NOSH Voices: Culture is Brand

About the Author: Shane Emmett is the CEO of Health Warrior, a packaged food company on a mission to make radically convenient, real food and positively influence the diet and exercise habits of western civilization. Before moving to the food industry, Shane worked as an attorney.

It is still before sunrise in our adventure at Health Warrior and we have not changed the world yet. Most Americans have not heard of our products or our brand. But we do have an outstanding early culture¹

To escape gravity as a challenger food brand requires time, innovation, fortitude, creativity, surviving disasters, ingenuity, cash, plenty of mistakes, fortuitous timing, grit, luck, and great partners. And that’s just to make it to the starting line. But to build a true culture requires the right people with the right outlook and in this it is vital to begin at the beginning. Seth Godin reminds us the key to better coffee is not a fancier coffee maker, it’s the quality of the beans.


Health Warrior launched our first product, the Chia Bar, nationally with Whole Foods three years ago last month (when we had one full-time Warrior—not recommended) and we have grown rapidly since then. But our greatest proof of long-term traction today isn’t velocity or distribution (both important), but the extraordinary talent, personality, and potential manifested in our 75+ Warriors across the country today.

Here are five strategies and tactics that we use at Health Warrior to build our culture.:

Have heroes. How many brands have truly changed the world for better, not worse? Patagonia. Patagonia’s founder Yvon Choinard started the company because he needed rock climbing tools that better served him and also lessened harm to the mountains he was climbing. Yvon was happy (perhaps enjoyed) sleeping outside, drinking from streams, and eating cat food while he was “launching” his startup from the trunk of his car in Yosemite. Grit, fortitude, responsibility (I think of Patagonia as the the antithesis of today’s Volkswagen), a dash of civil disobedience, and integrity of purpose are the roots of a transcendent brand like Patagonia.

Grassroots. I had the honor of serving as an attorney for the Obama presidential campaign in 2008. It’s hard to remember the national momentum eight years ago, but it was the most powerful grassroots movement in America in a long time. And door knocking—talking to complete strangers in their homes— was how we got it done. In a digital era, the best digital campaign in history relied on analog, grassroots tactics to connect with real people. Health Warrior’s version of this is demos.

And at Health Warrior, everyone does demos. From our CFO to across our leadership team, everyone takes up their station in stores for hours on end, sampling Chia Bars and talking about real food to real people.

Summit. We built a large team in a short period of time and that team is spread all over the country, but we think it’s vital that everyone spends live time together. Bonfires remain superior to Slack. So we have Summits and we climb mountains (with bears), do Spartan Races, drink beer, and cook huge family style dinners. Good things come from this recipe.

Serve the field. We want to support our Warriors on the front lines with everything we have and that goes beyond the grocery store too. One part of our culture are mandatory sabbaticals—a paid adventure where Warriors step back from the daily grind, get outside, and do something awesome. Climb and ski Grand Teton, run a marathon, headline a rock and roll concert (seriously). Have an odyssey—and then come back with an awesome story to broadcast across our digital mediums.

Ownership. Every full-time Warrior has meaningful stock options in Health Warrior. The food business is tough. You have to play chess (not checkers) all while winning knife fights, and that’s true from the C-suite (currently housed in a glorified garage) to our Road Warriors serving in the field. So having ownership is vital—everyone here is an entrepreneur.

People want to know where their food comes from. They also want to know the spirit of the company that feeds them and that spirit doesn’t come from a logo, tagline, print ad, cute youtube video, or television commercial —it comes from the people that live the adventure that is the brand.

1: Our great HW investor and friend Andy Stefanovich taught us this lesson about culture early on – if you don’t have culture, you don’t have much.

At Project NOSH and BevNET we pride ourselves on having a robust network of food and beverage entrepreneurs, industry insiders and advisers. To that effect, NOSH Voices is a series of columns by respected experts to provide a spectrum of points of view from within the community. Interested in contributing as a NOSH voice? Contact the Editors.

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