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  • Writer's pictureCalla Norman

From Pulp to Profit: Lessons on Creativity and Growth from Renewal Mill

When you’re starting a business from scratch, there are a lot of challenges ahead and lessons to be learned. This is especially true when you’re introducing a new product to the market, as Renewal Mill’s co-founders Caroline Cotto and Claire Schlemme have done

Renewal Mill takes used by-products of other kinds of food production and turns them into delicious new upcycled products. The leftover pulp from juicing gets turned into low-carb veggie chips. The leftover oats from making oat milk is turned into flour or protein powder. Okara flour (made from soybean processing) is turned into delicious tortillas.

How did Renewal Mill blossom from a two-woman startup to a “food startup that’s about to be everywhere?” Caroline tells us that it comes down to a delicious product, creativity, and strategic thinking that has brought them to where they are now.

It all comes from a bit of food waste and a really good idea

Renewal Mill started out of a food startup accelerator with the idea of turning the byproducts of various kinds of food processing into ingredients that consumers could then use, such as upcycled flours. They soon realized that in order to get customers used to using upcycled foods, they needed to incorporate a familiar taste.

So, they began making chocolate chip cookies with their upcycled ingredients and selling them at farmers markets with house-made branding and packaging. We asked Caroline what were the most important lessons she learned about launching a consumer-packaged goods food product, and she said first and foremost the product needs to be spot-on. Not only does it have to be a high-quality product, but it also has to be something new that resonates with consumers - such as environmentally-conscious customers looking to reduce food waste.

With those traits, the product sold itself. Soon, Renewal Mills started expanding, and their products grew from cookies to flours and baking mixes. Their products are designed by Alice Medrich, a five-time James Beard award winning cookbook author who specializes in alternative flours like the ones Renewal Mill produces.

From “owning our own backyard” to taking over the nation

Eventually, Renewal Mill grew out of the farmers market circuit and made its ways onto the shelves of Whole Foods in northern California. At first, they were really trying to focus on their region and become a household name in NoCal, though they caught the eye of a national buyer.

Whole Foods is always trying to be a trendsetter, especially when it comes to sustainable food, and Renewal Mill was able to become one of the first products to really represent this trend on their store shelves across the country. Now, Renewal Mill is faced with the opportunity to educate consumers about upcycled food and how it can be delicious and good for the environment.

When selling a unique upcycled product, creativity is key

Caroline told us that creativity comes into play constantly when marketing and selling Renewal Mill products.

First and foremost, creativity is important when it comes to storytelling around the product itself. Upcycled food is still a pretty new idea to the average consumer, and Renewal Mill has the challenge of sparking peoples’ interest while also facing head-on any negative connotations people might have with the product's origin.

Creativity also is integral to how Renewal Mill forms partnerships. They’re always seeking out mission-aligned brands to partner with, and seek out creative ways to integrate their products.

What inspiration can we take from Renewal Mill?

Getting to know Renewal Mill’s story was a whole lot of fun, and we had some pretty big takeaways that small businesses at any stage of growth can take advantage of:

Own your backyard, but be open to new possibilities

When Renewal Mill started partnering with Whole Foods, they had the mission of becoming a local name and growing their customer base and reputation where they were located. However, it didn’t stop them from taking the opportunity to grow and educate more people about upcycled food.

At Honeycomb, we’re all about growing where we’re planted as local investors invest in local businesses to help them grow. The closer the community ties a business has, the better likelihood of having a successful investment offering they have! Another bonus of Honeycomb is that not only does it connect you to local investors, but also investors across the country. Our hive of 16,000+ investors are looking for growing local businesses to invest in, even if they’re not “local” to them.

Creativity can come in all forms for a local small business

Renewal Mill uses creativity when it comes to storytelling and partnerships, and it’s been a good keystone for their brand.

For Honeycomb, we think creativity is great when local businesses are thinking about fundraising for their growth. Businesses are thinking outside the bank when it comes to finding loans, and going out into their communities to find investors with Honeycomb.

A new recipe for growing your business.

Honeycomb is rewriting the rulebook for funding your small business by sourcing capital like you source your ingredients: locally. Launching an offering on Honeycomb elevates your brand, grows your revenue, and shines a spotlight on your success. To learn more, fill out the form below!


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