Cass Spies, CEO, and founder of Twisted Healthy Treats, lets her role as a mother inform the way she runs her business and it’s turned out to be a stunning success.
Cass Spies was born into a family that loved their sweet treats. As a child, she remembers sharing bowl upon bowl of her grandmother’s sweet and delicious desserts after long and luxurious Sunday lunches. Back in 20th century Australia, most sweet treats were loaded with sugar.
“I come from a family that loved their treats,” says Cass, the CEO and founder of Australian frozen yogurt company Twisted Healthy Treats, which manufactures and sells a line of quality low and zero sugar yogurts, treats and desserts. “I guess in that aspect of my childhood we ate too way too much sugar in terms of what a healthy diet looks like. But that was the nature of times back then.
“And the flipside of that is a swathe of fond memories that I have of enjoying a treat with my parents and grandmother. Those memories are probably at the heart of why I came up with the idea for Twisted Healthy Treats all those years ago, because I personally don’t want to bring my children up in a Draconian way regarding treats – “Thou shalt never have treats!” That’s just not me or my family.”
Cass, a food technologist, and former financial project manager who founded Twisted Health Treats in 2009, runs one of the most innovative and successful frozen treat companies in the country. Today, the healthy treats dreamed up by Cass and her small but dedicated team are available in more than 1500 locations across Australia, as well as New Zealand, the Pacific and even in the United States, where Twisted healthy Treats has managed to carve out a significant sales record in the difficult-to-crack US health treat market.
And one of the major reasons for her success, says Cass, is that her business is much more than just another financial enterprise. “Twisted healthy Treats is actually my passion project, something that I deeply believe in and am proud to do,” says Cass, a mother of three.
“And I think that its partly my upbringing and partly my role as a mother that are at the centre of that passion. I think that it’s possible to have a balanced approach to your life and your diet. And I think it’s important to form fond family memories of enjoying a frozen yogurt with your son or daughter.
“When you are sharing an ice-cream with your son or daughter on a sweltering day, which is a beautiful part if life. Those are memories that will be with you forever. Our philosophy is that you can still have those moments, but you can also make smarter choices when it comes to which treats you share.”
Cass started the business 12 years ago when she was with her daughter in the frozen treats’ aisle of her local supermarket and couldn’t find a treat that was both healthy and delicious. She realised then that there was a gap in the market and decided to fill it. Ever since Cass has allowed her values to inform almost every decision made at Twisted Healthy Treats.
“I have young children who are aged from 13 down to eight and being a mother has definitely changed my life in all sorts of ways,” Cass says. “I like to think that being a mother has influenced the way I run the business and my approach to the products that we make.
“Being a mum has changed me as a person and it is a huge part of my life and I don’t think that I can separate that part of my life from my role as the CEO of the company. There are so many aspects of how I run the company that come directly from the fact that I am a mum.”
For instance, Cass says, she likes to think of her staff and an extension of her family circle, people who she depends on but who she cares about, too. “I extend that mothering to the team in certain aspects of the business operations,” says Cass, who employs six staff in her management team and a further 30 to 40 staff in production depending on how busy the company is.
“We are all incredibly passionate about the products that we make. We believe in democratising access to high quality, better-for-you treats. Our target market is Australian families – sometimes overseas families – but primarily Australian families.
“We want people to be able to enjoy our products as a family, while they are in their family unit and be able to afford to enjoy them each and every week.”
She even uses her own children and their friends as a business resource when she is thinking about new products to make. “I tap into that resource when I am thinking about new products and what children might enjoy and want,” says Cass. “I might be looking at flavour development or some other new product and I am often delivering “proof of concept” products to my friends and their families to get feedback and discover how they think and how they feel about it.”
Cass points to two top-selling products that were developed in this way – the Twisted Healthy Treat frozen yoghurt and the recently launched sugar-free ice cream on a stick. “These are our two biggest selling items, and the popularity is split right down the middle,” says Cass. “Our frozen yogurt product is our legacy product because it was the first that we brought to market and it has proven to be the most enduring item in the range. That is available in Woolworths and at Costco and we get wonderful feedback from families who regularly enjoy that product. Mums often share that product with their children.
“This time last year we launched our sugar free ice cream on a stick and that was aimed at a slightly older demographic. Not so much children as mums and dads in the older age range who are diabetic or pre-diabetic but who are still looking to enjoy a delicious treat.
“That product has no sugar whatsoever in it. It’s a little decadent but sugar-free and aimed at those who are looking after their health or want to experience different choices in their diet.”
When Cass and her team created the sugar-free ice-cream on a stick, they had every confidence that it would be a hit. The reason, Cass explains, is that everyone on the team is a taster, too.
“We knew it was good because it tasted so good,” says Cass. “All our team taste our products and we all enjoy eating our products. And that is one of our strengths because by the time we bring a formulation to market we have all tasted it and we know that its an amazing product. We have received so many gorgeous emails from people saying thank you for making something that is so delicious but has zero sugar.”
On another front, Cass has continued her success in the United States with a growing market for her products through the Costco chain of stores. “A little while ago we entered the US market with an initial order for six containers of product that were sold through Costco,” says Cass. “That was quickly followed up with another 30 containers and we are now in the process of completing another 50 containers to go off to the US in time for their summer. It’s been a wonderful experience for us, because our products are all Australian, the dairy is Australian, the packaging is produced in Australia. The trickle-down effect of what we have been able to achieve there is extraordinary and something of which we are enormously proud. “