Why I've Decided to Leave the Food Industry

 

I was sitting at my desk, in my cubicle, scrolling through Pinterest.

Feeling bored. Tired. Vaguely unhappy.  Not really understanding why exactly. But I knew I had more to offer the world than spreadsheets and paperclips and unnecessarily long meetings.

This. This is not what I had in mind when my mom said “go to university and get a good job”. It’s not what I dreamed of while striving towards my goals. This was something else entirely, but certainly not the life I had imagined.

In seventh grade, my teacher asked me what I wanted to do with my life. What a loaded question for a pre-teen kid! I had no idea. So he asked me to go home and think about it. The next day I came back and told him I wanted to “study the brain” (yeah, I was that kid). I didn’t know at the time what that meant, but over the years Psychology became a passion for me. I even got a degree in it. But when I left university, people started asking me again “what do you want to do with your life?”

Oh, that question. It has haunted me.

Become a Psychologist? I barely knew how to hold my own life together, I definitely didn’t feel equipped to help others with theirs. A Professor? Nope, I was terrified of pubic speaking at the time, so that was clearly off the table. Human Resources? Yeah, ok that sounds pretty good. It required a bit more education, so I decided to take night classes while working a regular day job.

Which lead me to my cubicle. My small, beige cubicle.

I worked in the corporate world for ten years.

Work, gym, home, repeat. All the while thinking, surely there has to be more to life than this…..right?

I started cooking. Man, I loved cooking. I mean, not so much the peeling & chopping, but creating something?! YES. And then sharing that with people and seeing the look of pure happiness when they experience the pleasure of eating what you have prepared? I was hooked.

I poured myself into every aspect of the culinary world. I watched cooking shows and bought cookbooks and actually made the recipes (I know, right?) I devoured Anthony Bourdain’s first memoir, and then his next book, and then his next. Every aspect of the culinary world was sexy to me: the food, the pleasure, the badass people behind the scenes - hell even the long hours and grueling hard work. I was in love.

Around the same time, I stumbled into a much healthier lifestyle than I’d ever had before. I was eating clean, working out daily, I’d even given up gluten & dairy. None of which fit well with my devout love of food.

I started playing around in the kitchen. Surely I could make healthy food taste less like cardboard and more like decadent chocolate cake, right? Challenge accepted.

And I succeeded. Recipe after recipe tested out on my most discerning (and sometimes brutally honest) friends. Not everything worked, but a lot of it did. I had found my passion and what I thought was my calling. I could make healthy food delicious and maybe bring a little piece of happiness to other people.

Even though I had found my passion, quitting my job was not easy.

I worked up the courage for three months before finally walking into my boss’ office and handing in my notice. I was walking away from a stable, permanent job. A pension. A great salary. Benefits. An amazing vacation every year. Security. All in the pursuit of happiness.

Here was the dream: I would make healthy baked goods. Refined sugar free. Gluten free. Dairy free. I would make them taste incredible and bring them to a weekend farmer’s market. I imagined my week days being spent walking my dogs and tending to my veggie garden when I wasn’t in the kitchen baking. Weekends would be spent chatting with cool people over coffee at a farmer’s market. I imagined a carefree, laidback lifestyle, my time spent being creative with my baked goods and doing things I love.

I started. I taught myself how to bake things I had never made before. I learned about business taxes and inspections and regulations. I took it all in and learned.

But I also learned fairly quickly that you can’t earn a living selling your products at a one-day-a-week farmer’s market. So, I started selling my baked goods to cafes. I learned about wholesale pricing and how to sell my products with confidence. I thought that surely between the farmer’s market and the cafes that I could eke out a living. Sure, it might not be what I had earned before, but it would be enough. I don’t need tons of money, I told myself. Just enough to get by.

At the time, vegan donuts were becoming a hot commodity. I decided to try creating a few types of vegan donuts and they were awesome. People loved them. Almost overnight my baked goods were in such high demand that I couldn’t keep up. We had lineups of customers waiting for us to open our market booth every Saturday. I hired someone, and then someone else. It was incredible and fulfilling and all of the things I had imagined it would be. This is it. This is my dream.

There was just one problem: I still wasn’t making any money.

I didn’t get it. I was buying ingredients, making the product, selling it for more than it cost me in ingredients. Where was the money going?

I looked at all the numbers. Five times. I calculated and re-calculated. I got help. And at the end I realized: even though we are making (a small amount of) money on each donut we sell, we aren’t selling enough donuts to pay for the rent on our commercial facility. We were paying just about the lowest rent there was available for a commercial kitchen, so we couldn’t lower our overhead. Worse than this, sometimes my customers just weren’t paying me. As a self-funded company, I needed to make money to stay afloat. The only way forward was to sell more products, or to sell more profitable ones and be more selective with my clients. A business mentor pointed out to me that we actually sold more energy bars than donuts. They were more profitable and, clearly, people loved them. So I set out to sell more energy bars.

I started in London selling to a handful of stores. Then started selling in Toronto. I was feeling great – I wasn’t making money yet but soon I would be. I just needed a few more sales. I upped the ante and got listed at a large grocery store chain thinking this would give me the volume that I needed. I hustled. I expanded. Every time I would look at my bank account, I would have a moment of sheer panic. The money was dwindling and I needed to start making that number go up or we were in trouble. But I also knew I could do this.  I have grit and determination and an insane work ethic. I worked day and night, all in the effort of keeping my dreams alive.

I got my bars listed in over 300 retailers across Canada. I stopped buying ingredients from the grocery stores and started buying them by the pallet. Started selling our bars by the pallet. Working with distributors and talking with national brokers. I had customers posting about how much they love our bars. Retailers raving about them, saying they won’t buy bars they used to buy anymore because, well, ours taste better. When I took a call with one of Canada’s largest national distributors and they told me that they were thrilled I would consider working with them, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was doing this.

Then one day, I sat down for coffee with a friend.She told me that I looked stressed out. It took me by surprise because until that moment, I hadn’t even realized I was. But there, in that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks. My business was doing much better than it used to be. We had grown and expanded and the numbers were looking better. People were loving and buying our bars. Why was I so stressed out?

I told her that I just purchased packaging and some ingredients. She didn’t understand why this would be a problem, until I told her that the grand total was in the tens of thousands range. This was the minimum quantity that you could order, so I just had to order it and wait. Wait until we receive the order. Wait until the product is produced. Wait until I am able to sell it. And then wait until I (hopefully) get paid before I see any of that money go back into my bank account.

Then she asked the question that would change everything for me: Are you happy?

Yes, of course I am, I quickly answered. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m running a successful national energy bar company. Of course I’m happy.

Only I wasn’t. That one well-timed question woke me up to my reality: I wasn’t happy doing this. And wasn’t that the whole point? Wasn’t that why I left my full time job? To be happy? To do something that I enjoy?

The food industry is hard. It can be brutal and unrelenting and is hardly ever the romanticized version of reality we make it out to be. And it certainly wasn’t the dream I had envisioned years earlier.

So many of us work so hard to land jobs and careers and lives that we think we want. And when we get them we realize that the reality is often not as glamourous or as incredible as we thought it would be. It can be hard to let these things go once we realize that we no longer want them. All of the hard work and commitment can make us want to hang on to something that it best left in our past. But life is far too short to continue doing something that doesn’t bring you joy (as Marie Kondo would say) – even if you’ve worked very hard to get it.

It takes courage to move on. To walk away. It’s not easy, but it is necessary if you want to live a life full of cool experiences and adventure and happiness. You have to choose happiness.

Happiness for me means leaving the food industry and closing Boho Bars to refocus on what I wanted when I began this journey. I wanted to make an impact in the health and wellness space, become an entrepreneur, and help others, all of which I will continue to do through other avenues. I couldn’t do this without all of you coming along with me on my journey and I can’t wait to share what is next for us with you. Thank you for all of your continued love and support. We will be releasing our new initiatives in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

xo Nicole 


2 comments

  • Wow…although I will be sad that I will no longer be able to buy your yummy bars…I so love your willingness to ask yourself “am I happy” and get the honest truth. You deserve to be happy, fulfilled…in life. Well done you.. you are a strong woman and I look forward to seeing what is ahead! Good luck and keep smiling!

    Sarah
  • You’re amazing, Nicole, and so courageous! Thank you for your honesty. You will do amazing no matter which direction you choose to go <3

    LaLa

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