We all have a need for snackbars now and then. They can function as a quick mini-breakfast on the run, a pre- or post-workout snack, an easy-to-eat treat during a hike, or my favorite – something I can whip out of my bag or pocket when hunger strikes unexpectedly.
The trick, of course, is that nowadays we need that bar to be low FODMAP. Enter Belliwelli, a new line of Monash University Low FODMAP Certified snackbars in flavors as diverse as Fudge Brownie and Lemon White Chocolate.
Meet Katie Wilson, Co-Founder and CEO of BelliWelli
We sat down with the company’s founder, Katie Wilson, to talk about her bars and how she became the developer of this line of low FODMAP snacks. Like so many entrepreneurial stories, it was not a straight path.
Dédé Wilson: First of all, I guess we should point out that we are not related. Nice last name, though! Let’s start by mentioning that Belliwelli was co-founded by you and your husband, Nick, and began in your own kitchen. Now, you didn’t always have IBS. You are one of the unfortunate ones who developed post-infectious IBS. Tell us about that.
Yes, you are right Dédé. My gut journey started 6 years ago to the day. I was someone who spent years eating mac n’ cheese and muffins (probably too many), and never gave too much thought to what I put in my body. I came down with food poisoning one day, and to make a MUCH longer story shorter, my symptoms never really resolved. I spent the following year trying to find the “magic pill solution” to my newfound gut struggles.
Ah, so you are dealing with post-infectious IBS. It is not uncommon!
I underwent colonoscopies, endoscopies, capsule tests, breath tests, MANY diets, 26 rounds of antibiotics (horrible idea in retrospect), various experiments with motility drugs, antispasmodic drugs, allergy testing, parasite testing, stool studies, etc. You name it – I tried it! I spent 4 different nights in the ER that year. I had the hardest time accepting that my life (and my freedom) had seemingly been compromised overnight.
I am so sorry to hear all of this, and yet, am so glad you are sharing because unfortunately this will resonate with so many people. And it is important that we know we are not alone.
You have called Nick a “gastronomic genius” and one day you just needed a chocolate chip cookie. Take us back to that moment. Mention how far along you were in your FODMAP journey at that point, and how you first learned about the low FODMAP diet.
Like so many others, I was eventually handed the black and white, one-page, “low fodmap diet” hand-out after trying EVERYTHING. I took it home to Nick, and together, we attempted to navigate low fodmap. I’m not a creative chef, so I found myself repeating the same 3 meals every day (we could have used a Dédé in our house).
I quickly started to HATE eating (which was unlike me). In tears one night, I begged Nick to find me a chocolate chip cookie I could actually eat. Knowing he needed some serious help with such an endeavor, Nick enlisted the help of a virtual food scientist and a dietitian. He went to work creating the PERFECT low fodmap cookie. After many (and I mean MANY) failed attempts, he eventually cracked it! I was SO thrilled to have a sweet treat that I could eat without worrying.
IBSimple to BelliWelli
So, here you are with this incredibly empathetic husband, who happens to be a crackerjack baker, you have IBS, he comes up with a product. At first, you had Ibsimple bars. How did you transition from that initial brand to Belliwelli? I don’t want to confuse people, but in case they were aware of Ibsimple, I want to help make that transition.
As I mentioned, our initial journey began in our home-kitchen. Nick was our chief baker (and by this, I mean, the ONLY baker). Ibsimple took off overnight, so Nick went from making me a few bars each day, to hand-baking thousands of bars each week for our customers.
Oh, stop there for a moment. How did you sell them? How did you find these first customers?
We had actively grown Facebook groups and an Instagram following prior to “launching”. We had been teasing the bars for some time, so the community was REALLY excited to finally be able to get their hands on them! We sold only on our website (which at the time was ibsimple.com). Word of mouth in the community was also a huge help!
Once we recognized what a huge need this really was, we went to work raising capital to scale the business out of the kitchen. Most importantly, we hired a professional formulator to take our home-spun ibsimple bars to “the real deal.” We wanted soft-baked bars that were certified low fodmap, gluten-free, dairy-free, free from sugar alcohols AND full of probiotics.
Our formulator spent 5 months iterating on the bars before finally arriving at what we now call BelliWelli bars. We went through many, many, many taste tests! We regularly consulted with dietitians and GI doctors to ensure that our final bars truly served the needs of our consumers!
Why We Got Monash Low FODMAP Certification
Did you know from the get-go that you wanted to take your products through Monash University Low FODMAP certification? Why is that important to you and your customers?
OH YES. That was our number 1 priority. Our formulator, Victoria, jokes that she spent more time on the Monash app than any other app during the months she was formulating BelliWelli bars. We double, and triple checked ingredients every step of the way to ensure we were low fodmap every step of the way. That said, getting our lab test results back from Monash, certifying us as low fodmap, was an AWESOME feeling!
The Monash app is indispensable. I truly believe it is not an overstatement to say that no one can follow the diet without it.
Tell us about your current offerings…and if you can share any tidbits about future products, we would love to hear. Did you decide on making bars because that is what you wanted? Or did you also do some market research?
We have 4, soft-baked bars – cinnamon swirl, minty chocolate, lemon white chocolate, and fudge brownie. We started with bars because it’s what I needed/wanted most as someone suffering from debilitating gut issues. I wanted a sweet treat that I could take with me on the go! We have plans to launch a few more bar flavors this summer (hint: vanilla cake is on the roadmap), but shortly after, we have big plans to move on to new snack products. We will let the community guide us on exactly what products come first.
The Bars Are Low FODMAP and…………………
Are your bars just for those following the low FODMAP diet?
Definitely not. We made a conscious effort to ensure that our bars are gluten-free, dairy-free, low fodmap and full of probiotics (500 million cfu probiotics per bar). We know that no two people in the “gut-challenged community” are the same – we all have a unique set of dietary requirements and needs, so our hope was that by meeting many important nutritional milestones, we can be a bar for anyone who avoids inflammatory ingredients/snack products. In fact, both the vegan and celiac community are VERY excited to have a probiotic-packed snack option!
How much are the bars and what is the best way for folks to find them and order them?
We are online only right now – with plans to head to retail later this year. Find us at www.belliwelli.com (Amazon coming soon). Use code: FE20 for 20% off!
Finding The Perfect Match
OK, so for a moment, let’s just look way back at your life, pre-FODMAP. You were a matchmaker, and you told us that you decided that’s what you wanted to be when you were 10 years old. How does that even happen? And then you end up matchmaking celebrities?
Oh boy! I think that’s another interview – ha! I’ve always loved connecting people (still do) and always joke that matchmaking is a totally selfish endeavor, because there is NO better feeling than standing at a wedding knowing that you introduced two soulmates.
I was fortunate enough to spend 5 years at a female-led matchmaking company called Three Day Rule before heading to Match.com as their Chief Dating Strategist. While I’m not actively matchmaking anymore, I’ll never pass up an opportunity to talk to someone about their dating life (and I’m known to give unsolicited dating advice), so bring it on!!
And Dédé kindly pointed out that while I may not be matching PEOPLE with their romantic soulmates right now, I am matching Belli’s with the perfect sweet treats 😊. That counts…right!?