By Nancy Dahlberg
The Miami Herald.
Ginnybakes is a made-in-Miami story.
The young food-products company offering organic, gluten-free and kosher snacks started out five years ago as one woman’s vision and then a tiny family company with all hands on deck. Today ginnybakes has 35 employees, and its products are in some Publix, Whole Foods, Kroger, Fresh Market and Albertson’s supermarkets as well as many smaller stores nationwide. Ginnybakes cookies are part of first-class snack baskets on American Airlines, and the products are also sold on ginnybakes.com and through Amazon.
The food products — cookies in two sizes (regular-sized cookies in boxes and minis in snack bags), bake mixes, bars and crumbles — are created, baked, packaged and shipped right from ginnybakes headquarters, a large office, kitchen and warehouse in northwest Miami. The company’s T-shirts sport the hashtag #MadeInMiami.
“It’s been a real sense of fulfillment that this product launched, hit supermarkets and is a national product. This is my dream, this is my passion project, I taught my boys more lessons from this than anything else I ever taught them. It’s about hard work, ambition, drive,” said Ginny Simon, founder and CEO of ginnybakes and a mother of four sons.
Last year, ginnybakes landed at No. 211 on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies, with $2.15 million in revenue in 2014 and a three-year-growth rate of 2,027 percent. The company was No. 13 in the food and beverage category, “and we were number one in passion, don’t forget to mention that,” quipped Steve Simon, president of the company and Ginny’s husband.
Since then, revenues have grown to $3.1 million in 2015, a 45 percent increase over 2014, said CFO Jason Lewis, who has a background in private equity and financial analysis. Online sales at ginnybakes, which were essentially zero at the beginning of 2015, grew steadily and are currently 2 to 3 percent of revenues, he said.
The company’s biggest customers are health-conscious millennials and moms like Serena Berra, of Miami Beach. For a couple of years now, Berra has been buying the ginnyminis at Whole Foods for her family, and has purchased the vegan cookies online.
“They are all delicious. It’s hard to find good taste when you are eliminating glutens or dairy. I grew up working at a bakery so I really care about taste.”
Ginnybakes has been riding a trend of healthier eating. The U.S. organic foods market produced an annual growth rate of about 12 percent in 2013 and 2014, and sales reached nearly $40 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. The 2013 total cookie market was $8.27 billion and the premium and healthy cookie category was about 20 percent of that total. Growth looks like it will continue: According to the 2015 Global Snacking Survey by Nielsen, 75 percent of respondents want snacks with no artificial colors or flavors and more than half of the respondents seek gluten-free indulgences.
“We are outrageously delicious and we are a better-for-you cookie. But the first thing we want you to know is we are outrageously delicious,” said Ginny Simon. The company released three new cookie flavors, sweet cinnamon love, ginger crisp love and cranberry pistachio bliss, in the fall for a total of 10, and there is also a vegan line of products. “We are just real food; that’s really our pride and joy.”
The story of ginnybakes is rooted in family and the founder’s own passion for healthy living, eating and baking. When her four sons hit high school and college ages, Ginny Simon went back to school to become a certified holistic nutritionist and founded her first company, Mindful Organics, a consultancy on healthy living, in 2009. She was a home baker and wanted to offer her clients a healthy baking mix but she couldn’t find anything on the market she loved. That’s how ginnybakes got started in 2010, and its first products were baking mixes.
By early 2011, she and her small team — basically any family members and friends she could recruit — decided to get the product out into the marketplace. By April, ginnybakes was in Epicure and Apple A Day in Miami Beach, then Fresh Market soon afterward, she said.
Fresh Market’s Aventura store manager, Eddy Neam, was instrumental in helping Ginny Simon get her start. She was experimenting with the gluten-free products at the time and wanted to test the marketability through sampling in the store, he said. With the gluten-free population growing, he thought the products were very viable, “but what really sold me was her. Her passion is what elevated it to the next level.”
By this time she had baking mixes and ready-made boxed cookies, a request by the stores, and with Neam she came up with the idea of smaller cookies in ready-to-go snack bags. He was impressed with how she had sought out the right people to help her with the packaging and she went through two or three phases of packaging to get it just right.
Ginny Simon had set up shop in a friend’s warehouse and had use of his commercial kitchen for a while and by the end of 2011 built out her own 1,200-square-foot kitchen in her friend’s warehouse. Alas, within six months that space was too small, and the Simons bought their current northwest Miami headquarters building in 2012. “Manufacturing is not easy, but I didn’t know better when I started,” she said.
By then, the company was beginning to go national with Fresh Market and had begun entering Whole Foods, and Ginny had finally persuaded her husband, Steve, an attorney, to join the business full time as president. “In the beginning, he wanted it to go away, he didn’t believe it was real,” she said.
After graduating from Northwestern University in chemical engineering, son Michael joined in 2013 as “the ball was rolling and sales were growing and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to step into,” he said. His mother laughed at his request for a job description. “At the time, I had other offers, and I was teetering on going, and I wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a son job,” said Michael Simon, who is vice president.
After the first day on the job, he was convinced it wasn’t. In the early days he focused on the manufacturing and quality assurance side of the business; now he focuses on sales. But as any small business owner knows, every management job is a little bit of everything. “I like to say ginnybakes is our fifth child. Sometimes she is really really good and sometimes really really bad,” quipped Ginny.
Although ginnybakes began being picked up by Whole Foods in the Midwest in 2012, it wasn’t in the chain’s Florida stores until 2013. “Brett King of Whole Foods Florida said, ‘How come you aren’t with Florida? I’m going to tell you why. You’ve been too polite a nuisance; if you really want something, you go for it,’ ” she recalled. By July, ginnybakes was in Whole Foods Florida stores.
A big milestone was getting into the first Publix in 2014, a store in Miami Beach. “I was beyond thrilled because this was the everyday shopper that we could educate and they could find us. Publix put us at a good price point to sell, and I felt like we could reach the consumer that really needed us,” Ginny Simon said. It’s now in the GreenWise sections of 50 to 60 Publix stores.
Also in 2014, Ginny, Steve and Michael Simon were selected as high-impact Endeavor Entrepreneurs, which means they would be mentored and supported by a global network of business experts. Lewis started out volunteering as an Endeavor mentor to the company, but joined ginnybakes’ management team about four months ago.
Endeavor has helped the company build an advisory board, and offered access and connections to experts in the food industry and entrepreneur mentors who have been there, done that, the team said. Ginnybakes also participated in a Northwestern Kellogg School of Management program last year, in which a team of Executive MBA students from Miami integrated with the company and helped guide strategic planning, said Steve Simon.
Building on the company’s growth in 2015, the near-term goal is to expand distribution in large grocery chains, and eventually saturate regions, Steve Simon added.
Ginnybakes, now with 35 employees, is much more structured these days as the company has grown up, but there are still the “all hands on deck” days, such as when the whole team worked on a recent Sunday to get a big order out. “In the early days there were a lot of those, with all four sons helping out,” Ginny Simon said.
She adds, “I don’t know that we would have been so successful in another city or state. The stores in Miami, Miami Beach, Florida — they really took care of us.”