CocoaWell CEO Naomi Whittel on her experiences in the natural products market, entrepreneurship and how women can succeed in business
Naomi Whittel knows what it takes to get ahead in business.
The founder of the CocoaWell brand and several other businesses has found her niche in the organics market, marketing her latest product – cocoa powder capsules – as a way to enjoy the health benefits of fresh, organic cocoa without the calories and sugar. CocoaWell is based on the findings that the antioxidants found in cocoa powder are significantly greater than that of acai, blueberry, cranberry, and pomegranate. Research has documented that the Kuna Indians, who live off the coast of Panama and who consume up to six cups a day of cocoa, have much lower rates of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
“These people treat cocoa – it’s like water to them,” Whittel said. “I felt that if we focused on the intelligence of natural systems – meaning that they’ve been doing this for a long time and they have some of the healthiest hearts in the world and have very low blood pressure … if we could learn from them and share that information with our customers, we would have a great opportunity.”
Whittel took an interest in the healthy properties of cocoa after growing up with a French great grandmother who always told her to start her day with a piece of chocolate. “Through that passion, I studied the trend of where the natural product industry is going – cocoa is nature’s best super food,” Whittel said.
CocoaWell began getting noticed among the health food and supplement industry almost instantly, winning a Natural Foods Merchandiser Editor’s Choice award within a month of its introduction to the market. It’s now sold at GNC stores and other retailers around the U.S. and in 14 countries.
But Whittel’s success with CocoaWell didn’t happen by chance.
Whittel was born in Europe and brought up in the natural products industry; her family lived on an organic/biodynamic farm for years. She took over her grandmother’s small health food store in Boca Raton, FL when she was in college and sold it shortly after. She also started Reserveage Organics with her cousin. The company’s main product, Resveratrol, is a way Americans can enjoy the anti-aging, heart-healthy benefits of red wine – the French secret of preserving youth – without the calories; the health benefits of 1,000 glasses of wine are in just one capsule.
“It is really my DNA,” Whittel said of the natural products industry.
Here is some advice Whittel has for others trying to launch their own businesses:
- Follow your areas of expertise and know how you can make a difference to people.
- Don’t create frivolous products. Whittel, for example, throws out about 70 percent of her ideas before forging ahead with a good one. She then conducts surveys, focus groups and other ways to determine whether there’s a demand in the market. With the proliferation of social media, these surveys are made easy via platforms such as Facebook. “Right now, for a company like us, to connect, it’s the greatest time,” she said. “The [survey] questions are the most important piece in deciding different products … making sure that the product makes sense.”
- Know where you want your business to go. When Whittel first launched Reserveage, she asked herself: “Why would someone by your product over the 14 other products out there? How much market share do I want to have? Is my pricing right?”
“I spend as much time as needed on that part of development,” she added, noting that she went to market with Reserveage with a goal of 18 percent market share in the first year, but ended up capturing 66 to 70 percent among her retailers. “You really go the extra mile and that extra mile pays off – it pays off for a product, it pays off for a service.”
Being a female CEO of a company made up of 70 percent women, Whittel likes to encourage other women to hone their entrepreneurial skills, as well. Here are some tips for women, in particular:
- Believe in yourself. That is sometimes tough in a corporate world where only a very small percentage of CEOs are women; however, women are responsible for more than 85 percent of the purchases. It’s “logical” that more women enter the upper echelons of business to effectively tap into that market, Whittel said. Women must think: “I have every right to be here. As long as I’m producing quality products that are priced effectively … and are things people really want, then I’m going to be successful,” she added.
- Have confidence in what you are communicating and your opinions. “We know how to communicate with each other – we’re very effective in that. Women need to be confident in that and need to ask for what they need.”
- Own your space – whether it be your physical or intellectual space. Don’t be bullied.
- Don’t be afraid to let your kids in to your day-to-day work life - it can help set an example. Whittel’s 8-year-old daughter has her own desk space at the office, since she wanted to be involved in mom’s new company. ”She is able to see the office environment,” Whittel said. “She says it’s her favorite thing to do with me … that’s very empowering for her.”
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