Jason Karp of HumanCo. and Hu on Smarter and More Sustainable Snacking That Gives Back

Elizabeth welcomes Jason Karp, Founder, and CEO of HumanCo., a mission-driven holding company that invests in food and builds brands focused on healthier living and sustainability. In addition to HumanCo, Jason is also the co-founder of Hu, one of the fastest-growing snacking companies in the US since 2018. Jason talks with Elizabeth about focusing his efforts on health and wellness after dealing with his own struggles with autoimmune issues and mental health. He shares his journey into philanthropy, where he now impacts the next generation of food brands with Human Co., which invests in Snow Days, Cosmic Bliss, Against the Grain, and many more.


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Once you admit what you don't know, you know, how to surround yourself with people that do know. -Jason Karp

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Podcast transcript below:

Elizabeth Stein 00:00
Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder and CEO of purely Elizabeth. And this is live purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Jason Karp, founder and CEO of human co a mission driven holding company that invests in food and builds brands focused on healthier living and sustainability. In addition to human code, Jason is also the co founder of Hu, one of the fastest growing snacking companies in the US. Since 2018, Jason has focused his efforts on health and wellness, embracing the belief that improving health is the most effective strategy to increase global prosperity. Today, he sits on the board of the advisors at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, as well as the Tufts Food and Nutrition Innovation Council. His philanthropic interests and Family Foundation, focus on education, prevention and treatment of autoimmune disease, chronic disease and childhood obesity. In this episode, Jason shares all about his personal wellness journey, starting Hu after almost going blind in his 20s. And using food as medicine to heal, he opens up about scaling Hu and selling to Mondelez. His struggles with mental health, how he's now impacting the next generation of food brands with his creation of Human Co, which has invested in Snow Days, Cosmic Bliss, Against The Grain, and True Food Kitchen, and so much more. I learned so much from Jason in this episode, and really admire and look up to him for his greater mission and success. Keep listening to learn all about Jason. Jason. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for coming on today. I'm so excited for our conversation.
Jason Karp 01:50
Me too. Me too. Thanks for having me.
Elizabeth Stein 01:53
And as a side note, Jason and I met a couple of years ago, over the holidays, because as it turns out, our dads are golfing buddies, which was like, so random to find out.
Jason Karp 02:06
Yes, yeah. No, it was my my father said, do you know, this Elizabeth girl, who owns a granola company? And I said, Dad, is it? Is it? Are you talking about Purely Elizabeth? And he goes, I don't know.
Elizabeth Stein 02:18
They were like, clueless.
Jason Karp 02:19
So, yeah. Yeah, they had no idea. They had no idea.
Elizabeth Stein 02:23
That's great. Well, let's start with your personal wellness story, because that was certainly a huge inspiration for your trajectory into this world of Hu, and the multiple iterations that have come from it. But I would love to start there.
Jason Karp 02:40
Sure, sure. So I've kind of lived a dual life for quite a long time now. Straight out of college, I went into the finance industry, and picked a very high stress, long hours kind of job. I started in the hedge fund industry, which is actually what I did for 21 years. And in my second and third year of work, I got really sick. And I had a whole host of autoimmune diseases that many doctors back then thought were not related. But the the worst ailment of all was I was going blind when I was 23. And they told me, there was no cure for what I had, and that I had to put my name on a corneal transplant list. And that if I didn't get all this dealt with, I'd probably be blind by the age of 30. That as you would imagine, for anybody, but certainly a 23 year old, was very traumatic and very difficult to process. And it made no sense to me. I was I was an athlete, my whole life. And in college, I was a division one athlete, and I always thought I was healthy. And like something changed in that first two years of working where I went from, like, super healthy to like, literally, like falling apart. And I, I went down a lot of of research rabbit holes, particularly around inflammation. And back then the field of functional medicine was pretty nascent. I don't even think they call it a functional medicine back then. But there were some kind of OG doctors that had written some books that I started to read, guys like Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Mark Hyman, who were very early, Andrew Weil was like the earliest but really just connecting the concepts of processed food, inflammation, and how that manifests in your body in various forms of diseases. I decided to go and embark on this journey of really cleaning up my diet and my lifestyle. At that point, I was doing the whole work hard, play hard, 23 year old in New York City thing, you know, lots of caffeine in the morning, drinks and cocktails at night, not a lot of asleep, high stress, definitely no exercise, trying to get ahead the whole thing. I had to reverse all that. And it was very hard for me because back then giving up caffeine, giving up alcohol, giving up processed food, giving up gluten. Back in the year 2001, people looked at me like I was nuts. And it was really hard for me, it was very difficult to do that it was especially difficult to give up alcohol as a 23 year old single guy in New York City. Yeah. And like, go out, and I'd be holding like a sparkling water and people would look at me like I was an alcoholic, and, and there was a lot of stigma back then. Anyway, long story short, after it was only like a couple months, I started to notice really significant changes in my vision.
Elizabeth Stein 05:43
How quickly did you start to notice like any change period, because that must have propelled you to say, okay, well, I want to keep doing this.
Jason Karp 05:50
I'd say I started noticing differences within two weeks. It started in my skin. I also had like some really significant atopic skin disease issues like eczema and psoriasis and my skin started to clear up really quickly. And my hypothesis, by the way, was that my skin ailments were linked to my eyes, which was a naive hypothesis that proved to be true. Because your skin is A, it's your largest organ. But B, it's sort of the canary in the coal mine in terms of what's happening inside of your body, and it and it's showing the first signs of like, there's a problem, your eyes are made up of a very, very thin, delicate tissue. And so my hypothesis was, if I could clear my skin up, maybe I my eyes would get better, which my ophthalmologist said was insane. And like, there was no way it would work. And it worked. And you know, thankfully, the eye disease that I had wasn't like a subjective kind of disease, there's actually an objective measure that uses a device where they could literally map the surface area of your eyeball, and they could see if the disease is there or not. And after about four or five months, I went back in to get the scan and it was gone. Wow, fully reversed a disease that the doctor had said he'd never seen in his career, anyone reverse this disease because it's a degenerative disease. At best, you could slow it down or halt it, but you could never reverse it. And at that moment, I had this kind of eureka, of like, oh my god, everything I've been taught in terms of Western scientific medicine, might not be correct. And then I don't know if I can fully trust, the guidance that a lot of people been giving me. And the fact that I was literally poisoned by the food system was like a huge wake up call, not only for me, but then it also made me quickly become really philanthropic, and realize like I need to help other people. And then eventually, when I had children, and started a creative family, and I started meeting a lot of friends and people who were also ill with autoimmune stuff. It just really, really became like a key part of kind of who I am and what I care about. And then years later, my brother in law, my wife's brother, Jordan, I started comparing notes and giving him some of the books that I was reading. He wasn't sick like I was, but he started reading all these books that I had read on anti inflammatory diets and lifestyle. And he noticed that when he ate this way, he looked better, he performed better, he felt better, he slept better. And he said to me, you know, after a while, and we geek out on this stuff, and this was like early biohacking time. This is like 2007 2008 timeframes. And he said, there should be like a restaurant. That's the manifestation of all these principles that we're doing. And there's not there's nowhere for us to eat that's like this. And back then it was, people didn't really use the word paleo back then. But but basically our inspiration, our inspiration, and particularly my education was was really around evolution, and anthropology. And, and a lot of what originally guided me to test what I tested was this hypothesis, that we don't really live the way we've evolved. And or we don't live in a way that's consistent with how we evolved as humans, and of all the kinds of dietary options and lifestyles, the Paleo Diet was the one that resonated the most with me, and was the one that worked the best for me, which was basically eating in a way and living in a way that was more consistent with how we evolved. And that was the genesis of the name, Hu, because our slogan is get back to human because we believe that people aren't really living in an optimal human way anymore. And so Hu started as a restaurant, it did not start as a chocolate company, which most people don't know. And I did not want to do it. My brother in law convinced me to do it. As a professional investor, which was my day job, restaurants are typically very difficult businesses, especially in New York City, and usually lose money. And I was like, listen, I'm a professional investor, like, I don't want to, like just commit to something I know has terrible odds. But he really pushed me and basically said, like, we need to do this. And we'll hire people who know what we don't know. And we were very humble about what we didn't know. And then about two and a half years later of planning, my wife, Jessica, Jordan, and me, we opened Hu kitchen, at the end of 2012. And the chocolate was an accident, which also people don't know, which is that, we were baking, the whole restaurant, by the way, it was gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar free, we only cooked with with olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, so we were no seed oil back in 2011. Everything we made was basically in house, we made our own ketchup, we made our own sauces and when we went to we were baking grain and gluten-free items like muffins and cookies and scones. Before we opened, we wanted to have chocolate chip versions of those. And we could not find chocolate chips that met our specs. And all the chocolate chips we found that were commercially available had soy, had dairy, had refined white, genetically modified sugar in it, we just realized, like we have to make our own chocolate chips. So we have to find someone who can make chocolate. And we found this guy who was amazing. And after a lot of trial and error, we landed on a chocolate chip recipe that we loved. And Jordan had this idea of turning them into chocolate bars. And we started making by hand in this very small batch operation chocolate bars that we only sold in the restaurant. And then one day one of our chefs, his girlfriend worked at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods location. He used to bring her home our chocolate bars. And she basically said this is the best healthy chocolate I've ever had. Can we sell these in Whole Foods? And we didn't know anything about the CPG business. And so we we were like, okay, and that was how we got into the CPG business.
Elizabeth Stein 12:02
Well, first of all, thank you for sharing that your your origin story, because I think the more that people hear stories of food as medicine is just so impactful and I think encouraging when people are going through those issues. So thank you for sharing that. And especially you talking about my Mark Hyman, for me, that was the moment when I went to Integrative Nutrition back in 2007. And hearing him speak and talking about the effect that food has and showing what that look like on a child's handwriting who had ADHD. And then they took gluten out of their diet. And it's like incredible to see that all of a sudden the kid's handwriting was perfect script. So such an influential person in the industry and, and your restaurant was as a New Yorker, it was the place to go and such an influential space and a destination for so many people. So as you came out with the bars, certainly as you said the intention wasn't to get into CPG was just to have these bars here and then experiment with it. At what point did you realize I suppose that hey, this, this is going to be much bigger than just selling the bars at our restaurant. And we want to create this CPG brand. Was there a pivotal moment that you remember?
Jason Karp 13:24
Yeah, it was fast. It was pretty quick. They were, they would fly out of a restaurant. And there were people that were coming in. At one point, like I remember noticing their people coming in from like out of state. And there were people buying 10, 20 bars at a time and leaving. And we were getting feedback from people that it was just so amazing and different. And it was just kind of clear, we had something that was unique and special at that time. And with my investor hat, it was pretty clear that that developing products was a far more scalable far, kind of better return on capital than opening up a bunch of huge spaces, especially in New York City, which is very difficult to run. And as you remember, it was a big operation. Huge. Yeah. And so it was very early on I'd say it was it was certainly in the first year we were open where we decided and at that point, you know, we had no outside money it was just us. And so we were we didn't we weren't running Hu, like like a venture capital company. We were running it like a family business and we didn't want to lose money. And and at that point, we split out two subsidiaries we called it you'll basically paraphrasing because they had legal names but it was Hu restaurant Co and Hu Products Co and Hu products was was was to develop the CPG side so that we could account for the CPG side properly and the restaurants was the same thing. And it was pretty early on after that, that Jordan, because we had someone who was running the restaurant. And we didn't, we weren't restaurant like true operators at that point. So we had a lot of people that were helping us. And that was when Jordan effectively went like full time on on building the CPG part of the business and it started out of his apartment, literally him and his younger brother, my other brother in law, Jordan would go around with a suitcase full of chocolate bars, and go like door to door to like Bodegas in New York, and little health food shops like Westerly market.
Elizabeth Stein 15:40
Ah Westerly, so good.
Jason Karp 15:42
Because, because at this point, we literally didn't know how it worked. We didn't know what like distributors were. And we also didn't have, I didn't really want to spend the kind of money that would that would propel us that fast. I wanted to sort of grow in a way that was organic. And we had a problem, which is our chocolate was a lot more expensive than anything else out there. Because it actually had ingredients that that truly were were more expensive and costs more and had better practices. And, and I had the knowledge, or at least a common sense to say, like, a lot of these stores aren't going to accept our $8 chocolate bar. But even at eight bucks, we weren't making like a great margin, because it was still made in a very artisanal way. And then you know, it just it just kept growing and growing. And then we eventually hit a point where we knew we needed to involve a lot more people who had a lot more wisdom in CPG than we did. And we had to become really fast learners.
Elizabeth Stein 16:44
So as you think about scaling, I would love to touch on two things, one being, you know, tips for entrepreneurs and scaling a food company. But I think another one which isn't really talked about as much is what do you wish that consumers knew more about scaling? Because I think you've done a wonderful job of keeping the integrity of this brand over the years, as you've scaled and that's hard. Like there, there comes a point where there's hard questions that you have investors, and they say, you need to have better margins, and X, Y and Z. And so what do you wish that more consumers knew about the hardships and struggles that the good the bad?
Jason Karp 17:27
Well, I did have the foresight, because I was I was an investor, and I ran a hedge fund. And so I had an investors of my other business. And one of the things that I did witness many times, is that when you have outside investors, they all have different goals and needs. And most of them, especially at that time, were focused first and foremost on the return, like am I going to make a good financial return? And because we knew that what we were doing at Hu in the early days, was was pretty like out there in terms of it being weird and novel, and like most people thought I was insane. You know, we did a lot of things that no one had ever done. Like no one had a restaurant that didn't have seed oils, no one had a restaurant where everything was gluten-free and dairy -ree and refined sugar free and grain and grain free.
Elizabeth Stein 18:30
And tasted great at the same time.
Jason Karp 18:33
Right and didn't taste like like a health food store. Right. And when I had I had spoken to enough people over the years when I was telling him that we were going to do this, and they're like, you are nuts. And so we had that kind of foresight to say we're not going to take outside investors for a while, because they're not gonna understand what we're doing. And I never wanted to have the conversation with an investor, where they said to me, hey Jason, why don't you not use pastured grass fed beef, and just use just sort of generic beef, that'll be half the cost and double the margin, because nobody's going to notice the difference. I never wanted that conversation. Because what we were doing had never been done before. And so having control of our company, which, by the way, is obviously a blessing that we had the wherewithal and the financial resources to do that. But having control of Hu through the end, by the way through the sale was a material part of why Hu became the way it did. Because there were many times we eventually did take outside money, as you know. And there were many times when there were debates about how do we improve margin and how do we do this? And some of those discussions were at odds with our philosophy. And if we did not have control, we probably would have lost that battle out a bunch of things that would have made the product less good for the world and less good for people. So I would say, when it comes to mission driven real or purpose driven stuff, it's really important if you don't have control, that you are fanatical about your investor selection, because there's going to be times when shit hits the fan, there's going to be times when the business looks like it's in trouble. And the people who care mostly about returns and money are going to resort to the way to make more returns in money. And that will almost always come at the expense of doing the right thing in terms of the product for people's health and the planet. So that would be kind of my, my, my first really important kind of revelation, or sort of advice about scaling something that is purpose driven within consumer packaged goods.
Elizabeth Stein 20:55
Yeah, it's so important to have surround yourself with the right team. Right.
Jason Karp 21:02
The other thing I would say, Just Just to follow up on that, is that be humble. Like know what you don't know. Like, we always were very honest about what we did not know or did not know well. And we serve when we went out,
Elizabeth Stein 21:14
What do you think you didn't know well?
Jason Karp 21:16
Well, we were, I would say we were, we were fanatical about the kind of ingredients that we wanted. We were fanatical about taste. And about, like understanding like, we use it, we use the word epic. And it needed to it needed to be an epic product. And it needed to taste. We had a an expression called the kid test, we needed to be able to give our products to kids, not tell them it's quote healthy. And them to say this is amazing. And if it didn't pass the kid test, we didn't want to do it. And so we had a really, really high bar on quality and taste. But we didn't know how to make the stuff. Right. So we didn't know we didn't know production. We didn't know ingredient sourcing ingredient procurement, we didn't know, like the inner workings of the retail food system. What do broker brokers do? What do distributors do? Like? What kind of markup to the retailers take like, what is slotting? What is trade spend? Like we didn't know any of that stuff? So we had to we had to hire people from industry. And basically say, look, we're, we're gonna be the people that create and come up with the ideas. And we'll be the people that say, these are the kinds of things we want, this is how they need to look, this is how they need to taste. We're, we were really good at what I'll call brand equity building, and, and kind of understanding like, what is Hu all about? And how do we educate people, but like, how to actually do it? We didn't know. And so we just had to be humble and say, look, we don't know how to do this. We're gonna basically say, this is what matters to us, and you'll be part of our team and like, will help us do it. And then eventually, we obviously figured it out. But that was was critical is sort of knowing what you don't know. Yeah. Because once you admit what you don't know, you know, how to surround yourself with people that do know.
Elizabeth Stein 23:12
Absolutely. That's a great tip. So it's now been almost two years, right? Since since she sold to Mondelez. January of 21. Yeah, so we're right there. I'd love to hear how that's been for you since then. And particularly, is there anything that's been surprising or any revelations that you've had?
Jason Karp 23:40
It was very bittersweet, when and it was, it was a combination. So we weren't and all of this is public informatio what I'm about to say, but we weren't for sale at the time. And we kind of weren't thinking of selling for several years. But because of some unique circumstances, you know, we ended up receiving an offer for the company from one of the other large companies that was not on our board. We had sold a minority stake to Mondelez, who was on our board. That was in 2019. A very small stake. But but we partnered with Mondelez because we loved them. We thought they were one of the few public companies that was actually like walking the talk, in terms of them trying to get healthier in their product portfolio. There were several people that we knew at the company that we really respected. And we wanted their knowledge and their wisdom and their guidance because they're the largest company in the world. And then right at the beginning of COVID, another company came in and basically approached us and said we want to buy the whole company because the prices that were being discussed, were really compelling from an invest from an investor perspective as a fiduciary, the family, me, Jordan and Jessica, we had to like really take it seriously, even if we didn't want to sell it because it would be fiduciarly irresponsible to not, it turned into a process. And then we eventually sold to Mondelez. And it was done in a structure where we were involved for another two years. The entire Hu team works for Mondelez now, but my wife and me, were out. And I was the chairman, that was kind of really interesting for me to go from like being deep in it tonight not being in it. Yeah, it's mixed for me, because their goal is to sort of create like, a a global, ultra clean, trustworthy snack bran, primarily in chocolate, right? So think of it like could could Hu become the healthy Cadbury over time that has that kind of scale. And so part of me was, was obviously really excited about that prospect, because it would be great if we could replace like real shitty candy with Hu and have a lot more people benefiting from that. And they obviously have the scale to do it. But on the other hand, like this was our baby, and it's like, we're still involved until basically January of 23. But after 23, after like, a month from now, there will probably be products, or are after a time and you know that that you Jordan is going to continue to work for them. But there may be a time when he's not. And there will be a moment when there'll be a product that's launched, that we had no idea about. And that's going to be a very weird feeling. Yeah, I can't even imagine that. What I will say, which is really important for everyone listening, and I know you care about this too, with your products, Mondelez was fantastic. And in terms of honoring what makes Hu special. And many of the elements that make Hu special, are contractual in the sale, meaning, vile, they can't ever violate. And that is something that's actually good for them, because it's going to ensure trust. But it was really important to us, the founders for our legacy, that like Hu will always be a gluten-free brand. Basically everything that you see on the front of package, all the nos, they can't ever go against them. Because those are basically the foundational principles of what Hu is. And so that's like, super important, because at the end of the day and 20 years, if Hu was a gigantic company, we want to make sure that it still has the essence and the guardrails of why we created it. And I think with a lot of companies that sell, that doesn't happen.
Elizabeth Stein 27:46
No, well, congratulations. Because that must have I mean, obviously selling was exciting and all of that, but to really have your passion for the brand, stay intact. And that's what I was going to say earlier is it looks like they've done done a phenomenal job of not changing anything with the brand. And so as consumers, I think, hopefully, you know, there's a stigma I think of when brands sell and consumers have a negativity toward that, that hopefully that this is the start of things being different. And and for any entrepreneurs listening, having that in your sale document sounds like a very important tip.
Jason Karp 28:29
Yeah, and it's related to the earlier point that we talked about, which is if we didn't have control of the business, and we just said investors, were looking at a big return, right? Because these were negotiating points. Sure. These aren't necessarily like obvious concessions, right? And so if if, if if you just had investors that just cared about money, and there was like a moment in time where they're like, no, we don't want to give you that, just take the money. There's also a risk that that the acquirer doesn't honor the the guardrails of your brand. And so at the beginning of the process, and this is really important to anyone that ever gets into a sales, where they're selling their company, like be very upfront about it before you get deep, you know, and say look like this is our family's brand, like literally my wife and my brother and let's face or on the chocolate, or on the packaging, and to say like before we go down this road of due diligence and valuation and structure. Like I just want to make sure that these things that are critical to our legacy, and our brand will never be compromised, and that's going to have to be in writing and that's the moment where they'll say like, okay, or no, and then you don't have to spend all your time on negotiating if they won't.
Elizabeth Stein 29:49
That's a great tip. Thank you for sharing that part of the story because I think certainly a lot of people don't know that. So. Alright, let's move on to third phase of Hu human or Hu turns into now Human Co and let's share about what Human CO, is what your vision is, and what's next in that world.
Jason Karp 30:10
Yeah, so you can think of Human co when we first created Human Co a lot of people were confused, was it part of Hu, was it not part of Hu? I like using the word human in everything we do, because a lot of our philosophy was based on this concept that I mentioned earlier that we need to like live more the way we evolved as humans. So Human Co is kind of my second chapter in in doing healthier products for people. It was it was created as a separate company. Because when the initial idea of Human Co started to form, in my mind, we had already had outside investors. And we didn't want to kind of muddle or muddy the waters, so to speak, with what Hu was, which at that point was was, was already scaled and had a pretty clear identity. But the idea was that when I was ill, and over the many years that I've experimented with different diets to deal with my autoimmune stuff, the first thing that I always had to give up were foods that I loved. And, and there were times where I had to eat true health food that I just thought was gross. And it made me feel like I was a sick person. And I had to eat things that did not bring me joy. And having met so many people who struggle with autoimmune stuff, or food allergies, like the constant complaint is the quote, real version of that tastes a lot better. And I just, you know, I feel like everything I do is like an inferior version of, of the, quote, real version. And so I was, you know, we had such good feedback and resonance with consumers about what we did with Hu, I said, you know, what, like, I have these views in, in basically every food thing, basically, anything I put in my body around my body, and I don't I see very, very few companies out there that use the kinds of standards that we do. And so what if I create a, like a conglomerate of brands, for anything that you put in your body or on your body that has the same level of standards and strictness and trust, as Hu does, except not in chocolate cookies and crackers, which is huge domain. And, and that, that was kind of the that was the idea. And because I was a public market investor for so long, I was able to study all the big public market conglomerates, you know, from Mondelez, to Kraft to Unilever, to Nestle, and then even companies in the in the non food space like Proctor and Gamble, and you know, these are all companies, General Mills, Kellogg's, etc. These are all companies that are 50 to 100 years old. Right, General Mills is over 100 years old. They all are massive conglomerates. If you asked most consumers, I would say 99% of consumers, if you ask them and said name three brands that Unilever owns, name three brands that Proctor and Gamble owns, most people couldn't do it. No. And then if you said, okay, well, what is the corporate mission of Unilever? What is the corporate mission of Proctor and Gamble? Most people couldn't do that either. And, and when I looked at all their portfolios, and there's a challenge of being a public company, which is that public companies, historically, the main driver behind what in how they do it is profits, and quarterly earnings, which is why I believe that most of these public companies aren't malicious, they're just doing what their shareholders want them to do, which is to make more and more cheap processed food, which is the highest margin and the worst for people and the worst for the planet. And I want to do the opposite. I want it as basically create a, a what we call a platform company, but think of it as like a mini conglomerate or a parent company, where everyone knows what Human Co stands for. Everyone knows what our general guardrails are, what we value, what we don't, what we don't do, and that every brand we create or buy, has a brand promise to you as the consumer. And so now if you really want to be gluten-free, and you want to avoid genetically modified things, and you won't want to eat foods that are made in laboratories, you could discover one of our brands like Cosmic Bliss, and then you could realize like, oh, wait, everything they do is is is basically with the same philosophy and now because I'm a conscious consumer and I read the ingredient labels. Now, there's also a Bread Company. There's also a pizza bite company like we wanted to make it so that we could provide a safe haven of trust for consumers who care about people's health and planetary health. And so that was the that was the genesis behind the idea of Human Co. And fast forward two and a half years, we've bought two companies, and we built one from scratch. The two that we bought were Coconut Bliss now called Cosmic Bliss, we bought Against The Grain Cosmic Bliss is an organic ice cream company, both plant based and grass fed dairy first, first grass fed dairy ice cream that's naturally available in the country we
Elizabeth Stein 35:31
Which I just had with you. And it was incredible. Insane.
Jason Karp 35:35
Thank you. And then Against The Grain was our favorite gluten and grain free bread and pizza company. And then we created Snow Days, Snow Days is the first of its kind organic gluten and grain free pizza bite that uses grass fed mozzarella, and grass fed dairy, and has no fake anything in it. Also, districts, thank you. And then we also do strategic investments where we have control or influence in kind of making it bigger and better for people. And we just did that with True Food Kitchen, which is the largest full service health and wellness focused restaurant in the country.
Elizabeth Stein 36:16
It's incredible. Congratulations, I'm so excited, especially about true food. And to hear the origin of your story with Dr. Weil is really been a full circle moment for you.
Jason Karp 36:29
Full circle, it was so so great for us. And I got to have dinner with with Dr. Weil about a month and a half ago. And it was the first time we met in person. And it was just so like, it was so full circle. For me. It was amazing. It was really a really touching, touching moment for me.
Elizabeth Stein 36:47
That must have been so cool. So I would love to get into a little bit about some of the changes, because you talked about Coconut Bliss is now Cosmic Bliss, and now has grass fed dairy, instead of being a plant based ice cream, and then also your initiative to take out seed oils. So two big changes, what kind of led to those changes? And let's start with that.
Jason Karp 37:15
Sure. Well, I was just talking about public companies and big, big companies that buy other companies, we kind of had this insight, it started off as a joke, but I think it's actually a really important insight that I think we're the only company that when we buy companies, we improve the quality of the ingredients instead of downgrade it. And, and and I actually think that's true. Because financially, the first thing you want to do is cheapen the ingredients, and increase the margins. So first and foremost, a lot of what we're doing is kind of it well, it's clearly not entirely for profit. But some of what we do are literally at odds of profit. And that's obviously tough, and requires a certain type of investors and a certain type of vision. When we bought coconut bliss, it was it is like the number two plant based ice cream in the country. It's organic. One of the things, I've always liked it as a product, because it's also the cleanest label of the plant based ice creams. A lot of the plant place ice creams that have been created in the last five years are full of fake crap that are made in laboratories. And I think you can still do plant based without relying on synthetic biology without relying on laboratory made genetically modified weird stuff. So we bought it. And we wanted to make it better. And one of the things we noticed in our early days of buying it was because we did a lot of research on the ice cream industry in the ice cream market. And even with all the discussion and excitement around plant based stuff, ice cream through this year 97% of it in this country is still dairy 99% globally, of ice cream is still dairy. And the vast majority of dairy ice cream is made with factory farmed milk with unpleasant conditions for the cows with hormones, antibiotics. But you know, even if you ignore the environmental impact of factory farming of the cows, the cows are not treated well. They're not healthy. And so we thought like, why isn't there a grass? Why isn't there like the best version of dairy and we looked around and the reason was obvious. It's a lot more expensive, and it's a lot harder to do. And it requires a lot of hoops to jump through. And so we spent like nine months talking to different farms talking to people who actually do grass fed dairy, who let their cows pasture, you know who treat them humanely. The. And we wanted, we wanted to provide basically like a Hu caliber option in ice cream. Because the plant based side is so tiny relative to the dairy side that if we wanted to make a real impact on people in the planet, we'd have to go after the big one. And that's how you affect the most number of people because at the end of the day, anyone who can consume dairy, or isn't vegan, like I've never met a person, never who is not vegan, who says that the plant based version of ice cream tastes better than the dairy version of ice cream, like literally never. And so the idea was, could we create this kind of next level, and it turned out, as you know, grass fed dairy is actually healthier for humans. It's certainly better for the cows, in terms of how they're treated. And then we did what's called a lifecycle analysis, with a third party agency where our grass fed dairy produces 27%, fewer greenhouse gas emissions per pint than conventional dairy ice cream. So it's a win for consumers, it's a win for the planet. It's a win for cows. But it's a lot more expensive to do it this way. And we are trying to be kind of first movers in teaching people and showing people and by the way, grass fed dairy also tastes better, as you as you know. So it there's no compromise other than the cost. And then with against the grain. So we launched that earlier this year, it's still pretty new, the grass fed dairy, you can find it at Sprouts, but it still has pretty limited distribution, because it's a pretty new product, they haven't at Erewhon. They have it at a bunch of places like westerly market and those types of places. But it's not, it's not a big national distribution. Yet, if you if you go to the cosmicbliss.com website, you can put in your zip code and see where it is against the grain however, it was a very scaled brand. It's been around, they both been around 15 years coconut bliss now cosmic bliss and against the grain. We love their specs, all their ingredients came from Vermont farms, except for canola oil. Now their canola oil was non GMO. And but I just never have loved canola oil as as an ingredient. It's very controversial. A lot of people think it's fine. A lot of people think it's literally the reason why we're all so sick. I won't go into that now because it's just like a lightning rod. People but yeah, but I thought pizza and bread should use olive oil. Sure, you know, it's just more you know, a, it's a lot cleaner. B The way we make the olive oil is a lot cleaner than the way canola oil is made. I also think it's better for taste. But with a scaled brands that had a great product. It was a challenge, you know, and it's obviously, it's obviously more expensive to use olive oil than its use canola oil. So what same kind of evaluation where we looked at it and said, philosophically, this needs to have olive oil. How do we change this? What's involved? What's involved with the supply chain? What's involved with the ingredient formulation? How long is it going to take? How much is it going increase our cost? Are customers even going to care? Like, are we gonna get credit for this are people just not going to notice. But at the end of the day, I didn't even I didn't even care. Like, you know, there's a famous Steve Jobs quote, from very early on, where he was doing all the design. And all, you know, until his death that he was chief product guy, where somebody was basically talking about the design of the outside. And they were saying, well, on the inside, we can kind of make it look like whatever we want on the inside of a computer. And he said, but I'll know what the inside looks like. Because they were debating, like how much to design the inside of the computer versus just the outside. Like, no one's gonna see the inside. So who cares? Like let's look like a mess. And, and his quote was, but I'll know. And this was the same thing with me like, like, I wanted it to be a better product for everybody. I hope people will value it. I hope we can teach people why they should value it. But it was a you know, it wasn't an easy decision. And I'm sure many people on my team were annoyed at me because they were like, Oh, we have to do
Elizabeth Stein 44:12
We have to reformulate everything.
Jason Karp 44:13
We just bought it like come on. But a lot of why I do what I do is because I really care about the integrity of our stuff. So that's the story of those two.
Elizabeth Stein 44:24
I love that well and that is no easy undertaking, not only just from reformulation, but we just went through some changes and it's like every ingredient statement everywhere on the internet has to be changed. Like it's a massive, massive undertaking. So congratulations and I think consumers will love it. Alright, so we're gonna move into some rapid fire q&a. Best advice you've gotten in the past six months,
Jason Karp 44:53
Six months?
Elizabeth Stein 44:55
You can make it a year.
Jason Karp 44:57
Probably the best advice would be to be in The observer of your own thoughts. I've struggled with mental health for a long time. And I've worked with a lot of coaches and therapists along the way. And I have the type of brain that is very, very prone to self criticism and rumination and, and thoughts kind of never stop running in my head. So I don't sleep particularly well. It's also why I've, you know, it's a double edged sword. It's also why I've been so productive in my life. But it's also why it's been not so happy for most of my life. But I think being able to when you when you think something, instead of thinking that that thought is you separate from that it's not you that it's your brain having that thought. And then you can observe it as an outsider and say, Why, why is this thought going through my head, and recognizing that it's okay, it's okay, if you're thinking about something that bothered you, or you can't stop thinking about something you need to do, or, and I found that when I view it as an observer, I'm less attached to the idea. And it allows me to be objective about how to deal with it. And it's been really helpful for me to kind of step away, in all, by the way, in all aspects, not just like, like daily life and business with my kids. Like being able to objectively observe your thoughts and deal with it that way has been really helpful.
Elizabeth Stein 46:25
That's great advice. What do you wish more people knew about you?
Jason Karp 46:30
Oh, I'd say I'd say it would be on that same topic, which is from the outside, I've lived a very blessed and privileged life, in the sense that I've pushed a lot, I've won a lot of awards, I did everything I thought I would want to do coming out of college, I made a lot of money. I think on the outside, it looks like I have a great life. But on the inside, I've been deeply tortured, and deeply unsettled. Basically, since I was 17, and that there is a real price to try to be ultra ultra productive and ultra successful and all the things that I thought I wanted, were really, were really just trying to plug holes of insecurity that I have from being, you know, growing up the way that I did. And I think it's really important for people to when you when you look at anybody who you admire or think is successful, everyone has, like a backstory that is not happy, that is not successful. That is, you know, everyone's very flawed. And I think I, I want to help people who who go through a lot of the same stuff that I went through, because it might be a good recipe for financial success, but it's a bad recipe for your health, if you your health and your mental health. And I've been, I've been a lot more open, publicly and vulnerable, about a lot of the shit that I've been dealing with. Because I see too many people that will see like, Ooh, you built Hu and you sold it for a big number. And they don't know why I built Hu and my personal kind of illness story and what we did with our family, and they then they just want to basically go like, full redlining their engine for five years or 10 years and just thinking like, oh, I want that same kind of outcome. And I think you have to be careful what you wish for. So that's, that's something I think is really important for all entrepreneurs, is figuring out a way to keep your mental health in balance. Because you might achieve the outcome that you hope, but you'll be left hollow, and you'll realize that the money actually does nothing for your your happiness.
Elizabeth Stein 48:57
That's great advice. Three things that you do to feel your best, especially when you're when you're not feeling your best, what are those three kinds of tools that you turn to?
Jason Karp 49:08
I meditate. Meditation has been very helpful for me I have a few different forms of a bit. I do TM sometimes. I recently learned a form of Holotropic breathwork, which is really fascinating. So that would be number one. Number two is to is to force yourself to have downtime away from technology, phones, computers, iPads, even TVs.
Elizabeth Stein 49:34
What is downtime look to could that be like an hour or is that like a weekend that you need that?
Jason Karp 49:39
I think it's a few hours, you know, I think it's it and by the way, it also comes along with people and or nature. Where finding connection with people being present. You know, not constantly thinking about all the things that you need to do or see staring at your text or your social media or whatever, nature, I find it immensely helpful for me, and sunlight. I'm one of those people that's very affected by sunlight, good and bad. And so just getting out and getting some sun has been really helpful for me. And the third one has been different forms of, of fasting. I just have like a, I kind of have a bizarre immune system, I don't detoxify properly, which is why a lot of my stuff over 20 years is kind of what it is. I find that if if I do a bunch of consecutive days of intermittent fasting, where I'll go like dinner to lunch, so I'll go 18 hours with nothing. That'll make me feel a lot better.
Elizabeth Stein 50:47
Must read health book. One, you only get one.
Jason Karp 50:52
I only get one. I'd say The Omnivore's Dilemma. That was the one that was really inspirational for me early on. Not so much a health book more of just sort of a, like healthy food system book. That and in defense of food. You know, both Michael Pollan books were two very instrumental. I know you can only have one, maybe in defense of food,
Elizabeth Stein 51:14
but you could tie in the next one to give you more so three favorite people to follow for health advice.
Jason Karp 51:22
Oh, okay. Yeah. Well, Mark Hyman was my kind of OG. Mark Sisson was also one of my OGs. He was like a, he was like the Paleo creator. And then I'd say Max Lugavere. Oh, yeah, Max is not a nutritionist by training. He's an investor in Human Co. Full disclosure. He's a friend. But he just says it like it is. And and he does not hold punches in terms of offending people, particularly those that are woke. And he's very, very balanced. And I just I think he provides a lot of very good practical advice.
Elizabeth Stein 52:04
Awesome. And lastly, what is your number one non negotiable to thrive on your wellness journey?
Jason Karp 52:12
Yeah, I work out probably six to seven days a week. I don't do it for vanity. Although that's a nice side effect of you know, making your body look good. I don't function properly mentally, or physically if I don't get my heart rate up, and really get in some heavy exercise every day. exercise and sleep are like two of the easiest hacks that have literally no downside to make everyone feel better. So that's definitely my non negotiable
Elizabeth Stein 52:47
Love it. And you never regret it after doing it either.
Jason Karp 52:51
Nope, nope.
Elizabeth Stein 52:53
Awesome. Well, Jason, thank you so much for your time. This was so great to catch up with you.
Jason Karp 52:59
Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Elizabeth Stein 53:01
Thanks so much for joining me and live purely with Elizabeth. I hope you feel inspired to thrive on your wellness journey. If you enjoy today's episode, don't forget to rate subscribe and review. You can follow us on Instagram at purely _Elizabeth to catch up on all the latest. See you next Wednesday on the podcast.