Callie England’s healthy treats leave out soy, dairy, gluten and GMOs—but add in distinctive flavors and a bold style.
There’s little doubt that barbecue is king in Kansas City. But local company Rawxies is proving there’s also room for healthy snacks in the hearts (and stomachs) of Midwesterners.
Founded by Callie England in 2012, the company sells a lineup of vegan treats that are free of gluten, soy, GMOs and dairy. Local business experts say she’s figured out how to capitalize on a booming natural-food market fueled by consumers with gluten allergies and those demanding higher-quality products.
Rawxies’ most popular offering is a heart-shaped treat that’s a cross between a cookie and an indulgent dessert, available in flavors like lemon poppy seed, mint chocolate chip, banana nut bread and mocha almond.
Want something spicier? England sells three varieties of a savory “crunch,” including “cheezy smoked paprika” and “cheezy curry chipotle,” that could easily replace your potato chips.
Both products can be found in stores across the country, including several Whole Foods. Rawxies has become part of an emerging trend that is reshaping grocery and specialty store shelves.
“This market space that we’re in—the natural-food space—is growing so fast that people are just jumping in right and left because they’re seeing the opportunity and they’re seeing the growth,” England said.
‘Stop Eating Crap’
Inside the Rawxies office in the East Bottoms, even the walls—decorated with artwork and painted in striking shades of tangerine and pink—exude energy. Cooks create the product in an industrial kitchen while a saleswoman works the phone in another corner of the building. The environment feels lively. (The only folks snoozing on the job: England’s dogs, who have a bed under her desk.)
The company’s slogan—“Stop Eating Crap”—is stamped on T-shirts so stylish that even the most ardent fast-food junkie would wear one with pride. But as hipster as it all might sound, this is more than catchy branding for England. It’s something far more personal.
When she was 21, England radically changed how she ate and switched to a plant-based diet.
She started a blog to share her healthy new lifestyle with others, and while readers loved her posts, England realized they didn’t want just ideas and recipes. They wanted to buy something that fit their busy lifestyles. They were practically demanding she sell something.
Rawxies was born. The name is a combination of the words “raw”—a nod to the company’s all-natural ingredients—and “foxy,” which is how England, a former creative director with a gift for graphic design, wanted everything about the brand to look and feel.
England acknowledges that her motivation behind the business is personal, but she’s not so blindly passionate about healthy food that she ignores sound business advice.
That’s tricky for many entrepreneurs who have such close personal ties to their business. Sometimes that means entrepreneurs can have a difficult time seeing the flaws in their plan.
Several business coaches said England has been willing to take advice and switch gears when needed.
“She’s going to take people’s advice and do what she needs to do to grow,” said Kelly Sievers Pruneau, network manager for the Women’s Capital Connection.
It’s one reason why the group decided to invest in Rawxies in January.
“We felt Callie was going to be successful in growing this company,” Pruneau said. “The other reason we invested is because this industry is on the upswing and we see the potential within the industry.”
Why the Midwest Really Was Best
Kansas City hasn’t always been home for Rawxies. Early on, England moved her business to California, long considered a thriving market for health-conscious food products. She needed to provide proof of concept for her newborn business, and the West Coast seemed like an ideal place.
“It was extremely competitive,” England said. “It was oversaturated. And I was in a trend.”
Whenever she told buyers that she made raw, vegan, gluten-free products, she got a lackluster response: “Yeah, so does everybody else.”
So she tried selling Rawxies treats in the Midwest.
“We started to test these products in the Midwest where nobody had any of those products,” she said. “So we’d go to a coffee shop, and we’d say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a gluten-free item.’”
The demand was immediate: “No way! We’ve been looking for something gluten-free.”
So after a year in California, England moved the company back to Kansas City.
There were other benefits to the move. She couldn’t bootstrap in California because the cost of living was higher. And, perhaps more importantly, her support system of family and friends and colleagues is here. Those connections were critical after long days early on, when she wondered if the headaches and hard work were worth it.
Her business has grown so quickly in large part because of its Midwest location. That point was clarified when she recently attended a trade show. A fellow entrepreneur wanted to know how England managed to build so many vendor accounts so quickly.
“I guess because most of those accounts are Midwest,” she said. “None of you guys thought to come to the Midwest.”
England went to coffee shops and Hy-Vee stores, and she used her marketing skills to get publicity whenever possible. Eventually, she landed Whole Foods. It was a major coup because the natural grocery store chain added her products to its Rocky Mountain region. It meant exposure in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
Another major milestone came in 2013. NewHope360, an industry media outlet, named Rawxies’ lemon poppy seed cookie one of the top six vegan products of 2013 at the Natural Products Expo West, a huge trade show.
“Now this is raw food for the masses,” raved senior editor Caren Baginski during a video segment.
These milestones—and the several others that have come along since—have encouraged England.
“There are always those little markers in owning a business, where you’re like, ‘OK, I’m not crazy, and this will get me through the next hump.’”
Passion + Execution = Success
England has since picked up a distributor to manage the East Coast market, which accounts for a whopping 40 percent of Rawxies’ revenue. The distributor manages all of the accounts at natural grocers, LuckyVitamin.com and more. It’s an efficient way to bring on hundreds of new customers without hiring dozens of employees, so England wants to connect with more distributors.
It’s nice to have other people to share the load. England did everything on her own until 2013. She cooked for 12 hours a day, mopped the floors and went door-to-door at businesses to sell the product. These days she employs four full-time employees and one part-time employee. Each one is essential.
But it’s still not easy. There aren’t a lot of entrepreneurs in the same niche that she can seek out for guidance. In California, she could knock on her neighbor’s door to get advice. The marketplace was rich with people who would help. In Kansas City, she’s become one of the go-to people.
England speaks at community events and readily answers questions if someone needs direction.
“She’s still working on her own business, but also really giving back to other entrepreneurs,” said Jill Meyer, senior technology development and commercialization consultant at the UMKC Office of Research and Economic Development.
Earlier this year, England was accepted into one of the region’s most elite group of entrepreneurs: the Pipeline Entrepreneurial Fellowship. The yearlong program provides training and mentoring to high-potential executives so they can rapidly scale up their companies.
When this year’s Pipeline fellows were selected, England stood out, said Joni Cobb, the president and CEO of the program. Her charisma and authenticity, mixed with her proven skills to tackle her goals, are apparent almost the instant she meets strangers.
It was clear that England knew how to speak to investors—a skill that is crucial for budding entrepreneurs who want to grow.
“They’re always looking for both the drive and the ability—the passion of the entrepreneur—but also their ability to execute on that passion,” Cobb said.
“The passion, drive, motivation behind what she’s doing is personal.”
Pruneau said it’s easy to think the natural food niche is a trend. But she sees Rawxies with England at the helm as part of a movement, one that won’t end anytime soon.
“If somebody is going to make it work,” Pruneau said, “it’s going to be Callie.”
(photo by Dan Videitch)