Behind the Label at WholeMe with Mary Kosir
Whether you’re just a little curious about clean eating, or you’ve been following a paleo diet for years, learning about what goes into creating grain-free food can inform your everyday food choices.
WholeMe is a clean snack line run by CEO and co-founder Mary Kosir, a self-professed “accidental entrepreneur” who talked with Beyond Type 1 about running her own company, the WholeMe connection to Type 1 diabetes, and more!
BT1: Let’s meet Mary.
MK: I’m definitely an accidental entrepreneur. I wasn’t looking to start a business. My husband was diagnosed with Type 1 about 12 years ago, when we were in our late 30s. After his diagnosis, we spent some time thinking about how autoimmune diseases affect the body and sought changes we could make in our home, as a family, that would make this easier for everybody.
So we pulled out grains from our diet, like packaged cereals. We stopped cooking with white flour and replaced it with almond meal. We created bars and cereals made out of nuts and seeds. I started bringing what I was making into the gym and using my fellow gym-mates as my guinea pigs.
One thing led to another, and about five years ago, I decided I needed a business partner to go any further with this idea. I approached a woman in the community who I also knew through my gym. We joined forces, and here we are today, slowly but surely trying to make it through this wild and crazy food startup world that is both a challenge to navigate and incredibly competitive.
BT1: How did your kids handle the lifestyle shift?
MK: It was a bit challenging. I would say we’re kind of an 80%/20% family: we don’t eat a lot of grain on a daily basis, but we have some in the house (gluten-free oats, brown rice, quinoa).
You simply won’t find Cheerios and Captain Crunch in my cupboards. We’re making our own granola. It was a pretty big shift for the kids at first, but here we are a decade later and it’s our lifestyle.
BT1: What are some of your favorite dinners to make now when your kids are home?
MK: I do a shrimp fried rice with cauliflower rice, eggs, a bunch of veggies, and we’ll toss some fresh shrimp on it. That’s one of my favorites.
I’ll make a lot of zucchini noodles (zoodles) with spaghetti sauce on top— a quick and easy favorite. We also make big smoothies filled with fruit, veggies, and avocado, topped with WholeMe Clusters. There’s nothing better!
It’s so much easier now than it was even five years ago to cook and eat like this, because you can go to Whole Foods and get zoodles already made for you, and you can buy cauliflower rice ready to go if you’re in a hurry, which make it just a bit easier to eat clean.
BT1: What do you tell potential paleo fans who don’t know where to start?
MK: I think if you really gave your body a chance to adapt and see how you truly feel, you can really make your diet work for you. For me, personally, when I eliminated grains and glutens, I felt better, my skin looked better, and I recovered more quickly from strenuous exercise.
I think what’s difficult for people to do is give their bodies a chance to adapt to 30 days without something. Then slowly add it back in and really see how you feel. No difference? Add it back. Feel bloated or tired? Leave it out.
BT1: What other positive changes have you seen since switching to this lifestyle?
MK: As an early adopter, it’s been interesting to see a health and wellness community grow and become such a strong group of influencers. Natural food is a player in every space now. At convenience stores and gas stations, you’re going to find a little (maybe even a lot) more than you’re used to. You can go to those places and get fresh fruit and hard-boiled eggs. It’s pretty significant, when you think about it!
BT1: As a spouse of someone with Type 1 diabetes, is there anything you’ve noticed about how your husband feels since he started eating this way?
MK: Of course! He’s a bit of a type A personality, so he’s inclined to track things by nature. He knows that when we’re eating a pretty clean paleo diet and cooking with whole ingredients, he’s using a lot less insulin. He’s feeling better, a lot clearer, more levelheaded.
We have crises that happen here and there, and they open your eyes again and [you think] “Oh yeah, let’s start paying more attention, because [diabetes] impacts all of us.”
BT1: It can be really hard to manage low blood sugars and other aspects of diabetes without feeling like all of your hard work to eat clean is ruined.
MK: That’s where I think giving yourself that 80%/20% permission [is important]. Life’s too short!
BT1: Has this lifestyle connected you with a broader community of like-minded people?
MK: Absolutely! I spent 21 years at the University of Minnesota as dean of the business college undergraduate program there, but now I’m engaged with an entirely different set of business-minded people here in the Midwest. It’s a very innovative and forward-thinking community that I’ve quickly grown to love.
BT1: What was the most surprising thing about your new endeavor?
MK: How difficult the entrepreneurial road is! There are a lot of people out there playing in this space, and how do you get them to open up a bag of WholeMe and try it? I know once they do that, they’re going to love it and they’re going to be hooked. How do you make it pop on the shelf? That’s the million-dollar question.
The network and the community, especially that start-up food community, are really supportive. It’s been great to become established in that community and really help others and brainstorm. Right now I focus on each and every day, one day at a time. I keep my eyes wide open and run as fast as I can.
BT1: Should we keep our eyes out for anything new at WholeMe?
MK: We recently received our gluten-free certification, and we got non-GMO product verification and paleo-certification. So we’re doing a little packaging refresh on our Clusters, which is exciting. We’re hoping to have some product innovation later in 2018. We remain committed to clean, grain-free, simple ingredients.
BT1: Where do you source your ingredients?
MK: We source as many ingredients as possible from here in the United States. We’re not certified-organic at this point, and it might take another couple of years to get there, but we’re always conscious of that and working towards it.
BT1: Is there something you’ve learned in this business venture that you would share with your former students?
MK: That’s a great question. I think it’s important to have a couple of mentors with real experience in what your interested in to bounce ideas off of and to really challenge what you’re doing before you invest resources in something.
I think it’s easy to glamorize the life of an entrepreneur and starting something, kind of winging it. I also think that when you ask for assistance, nine times out of 10 the person you’re asking is going to be more than willing to assist you and to answer your questions. It’s just a matter of you taking the time to ask.
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