Jules Brooke talks to inspiring women as the host of She’s The Boss – Australia’s first business show all about what women are achieving in Australia and abroad. Here, we take a listen to her interview with female founder and CEO Cass Spies from Healthy Twisted Treats.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Jules: Let me introduce my amazing guest today, I have Cass Spies and Cass is the co-founder of Twisted Healthy Treats and I’m dying to hear about her journey because I think from what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen Twisted Healthy Treats, is the most amazing business and it’s been selling everywhere. So welcome Cass.
Cass: Thank you Jules, so I’m so thrilled to be on the show.
Jules: Oh no I’m dying to hear all about it so can you tell everyone all about Twisted Healthy Treats and what you’re doing right now with the business?
Cass: Our goal here at Twisted Healthy Treats is to be Australia’s leading manufacturer of better for you frozen desserts, and we have products that are available in both national retailers – Coles and Woolworths. We have an amazing product and a relationship with Costco down here in Australia. And something incredibly dear to my heart is that we are sold in 80% of school canteens across the country and so it’s really really exciting times for the business.
Jules: Well I can’t wait to hear how you built all of this up so let’s start with why did you set it up in the first place?
Cass: I’ve had the business for 10 years and we’ve been on a real journey in terms of direction of the business. I’ve always had that sort of entrepreneurial spirit – it came from my father. He’s also always been in his own business and 11 years ago I had very young children and I was looking for a healthy frozen treat to share with my kids and there was a real white space down here in Australia in that category. So it came about on the back of that sort of light bulb moment and the fact that I had done a degree in food technology and had always wanted my own business. That’s why we started Twisted.
Jules: I love it, that so many mums start business off the back of looking for something for their kids and going “I can’t believe it’s not available, right I’m going to make it available”. I want to hear all about this journey so can we start with Cass when she was in high school and what evolved from there.
Cass: I always had sort of predisposition to science and those sorts of subjects at school and that was really where my interests lay and so when I left school I did a food technology degree in Sydney. I had always dreamt of being in the food industry, so I left university and got a job for a company that produced the processed onion and lettuce for McDonalds.
Jules: Wow that just seems so niche.
Cass: Yeah so I worked in that business for 12 months and then promptly packed my bags and moved to the UK where I thought I would be for the next two years doing a working holiday visa.
Jules: Why the UK? What was the attraction there?
Cass: I guess just at that time, I mean this is going back sort of 15 years now and it was an easy place to work and as an Australian you could get a two year working visa and I had a lots of friends who had already made that journey.
Cass: So my plan was to go to London for two years and kind of see the world, travel around, meet great people, and work in the food industry. And what transpired was when I got to the UK I realised that food factories were not in Greater London they were out in the birds. And the food industry in the UK does not pay very much money at all.
Jules: Most Industries in the UK don’t. I remember working in a pub at three dollars and three cents an hour.
Cass: And it also happened to be right around the time of the dot com so there were some real opportunities in corporate spaces in the IT teams and so that is the industry that I went into. If we sort of fast forward through that journey I ended up staying in the UK for 13 years working in I know as a project manager in corporate.
Jules: Project management, so how were you in the food industry or technology?
Cass: No it was in investment banking actually, I was a project manager responsible for global role that rolled across all the banks.
Jules: So how did you go into packaged goods?
Cass: We did have a tiny wholesale range that we had started when we had the stores. We always had tubs that people could take home and we started to see that people were just coming in and they weren’t even getting a smoothie, they weren’t getting a yogurt. They were just walking and grabbing the tubs. So we started a small wholesale range and our first customer was a beautiful customer here in New South Wales called Harris Farm Markets. They gave us an opportunity to put our product on the shelf and from that it kinda grew from there. I think the other main watershed moment for the business was when one of the mother’s at my children’s canteen asked if we would sell our cups to the school for the school kids at lunch and the success that we had with that was unlike any sort of success that we’d had to date with anything that we’ve done.
Jules: Oh how wonderful, so like it worked you just kinda went ‘oh my god I didn’t see this coming but wow!’
Cass: Yeah and I almost didn’t do it, so you know as I said I was at a very low point of my love for business and I almost didn’t drop the yogurts that lunch time, but then went look at this.
Jules: So what made you decide that you’d give it a go?
Cass: I rang my dad, if I’m really honest, and he said just drop them what have you got to lose? So I dropped them to school and they sold out that lunch. And so I dropped some more the next day, they sold out again and one of the gorgeous ladies said to me you need to go to every school in Sydney and sell your product which I did, so I got in the car and went out to school canteens and we got 70 school canteens direct and from there we got picked up by a distributor so now we ship the product out on pallets and Twisted Healthy Treats is now sold around the country.
Jules: Amazing okay so can you tell me along the journey have there been other challenging times?
Cass: Oh there’s been lots of there’s been lots and lots of occasions like that. I mean Covid is an obvious one. I mean we initially that was incredibly challenging for us because we supply school canteens and they closed pretty much overnight.
Jules: Oh god yes I didn’t think about that.
Cass: So that was pretty scary well look and I think right at the same time grocery our grocery ice cream treats no when initially it went down because everyone was hoarding toilet paper, pasta, peas, you know everyone was filling their freezer with you know peas not ice cream so initially our, our grocery channel went down.
Jules: What did you do? How did you feel when that was happening ? Were you thinking oh my god is my business over?
Cass: Yeah I was really scared, I was scared because I have a team of people here that I feel a level of responsibility for because the business pays their wages and they’re important to me and you know I think that was my main concern. How do I make sure that my team is safe and that this doesn’t impact the team and that we can continue to to make sure that I’m paying these guys ? What happened around that time is we got our first order from the USA and so we pivoted very quickly from domestic to export. So what has transpired from that in fact is I’ve doubled the size of my production team during this year.
Jules: So tell me about the borders being closed and things that affected you?
Cass: No, no shipping’s still fine and I think because food is such a staple and also because it’s grocery and no one in the US is going out plus restaurants are closed it’s a very captive audience. It’s a very fast moving channel at the moment. I think we had been working on landing the deal in the US for nearly two years and I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that it came off when it did. I know you make your own luck and all those things but I still feel very the timing was pretty much spot on.
Jules: Oh that’s amazing so what’s the strategy with the US going through schools again?
Cass: As I mentioned at the beginning we have a really great relationship with Costco warehouses down here in Australia and we’ve had a product on the shelf with those guys since they opened down here about four years ago. The buyer here in Australia presented Twisted at a freezer meeting, a global one. We didn’t know and they represented Twisted and said this is an amazing product, it sold really well here and she came back from her meeting in San Diego and rang me and said this is two and half years ago, would you be interested in selling your product to the US? At which point I said yes not having realised everything we had to do to be able to do that. We have to be approved by department of Agriculture and there’s a lot of work that went into it and she is the reason that we have managed to break into the US. So we’re now, we are sold in Costco warehouses in two regions in the US in the Chicago Illinois region and Texas. So that’s been amazing.
Jules: So what about the UK are you planning on expanding to the UK that’s gotta on your radar?
Cass: Yeah the UK team has actually reached out. My sister still lives in the UK so she’s very, very keen for me to get some product over there.
Jules: Right, so if we have any women who are listening which I’m sure we will have who are interested in going into the food industry, have you got some tips that you would share with them?
Cass: Yes, I mean I think because we are a small manufacturer you know it’s hard to work because you are up against the big multinationals and the big multinationals in Australia who have been been controlling what is and isn’t available on the shelves of our supermarkets for many many decades. And I would say there is absolutely an opportunity for game changing women, game changing any person, but a game changing entrepreneur with an idea in the food manufacturing space to bring a product to market if the product tastes amazing. At Twisted, we have a tasty and healthy product and that really resonate with the Aussie supermarket buyers and customers.
For more interviews on inspirational women, check out Jules’ Youtube site.