Story & photos by Christina Symons This article appeared in Coast Life, Winter 2011/12, pages 25, 26, 27
Holy crap. Two simple words that have rewritten the trajectory, rather unconventionally for one couple on the Sunshine Coast, HapiFoods Group founders, Corin and Brian Mullins.
The story goes like this. In 2009, Corin and Brian had an idea for a simple cereal that Brian, who was sensitive to wheat and gluten, could eat. That cereal, by their fledgling HapiFoods Group company was also loosely based on the concept of developing a survival food. After testing and selling the initial products at farmers’ markets for a few weeks, someone wrote to them and said, “Holy crap, this is amazing!”
In what was a classic ah-ha moment, Brian thought that Holy Crap might be a fun name, so three weeks later, they changed the cereal’s moniker, partly in jest, and went on to sell over $65,000 worth of product in just over fifty days. And that was before being featured on CBC television’s hit entrepreneur show, Dragons’ Den.
The Mullins were invited to pitch their product for investment on an episode that aired in November, 2010. That pitch and a simple taste test of Holy Crap had an unprecedented effect on the Dragons’ Den Jim Treliving of Boston Pizza fame who said, “I love it. I want to buy it.” He then went on to offer them exactly what they were asking for: $120,000 for 20 percent of the company.
After the show aired, Holy Crap’s online sales were off the charts, increasing from 100 units a month (online) to over 2,000 units a day, selling over $1,000,000 worth of product in the first three months after the episode aired. But in the end, by “mutual agreement” according to the Mullins, a final deal was not reached between Dragons’ Den and HapiFoods Group for Holy Crap; a deal which likely would have meant moving operations off Coast, something Corin and Brian simply couldn’t do. “We live here, our families are here, we love it here,” says Corin. “Why would we leave?”
Today, on their own, sales continue to boom with new distribution deals on the horizon. They also credit old fashioned, on-the-road sales or “pressing the flesh” of customers across Canada with the success of their simple cereal with the clever name. “People often buy it because of the name, they have a laugh, or buy it as a gift,” says Corin. “Then they start eating it, they enjoy it, their body is eliminating regularly, and they feel great.”
Their two main products, Holy Crap and Skinny B cereals are based around a few key ingredients (all organic): chia seeds, hulled hemp seed hearts and buckwheat. In addition to this base, Holy Crap also contains organic raisins, organic cranberries and organic dried apple bits, plus a dash of organic cinnamon. Either cereal may be eaten on its own in a raw state (mixed first with soy, almond, rice or dairy milk or yogurt), or added to smoothies, oatmeal, etc.
Skinny B also lends itself to enhancing baking, stews and other cooked foods, particularly when the cereal is mixed with water into a thickening gel. Nutritionally, the cereals’ main claim to fame is that teeny tiny black chia seed. Chia is considered to be a super food, a complete protein, containing the highest plant source of Omega-3 oils available and rich in antioxidants. Both cereals, and particularly Skinny B, are low on the glycemic index, suitable for people who are sensitive to sugar intake, such as diabetics or those who are hypoglycemic. The cereal ingredients are also non-GMO, vegan, salt-free, sugar-free, lactose-free and gluten-free.
And not to overstate the obvious, but Holy Crap and Skinny B are really high in fibre (over 20 per cent of daily requirements in a single serving) which makes regular consumers “go” regularly.
Keeping the company and manufacturing facility local has meant measurable benefits to the community, including providing full-time employment for 14, plus two part-time employees. Advocating local food security, instituting fair wages, revenue sharing, comprehensive health care and training opportunities have become tenets of the growing company. “I do for people what I would want done for me,” says Corin, adding that providing a little bit extra for their employees to cover eyeglasses or dental is something they do because they care and because they can. “We want our team to be so happy that they’ll never leave.”
Not surprisingly, for her business spirit and success, Corin has been honoured as a finalist in Chatelaine Magazine’s Canada’s Women of the Year 2011 in the category of Top Entrepreneur. And earlier this year the company won Small Business BC’s Successful You Award for Best Concept.
Both Corin and Brian humbly credit their success to the “confluence of events” and community support that has led them to so quickly evolve from a local mom and pop market vendor, into a million-dollar company with a heart of gold. “It’s the energy of the place,” says Brian, about the Sunshine Coast, their suppliers, financial backers, staff and operations adding that everyone who works at HapiFoods is overqualified, yet excited to be here, making cereal.
“We’re so lucky to have evolved this way, to have this and to be here,” he adds, noting that a lot of what they do actually goes against conventional business-school wisdom. “Some say don’t work with family, don’t work with your spouse and grind your employees’ salaries down,” notes Brian. “But where does all that end?”
Instead, Brian and Corin are taking their employees to Hawaii for team building at the end of the year. Why? Because they don’t want to lie on a beach while everyone else is back home working, says Brian. “You can’t put happiness on hold,” adds Corin, referring to their approach to business and to life in general. “You have to do it now, while you can.”
Holy Crap and Skinny B are available in over 300 stores across Canada and worldwide, online. From their base warehouse in Gibsons, Brian and Corin have also recently been in talks with key distributors in the EU, and elsewhere around the world.
Wild Berries and Yogurt with Holy Crap cereal
Skinny B Gel Place 1 Tablespoon of Skinny B and 1 cup of lukewarm water in a glass jar. Shake well and let sit for an hour or so to thicken up. Keep this mixture in the fridge to add as a gluten-free thickener to sauces, pancake and muffin recipes. Skinny B gel will keep for about 10 days in the fridge.
Skinny B Blueberry Pancakes Ingredients