Chomps: Building a Workforce with a Deeper Sense of Ownership
According to recent studies, more than two-thirds of all employees in the United States are “disengaged” with their current job and employer. Disengaged employees can negatively affect businesses in different ways. These employees generally have low motivation levels, are disinterested in solving problems and helping the company achieve its goals and ambitions, and do not feel connected to the wider company culture. Employee disengagement can also lead to toxic workplace cultures and environments. On an economic level, disengaged employees cost U.S. employers up to $550 billion each year, mostly through reduced productivity.
One of the most fundamental keys to success for every startup or small business endeavor is creating a motivated, productive workforce that is sold on the company´s goals and identifies with the driving ethos behind the business. However, more than seven out of every ten employees are consistently looking for new jobs, making it hard for business owners and managers to truly lead a motivated, productive, and passionate team.
One health food brand that specializes in healthy, grass-fed meat snacks has experienced incredible growth and nationwide expansion; due in part to a dedication to creating and sustaining a motivated workforce.
Chomps was founded in 2012 by Pete Maldonado and Rashid Ali. Seven years later, the self-funded startup company was ranked number 62 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States, with a three-year growth rate topping 4,469 percent and over $20 million in revenue. Their naturally-flavored meat snacks are sourced from grass-fed beef, venison, and turkey, and include no added sugars, fillers, or artificial preservatives.
The healthy, low carb snacks marketed by Chomps are Keto Certified, Whole30 Approved, Certified Paleo, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified humane, and also non-GMO Project certified. After originally selling exclusively online, the Chomps meat snacks are now sold at every Trader Joe´s store across the country, as well as at major retailers such as Albertson´s, Wal-Mart, and Amazon.
Creating a low-carb and healthy snack option was one of the motivations that led co-founder Pete Maldonado to originally start the company. As a personal trainer, he would design specific diet plans and grocery shopping lists for his clients. However, with time he found that many of his clients simply wouldn’t follow the plans, partly because of the lack of options for healthy snack alternatives that could keep them satisfied throughout the day.
His work as a personal trainer helped Maldonado learn a lot about the importance of healthy foods sourced from non-GMO ingredients. He says that “I learned a ton about nutrition and the big difference in micronutrients between organic and non-GMO foods and the unnecessary chemicals that could be avoided by eating this way.” This knowledge led him to start Chomps and attempt to create the healthiest meat snacks from the cleanest available ingredients and using the best methods of processing. “In order to get non-GMO Project Verified,” Pete says, “our products and every ingredient we use were fully audited. It took a long time to get through the process, but we’re proud to be one of the first in the category to achieve it.”
Developing a Product with Shelf Stability
While Chomps healthy meat snacks have gained quite a reputation with consumers around the country, the brand was originally started as a meat delivery service. Maldonado says that “Chomps launched in 2012. At the time we were a meat delivery service, similar to Omaha Steaks, but we sold Grass-Fed Beef. We quickly realized that shipping frozen meat was less than ideal and knew we had to come up with a shelf-stable product. I grew up eating tons of Slim Jim’s and I saw an opportunity to make a much healthier and better-tasting version. That’s when Chomps was born.”
According to recent studies, around one-fifth of all fresh food products are lost and wasted before they ever reach the end consumer. In terms of total weight, food waste accounts for 125 to 160 billion pounds of organic waste, most of which ends up in local landfills across the country. When this waste decomposes, it releases an enormous amount of methane, which is at least 28 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Retail food brands attempt to reduce food waste by adding a wide variety of food preservatives, including nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines), BHA and BHT, sulfites, sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, and benzene. In 2018, the global food preservatives market size was valued at USD 2.5 billion in 2018 and is anticipated to register a CAGR of 3.7% over the forecast period.
Despite receiving FDA approval, many common chemical preservatives have been shown to lead to a wide array of serious health problems. Sulfites are common in fruits and have been linked to headaches, palpitations, allergies, and some types of cancer. Nitrates and nitrite are common in meat products (like Slim Jims, for example), and is suspected of causing stomach cancer.
Maldonado knew that the logistical challenges of delivering fresh meat to customers around the country were going to be cumbersome to his business plan. When he settled on making a meat snack, the process of finding natural strategies for preservation was one of the guiding principles during the product development phase. “We had to do some experimenting to not only find the ideal flavor profiles but we were going for very specific targeted nutrition content,” Maldonado says. “Then there is the science behind creating a shelf-stable product using only natural ingredients. All of these aspects have to be spot-on and that’s not easy to achieve.”
After several iterations, Chomps eventually found a natural way to create a shelf-stable product that wasn’t filled with impossible to pronounce chemical additives and preservatives. According to their website, the company says that “we don’t believe in cutting corners, and that’s why we make all our products with simple, quality ingredients that never compromise on taste.”
Creating a Workforce that Feels a Sense of Ownership
Several years after having founded Chomps, Maldonado was still the company’s only full-time employee. Despite the fact that they still sold over $10 million dollars’ worth of meat snacks that year, the real growth began when Maldonado and Ali began to put together a team to help the company continue to expand. Currently, Chomps employees 14, Chicago-based employees, which is about 30 percent of where Maldonado thinks they should be in terms of total staff. Despite being technically understaffed, the workforce management strategy employed by Chomps has allowed for an impressive operating efficiency that maximized production output.
On a recent podcast with The Growth Thinktank, Maldonado says that “so basically what we need to be able to do is make sure that every single employee on this team is able to work independently, but then also collaborate with the rest of the team. There needs to be a lot of cross-functional collaboration and at the same time, every single one of these employees needs to be innovating. They need to be thinking outside the box. They need to be taking calculated risks…And we, as leaders, Rashid and I and some of the other leadership team, we need to be encouraging that.”
Unlike many small business startups that get trapped in the cycle of micro-management that leads to disengaged employees and low productivity levels, Maldonado has made it a priority to encourage his team to take risks and not be afraid to innovate in order to push the company forward.
In order to create a workforce that feels a sense of ownership with the brand and its goals, Chomps has a rigorous hiring process and also works with leadership coaches to help develop a more productive culture amongst the workforce. Maldonado also says that creating space for all employees to share their ideas, proposals, and suggestions have also created a workplace culture wherein every employee can feel like their opinions and ideas matter. This also creates a spirit of collaboration that helps to drive productivity, creativity, and innovation across the company.
“Back when we started Chomps I was told by some advisors that there is no way we would be able to compete with all of the other private equity and venture capital-backed brands in the incredibly competitive meat snacks category,” Maldonado tells us. “We’re not only competing, but we’re leading the better-for-you meat snacks category in the Natural channel and we’re competing head-to-head with billion-dollar brands like Jack Link’s and Slim Jim on Amazon.”
Committing to healthy, non-GMO, sustainably sourced ingredients has certainly helped Chomps develop a loyal customer base across the country. However, their dedication to creating a healthy and flourishing workforce culture that is centered on the ethic of mutual collaboration and a deeper sense of ownership is the real driver of their incredible business growth.