Dawn Kelley Talks About Her Barney Butter Business And Being An Entrepreneur (Step) Mom

Dawn Kelley is revolutionizing cold lunch for school kids everywhere. As the CEO of Barney Butter, a yummy almond butter, kids who are clamoring for their PB&J sammie can enjoy almond butter instead, which is far healthier, too. We spoke exclusively with Dawn about Barney Butter, being a stepmom and how she balances it all.

What were you doing prior to becoming the CEO of Barney Butter?

I worked for Internet companies the majority of my career. I worked for headhunter.net, which merged with careerbuilder.com. Then I went to orbitz.com. After a turnover, I worked for youbet.com, which is online horse racing. I’m from Kentucky, so it was an interesting fit! I loved it, but then we ended up selling the company.

Right around that time, I met my now-husband, Steve. He and his partner had just bought Barney Butter. He was just getting involved in it, and he thought I would be good for it, too, since I was focused on holistic foods and a healthy diet, plus I had the business background. For a while, I didn’t know if he wanted to date me or hire me! [laughs] it was such a perfect fit.

I lovelovelove peanut butter, but no one in my family likes it.

I tell everyone that we’re not that scary, hardcore almond butter that makes people turn up their nose. We’re the ones that convert you; we’re the gateway! There’s a lot of good for you food out there, but who cares if it doesn’t taste good. We want to offer better alternatives for healthy snacks.

Since you’ve taken the helm at Barney Butter, what has happened?

We’ve more than doubled our revenues and increased distribution in the past year and a half. We’ve also added channels outside of retail. We didn’t have an online store before I came on, and now we’re consistently in the top 2 or 3 in amazon.com for the almond butter category. And since we have our own manufacturing facility, it allows us to do things like ingredient manufacturing and private labels.

Where do you see the company going?

I have pages and pages and pages of product ideas. It’s organizing those ideas and executing them that we’re focused on. I don’t believe you should grow too fast on a branded product, so we’re focused on the almond butter. And you should have a certain presence on the shelf in the category where you start before you move to other shelves in the grocery stores. But after that, it’s limitless; you can grow through licensing and co-brand or do a 100% branded product.

Now you’re a stepmom to three kids. What has that been like?

I will say that it’s the most challenging role I’ve taken on in my life. I have such respect for women who do it all. I grew up with a single mom, and obviously respected her doing it all. When you come into a family of 3 kids at the age of 40, having been a single big city girl, it was like being thrown off a cliff onto a rocky coast off of Maine! [laughs]

[laughs] How do you find your balance?

I’ve learned that you have to carve out time for yourself. I’m close with my friends and I make time for the things I love, like yoga. I got it all at once; the husband, the family and the business. Sure, it can be overwhelming at times, but overall I realize how truly lucky I am to have all of these beautiful things in my life. At the end of the day, it’s all joy and I love it.

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