Anyone who is raising or has raised young children knows the gulf between what you as a parent want them to eat for their health and development and what they want or are willing to eat. Meals can be a challenge, to put it mildly, and parents often have to be content with their children eating a few bites of the healthy stuff amidst delicious, less-than-nutritious foods. Adults are often guilty of the same things themselves, but at least we’re aware when we’re bypassing the healthy options for something that hits our sweet tooth.
I had the chance to interview Margaret Wishingrad, the CEO of Three Wishes, a company that has managed to address that very question with cereal that marries taste and nutrition. It’s a wonder that more foods haven’t managed to crack that admittedly difficult problem, as her company’s success speaks to how much shoppers want a healthy option that doesn’t sacrifice taste, for themselves or their kids.
Mary Juetten: What’s the name of your company and where are you based?
Margaret Wishingrad: Three Wishes is out of Westchester, New York. We’re based here in our home as we’re quite literally a family business (my husband is the co-founder and my son inspired the business) launched in October 2019 just before the pandemic, meaning no need for an out-of-home office just yet. We of course have employees operating in their own homes in the area during the pandemic as well.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Wishingrad: Cereal is historically nutrient deficient, but we’ve formulated the first ever nutritionally dense cereal that still tastes like a treat. Using ingredients like chickpeas, pea protein, and tapioca, our flavors include Cocoa, Cinnamon, Fruity, Honey, Unsweetened, and our newest, Frosted. We intentionally made them reminiscent of consumers’ favorite childhood tastes and textures, contrasting how low sugar, high protein, and free of grains and gluten they actually are.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Wishingrad: Our customer base is far reaching because, well, who doesn’t eat cereal? Plus, we cater to kids who want a familiar taste but adults who are looking for nutrition as well. It’s something that a Mother of three can buy for her whole family or a single college student might keep on top of their mini fridge.
We luckily focused quite a bit on retail before the pandemic hit and many of our customers find us nationally in retailers like Sprouts, Whole Foods, and Erewhon.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Wishingrad: Throughout my career, before starting Three Wishes, I’ve gained enough experience to know what I don’t know. It’s taught me to hire or consult with the right people who compliment me or know how to guide me through a new obstacle.
Juetten: Did being a female have any impact on your decision to launch and during your startup?
Wishingrad: Absolutely and one step further, I wouldn’t have had my ‘aha’ moment without being a mom. I was feeding my son, Ellis, cereal which I read was a great idea for a child to learn the pincer movement, but I hated giving him what was essentially dessert for breakfast. That’s when I realized, it was time for a better cereal that I could feel good about feeding Ellis and that he would actually want to eat.
Juetten: Any challenges that you found are particular to female founders?
Wishingrad: Working directly with my husband, who’s the co-founder, it’s baffling to see how many people assume he’s the decision maker, even though I’m the CEO. One time, a co-packer texted my husband for a final decision. He must have assumed this was a hobby for me, or that I didn’t have purchasing power. We never worked with that co-packer again.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Wishingrad: We prefer to keep our funding private at this early junction in the business.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Wishingrad: Sara Blakely’s an inspiration to me. Her ability to take a completely unique idea and turn it into a billion dollar business (with a B!) in an industry that’s awash with competition and ingenuity is next-level. Then, when you hear her story and grit that she had to have to make it through that first stage of startup hustle, she’s completely admirable.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Wishingrad: I’ll know I’ve made it when I’m prepared to pay off each of my grandchildren’s tuition and down payments. I come from a family of immigrants who did everything they could to give me an education, and I want to make sure their legacy is continued.
My favorite success story is probably everyone’s favorite success story – Oprah’s. The way she shares her financial success with her friends and family is admirable alone, but what’s truly remarkable is how she uses her platform to share her wisdom for the success of her followers, not just herself.
Juetten: Any tips for early-stage female founders?
Wishingrad: Don’t be afraid to push the envelope and sit at the table with the boys. As a founder, you bought that table, cooked the food, and set the tablescape. Make sure you take a seat. Argue with the pricing, ask for retailer feedback, and own that you have power as a founder even if you’re told you don’t.
Juetten: And of course, any IP challenges or horror stories to share?
Wishingrad: I’ve been really lucky to surround myself with great mentors that have helped me successfully avoid any major IP landmines.
Juetten: What’s your next milestone and any long-term vision for your company?
Wishingrad: Our next milestone is deeper penetration in new markets throughout the country. As a brand that’s still in its infancy, we’re proud of how easy it already is for consumers to find us, but we’ll be ready to announce an even wider reach this year.
Long term, we want to be a household name that’s synonymous with trust. After we’ve worked on that root trust in the cereal aisle, we aim to grow to different categories with our similar ethos of nutrient dense food without paying in taste.
Thank you to Margaret for transparently sharing her thoughts and wisdom around being a female founder. And, wWhile many of us still might not make the best choices when it comes to other foods, it’s good to know there’s a good and easy choice for cereal. #onwards.