Gooder Podcast featuring Cynthia Tice
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“Better-for-you Foods was here to stay, and more consumers wanted it, but that required education.” – Cynthia Tice
This week on the Gooder Podcast, I had the pleasure of talking with Cynthia Tice, the Founder of Lily’s Sweets. We discuss the history of Lily’s Sweets – a leader in the no added sugar movement. We also learn about the history of the naturals industry and some trends that have come up in the natural products industry and Better-For-You brands. Along the way, we learn the extraordinary journey of a passionate leader in finding and building a creative naturals community through Lily’s Sweets.
In this episode we learn:
- The legacy and history of Lily’s Sweets.
- Cynthia’s journey of dispelling myths around using naturals products throughout her career.
- How the pandemic has given consumers a reset moment to reevaluate health and consumption habits.
- The evolvement of the natural products industry and accessibility to naturals/Better-For-You products.
- About Cynthia’s emphasis on leadership, mentorship, and the importance of creating a collaborative culture.
- How a do-it-yourself mentality is a strength and (sometimes) a challenge for entrepreneurs.
- The advice she finds herself consistently giving entrepreneurs who have been approaching a professional transition.
About Cynthia Tice:
Cynthia Tice got her start in the natural foods industry before green juice was cool. She opened a natural foods grocery store, Center Foods, in Philadelphia in 1978, and owned and operated that store for 20 years. As supermarkets realized the staying power of natural and organic foods, Tice began consulting retailers on how to launch or build out their natural and organic offerings. She also began advising brands looking to launch natural and organic products. While working with a client who wanted to launch a natural soda, Tice became aware of the opportunity for naturally sweetened, no added sugar foods. This trend was emerging because of growing consumer sentiments to limit sugar, along with all time high levels of distrust of non-nutritive artificial sweeteners.
As a long-time user of stevia, when the ingredient was granted GRAS status in 2008, Tice began experimenting with making chocolate with stevia to satisfy her own need for a no added sugar chocolate (her favorite food) that she could eat daily. In 2011, the recipe was perfected using not only stevia, but also the finest Fair Trade, additive-free, and Non-GMO other ingredients in order to benefit both people and planet. By 2012, Lily’s Sweets was on shelves in Whole Foods stores nationwide. Today, Lily’s Sweets remains a leader in the no added sugar movement through continued innovation, and the company’s chocolates and confections can be found in more than 24,000 stores nationwide. Lily’s Sweets has been recognized by Forbes as a, “mission-driven company reinventing the packaged food industry.”
Cynthia stepped away from the daily running of Lily’s in 2018, and spends her time working with Non-Profits, and mentoring young entrepreneurs. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Dennis, of 30+ years, near her parents, her children, and their spouses/partners, and four family dogs!
Guests Social Media Links:
Stevia is a natural sweetener and sugar substitute derived from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana, native to Brazil and Paraguay. The active compounds are steviol glycosides, which have 30 to 150 times the sweetness of sugar, are heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable.
Alar Scare – In early 1989, the NRDC released a report on Alar, a chemical used to harvest apples. The report estimated that Alar caused cancer and children were at greater risk.
Mothers & Others, a campaign that rallied concerned citizens who supported NRDC in the fight for tougher pesticide residue standards, standards that—thanks to a law passed 10 years later—would protect particularly vulnerable subpopulations such as infants and young children.
FMI Corporation For over 65 years, FMI has been the leading management consulting and investment banking* firm dedicated exclusively to engineering and construction, infrastructure, and the built environment.
Campaign to label GMOs: Using the hashtag #ConcealOrReveal, the campaign reached over 28 million people through social media. In addition to mobilizing American consumers around GMO labeling, Just Label It! won support from many food companies it targeted.
Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., is a privately held American supermarket chain; it is headquartered in Gates, New York. As of March 2021, Wegmans has 105 stores in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions.
Acme Markets Inc. is a supermarket chain operating 163 stores throughout Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and, as of 1999, is a subsidiary of Albertsons, and part of its presence in the Northeast.
VMG is an organization comprised of diverse people and points of view, and we are aligned in our mission to challenge the status quo. We encourage everyone in our ecosystem to cultivate a safe space in your communities and to operate with compassion and empathy.
Maxlove Project is an innovative, parent-driven, volunteer-powered, grassroots nonprofit organization founded to help SuperKids thrive against cancer and related life-threatening illnesses with integrative medicine and “Fierce Foods” anticancer nutrition.
The Family Thrive delivers strategies, tools, and experts that help families create joyful, meaningful, thriving lives.
Diana Fryc: Hi, welcome to the Gooder Podcast, I’m your host, Diana Fryc. As partner and CMO of Retail Voodoo, an award-winning branding agency, I have met and worked with some of the most amazing women in the natural’s industry of food, beverage, wellness, fitness, and as such, I decided to create the Gooder Podcast to interview and highlight these great people and subject matter experts and have them share their insights, expertize and passions in helping small businesses all around the world become gooder.
I’m so excited to introduce my guests today. Cynthia Tice is founder of the Lily’s Sweets, the no sugar added sweets brand made for chocolate lovers everywhere. She is – and this is my title I hope you like it, Cynthia. She is a founding mama in the natural food industry, cutting her teeth by opening a natural grocery store back in Philly in 1978 and during this foundational time in the community and with keen observations of the sweetening of the American diet and a longtime user of Stevia, this opened the opportunity to experiment and create a chocolate treat to satisfy her own chocolate cravings.
Today, Lily’s Sweets remains a leader in the no added sugar movement with the mission of reinventing the packaged food industry. And of course, since stepping down from Lily’s, you can find her working with nonprofits and mentoring young entrepreneurs. Hi Cynthia, welcome.
Cynthia Tice: Hi Diana. Thank you so much for having me here today.
Diana Fryc: Of course. So you’re in Philadelphia today. How’s Philly?
Cynthia Tice: Philly’s great. It’s a cold day today, but it’s still fun to be here and I just love Philly. It’s back to my old hometown.
Diana Fryc: That is awesome. And I am so excited and have all my toes and fingers crossed for Expo East to happen this year because that’s in your hometown, hey?
Cynthia Tice: Yes. I’m super excited and fingers crossed on this end as well.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. So funny when I think of Philadelphia, I always got to go Philly. I don’t know where that comes from. It’s maybe my West Coast translation and Philly is probably like this super awesome modern town now. But I’ve got this old vision in my head.
Cynthia Tice: We’ve got the youth guys community like it’s nice. There’s a little of everything.
Diana Fryc: There’s a little bit of everything, I like that. Sounds like a little bit like Chicago in some ways.
Cynthia Tice: Yeah.
Diana Fryc: Well, hey, we didn’t get together here to talk about Philadelphia. What I want to talk about was first of all, wanting to share your extraordinary journey in finding and then also building this creative community or this creative natural’s community through Lily’s Sweets. But before we do that, maybe give us a little high level of Lily’s. Why does it exist and maybe a little history?
Cynthia Tice: Sure. You kind of said it in the intro. Lily’s really exists because I am an avowed chocoholic. I love chocolate. And I really got to the point where I wanted to eat it every single day and I didn’t want to eat a little bit. People always say, “Oh, you can have chocolate every day, just eat a little bit.” And moderation is not really part of my vocabulary. So that wasn’t particularly a good option for me and I’ve been a sugar avoider for years and years. And since I wanted to really eat chocolate and eat it abundantly and joyfully and without sensor, I really wanted to create a chocolate that was sugar free. That tasted really, really good.
Diana Fryc: Well, you are a human after my own heart. I’m not a big fan of moderation myself, especially when it comes to the sweets. So I knew I liked you.
Cynthia Tice: Thanks.
Diana Fryc: When you and I spoke about what we could talk about and what your passion was, you gave this incredibly rich story of what was happening around you as the natural’s industry was building, and that’s kind of why I put you on the founding mama’s front, just simply because there was so much that you were doing and so much of an impact. Now, as I understand it, I’m going to try to compress a lot of this;
Just to set up the question. But there’s like three big pivotal moments in the last 25 or 30 years that sort of opened the door for Lily’s to set its roots and really for the natural’s industry. Then that’s the rapid decline of the American diet, kind of this shifting from Whole Foods to processed foods for a variety of reasons. There was this Allier scare that maybe we might touch on here and a little bit. And of course, Stevia’s approval for use for human consumption or for just for consumption.
And behind the scenes, we’re seeing things like Whole Foods accelerated growth through acquisition, moving outside of Texas and then there was a moment, I’m going to call it in the room when it happened. A little bit of my Hamilton reference at a conference called The Transitional Shopper, where you were witness to an industry shift around consumers and how retailers needed to pay attention to consumers. So let’s start in the beginning before we go through all of this. Why natural’s in the first place? This was, of course, before Stevia. So why did you go into natural’s? What was the calling there?
Cynthia Tice: So why I got into naturals was from personal need. So when I was in my late teens and early 20s, I didn’t feel well and I was never like concretely diagnosed. But I suspected that I had irritable bowel or something like that kind of issue. I went to a lot of doctors and there was nothing really significantly wrong, but I just felt terrible all the time. And I clearly remember sitting in my college cafeteria at Temple University and I was complaining, as I always did, how I didn’t feel well. And some literally random guy turned around and he said to me, “Well, no wonder you don’t feel well, look at what you’re eating.” And I have to tell you, it was like he smacked me across the face and I was like, what? I’ve been to all these doctors and no one ever questioned me on my diet. But you know what? That sounds really reasonable and I think I ought to consider that.
So I began to research on my own and I wasn’t eating anything that was natural in those days. It was a diet that was primarily like coffee and corn chips. And so I changed my diet and I immediately felt better. It was so soon and like I became a zealot. I felt so much better and it was so enormous to me that I just wanted to tell everybody. So I started with my family and I’m sure I wasn’t all that endearing because I would go to family dinner and bring my own food. But then I graduated college and I come from a family of entrepreneurs who were retailers. So at that point, my family said, “Well, what are you going to do next? And do you want to go to grad school? What are you going to do?” And I said, I’d really like to open a natural food store and that was 1978. And they lend me like 10 grand and I opened it natural food store.
It was really tiny, really tiny location and in two years I ended up moving. So in 1980, I moved to my second store and I ended up owning and operating a natural food store in Philadelphia until 2000. It was quite a long time frame and I really got to see the industry grow. I really got to see these kinds of hallmark occurrences that were the history of the natural products industry. I think the industry was growing. It was slowly growing. It was garnering support and customers were interested.
But like somewhere around and I’m pretty sure it was like around 1989 was when the Alar scare happened. So the Alar is a chemical that is put on apples. I’m pretty sure it’s banned now. But there was a giant commotion about it, and Meryl Streep, who was a young mother at that time, formed a group called Mothers and Others and really publicized the fact that apples were grown using this really dangerous chemical.
And her point was that apples are largely a child’s first food. They’re one of the first foods; the apple juice, they eat applesauce, drink apple juice. And she was like, “Oh, my God, we’re giving these tiny children, these tiny little bodies, this toxic chemical.” So she started to make a lot of public appearance around it and people that we had never seen before shop in the Natural Foods Store started to convene into the stores and it was so big, it was so enormous that I remember that apples were like sold out. The supply and demand was so pressed that organic apples were nowhere to be found. But what that did was it just created this unbelievable awareness about organics had not previously been there before and it was sticky and the new customers that we got stayed and so it was a very big event.
Diana Fryc: Wow, a lot of the people that are going to be listening here, even myself, I sometimes go, oh, there was a time before social media, and I also remember this. I don’t know if this was still around that time, but organics did not look as lovely as they did right now. So to have this mass convergence was kind of a cultural phenomenon because people were like, oh, visual is not as important anymore in this moment. So it seems to me like a few things changed in the consumer’s eyes based off of this one event.
Cynthia Tice: Yeah, there was a hard core group that really believed that part of growing food and there was a pretty decent amount of a hippie movement of people that really believed that when you were growing food with chemicals that was leaching into your food and that made a difference. But Brown Streep provided and articulated an awareness that was not necessarily heard before and absorbed before by such a big consumer group and her argument that not only was this chemical remaining in the final product, but by feeding your children who had smaller bodies than adults that that could make a difference, I think really resonated with mothers in particular. So I think she really catapulted the industry to a new level.
Diana Fryc: Just in that moment. That’s interesting. And then was it at that time that there were two — I don’t remember-were there are two different events or was it the FMI event where with the Whole Foods conversation and the education, maybe share that story? Because I think that fundamental shift, of course, we’ve adopted. But even still, some retailers don’t keep in mind. So share that one for us.
Cynthia Tice: Yeah, so again, the Meryl Streep event was like in 89’ the FMI event was occurring in 2000, for the next ten years we continued to see accelerated growth in the industry. And one of the other things that I think was interesting that happened was there became a growing awareness of GMOs. I heard for the first time of GMOs in the early 90s and prior to that, I had never heard of GMOs before either. But there was this man named Craig Winters who actually started this organization called the Campaign to Label GMOs. And that was the first time that I ever heard of GMOs and he was part of the natural products industry. He sent around a pamphlet and the pamphlet described how Monsanto was literally building pesticides into seeds, and the pamphlet told this story that was like hair raising to me;
Of this field that was observed when a pack or a — I don’t know what you call it– a flock of mammoth butterflies landed on the corn and they instantly died. So they fell off the corn and died and I don’t actually know if that story is even true, but that was what we heard. And it started this another kind of like big movement within the industry that I also think harnessed other people. So what happened was the industry was just growing and growing and at a certain point, natural conventional retailers began to see that natural products were here to stay.
I sort of think of what was formerly called natural products is now called better-for-you. They began for the first time to see that better-for-you foods were something that people were interested in. They wanted them and there began to be a lot of education and a lot of research, consumer research that was shared with supermarket retailers. The Hartman Group in particular was reporting consumer research.
So there was more and more interest. And in 2000, I attended a seminar that was jointly provided by the Food Marketing Institute, FMI and St. John University that’s here in Philly and it was just this really big, interesting symposium that was given by the academics at the Food Marketing Institute, as well as like Hain Celestial participated, a big PR group participated in it, who was spearheading kind of the initiative of helping supermarket retailers understand what was happening, this whole movement that they called whole health and then a lot of supermarket retailers also attended.
It was a Whole Foods attempt, and it was fascinating to me from so many different perspectives. It literally changed my trajectory for my next step in the industry. So what they were reporting was that better-for-you Foods was here to stay, that more and more consumers wanted it. But that it required education; so if you put these products into a supermarkets assortment, it was requiring that you also educate the consumer.
I remember clearly during this lecture where all of these facts were communicated to this giant group of many different retailers. So like Wegmans was there, Acme was there, just a lot of different local retailers and some guy raises his hand and he stands up and he goes, “What do you mean we have to educate consumers? How are we going to do that?” That was one of those light bulb moments for me where I was like, “Oh, my God, I’ve been doing that for 20 years. I know exactly who will do that.”
And then there was one other thing that was also a giant light bulb moment for me and it was that Whole Foods stood up and started lecturing this group and somebody in the audience raised their hand and said, “Well, you have all these plans for aggressive growth. You’ve now bought bread and circus and you’ve now bought Mrs. Gooch’s and you’ve bought fresh fields. Where do you think your consumer base is going to come from? There’s just not a big enough group.” And the woman said, “Oh let me be very clear. We are not after the natural products consumer. We are after your consumers.” And there was this dead silence in the room and that was also another light bulb moment for me and it was so much so that I literally sold my store.
Diana Fryc: You did in that moment?
Cynthia Tice: Yeah, I said this is my next career move. I was sort of at the point during the time where I had been in the store, I had gotten married. I had children. I had a 10 year old and a seven year old at home. I wasn’t seeing very much of them.
I thought I’m going to do something else and I’m going to consult and my first job is I’m going to consult with supermarket retail, conventional grocers who really are struggling to have this expertize of how to attract consumers that are interested in naturals. It was kind of a bold move for me. But I did it. I cold called some retailers in our area. I fell into some really interesting clients and I ended up doing consulting all across the country to retailers. I kind of created this turnkey program where I would present an assortment and then follow it up with marketing and it was super fun. I loved it. I did that and then switched and went into including brands and I did that until I launched Lily’s.
Diana Fryc: Until you launched Lily’s. These are big initiatives, I’m starting a new store right out of college to I’m advising the largest chains on how do you start shifting their business models to starting your own CPGs. These are big. You don’t do small things. That sounds like if you’re going to do something you want to change the world is pretty fantastical.
Lily’s seems like such a natural transition to me, at least, moving from the retailer side and interacting with the consumer at a different level, and especially since it’s still, again, a labor of personal love. You went from your store and what your needs were then to filling another need. Nobody’s doing this chocolate. I need this chocolate. I’m going to make it myself. That’s the way it’s going to be. And is this you? Is this just your DNA? Do you know, when somebody comes over to your home, there’s no such thing as a cake for a party. It’s like you’ve got an explosion going on. Is this just part of your natural DNA or just maybe part of your business DNA?
Cynthia Tice: I guess because I come from a family of entrepreneurs. It never occurred to me to that it was a big risk. It’s not that I’m not risk adverse. It’s just that I’m very used to being my own boss. I’ve never worked for anyone except for very short periods of time where I was like, oh, my God, this is a giant mistake. I’m not very good at being told what to do, for better for worse.
So being my own boss was always the best solution for me and I’m actually not really all that collaborative. I’m trying to get better at that, certainly with networking and mentoring. But my natural inclination is to work pretty solo. That’s been a real growth opportunity for me and something that actually I’m loving. For me the one constant was always the industry. I really found a home in the industry. I love our industry. I just feel like it’s true livelihood and I just feel like there’s so much opportunity to look good in the industry and that was really the constant.
Diana Fryc: Well, now you’ve been at some kind of pivotal moments, especially in the last few years. I think Lily’s is a giant example of how food technology and ingredients, green, science, all of these types of things have kind of created opportunities for us to have brands like Lily’s and then, of course, since then there’s been an explosion. When you think back, Lily’s is kind of a catalyst. Everybody’s chasing after that brand because it’s been kind of first to market and kind of getting it right and meeting the consumer where their needs are in mass consumption of chocolate.
When you think of the natural’s industry in general, are you looking at certain things and kind of going, yeah, we got that right and that right. It may have taken a while. It may have been early on. But anything that you’re particularly like, I’m glad we tackled that that was important for us to do?
Cynthia Tice: I think we’ve kind of gotten a lot right, but I really feel like it’s a continuum. I feel like there’s always the opportunity to kind of reevaluate and do better, both personally and as an industry. So I think we’re doing a lot right. But I think there’s a lot more that we can be doing and I guess I sort of view the natural products industry as the thought leaders of overall CPG. That’s been a very valuable and it’s been really exciting to witness that evolution because prior to that 2000 landmark occasion, the natural products industry was largely viewed as just crazy little people who ate yogurt and birdseed. Honestly, that was like one of the things that I feel like I’ve spent my career doing is continuing to dispel that myth by trying to meet people where they live, like in a place of real non-judgment and sort of like seducing people into eating better.
Diana Fryc: Oh, there you go. I like that approach. Yes. Where do you think we can be going better? And a part of one of my two agendas with Gooder is for us to — I think we’ve created a bubble just in the last couple of years of what Natural is and I’m wanting to open that bubble back out. And I feel like we could be reaching back into communities that have been ignoring or that we can be taking care of better. So that’s my personal opinion on where we think we can be doing better. How do we do that or how have you guys been doing that? Whether it’s with your work that you’re doing personally or through Lily’s, how can we do better stretching out into these markets and these consumers?
Cynthia Tice: Well Diana, I could not agree with you more. I think food equity is a giant topic that we really are addressing as an industry and need to continue to address. I’m super excited to see Lily’s and other natural brands in true mainstream channels. And I know that there’s been this kind of dynamic tension about saving special items for natural only. As a former natural products retailer, I truly understand.
I’m proud to see my brand and other natural brands in retailers that are shopped by people everywhere so that they are really accessible to everyone at price points that make them more accessible. So I embrace that expansion and simultaneously, that leads me back to the fact that I do view the natural products industry as thought leaders. I think there’s room for everything and I think that there will always be a place for specialty retailers and there will always be a place for expansion. So I’m super excited to see that. If you ask me something really specific, I think we need to address a very specific need. I think we are not yet doing a good enough job with regards to sustainable packaging.
I think that’s a real area for opportunity that’s really still pretty new and I think we really need to address it. I had shared some pictures recently of plastics in landfills and it was just a shocking photograph. I shared this statistic that even within recycling plants, it’s something like only 7% of plastics or 8% or some super numbers are actually being recycled. So my hope is and something that I would personally like to get more involved in is how can we solve that? I think there’s some super creative, interesting ideas floating around out there and maybe some interim steps, too. But that to me is something that I think as an industry we could be doing better and addressing a little bit more rigorously.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, who was I talking to recently? Somebody I interviewed, her podcast goes live in a couple of weeks. Her name is Maggie from 8 Track Foods, but she said she was talking about the waste that the industry creates in general. She said she had an aha moment at the trade show when she was looking around at Expo and looking at all the ways that the trade show creates. So like kind of along the same lines as you like, we’re thought leaders, we could be doing better, but it’s almost like two sides of the coin. We have to create something so that we don’t continue the situation and yet there’s a big mess to clean up as well, because the stuff that’s out there now, something has to be done with that at the same time. So almost like there are two conversations to solve the one common problem, yeah?
Cynthia Tice: Yes, I totally agree, and there are some really cool initiatives out there now with like collecting food from restaurants and bringing it to populations that need it. I think the past year has been so hard with the pandemic. But I also think that early in the pandemic, I was part of a webinar where the presenter said something about the pandemic and it’s like Mother Nature gave everybody a time out.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, agreed.
Cynthia Tice: And I think there’s been some spectacular thought around really important issues that were perhaps accelerated by the fact that people really had time to think.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, well, we had a double whammy, I think, between the pandemic and then a lot of things from the BLM movement and now our Asian families and communities can’t help to think that it’s all sort of related. You get cooped up for a while, everything accelerates. Everybody’s angry. Politics had absolutely added fuel to the fire and then we’ve got media and everybody’s translation of that and it’s just kind of turned into this whirlpool and I think it distracts us.
All of that is distracting us from some of these bigger things, like, hey, the planet’s being polluted to death and we’re eating toxins and insert, insert, insert, all of this other stuff becomes so noisy that we don’t have time to deal with these other issues. Sometimes it’s exhausting which thing do I want to take on first? So it’s good that there’s folks like yourself that are like, I’m going to commit to this and we have groups of people instead of everybody spreading things, we have groups that do this and groups that do this. So it’s pretty fantastic.
Cynthia Tice: Yeah, really well stated, Diana, because I’m in a different place in my career so much of having to be able to think about this. But you’re 100% right. There’s been so much suffering and I don’t want to suggest for a minute that it’s been anything but so sad.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. But I think your observation is 100% accurate in that there’s been a great deal of opportunity to self-reflect because of the time out. Everybody’s inspecting who they are and who they are within a community, within a family, within the global world and so you’re right, it’s a giant time out.
And it was much longer than all of us expected; and we still have some time out time left. Maybe that’s a challenge for us before we get back to our crazy schedules, maybe being conscious and aware and make some conscious decisions about how you’re going to move forward in life.
Cynthia Tice: Absolutely!
Diana Fryc: Cynthia, I want to talk a little bit. I wanted to kind of just shift into leadership and mentoring. Yeah, we’ve identified that you don’t like to be managed. I’m going to use the word managed, but I’m sure you’ve been mentored that you can’t be a leader the way you are now without mentorship and that may have been indirectly through your family experience just growing up around that, clearly an important part of your story. And your brand could not grow without you doing mentorship, you could not do everything. So in some ways, while you do have that, I’m going to do it myself. There’s no way Lily’s would be where it is now. So it’s kind of like the million dollar question that I think a lot of people have when they want to be a Cynthia Tice is how do I let go of my baby and what are those steps? And was it your team that helped you get out of it or did you have somebody external? That’s the million dollar question. How do I live on, how do I know my baby’s going to be taken care of?
Cynthia Tice: When I partnered with Private Equity, — so by 2017, I launched Lily’s in 2012.
Diana Fryc: Oh so fast.
Cynthia Tice: Yes. And I launched Whole Foods as a national brand. That was pretty extraordinary. Lily’s grew so quickly and I had by then had a lot of experience with brands. I helped launch some I did category management for Asian markets. I had a lot of experience with seeing how brands had performed and I saw Lily’s and I was like, oh my God, something extraordinary is happening. It’s gaining extraordinary acceptance in a really fast way.
My team, when I partnered with VMG was myself, my two kids who were in their early 20s and one other person, and I was literally running in place. I was like, oh, my God, what am I going to do? I’m not a team builder, I am seriously not. I was in my 60s I knew myself well enough to know that’s not my skill set. This is my skill set. I did what I’m good at and I did a good job. But building a team is not my skill set and that was the impetus for partnering. So it was VMG who found Jane Miller, who is now Lily’s CEO. She built the team and she did a really fantastic job.
So watching her do what she had the expertize to do has been really rewarding as well. It was not easy to let go of it. It wasn’t. But I really just felt like Lily’s was extraordinary, like there was something extraordinary happening and I felt like I really wanted to see it reach its full potential and I felt like I better do something to facilitate that. And I did a year of due diligence and this seemed like the best; it seemed like the best choice and I feel like it was an excellent choice. And so it’s been like super exciting to watch this new team come on and take Lily’s to the next chapter.
I think one of the one of the things that really helped me because it was really hard, really hard, was that I felt like I was doing the right thing and B, I felt like I was doing it with the right partners and C, the Jane formalized a lot of the values that I put into the company. One at one of my biggest messages to entrepreneurs is your brand can really reflect your values and make sure that it does. It’s a real opportunity too and your brand is like a blank canvas that you can paint with your values.
So I was super happy that that was really important to me and that was really maintained.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, well, it’s not uncommon. The firm that I work for, Retail Voodoo, we work with a lot of entrepreneurs in that transition time and I think it speaks volumes of who, first of all, that you have the perfect trifecta. We’ve got somebody who’s passionate about what they’re doing. That’s you, Cynthia. Then you’ve got a partner like Wayne, right? Wayne specifically; I don’t know him personally, but I’ve seen who he is and how he shows up in the industry, understands entrepreneurs and the special relationship that entrepreneurs have with their brand, and instead of strong holding kind of mentors, an entrepreneur through that transition. And then the bringing on of Jane, who also understands the special relationship between a brand and an entrepreneur, I think that critical understanding of the relationship, you’re really lucky that doesn’t happen all the time.
Cynthia Tice: Yes I am. I totally agree.
Diana Fryc: Not only that, but then when you have that right partnership, then your brand, like you said, gets to fully express itself to its greatest ability because sometimes I’m an entrepreneur myself. Sometimes we entrepreneurs get in our own way and make decisions, emotional decisions that maybe aren’t always in our best interest. And so how wonderful that Lily’s not only grew so quickly five years for that kind of growth is pretty phenomenal and then since then, since VMG now, it’s exploding and it’s really great that you were able to have that observation because not all entrepreneurs can have that sense of awareness and sometimes it takes until your 60s. I get it.
Cynthia Tice: Yeah, hopefully you get wise as you get older. It makes it worthwhile.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, I understand. So really quick, before we get into the last part of the interview, tell me a little bit about why mentoring entrepreneurs is so important for you right now.
Cynthia Tice: Well, it’s another way to remain in the industry. That’s like the selfish part of it, or totally personal part of it, but it’s also like a way to give back. So it’s a win-win. I love the industry and I have had such a wonderful time here and I’m not done yet and part of the way that I can remain is to help other people. I love mentoring. I’m loving the work that I’m doing. Lily’s is an early adopter in the JEDI collaborative and kind of became my project for Lily’s and so I attended the early adopter circle and the CEO circle and it’s so powerful and so amazing. So I’m so grateful that I had that opportunity.
Lily’s is also a mission based company and we donate to childhood wellness initiatives.
Diana Fryc: I love it.
Cynthia Tice: I’m the chair of the charitable giving committee. So that’s really rewarding. The work that I remain active in is, it’s been just really personally rewarding. But and it’s also provided an opportunity for me to kind of expand and do things that I haven’t done before, like collaboration.
Diana Fryc: That’s so funny. I think we might be daughters from an adopted mother or something. I’m just hearing so much about how I operate coming from you. It’s fun to see that. I just wonder; some you already kind of talked about this a little bit, but is there some advice that you find yourself consistently giving to entrepreneurs, particularly those that are looking to do a transition, like they’re looking forward to that transition?
Cynthia Tice: I would say I haven’t really had the opportunity yet to mentor people who have been approaching a transition.
But I think if I did, I would encourage them to really be thoughtful about their expectations and communicate those expectations upfront so that everyone can align, because I think that that’s where people can really get tripped up. If one person is thinking one thing and another person thinking another, and there’s not true alignment and understanding. So I really encourage that. I think actually, Diana, there could be a lot more dialog around the role of the founder through transitioning.
I think it’s a really interesting topic and it’s something that Jane and I have talked about a lot. So, I think it’s an interesting topic, but just for overall, my advice for entrepreneurs is to really understand that the influence their business can have in terms of reflecting their values. And I think just from a practical standpoint, to never underestimate the amount of time that you’re going to spend in your business, how you should absolutely love what you do.
Diana Fryc: Amen. That’s wonderful. Thank you. Cynthia, thank you so much for sharing about these things. I have a last few questions that I like to ask everybody. So the first one is, is there any kind of interesting fact that you like to share about chocolate or Lily’s or just the industry in general, some sort of happy hour tidbit?
Cynthia Tice: Okay, so this is my favorite actual tidbit, and this is geared to helping people to understand how small changes can lead to bigger ones. So if you are striving to reduce sugar and you want to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies and you substitute a no sugar chocolate chip like Lily’s chocolate chips in the recipe and do nothing else differently. You’re still making your recipe with brown sugar and regular sugar. You substitute Lily’s chocolate chips for regular chocolate chips in the recipe, you will save over 100 grams of sugar in that recipe. And you won’t notice it.
Diana Fryc: You probably won’t even miss it. You won’t miss it at all because Stevia is even a little bit sweeter if I remember correctly. Does Stevia have just a slightly sweeter flavor or sweetness to it?
Cynthia Tice: Stevia is actually two to 300 times as sweet as sugar.
Diana Fryc: Okay, so a lot sweeter. So you could get your sugar back if you wanted to and have the same kind of flavor sweetness in the cookie. Okay, that’s fun. Let’s talk about some other women leaders or women rising stars that you are excited to be watching and that could maybe use a little shout out right now.
Cynthia Tice: So my personal favorite rising star is a woman named Audra Wilford, and she is not in our industry per say. She actually is the founder of two organizations. One is a nonprofit called the MaxLove Project. And they are the recipient of the most of Lily’s charitable donations. So Audra is Max’s mother and Max is, I think, 13. And he was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was three. And he is doing really well because his parents have committed their lives to thrivership and when Max received his diagnosis, they began to focus on quality of life and ways that he could just thrive in the face of this illness for as long as he could. And they learned as they went and they did a lot of adjunct treatment in addition to chemotherapy and radiation and surgery and traditional medical treatment. They also developed this whole plethora of evidence based strategies to assist him as he went through, as he lived his life and they shared with countless other families whose children had also been diagnosed.
And hence the MaxLove Project was born. And they have partnered with dietitians and children’s hospitals and oncologists, and they just bring enormous hope and relief to just families all over the country. And honestly, I am so impressed with people who use their opportunity, whether it be opportunity born from privilege or strife to lift up people around them. To me, that’s just super impressive and I can’t think of anyone that has done a better job than this woman, Audra. So she’s my friend. And she’s now started a for profit business called Family Thrive that they’re launching now. And it’s an app. And I can’t articulate a lot about it, but it’s it sounds like it’s going to be a really cool thing too.
Diana Fryc: Well, we’ll have the link on the show notes when it goes live for those people that want to listen to it, learn more. What brands or trends are you watching right now? Anything that you’re excited about?
Cynthia Tice: I mean, I remain excited about lower sugar. I think that’s really the next logical extension of better for you. And I’m excited about improvements to ingredients that support that. Again, for me, I’m super interested in sustainability, particularly around packaging. And I have been seeing some really exciting things around that as well. So I really would like to see how we get with regards to improvement in sustainability.
Diana Fryc: And then how are you keeping yourself sane these days? You sound like sanity for you means remaining busy. So I’m curious, how are you going to answer this?
Cynthia Tice: Yeah, well, I mean, I love walking around Philly and I’ve been doing a whole lot of it. And I actually have been joining some boards, so I feel super lucky that I joined a board called Naturally Network. That’s sort of a newly founded nonprofit that is facilitating naturally boulder and the affiliate chapters of Naturally Austin, San Diego, Chicago, New York. I hope I didn’t miss anybody, and that’s been super rewarding. It’s very new to me. I’m kind of learning as I go, but I really love it. And I just feel so fortunate to be working on that. And I’m pretty physically active. I like to exercise and I like yoga. And finally, I’m a really avid wine drinker. So I’ve been doing a lot of that.
Diana Fryc: I’m sure you have. I’ve heard that wine consumption has gone up considerably in the last 12 months. I wonder why. How do you like people to connect with you if they want to reach out? Are you a social media or do you prefer they reach out to you directly via an email?
Cynthia Tice: LinkedIn would be great.
Diana Fryc: Great, and it’s Cynthia Tice, T-I-C-E, Correct?
Cynthia Tice: Correct, correct.
Diana Fryc: I love it. Thank you for your time and your commitment to the community and for your time today. It’s been such a joy to meet you and just learn about a kind of some of those pivotal moments in our industry and how you are like just keep pushing things forward. I love it. Thank you so much.
Cynthia Tice: Thank you, Diana. And thank you for also your Gooder Podcast and for supporting female entrepreneurs and for recognizing that we do use our businesses to do good. And I think you and I are kindred spirits in that sense. And I’m so delighted to meet you.
Diana Fryc: Oh, thank you. We’ll have a good rest of your day and we’ll see you next time.
This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo, a creative marketing firm specializing in growing fixing and reinventing brands in the food, beverage, wellness and fitness industries. If your natural’s brand is in need of positioning, package design or marketing activation, we’re here to help.
You can find more information at retail-voodoo.com. And so there you go. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to this channel and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do gooder.