Madeline Haydon (MBA '05) is the heroine of the unlikely and inspiring success story of Nutpods, an eco-friendly, vegan line of dairy-alternative coffee creamers. She's a Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics alumna who is successfully blending sustainable practices and sensitivity to social and environmental issues with an intense focus on serving customers to create a category-leading business. Read on to learn more about Haydon, her innovative company, and its commitment to corporate social responsibility.
Overcoming the Odds to Create an Environmentally Friendly Startup
Before founding Green Grass Foods, the nutpods parent company valued at $36.8 million1 and named Amazon Small Business of the Year in 2020, Haydon had no experience in the food industry. The idea for Nutpods came to the young wife and mother who was expecting her second child in 2013, while in a diner picking through an uninspiring assortment of packaged coffee creamers. Haydon has said, "I created Nutpods out of my own personal search for a dairy-free creamer with a rich taste and consistency but without unnecessary additives."2
"At my core, I want to make a difference and to help make things better," she continued. "I feel incredibly humbled and honored to be a small part of our consumer’s morning ritual. Our amazing fans share their stories about how our products help support their health goals and what our brands mean to them. It doesn’t get much better than that!"2
Nutpods is now available across the United States, sold in more than 15,000 retail stores, and is the #1 nondairy creamer on Amazon. Green Grass Foods is well positioned in the dairy alternatives market, projected to grow to $61.43 billion by 2029. 3, 4
Along the way, Green Grass Foods was also ranked number 13 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in 2019, as well as number 2 in Food and Beverage. The same year, Haydon was honored with an EY Entrepreneurship of the Year Award.3
To go from startup to category leader in less than a decade is a remarkable achievement for anyone. It's even more impressive when you consider that women and people of color get very little support from venture capitalists--less than one percent of VC funding, according to some estimates.5
The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Haydon and her team used familiar bootstrap tactics, including friends-and-family-funding and a Kickstarter campaign to get from her initial idea to their first sales. Nutpods also won third place in the 2015 Harriet Stephenson Business Plan Competition hosted by the Seattle U Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, which helped fund the launch of sales through Amazon and brick-and-mortar outlets.
A Green Business from the Get-Go
Green Grass Foods has been committed to environmental stewardship since its inception, a fact illustrated by the articulation of core beliefs on the company's Kickstarter page. The list included:
- Simple ingredients
- Whole food
- Total wellness for the body
- Valuing our earth's resources
As the young brand has grown, adding employees along with customers and growing annual sales, Haydon and her team have articulated a more complete ESG vision and have steadily been taking small steps to amplify her original ideas on environmental sustainability.
In 2018, nutpods became the first North American company to use an aseptic (shelf-stable) package made of plant based and recyclable materials.6, 7
Green Grass Foods is also supporting Walmart's Gigaton project through removing greenhouse gas emissions from their production process. This is accomplished by increasing the use of renewable products and recycled paper in packaging and shipping materials and by reducing food waste.8
The eco-friendly company is proudly transparent about the small number of ingredients in nutpods, their sustainable packaging, work with sustainable vendors, and certifications from five environmental and health organizations.
Sustainable Businesses are Drawing Investor Interest
In recent years, more consumers have become health conscious and begun to actively seek out eco friendly, sustainable products to preserve natural resources and slow climate change. The shift in consumer preference toward organic, sustainable products has caught the attention of Wall Street and the traditional players in the packaged food industry, driving up valuations and spurring additional environmental innovation. Sahale Snacks, Bai Brands and Dave's Killer Bread were all recently acquired by food conglomerates.9
Sustainable Practices Support the Triple Bottom Line
Green Grass Foods is one of many eco-friendly companies that has an explicit commitment to social as well as environmental impact. This commitment is closely aligned with consumer concerns about how business operations affect people and the planet, and companies with a solid Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) framework in place are poised to thrive in the current business climate.10
The company's ESG statement is on its website, and the Nutpods team supports social and food equity through volunteering and making donations to several organizations.11 Internally, that commitment to the triple bottom line translates to a culture supporting diversity, equity and inclusion. "I want to be very clear you can't go around and collect people for the sake of diversity because that is not what makes it work," Haydon said in a 2020 interview. "What makes it work is an environment in which you support, invite, tolerate the creative conflict that comes with diverse opinions and being able to value different lenses that people see [through]."5
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Support Sustainable Business Success
Haydon emphasizes that people are a business's most important asset. "Because our team is what our brand kind of lives from. They're the people who provide the voices, the customer experience, the marketing approach."5 The connection between a company's bottom line and its culture is also very clear. The more diverse and inclusive the organization is, the more profitable and resilient it is.12
Leadership Insights Gained on the Journey
As Nutpods and Green Grass Foods have gained momentum, Haydon has been generous in sharing her insights. She is a popular speaker at conferences for food and environmentally friendly businesses and is often interviewed for podcasts and other publications.
Madeline Haydon was the featured speaker at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center's Founder Friday in January 2020. Founder Fridays are among the many networking and professional development opportunities available to students in the Online MBA program at Albers.
Haydon believes in giving back, part of the ethical framework she learned from her parents. "I learned my work ethic and perseverance by watching my immigrant parents come to a new country and rebuild a life for our family," she said, adding that they "overcame endless challenges, and it didn’t stop them from their goal of providing a new life for our family with the values of optimism, opportunity and giving back to the community."13
In addition to her thoughts about hard work and generosity, she's shared advice about starting and building a business, and specific advice for business school students. Here are a few highlights from her comments:
"Know your why. Why are you doing this? If you know your reason why, it will center you and can help motivate you when the going gets tough."14
"Never lose sight of the employee and your relationship to them." As noted above, a company's employees bring the brand to life. She stressed the need for leaders to support their employees and see each as "a whole person with their own family demands and personal goals."14
Harking back to all the uncertainty of starting her business, Haydon said that staying laser-focused on consumers helped her overcome many challenges. "I kept coming back to what I did know, and what I did know was the lens of a consumer: what kind of products I wanted to buy, what kind of companies I wanted to buy from, and what would make me brand loyal," she said, adding, "That's almost one of the best ways that you can look at your business — it's always through the lens of a consumer."5
Asked about her advice for women college students interested in entrepreneurship, she suggested taking courses that focus on actual case studies and attending every possible event. "If your college or university has speakers, attend those for knowledge, as well as networking. I remember at my university, Howard Schultz came as a speaker. Having access to speakers who share with you about how they built their business and what they would do differently is immensely helpful. And of course, being able to interact with Howard Schultz afterward is really special too."15
Join the Albers Network of Business Leaders Creating a Better Tomorrow
The Online MBA at Albers School of Business and Economics will prepare you to effectively and ethically solve the challenges that environmental entrepreneurs and leaders in all business segments face. We designed principles of ethical leadership into our collaborative, innovative curriculum and work with our influential alumni network to create opportunities for students to learn from business trailblazers, including Madeline Haydon. Reach out to an Admissions Advisor today to learn more.
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from cbinsights.com/company/green-grass-foods
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from partakefoods.com/blogs/news/womens-history-month-feature-madeline-haydon
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from nutpods.com/pages/our-story
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/dairy-alternatives-market-100221
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from youtube.com/watch?v=74tNfgwNiw8
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from packaginginsights.com/news/nutpods-team-with-sig-to-introduce-first-us-carton-made-from-plant-based-polymers.html
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from nutpods.com/pages/our-packaging
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0256/7961/files/nutpods_ESG_Report_2021.pdf?v=1645902958
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from seattlebusinessmag.com/retail/feeding-frenzy-national-food-giants-are-eager-acquire-innovative-local-brands/
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from seattleu.edu/business/online/albers/blog/business-trends-that-will-change-your-life-in-2023
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from nutpods.com/pages/our-esg-initiative
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from 425magazine.com/eat-drink/q-a-with-madeline-haydon-of-nutpods/article_279d9099-140e-5ab8-9191-588b8b5e7df2.html
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from medium.com/authority-magazine/madeline-haydon-of-nutpods-if-people-arent-following-you-you-re-not-leading-bcb4b114e99d
- Retrieved on December 20, 2022, from columbiawomensbusinesssociety.org/scope/4uwa7xyh2lcxhri2uv35y7vbrlim6u