Wholesome Sweeteners and Why it Supports Boulder Roubaix and Cycling

By Bill Plock

Recently the Boulder Roubaix announced its title sponsor, the Wholesome Masters Racing Team. In its 30th edition the Boulder Roubiax is a classic race in the backroads of Boulder County. It’s held every other year and according to race director Chris Grealish, “having Wholesome Sweetners AND the masters club involved has taken a lot of pressure off trying to get the race paid for as well as securing knowledgeable volunteers!  Our bill with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department for traffic control is north of $8,000 paid in advance. That’s just one cost.

When asked what is new this year, Chris said, “we’ve added a lap to both the pro 1-2 and Collegiate cat A groups so they do almost 100 miles in the 5 laps”. He added when asked about the every other year format, “We only hold the race every other year in an attempt to preserve the fragile relationship with the 500 homeowners along the race course”.

We then caught up with President and founder of Wholesome Sweeteners and of Wholesome Masters Racing Team, Nigel Willerton to ask as few questions about sponsoring this event and cycling in general.

Why did you decide to be title sponsor the Boulder Roubaix? What do you love about that race?  I love everything about the Boulder Roubaix except it is too short for my age and race category…I first met Chris Grealish when I was introduced by my teammate Mike Barsch. I tried to persuade Chris that the 50/4’s race needed to be as long as the Pro 1,2 3 and then I would definitely sponsor it! Seriously, I ride those great dirt roads between Boulder & Hygiene at least once a week and we are blessed to have them right here on our doorstep. Boulder Roubaix is a true test of tactical thinking, strength, power and bike-handling skills on the dirt and road sections. I have only competed once before back in 2019. I flatted in the final lap in the lead group but fortunately my teammate George went on to win anyway. It has been on my A list ever since and Covid has meant that this edition is the first since then. In any case, Chris does a fabulous job running the event bi-annually so it’s a truly special one-off race. We also both greatly appreciate the local residents and understand the inconvenience such an event can cause. Therefore, one special thing we are doing in 2022 is dropping off a Wholesome Sweeteners goody bag with some product and coupons at every one of the 400 homes that border the course route.

What is your position at Wholesome? I am the founder and President since 2001 when I moved to the USA. The business was acquired in 2021 by Whole Earth Brands but I still run the bulk of the business. Wholesome Sweeteners is the largest importer of organic, natural and fair trade sweeteners in the USA with offices in Sugar Land, TX and Broomfield, CO and distribution points all across the USA. We sell packaged products and bulk ingredients to consumers, retailers and food manufacturers. www.wholesomesweet.com

Nigel winning Colorado State Championship

Why do you love cycling? Why do you love to race and enter grueling events like Haute Route and SBT GRVL? How it enriches your life and helps you focus on your business and family?  I have always cycled since I was a kid growing up in Bristol and then going to University in Liverpool in the UK. It always meant independence and freedom to me. I never raced a bike until I started doing triathlons in my mid-40’s. I fell back in love with cycling at that time with the social network it provided of likeminded people. It is very odd when you think about it. A group of people think a great morning is riding 50 miles on your bike when most other people you meet can’t believe that is even possible and think you are completely bonkers! I guess that reaction is a little different in Sugar Land, Texas where I lived for 15 years versus Boulder, Colorado where it is more the norm and where I have been for the last 5 years. I am a driven person and I guess you also double-down on things you are good at which for me is my very specific business and cycling. My first coach always joked that you can always be a big fish, if you can find a small enough pond. Triathlon was a bit of an odd one as I am a mediocre runner and the world’s worst swimmer but I was often able to make up for those deficiencies on the bike. 

Ultimately, the highlight of my triathlon career wasn’t racing Kona as I had imagined but meeting my wife Triny in the transition zone of a sprint tri in Katy, Texas. ☺

How do you (if you do) see cycling and your business lining up in terms of mission, challenges, outcomes and passion? Wholesome Sweeteners is a mission-driven business built on environmental sustainability through organic sourcing and social responsibility through fair trade certification. In the 15 years since we pioneered fair trade certified sweeteners in the USA with organic sugars, agave & honey we have paid over $25 Million dollars in premiums directly supporting farming communities in Africa, South & Central America and Mexico. 

My work in the most positive sense is just like any game or sport. You are trying to hit goals, deliver results and ultimately win by beating your competition. It’s Fair Trade not Aid and our impact is limited if we are not a successful commercial company maximizing the market for these great products and convincing the consumer as to why they should pay more for them.  

If you are not passionate about something whether it be work or recreation then do not bother doing it frankly is my simple philosophy. That can also have a dark side if you allow that competitiveness to be the be all and end all. A good friend of mine, who ultimately passed following a tragic bike accident once told me that I could be destructively competitive. I always think of Mark whenever I find myself slipping into that mode. I guess I would simply describe success as knowing you tried to be your best in all you did.

For a business to decide how to allocate marketing resources, is ROI a big part of the equation when considering marketing in the cycling community? What does ROI really mean? One thing is for sure is that there is certainly never any R without an I as my Head of Operations tells me on a weekly basis! We market and sell feel good products and want to support events that can do the same. I think bike racing and riding at its best can deliver that sense of fun and community. As regards our specific business, Boulder is not only an epicenter of cycling but the birthplace of significant natural and organic food businesses who use our organic sweetener products as ingredients. Therefore that makes it even more ideal to support an event here and get our brand out into that business community as well as cycling enthusiasts.

How does the cycling team enhance the brand of Wholesome? Tell me about your cycling team, who is on it what races/events you hope to participate at in 2022?  My biggest cycling strength is endurance so the longer and harder the event, the better hence the Haute Route Alps, Leadboat and The Rad in 2021. Highlights for myself and my teammates in 2022 are Unbound, SBT GRVL, the Haute Route Pyrenees and The Rift race in Icelend in July, with good health and god-willing.

As for the team, to me it is about the role of our products in a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, everything often gravitates to the lowest common denominator such as the role of caloric sweeteners (sugar) in the obesity crisis. The ‘war on sugar’ is that easy, simplistic view of believing you can solve such a complex issue by ceasing to consume one product. It is actually a simple equation within reason, calories in, calories out – A lifestyle of moderate consumption of both fresh and processed foods mixed with a healthy level of activity. 

The guys on our team exemplify just how healthy and fit you can still be as you age. Wholesome Masters Racing has Age-Group, State & National race champions throughout the team but most importantly are a fantastic group of human beings. They are role models and therefore extraordinary brand ambassadors for Wholesome

What other cycling/triathlon and endurance imitates and events does Wholesome support? In our home town of Sugar Land, Texas Wholesome supported a number of events including the annual Sugar Kidz Triathlon, encouraging 5-16 years olds participate in a fun athletic event. There was also the annual Bike to Work/School day as well as another Wholesome Racing Team – Sugar Cycles – That was alongside Blue Agave Racing which took it’s name from a Wholesome product and has now flourished into one of the largest teams in the Houston area.

What is the future of Wholesome in general and how it might relate to the endurance community? The company has now entered a new phase of ownership with a publicly traded company but my involvement will continue as will our support of Wholesome Masters Racing. Our desire has always been to expand the brand and product offering beyond sweeteners and we launched scratch-quality baking mixes in 2021. They have been very successful. Could Wholesome Energy products be next? Watch this space!

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