40-Year-Old Mom Running Lemonade Startup Hopes Kids One Day Think, ‘Wow, She Did Something Pretty Cool’

By Greg Trotter
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Mompreneur Melanie Kahn markets “Poppilu” as a guilt-free lemonade with less sugar than many competitors. Aronia berries, also known as “black chokeberries,” add an antioxidant boost and a pink hue to the drinks.

Chicago Tribune

Melanie Kahn says she founded Poppilu, a new lemonade brand, after experiencing a powerful craving for citrus while pregnant with her daughter, Poppy.

Poppilu is one of five brands in Kraft Heinz’s new Chicago-based incubator for startups — and the only one owned by a woman.

Kahn isn’t bashful about being a 40-year-old mother of two young children, despite the harsh reality that entrepreneurship often favors those who are young enough to have nothing really to lose.

“This is obviously a very personal business. … I do this business in large part so I can have flexibility with my children,” Kahn said. “I have to embrace the fact that this is who I am.”

Kahn is not a newcomer to the packaged food industry. She’s worked stints as a brand manager at Kraft Foods, Sara Lee and Beam before all three companies merged with other firms.

More recently, Kahn was vice president of marketing for Fairlife, the filtered milk brand distributed by Coca-Cola — an experience that gave her a taste for the startup life.

She markets Poppilu as a guilt-free lemonade with less sugar than many competitors. Aronia berries, also known as “black chokeberries,” add an antioxidant boost and a pink hue to the drinks, Kahn said. Poppilu is sold in 550 stores throughout the Midwest, including all 187 Jewel-Osco stores.

Wearing a bright fuchsia shirt as a nod to her products, Kahn explained both the challenges and opportunities for her startup. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why does it matter to you that you’re the oldest entrepreneur in the Kraft Heinz incubator and also the only woman?

A: In the food and beverage startup world, I don’t encounter a lot of older folks and older women, specifically. There aren’t a lot of us out there. I think the nature of entrepreneurship lends itself to younger people. You can take that risk because you don’t necessarily have a spouse or a family that you have to support.
And it’s notoriously harder for women to raise venture capital money.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge in growing your business?

A: I really want to grow this business very quickly and become a national brand, but I have to pace myself because it’s going to take time to get there. I’ve got very lean resources, both financially as well as people time. And so, we really have to go slow and be patient and grow our core market before we can expand too quickly.

Q: What’s your biggest fear?

A: When you’re a startup, there’s only so much time that you have — before you run out of cash or before retailers run out of patience — to have a successful brand that moves quickly at retail. We’ve got this great-tasting product. It tastes great. It looks great. But how can I communicate it to enough consumers quickly enough to have them taste it during this key summer season before the winter sets in and our sales slow down? That’s hard to do when you have slim budget and slim resources.

Q: What do you do for fun? Is there time?

A: There’s always time for fun, but never fun on my own. The sacrifice is I’m either working or I’m with my kids. You can find us, literally every day of the year, in the afternoon, walking up to Lincoln Park around the lagoon with our little schnauzer and my two children.

Q: What do you hope your children will learn from you starting this business?

A: For my kids, obviously I hope Poppilu is successful and I hope that they can look at their mom and be like, wow, she did something pretty cool. She created this business. And hopefully it’s something that will inspire them when they’re adults.

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