A Conversation With Keisha Jeremie, the Woman Disrupting the Applesauce Biz

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Business
Earlier this year at BET’s fabulous event Leading Women Defined I had the pleasure of meeting Keisha Jeremie through our mutual friend Tiffany Dufu. Tiffany was raving about Keisha’s amazing applesauce brand sanaia.  Like so many others, I soon became a super fan of this brand and this woman making delicious applesauce who was influenced by her childhood in the Bahamas amongst so many ripe and delicious fruits when she developed this brand. But it was during her first harsh winter at the University of Virginia that while aching for home she decided to make her own applesauce to bring her back there. She left the skins on the apples mistakenly but it ended up being a wonderful error as it captured the uniquely tart taste and full-bodied texture of the applesauce she grew up with and would become the signature recipe for the company she would launch. Over the years she found new fruits during her travels around the world and now the brand’s flavors include botanicals and fruits from almost every continent. I knew I just had to interview this amazing woman on how she has turned this hobby into a fully fledged successful business.
With an executive role in the C-Suite how did you find time to turn“making applesauce for grown folks,” into an actual business?

Keisha: It’s funny that you mention Tiffany as our connector because reading her book Drop The Ball was pivotal to me launching sanaia. I read DTB cover to cover on Christmas Day 2016. One of its many profound messages is the importance of dropping the ball on stuff that’s not aligned with your highest and best purpose so that you can take on the big opportunities when they arise. It was a major ‘aha’ moment for me. Let’s say that I went into 2017 dropping balls all over the place – cleaning house so to speak. I really believe that without that intervention I would not have had the capacity, clarity or courage to go after this dream. Launching sanaia means that I’m working 18-20 hour days now, but it also means that my time and energy are 100% aligned with my goals for this stage of my life.

What was the turning point when you decided to launch Sanaia and really bring it to life as a brand?

I had been happily making my island-inspired style of applesauce since college and would have continued to do so had I not seen the huge commercial opportunity that sanaia presents. sanaia is perfectly poised to take advantage of a number of important consumer trends and I believe that sanaia will do for applesauce what Chobani did for yogurt. No one has focused on the millions of adults who love applesauce – that sector has been entirely focused on 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds leaving sanaia with multi-million dollar market all to ourselves.

 

What’s one thing you’ve taken from your professional experience as an HR executive and applied to building this new business?

I’ve had twenty years of experience coaching leaders as they build businesses, grow businesses or enter new markets. sanaia is putting all of my sage advice to the test. Especially in these very early days it’s been critical for me to leverage subject matter experts to fill in the knowledge and capacity gaps. I’ve seen many leaders falter because they try to own every part of the business end to end and through those experiences I’ve learned that that’s not a sustainable approach.

How have you approached becoming the face of your own brand?

This has been a particularly interesting aspect of the journey, especially in the era of social media. It’s clear that consumers want a deeper connection with the products that they buy. As someone who has been pretty conservative on social media, I’ve had to learn to open up and share my story. I recently shared with my followers how my diagnosis of fibromyalgia several years ago led me to rediscover my love of applesauce. I needed to eliminate a host of ingredients such as white sugar, corn, cheese to mitigate the chronic pain. In my search for new healthy snacks, I dug out my college recipe and before I knew it applesauce was back on my daily menu for breakfast and sometimes even dessert. Sharing this story opened up really great dialogue around self-care and what it means to eat with your body’s needs in mind. I’m learning that the entrepreneur behind the product is what gives your brand the depth and authenticity that consumers crave.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for women who are trying to balance a corporate career with the launch of a new business?

1) Clean house. Take an assessment of how you currently spend your time and energy. There’s only a fixed amount of time in each day so you will have to delegate or stop doing some things. Get comfortable with creating and communicating those boundaries. Passion will provide you with the energy you’ll need to build your business but your boundaries provide you with the space you need to think, create and drive the business forward.

2) Activate that network. You’ve been working for many years building your network and pouring into others. It’s time to cash in those chits. It might feel like a foreign language at first but you’ve got to become fluent in the language of “asking”.

3) Actually, the numbers ARE in your favor. Everything I’ve read on the topic of women entrepreneurs and women of color entrepreneurs, in particular, says that investors reap the highest return on capital when they invest in us. Do your own research and incorporate the stats into your pitch. At a minimum use the stats to clap back at any self-talk holding you back from making that big-dollar ask.