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Off The 2018 Launchpad: Kellogg’s Hottest MBA Startups

Kathryn Bernell. Courtesy: Sean Su

reBLEND

Industry: Food Justice/Natural Foods

Founding Student Names: Kathryn Bernell

Brief Description of Solution: reBLENDs are functional smoothie cubes that source delicious but misshapen produce for the on-the-go customer who is seeking more real food in their diet at a time when customers are demanding food that improves their well-being and that of the world around them. Our mission is to make sure every piece of misshapen produce ends up in someone’s mouth and that each product we produce helps our customers better win their day. reBLENDs radically tackle food waste and increase Americans’ fruit and vegetable consumption by targeting occasions when a customer wants #realfood but is also seeking convenience.

Funding Dollars: $45,000

What Led You To Launch This Venture? I’ve spent my entire career in the food industry. Early on, I recognized a deep passion for furthering proactive health and food justice. The rise of inflammatory disease plaguing Americans can be traced, in large-part, back to the shifts in diet that have been made over the past century from real food to processed substitutes. Presently, 90% of Americans don’t get enough fruits and vegetables into their diet on a daily basis. The tragedy is that, concurrently, 50% of all food produced in the United States will never reach a plate; this amasses to over 15 Billion dollars of produce wasted on an annual basis. The dire need for Americans to find convenient and delicious ways to get more real food into their diet alongside the challenge to tackle a broken supply chain system caught my attention. I dove deep into research with farmers, distributors, restaurants, grocers, and customers to better understand the points of tension that have spurred the astronomical waste stream. My ultimate insight was that consumers live at the crux of the waste problem: farmers only harvest and retailers only purchase what they believe consumers want.

The goal of shifting consumer behavior around misshapen produce ultimately drove me to launch reBLEND. By way of crafting delicious fruit and vegetable smoothies that are sourced with misshapen produce, I’ve found a way to tackle two of the countries most pressing issues plaguing our food system and our overall health and well-being.

Biggest Accomplishment So Far with Venture: This year, I was honored as a Zell Fellow, Yuon Impact Scholar, and Project Impact Fellow. These enabled me to build recognition within the Kellogg community. The support within Kellogg enabled an overwhelmingly positive response to my initial pilot that took place in the Fall quarter. reBLENDs received an 86% satisfaction score on the smoothies, but the noted shortcomings of the product were around the bulky nature of the package and the consumer’s difficulty achieving a smooth and consistent blend with the product. The feedback I heard from consumers informed my decision to overhaul my initial packaging so that I could move to the smoothie cube form. The smoothie cube packs deliver a space saving package and superior blending experience. I am unveiling the newest packaging iteration in two weeks for our upcoming Beta2.

How Has Kellogg Helped You Further Your Venture? The guidance that I have gained from the Social Impact department as a Project Impact Fellow and Yuon Fellow has exposed me to the necessary resources and insight I’ve needed to build a mission-driven business. Concurrently, I have been able to navigate the business development of reBLEND by leveraging the professors, mentorship opportunities, and curriculum through the Kellogg Initiative for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

One of the most impactful contributions to the growth of reBLEND has been the Zell Fellows program that I am currently in. Our small cohort meets weekly to discuss everything from personal leadership development to tax code implications of our company filings. The balance between personal development and access to tactical support has been a game changer for my company.

I would say, however, that the most powerful part of my Kellogg experience has stemmed from the professors who have gone above and beyond to support me each step of the way. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by the likes of Carter Cast, Rick Desai, David Schonthal, Megan Kashner, Linda Darragh, and Craig Wortman. These professors not only have a wealth of industry experience, but they also have a deep dedication to taking on a role that is much more than an 8-5. I’m consistently blown away by the ethic of care each of these professors extends to their students; I think that this is what really sets Kellogg apart.

I never imagined coming to business school and starting my own venture; it simply wasn’t something that ever crossed my mind. The community and overwhelming support that Kellogg offers ultimately re-oriented my path and enabled me to think more broadly about the type of career and impact I want to be making in the world.

Long-Term Goals with Your Startup: Upon graduating, I am looking to obtain initial seed funding to transition manufacturing over to a co-packer and build out my founding team to support accelerated growth. Our team wants to own the occasions where someone is looking for more than a granola bar, but needs a convenient option that fits into the demands of their on-the-go lifestyle. We plan to expand beyond smoothies as a part of reBLEND’s vision to build a company that delivers professional grade products while also radically tackling systemic issues with food waste.