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Interview with Melanie Kahn, Founder of Poppilu


 


Have you ever found yourself annoyed because you wanted something that seemed like it should definitely exist, but when you started looking, you realized it didn't? Well, that's what happened to Melanie Kahn, the founder of Poppilu, who was craving citrus when she was pregnant, but could only find drinks full of sugar. This is Betty, the founder of Upright, and you are listening to the Upright podcast where we interview thought leaders and innovators who are making a positive impact on health, sustainability, and inclusion. Upright’s vision is a world where health and sustainability are accessible to all. To get there, we're launching a high protein instant oat milk that's as nutritious as dairy without the cow, as well as this podcast series where we can highlight the amazing things that other founders and brands are doing to make the world more healthy and sustainable. In this conversation, I talked to Melanie about her brand Poppilu, where she makes delicious, better-for-you lemonade that is bold in flavor, not sugar. We talked about how Melanie's personal experiences and how expecting mothers sparked her inspiration for a healthy lemonade that cuts half of the 18 to 23 grams of sugar in most lemonades. We also talked about how starting a new product means taking a lot of small steps at once, and the importance of raising more money than you think you need when building a brand. So without further ado, here's our conversation. 

Betty: 

Hi Melanie, thank you so much for joining me today. I'd love to kick off by asking you about your story. I'm so curious about what inspired you to create Poppilu. 

Melanie: 

So the beginning of the brand really came about when I was pregnant with my second child, and I was craving citrus. I couldn't satisfy that craving with anything on the market, so it really forced me to look at the lemonade category a lot more closely. I realized there was an opportunity there, particularly for kids, and there's no ready-to-drink lemonade brand for kids. Certainly nothing, nothing that's healthy. I decided to jump into the industry and create this brand, and I ended up naming it Poppilu for my daughter, her name is Poppy. She's the one that I was pregnant with, and so I gave her a brand release.

Betty: 

That's amazing. I was actually really curious about how you came up with the name Poppilu so I’m glad that you shared that. 

Melanie: 

Here's the thing, when you have two children like I do, it becomes a problem, right? I've got an older child who's like, why the heck don't I have a brand named after me? I would call that a #momfail. [laughter] 

Betty: 

Well, who knows? Maybe there'll be a spin off sister brand exactly in the future as you guys grow. That's so funny. On that note can you talk about what was the challenge that you were seeing around current lemonade problems? You mentioned that Poppilu obviously is a much healthier lemonade with a lot less sugar. What made you realize it was so important for kids to reduce their sugar intake?

Melanie: 

I think of ourselves in the beverage space as opposed to specifically the lemonade space, and when you look at kids’ beverages, they're either full of sugar and some of them don't have added sugar that is 100% juice but they're really sugary and sweet. Anyway, regardless of that sugar source, a lot of the new products are either watered down juice so that you don't have a lot of sugar in them, or flavored waters that are kind of funky tasting still. It's hard to get that flavored water taste just right, especially for kids. I saw an opportunity there to come out with a boldly flavored, great tasting, lower sugar, organic kids beverage. Lemonade just happens to be that flavor profile that just was missing in the category. When you look at other lemonade brands like Calypso lemonade, they've built this empire on lemonade alone. And so there's no reason why we can't do the same in the kids' space. The idea was really born out of a need for healthier options. Lemonade itself is a great opportunity and a category that I personally love or a flavor profile that I personally love, so it was a fun business to launch.

Betty: 

I think that makes a lot of sense. I mean, the fun definitely comes out in the branding and just like everything around it that you put up for Poppilu so far. Once you came up with this idea, how did you get started? What were the first steps you took to bring your vision for Poppilu to life? 

Melanie: 

So first things first, honestly, I was trying to figure out how am I going to make this, where am I going to make this, and who's gonna be my manufacturer? What are my formulas? And that's really where I started. I ended up literally just Googling beverage manufacturers and making some calls for who was in the Midwest, which I thought would be a good place to start, nice and central, close to home and also a central location for shipping out to reach the rest of the country. That's where I started, I started with finding a co-packer. They really helped drive the rest of the development of the brand in terms of, you know, as a key input for the P&L.They helped me on the formulas and I got the dye lines, and I was able to reach out into my network and get the graphics done. Things just started to fall into place. People often ask me what the first step is, and I don't know that there is necessarily one first step. As an entrepreneur, you kind of have a dozen first steps going at the same time. You have to be able to synthesize information and bring it all together in bits and pieces until all of a sudden it makes sense, and that's what I've done here. 

Betty: 

Amazing, and well it has come together super well.  I've looked at reviews online, and both kids and adults seem to love your products. And so the taste profile of Poppilu,  I'm so curious, how did you land on the right formulation for it? 

Melanie: 

Well, it's funny that you mentioned adults, because it was never intended for adults. It always amazes me when we have these adults reviewing it or contacting us with feedback, because it wasn't intended for them in the first place, but adults really started to enjoy it. At the end of the day, when it came to formulation, it was really about going after the target, which is those kids basically ages six to twelve. If we get adult consumers as part of that, then great, but as long as we're really targeting the right consumer, that's really where we wanted to start. And so, you know, there was some trial and error involved. No doubt, I think our first formulas were probably too sour. We didn't have the sweetness that consumers were expecting, even though we gave them the low sugar that they wanted. It was really about trying to refine; how do we give them a no added sugar product that still tastes sweet and still has a strong bold flavor that's not diluted, and it's still true to lemonade? Consumers have an expectation of what lemonade tastes like, so you have to be very careful to meet those expectations. So there was definitely a lot of trial and error on error on the formulas. Hopefully we're in a position now that we've got it just right. 

Betty:

Well it sounds like it, based on all these reviews out there that are raving about it. So well beyond the great taste, are there other benefits of Poppilu that people might not be aware of? 

Melanie: 

We have 100% Daily Value Vitamin C, we're organic, we have no added sugar, and we also are relatively low in sugar. Most kids’ juice pouches have 18 to 23 grams of sugar, and we're down at seven grams. While it's not nothing, it's certainly very, very low and less than eating an apple. 

Betty: 

[laughter] One apple a day keeps the doctor away, so this is definitely clearly a great product from a health perspective. What is your vision and mission for Poppilu? Where do you see the brand going? 

Melanie: 

We'd love to continue down the path of reaching kids with this wonderful, healthy citrus refreshment, expanding our line of lemonade. There's a lot of room to grow still from a distribution perspective. So first, it's about picking up new distribution and what we currently have. Second, it's growing the product line and maybe even extending the product line to adjacent or complementary categories, where we can bring that healthy citrus refreshment to life, not just in beverages, but elsewhere as well. 

Betty: 

Very exciting. And I'm sure you probably want to continue on with the Poppilu brand, maybe that's where your other daughter can get her name plugged in at some point. 

Melanie: 

Yeah, exactly, see where that goes!

Betty: 

Well, you know, it's incredibly impressive to see how far you've come now with the brand and with all of your products, and so what's the best piece of advice that you’ve received that you would give to other founders who are earlier on in their journeys?

Melanie: 

A couple I would say would be to always raise more capital than you need. Raising money is not easy, and it takes time, so I wouldn't wait till you're out of cash to go seeking new capital. And then I would say fail fast and pivot quickly. You know, time is always on the mind of an entrepreneur because we have cash and we have a runway to spend that cash and that runway is always moving by quickly with the passage of time. If you wait too long, that runway will run out. Figure out what you need to do and make those changes quickly and earn as much capital as you possibly can, as early as you can, even if it means taking a lower evaluation. 

Betty: 

Makes sense, that's a really helpful piece of advice. Amazing. Well thank you so much for joining me here today. For our listeners who are interested, where can they go find Poppilu to learn more about your brand and your products? 

Melanie: 

You can certainly find us online at poppilu.com and place orders that way, but we also are in many, many retailers including Target, Walmart, Stop and Shop, Albertsons, and Kroger. I would go to our store locator on our website and we'll tell you exactly where we are close to your zip code.

Betty: 

Amazing, Poppilu is taking over, I love it. Perfect. All right. Thanks again Melanie for joining me here today. 

Melanie: 

Thanks Betty and good luck to you on your fantastic venture yourself. I appreciate it, take care.

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Please also check out this episode's feature, Poppilu!