Gigi Twist Of Upfront Foods

By Alexandra Clough The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) 66 year old Gigi Twist launched "Upfront Foods" when she was having some health problems back in 2010. After experimenting with a few different snacks, the retired teacher began making her own granola. At first she gave some away to friends and family during holidays, and then, after receiving rave reviews, Twist decided to start a business!

The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Gigi Twist has a name that's hard to forget and a company that's hard to ignore.

Twist's Upfront Foods, based in Boca Raton, makes a grab-and-go loose granola, in a small pouch.

Twist recently won a contest to "pitch" her company, and now Upfront Foods will be featured in an upcoming edition of Entrepreneur Magazine. The contest was at the Jim Moran Institute Business and Leadership Conference.

Upfront Foods is a simple concept: Small containers of granola made without artificial ingredients or preservatives.

But achieving success wasn't exactly a cakewalk. It took persistence and a lot of learning.

That's OK, said the former schoolteacher, in her signature can-do style: "How scary is it to be retirement age and starting a business? It's absolutely the most thrilling time of my life!"

Upfront Foods began during a period in Twist's life when she was dealing with health problems. Twist, who grew up on a farm, knew a little something about wholesome food and started experimenting with snacks.

Twist began making her own granola, gave some away to friends and family during holidays, and then, after receiving rave reviews, decided to start a business.

That was in 2010. From there, Twist started manufacturing, then moved production to a larger plant and now churns out product for Whole Foods stores in Florida, as well as customers who buy her product in Amazon.com. Her daughter, Kaki Twist Burgess, has joined the company to help it expand.

Putting loose granola in a 1.4-ounce bag has many uses, Twist said. People use it as a snack but they also use it to sprinkle on oatmeal. The company's has three flavors, original, pecan almond crisp and cranberry zest. As much as possible, Twist likes to buy the product's seven ingredients from trusted companies, such as a seventh generation flax seed farmer in Noth Dakota.

Now Upfront Foods is creating an 11-ounce package for people who want to buy in larger amounts. Other foods are being eyed for the future, such as bars and cereals, she said.

Name: Gigi Twist

Age: 66

Hometown: Forrest City, Ark.

Education: Bachelor of Science in Education from Arkansas State University.

Family: Married with one adult daughter. She is a partner in Upfront Foods, and we work together daily. And, I must add...we happily work together.

About your company: We are dedicated to creating great-tasting, non-GMO food at affordable prices. We are in over 200 points of distribution, and our goal in 2016 is to increase that number to 1,500 points. Our business office is located in Boca Raton, but we had to move our manufacturing to a co-packer to meet our increased demand. We have also added a National Sales team to sell and gain distribution for our products

First paying job and what you learned from it: At 15, I was employed to demo/give samples of Borden's Eggnog during the holidays at a local grocery store in my hometown. During slow periods with no traffic, I "sampled" the eggnog so much I gained 10 lbs. I learned a valuable lesson -- everything in moderation (and, I don't drink Eggnog anymore!)

First break in the business: After a year of farmers' markets in Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens, the regional buyer for Whole Foods Florida gave me a meeting, gave me a chance and now we are in all 24 Florida Whole Foods stores. I'm forever indebted to him.

How your business has changed: When the company was just getting started, I spent 12 to 14 hours a day creating the product and attending Green Markets. We now have a great, family-owned co-packer to manufacture our products and I can focus our attention on selling, distribution and marketing.

Best business book: It's actually a personal book that led to the "aha" moment that began Upfront Foods. I was in a book club and we were reading Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kid, and it hit me that I still wanted to make one more difference in this lifetime.

Best piece of business advice you ever received: The food industry is a penny business. Watch every penny! What you tell young people about your business: That it's exciting, scary and wonderful to start a business, but it also requires a lot of hard work, long hours and money. Also, a degree or classes in business and finance would have been helpful.

Question: Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? Answer: When we started this company, we wanted to be "upfront" and transparent. My use of clean-label, simple ingredients was of the utmost importance, so I thought "Why not put the ingredient label on the front of the package?" I didn't see this transparency translate into consumer sales. We couldn't figure out the disconnect until we went to the stores to check out our products. They were all turned around with the label on the back -- not on the front like we had intended. Customers were confused by our attempt to transform the food industry and where nutritional information was listed. So, we went back to the drawing board. We still have the ingredients listed "up front" on the package but in a warmer, inviting way!

Question: What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? A continued positive growth in business and the overall business climate. According to CNBC, Florida ranks #10 in America's Top States for Business. Palm Beach County in particular is growing within the manufacturing sector, especially in the Rivera Beach area. It will be imperative that the area has affordable housing, transportation and an educated workforce for businesses to continue grow and succeed in Palm Beach County.

Power lunch spot: Farmers Table in Boca Raton

Where we'd find you when you're not at the office: At my local Publix or Whole Foods, or watching Netflix with my husband.

Favorite smartphone app: By far, my iPhone alarm. I use the alarm at minimum three-to-four times a day to help keep me on schedule.

What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Competency, honesty and good communication skills.

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