Making Mealtime More Mindful - How Kinsho is Getting People to Slow Down and Pay Attention to Food

Our new blog series, “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle,” is all about founders at rising startups in the Branchfood community who are launching the next wave of exciting food brands.

We spoke to five incredible founders about product development, branding and marketing, and the success stories they’ve experienced so far.

Part 4 features Heather Sears, founder of Kinsho (formerly Kensho Kitchen), a retailer of kitchen products based on the idea of mindful eating and food choices. In this interview, you’ll learn Heather’s approach to starting her own online retailer, how her mission drives her decision-making, and why she’s changing the name of her company.

This is part 4 of the “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series. Don’t forget to check out Part 1 (Veggie Table Foods), Part 2 (i-Bars Club), and Part 3 (Shameless Pets). Check back in two weeks for part 5!

Tell us a bit about Kinsho.

I started Kensho Kitchen a few years ago because I love cooking and food, and I saw an opportunity to bring fun products to market. I learned to sell on Amazon and work with factories to start a private label based on inspiration I gleaned while eating and cooking.

I’m about to relaunch and scale as Kinsho. I’m taking everything I learned from Kensho Kitchen and being more intentional with the brand, messaging, and content.

Kensho is a Japanese word that refers to the initial moment of enlightenment. Before full enlightenment, you only have glimpses of it. One day, I was using a mandolin slicer and it calmed me down and connected me with my food. If we slow down, pay attention to our senses and environment, we can make better health and food decisions. I try to help people apply the idea of kensho to food. It’s about tools, not specific foods.

When did you know you had something you could build a business around, as opposed to just an interesting idea?

The way I chose the products was by doing a lot of research on Amazon - it’s the number one search engine for products. My launch would be on Amazon. I did data mining to understand the products’ sales in the categories I was in.

I was a bit different - I don’t have new patents for mandolin slicers or anything. I know design can make a difference, so it was a matter of asking what are people already looking for and how I can provide better design. All of this would be done with the message of kensho: Slow down, pay attention, be mindful of your food decisions.

What are some concrete steps you took to go from idea to product, to something that can scale?

I did data mining and looked at the monthly sales for specific product categories, how many reviews there are, how easily I could get sales, etc. Once I did this analysis and chose the products, I researched factories that make these products. I talked with them about design, cost structure, etc. From there, I negotiated prices.

After that, it was a matter of developing the brand and launching/testing products on Amazon to get feedback.

Can you share your process for gathering feedback and turning it into actionable steps for your own product development?

You have to ask the right questions. With Amazon, you can read reviews and learn, even from the negative ones. I also do purposeful outreach through surveys and customer research. Once you have that information, you have to see what you can change, what you should change, and what can’t change, and then getting back to the factory to see how your desired changes will affect your costs

For example, we had a mandolin slicer and the reason we put a rubber handle on it based on what people wanted because it made it more comfortable to use. Other people wanted waterproof lunch containers - I have developed a leak proof bento box that I plan to launch based off what people want.

What food brands have been most influential to you?

There are two that I often think of:

  1. Oui Yogurt. It’s French yogurt sold in little glass pots by Yoplait. It’s more mindful and European-styled. They tap into the beauty of the product’s colors through reusable glass containers. It’s a great flavor - not too sweet or tangy. The whole brand is about being in the moment and savoring the yogurt.

  2. Nestle. I know they’re huge and sometimes have negative publicity, but they were founded on the mission to save a dying child. They have a culture of mindful eating - their entire factory for chocolate is all about mindful eating. They are constantly innovating and evolving with the times. I also love how they’re are very strategic with M&A, which helps small brands go global.

Can you share the most impactful strategies you’ve used so far to market your business?

Digital marketing, particularly Facebook and SEM ads, have been huge drivers of sales for me. Optimizing my Amazon profile has also been very important. By optimizing my digital presence,  I’ve been picked up by other online retailers like Sears and other kitchen product sites.

What success story are you most proud of?

I had a very large business order of one of my bento products - a retirement home in Hawaii ordered 200 of them for its residents. They really focus on healthy eating there, and I love that they chose my products to have a fun healthy meal.

Can you share your reasoning behind changing the name of your company from Kensho Kitchen to Kinsho? What prompted that?

I wrote a book that came out in November - Mind to Mouth: A Busy Chick's Guide to Mindful Mealtime Moments - that won three book awards. It’s about being mindful in all things food - shopping, cooking, eating. I’m continuing with that sort of content with the launch of Kinsho - evolving the kitchen products and including mindfulness microlearning pieces with each product. I’ll have digital stickers and Facebook chat bots. Purposeful design linked with mindful eating content - no one is doing that.

The company is bigger so I wanted a one-word brand. It’s combining kitchen and kensho to get kinsho, which is unique and practical. It’s also more likely to get the trademark. Now I’m redoing the look and feel to go along with that.

Your relaunch will include “mindfulness microlearning content.” Can you tell us what that will look like?

It will be insights about how our minds impact our meals. It’s all based on my book and the research I did to write it. It will be on the packaging of the products, so it’s smaller, bite-sized content. I will also have content delivered to fans by Facebook message.

People say food prepared with love tastes better. There’s science behind that - we read the intention of the people who cook for us. One thing we want to do is to show people how to apply that when they cook for others. It’s a combination of mindfulness and science behind the impact.

My book was the inflection point for me. I did a ton of research about how we make food decisions and how we experience food. Digital media impacts 70% of our food decisions subconsciously. Learning how to be mindful of our food takes back some control, lets us make better decisions, eat healthier, and shop according to our values. My mission is to help people have more enlightened eating by helping them understand what they’re eating. It’s about helping people connect with food and themselves.

How important is it for food companies in particular to have a mission? Is it essential?

I think today it is very important. People have a lot of passion for food. Having a mission helps you clarify things when you have decisions to make about which way to go. There are so many tradeoffs and decisions to make when you run a business, and having a clear mission helps make decisions with clarity. That touches everything from product design and to marketing that gives customers transparency about why you’re selling these products. A mission helps you be authentic.


This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audience, fuel their pipeline, and drive real success.

In the middle of a campaign and need some support? Want to build something awesome from scratch? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or at hello@ideometry.com

Read the rest of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series:

The State of Food Innovation: Consumer Packaged Goods in Boston

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Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) manufacturing is a leading global industry. Over the past ten years, food manufacturers have transformed business practices in response to changing consumer preferences. Campbell Soup, one of the largest CPG companies in the world, saw a decrease in profits of almost 20% in the last fiscal year, and is one of many Big Food companies that are experiencing the shift: since 2009, the top twenty-five food and beverage names in the United States lost the equivalent of $18B in market share to startups and small businesses. The entrepreneurs behind these smaller companies create products that reflect changing public values and build trust between company and consumer. Greater Boston has been an unsuspecting leader in CPG since the dawn of the NECCO wafer and cites companies like Schrafft's, Stacy's Pita Chips, and The Boston Beer Company as more recent success stories. Beyond brand, Boston is a place where innovative food product companies continue to launch and grow. 

RESOURCES

The visionary ethos of Boston perfectly complements its historic roots. Kendall Square in Cambridge has been called the most innovative square mile on the planet, and much of Boston’s creative energy goes toward product development for CPG companies. With an experimental kitchen in Fenway, Chew Labs works with food companies both high and low profile to create tastier, more cost-effective CPGs. CEO Adam Melonas explains, “Everyone here has an equal seat at the table. It’s interesting to see the food scientists start to lean on the chefs to direct and guide the taste. And the chefs start to lean on the food scientists to help guide the conversation on stability, technique, and what’s possible, and where we go next.” The unique combination of food and technology found in Boston means the city incorporates both old-world tradition and new culinary innovation into its rapidly developing food scene.

A profusion of commercial kitchens makes Greater Boston an ideal city for startup CPG companies looking to scale manufacturing out of home kitchens. CommonWealth Kitchen, with locations in Somerville and Medford, is one example of these shared community spaces, offering business assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs and strengthening the regional food economy. Smaller kitchens, such as Caroline Huffstetler’s Local Fare and Food Revolution, are able to provide allergen-free workspaces. Foundation Kitchen and Stock Pot Malden offer even more variety to the mix. Many CPG startups, whether they need storage, guidance, or workspace, use these commercial kitchens as a steppingstone as they build their brand and their consumer base.

EDUCATION

One of Greater Boston’s most notable characteristics is its abundance of colleges and universities. Out of these institutions have grown community resources such as the Harvard University i-lab, where Harvard affiliates can participate in a twelve-week program that provides workshops and mentoring sessions about entrepreneurship. The founders of Six Foods, producer of one of the country’s first-ever cricket-based snack, started at the i-lab when they were undergrads before making a national debut. The startup BevSpot is another Boston education success story: founded by students from the Harvard Business School and MIT, the online tool helps bar and restaurant managers track inventory and spending.

Annual events, such as Harvard's public lecture series on the science of cooking, further contribute to the conversation surrounding innovation and food. MIT's Sustainability Summit explores green technology, and the Harvard Food Better initiative hosts conferences which focus on the empowerment of food service employees. Harvard also hosts the Global Food+ Conference, which features top Boston area scholars in a wide variety of disciplines to highlight research findings related to food and its impact on society and the environment.

At Tufts, the School of Nutrition Science and Policy combines the efforts of nutritionists, economists, policy makers, physicians, and many other experts toward the goal of improving nutritional health everywhere. With its Food Sol Program, Babson College focuses similar efforts on a different socio-economic sector through the Cultivate Small Business initiative, in collaboration with the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and CommonWealth Kitchen. Through Cultivate Small Business, entrepreneurs from low-income backgrounds receive mentoring sessions, the chance to network, and small capital grants.

FUNDS

Local funds including Beechwood Capital, Centerman Capital, and Sherbrooke Capital, to name a few, are providing capital for entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground and disrupt the food and beverage industry. The past five years have seen an increase in funds that invest exclusively in this industry, paving the way for transformative businesses, such as Boston-based Yasso and Spindrift, to realize their full potential. Financing reaches beyond local companies, too -- Fidelity and Bessemer Venture Partners invested in New York meal kit service company Blue Apron when it was in its early stages. Fresh Source Capital, which targets high-tech companies dedicated to sustainable regional economies, counts Just Add Cooking among its investments.

PLAYERS

Broadly considered the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston offers CPG companies a legacy brand recognition unachievable anywhere else in the country. The craft brewery Samuel Adams exemplifies this position: founder and sixth generation brewer Jim Koch debuted his beer on Patriots’ Day in 1985, depicting the founding father mid-cheers in a pose now iconic across the nation.

Beyond history, Boston’s reputation as an durable, revolutionary city is conducive to establishing legacy brands, and consumers respond with enthusiasm to enduring names -- the “What the Fluff” festival, held annually in Somerville, celebrates Marshmallow Fluff as a historic, even traditional food staple in New England, the nation, and abroad. Further to the west, Big Y Supermarkets have been one of the most recognizable grocery establishments in New England since 1936. Stacy’s Pita Chips got its start in Boston, and Quincy-born Dunkin Donuts (“Dunkin’,” “Dunks”) is another iconic brand, its comforting pink and orange logo glow never far from sight.

THE FUTURE

Boston is a city of Millennials, with the highest concentration of 20- to 34-year olds of any populous American city. Values of that generation have already permeated the CPG industry. Sustainability, nutrition, and transparency in sourcing ingredients are three major movements that will continue to affect consumer preferences. Digital spending will also continue to increase, foreshadowed by the recent acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, the online retail giant reportedly soon to sign a lease for a space in Seaport.

Investment in small businesses from big names in food ensures a virtuous cycle of innovation in the industry. In this spirit The Boston Beer Company, partnered with small business lender ACCION, provides financial advice and other business coaching to entrepreneurs through their Brewing the American Dream program. As digital spending continues to rise, a high number of niche markets will emerge, fueled by startups. Innovation in the CPG industry and support for small businesses are instrumental in Boston’s role as a national player.

At Branchfood we aim to raise awareness about Boston as a leading food community. This blog post is the first in a series on innovation in Boston’s food and beverage industry. Written by Chloe Barran.

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