Ethan Holmes’ Mouthwatering Applesauce has gone from being sold in Zagara’s in Cleveland Heights to being sold in over 60 supermarkets throughout Ohio and Illinois in just one year. I reached out to the Shaker Heights native to find out more about the man whose business has him cranking out one of the most delicious snacks to ever come out of the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen, a shared space which incubates local businesses.
First and foremost, I’m curious to know more about you as both an individual and a brand. What inspired you to get involved in the applesauce market?
When I was a kid, I loved the concept of entrepreneurship, anything from selling lemonade to landscaping. My family noticed that early, and I was given a book by my godmother entitled Reallionaire. The book told the story of Farrah Gray, an African-American boy who made a million dollars at the age of 14. After seeing someone so successful and close to my age, it inspired me to start my own legitimate business venture. I chose applesauce because after studying the market, I saw there were only three major companies and the world needed something in between that had high quality ingredients, community values, and a passionate story.
You’re not even 23 years old yet, and you have achieved a great deal of success and it’s only continuing to grow. Did you envision this when you were 15 years old and still in Shaker Heights High School?
To be honest, I always knew that the product would be successful, especially when others didn’t. It’s the only thing that kept me going. I had classmates laugh at me and tell me I was too stupid or that applesauce was a terrible product. However, I stayed true to myself and used my dreams of something better to fuel my persistence.
I think it’s really commendable that 10% of your profit goes to charity to fight childhood obesity because I know the percentage of children who suffer from obesity in America is growing annually. Why is giving back to this cause important to you? Since the beginning, giving back was always the goal and embedded in our mission. Child obesity is a major issue that affects millions of children annually. If we can help alleviate that issue through charity and bringing a healthy food product to market, then why not?
When you look back on the journey you took to get to this point, what’s something that you wish you knew then that’s almost common sense to you now? There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.
Can you explain a little more in depth the “made by kids, for kids” aspect of your business?
Made by kids, for kids was our slogan in 2014-2015, and it represented one of our missions: to create a product developed by a kid that other kids would enjoy. We created a program that allowed high school students around Ohio to help assist us in the production of our applesauce, receive a stipend, and gain volunteer hours for graduation. With the students, we were able to create over 10,000 jars of applesauce in just one year and give thousands of dollars in stipends to students around Ohio.
A few big name retailers carry your product — Zagara’s, Heinen’s, and The Wine Spot — how did these monumental partnerships come about?
Are there any other retailers in the works to be next to sell your applesauce? Those partnerships came from being 80% persistent and 20% annoying. I got in my first supermarket, Zagara’s Marketplace, in November 2014. I was producing a couple hundred jars at a time, very small. I wanted the big guys, so I called Heinen’s two to three times a week for almost a year until they gave me a yes. I did the same thing with Giant Eagle, Marc’s, Dave’s, and Whole Foods, but they all eventually picked up the product [in 2015], placing Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce in over 60 various supermarkets from Ohio to Illinois.
As a founder and CEO of Ethan Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce, what is next for the expansion of this company as both a product and a brand?
Our goal has always been to capture the market share in Ohio and eventually expand to other states. We are now going after supermarket giant Kroger and venturing into new revenue streams: schools, daycares, nursing homes, prisons, etc. We are raising more capital for marketing, greater distribution, and have even moved out of The Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen, to our own mass production facility.
Has there been anything that has made you stop, take step back, and look at the fruits of your labor and say to yourself, “I made it”?
In October of last year, I reached out to Matthew Dellavedova of the Cleveland Cavaliers and got him to endorse my applesauce product. He even came out to my city of Shaker Heights and signed autographs for over 200 fans. The event had live music, food trucks, and of course applesauce. Being from Australia, Dellavedova had never eaten applesauce before, but once he tried it, he was hooked.
In November of last year, I had the chance to share the stage with Daymond John of Shark Tank. I had met him back in 2011. He was the judge for COSE’s business competition. At the time, I only had a business card with no supermarkets carrying my product. So seeing him five years later and having the chance to share my story to him and over 400 people was an amazing experience.