Wanting to give back to her upstate New York community, Michele Liddle created The Perfect Granola, a company that sells tasty, nutritional granola products—while also providing food, money, and skills to those in need.
What inspired you to start The Perfect Granola?
Healthy food was always part of my life, even though we didn’t have the best of everything. My mother taught me how to cook and can food. As I started to explore what I wanted to focus on as a career, the culinary field was something I gravitated toward. I’ve always loved cooking for and caring for people.
In my late twenties/early thirties, I was selling industrial electric motors. I loved my job. But I wasn’t feeling like I was giving back, which is something I always wanted to do. Even when I was going to culinary school, I would host gatherings during the holidays for people who didn’t have anywhere to go. But I lost touch with that.
I had started volunteering at our local food pantry but couldn’t help as much as I wanted to. It struck me that, if I wanted to give back and feed people healthy food, the first thing I had to do was develop a food company. People who are in crisis are often getting food that’s highly processed, so I wanted to provide them with healthy food and, if possible, jobs. In 2016, I launched The Perfect Granola, and it’s been working. Because of its success, we’re able to do so much for the community—much more than I ever thought in just a couple of years. In fact, we didn’t end up selling the first few batches we made; we just gave everything away. We then starting picking up retailers and seeing some revenue, so we made monetary donations and more food donations and started working on helping people in a larger capacity.
Was it your full-time job when you started the company?
It is now, but I worked full time at my sales job for the first year and a half after I started the company. I’d go to work, come home, make dinner, get my daughters to bed, and then work on The Perfect Granola for a couple of hours, researching things like FDA guidelines and packaging. I also picked up a part-time job to make sure I could financially fund the company.
Tell us about the health benefits of your granola:
Everything’s a family recipe that I developed myself using ingredients from my kitchen. So you won’t find any chemicals or preservatives; instead, we use ingredients like coconut oil, avocado oil, chia seeds, and flax meal. The products themselves are packed with nutrient-dense ingredients. We don’t use things like high-fructose corn syrups; our sweeteners are maple syrup and honey. Every product is non-GMO, certified gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free. Our original products have nuts, but in the fall of 2019, we launched a line that’s nut-free as well. We’ve also gotten everything certified kosher.
The bars have a soft consistency but hold together—ultimately, I wanted to create something my daughters, who were one and five at the time, could eat.
What do you try to teach your daughters through this venture?
I want to make sure they know that they’re capable of anything. I think it’s important to show that you can have a good career and do whatever you want to do while also making a difference in other people’s lives. I occasionally bring them with me on donation days at the food shelters and pantries to see that there are kids in our community who don’t go home to home-cooked meals.
Where are your products sold?
The bars can be found in the gluten-free section in over 1,800 Walmart stores. The bagged granola cereal is in Wegmans. And the products are also offered in stores like Kroger, ShopRite, Hannaford, Tops, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls and can be found online at Amazon, Walmart, and our website.
What kind of impact has The Perfect Granola made since its inception?
We help all over the country, but for our first six months, the majority of our sales went to supporting Foodlink in Rochester (our local Feeding America food bank), the Food Bank of Western New York, and the Food Bank of Central New York. In 2017, we were able to reach a little bit farther. We supported a national addiction rehabilitation center, a missing and exploited children’s organization, YMCAs, and different teacher’s associations. In all, we donated over 12,000 pounds of our products to support the twenty-three-county region of upstate New York in 2017 alone.
The next year, we took a few important steps. I truly believe that our country’s hunger issue is linked to education and poverty—in my upstate New York area alone, our graduation rates are some of the worst in the state, and the childhood poverty rate in Rochester is 51.9 percent. It’s tough: if you’re born into the poverty cycle, it’s very hard to get out of it.
We wanted to make sure that we set kids up for success and teach them skills that they need. So, in 2018, we partnered with an agency called Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection to hire students in the area who were at risk for not graduating. They get paid above minimum wage and are taught responsibility and life skills: they set their own schedules, and if they don’t go to school, they’re not allowed to come to work. If they don’t have bank accounts, we set them up with a bank so they can learn about financial basics. That same year, we also implemented a community service program, where all of our employees get paid community service days to help an organization of their choice.
In 2019, we took our mission even further, using the proceeds from our first Walmart orders to sponsor Special Olympics New York. We also put in a new food production line at Foodlink to expand their workforce development training program, through which people learn culinary skills and food production skills so they can find livable wage jobs within the food industry.
Who helps you run the company?
For the first few years, it was just me. In January of 2019, I hired an operations manager, Ashlie Jones. She has been my best friend for years, and she was moving back to the area, so the timing was perfect. In June, I hired a salesman to help. Aside from the students we hire, it’s just us. It’s fun. We all wear many hats.
You and your company have won several awards. Will you tell us about them and what such recognition means to the company?
We were a 2018 and 2019 National Parenting Product Awards winner for Best in Family Products, and we’re really proud of that. In 2018, we were named Women-Owned Business of the Year in my town of Victor. In 2019, I was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Rochester Professional Consultant Network, and, in 2017, I was also the Women of Excellence Award winner for the creation of our company and the positive social impact we’ve had.
One recognition we are most proud of, though, is being a finalist in the 2019 Stacy’s Rise Project, a program designed to recognize and empower forward-thinking female entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry. We worked hand in hand with PepsiCo executives to grow our company and were awarded grant funding to implement changes that would move the needle for us. PepsiCo realizes that less than 2 percent of venture-capital funding goes to women-led companies, despite our companies consistently proving that we drive revenue and innovation with low employee turnover.
Overall, it’s great to win some awards. It raises awareness for the company. For us, it’s so important to share our story and hopefully inspire others to make a difference. I always tell people that if I can do it, anybody can. I didn’t have any business background or know how to start and run a company, but I feel very passionate about what I’m doing. Hypothetically, even if we closed today, I feel like the company’s been a success. Because we already hired teens. We already put food on the table for people. We already donated. Our employees already went out and helped others. We’ve already inspired people to start little movements within their own communities. At the end of the day, that’s what I feel it’s all about.
Ultimately, The Perfect Granola is a for-profit company but a nonprofit at heart. How do you manage to pull that off?
Short answer: I’m not in it for the money. It’s a company built for the community, and everything gets shared, right down to our workforce, our profits, and our products. So it definitely has a nonprofit feel to it. But we are a for-profit business. I know that we’re moving in the right direction, and if things take a little bit longer or cost a little bit more or profits are a little slimmer, at the end of the day, it’s OK. Our employees are putting food on their tables, they’re happy, we’re doing the right thing, our business is growing, and we’re getting recognition for what we’re doing. If it takes me a little bit longer to finally hold a salary, so be it. That’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing it to help people. At the end of the day, I’m just a mom who had an idea to help hungry kids in the neighborhood.
For more info, visit theperfectgranola.com