This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Dionne Laslo-Baker, founder of DeeBee's SpecialTea Foods Ltd. The company's TeaPops are the first certified non-GMO, organic, kosher, vegan, tea-based treats that are gluten, dairy, nut, and soy free.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
I started a company called Deebee's Organics TeaPops, we produce the world's first organic, kosher, non-GMO tea and rooibos-based frozen treats (pops). The idea for a 'tea pop' was born in 2012, when I was with my two sons in our family kitchen. My youngest son, who does not eat refined sugar but loves different teas and herbal teas, said "let's make tea" and my older son, who felt like a frozen treat, said "let's make teasicles."
It was one of those lightbulb moments when I realized that nobody in the world was doing this – and the TeaPop was born.
I experimented making TeaPops with organic fruit, vanilla bean, mint, lemon and a variety of organic teas and herbal teas. With help from food scientists and lots of friends and family 'tasters,' we perfected the recipes. We officially launched in the fall of 2013 in Victoria. Fast forward eight months and we are now on shelves across Canada up to and including Quebec and across many of the states.
We produce our TeaPops out of two different factories; one in Victoria and the other in Quebec. We have 16 employees, and we produce about 250,000 TeaPops a month that are now sold throughout North America.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
It was really the concept of doing something with my family that drove me. I had just completed years of study for my PhD into the effects of chemicals on fetal development, and I'm a self-proclaimed fanatic about the food my family eats and the products they are exposed to in and out of our home. I wanted to show my own children and others that you can create a product with the purest of ingredients from the earth with no refined sugar that also tastes amazing.
I also wanted to teach my own kids how to grow an ethical company by giving part of our proceeds to various charities, including the Hospital for Sick Children, Power To Be and One per cent for the Planet. Further, I wanted to challenge myself personally and use my doctoral training in innovative ways.
Scientists tend to present their findings at conferences around the globe, but often the results of many incredible studies do not get heard by the public. I see DeeBee's as a platform by which I can teach others about the impact of the foods we eat on ourselves and our planet. I hope to give a voice to some of the important scientific findings we may not know about such as what is the actual difference between 'organic' and 'non-GMO' or 'what is the evidence to suggest that eating organic is healthier than not?'
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our customers are usually health and planet conscious individuals looking for a low-sugar, organic treat. We know that parents buy TeaPops, along with anyone looking for an alternative to less healthy frozen products. Word of mouth is big for us, but we have also been really strategic with marketing and public relations. Trade shows are also a great way for us to get in front of not only consumers but additional retailers.
Pregnant women are a big market, especially with the growing concern about the impact on their babies of what they consume while pregnant. Rooibos and fruit are perfect treats for pregnant women as rooibos is naturally caffeine free and high in antioxidants. In fact, rooibos has significantly more antioxidants than tea itself.
We've reached out to yoga and fitness studios for partnerships to highlight the health benefits of consuming TeaPops after a workout. Our metabolisms naturally speed up after a workout and there are huge health benefits to consuming high antioxidants and organic fruit after exercise.
Finally, parents looking for a quick and healthy treat for their children are a big audience. We've done numerous on-site sampling events and are going to be in Florida shortly to do demonstrations to the entire Whole Foods team there.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
Like many entrepreneurs, I find myself doing a very wide variety of activities for the business each day from marketing, operations, recipe development, managing and motivating a team, finance, to figuring out how to ensure our TeaPops stay frozen when we ship thousand of kilometres across the continent. Both my husband, who is a surgeon, and I have had to quickly become experts in so many aspects of developing, manufacturing and distributing an organic frozen food product.
I have had the opportunity to build an incredible team around me, we now have eight full-time and four part-time employees and we are growing fast. I try to empower each member of our team to think of themselves as a core partner as we grow from a grassroots company to a company expanding across North America.
I encourage each of them to consider themselves head of their respective departments and to try to think of creative and innovative ways to achieve our goals in the best way possible. I also try to involve my whole family in the decisions we make a DeeBee's, I teach my two boys about business development, commitment to a goal, and financial intelligence. In my view, you are never too young to start. I want my kids to embrace these challenging topics and feel empowered from a young age.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as the owner of a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
The key to our success is that our heart is in our business and I love what I do. I started this company in part to teach my sons that you can be an entrepreneur who can make a difference by giving back to the community and provide something new to the marketplace that is healthy and still yummy. Now I am driven not only by that goal but also the goal of giving a voice to science.
I hope to take the opportunity to use my skills in medical science to reach many people, not necessarily through TeaPops but by bringing the conversation about health, nutrition and the real scientific benefits to eating organically off the grocery shelves and into the homes of families all over the world. I hope that DeeBee's can provide a stage by which I can use my education to teach others about the impact of the foods we eat on ourselves and our planet.