write down five or six recipe ideas for that batch or whatever; 5-10 for that batch, ideas. But I would see what was at the store, but if they didn’t have what I wanted, I still needed to execute something. And this was in the winter in Pittsburg, actually, with Bill and Hayley. So I actually was showing up to the store and, like; what’s here. Ok, I thought I was going to use carrots for this, but there are only parsnips. Or whatever. I mean, there would always be carrots, that’s very available. But something along those lines.

But what I would do after I would make that first recipe was, I would see what was left in the fridge, and then make something else. And I kind of thought; well, that’s what people are going to be doing at home. And again, I didn’t write this into the book. But that was kind of how I approached it.

So along those lines, when I was making something like smoky bacon wrapped chicken thighs, and I was making a spice combination for that recipe, I was like; well this is silly. You could use this on a million things. You don’t need to just mix four spices for this recipe. That’s not efficient cooking, and that’s not how I cook. I usually will mix stuff up, and then I’m like; what else can I put this on? {laughs}

Dr. Scott Mills: Sure.

Diane Sanfilippo: So I was like, well. Why don’t I make a bunch of spice blends? Because basically to get food to taste good, you’re just going to take meat and spices and fat and maybe some veggies and put it together and cook it. {laughs} I mean, this is like, cook it until it’s done.

Dr. Scott Mills: Cook it properly, yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. So, I would actually put them in the jars as I would create the blends and label them. I don’t know, it just became a thing where people were making the blends. And I just knew that if I could have these blends made to my specifications and my standards, which are high.

Dr. Scott Mills: High, obviously. I’m here, so. {laughing} 

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs} As evidence by my husband of choice. But yeah, I just knew. Because truthfully I would see people making them, and I’m like; that doesn’t look right. {Laughs} I can’t help it. But it’s actually the control freak in me that I’m like; I want you to be eating my recipe. And I want so much for it to be what I meant for it to be, that I don’t want a subpar garlic flake in your food. Because it’s not going to taste as good. And you should be able to taste it the way I meant for you to taste it. Really. I want it to be so good that you realize that you can cook, and it is easy, and you don’t need to think that hard about it. You can just put the spice on it.

So, yeah. I think it was just a matter of a combination of that control freak side. But also; look. I didn’t talk about what I was doing before all of this other stuff. Before Balanced Bites or any of that. But I was working as an art director and a graphic designer. And all the way back to graphic design school, and all the way through the job that I had. Even though the job that I had wasn’t really doing packaging design, my old boss and I were grocery store roamers. We’re going to literally…

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs} Critiquing all the different labels.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah; like, oh look at this cool thing I found. And I worked part time at Trader Joe’s many years ago. I had it in my head at one point that I wanted to do packaging design for Trader Joe’s. I thought that was a job I would apply for. And I was like; where is it? Anaheim? {laughs} I literally have no idea. This was just out there.

But I love the grocery store. You know; I could spend many hours there.

Dr. Scott Mills: I’m aware. It’s one of the things we differ on quite a bit. {laughing}

Diane Sanfilippo: Just browsing, and I think it’s really fun. It’s not overstimulating for me, because I’m such a visual person that I don’t even see the things on the shelf that are always there. I only see what’s new. I mean, that’s something that I got trained to notice working at Trader Joe’s. It was like your house. You see everything in your house, and if something is out of place, then you notice it. So that’s kind of how I am in the grocery store. When there’s something new, I notice it because I’m used to seeing everything else I have visually digested it already.

Dr. Scott Mills: Kind of catalogued it already.

Diane Sanfilippo: Exactly. That’s exactly it. So it’s like; hmm, that one’s new. What’s that green label? I’ve not seen that before. So, anyway, just with my obsession with groceries, I just love the grocery store so much {laughs}. Even though, of course, my products are not currently in the grocery store. But hopefully, one day. But yeah, I think I just love the idea of creating a product, and then creating packaging for it. And then having this whole experience of the way that I wanted to interact with my product and my recipe and all of that, and have that be in people’s homes.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughing}

Diane Sanfilippo: That’s our dog.

Dr. Scott Mills: Our dog is blooping.

Diane Sanfilippo: She’s dreaming. Harpie, are you dreaming? Aww. We should take a picture of her, so we can show people. I will share that to our Instagram when this episode is airing so you guys can see our sweet little dog.

5. Designing the brand [31:38]

Dr. Scott Mills: Speaking of all that, let’s talk about the design of these spices. Because I feel like it has kind of culminated in this really striking, sort of perfect brand of what you are, as far as a graphic designer, and putting all this together. Just is really kind of neat wheel of color kind of design.

Diane Sanfilippo: So, a couple of things on that. One I talked about in the kitchen, the commercial kitchen, wanting to be able to see the name of the spice from far away. Let’s just say three to four feet away; you know, like the countertop depth. I don’t want to have to search. But the experience in your kitchen is really similar, and when I was actually making recipes for Practical Paleo was one of the times I was trying to find as many spices in the cabinet all the time as possible to pull out, mix together, etc. And not only does every jar look exactly the same from a brand, but the name is so tiny written on it. Even if it’s on the cap, it’s helpful, depending on how your spices are organized.

But, it’s always like the brand is this big size, and then the name of the spice or what your looking for is so tiny. And I’m like; that is not the important information to me. And second of all, as somebody who is so visual, how much easier would it be to just grab it by a color.

Dr. Scott Mills: Sure.

Diane Sanfilippo: When it comes to branding, there are a couple of different things that people will try to do as a consistent element. And I’ve definitely had people telling me that this approach where the logo is just kind of always white, or whatever, and the color of the label itself behind it it’s a weaker logo in that way. These labels have all been printed; they were printed before we rebranded with our new icon with Chuck and had some colors and all of that.

Dr. Scott Mills: We’ll talk about Chuck.

Diane Sanfilippo: There will be a new iteration of the spice labels at some point, but the labels were printed in 2019. We didn’t have the new branding until early 2020, even though the spice jars didn’t actually get filled until 2020.

Anyway. I really felt like, there’s got to be a better way.

Dr. Scott Mills: There’s got to be a better way.

Diane Sanfilippo: But really. I mean, for anybody who cooks all the time, and you’re constantly pulling two, three, four, five, six spices out of the cabinet to use. I mean, we have that spice rack at your old house when I met you; we made new labels for that.

Dr. Scott Mills: Yeah we did.

Diane Sanfilippo: Because I was like; I cannot find anything.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughing}

Diane Sanfilippo: So I’m like; what is the largest font I can use? It’s like; I’m going to be like a grandma looking at these spices and find what I need. But it is really easy to just go by color. So I think you kind of get a double effort at making it easier. And then another thing that I did with the colors was, this still holds true, I think across all of them. And this is something that people wouldn’t necessarily know intuitively. But if it’s important to you, you can learn it and figure it out. But all of the blends that have nightshades in them, are in a warm color tone. So, warm colors being brown, red, orange, yellow, that kind of range. So in our line right now; well there’s a new blend coming that does have nightshades that, I don’t know when they’re launching exactly so I’m not going to leak it now. But it does have a label, it’s a dark red label.

Dr. Scott Mills: And it’s awesome! {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: And it’s awesome! But we have a brown label for Coffee Barbecue. This Diner Blend is a red label. Smoky Blend is like a burnt orange color. And then Taco and Fajita is yellow. So the reason why we have so many more blends that are not in those color ranges is that we have a lot of nightshade free blends. So they’re all kind of at the other end of that spectrum.

So anyway, that was another thing that for me, I just feel like design and color and all these things work together to tell stories in ways that, to the average person, you might not think about it. But it does impact your daily life. It either makes it more beautiful, it makes it easier, it makes it more functional. And those are all things that we can do through design that you don’t really think about unless you think about it.

So those were a couple of things with the labels. Another thing that people probably won’t know. And for me, this is really fun to kind of continue stitching these little elements through more than a decade of my business and what I’m doing with Balanced Bites. But back when I had the meal business, on the website and on the labels and on the paper thing I would print out and give to people with their meals and on the menu each week when people would click to order whichever meals they were going to order for the week. {laughs} It just blows my mind that I was doing this 12 years ago.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: Oh my gosh. I had these little icons for nightshade free, nut free, egg free, dairy free, soy free, gluten free, etc. Seasonal was one that used as well back then. And I actually had intended to use those in the first edition of Practical Paleo, we just didn’t do it. There were a lot of things I wanted to do in the first edition that; I mean, that book was just such a beast that we couldn’t execute on every detail that I wanted to. So in the second edition, people will notice under the name of the recipe, now it’s these color-coded bars of little icons. And so those are also on the spice labels. Those are also on meals, on Balanced Bites meals.  They’re not in color on the labels on the meals themselves, because they’re black and white there. But on the website, they’re all in color. 21-Day Sugar Detox tag, all those things.

So these are things that I’ve used for a long time. And it’s really interesting that I picked a style and design that was pretty timeless back in 2008, because it’s exactly the same style as it was then. I changed the font a tiny bit, but it’s still really similar. So if you’re looking at a jar of the spice that’s underneath the ingredients on that panel, it will have those little icons. And I think those are another, again, just a fun indicator to help you learn about the spice. I don’t know.

Dr. Scott Mills: That’s awesome.

Diane Sanfilippo: What else can I say about it? I’ve got a lot to say about everything.

Dr. Scott Mills: Yeah {laughs}.

Diane Sanfilippo: You’re looking at me like, you’re still talking, honey.

Dr. Scott Mills: I still have one more question, to be honest. Because one of the big hurdles, obviously finding someone that could execute your vision for these and get the flavors right and everything. But, you set a standard to make them all USDA organic. Do you want to talk about how that was an extra step, and why it was important to you?

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, I mean. Actually getting the organic spices was challenging. But the bigger challenge was finding a copacker who would work with glass. That was actually the biggest challenge. I really did not want to have them in plastic. And I think a lot of copackers would rather use plastic just because it’s easier and safer for any potential issues.

So USDA organic; it’s really just a process to go through. And this is one of the things that’s a great benefit of the copacker that I work with; we just have a really good relationship. We submit the blends for approval. There’s not really more to it other than I knew I was going to make them organic. So, that was just a non-negotiable. And that’s it. I don’t know.

6. Moving forward [39:50]

Dr. Scott Mills: Perfect. And there they are. They’re ready. {laughs} Well let’s shift gears into our final component here to the BB meals. This actually officially launched early 2019. All comes full circle, back from original Balanced Bites meals. Why get them into the hands of everybody across the country?

Diane Sanfilippo: Why not?

Dr. Scott Mills: Maybe not why is the right question, but what stimulated you to get kind of back to the beginning again?

Diane Sanfilippo: Well, I would say it was in the fall of 2019. I remember talking to Tony Kasandrinos. I remember talking about Tony a few times on the show before; Kasandrinos Olive Oil. We met as friends in 2011 through the paleo CrossFit community. And I knew that he was bringing his family’s olive oil to the states, and eventually wanted to start his olive oil company. And I totally pushed him to start that sooner than he was going to.

Well, fast forward to when I was bringing my spices to life, I remember saying I did not, at the time to launch them out, I did not want to be the one to deal with inventory and inventory management. I just didn’t not have it in me to figure out fulfillment, any of that stuff. I was like; listen. And listen, I know my strengths. And the grind of that stuff; those are not my strengths. I’m the engine, car in the front. And I’m going to be like; here’s where we’re going. But everyone has to figure out how it’s all going to come together. But I can tell you where we’re going, and be like; let’s go. Follow me. Come one.

Anyway. He kind of offered to help me get that whole thing launched and have it online, and have the spices sold online. So there was that. Then, about, I don’t know how long it was into that. But several months before this conversation that I’m alluding to, we had to get the spices off their website. They were changing a bunch of stuff about the way they were selling, and potentially fulfilling their oil. So he was like; hey, we need to pull them off of the website. I’m like; ok fine. There’s no negativity or anything like that. It was like; hey we need to separate this business out. And I was like; ok, I can handle it. I’ve gone long enough now, now I know this is a real business and I’m ready to do it.

And I remember saying to him; we were just talking, he and I were spit balling about ideas for different products and all of that. Talking about different things that we wanted to create and develop. And I remember just loosely dropping; one day, it might be really cool to do meals again. Maybe I’ll get frozen meals or frozen bowls or something. And I just kind of threw it out there as an idea, which is kind of crazy because I don’t think it was even two months later that I had a contact with the people who now are running the kitchens that cook Balanced Bites meals. And it was basically a conversation; it was while we were on vacation in Hawaii.

Dr. Scott Mills: Of course.

Diane Sanfilippo: You were playing golf. And I get a message like; hey, do you want to do this? What do you think about doing some frozen meals? And I was like, what do you mean what do I think about it? Of course I want to do it.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: I literally said yes, and I think 6 weeks later we were launching the website. No, it was maybe more than 6 weeks. It was not more than 8 or 10 weeks, though.

Dr. Scott Mills: That all happened pretty fast. That little section you just went over is a total blur to me. I’m like; how did this happen so fast? {laughs} But it is, again, like you said; 12 years in the making.

Diane Sanfilippo: Exactly. And you know; I didn’t build kitchens. I didn’t do all of that. I mean, that’s part of. You know, I didn’t know this about the food industry, but there are some companies who, from the beginning, make, produce, pack, etc. their own products. And some companies that, from the beginning, work with copackers. And there are some companies that are really big that work with copackers. Not every big food brand that we know; even Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s is not a manufacturer. They’re always going to contract with manufacturers. I mean, that sounds weird to say manufacturer when it comes to food, but it’s a copacker who makes the food and puts their brand and their label on it.

So when you realize that that’s actually happening at all these different scales, there are some companies that do everything A to Z, and those same companies tend to also pack for others. Because they probably can’t be producing 7 days a week, or however many days a week. They’re not going to produce to the capacity of the machinery and equipment and everything and the staffing that they have just to sell one brand. They need to really maximize what they have in terms of all that equipment.

So anyway; literally, someone asked me the question; do you want to do this. And I was like; yes. And also, this is scary.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: This is why I don’t say things out loud.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughing}

Diane Sanfilippo: Because I said it not more than two months before that, and I remember calling Tony and being like; Tony! Remember how I said. I’m like, this is going to happen. So, then because it was launching, we ended up launching the meal site around January 25th, I think. I remember I was in Santa Monica for a Beautycounter meeting, and I was in the lobby at 7 a.m. launching the website {laughs} before I went and showered for these meetings.

But we worked on recipes to execute that were, I think all from Keto Quick Start. Because Keto Quick Start had launched at that time also. So we were just like; let’s make them keto friendly, let’s make them recipes from that book. And then it’s just kind of evolved and changed over time. Different menus and all that. And we’re currently working on new summer menu items. We taste tested those over the weekend.

Dr. Scott Mills: Yum!

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. So, we’ll have some newness introduced. We might loop back some previously sold items. But yeah. I don’t know; I feel like I stumbled into it. And then the next step from here, as I’ve talked about the podcast before, is deciding how to move forward and figuring out how to take this stuff to retail. And at that point, too, looking potentially at a different kitchen to actually make the meals to that scale. Because I think I will be making; oh, I don’t know, 10 to 40 times the number of meals. Somewhere in the 10 to 40 times range; probably 40 times as many as we do week to week in this facility that can actually produce so much more.

But I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what they’re doing through all of this. I think they’re probably still making food, because everyone is still eating.

Dr. Scott Mills: Yeah, it’s still essential.

Diane Sanfilippo: But, I have to make some phone calls, and that’s kind of, hopefully the next step from there. Because you asked earlier about; oh, did I have this vision for Balanced Bites when I closed it to still continue it as a meal business, etc., and I didn’t at the time. But the thing that I do have a pretty strong vision around right now. And I don’t know what it will be. I don’t know how successful it will be. I don’t know anything. I just know that I can see it. I can see a loose picture of a package for my food in the freezer. I can see it there. Because what I see there now are some options that I don’t think I would buy.

There are some things; we’ll buy certain frozen pizzas and things like that.

Dr. Scott Mills: Yeah. And few here and there, but not your food.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah, there’s not much in the way of an actual entrée. So this is the example, right? Now we order BB meals. We order Balanced Bites meals all the time. Not right now, but if I’m traveling and was doing a book tour; if I was traveling for something, and leaving food behind for you. Which, obviously we can order food in San Francisco, most of the time. But knowing that you had those meals was great. But before we launched the direct to consumer online ordering, there weren’t meals at the grocery store that I would be like; let me stock up on those so that Scott would have those when I’m gone or whatever.

Not like he can’t cook, but these are the kinds of cases where people want some frozen meals. Or people take them to work a lot; it’s a really common thing. Especially in areas of the country where there’s not a ton of delivery available. We forget what it’s like to live in an area, sometimes; we have endless options here. When we’re not under a pandemic.

Dr. Scott Mills: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: But people don’t have a lot of options. And how cool would it be if you could get my balsamic barbecue beef as a bowl or an entrée or something like that. So, definitely some barriers. Definitely not people doing it in certain ways. But also, that’s actually kind of exciting to me. Because I feel like there’s two sides to things. One is like; well, here’s how it’s done, because this is how the industry is and this is what people buy, and this is what works. And I’m like; yeah, but there’s a better way. And if you raise the standard, then you can raise the standard.

Dr. Scott Mills: That’s the through line, from everything you’ve really done and launched. Showing people how to cook better food for themselves. Teaching people about the nutrition; the importance of that. And then also that next step of actually getting these products into their hands. And I think that’s the through line.

Diane Sanfilippo: That’s the through line?

Dr. Scott Mills: Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: What’s a through line? That sounds so official.

Dr. Scott Mills: That’s sort of your trend, or continuum. The whole story. The origin of the story of Balanced Bites is …

Diane Sanfilippo: Raising the standard?

Dr. Scott Mills: Raising the standard. That’s it.

Diane Sanfilippo: Maybe that will be a new tagline for Balanced Bites wholesome food. Raise your standards of what your food can taste like. {laughs} Something like that. I mean, it’s true. Because, I don’t know.

Dr. Scott Mills: I think a lot of people in business talk about pivoting. And we’ve talked about your kind of origin story through here. And there have been some pivots there, for sure. But really it’s been kind of this journey that has actually made sense, and you know, come full circle with some neat steps, I think, ahead.

Diane Sanfilippo: That’s it for Driven this week. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe in Apple podcast, on Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow us on Instagram @TheDrivenPodcast. If you want to check out my husband’s work, he is @FullBodyFix, and I am @DianeSanfilippo. Of course, you can always fine Balanced Bites @BalancedBites.

Tune in next week for another new episode. We’ll see you then.

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