Successful business leaders often have morning rituals. For Pyure Brands CEO Ben Fleischer, that involves meditation and spending time with his wife, Shannon. On the patio of their charming Naples home near Vanderbilt Beach, which Ben bought in 2015, the Fleischers treat themselves to homemade coconut or almond milk lattes adorned with a leaf design—though sometimes it’s a heart or a smiley face. It’s a habit the twosome embraced early in their relationship. “We’re pretty much coffee nerds,” says Shannon. Ben adds: “Rituals are everything in a relationship. It becomes a bit of a competition [to see] who’s the best barista.”
On weekends, Shannon is likely to make her famous overnight challah French toast topped with Pyure maple-flavored syrup or a dollop of the brand’s hazelnut spread that rivals Nutella in taste but not sugar content. “Sugar is in everything,” says Ben. “It finds little ways to hack into our system.”
That’s why Ben’s company, Pyure Organic Stevia, has spent more than a decade trying to outsmart your sweet tooth by substituting saccharine molecules with stevia. Here’s a quick nutrition lesson: Stevia comes from a South American and Asian shrub that’s part of the sunflower family; the leaves are turned into a fine white powder that is as much as 350 times sweeter than table sugar. A little stevia goes a long way.
Ben started his company in 2008 because he couldn’t find organic, sugar-free alternatives to complement his active lifestyle filled with hitting the slopes on a snowboard. One of his favorite drinks, Red Bull, is chock-full of sugar and calories, and he wanted to find a healthier version. “I was trying to make an energy-type product that was natural; that’s how I taught myself to be a food chemist, working day and night learning formulation skills,” he says. Then, he had an epiphany. “What if I could get this to beverage manufacturers? I can change an industry if I can figure this out. I can help people.” Another big motivator was that the stevia products on the market at the time had a horrible aftertaste, which Ben describes as “bitter and metallic.” Although the existing flavor profile of stevia was not palatable, the concept of utilizing a plant-based sweetener compared to chemicals made sense, so he persevered.
Given his background in grocery distribution and development, Ben was up to the challenge of creating stevia products for wellness-minded people and those with diabetes. To keep himself from too many distractions, he moved from upstate New York to a condo in Naples and kicked into business-launch mode. To learn the ins and outs of stevia, Ben traveled to Colombia for a month, searching for the best tasting version of the plant and to better understand how to extract the sweet part of the compound and ditch the bitter aftertaste. “If it doesn’t taste good, you’ve got nothing,” he notes. “I am a perfectionist in that way. It has to be the best or we won’t launch it.”
His next big hurdle was pitching the product to supermarket chains. “Who is Steve?” one buyer asked, confused by the product’s name. Ben had the last laugh though. Today Pyure Organic is a top seller in the stevia market, and it’s sold everywhere from Walmart to Whole Foods. Its popularity encouraged Ben to expand into a lifestyle brand that includes a line of pantry goods such as sugar-free caramel-flavored syrup and baking mixes.
Yet even as the brand grew—and made it onto the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies for five years straight—Ben realized that his approach to a balanced lifestyle was skewed, as he prioritized hard work over self-care. After spending eight years grinding, he was burnt out. “We built this business from nothing,” he says. “I put everything I had into this. I was still living that healthy, active lifestyle, but what I didn’t go into was mental health, which goes hand in hand. At that point, I was on a path to a heart attack. I wasn’t dealing with stress and anxiety. I didn’t take care of myself. I thought I could conquer anything, and it caught up to me.”
He decided to take a break with a trip in December 2019 that changed the course of his life. In lieu of the adrenaline-pumping adventures he used to go for, Ben opted for a yoga retreat in Nosara, Costa Rica. That is where he met Shannon and realigned his priorities, before the standstill of the quarantine forced many of us to slow down. “I was traveling for four years straight, and staying put was a blessing,” says Ben. “When you find a partner, you’re less emotional with business, and your emotions go toward the partner. That gave me clarity and vision on how to take the brand to the next level.”
Ben and Shannon fell for each other quickly. They got engaged during the early part of the pandemic, and by the beginning of 2021, they’d gotten married and welcomed their baby boy, Maxwell.
Mellow, sunshiny, and ethereal, Shannon balances out Ben’s wheel-spinning energy. She is a certified yoga instructor who excels at guided meditation and taps into deeper healing thanks to her talents playing crystal or Tibetan bowls. She explains that bowls are another form of mediation that can be healing and ground you in the present. “I can play them for Ben after a stressful day and it brings him back to the present,” she says. Ben chimes in: “Mindfulness, for me, is having the ability to tune in introspectively and being able to take that introspection and navigate the space. Your truth is most important.”
Toward the end of the Fleischers’ long pool deck and patio there’s a lounge area, a hydroponic garden for greens, and a yoga space for their daily meditation sessions. Additionally, they do a Vinyasa or power yoga practice together two to three times a week. When not at home, they like the Naples-based studios Yoga House and Yoga Lab.
Inspired by his new family life, Ben recently rebranded Pyure, wanting to make the packaging look more like home, or as he says, “imperfectly perfect.” Feeling more rooted than ever in the Naples community, he is committed to retaining local talent and has partnered with Florida Gulf Coast University’s School of Entrepreneurship to start internship programs that help graduates transition into real-world businesses.
Inside their house, which is walking distance from the beach, the couple’s decor is Zen meets rock and roll. Together, they want to maintain a positive vibe, staying mindful of the people they invite into their world. “I want our home to be celebratory,” Ben concludes. “I want to navigate my space from a place of love.”