Whole Foods Market is partnering with Austin, Texas-based BeeSweet Lemonade, founded by 10-year-old Mikaila Ulmer, as the newest recipient of a low-interest loan through the company’s Local Producer Loan Program. Ulmer’s high-quality lemonade, made with mint, honey and flaxseed, currently is sold in 32 Whole Foods Market stores, with plans to expand into new regions in 2015.
“We began with just one BeeSweet Lemonade flavor, but now with a loan from Whole Foods Market, we can add a new flavor, share it with more shoppers and help grow my business,” Ulmer said. “I also love that the company shares my vision to protect pollinators and offer products with wholesome ingredients. I think we make a great team.”
In addition to capital for growth, Whole Foods Market’s local producer loans come with support from the company’s loan administrators, regional buyers and local foragers. The Whole Foods Market team often helps improve the business plan, shares market trends or connects recipients with new partners.
Similarly, Ulmer earned another investor and mentor in March from the television show “Shark Tank.” FUBU CEO and Shark investor Daymond John invested in BeeSweet Lemonade and gained a stake in the company. John’s partnership includes serving as a mentor to Ulmer and sharing business connections that could benefit the BeeSweet Lemonade brand.
“There is tremendous opportunity for Mikaila Ulmer and BeeSweet Lemonade, especially with partners like Whole Foods Market on her side,” John said. “I love to see young entrepreneurs create thriving businesses and am committed to helping her realize the potential for BeeSweet.”
Ulmer’s lemonade and social entrepreneurship caught the eye of Lynda Berrios, Whole Foods Market’s Texas local forager, in 2014, when Ulmer began partnering with the grocer by hosting pollinator events to educate shoppers on the importance of bees. Still a vital part of BeeSweet Lemonade’s mission, the company donates 10 percent of profits from sales to local and international organizations fighting to protect bees.
“We’ve loved sharing BeeSweet Lemonade’s products and mission with our guests,” Berrios said. “Whole Foods Market is thrilled to play a role in the growth and development of this amazing product through the Local Producer Loan Program. We can’t wait to see what Mikaila does next.”
To apply for a loan through Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan Program, producers must meet the Austin-based grocer’s strict quality standards, use the funds for expansion and have a viable business plan. Loans range from $1,000 to $100,000.
Whole Foods Market has pledged to grant up to $25 million in low-interest loans to small, local producers. To date, the program has funded more than $15 million for more than 200 suppliers.