Going Nuts (for nutpods)

Madeline Haydon shares her founder’s story and the inspiration behind one of the largest plant-based coffee creamers in the world.

Reflections magazine: What does health and wellness mean to you and your family?

Madeline Haydon: I created nutpods because I’m lactose intolerant, and I had gestational diabetes. I noticed a lot of the creamers on the marketplace had a lot of added sugars and processed ingredients. I wanted a different, healthier option. When you take a look at me, I’m just pretty much an average woman. I’m not a size 0, but I like to make sure I’m feeding my body and my family with good quality ingredients. I have two girls, 8 and 13, and want to teach them how to have a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

RM: How did that assist in the creation of nutpods?

MH: We are a dairy-free brand, but we work for a lot of different food tribes—whether it’s gluten-free, paleo, Whole30, vegan, flexitarian; we also work for people who don’t fit into any particular box, they’re just trying to eat healthier. Some people are embracing plant-based foods for environmental reasons. We want everyone to feel included. Everyone belongs for our brand. I would say that balance comes from how we live our lives as a family.

RM: So, you were helping to create a better lifestyle?

MH: Yeah. I’d also say I think if there’s anything we’ve learned during COVID, it’s that our health must also include mental health. Our kids were doing online remote school, separated from friends, and we’re working back from that. Finding ways to take care of ourselves—yoga, walks with our dog, trying new things like cooking classes, working on new skills, seeking out new opportunities—it’s really important. And it’s important to have conversations and ask, “What do you need?” Ask the family, “What would make you feel better?” This can happen over your morning cup of coffee or while baking recipes. I like to think we’re helping families have sweeter memories.

RM: That’s true; food is about so much more than the act of eating.

MH: As humans, we make so many memories around food and family. A lot of memories are attached to food. We’re really honored to be a part of daily rituals. Once people have their rituals set, it’s an everyday presence for them. When I created nutpods, I created a whole Thanksgiving guide because it was a way to have all those familiar things and memories of mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie—but have them in a healthier way. It’s made me really proud to be able to share that.

RM: Were you intimidated to break into the food space?

MH: It was very intimidating. I worked for a medical device company, and I also supervised mobile blood banks, making sure community hospitals had what they needed. I have always gravitated toward roles that support the community and help people, and I feel like nutpods is a way to do that. But I didn’t know anything about food manufacturing or selling to grocery stores. If you have conviction, though, you end up going into sponge mode and learning as much as you can. I put together an advisory board that had the experience I didn’t have. It has definitely been an odyssey.

RM: How did your experience with health care inform you?

MH: Right now, our country has a big battle with diabetes and prediabetes. Forty-four million American have type 2 diabetes, and 88 million have prediabetes. Nutpods’ options don’t just taste delicious, but they are all ZERO-sugar for consumers who are looking to reduce or move away from sugar. We don’t necessarily target or go after the diabetic market, but I feel an immense amount of pride knowing we help people.

RM: Have you had any feedback or special moments with customers that stick out as memorable?

MH: I always love hearing from consumers. What we hear time and time again is that the familiarity of a cup of coffee, especially during times like COVID, is reassuring. That makes me feel like we have a special brand, we are continuing to build on that special relationship.

RM: How do you keep the creative fire going?

MH: In terms of new flavors and relationships, I love keeping an eye on what is going on. I love to see what’s trending at coffee shops and experimenting with flavors. But as trendy as Sriracha is, I can’t make it into a creamer (laughs).

RM: What’s one failure you went through that turned into a good lesson?

MH: So many learning lessons. Number one, it is really difficult to raise money. In order to scale a new brand, you need significant capital. Trying to raise money early on as a female founder, person of color, and someone with no experience as a CEO, oh man, I had trouble. One of our first angel investors pulled out, and I was crushed. It was demoralizing when they walked back on their commitment, but it was a great lesson. It made me dust myself off and say OK, there’s only one person who’s going to determine the success of nutpods and it’s me. I’m not going to give that power to one investor, one employee. I believe in myself and will find my way through this.

RM: That is an incredibly good lesson to learn. Any other bits of wisdom?

MH: When COVID first hit, I also had a significant bout of impostor syndrome. I’m competing against large publicly held companies like Silk, Nestle and Starbucks, but eventually I realized even 20-year veterans in the industry didn’t know how to lead through that. Experience wasn’t going to help, so I managed my way through by listening to my head and my heart. I had to be flexible and choose to believe in myself. It has been one of those lessons that’s so much harder than you want to admit.

RM: How have your girls reacted to seeing you persevere through all this?

MH: Like with many things in parenthood, I think it will be delayed gratification. They aren’t going to recognize anything yet. My hope is that when they grow up and enter the business world they will look back and say, “My mom led during a time that was uncommon. It was uncommon for a  female founder, for a person of color to not only compete but outcompete other larger successful organizations. I’ve heard and seen her overcome obstacles, keep working, keep going.” The future them—that’s what I’m working for now.

RM: What’s in store for nutpods in the future?

MH: Right now, we’re the No. 2 brand in plant-based coffee creamers. I want to be able to continue to be a go-to brand that is beloved by consumers and offer great new products. I’m always happiest when we put out new products that work. I’d like to continue to become a global brand—get into Canada (we just shipped to Japan), and explore international products and new channels.

For more information, visit nutpods.com

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