Innovating in the CPG Industry:
The Rise of WHIMS Startup Brand
Jesse Barruch and Leanne Viola are the founders of Whims, which creates plant-based treats that give you the best of both worlds: rich, delicious, creamy flavor and an unbelievably clean nutrition panel.
No Compromise Chocolate
I switched to a vegan diet in my 40’s as a way to better take care of myself and my body. In doing this, I found that there were lots of great plant-based, healthier options when it came to savory snacks, but nothing to replace the sweet cravings I had for a good ol’ fashioned chocolate bar—you know, the classics: Snickers, Twix, Reese’s, KitKat. As nostalgic and delicious as they were, there was no way I was going to give into those cravings in good conscience. There’s enough awareness out there now to know that products like these are packed with sugar, palm oil, and lots of processed ingredients. I figured there had to be another way; one that was a healthier choice, but still tasted just as good as the original.
So, I set out to create the sweet treats of my dreams. And, on October 3rd, 2022, WHIMS Delights was born. Our first product is an oat milk chocolate peanut butter cup. It has 88% less sugar than the leading “better for you” peanut butter cup—and 91% less than the original favorite. It’s also plant-based, gluten-free, and contains no sugar alcohols or palm oil. The kicker? It tastes amazing too: rich, indulgent, creamy, and satisfying.
The Story of the Brand Story
We had an incredible product; we just needed to find a way to connect emotionally to our audience, while getting all the benefits of WHIMS across. There’s one conversation I had with our Creative Lead, Alex, that stands out to me as the defining moment in crafting our brand story. It took place over the phone; me in LA, Alex in Vancouver. We were talking beyond the product; musing about life philosophies and asking a lot of big questions. In that moment, I said to Alex, “If you could have it any way, and you can, how would it be?” This was one of those questions that cracked things open for us. Because with WHIMS, we realized the kernel of our brand was not having to sacrifice. We’re told repeatedly that we have to compromise; that we can’t have it all. And with WHIMS, we’re proof that you can have it all. And people deserve that. It’s an expansive, abundant mindset—there’s a joy to it that felt incredibly resonant to us both. It was inspiring because it wasn’t just about chocolate; it signified a belief in the ability to dream and create; to bring something into fruition that seems impossible. That’s how we see leadership and innovation—and that’s the kind of brand we wanted to be. So that was it; the pillar upon which we built a brand story: indulge everything, sacrifice nothing.
From there, we realized that we had also been trying to put ourselves into an existing category: “better for you” chocolate. But we were better for you than the better for you options. So that inspired us to approach our messaging from a “third way” perspective: we’re the next evolution of chocolate. We’re chocolate 3.0—you’ve never tasted us before; we’re in a league of our own. This practice of thinking beyond the two binaries placed in front of us was a great exercise in not taking everything at face value and getting to the heart of what we were offering.
Where We Go From Here
It’s my belief that a brand is a living entity. It grows, it evolves; it responds to what’s happening around it. We crafted a brand story we’re proud of and answered some big questions, but the reality is, we are still answering questions around who we are—because you can land on a tagline and have a solid About Us page, but a brand needs reciprocity; there’s an energy exchange that takes place once it enters the world. When you finally put your product out there, you release some control over it. It’s not solely yours anymore; it becomes part of something bigger. It’s shaped and molded by the people who receive it—and people are very important to us as WHIMS. Of course, in your heart, as a founder, you’ll know what story you’re telling. But it’s a beautiful experience to open your creation up to feedback, to the unexpected, and to see where it naturally goes. And that’s what we’re excited for in this next stage of WHIMS: to see how people connect with our brand, and to be forever learners in the process of evolving it based on what we see, hear, and feel.