Like most college students, Rebecca Peress, Founder & CEO of Swapples, wasn’t too concerned about her diet. Until she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. She started reading nutrition labels and was shocked to discover that she had been consuming more than 40g of added sugar every day in addition to dozens of processed ingredients. All from packaged convenience foods labeled as healthy. And worst of all, she could count the number of vegetables she was eating a day on two fingers.
After switching to a real food diet, she started sleeping, moving, thinking, and feeling better by leaps and bounds. Rebecca wanted to share these benefits with the world. But a real food diet requires a lot of cooking from scratch. So she started thinking. What if she could create a convenient, whole-food option that anyone could enjoy? Like a plant-based, toaster-ready waffle? After all, who doesn’t love waffles? She named them Swapples®, left her desk job, and set forth on what would become the best journey of her life.
Learn more about Rebecca and how her plant-based waffles are transforming the world of specialty foods.
Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?
Only in my early 20s did I think that one day, I might start my own business. I never knew it would happen so quickly and organically! Here’s the funny part: as a 7 year old, my other siblings used to joke around and say, “you’re going to be the CEO of a company one day”. I thought it was an insult…. so I’d cry. Hysterically. Little did I know that they were right, and that it definitely wasn’t a bad thing!
Why did you start your business?
Because I saw a problem that needed solving. With several allergies and restrictions, I just wanted to eat something convenient that was actually made from nourishing, whole, real ingredients — not flours, gums, thickeners, syrups, etc. I did it for me and others like me, who need products like this to make them feel their best.
How did you pick the product?
I was making them at home for myself! And after bringing them into work and seeing how much people loved them and how great they were making them feel, it was only natural that I pursue a dream to share them with as many people as possible.
What is your biggest business accomplishment to date?
Making 1,800 waffles in ONE day! Huge accomplishment for my team of 4, since we used to think 600 was a lot in the past!
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up, get my daily workout in, and toast up a Swapple (no, this is not a shameless plug, I really do eat one every day myself!) I head over to the production site to check-in with our Production Manager Ana, and make sure that she’s set up for success. I prepare samples for shipment, answer email inquiries, chase after sales leads, field deliveries and pickups, and restock inventory. Oh, and on the fun days, have some Swapple shoots for social media in my apartment!
What is a piece of advice you wish you’d been given before starting?
DO NOT fall ill to the evils of comparison. It is all too easy to look at the success of others around you and be consumed with worry that you’re not ‘doing enough.’ You have to remind yourself that every business situation is unique; we all have our struggles, we all have our successes, and we are all moving at a different pace.
If you had to start all over, would you do it again? What would you do differently?
My branding! When we launched I totally flopped on the packaging…. there was nothing that said what they were, no picture of a waffle, nothing. It took consumers a crazy amount of time to figure out what it actually was that they were buying… and some even thought they were taking home bagels and sent me angry emails when they found waffles in the bag.
How did you get into your first store?
Union Kitchen, of course! They gave me the opportunity to get in the market by selling Swapples at Union Kitchen Grocery.
What was it like pitching your first buyer? Any tips/advice?
I walked in with a confident smile and said, “get ready to taste the very first waffle made entirely from fruits and vegetables.” They laughed, and it went well. Advice…. believe in yourself and the product. If you walk into a meeting with a buyer and you’re not fully behind what you’re doing, they can tell, and it won’t go over well. If you believe, they’ll believe too.
Where do you want your business to be in three to five years?
I want to be in freezers in every state in the US. I want to be a brand that families can call their own, that busy people turn to to make their lives easier, and that inspires health at home.
What is your next big milestone?
Regional expansion to the Midwest! We just partnered with Whole Foods Mid-Atlantic across 7 states, and will be targeting the Midwest region next.
What was is it like going from a local brand to regional — multi-regional and beyond?
Jaw-droppingly amazing. Stressful. Rewarding. Exhausting. Exciting. Humbling. I have such loyal supporters — for anyone that regularly takes home Swapples and calls them their own, I owe them everything.
What’s been the biggest challenge in scaling your production?
Trying to find a way to make several thousand waffles from a non-standard batter!
To ring in Spring, we are featuring a different plant-based entrepreneur every week! Check back in next week to hear from another Union Kitchen maker (or two!) about their philosophies, struggles, and successes.