LaForce Baker is the founder and executive chef at Moon Meals Inc., a company providing plant-based meals including vegan meats, cheeses, and sauces to major retailers and foodservice operators. When Black Enterprise interviewed Baker in 2014, he discussed his vision to expand to other markets, to make healthy, tasty options accessible to other time-starved, urban professionals. Four years later, his vision for Moon Meals has come to life. Thanks to the Fiesta Wrap, the company’s new vegan grab-and-go concept, the bootstrapped entrepreneur who overcame poverty is launching in all 187 Jewel supermarket locations in the Midwest.
The Fiesta Wrap includes Moon Meals vegan taco meat, vegan nacho cheese sauce, organic cooked black beans, organic cooked short grain rice, organic cooked sweet corn kernels and chopped jalapeno peppers, all contained in a spinach wrap.
We caught up with Baker to get some insight into how he positioned his brand and the most valuable lessons he’s learned since starting his company.
We interviewed you in 2014. Since then, what are the top three lessons you learned in business that have helped you launch in 187 stores?
I have learned to go with what performs instead of what just feels good. I also learned that becoming a larger company means that you have to give up some control because you need to partner to reach more people. Lastly, I learned that no one else will believe in you until you believe in yourself.
Why do you believe the plant-based grab-and-go concept is so important right now?
We believe most Americans don’t consume enough veggies on a regular basis. Plus they are looking for a better protein. Our products allow them to get in both in a tasty, convenient and affordable way. Lastly, a lot of consumers love nacho cheese, but cannot handle the dairy, therefore our proprietary vegan nacho cheese sauce in the Fiesta Wrap gives them a viable alternative.
When it comes to getting your Fiesta Wraps into stores across the country, why do you believe buyers took a chance on your brand?
Our product typically has had a 20% higher “sell-through rate” than any other product that it sits next to. Additionally, our product capitalizes on the trend of customers looking to consume less meat while still getting the protein that they desire. Buyers want products that have been proven to sell and are “on trend” with consumer demand which is what our product achieves.
A challenge for most entrepreneurs is figuring out how to fund and maintain their startup. In your experience, what’s the biggest mistake a bootstrapped company can make?
I think the biggest mistake is not getting a business mentor early on, even it’s the local coffee shop owner that you see every day. It’s easy to overpay for services when you don’t know any better about how much they should cost. We overpaid and underpaid over the years from not talking to people that had been where we were going. Also, people should not quit their day jobs until they are making enough reoccurring income to cover their personal expenses and the business. I had to go nearly homeless three times to cover our operating expenses, which would not have been the case if I kept my daytime job longer to cover my personal expenses.