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#36: Growing a Women’s Wellness Brand with Kate Morton of Funk It Wellness

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#36: Growing a Women's Wellness Brand with Kate Morton of Funk It Wellness

When we think of founders who live, breathe, (and eat) their product every single day – Kate Morton is definitely right up there on that list. She’s the founder of Funk It Wellness, a woman-owned menstrual health company based here in Austin, TX.
Kate went to school to become a registered dietitian, and never intended to be an entrepreneur let alone become a marketer for her own business. In this episode, Kate will be sharing wisdom about building her brand from the ground up, the struggles of marketing a menstrual wellness brand, and wearing (and looking good in) many hats along the way.
This episode is loaded with insights for accelerating your brand’s growth. You DEFINITELY don’t want to miss it if you’re in the wellness space, too. Let’s get funky!

Let Us Break It Down For You…

[0:45 – 4:41] Introduction
[4:44 – 6:50] Small Wins lead to big victories
[6:51 – 10:40] Overcoming product development challenges
[10:43 – 15:03] Ways of pushing through obstacles to achieve her goals [15:06 – 17:45] Building and maintaining good business relationships [17:49 – 20:10] Funk It Team
[20:11 – 24:00] Kate’s marketing strategy
[24:05 – 29:35] Favorite thing about UMAI’s Growth Course
[29:39 – 34:24] What marketing channel are you most excited about?
[34:32 – 36:10] Biggest piece of advice for small CPG business owners [36:25 – 37:17] Outro


Mentions from this episode: 

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#36: Growing a Women’s Wellness Brand with Kate Morton of Funk It Wellness

Alison Smith: [0:45]
Okay. Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle where we taught consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Alison and Karin, co-founders of UMAIR Marketing, and we’re being joined today with Kate Morton, founder of Funk It Wellness, a menstrual and women’s health brand, and also a member of our consumer goods growth course. Kate, welcome.
Kate Morton: [1:11]
Thanks for having me. We were just saying I can’t believe it’s been, I think, about two years since the growth course, and I didn’t realize I took it so early on, and I’m really grateful. You guys know how much I love that course, and I tell everyone about it. So yeah, thanks for having me.
Alison Smith: [1:28]
Karin Samelson: [1:30]
You’re our number one hype girl.
Kate Morton: [1:33]
I love it. I tell everyone, because people are like, “I don’t know how to do social. I don’t know how to do email.” I’m like, “Go take this class.” But they’re like, “I don’t want to hire no one.”
And I’m like, “Okay. Then, go take this class and do it yourself.
Alison Smith: [1:40]
I love it. Yeah, so we have a lot to catch up on. It has been a while. For everyone listening, give everyone your background. How’d you start Funk It? How’d you get to where you are?
Kate Morton: [1:53]
Yeah, so I’m a registered dietician. I never intended to be an entrepreneur, start a business, or become a marketing person. I don’t want to call myself an expert at this point. It has only been two years. I’ve got a lot to learn. I got off birth control. I mean, it’s been about five, six years ago now, and I had such a bad experience on birth control. Everyone’s experience is different, and I definitely believe that everyone should do what’s best for them. My body just could not hang. It did not like it. It was so hard for me. I basically had a period for two years, and I was like, “I’ve got to fix this,” so I finally got off birth control, and I was so pumped.
I was like, “This is it. This is my time to shine. Everything’s going to be great,” and everything got so much worse, because I had been on it for 10 years, and so I was like, “Okay. There’s got to be something.” I started talking to my friends, and everyone felt the way I did, but nobody felt like they could talk about it, because they were like, “Periods, birth control. It’s not really something you can talk about, because there’s such a stigma and taboo around it,” so that’s where it really started. Then, I dug in and was like, “Okay. I want to use food to be able to solve this problem, because I don’t want to be putting anything else into my body that’s potentially going to hurt me.” And so that’s kind of how Funk It got started, and our first product was seed cycling, which is still my absolute.
I will seed cycle till I no longer have a period, and that is it. I will never stop. You can’t make me stop, because the second I don’t do it, the next month I feel terrible, and so we’ve got seed cycling. We’ve just released a new food-based vitamin for the menstrual cycle, which is awesome. That took a year to create and 125 tries. It’s naturally food stable. It’s got plant-based vitamin D and calcium. I’m really proud of that product. But then we’ve also got a libido product, which is maca, and then we have a peri-menopause product, which is Revitalize, so we started out with one hero product and now we’ve kind of branched out, because we really want to provide aspects for everybody, not just periods, but all different type at hormonal issues. That’s a long-winded way of how we got started.
Karin Samelson: [4:07]
That’s so awesome. How you built it and where you guys have come in this short amount of time is super exciting, and it’s not just you, right? You have a co-founder as well.
Kate Morton: [4:17]
Yeah. I have a co-founder, and so she’s in Denver, actually, and so it’s really interesting. She’s a graphic designer, and I’m a dietician, so legitimately no business school was involved in the making of this company.
Karin Samelson: [4:31]
Classic. That’s super normal. I mean, I didn’t go to school with marketing. Neither did Alison, so you do what you’re passionate about and what kind of happens. We’d love to know what has been thus far one of your biggest wins?
Kate Morton: [4:50]
Well, there’s one win that we’re not able to talk about yet that I’ll have to share with you guys when it’s live. It’ll be live sometime between November and May maybe.
Karin Samelson: [5:00]
November and May. You’re giving us the longest time period.
Alison Smith: [5:05]
It’s so mysterious. I love it.
Kate Morton: [5:07]
It’s so mysterious, but I think the biggest win, like when I look back, and I guess you don’t know what you don’t know. I look back at all the obstacles we had, launching a brand in a pandemic, I lost my house during the snowstorm, and Funk It was in my house at the time, and the only room that didn’t get damage was the room that Funk It was in. There’s all these little things, and I honestly feel like my biggest win to date is just still being here, like two years in with a business that’s still growing month over month. I was sitting outside our offices on Springdale in East Austin, and I was sitting outside in this big fluffy bean bag today, and the most amazing, beautiful, pregnant woman walked by.
She screamed at me and was like, “I love your products. Do you work there?”
And I was like, “Yeah. I work here. What’s up?” And she was like, “Your company helped me make this baby,” and it was just the coolest experience. Since we’re online, I don’t get too many in-person, cool experiences, and that literally just happened. And she had her Boggy Creek farm bag. She’d been to the farm. She had her big hat on, and she was just so excited to talk about her period and her journey, and so I think honestly the biggest win is just still being here, being able to help people with their periods.
Alison Smith: [6:29
That is insane. I love that happened today.
Kate Morton: [6:32]
It just happened today. It’s like, “Perfect timing.”
Alison Smith: [6:33]
So you’re like, “What a great moment.”
Kate Morton: [6:35]
It was so cool. I’ve been riding that wave all day.
Alison Smith: [6:38]
Oh my gosh. That’s amazing. I love that you’re a dietician, so it’s really important for you to provide medicine through actual food. Tell us more about your experience of developing your product and any challenges that you had to overcome.
Kate Morton: [7:01]
Yeah. Seed cycling’s been around a long time, so I definitely did not invent seed cycling. I just took my own spin on it. That’s something that I was really passionate about, and nobody was selling high quality organic or B-Corp certified farms from the US or Europe seeds that were already pre-ground, and that took us a long time to figure out how to do because seeds are very volatile. When you’re buying seeds at the grocery store, you know how they come in clear packaging? They shouldn’t. The light kills the nutrients in them.
And so I never thought I would know this much about seeds in my life, but I know a lot about seeds now. I think the biggest challenge in the beginning with developing these products is, while I didn’t invent the idea of seed cycling, I wanted to make it convenient, effective, and transparent. And so that was something that wasn’t already on the market, and that took forever. It took a whole year just to figure out how to grind the seeds in a way. We have a proprietary process now where we process them, keep them super fresh, do not mess with the nutrients, and we get them to the customer within four to six weeks, and so that was tricky. I had never owned a business before, especially in food, so I called 300 co-packers.
Alison Smith: [8:14]
Karin Samelson: [8:16]
I didn’t even know there were 300 co-packers.
Kate Morton: [8:19]
Oh, there’s a lot. I mean, I would just find these co-packer lists online, and just call and call and call. Even if they weren’t related to me at all, I would just call them, and so that was a huge challenge. Then, actually Morgan, our all-mutual friend ended up introducing to me my current co-packer, so it ended up being through a friend where I found a co-packer. It wasn’t even any of those 300 calls.
Alison Smith: [8:43]
Wait, so were the other 300, they were saying no, or they just weren’t the right fit for you?
Kate Morton: [8:48]
Some weren’t in business anymore. Some were not the right fit for me. Some just said, “No. You’ve got no experience with this business. We don’t take on small…” MOQs was a big one, like Minimum Order Quantities. I was like, “I just need to order 100 seed cycling kits,” because I was making it in my kitchen when I first started, and then I started to outgrow that really quickly. I needed a manufacturer, and so they ran the gamut of reasons why they didn’t want to work with me, but man, they all had some reason they didn’t want to.
It’s crazy, because now we have four manufacturers, and it’s awesome and so much easier. But I had to get my foot in the door with the product development, and then with our newest product, there’s nothing else like it on the market. 100 percent food-based vitamin that’s shelf stable and specifically for the menstrual cycle. That, there’s a reason there’s not any on the market, and we ran into pretty much every obstacle we could find, but I learned a lot about food development from our partner who helps us with that. I mean, I flew out to Colorado so many times in the past year, just to be in the lab and help with it myself, because I’m a little bit of a control freak, so I felt like I needed to be there, much to probably their annoyment. But we’re all good now, so all friends, so it worked out.
Karin Samelson: [10:09]
I need these cycle bites. I will be purchasing them later, because I need the ease of just having it ready in my mouth. Obviously, you knew that, because that’s why you made it, and I am so excited to get them. But another thing I wanted to bring up on the challenge front really quick is in the sexual wellness space, and I feel like we do talk to some brands, and we haven’t ever actually, us as an agency, marketed one just yet. Can you talk a little bit about those obstacles and what you’re doing, any tips for brands that are coming up with the same obstacles?
Kate Morton: [10:48]
Man, it’s really hard. Because we are a period care company, and so you wouldn’t think that menstruation, you wouldn’t think sexual wellness in general would be shielded. Look at the movies, look what you see on Netflix, look what you see everywhere. We’re okay with it in every other aspect, but we’re not okay with trying to actually give people good products, and so even period care, we get flagged on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and every social platform. Probably at least once a week, we have something taken down or flagged, our ads are removed, or whatever it is.
And so it’s really crazy. I know you guys went through the whole battle with me on my Instagram store. I just emailed Instagram, I think, 100. Not 100. That’s an exaggeration. That one is a hyperbole, but a lot of times, and so I think that is really challenging, because they don’t want to show your ads to people. They don’t want to help show your profiles to people. Being shadow banned is a real thing. Sometimes your content sucks. Sometimes you’re shadow band. Who knows. But it’s one of those things where, I don’t know, it’s really hard. A lot of our videos will get that weird censored over it, and you’ll click on it, and it’s literally just someone talking about their period.
Alison Smith: [12:06]
Yeah. I mean, that’s just not right. Facebook even talks about what their policies are, and they say, “You can say vagina, and you can talk about sexual wellness.”
Kate Morton: [12:19]
Can you, Facebook? Can you?
Alison Smith: [12:22]
Exactly. You see all the time that things get flagged for literally those things, and then you see products that are being marketed organically and paid that aren’t great products.
Kate Morton: [12:36]
Well, also men’s products are way less likely to get flagged. They’re way less likely to get flagged, like erectile dysfunction products and anything in that realm. I’ve seen them on Facebook so many times, and there was actually, I think it was the beginning of this year, I forget who it was, but a reproductive justice group, they really put together this massive survey for sexual wellness brands and were like, “What’s getting flagged? Can you show us examples? Can you send us in screenshots?” So it was a long survey, but I know that I did it and a bunch of my friends in this space did it, and they actually went to Facebook, I’m pretty sure, and we’re like, “This is actually what you’re doing. You say you’re not doing it, but you are.”
Alison Smith: [13:20]
Yeah. That’s great. It’s kind of the pink tax thing but happening on meta. Ugh, that’s so frustrating.
Kate Morton: [13:28]
That makes me so mad. I’m giving a TED Talk next week, and the pink tax is in there. I’ve been trying really hard to find the numbers of how much money Texas makes off the pink tax, but of course they make it really difficult, but it’s somewhere around $20 million a year.
Karin Samelson: [13:48]
Pink tax. I mean, short from just reaching out to support, I think that’s definitely one of the main things you’ve got to do, but just even language on your videos, language that you use, it’s just so specific.
Kate Morton: [14:03]
And I think it’s really tricky, because when we talk about language, one of the big things we’re trying to do is use medically accurate education, but then on TikTok, when I have to spell period different, spell vagina different, or spell sex different, that’s not teaching the next generation the medically accurate terms for our bodies. There’s a lot of research that those pet names and things like that are actually what cause a lot of confusion later in life, especially when it comes to sexual experiences, so I don’t know. It’s hard, because on TikTok, you know have to get around it. I understand to a point, but I also am like, “These are biological terms.”
Alison Smith: [14:45]
Well, something I do think that you really excel with is relationship building, and I know that’s a big part of your process of taking this brand from 0 to a 100 in two years or so, so would love to hear how you go about developing these relationships. I’m laughing, because I’m just imagining you calling 300 co-packers, and just calling anyone on the phone to make a relationship, but would love to hear how you make relationships and how that’s affected your business.
Kate Morton: [15:25]
I think something that we’ve really honed in on is working with people who have the same values as us. It’s not something we’ve always, in the beginning, done, but I think that’s something that as we’ve gotten more into it, having the same values of inclusivity, authenticity, transparency, medically-accurate education, so that’s how we filter a lot of our relationships. Honestly, I know social media gets a really bad rap, but I do think it can be a really cool place to meet people. I’ve got so many friends, especially we launched in the middle of the pandemic, where in-person just wasn’t an option.
It wasn’t a thing anymore, and so I made a lot of actual real friends through Instagram and TikTok while I was building Funk It. But I think the biggest thing that brands get wrong and nobody’s perfect, we’re not perfect either, but is that it is a relationship. Say, if you’re working with influencers or whatever it is, we’ve just really tried to now work with people that we enjoy working with. Do we talking to them? Do they talking to us? Do we actually want to be friends and interact with our content? And I think people are so special, and I think that’s such a big part of business. I think it’s a part that’s missed a lot.
What’s your relationship with your customer? I still do all the customer service, and that’s on purpose. It’s because I want to be able to connect and know exactly what’s going on in my business. I know that’s something I’m going to need to let go eventually, probably in the near future, but I want to have a relationship with my customers, my suppliers, my co-packers, my manufacturer. I want to actually know the people I’m doing business with and who are doing business with me, and I think it’s actually probably one of my favorite parts of my job, is the relationship part. I’m getting better at talking to people in person again. I feel like I got kind of awkward for a while.
Alison Smith: [17:18]
We all did.
Kate Morton: [17:22]
I forgot how to do it, but I don’t know. I’m really grateful for everyone I’ve met through this aspect, and business is really challenging, and it can be really, honestly, just horrible sometimes. I don’t think people talk about that enough, like having your own business is not always rainbows and butterflies, but when you like the people you work with and you enjoy the people who are supporting your brand, and they can connect with you, I think it makes it a little bit easier.
Karin Samelson: [17:46]
And you’ve been building a little bit of a team, right? Who’s on your team?
Kate Morton: [17:51]
Our team is ever changing, because our business is ever changing. I do all of the marketing right now that you see, and then a lot of other random things. Then, we’ve got Claire, who’s in Denver, and she does all of the brand, and she just got a really good eye when it comes to brand and making decisions. I’m someone who wants to throw everything at the wall and try everything, and she’s a really good north star of, “That’s not on brand for us. I don’t like it because of this, this, and this,” or “I do like it because of this, this, and this.” So she’s our brand director and our north star when it comes to anything like that. Then, we also have two amazing part-time social media gals. They are just so fun. They’re in college, so they definitely keep us young, which is good, and keep talking to us about all the cool Gen Z things, which is always nice. We all have BeReal now as a team.
Karin Samelson: [18:51]
No. That’s so funny. Wait, how did you find them? How would you recommend people find help like that?
Kate Morton: [18:57]
I know. I think we’ve gotten really lucky with all of our interns, so I don’t know if it’s the same, but we found them on LinkedIn. Apparently, the college kids are on LinkedIn.
Alison Smith: [19:10]
Like, job posting on LinkedIn, or did you reach out?
Kate Morton: [19:13]
I job posted, and we had 150 applications.
Alison Smith: [19:17]
Oh, girl.
Kate Morton: [19:18]
Which was crazy.
Alison Smith: [19:19]
I think step one, have a really cool brand that people want to work for.
Kate Morton: [19:25]
Maybe. I hope they love working here. They do all of our content. Specifically, TikTok is definitely more their domain, and then we’re finding a new cadence with organic social, because that’s the majority of what we do. Then, we’ve got an awesome fulfillment team here in Austin, and I don’t know, but they’re in here most of the time in our Austin office with me. It’s great too, because we’re two full-time and four part-time, and so it’s one of those things where everyone’s going to wear a lot of different hats, but I do feel like everyone we’ve got on the team right now is just very awesome, and they live into all of our core values, and they also really care about menstrual health.
Alison Smith: [20:08]
That’s awesome. Congratulations.
Kate Morton: [20:10]
Alison Smith: [20:11]
So let’s get into marketing a bit. You’re running all the marketing or most of the marketing. What has been the biggest piece of your success? What lever? Where are you putting your focus?
Kate Morton: [20:27]
I would say, surprisingly enough, you guys are going to laugh at this, because I hated it so much in the beginning. Email is great for us. We’ve got over 65% open rates. Our email list is bulked up a lot. I feel like it’s a really great way to connect with our customers, and we actually don’t send very many promo emails. We mostly send educational emails to teach people, because that’s important to us. Email is a great lever for us.
Paid social is always just going to be interesting for us with the type of brand we are, but we’re actually in a really good place for our paid social, and we have all profitable paid social now, which is a big win. That’s very recent, so fingers crossed Facebook doesn’t update anytime soon, and decide to change it. But I really think where we shine is organic social media, is just what we love. As a team, we all love it, and we’re learning. I feel like we had Instagram figured out, and then they decided to, I don’t know what’s going on, and so we’re definitely selling that.
But I think we all have fun, and I also really like it, because that’s where I feel like I get to connect with people the most, is on social. I don’t know. All the levers are pretty good, but I would definitely say my favorite, most fun one, would be the organic social. Then, the email is the most, we’re really good, and we’ve got a really good plan. Then, the paid is, I don’t actually do the pay. We have an advisor who helps us with that, but I feel like it’s finally in a good place, but we usually just use our organic social as our paid, like whatever does well there, and then we turn it into an ad.
Alison Smith: [22:10]
That’s awesome to hear, so all three levers are functioning, and it sounds like it’s doing well, and I just remember-
Kate Morton: [22:17]
They could always be better. They could always be better. They could always be better, but they’re good.
Alison Smith: [22:19]
You always got to iterate and all that jazz it. It’s nonstop, but I remember the first time you launched ads, and you immediately got sales too, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh. It’s working.”
It was like, “Heck yeah.”
Kate Morton: [22:38]
That’s crazy.
Alison Smith: [22:38]
That was two years ago. Yeah.
Kate Morton: [22:41]
Yeah, and it’s so funny looking back too. I’ve learned so much, and there’s so much more to learn, but I just think marketing’s one of those things you could spend your whole life learning it, and you’d never know everything because it changes every single day.
Alison Smith: [22:54]
Yeah. It doesn’t get old.
Kate Morton: [22:55]
Karin Samelson: [22:55]
Yeah. It definitely doesn’t get old. It’s just something that’s, someone brought it up today. They were just like, “You feel like you know what you’re doing, and then tomorrow something changes, and you’re like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,'” and I totally feel you with how Instagram is being a little crazy right now.
Kate Morton: [23:09]
Karin Samelson: [23:11]
And it’s driving me nuts.
Alison Smith: [23:14]
I mean, paid has also gone a little crazy lately too.
Kate Morton: [23:19]
It’s just insane. I’m like, “Instagram, just do what you’re good at.”
Alison Smith: [23:24]
Meta, come on. Mark Zuckerberg, get it together.
Kate Morton: [23:28]
People, you don’t have to be TikTok. You can be your own thing, and Instagram is still our most profitable channel. It’s still, I don’t know. I worry Instagram’s going to get a little off brand for them. Don’t be the next MySpace.
Karin Samelson: [23:46]
I know, but I really do feel like they’re taking some time to really look within. They’re going to business therapy, hopefully.
Kate Morton: [24:00]
Karin Samelson: [24:02]
To figure out what they need to do, but it’ll turn around. I’m very confident in that. So let’s move into little growth course talk. We love having you part of the community and, like we said at the beginning, you are our number one hype girl, and we are so appreciative all the people that you’ve told about it, but what was in particular one of your favorite things about the course?
Kate Morton: [24:25]
What I really liked about it was, I like the different modules. Each week is a different thing, and you’re going to learn about it, and then you can come to office hours, dig in, and figure it out. I think, for me, it’s like if you have an eCommerce business, and I know that we talked about this in the very beginning, but it’s one of those things that, even if you are not going to be doing the marketing, you’ve got to know what’s going on.
Because I remember, before I took the growth course, I had tried to hire some people on Fiver and different places, and I’m sure they’re great at their job, but I didn’t know enough to be able to even ask for what I needed. I think it’s anything in life, like to be able to advocate, do well, and really succeed, you’ve got to have a baseline understanding of what you’re talking about. I think that’s why I love the growth course, was I could spend one week learning about organic social, one week learning about emails. Klaviyo is one of those things that it took us a year to really even just be able to figure it out. They just updated it, and it’s way better.
Alison Smith: [25:33]
Oh, I know.
Kate Morton: [25:34]
10 out 10 for the Klaviyo update. That’s what I liked about it. It was digestible, and you could go back and watch it again. You could go back and read it, and then you could ask questions, because I don’t think you can learn about marketing by just reading a blog. You need to be doing it in practice, so taking the homework, being able to do it in practice was huge for me.
Alison Smith: [25:59]
Totally, so you feel you have a baseline understanding that, when you have interns or hire people, you’re able to guide them or be a part of the conversation at the very least, right?
Kate Morton: [26:13]
Yeah, and I think that’s it. We know what to look for. I think sometimes people are like, “Oh. I hired an intern. They didn’t do anything.” I’m like, “Well, I mean…”
Alison Smith: [26:25]
They’re interns.
Kate Morton: [26:28]
“Come on. They’re learning. Did you teach them? Do you know what you’re doing? They are not going to…” I don’t know. I think it’s one of those things that, if you’re expecting someone on your team to do it, you don’t have to be an expert at it, but if they’re entry level, you better understand that they’re going to need help, and you’re going to be able to, on some level, have to provide that.
Alison Smith: [26:49]
Yeah. That’s so frustrating when people bring on interns who are there to really learn. It’s a two-way relationship. They’re really there to learn from you or from your team, and you have to provide that. I mean, you probably have awesome Gen Z interns who could teach us a thing or two about TikTok, but it’s definitely a two-way relationship there.
Kate Morton: [27:15]
And I think the other thing is I’ve definitely made that mistake. I’ve been that person that just expected the person I hired to know everything. Then, I think back to times when I first got hired for jobs, and I was like, “Why do they think I should know all of this stuff? I just started.” And so I think that’s why it was helpful for me, and I also think social can be fun, and you can do it in your way. You can have inspo brands that you look at, but it’s like, what resonates with your audience and your consumer? Is it being on stories more? Is it doing more reels? Is it being on TikTok and Pinterest and Instagram? And so we’ve been a little lax on Instagram lately. We’ve got to get back on our game.
Karin Samelson: [27:57]
It’s okay now. Right now, they can wait it out.
Kate Morton: [28:00]
That’s my thing, is I’m like, “I don’t want to put time into this right now if you’re not even going to show it to anybody.”
Karin Samelson: [28:08]
Check back in a week. Let’s update some stuff.
Kate Morton: [28:10]
Yes. But yeah, I think that’s what I liked about it, is I feel like I didn’t know anything about marketing, and I also think in my experience, people over complicate things. Nobody wants to even try or get started, because it seems so intimidating, and I felt that way. I was like, “Well, I don’t know how to make an ad, or I don’t even know how to structure an email or do any of these things,” and that course helped me learn a lot about it.
Alison Smith: [28:42]
That’s great, and now you’re just a marketing guru. I love it.
Kate Morton: [28:46]
I’m trying. I was laughing. I was talking to my business coach the other day, and I was like, “I just don’t feel like I have a marketing plan.” And she was like, “What do you mean? Yes, you do.” She’s like, “It’s just all in your head, and you haven’t written it down, so you need to write it down,” and just slowing down and remembering, I don’t know. I think when you have a small team, a small company, it can be tough. I think having some practices to refer back to, or I love the content calendar. That’s a thing that we’ve used from the growth course. We still use that content counter. We just import it into a sauna, and so we still use that same content calendar and the same content buckets that we made two years ago, so I just think that, I don’t know, I could talk about the growth course all day. 10 out 10 fan.
Alison Smith: [29:35]
Yeah. Bring it back to the foundations. I love that. What marketing channel are you most excited about that is going to help Funk It just be shared with the masses?
Kate Morton: [29:52]
I am really excited about all of them right now, because I think they all have a chance to make a really big comeback. I love Pinterest. Pinterest is one that we dabble in quite a bit these days. Not a super profitable channel, but we’re an education brand, so I think it makes sense for us. I love TikTok, and I think that it’s a place to be less polished and more funny, and I would say Instagram’s definitely the more polished version.
I do a lot of the Instagram content, because I’m not Gen Z. I feel like I love Gen Z’s rawness, and so I think that’s why I love TikTok so much, is I love getting on there. I feel like it’s really real, and you can show your brand personality. Then, also you can make TikTok in two seconds. They’re so easy, and you never know what’s going to do well or resonate with people, and so I think that’s really fun. I really BeReal, but I don’t know. I kind of hope it doesn’t get monetized. I like it as just a purely social media for me.
Alison Smith: [31:06]
Kate Morton: [31:08]
I hope BeReal doesn’t get monetized, because it’s really fun. I’m sure it will. They raised $30 million, so I’m sure they’re going to monetize. They’ve got to monetize.
Alison Smith: [31:15]
I love what you said about TikToks taking two seconds, because that is something personally, for our own TikTok, I really had to get over. I would literally spend hours creating.
Kate Morton: [31:26]
It’s hard.
Alison Smith: [31:29]
Like, the best video, I thought, so educational hours. I’d post it, and it would be nothing. Then, when you just go on there and see a trending audio, and you just film your face up close and add some copy, it takes off. TikTok is not a channel to overthink, I would say.
Kate Morton: [31:49]
No, and I do think Instagram is a channel you have to overthink. Reals are more curated, more perfect, and so then sometimes I’ll go to make a real, and I’m like, “Oh. It didn’t do well,” and I’m like, “Well, I didn’t put any effort into it.” I don’t know though. Sometimes we’ll repurpose TikTok, Instagram, like we’ll interchange them, and I’ll find if it doesn’t do well on one platform, it probably is going to do well on the other one.
Alison Smith: [32:17]
Oh. You see the opposite?
Kate Morton: [32:18]
I see the opposite thing blow up.
Alison Smith: [32:20]
Kate Morton: [32:21]
I think it’s our two audiences too. They’re very different.
Karin Samelson: [32:25]
Yeah, pretty different. I think that’s something really important to know, because I feel like we’re just shitting all over Instagram because it’s really easy to do sometimes, is that you did mention it’s still your most profitable channel.
Kate Morton: [32:38]
Oh. That’s the thing, is I complain about Instagram all day long, but it’s like that annoying sibling that is also super valuable. They’re just annoying you, and so I think that it’s like, I love Instagram, and I don’t want to abandon Instagram. I also love working with different brands on Instagram. That’s something that I really enjoy, is brand partnerships.
That’s a whole other, and you guys go over that in the growth course too, like brand partnerships are a whole other thing, because for us it’s like, “Okay. Do we want to partner with people who are complimentary? Do we want to partner with someone who’s almost the exact same as us and just see what happens?” It’s interesting with the strategy of that side, but I think it’s a good place to connect with other brands too. TikTok is harder to connect. TikTok is not as connected.
Alison Smith: [33:33]
Yeah. Instagram is community. TikTok is views. I think someone just told me that today.
Kate Morton: [33:41]
Yeah. I feel like TikTok is, get as many eyes on it as possible, and Instagram’s like, you might not get as many eyes on it, but are they the right eyes? Honestly, most of the time, yes.
Karin Samelson: [33:51]
Yeah. When everything’s working properly, yeah.
Kate Morton: [33:54]
I know. I was just looking. I was like, “I have some notifications on Instagram. What’s going on?”
Karin Samelson: [33:59]
Ooh, exciting.
Kate Morton: [34:02]
I probably shouldn’t have the notifications. I’ve got my Shopify notifications on. I’ve got Instagram, TikTok.
Karin Samelson: [34:06]
Oh my gosh.
Alison Smith: [34:08]
Well, those are fun, the dings. Love the dings.
Karin Samelson: [34:09]
Ooh, you wild. You have all those notifications?
Kate Morton: [34:11]
But I don’t have email on my phone.
Alison Smith: [34:14]
Kate Morton: [34:15]
I refuse.
Karin Samelson: [34:18]
Alison Smith: [34:18]
I like it.
Kate Morton: [34:18]
I just compulsively check it in my browser.
Karin Samelson: [34:24]
Yeah. That checks out. Kate, thank you so much for your time. We want to leave this right before we sign off. What would be your biggest piece of advice for other small CPG business owners who may be listening in?
Kate Morton: [34:42]
Yeah. If you’re listening, I would really lean into social media. I still see a lot of people who are really hesitant, and it’s scary. Putting yourself out there, and it’s something you have to make a decision about, but I do think putting yourself out there, if you’re a small business, people want to connect with you. That was really hard for me for a long time. I was like, “I don’t want to be in any of the content. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do that.”
For me, it was really ego and fear getting in the way. Then, I started putting myself out there, and then people could connect more with me and the brand, and then I felt more connected to my customer. I know it’s scary. You might be like, “I’m not a video person. I’m not like a camera person.” I was not either. You should see, and I’m no expert now, but you should see some of the first pieces of content we put out compared to now.
You can do it. You can connect with your customers, and it’s free. Organic social, it’s free. It takes your time, but I guarantee, in the beginning I had more time than I had money. That’s why I will die on the hill that organic social media is not dead. It is alive and thriving. 15 percent of our revenue comes from organic social, and that’s free, and it’s probably more than that. That’s just exactly what I can track through Shopify.
Karin Samelson: [36:04]
I love that. What did you just say? I didn’t have a lot of money, but I had time?
Alison Smith: [36:10]
I had more time than money.
Kate Morton: [36:12]
I had more time than money, and so organic social is time.
Karin Samelson: [36:16]
Kate Morton: [36:17]
Not money.
Karin Samelson: [36:18]
Love it.
Kate Morton: [36:19]
Yeah. That’s it.
Alison Smith: [36:21]
Yeah. I love that end statement. Well, Kate, tell everyone how they can get ahold of you, where they can find Funk It. Yeah.
Kate Morton: [36:31]
Yeah, so is our website. You can go check it out. Our Instagram is Our Pinterest, TikTok, and Twitter are just funkitwellness. I actually own the other FunkIt Wellness domain, but I made it when I lived in New Zealand, and I got locked out of it, so I own both of them. I can’t get into the other one, and now all of our friends are on this other domain, so we’re going to keep it. But that’s where you can find us, and I’m based in Austin. If you’re listening, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh. I’m coming off of birth controller. I’ve got a terrible period,” or “I don’t know anything about my period, but I’d want to,” just reach out. Come by the office, come hang out. We love to talk.
Alison Smith: [37:15]
Awesome. Thank you, Kate, so much.
Kate Morton: [37:17]
Thank you guys for having me.
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind-the-scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, Catch you back here soon.
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#35: How Steady Growth Created a Better CPG Business with April King

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#35: How Steady Growth Created a Better CPG Business with April King

April King, founder of Better Than Provisions, joins Alison and Karin to discuss her journey of building her own keto-friendly, grain-free granola brand.

From farmers’ market roots to an all-grown-up re-brand, April shares her biggest wins, advice she has for other founders, and how taking the Consumer Goods Growth Course has given her the confidence to show up on social for her community.

Listen in to discover how April’s motto to be “better than”, paired with small steps and small actions, led to long-term growth.

Let Us Break It Down For You…

[0:46 – 5:17] Introduction
[5:18 – 11:44] The leap of faith that took her brand from a hobby to a real business
[11:49 – 20:11] April’s grassroots approach for steady growth
[20:13 – 25:30] How April connects to her audience to better share her brand’s mission
[25:32 – 30:50] What keeps April driven
[31:03 – 32:46] Looking forward for Better Than Provisions
[32:47 – 35:30] Using community & continued education to build her brand
[35:34 – 41:30] How April uses the Consumer Goods Growth Course to build her strategy & marketing knowledge
[41:34 – 44:11] Closing remarks


Mentions from this episode: 

Learn more and Join there mailing list –

  • Check out their grain-free granola, here
  • Instagram, here
  • Facebook, here
  • Use code UMAI20 and get 20% discount off to your entire order

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#35: How Steady Growth Created a Better CPG Business with April King

Karin Samelson: [0:46]
Welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we taught consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison co-founders of Umai Marketing, and we’re being joined by April King, founder of Better Than Provisions and also a member of our Consumer Goods Growth Course. Thanks for joining us, April.
April King: [1:06]
Aw, thanks for having me guys. It’s good to be here.
Karin Samelson: [1:09]
We’re so excited. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to April off and on for the past few months, and it’s always a pleasure. So to start with our listeners, can you give a little bit of a background of yourself?
April King: [1:23]
Absolutely. I won’t tell the whole long story, but I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version, but yes, I am the co-founder of Better Than Provisions and we are a packaged food company dedicated to making nutrient packed, delicious snacks that people can enjoy guilt free, no matter what their dietary lifestyle. We make three fun and unique flavors of a five nut grain free granola that is keto friendly, vegan friendly, low carb, gluten free and made without added sugar.
And we got our start because of my history in wellness, and it really started with personal health challenges that I had. And I’ve had definitely some hurdles I’ve had to get through. And as a path for healing, I chose the holistic wellness scene and natural health. And through that I realized I was super passionate about it. It was something that really held my attention and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
So I went on to become a health coach and then eventually a holistic nutritionist. And I was at a point where I was in one of my healing, I don’t want to say crisises, one of my healing processes. And in that process I was looking for, I was traveling, which is really hard to be sick and traveling. And I was looking for a better than snack that fit all my dietary limitations at the time. And that I knew was going to be good for me. And that was portable.
And I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t made with a bunch of extra crap like added sugar or filler ingredients. And so I decided to create one and I found a base recipe from a friend, and then I just built on that and started sharing it with friends and family and getting a lot of really positive feedback, realized that a lot of people struggled with the same thing that I was going through, that a lot of folks were having a hard time finding things that fit their dietary style that were healthy, but that also tasted good.
And so that was when it dawned on me like, “Oh, I could help people with what I’ve made here.” And Earl and I, Earl my husband, in 2018, that’s when we started Better Than Provisions. And literally started in our kitchen at home and sold at one farmer’s market. And now we are in… We’re still in the farmer’s market scene. We still love our direct to consumer relationships and selling direct in our local community here in Tucson, but we’ve expanded to wholesale, moreso specialty stores, a lot of them are in Arizona on several throughout the country. And then we added a website. So we sell via e-commerce on our website. And then we recently launched on Amazon.
So that’s our biggest, new thing, new exciting thing. That’s just a little bit about us. We’re still a very small team. We’re a team of three right now looking to add one more person to help in the kitchen soon.
Alison Smith: [4:57]
But I love your story. And especially how it’s a pain point that you were personally dealing with. So you were just trying to soothe yourself and then quickly realize you had something great and other people were also dealing with the same thing.
So I would kind of love for you to expand more about how you and Earl really made that leap of faith like, “Okay, this is no longer a hobby or something we make for ourselves. We need to take this to the masses?”
April King: [5:35]
I wish he was here to help me tell this part of the story because it’s very cute the way he tells it. So Earl is the financial mind. He’s the financial genius behind all of this. And by the point we launched our business, I had been making it for two years. So we had been making it for ourselves. Just the base, the cinnamon vanilla flavor was our flagship product. It was the original recipe. We call it the OG. And that was all I had been making up until the point we started the business, but there was two years in there and I was like, I loved it so much. I loved gifting it. So I would make it and I would give it to my coworkers around the holidays and birthdays and I would make it for my family.
And I was saying, yeah, well, I mean, we were getting a lot of really great feedback and everybody was telling us, “Oh yeah, you guys could sell this product.” And I said that to Earl. I’m like, “Do you think we should try to sell it?” And he’s like, “Well,” and then what I had said before is he was like, “How much is it costing us to make it and keep giving it away?”
So basically what happened is he ran the numbers and realized, he went and did all this research, walked the aisles of the stores, looking at other people’s products and comparing prices, and then adding up what we were paying for our ingredients. And he came to me one day and he’s like, “April, I think we could try this.”
So we literally talked to a friend of ours at the farmer’s market who had a booth and she said, “Yep, you can come share my space and I’ll give you enough to put a table in with your product.” So we’re like, “Okay, well, let’s try to figure this out.” So we have the cottage food law here in Arizona. So you can actually make a product, a baked product like ours, that doesn’t contain anything like dairy or egg or anything like that you can do from home and actually sell it within the state. 
So we got that sorted out and we went on Amazon and bought these craft bags. And Earl went on Avery and designed a label and we printed some labels and slapped them on some bags and filled them up and went to the farmer’s market to test or validate our theory. And people loved it.
And within a month, we had our own space at this one farmer’s market. And then that was September, late September, of 2018. And by, I think it was by the following January or February, we launched a website and we were super DIY. It was just like, “Let’s just go try this thing.” We knew nothing about… Well, not true. I worked for natural grocers and I worked for Wheatsville when I lived in Austin. So I had some grocery background. I knew the ins and outs of some of it, but not a lot of it. But if you’d asked me as a nutritionist five years before that, or even two years before that, if I would’ve been developing and making a product, I would’ve been, “Oh, I’m not that great at cooking. Baking, isn’t my thing.” And turns out it is.
And we were able to sell the original flavor. And then by the end of October, we had developed the pumpkin spice flavor. And then I think early the following year is when we launched the cacao cayenne flavor. But yeah, it was all, we just jumped in. We knew nothing.
Karin Samelson: [9:23]
I love that within a month you’re like, “Okay, we’re going to sell at the farmer’s market. We’re going to share booth.” And then within a month you’re like, “Oh, this is working. Let’s scale. Let’s have our own booth.”
April King: [9:35]
Karin Samelson: [9:36]
Super exciting. And it’s always nice to know that something you’ve been working on for so long other people like it, not just your friends and family who have to tell you they like it.
April King: [9:49]
Right. To get the outside validation was really helpful. And I think it’s really good for brands to be able to do that in some way. I think a farmer’s market is a great platform for that. To really start to get feedback from the public on whether or not your idea or your product has got some validity, will people buy it? And people were buying it at $15 a bag in a craft bag with a handmade label. And we were like, “Wow, this is really cool.”
And we didn’t know what we didn’t know. And I’m going to be honest. It was probably a good thing we didn’t know what we didn’t know because as we started to grow and expand that, it’s funny because there’s sometimes I say, If anybody ever calls my business cute again, that’s it.” Do not call it cute.
But now that I think back to where we were, it was so cute. It was so cute. And my family too, it took them a while to really get on board and believe that what we were doing was something real. And I think that’s maybe a question in the mind of many people going down this path, what are people going to think? Is this really a legitimate thing? To date, seeing where we came from to where we are now, I would say, yeah, it always has been, it just looks different now.
Karin Samelson: [11:29]
From craft bag to that beautiful bag behind you. If anybody can’t see this, you have to go to YouTube or our website to see the actual video. But the branding is so beautiful and a true testament of growth.
But we talked about all these amazing things happening and we love to hear it, but to get really real, what’s one of the biggest challenges that you guys have come up against?
April King: [11:58]
Yeah. In thinking about that particular question, I would say that I kind of slotted money funding as one of those areas. We are completely… Until last year when we ran a campaign through Kiva, a fundraising campaign through Kiva, we were completely and totally self-funded. So we had put in only our own money. And then we did this crowdfunding thing with Kiva and we borrowed essentially $10,000.
But outside of that, we haven’t taken any money from any outside investors or we or grants or anything. We’re in the process now of applying for some grants and the pitch competition, but it’s always money or time really. It’s like where we’re doing all of the work too, but yeah, just being self-funded although, and it made things move slower. I don’t think it was a bad thing. I just think it was a challenge in the way that we didn’t scale as fast as some other brands who have backing might.
And I think that either way is totally valid. You could go either direction and create a successful business. We just took the slower path and the more sort of grassroots path. And that’s been… And we also, it’s my husband and I, we’re partners in life, we’re partners in business. And they say one of the things that can destroy you are money conversations in a couple, for example. And so we’re having personal money conversations, we’re having business money conversations, and it’s all our money.
So I think that’s a big challenge. And I think the other one that stands out to me is perfectionism. I really like things to be just so. I have a fine eye for detail, and it’s both a blessing and a curse, especially with the project, with the packaging, recreating the brand and designing the packaging. It took a while to get to what you see now as our brand. And when we were about to send that first order for packaging into the printer, it was like, “Oh, can you just move this up a millimeter?”
Alison Smith: [14:39]
Were they like, “No?”
April King: [14:42]
Our designer was amazing.
Alison Smith: [14:44]
Oh, good.
April King: [14:46]
So Christopher McLaughlin of Tenfold, he is a dream he’s so patient and so kind and so talented. The design that we have now was one of three options he gave us and they were all so good. It was really hard to decide, but we knew we really wanted to stand away from the rest. We wanted to have a different look and feel. We wanted it to be fun and comfortable yet still premium. And we didn’t want to look like health food. So that’s how we ended up there.
But yeah, we work with Sari Kimble, you guys know Sari, we’ve been working with her for two years and she was the one who started us down the path of the rebranding and connecting us with the right resources to learn about how to get on Amazon. And she is amazing. And one of the things I love about her is that she always talks about doing B- work.
It’s better to do the B- work and get it out in the world and then fix it and tweak it as you go, which is kind of what we did in the beginning. In the beginning, we were like, “Oh, so excited. We just need to get this out in the world.” And then as you start to get more serious about it, then you start to think, “Oh, well maybe if we just change this one thing or tweak this,” and I’m sure you guys see it all the time with clients that you work with, in terms of creating content or visuals. Or it’s just like, “That might not be the way that, but it’s good enough. Let’s get it out there.”
And I think too in the role of social media, it’s there and gone. Somebody sees it and then the next day, the next minute, the next second they’re onto something else. So is it really that big of a deal? So I think there are areas though with the packaging, it was worth spending the extra time and having that critical eye. But then there are other areas where it’s just like, “No, just get it done.” We’re about to go to an event next week. And I’m like, “What’s the table going to look like?” And I’m like, “Why am I asking myself that question?” We set up a beautiful table five times a week at a farmer’s market, so shouldn’t be that hard, but here I am overthinking it and wasting my precious energy, trying to make it just so.
And one of the things that I learned a long time ago in coaching and in approaching people in regard to having them just want to work with you is you really can’t say the wrong thing to the right person. And so I’ve always kind of kept that in the back of my mind. We can’t look the wrong way to the right person. We can’t taste the wrong way to the right person there. Our people are out there. And so I think I try to keep that in my mind when it comes to making everything perfect.
Alison Smith: [17:48]
I’ve never heard that before. I like that. Yeah. That’s very good. Exactly, like you said, it is really this balance of when to focus on… Obviously, you want things to be quality, but also get things out. And that kind of reminded me of a conversation that we had all had on a call before about taking your time to build your brand and how you were seeing a competitor scale and build really, really quickly. And you’re comparing yourself to them, but you continued at your own pace and you’re still here to this day.
April King: [18:35]
And they’re not.
Alison Smith: [18:36]
Right. I didn’t want to say that part unless you did.
April King: [18:38]
No, and they’re not, that’s the thing. We were looking at them thinking, “Oh, wow. They’re just getting themselves out. They must be doing great to keep releasing all these new flavors and showing up at all these events and building their own manufacturing facility and hiring all these people. Wow, they must be doing great.”
And then I got the email that said, “By the way, guys, as of next month, we’re going to have to discontinue our business.” And I felt really sad for them, but it was also a learning opportunity for us. Holy cow, we could move faster, but the risk could then be greater and we’d rather create something sustainable even if we’re not the first one to do it.
Because back six years ago, when I was first making this recipe, there was nothing like it. Now there’s grain free granolas all over. There was nothing like it in the market. And I thought to myself, “Wow, if we could really get this out there, if we could be on Amazon tomorrow, we’d be the first ones. And wouldn’t that be great?”
Now I look back and I think, “Wow. Well, all the people that did go before us, even some of the bigger companies, they really just set the stage.” They created the opportunity for us to get out there and have people recognize what the heck we were from the get go.
Karin Samelson: [20:13]
I think that’s always a good note and someone that we follow on Instagram, who sells a course, she always says she gets feedback from people that are like, “Oh, there’s already courses that teach this.” And she’s like, “Well, then there’s even more of a reason for you to do it because people want it. That obviously means that people need it and want it.” And it’s just because there might be a product out that kind of has similarities as yours, it doesn’t mean that yours isn’t different in its own way.
And you can sell it as with those differentiators and those people that purchase their product will probably purchase yours too. So it’s a good reminder. You don’t have to be completely individualistic or original with everything that you create and just to do it, if you’re passionate about it.
April King: [21:10]
So true. In fact, we get a lot of feedback. There is a brand that is probably what we would consider our largest competitor and they hold a lot of the market share. And we get people that come to us at the market and say, “I buy the one at,” and I won’t name the store, “and it’s affordable, but it doesn’t taste like this.” And we’ve had that happen too with Amazon. People have come up and said, “I bought five different kinds of grain free granola on Amazon. And when I found yours, it was night and day.” And so to get that kind of feedback is really cool. And now we’re out there. We’re playing in that space.
Karin Samelson: [22:05]
A taste differentiator is ideal. It’s like, “Heck yeah. Ours tastes better.”
April King: [22:12]
We believe that, but most brands would believe that about their own product. So everybody thinks there’s is the best and it tastes the best and that’s going to make the difference for them. And I think that that’s a starting point. I think it’s expected, you should have a really great tasting product to be in the CPG food space.
But I think for us, one of our main differentiators is my background in nutrition and our story. And that that’s something I’m becoming more and more comfortable telling. We tell it on our website and I share it with people, but it’s really, I didn’t realize probably until more recently, just how important and powerful that was.
So it’s kind of a trifecta. You’ve got the good tasting product, you’ve got the beautiful brand, and then you’ve got the relatable or authentic brand story. And that for us, I think we’re full circle with all of that. Now we’re just focused on how do we get better at telling our story? How do we get better at reaching our people? And how do we compete with a smaller budget than a lot of these other folks have?
Alison Smith: [23:46]
Yeah. It’s so hard to tell your own story, isn’t it? I’m sure your consumers at farmer’s markets and on reviews give you praise for sharing it, but it’s so hard to talk about yourself and your journey and your why for some reason but it is a huge differentiator instead of going to Walmart and buying whatever granola that there is.
It just feels better to relate and appreciate a founder and their reason for making this beautiful product. It’s just such a better experience.
April King: [24:31]
It is. And we’re getting more comfortable with it being out there, because it’s interesting. You guys will appreciate this as we put out content. What we’re seeing is that the folks that… The stuff that gets the most play is where I’m talking about something or I’m sharing a story or my face, or it’s a picture of an Earl and I together that gets the most engagement over these really beautiful pictures that we paid a butt load of money to have someone take of the product. And I guess we know it needs to be a mix, but the stuff that it feels like it’s really getting the most connection is the stuff that’s about us.
Alison Smith: [25:24]
It’s absolutely about that connection. And these people are learning to trust you guys as well. Which leads me to my next question, April. What inspires you? Who inspires you? What brands inspire you? How do you keep going every single day?
April King: [25:44]
Well, I think it helps that I have this passion for nutrition. It’s still a fire in my belly. I started on my own personal journey 25 years ago. And that was literally picking up magazines, health magazines, because I was really suffering. I was in a lot of pain. I had a lot of chronic fatigue. It wasn’t pretty. And I was starting to lose things. I was starting to had to get scale back in my job. And eventually I ended up mostly, I had to quit everything and I was in bed.
And I’m like, “Well, this is no way to live. I need to figure this out.” So I started just picking up this and that and reading this book and that book. And I’m like, “Oh, I’ll try that or this modality or this vitamin or this food.” And started just piecing it together and then helped myself get well.
And after that I realized that even though I was well, I still wanted to know more. I still wanted to understand the body better and know more about food and know more about all of it, anything that was related to holistic wellness. So then that’s when I enrolled in school to become a health coach. And then I got through that and I health coached for a while and I’m like, “Well, I still don’t know enough. I need to know physiology and biochemistry too.”
So I think, honestly, it’s the fire that I have for nutrition in general keeps me interested in our product and telling people about our product. And then as far as other brands, there’s a lot of really cool brands doing fun stuff. And I think it’s the really fun ones that inspire me. I think that OLIPOP is probably one of my favorite brands out there just because there’s so they’re fun and light and they have a health message, but it’s not all heavy and technical.
Alison Smith: [27:56]
Yeah. So true.
April King: [27:57]
So that brand, and then of course, when I worked for Wheatsville in Austin, that was back in the day when Siete was a teeny tiny baby company and they sold one little package of almond flour tortillas with a little twist tie. And every week they would deliver a dozen of them. And it was the only store they sold them in and now look at them. They’re everywhere.
I think they just launched a new product. They have little mini bags. They sell now at Sam’s Club. They have a box of little mini bags that you can buy. And I saw that and I see. And then now they got taco mix and I’m just looking at everything they’ve done in a relatively short amount of time. We’re talking 2015 ish to now. And they’re in Costco, they’re in Walmart, they’re in Sam’s Club.
They’re in.. I don’t know necessarily if that’s where we are seeking to go, personally, as a company, but boy is that inspiring. Seeing that family, and it’s a family, go from having this one product to building essentially what is an empire. And I don’t know, I think the family still runs it. I don’t know if they’ll ever sell it or not. My guess is that at some point they might. I’m sure they’ve already had offers.
But yeah, we saw that happen with Epic Provisions too, when they had one or two meat bars and now they’re everywhere and they actually sold their business off. So watching other brands grow. And I think that’s really important to say is that I feel like it’s okay. You should be rooting for the other people, even your competition. I think that that’s just good energy. And so when I see some of the things that our competition is doing, in fact there was one competitor who just did something really cool, released a new product. And I was like, “Yeah, way to go.”
It’s really funny though, because they were at this food show we went to in February and the owner and the founder was there and I walked by and I’m like, “No, I don’t want to talk to her.” And I chickened out, I don’t know why. I think it was because I was just intimidated maybe, or maybe I was protective of our baby.? I don’t want her to yet know who we are, but yeah, it’s really cool to see other businesses, even our competitors, succeeding.
Karin Samelson: [30:30]
That’s such a nice message for everyone, anywhere with anything, rooting for other people, is just such a healthy thing to do. And it’s just a perk when the people who own Siete and Epic, they’re good people too. It’s good people doing good stuff who can’t root for that?
But yeah, it’s really exciting all of this stuff that’s going on with you guys, where you started with your craft bags to now. But what’s next? What are you excited about in the future?
April King: [31:06]
Oh man, what am I excited about? I think I’m really excited about hiring someone to help me in the kitchen. We think about it. Right now I’m the only person who knows how to make this product. So good thing I work really hard at keeping myself healthy and well because we haven’t had any significant interruptions. I’m really excited about that. We’re very excited about Amazon. Amazon’s a long game though. We know it’s not an overnight success kind of thing. We’re doing okay, but we really don’t know yet. It was really hard to tell. We ran a promotion with our list.
So a lot of what we’ve seen for sales has come based on people that we told that are already buying from us. But I think that is probably the most exciting. And I don’t know, getting better at telling the brand story and sharing it with more people. I’m hanging with you guys in the Umai Growth Course because I really want to get better at connecting with our community.
So the connection with the community, the Amazon project, it’s a lot to learn. That thing is a world of its own. It’s its own ecosystem. And it takes a lot to educate yourself on all the moving parts within their system. But we feel strongly that we’re going to be able to make it work. It’s just going to take some time.
Karin Samelson: [32:47]
Do you have a consultant for Amazon or are you guys doing it completely on your own?
April King: [32:52]
Okay, so we did make some choices there. We worked with a coach for a couple sessions and we went through a marketplace sellers course, his name is Shannon Roddy. He now works with Avenue7. Avenue7 is a consulting agency that does strictly, they don’t just do strictly Amazon, but they are experts at Amazon and everything Amazon. And they just bought him out and he went to work for them. But I think his course is still available.
So we took his course, the marketplace sellers course, which walked us through how to set up the seller central and the listings. And then from there, he referred us to Mindful Goods and Mindful Goods is the company that we enlisted to write our listings, create our graphics, do our keyword research. So I think that’s an important message too, just to know when to bring someone else in, because we could have done all of that ourselves, again, very DIY, but what we learned from being DIY and then having to do it over was if you have the resources to put the right people in place from the beginning is going to move you along a little bit faster.
And we wanted to really show up on Amazon when we launched, we wanted to show up as a legit professional brand. So we wanted everything just so and so we worked hand to hand with these guys. So we did a lot of that. Now we’re kind of on our own. Now I’m doing a lot of webinars and trainings on advertising. I’m having to learn the advertising piece because whether we’d like it or not as a brand it’s pay to play. So you have to advertise in order for it to work for you, if you want to grow and actually make money.
So right now it’s just in the hands of Earl and I, and then we know that we can get with Shannon from time to time. We can book an hour of his time if we have some things we don’t understand.
Alison Smith: [35:04]
I just love how you and Earl, you are a part of so many communities. And you do understand you need support. And you’re still doing it all, but you’re putting in that investment, I guess, into yourself. And that’s really exciting about Amazon. But yeah, you mentioned the growth course. So April has been in our growth course for about a year now, almost coming up on a year, I believe. So we would love to hear what your favorite thing about the course is?
April King: [35:47]
Well, I love, like I’ve told you before, I love you guys. I just adore you so much and I love your energy for one. I think you guys are really calm. You’re knowledgeable. You are very real. And you also share information in a way that is digestible to the average person. It’s technical where it needs to be, but then it’s also easy to follow. Your instruction is easy to follow. You’ve given me so many little tips through the course and I’m just finishing up the organic social. I haven’t even been into some of the other stuff.
That was the other thing that I liked is like, “Okay, I can do this when I need it.” And right now I’m working on this Amazon thing. So my attention is diverted over there. And when I’m ready, now that we’re going to be working with the university here on a social media project, I now will get back into the paid social because it’s the right time because I’m going to be giving them a budget. So I want to make sure that what they’re doing with my money.
Alison Smith: [37:03]
Oh, they are spending your money?
April King: [37:05]
They will be able to spend some of our money. Yeah.
Alison Smith: [37:08]
Oh, wow.
April King: [37:10]
Well, they’re going to make some suggestions, so if they’re going to suggest, “Okay, we think that this piece of content is relevant and needs to be part of your plan. And I think this is where you should spend some of your money.” Or they may create an ad or something like that. And we get to decide, do we want to push it through? Or do we want to just say, “Oh thanks.”
But yeah, I think that. Now is the time for me to educate myself more on the paid part because we haven’t really been doing a lot of that. Once in a while we throw a few dollars behind a giveaway or something really fun. But I think that now it would be the time to get into more of the content. So it’s nice to have it there.
And I love it that you make it accessible to connect with you guys in other places. It’s like I’m now part of the Umai family and I love it. I really do. I love it. And I hope that other people can appreciate it as much as I do. Ideally, what I’d love to do is just hand you my social media program and be like, “All right, girls, have at it.” And I will get to that point. And when we get to that point, you guys will be the agency of choice for sure.
Karin Samelson: [38:33]
Oh, that’s so nice, April. We love having you a part of our community and our family too, for sure. And what you said just then reminds me of one of the best traits of a really good leader that we have found as well, scrappy ones in particular, not ones that have deep pockets and huge investments coming in is they’re savvy enough with what needs to get done, to know when their team is thriving or needs improvement.
If you just know the basics of say social advertising, an agency or an individual, it’s not as easy for them to just mess around because you’re a little dangerous with a little bit of knowledge that you have. And so while a lot of founders, they might not be running their social advertising, their social media forever. It’s nice to have that baseline knowledge so that you can make sure that everything is moving in the right direction.
April King: [39:38]
Well, and then we can collaborate. So that’s how it went. When we worked with Mindful Goods for Amazon, it was a lot of back and forth. It was like, “Okay, here’s our brand standards guideline,” because we did do a brand standards. And we gave that to them. We gave them access to a lot of our materials and then we went, it was a lot of back and forth. We don’t really like how that looks or we don’t like how that sounds. And their job was really to make sure that the keyword stuff got in there.
So something I didn’t like how it sounded, but they needed it to have the keyword. Then between the two of us, we came up with something great. And I also want to have my hands in all the jobs because eventually we’re going to have to hire people to work and we value the idea that we are creating something that people can come into and feel really good about.
I want people to come and work with us that feel like they’re part of a family and that they are taken care of and that their gifts are utilized and appreciated. And so if I don’t know about these parts, how am I going to know if they’re doing a good job? Do you know what I mean? And then I want to tell them you’re doing a great job, but how do I know? I never did it. So yeah, we’re very excited. I think that’s probably another thing we’re really excited about is building a team and being able to influence or impact people’s lives and their livelihoods with opportunities, whether that’s baking granola or writing standard operating procedures. I don’t know.
Karin Samelson: [41:26]
We love those SOPs.
Alison Smith: [41:28]
I love doing those.
April King: [41:29]
Oh my goodness. Yes, no.
Karin Samelson: [41:34]
That’s exciting, April. Well, it sounds like that’s just around the corner with someone getting hired to help you in the kitchen and then more to come. No doubt about it. But it’s been so lovely having you on and actually getting to have you on the podcast. Do you want to leave our audience with any call to action or final statement?
April King: [41:55]
Yeah. Well, I think one of the things I wanted to say just about being, from one founder to another, is to just recognize that it’s a journey and a process and it’s going to be a lot of ups and downs and there’s going to be problems. If there are people out there that are just starting out, there’s going to be problems. And I remember I used to react so hard to the problems I used to get so upset. And it was so personal that this thing was not working out or falling apart or it meant something bad about me. And it’s just the nature of the game.
You being a problem solver and doing your best to not be too hard on yourself and just really enjoy the journey. I can’t wait. We’re coming up on our fourth anniversary and we’re going to do a little montage of what the packages looked like from the beginning, because they evolved. It wasn’t just the one package then going to the printed package. There were versions of it. And so I really am excited about celebrating how far we’ve come. And have fun while you’re doing it and just enjoy the journey. And then as far as where people could find us, we have our website You can find us at Better Than Provisions on both Facebook and Instagram. And then I did put together a coupon code. I don’t know if that’s okay to share here?
Alison Smith: [43:45]
That is awesome. And I love it.
April King: [43:47]
Yeah. If what we’ve talked about our product interests you or you’re curious to try it. You can always obviously go to Amazon. That’s a great place to buy it, but on our website, if you go there and use the code, umai20, you would get a 20% discount off your whole order.
Karin Samelson: [43:54]
That is so nice. Thank you.
Alison Smith: [43:56]
It is so good, y’all. So good. Well, April, thank you so much for spending the past hour with us. Lots of great stuff here. So thank you.
April King: [44:09]
Thanks for having me. I love talking with you guys. So this was just a lot of fun.
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind-the-scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, Catch you back here soon.
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#34: CPG Pandemic Pivot with Diana Beshara, Co-founder & CEO of Cantina Royal

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#34: CPG Pandemic Pivot with Diana Beshara, Co-founder & CEO of Cantina Royal

Co-Founder and CEO of Cantina Royal Hot Sauce, Diana Beshara, joins UMAI Social Circle podcast to chat about her biggest wins, challenges she overcame as an owner (including a major pandemic pivot from restauranteur to CPG brand owner), and how a pinch of luck landed her hot sauce on “Hot Ones”, an Emmy nominated celebrity interview YouTube show with a viewing of over 100 million people. You’re going to love this SPICY episode, so let’s get into it! 🔊

Let Us Break It Down For You…

[0:47 – 8:30] Starting as a restauranteur
[8:31 – 12:00] How running a restaurant helped Diana succeed in CPG
[12:05 – 15:20] Why building a commercial space was the right move
[15:37 – 21:48] How Diana’s hot sauce became famous on the show “Hot Ones”
[21:55 – 27:43] From part-time to going ALL in
[27:48 – 29:17] How the Growth Course motivated Diana to market her biz
[30:07 – 33:29] How Cantina Royal used the Growth Course to cut their marketing spend in half without a decrease in sales
[33:42 – 36:05] Closing remarks


Mentions from this episode: 

Learn more and Join there mailing list –

  • Check out their bold inventive sauces, here
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  • Facebook, here

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Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#34: CPG Pandemic Pivot with Diana Beshara, Co-founder & CEO of Cantina Royal

Alison Smith: [0:47]
Welcome to the Umi social circle, where we taught consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Allison and Karin, co-founders of Umi Marketing, and we’re being joined today with Diana Beshara, founder of the bold, inventive, hot sauce brand Cantina Royal. Who also happens to be a member of our consumer goods growth course. Welcome Diana, it’s so good to have you.

Diana Beshara: [1:12]
Hi guys, yes, it’s so great to see you too. We’ve been talking, I joined during COVID and it’s been a weird time and it’s just great to even virtually to be able to see you guys face to face.

Alison Smith: [1:23]
I know, so we’re super excited to talk to you today. Love your hot sauces, your chili oil, so really, let’s dive in. And if you could give our listeners an idea of who you are and how you came to create your brand.

Diana Beshara: [1:41]
Sure, you got it. Well, as most things in life, I feel like I came to this kind of circuitously. I come from a family of small business owners and entrepreneurs and makers. But when I was a kid, I was going to be an actress, I was an art school kid. I went through middle school and high school and college, all doing that. So I was one of the first ones to feel blindsided by suddenly finding myself in the business world. But it actually isn’t so weird, I don’t think now because honestly I grew up in it. Especially with family businesses, it’s like all hands on deck, all the time, I get the ethos of it, I had examples of it. So I kind of naturally-ish fell into it, but through the back door. So I came to CPG world through hospitality, I actually ran a restaurant and bar for 10 years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn of the same name, Cantina Royal.

That was the brick and mortar space and I came into that world because I happened to be dating the chef. And he was… as you get with small businesses, he quickly became really overwhelmed when some of his partners kind of faded into the background and he was left shouldering this whole situation on his own. And for kind of selfish reasons, because I wanted to see more of him, I started looking at the operations and just kind of seeing places where things could be pretty quickly and easily improved. And then fast forward 10, I guess, 12 years now, we’re no longer together like that, but we are married as a business couple. So we kind of rocked with that for a while, but I always… We had these amazing hot sauces actually in house in the restaurant. So we were making them and have chef Julio, who’s my chef partner in this.

He is just a Dr. Frankenstein of spicy, he’s from Mexico city, grew up with a jalapeno in hand I feel like. Crunching on it in between bites of meals and it was just a natural thing for him. Long story short, everyone was obsessed with the sauces, it always kind of was a pet project in the back of my mind. Like one day, I’m going to get these shelf ready, going to do all that, but it was not just a restaurant and bar, it was an event space. I did a lot of outside catering and liquor licensing work and permitting in NYC. So it just was, later I’ll do that and then finally it was like, you know what, it’s time we really have to do it. When I think what really put me over the edge, I don’t know what happened, we must have gotten written up in a Japanese guidebook or something.

We started getting all of these groups of Japanese people coming and being like, spicy salsas. And I was like, what’s going on? And yeah, it was like, we got to sell these, we got to bottle these and sell these. People were stealing it off the tables, it was like the whole mess, so we’re like, we might as well just get this done and get it going. And then we did, it was definitely a totally different, even though it’s still in food, it’s like a totally different ballgame, totally different business. But thankfully, I mean, it’s been growing enough that it’s our full-time job now. And it’s probably something I’m the most proud of, I’m like, oh, this was a side thing, but I knew it had legs to it and I’m glad that was true.

Karin Samelson: [6:02]
That’s such a testimonial to people coming in and wanting to steal the hot sauce off the table.

Diana Beshara: [6:08]
And so-

Karin Samelson: [6:10]
Do you still not know why this influx of foreigners were coming in?

Diana Beshara: [6:14]
I still don’t know, I mean, I looked it up, tried to, on the internet. I couldn’t really find anything, people just… When I would ask, they’d be like, no, we heard about it. I don’t know if it was one person sending… who knows, I really don’t know, but it made us be like, hold up. This is not just a New York thing, we could… And obviously, it’s awesome and it sounds fancy. Oh, I have a restaurant in New York, but you can just reach such a wider audience in the CPG world that you could never otherwise reach in a brick and mortar. And that’s been something that’s been really exciting for us, especially for Julio, who feels really strongly like a tie to his culture and his place. He’s an immigrant here, he came to this country and is doing this and it’s really nice to be able to support.

We try when we can to work with small sustainable farmers that are practicing prep rotation and things like that. Or the chilies grow in the shade of the coffee plant and it’s all this beautiful biodiverse, the way it should be. And you can taste it, you can taste the difference, peppers have a tier, just wine does, and something about the richness of that soil. And I mean, it just makes for really beautiful, nuanced, lovely sauces. So part of our mission is always to share that bounty from Mexico and the U.S. is starting to get it, in a way bigger way. But there’s always loads more to go and yet we hope that we can be a small part of that shift in consciousness. That things from Mexico are not just cheaper or whatever, that there’s quality, that there is nuance, it’s not just hot. All those things are really important to us.

Karin Samelson: [8:20]
It kind of sounds like the coffee industry and how such slight things like altitude, soil, so many things factor in and you just have no idea, but-

Diana Beshara: [8:30]

Karin Samelson: [8:31]
I’m wondering what, if anything, was helpful that you took from being successful in the restaurant industry that made starting and growing a CPG brand easier?

Diana Beshara: [8:45]
So, I think that you come across so many different people from all walks of life, especially when you’re not just running a business like that, where you have your front facing and have a lot of public. But then add NYC into the mix and it’s like, people from all walks of life, all cultures, all places, passing through or living their… it really is a hodgepodge, a melting pot, whatever you want to call it. There’s just so many different people and I think that just having to navigate that and talk to a lot of different people and also… Well, one thing I took from it is, when you’re going into a new field or whatever, there’s going to always be things that you don’t know. And you don’t know, well oftentimes you don’t know what you don’t know. So just like I went into that world where it’s not like, I’m not a restaurant expert, I had never even worked in a restaurant.

I was the one actress that had never had a waitressing job ever, I had other gig jobs, but never, ever, ever before that moment, when I stepped in that, had I even worked in a restaurant. And it’s its own business with its own set of rules, its own ecosystem to it. So you have to be like, I don’t know what I don’t know and one thing I was never afraid of, asking questions and never too precious with my answer to them because what did I know? And eventually you do start to know, but I just kind of began everything and I took that definitely into CPG land. Of, I don’t know what I don’t know and I know how to talk to people though, and I will ask them anything and everything that I can. And try to give… On my side, try to give what I can in whatever way to them too, it’s not just a one way street of me asking everything.

Alison Smith: [11:01]
Right, the giving back part, I think is so prevalent. And one of the things that I love the most about the CPG community is people really are giving with their time and their-

Diana Beshara: [11:17]
It’s been amazing and also it’s so cool that I don’t know that many industries where people come from so many different businesses. You don’t have to have any background in food at all to start a CPG. Well, to start anything really, but you really see founders coming from all sorts of different backgrounds, bringing all sorts of different wealths of other knowledge to it, so it’s been really cool, I’ve just loved everyone.

Karin Samelson: [11:48]
Yeah, and all that background just kind of makes it better and better, but love what you said about staying curious and just not being embarrassed to ask the questions that you know need to know. And you mentioned earlier, that you started your building currently, your commercial kitchen space. What led you to that decision? And how has it been so far?

Diana Beshara: [12:13]
It’s been an adventure let’s say, so NYC is what, short on real estate? Or rather real estate is at a premium, let’s say. So we were looking into a lot of different options, it was important for my partner, for chef Julio, to stay in control of in quality control of the sauce. Now we’re producing much larger amounts and a lot of people move that to co packers or whatever when they can, but he really wanted to maintain manufacturing ourselves. So we’ve been exploring, especially because moved.,As I told you, we moved on from our brick and mortar and it’s been just navigating that. So now we’re really psyched, we’re in a new space in Long Island City, gave us awesome rates, the landlords are on our side, which is important. We just found out we’re like neighbors with Levain, the bakery. The building isn’t very much food and beverage orientated as of now, but now we’re the two that are in here, so that’s fun.

Karin Samelson: [13:35]

Diana Beshara: [13:38]
Yeah, so they’re the first floor and we’re the penthouse, I guess.

Karin Samelson: [13:43]
We got a penthouse.

Diana Beshara: [13:45]
Ish, it’s one of the top floors that has this little outcropping, I love it. When you guys come to New York, it’ll be all ready and we’ll do a dinner, we’ve got a fun little space where we can seat 16.

Karin Samelson: [13:57]
Oh, you guys should have [inaudible 00:14:00].

Diana Beshara: [14:03]
Oh, absolutely, well, it’ll come. But those are invite only, without opening.

Karin Samelson: [14:07]
Awesome, thanks for the heads up. Well, that is a big win, I mean, having your own space is such a free-

Diana Beshara: [14:15]
I mean, so what it really does, is it positions us to be able to take on some bigger, I mean, it just positions us to scale better. Which is when we made that decision to not co pack, that became our main concern, not growing too fast for our capacity basically. Because the last thing you want to do is say yes to something and then not be able to fulfill it.

Karin Samelson: [14:42]

Diana Beshara: [14:43]
Or have hiccups in that or whatever, or something that stress you out in one way and then you lose a quality control. So it’s been important for me to be able to set that roadmap based on where we are, and this is a really important next step for that. So I’m super excited, we’re ready to gear up for holiday production, just like the millisecond that everything is ready.

Karin Samelson: [15:13]
That’s exciting, that’s so exciting.

Karin Samelson: [15:20]
Well, another big win and I don’t know what the process was like and I don’t know how helpful this’ll be to other CPG brands. But I’m so curious because I am obsessed with Hot Ones, I could watch that show on repeat.

Diana Beshara: [15:34]
Yeah, so fun.

Karin Samelson: [15:37]
So how did that even start? How did you get your hot sauce on that show?

Diana Beshara: [15:41]
This is not going to be helpful to almost anyone and for that, I’m sorry, I mean that just lucky us, we were in NYC. So it is a Williamsburg, despite it’s a little place on the map in a lot of people’s heads, some people’s hearts, but more people’s heads and it grows really fast. It turns over really fast, but there still is this core when we started there, there was no other businesses on our street. Now our same block, right, at a half block away is the Trader Joe’s in Williamsburg that people had been waiting for years and years. So just, there was no business and now everyone has to go down that street to hit the Trader Joe’s. So, I mean, growth, all those things, gentrification, all those things, but there was a core of community there that made it feel sort a little village.
Especially amongst other business owners and all the old artists that have lived there forever and stayed and saw everything change. So it just so happened to turn out that, there’s a fun hot sauce store down the street from us a couple blocks away, the guy’s super chill, super nice, buddies of ours. We were their Mexican spot that they went to and obviously since they had a hot sauce store, they were obsessed with Julio’s sauces. And they’re like, whenever you get these ready, let us know, obviously you’re in the shop right away. But when they’re ready, ready, let us know, I was like, oh, that’s awesome, thank you so much. And they’re going to comedy shows in the back and it’s their local and little did we know that these guys actually curate the whole lineup for the show. No idea, we had no idea

Karin Samelson: [17:49]
That highlights the importance of being nice, I mean, you should always be nice to everybody, but-

Diana Beshara: [17:54]
You should always be nice to everybody.

Karin Samelson: [17:57]
Just, you never know.

Diana Beshara: [17:58]
But you really don’t know and it was such an interesting conversation when we were finally ready for it because they’re like, you need to let us know if you’re ready, ready. And it was a conversation between us because they’re like, we’ve seen this great smaller companies and you guys are our friends and we want to see you succeed. We would never want to do that to you, we understand what it means, but you guys need to understand what it really means. And that was a little situation of saying yes and then making it happen, but it was definitely a conversation and so I’m so proud of us for doing that. And we found out later that we were the only… there’s 10 sauces every lineup, we were the only people to deliver before the delivery date that they told us was, you cannot deliver past this date.

And obviously, they built in some wiggle room, but we took it as sacrosanct and no matter what, no matter if I had to put caps on bottles all night long. Or whatever you have to do in that first CPG owners will understand, that first big run where it’s all hands on deck, I was going to make that happen. Thankfully, I don’t have to do that anymore, but yeah, we made it happen and it was a really lovely, it felt really community. And it’s a partnership that’s still flourishing to this day, so that’s how we got on it. Not so helpful to anyone, but I do know that they take submissions and I do know that they are always interested in new, interesting, exciting. They just don’t want things that taste like everything else.

Karin Samelson: [20:04]
Yeah, for sure. And I mean, this could be helpful to other brands because it kind of reminds me of when a brand gets into a Walmart or a Target and they have to prepare for this huge influx of responsibilities that they might not have been prepared for. And that’s kind of the same thing, they were like, you need, are you ready to sell your hot sauce? And I mean, that’s something that you guys have to always think about because I’m glad you said yes and it worked out, but sometimes you do have to say no, if you’re not prepared. So I think that-

Diana Beshara: [20:39]

Alison Smith: [20:41]

Diana Beshara: [20:42]
And then trusting that if… Well, a journey for me has been trusting that if someone was interested. If you can’t say yes right at that moment, it doesn’t mean that that just goes away, that means that you’re doing something right, that your products where it should be. I’m a big believer that if the product is great, do you do your best to get yourself out there and do all those things? But if your product is not good, it’s never going to happen, if it’s great, you got a chance and go with it. But trust that product, no matter if you said yes, I think it’s better to say no for right now than say yes and fail. Because product being great is only one half of it that’ll help with sales later on, but if you kill that relationship, that you’ll never get back, I think.

Alison Smith: [21:38]
Right, yeah and a lot of times the big retailers won’t say, are you sure you’re? They’re not going to mold you through it.

Diana Beshara: [21:43]
Oh no, no, no, no, you shouldn’t even-

Alison Smith: [21:48]
It’s really thinking about the end user, are you upholding how you’re coming across to consumers? And everything like that, so I’m glad you pointed that out. I also think it would be really interesting if you shared more about how you decided to make the jump from doing Cantina Royal part-time to going all in. What were some of the deciding factors that were like, okay, it’s the time?

Diana Beshara: [22:16]
I mean… Well, COVID kind of, so all of this, it’s been the time of the great pivot or whatever, where everyone’s been shifting and reassessing and things like that. And ours just kind of happened organically before we were really conscious that we were making that decision, if that makes any sense? So we had this brick and mortar, we were running it, we had started doing everything, all the back stuff to get the sauces ready. And then we found out that we were slated to be on Hot Ones in late 2019 for the… Whatever that next season was, which was going to premiere mid February 2020. We’re like, oh, this is so awesome, we’re going to be a live brick and mortar restaurant when this is playing hundreds of millions of people. We’re going to have so many people coming through the restaurant… Two weeks later, COVID and full restaurant shut down in NYC two weeks after that.
So it didn’t go as we imagined it, let’s say, but whatever does, but while one thing was seeming very uncertain and all of that stuff, the other thing was doing really great. So it just seemed like a natural place to focus more energy on and then I think you can plan and plan and plan and I think it’s great to really type A. So I’m all about the plans, but at some point you just have to, if the universe is pushing you one way, you just got to be able to roll with it. And we were at the natural conclusion of a 10 year lease at our brick and mortar and just had some very reticent landlords, we’re ready to sign on for another 15. It’s all going to be great, oh, now it’s COVID so we’ll negotiate a really great lease price, life is going to be amazing.

We were ready to redo a lease, actively negotiating two, and then it was more and more. Our landlords wanted to give us a two year lease so that they could hike it up god knows how much, as soon as possible. And we were just like, why are we struggling? Why are we giving ourselves heartaches and headaches and all of this stuff to put their children through college? We don’t need to do that, we can do this and it was such a freeing, incredible decision that I’m so happy that we did it. But it was definitely still a leap of faith because you went from a very regular income to now it’s just all on me basically, whatever I can sell. So there’s a different kind of pressure, so that’s why we did this. But yeah, I don’t know, hospitality is kind of in our blood a little bit and there’s some things down the future that we’re excited about that we’re actively planning towards. There will be a flagship location, but right now-

Alison Smith: [25:59]

Diana Beshara: [26:00]
-focusing on this, then-

Alison Smith: [26:02]
One thing at a time, right?

Diana Beshara: [26:03]
One thing at a time, but yeah.

Alison Smith: [26:05]
That is interesting, I thought you were going to have some hard data numbers at this point, it’s time to jump in. But most decisions don’t happen that way unless you’re maybe an engineer, I don’t know. So it is cool to see that it just happened organically and you go with the feel sometimes and you just make it work.

Diana Beshara: [26:29]
Yeah… But no, I feel for anybody that’s going through that right now. It’s a tough decision to make, I think it’s also a really personal decision. It worked out for us, but I don’t think there’s any… there’s no shame in doing it any way you can. This is a business that accepts everyone and we all have our own metrics.

Karin Samelson: [26:56]
And I think it’s the importance of going with your gut, it’s like, do I want to sign this two year lease? Where I know that it’s not going to be in my best interest? Or do I want to pursue a dream? So I think that’s something that a lot of people can resonate with, for sure.

Diana Beshara: [27:10]
And then once that other thing is cut off, you kind of are like, well, now you have to push forward with the thing you have. And maybe it gets you somewhere faster than you might have been able to do it with a more limited bandwidth. So-

Karin Samelson: [27:24]

Diana Beshara: [27:25]
Yeah, there’s trade offs to cutting the security net, kind of.

Karin Samelson: [27:30]
Yeah, trade offs for everything, every decision.

Diana Beshara: [27:34]

Karin Samelson: [27:38]
Well, it’s super exciting to see the growth that you’ve had and how you got started, how you’re here now fully in CPG. But we also mentioned that you are a member of our growth course, which we’re so happy to have you part of our community. So we’d love to ask you how the course has so far helped you on this journey of marketing your CPG brand?

Diana Beshara: [28:00]
Well, as I’ve told you guys, I came to this not knowing anything and there’s so many parts of this business and it’s so hard. It’s nearly impossible for one person to be great at all of the parts and things. I loved that course, I knew it was something we needed to, we had some great source material that we needed to activate. And it was just such… The thought of having to become an expert at something else while doing everything else was just soul crushing to me at the time. I could not get even the motivation to do it, yet I knew it needed to be and it just was one of those things that was just on the list. Forever on the list and never could get motivated to get to it and joining the course just made it really much more actionable for us.

Alison Smith: [29:09]

Diana Beshara: [29:09]
I found that it’s not my favorite thing and I outsourced it a bit, but-

Alison Smith: [29:15]
That’s great.

Diana Beshara: [29:16]
-it’s still in house, still in my house.

Alison Smith: [29:17]

Diana Beshara: [29:19]
My dear boyfriend is now director of sales and marketing and he is a data nerd, so he fricking loves it. It was just learning the KPIs and the metrics and he is constituently trying to explain it to me. And I’m like, you know what? You get it, so go with it, I’ll stick with the creatives.

Alison Smith: [29:42]
No, that’s so great, I mean, understanding how it works is very important. But understanding where your skills lie and where seeing your partner, where his skills lie and just making sure that everyone’s working to their optimal… what brains are good at basically.

Diana Beshara: [30:06]

Alison Smith: [30:07]
So I think that’s really smart. So is your partner doing the marketing right now for you guys?

Diana Beshara: [30:15]
Yeah, kind of.

Alison Smith: [30:17]

Diana Beshara: [30:28]
When you’re to small business, I’m still definitely have a pretty big hand in it, but he deals with all the paid advertising and optimizing and all of that stuff. And building, he built a really great funnel, you guys know it’s been a disaster zone with the iOS changes. And when we started, it was like, oh wow, this is… Because we had some great source material, obviously from Hot Ones and stuff. We’re like, this is awesome, this is easy and then it immediately hit and we’re like, oh no, we are spending way too much money for who knows what we’re getting. But he to took that time and used the course and built this really strong funnel that even though I think we cut our budget in a full half with no decrease in sale. And barely a decrease in traffic, hitting the site, it’s a nice, healthy funnel.

Karin Samelson: [31:29]
That’s super exciting to hear.

Diana Beshara: [31:32]
Yeah, which is something and we use that data for other… We use it for hitting up brick and mortars too. We’re like, we get this kind of consistent traffic on our site, these people are spending a premium to get it shipped to them. We want to make it easier for them to get it from you for cheaper, it’s a no brainer. Look at all… We can show that data, so

Karin Samelson: [31:55]
Yeah, that’s such a good point that we drive home when we do retailer specific ads for our clients. It’s like, you’re definitely sharing that with the buyer, you are definitely giving them all of the information of the things that you’re doing to push your brand and get it off the shelf.

Diana Beshara: [32:11]
Yeah, absolutely.

Diana Beshara: [32:14]
And you sound so… I feel groceries a completely outdated industry for the most part. I mean, other than pop up groceries or whatever of the world, most groceries, especially conventional grocery is just… They can’t even go online to order something. Some people just text me, which is a nightmare or send an email, even though it’s like, you could just go on the portal, but you have to meet them where they are. But if you can show them, look at this, they’re so impressed and you just seem to know what you’re talking about more I think. And all of that stuff is really good when you’re trying to convince them to give you precious shelf space.

Karin Samelson: [33:04]
Heck yes, we love that you’re doing specific, you’re looking into geo targeted ads to be able to push retail traffic, push foot traffic. And also to appeal to the grocers, I think that’s very smart and something that we definitely encourage brands to do.

Diana Beshara: [33:23]
Yes, thank you for the language to do it.

Karin Samelson: [33:28]
Of course, we were happy to support, awesome. Well, Diana, it’s been so nice chatting with you and learning more about the brand, more than we knew. Even though we’ve had the opportunity to try it and love it.

Diana Beshara: [33:41]
Thank you.

Karin Samelson: [33:42]
But is there anything, any final statement that you want to give to our listeners?

Diana Beshara: [33:48]
If you are interested in trying hot sauce near you, please reach out, let me know fun retailers with great adventurous food sections. We’re in that phase of, we’re getting ready to grow big and we want to know where people would want to find us. And if anyone has any questions, feel free to reach out to me, I’m so happy to help out. I’m the community lead in NYC for startup CPG, which is a great CPG community. Yeah. I’m just happy to help where I can.

Karin Samelson: [34:27]

Alison Smith: [34:32]
I have to add in real quick and if your consumer looking for really amazing hot sauce or my favorite, personal favorite is the garlic chili oil. What is it?

Diana Beshara: [34:45]
So it’s beautiful, toasted edible chili peppers, which is a red dried chili pepper from Mexico. Nice heat, really great earthy flavor. Yeah, I was telling you guys earlier, it’s definitely hot chili oil summer.

Alison Smith: [34:59]
That’s right.

Diana Beshara: [35:01]
It’s been coming for a while, but I feel like we’re really there before… For the U.S. consumer in general, hot sauce in a jar was not something that anybody had any idea about. And now with people with Fly By Jing and Chili Crisp and it’s time to upgrade from Trader Joe’s, okay. There’s a big, hot chili oil world out there and we’re so happy to be a part of it.

Alison Smith: [35:33]
I’m all in.

Diana Beshara: [35:34]

Alison Smith: [35:35]
It’s so good.

Diana Beshara: [35:36]
Sold out right now on the website, but definitely check back in one week.

Alison Smith: [35:39]
Yes, that’s what I was going to say.

Diana Beshara: [35:41]
Check back in one week, we’ll be restocked, we cannot keep it in stock.

Alison Smith: [35:45]

Diana Beshara: [35:48]
It is just going, it’s got this nice big garlicy flavor, that big bump of garlic, a little more than your average Chili Crisp and it’s just great on everything.

Karin Samelson: [35:56]
Yum, well, Diana, thank you so much again and we hope to talk to you again soon.

Diana Beshara: [36:05]
Absolutely, thanks so much guys, this was fun.

Through my social circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umimarketing or check out our website,, catch you back here soon.

UMAI Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind-the-scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, Catch you back here soon.
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#33: Developing Relationships for Strategic Sales Growth with Amy Zitelman of Soom Foods

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#33: Developing Relationships for Strategic Sales Growth with Amy Zitelman of Soom Foods

Amy Zitelman is the co-founder and CEO of the premium tahini brand, Soom Foods. In this podcast episode, join Alison and Karin, co-founders of UMAI Marketing, as they chat with Amy about her journey of bringing high-quality tahini to consumers here in the states. Discover how Amy successfully rooted Soom Foods in B2B first, created valuable relationships with chefs and influencers to help spread the Soom word, and how she’s been using UMAI’s Consumer Goods Growth Course to expand and train her marketing team (we love to hear it!). Sit back and turn the volume up! 🔊

Let Us Break It Down For You…

[0:45 – 5:09] Introduction
[5:10 – 8:14] Market research before launching
[8:21 – 13:05] Soom’s omnichannel approach
[13:06 – 18:08] Tips for brands with high competition on shelves
[18:10 – 22:36] Nurturing influencer and chef partnerships
[22:46 – 26:11 ] How Soom created a foundation in restaurants first
[26:11 – 28:18] B2B vs. D2C channel marketing
[29:24 – 33:37] Navigating financial teams
[37:14 – 38:32] Amy’s advice to a small CPG business owner
[38:47 – 39:52] Outro


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Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#33: Developing Relationships for Strategic Sales Growth with Amy Zitelman of Soom Foods

Karin Samelson: [0:45]
Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karen and Allison, co-founders of UMAI Marketing, and we’re being joined by Amy Zitelman, CEO and co-founder of Soom Foods, the leading North American purveyors of tahini and tahini products, and who also happens to be a member of our Growth Course community. Welcome, Amy.
Amy Zitelman: [1:10]
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Karin Samelson: [1:12]
Yeah, thanks for making the time. Well, we’d love to just get started by learning a little bit more about you. So how’d you get started? Why tahini?
Amy Zitelman: [1:22]
Yeah. Great question. Well, I’m the youngest of three sisters, and my middle sister, Jackie, moved to Israel in 2008. Shortly after we graduated high school, my oldest sister, Shelby, spent a year in Israel in 2011 and at the time, Jackie was dating her now husband Omri. Omri has been in the tahina, as they say tchina in Israel or tahini industry, at this point for almost 20 years. And when Jackie and Omri were dating, Shelby got to know Omri and got to understand tahini better. And really just started asking questions, which was, “Why was the tahini so much better in Israel? Why wasn’t there good tahini available in the States?”
And also, “What did we even really know about tahini there?” And those questions really just started to frame a business idea. She pinged me, the youngest sister, just graduating from University of Delaware. I studied interpersonal communication and I really brought some of the background that I got at UD into shaping our initial strategy and business plan for hopefully making tahini a more popular ingredient in the American market. So we spent a year and a half doing market research and really understanding the opportunity. And in May of 2013, we imported our first very small container of tahini and started selling it here in the Philadelphia area.
Karin Samelson: [2:50]
Awesome. Well, I really want to know why is tahini so much better in Israel?
Amy Zitelman: [2:55]
It’s better in Israel. It’s better in Lebanon. The secret is in the seeds and also in the manufacturing processes. But similar to coffee or wine, the region where sesame seeds grow, produce a different flavor profile, quality, and consistency. And then of course, there are roasting and pressing processes that longstanding manufacturers have perfected. And so the seeds that Soom currently works with, are seeds from Ethiopia, they’re called White Humera Sesame, and they grow in the Northwest Humera region of Ethiopia. And they’re really coveted for their nutty flavor profile. It gives tahini a lot more versatility than tahini that are made from sesame seeds from South America, Asia, India as well, and also ratio of oil to sesame meat, that plumpness of the sesame seed that makes for really creamy and hopefully easily emulsified tahini product to use in your kitchens.
Alison Smith: [3:55]
That’s amazing. And I have so many questions for you, but before we get too far, I have to share my special guest. I had this in my pantry. It Soom’s Premium Tahini. I did have the Chocolate Tahini, but it is all gone because that one is just… You can’t stop once you start, so good.
Amy Zitelman: [4:20]
Well, I’m glad to see it. And, yeah, our goal has really been to get tahini into every pantry across the country. That for us, has meant from professional kitchens to home kitchens. And we wanted to also educate the American market, not only of how they could use tahini at home, but it’s versatility. And that really lends itself to the sweet flavor profile, that nutty flavor profile, which set itself up nicely as an alternative to Nutella and other sweet spreads on the market, in our chocolate spread.
Alison Smith: [4:53]
Yeah, absolutely. And y’all do a great job with recipe content across the board. It makes the product really easy to consume and I love that y’all do that, but I want to go back to spending a year and a half on market research alone. Would you recommend other brands to do that and tell us what you learned along that path?
Amy Zitelman: [5:17]
I think yes and no. It really depends what another brand’s goals are or timeline is. Being so young and coming straight out of college, I had the time to live in Israel for a year, go to Ethiopia, actually twice in 2012, for the sake of it. And I didn’t feel as much of a rush to get the product into market, but I wouldn’t say that that year and a half of market research, was through paralysis of needing to really understand what the market was. It was more so our organic timeline that my sisters and I were on. I think one of the things that paralyzes people from getting started, is this need for everything to be perfect. And especially in a digital age, the brand, and the look, and things like that, and that was not at all what held Soom back.
I mean, we launched with even not that that is even uglier labels than the label you just held up, we were able to rebrand a few months ago, which we’re really excited about. But for us, it was understanding the product and understanding its potential space here. And it just happened to take that long due to life circumstances mixed in. But I wouldn’t say that there was anything special about doing that for longer. I think it’s an ongoing process too. Market research, we should all always be getting feedback from our consumers and understanding what’s resonating with them, and what’s working in our marketing strategy and in our product communication. And so that’s just an ongoing thing that should happen forever, for a brand.
Alison Smith: [6:54]
Yeah. Completely agree. And I love that you stated the paralysis that can happen, especially when starting a business. I mean, that’s a huge leap for anyone and we’re big fans of just trying to find that balance between the quality and doing things right, but also just getting going, because like you said, you have to learn along the way. So that’s important, I think.
Amy Zitelman: [7:24]
Yeah. And there’s something to it being the least viable product, like the best quality that you can accomplish with your resources and still be putting the product into the market. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that as long as your business model is aligned with projecting that into, not even just projecting that, presenting that into the realm of realities. But yes, I think that there’s always opportunity to grow, to improve, and to wait until you have this idea of perfection. Until you actually start doing something, you don’t even know what that perfection could be, would ultimately just hinder anything from really getting off the ground.
Karin Samelson: [8:09]
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re glad you did because we love the product.
Amy Zitelman: [8:14]
Thank you.
Karin Samelson: [8:16]
Yeah. Well talking a little bit more about that growth that you just mentioned and getting going, and actually growing, what has been one of your biggest wins in your business so far?
Amy Zitelman: [8:25]
Yeah, well, we’ve had an omnichannel approach that might be different than other brands’ expectations. I know it was different than what we set out when we started Soom, which was, we wanted to get Soom onto every grocery store shelf immediately and into every person’s pantry in their homes. And what we didn’t realize were, there were other channels and other industries where tahini was a viable product, a really valuable product for the sake of growing a business and for contributing to that. And one of those industries was the restaurant industry and so part of our market research stage, we were able to talk with an amazing chef and restaurateur here in Philadelphia. His name’s Mike Solomonov, with his partner, Steve Cook, and they own the CookNSolo restaurant concept in particular, a restaurant called Zahav, which won the James Beard Award for Best Restaurant in 2019.
It’s an Israeli restaurant and at the time that we were starting Soom, we asked him also, “What tahini are you using?” And he said, “I can’t even name the brand. It’s nothing special. It’s not a very high quality.” And having his opening, that opening into his kitchen, into his pantry, really facilitated the push that I think that we needed to get the product over here and into distribution. So I think our biggest win following that, was 18 months later, Mike actually published a cookbook called Zahav and tahini was a big part of it. And he mentioned Soom specifically in that cookbook and it really facilitated a huge leap in brand credibility, and really initiated that influencer model that could happen organically for a brand like ours, which is a big part of brand strategy these days, almost 10 years later.
Alison Smith: [10:20]
That’s awesome. I would love to hear more about how that initial connection came to be. Did you just do a cold reach out, did you stop by the restaurant or how did that happen?
Amy Zitelman: [10:28]
Yeah, exactly. My oldest sister, Shelby, had been living in Philly. She went to college here and knew the restaurant in its startup days through hosting happy hours there, before it had become the force that it had become. And it was, it was just a cold outreach, saying, “My sisters and I have a business idea about tahina. We’re wondering if we could pick your brain a bit?” And that’s really been our approach along the entire way. I mean, it was the same thing going from grocery store to grocery store, which is, if you start by understanding what your potential client needs, you can get to the solution for them a lot faster, as opposed to making assumptions, or projecting, or even trying to sell in that first conversation.
For me, my approach to developing those relationships and those pipelines towards ultimately closing a deal, is finding out what somebody’s troubles are, what issues you can fix for them with the product that you’re providing. And so we use that initial cold call and cold conversation. It’s also my leading spiel when I was at a farmer’s market or demoing in a grocery store, more in-real-life marketing opportunities than the digital world, that I know we’ll talk about a lot, but asking somebody, “Are you familiar with tahini?” And then just finding out what their baseline is for the product that you want to tell them about, is just a great way so that you don’t lose somebody by making the wrong assumption.
Alison Smith: [12:04]
I mean, that’s so important. I love how you did that approach, “Let me pick your brain. Let me solve your problems.” And just like you said, that goes into B2B. That goes into D2C. That’s exactly how you market your brand with consumers as well as, “How can we solve the problems and pain points that you’re going through with my awesome product?” So that’s awesome.
Amy Zitelman: [12:28]
Thanks. Yeah. And I mean, I have to say that Soom has also been in a unique circumstance where there aren’t a lot of other people selling tahini. There are definitely more now, but back then, almost 10 years ago, there weren’t. And so wasn’t a lot of noise to have to cut through, in order to become that known or go-to brand for the products once they found a place for it in their behaviors.
Karin Samelson: [12:53
Yeah. That’s such a good point and something that I think a lot of the small business owners come up against, especially when they’re just concepting an idea. So what would be a good piece of advice to a founder that may want to bring in a product that does already have competitors on the shelf?
Amy Zitelman: [13:15]
Oh, God, I don’t envy people that choose to do that. I always joke how lazy me and my sisters are for not having to compete on that level, say with bars, or granola, or fill in the blank, of these more competitive categories. I think the most important thing that you can do, is to find your point of differentiation. I mean, I know I’m guilty of it too, where somebody’s demoing a bar and I say, “How is this different than another bar?” And if they don’t have the answer quickly, then I’m not sure if I’m going to decide to make space for it in my cart that day.
But otherwise, I think finding allies and ultimately influencers that can help build your credibility faster than you might be able to, is a way that Soom was able to jump up a couple rungs as it related to just tahini’s viability in the market, finding chefs of restaurants that talked about how great tahini was, but also specifically how great Soom was. We sampled with no intention or no expectation that they’d actually feature it, tahini to so many bloggers and Instagram influencers. And I mean, this was eight years ago. So I know that the market for all of that has changed tremendously, but putting the product into the hands of people that can facilitate a faster and further reach, I think is a great strategy for hopefully overcoming some of those obstacles or challenges.
Karin Samelson: [14:47]
Yeah. And I mean that’s a great note because regardless, yes, of course, the strategy has changed when it comes to influencer marketing, but something that you said and something that has held true all this time, is that when you partner with people that actually care about the product, that actually believe in the product, that’s when the magic happens. So it’s incredible that you found this chef. I mean, I need to go look at that cookbook and see how you’re featured because what a win, and that is because you nurtured the relationship.
Amy Zitelman: [15:19]
Right. And when it happens organically and it truly is authentic, that comes through. And I think my favorite thing that has evolved since Soom started, or five years ago versus today, is the difference in value of user-generated content. It doesn’t need to be totally polished. You don’t have to have paid for it, which there was a three to four year window there, where influencers were requiring a lot of money, brands might not have had it. You didn’t really know what was a really authentic recommendation versus an ad. And all of that shifted tremendously. I mean, really, I think thanks to COVID and this idea that anybody can generate content, and I think it’s become, and you two are the experts here, and I know I trust my marketing team for this, even more valuable to have a high volume of user-generated content as opposed to curated or paid-for influencer content.
Alison Smith: [16:17]
Spot on. That’s so spot on. I mean, we preach constantly that lofi video, or still imagery, is going to impact the end user, the consumer, so much more than a polished advertisement or creative in general, generally because it’s that realness. You want to be able to relate, and it builds trust and social proof with brands. So I love that you brought that up because that is something that so many younger brands experience in their earlier days, that they’re saying, “I don’t have the budget to create these super visual pieces of content and I don’t have the budget to do all these things.” But making those relationships or doing things yourself, or asking your friends and family to film things for you on their iPhone or Android, whatever, is super important and impactful, and a lot cheaper.
Amy Zitelman: [17:22]
Totally. And I mean, we do recognize the fact that especially as it relates to food, it needs to look appealing, right? I still don’t post, even if I go to some of the best restaurants and the lighting is really dim, I’m like, “I’m not going to post a picture of my plate right now because it doesn’t actually look that good.” But that’s not to say that it has to be curated through a professional photo shoot either, by any means. But I think that there’s a time and a place, and a stage of growth, where it’s worth the resources to invest in really high quality content. But the foundation comes from authentic testimonial and that is never going to be a curated, beautiful, pretty picture.
Alison Smith: [18:08]
Absolutely. Yeah. So I would love to hear more about the relationships that you created what? Even eight years ago. How do you continue to nurture those influencers and those chefs, and continue those partnerships?
Amy Zitelman: [18:25]
Yeah, I mean, the chefs was the part that I loved the most. To open up new markets, I traveled all across the country and put tahini in a Rolie Bag and knocked on restaurant’s doors while they were prepping for dinner service, and pissing off the chef, saying, “Will you just try our tahini?” And then I would try to visit and go back as often as possible. And some markets, it was once a year. In other markets, it might be two or three times a year. And for me, especially having studied interpersonal communication, it was those relationships and the healthfulness of connection that I think superseded even the product itself. At the end of the day, anything it has competition.
Tahini is a commodity. There are lots of tahinis on the market. If you’re selling a product in a more competitive category, there’s obviously going to be people nipping at your heels and your ability to connect with people, and for them to trust and rely on you for things beyond just the product itself, I think helps solidify that more long-term and withstanding relationship. But I just believe in connection. We reach out to our influencers, we follow their personal journeys. When they have a baby, we send a onesie-type thing. And the other thing is that we just work to respect the fact that they’re humans, we’re humans, we’re all in this together, and if there’s an opportunity for us to help each other, then there’s an opportunity. Or if the timing’s not right, then it’s not right, but just maintaining really clear expectations and reliable relationships, has helped us weather all that time.
Karin Samelson: [20:14]
That’s such a good note. We push on this a lot with, especially when we talk about influencer partnerships and really just asking somebody to be a really strong word-of-mouth recommendation for your brand, is the importance of that relationship. It’s just like it can feel so transactional through the phone screen. And so little things, I love that you said you send a onesie when they have a baby, and just those connections that is so unbelievably important and really not too expensive. And you actually look at the grand scheme of things and how many people that they’re going to be sharing your product with.
Amy Zitelman: [20:55]
Yeah. And we facilitated influencer kits where quarterly we sent out a jar of tahini, a jar of chocolate, some recipe cards, things like that. I think making it as easy as possible and as the path-of-least-resistance as possible, for some influencers who reached a certain caliber of “commission,” I mean, it was before we implemented some of our more commission applications and things like that, as it relates to working with people these days. But if they accounted for a certain amount of sales on our website, we sent them a $200 gift card to Whole Foods.
We really just wanted to make sure that we were adding value to their work and not just asking for value from them. And that’s been our approach and I think is actually a great representation of what tahini does in dishes. Tahini is very rarely the star of a dish. It’s supportive. It brings out the best of the chickpeas, and the garlic, and the lemon juice, and hummus, or the bananas in a smoothie, whatever it might be, it’s so subtle, but still really strong, and healthy, and all those things. And I love when our business practices model the qualities of tahini as well.
Karin Samelson: [22:13]
Oh, that’s awesome.
Alison Smith: [22:15]
I know. That’s great.
Karin Samelson: [22:15]
That was very strong symbolism. I love it.
Alison Smith: [22:19]
I’m so curious. What do the onesie you say? Anything cute?
Amy Zitelman: [22:25]
They say Teeny Tahini, 
Alison Smith: [22:26]
Oh, yes.
Amy Zitelman: [22:28]
For a long time, they were just a little sesame seed, but we outgrew that logo and image and, yeah, now just little Teeny Tahinis entering the world.
Alison Smith: [22:36]
Adorable. I love it. Well, yeah. So we talked a bit about the pain points you were solving for your partnerships and relationships. Can you tell us about a challenge or pain point that you or Soom has experienced, and how you got through it?
Amy Zitelman: [22:55]
Oh, God, there’s been so many. I also want to reiterate and be transparent in the fact that Soom as a marketing engine and as a consumer-facing marketing engine, is really a newer endeavor as it relates to our business. A strong foundation of our company, in particular the first six years, was focused on the restaurant industry, which has very different requirements as it relates to expectations for marketing and for brand activation, and things like that. We always had our product available to consumers through Amazon, and of course, on our website, a little bit through grocery stores, especially in the Mid-Atlantic region, from DC to New York.
But so much of our business came from restaurants, that the marketing side of it, things that your UMAI team and clients would likely relate to the most, have really only emerged in the past few years. And that was because of a huge surge of consumer sales and access because of COVID. When the restaurant industry shut down and people started cooking at home more, all of that groundwork that we did with recipes and preparing for more people to have tahini into their homes, finally clicked. And so in that, we hired a VP of marketing, Dana Mensah, who’s the one that’s implemented through my growth group, into every associate that’s come into our marketing department since.
We’ve built out our marketing department. We have new labels and brand, like I was sharing before. And so, one of our biggest challenges has been balancing those channels and the resources that you put into them, and the purpose of marketing within those channels and the return that you could get from those channel marketing endeavors, but we’ve had anything, I’m super transparent about it, as challenging from a recall that we had to participate in, in November of 2018, that really impacted the credibility and strength of the business through 2019.
Of course, on the heels of that was COVID. We have distribution and operation challenges. Tahini is really heavy and very messy, and so bottles break in transit or buckets are damaged in shipping, and managing the relationship with the end user, whether it’s a restaurant or whether it’s a person that ordered one 11-ounce jar, has always been important for us, because of course things can go wrong. I think it’s how you manage people’s expectation and the communication through those challenges, that really puts you on one side or another, as it relates to the outcome.
Karin Samelson: [25:37]
And I mean, after hearing that, it’s just also a reminder on the complexity and how many things can… You do need to have your eye on so many things at once. And even if something is so detrimental, that you would think would be detrimental as a recall, when that happens, it’s like you can recover from it and that’s proof that you have. And it happens all the time. I think the PR teams are really good. So you might not know it has, but it does happen. Cool. So yeah, I think that I was really surprised. I don’t know if you were, Allison, how big your B2B side of your business is, and for some of our brands, I mean, that could be definitely something that they’re interested, getting into more restaurants, getting into more wholesale. So how does that B2B channel differ from that D2C channel in terms of marketing?
Amy Zitelman: [26:30]
D2C takes a lot more time and costs a lot more money. I would say that the volume of consumers that you need to acquire, is very resource-intensive. And whether you’re acquiring those people digitally through your website, through Amazon, or a third party e-commerce at this point, or in the grocery stores, there’s a lot more content and cost associated with that channel. The challenges in food service are ultimately in the complexity, like no different than the consumer channels, in the gatekeepers and the decision-makers. A lot of times, especially as it related to Soom, our decision-makers were chefs, but there are times in a larger organization, like a fast casual change, where the gatekeeper is somebody in the finance department and they are more concerned about the cost of the product than the quality of the product or the performance of the product in the recipes that they’re using at the store level.
And so I think that understanding who your buyer is and the gatekeepers, whether that’s an individual, which is more likely in B2B or all the noise that I think exists on the consumer side, is really important in terms of understanding and differentiating between the channels. But the beauty of food service and restaurants, fast casual chains, small manufacturers, is that they buy more product and they buy it more often. And so when you do get tahini into a restaurant, a restaurant might use 40 pounds a week and a consumer at home, no offense, Alison, but might be sitting on an 11-ounce jar for God knows how long and never finish it or never even open it.
Alison Smith: [28:18]
Well, I will say it last a long time, consumers.
Amy Zitelman: [28:21]
Yeah, it has a very long shelf life. 
Alison Smith: [28:25]
It’s worth it, the money.
Amy Zitelman: [28:27]
But that’s just the reality of it. And it’s not to say that you’re not our ideal consumer, that you wouldn’t love cooking with tahini. I have friends who have my jars sitting in their pantry and I’m like, “Why aren’t you using it?” And that’s because human behavior and consumption behavior is super complex. The reasons why people decide to initiate a behavior, an action, are influenced by so many things. You mentioned social proof, Allison, which is one of the strongest and really top three, I think, as it relates to enacting behavioral change. And so that’s what I love and what I really encourage other food founders to consider is, is there a market or a channel where the volume is higher and the velocity is faster, because that’s a great foundation for growing the consumer side more sustainably.
Alison Smith: [29:18]
Absolutely. Couldn’t have said it better. I am curious though, do chefs pass you on to the financial teams and have you had to sit down with those people?
Amy Zitelman: [29:31]
Yeah. In a few instances, some of the larger channels that we work with, but it’s no different really than, I think, your negotiations with a buyer in a grocery store, which is, “What are the margins going to be and what is your potential velocity or consumption? And where is the interest from the consumer?” Right? The grocery store’s consumer and end user are the people bringing ingredients into their home or packaged goods into their homes. The restaurant’s consumer is the person choosing to order it and eat it. And so if your product is not adding value in either of those circumstances, to either of those consumers, then they’re not going to purchase it. And the thing that’s been most glaring to me especially the past six months with this economic turmoil and this ideas of inflation is, it’s value that’s most important to people.
They have to like your product, but it also has to match how much they’re willing to spend on it. There’s a threshold for loving something and then it becoming too expensive to love it enough to actually want to buy it. And that was something that we were able to learn through the restaurant industry, because so much of it is also margin-driven, as opposed to where you can fluff around that or manipulate by focusing on a core consumer and maybe be able to kick that can down the road, because your early adopters don’t care how much it costs. Eventually though, to reach the masses, somebody cares how much it costs and it’s in relation to how much value it adds to their lives.
Alison Smith: [31:04]
Right. And the reason I asked is, I’m just imagining the financial teams that restaurants be cutthroat and even so more so with inflation, everything like that, so yeah and not having the value, the taste buds of a chef. So just curious how those conversations go and how you navigate them?
Amy Zitelman: [31:27]
Yeah. And I mean, the important thing to keep in mind and understanding your consumer or your client is, chefs are also very emotionally-driven. But through that, especially our philosophy of connection and relationship-building, that help solidify a place on a menu. Another thing that’s great and to consider is, once tahini is cut into a dish, it’s hard to replace that with something else because it could interrupt the recipe, and then you’d have to retrain your whole staff about how to make it.
So in some ways there’s security and in some ways there’s risk, and all of these other, I think, threats of disruption, but that’s any industry. At the end of the day, you want to create this textbook of, “This is how to win on D2OC online, and this is how to win in grocery stores, and this is how to win in restaurants.” And as you know and everybody listening to this, knows if there was a real playbook, then that would be a New York Times Best Seller and there would be a lot more people trying to do what we’re all doing.
Alison Smith: [32:29]
Yeah. I mean, I’ll read it, we’d all read it.
Karin Samelson: [32:33]
Yes, we want it all.
Amy Zitelman: [32:36]
It’s not to discredit what UMAI Growth Course does, what my team loves about it, are real-world examples of what has worked for other people, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you also. And I think having that perspective and having a team, or a curation, like what UMAI provides and be able to think about, “How does this apply to us in our product, in our brand?” or, “How might we be a little bit different?” is so helpful in the onboarding of new strategies when there’s a lot of noise going around about what really works or what you should be doing. So I know that’s why our marketing team loves the Growth Course, is because of those real-world examples and also just strategic concepts that are good to think about, as opposed to saying this is a 100% going to get you there.
Karin Samelson: [33:29]
Yeah. Be aware of anybody who says that.
Amy Zitelman: [33:31]
For sure. I was going to say, wouldn’t that be nice if we could be so bold?
Amy Zitelman: [33:37]
Karin Samelson: [33:38]
Well, while we’re on the topic, I mean, we enjoyed our conversations with Dana and I believe Julie, is that correct?
Amy Zitelman: [33:46]
Julie was in it at first, and then we had Maya, and now we’ve just onboarded Diana. Like I was sharing, part of our onboarding process for social media and communication associates, is the Growth Course. So we’ve had several people within the organization take it.
Karin Samelson: [34:04]
That is so exciting. That is exactly what we are hoping for, for it to be an ongoing resource for y’all, because as things change and digital always changes, we will always be updating and providing other resources for y’all. So I love that you guys are hanging out and sticking around, and being super active with it. That’s awesome.
Amy Zitelman: [34:23]
Yeah, we really appreciate it. I pinged, I guess I slacked Diana before and I said, she’s the newest, “So what do you like the most?” And she said a variety of things, but in particular, there was an email marketing module with a downloadable PDF, and she loves the template for email marketing strategy. So thank you for that.
Karin Samelson: [34:48]
Woo. Okay.
Alison Smith: [34:49]
Yes. Love that. Everyone doesn’t think email is as sexy as all the other levers. So sometimes it gets overlooked, but I think deep down, it’s one of our favorites, it definitely moves the needle.
Amy Zitelman: [35:03]
It’s the valuable for Soom. I would say if I were to rank our marketing resources in terms of return on investment, the first one is still traditional PR. I mean, to be able to be featured in a publication like Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, we see real-life immediate returns to our website orders, Amazon checkouts, things like that. The second one is email. And granted, it’s just harder to track as it relates to the influencer and social media-type content that’s being put out, but as it relates to, for me as a CEO and not a marketing brain, I really covet and just love our email marketing channel and we put a lot of our strategy and resources to it. So anytime we can improve that and improve its return, is something that our marketing team is constantly strategizing about.
Alison Smith: [36:05]
Yeah. That’s great to hear. And just to pull it back to how you’re speaking on relationship-building, I mean, you are arriving in someone’s inbox, a consumer, or a fan’s inbox, and you get to have that direct connection with them through email and that’s a pretty personal place to be. So yeah, I think it really ties nicely into your overall mission as a brand.
Amy Zitelman: [36:30]
Yeah. I also think when people choose to open your email, they’re choosing to engage with you. How many emails do we all just delete every day and not to say that everybody opens our emails? I’m not even sure what our open rate is these days, but the people that do, are really engaged and so providing them with appropriate and meaningful content, is really important. And then obviously, curating a larger email list, it’s the top priority because that open rate will always be in relation to how many people are on the list. And so to grow that, is very important at Soom right now.
Karin Samelson: [37:05]
That’s awesome. Love to hear it. You guys, watching y’all’s growth, is super exciting for us, so we love following along. Well, I guess the last question we have is, what would be your biggest piece of advice to a small CPG business owner who might be going through it right now?
Amy Zitelman: [37:23]
Oh, well, I love this. I have a 4-year old son, but we watch Frozen a lot, and we watch frozen II a lot. And there’s a quote in Frozen II, it hit me so hard when I was watching with him, which is, “When you don’t know what to do, just do the next right thing.” Right? There’s no way to know exactly what you need to do to get from A to Z, but you can figure out what to do to get from A to B, and B to C, and things like that. So that’s my biggest piece of advice, I think, is just to focus on what you can control and manipulate, and work on those small wins, in the meantime, leading up to a larger goal.
I also think setting intentions and writing down a one-year goal and breaking that down into what needs to happen this quarter and then beyond that, what needs to happen this month and then what needs to happen this week, to make sure that month piece is done, that quarterly piece is done, leading up to that one big, or two, or three yearly goals, is a great way to tackle some of those more daunting projects.
Alison Smith: [38:32]
Love it. Yeah, absolutely, can’t handle anything unless I break it down and I love that Frozen quote. I’ve not heard that before.
Amy Zitelman: [38:43]
I think it’s Frozen II.
Alison Smith: [38:43]
Frozen II. Okay. We’re going to need to pull that in. Well, Amy, thank you so much. I feel like there’s a lot of great pieces of advice for really any level CPG brand here. So thank you again for giving us so much. And would you like to leave our listeners with how they can contact you or Soom?
Amy Zitelman: [39:08]
Sure. Well, you can find all of our contact info on our Soom Crew page on our website. So that’s You can find lots of recipes on tahini there. And I think the best two ways to follow and stay engaged, or maybe three ways, I should say, Instagram, LinkedIn now, it’s amazing how that, I think, channel has shifted over the past year or two. And then also on Facebook, we have a Soom Foodies group. So if you like food and you like tahini, it’s a really fun casual group to be in. So that’s our real play on Facebook these days.
Alison Smith: [39:44]
Exciting. Well, we’ll be sure and link all of that in the show notes for everyone to find.
Amy Zitelman: [39:51]
Thank you.
Karin Samelson: [39:52]
Thanks, Amy.
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind-the-scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, Catch you back here soon.
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#32: Going “All-In” on your CPG Business with Morgan from Granarly

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#32: Going "All-In" on your CPG Business with Morgan from Granarly

Granarly founder, Morgan Potts, joins Alison and Karin to discuss her dream of bringing granola baked with whiskey to the masses. She shares her business philosophy, how her brand landed on the shelves of Whole Foods, and how taking leaps of faith in business ended up driving much of her success.

In this episode, Morgan shared how she made the jump from “half-in” to “all-in” on her CPG business, and what it’s been like running the daily operations, sales, and marketing! See what’s in store for Morgan and Granarly on this episode of UMAI Social Circle!

Let Us Break It Down For You…

[0:45 – 4:47] Introduction
[4:49 – 7:46] Why granola?
[7:51 – 11:20] Morgan’s entrepreneurial journey
[11:21 – 12:38] Morgan’s big wins & how she made them happen
[12:50 – 18:10] Getting on Whole Foods shelves
[18:11 – 24:45] Advice to other founders in your position
[24:50 – 27:44] Inspiration
[28:44 – 30:41] Morgan’s experience with UMAI’s Growth Course
[30:42 – 33:32] How Morgan continues to market her brand to scale
[34:34 – 36:15] Resources and outro

Mentions from this episode: 

Learn more and Join there mailing list –

  • Shop Granarly, here
    • use the code “UMAI20 20% off
  • Instagram, here
  • Facebook, here

Reach out to Morgan –

  • Email:
  • Instagram, here

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#32: Going “All-In” on your CPG Business with Morgan from Granarly

Alison Smith: [0:45]
Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Alison and Karin, co-founders of UMAI Marketing. And we’re being joined today by Morgan Potts, founder of Granarly, a better for you granola brand made with bold flavors and also a member of our consumer goods growth course. Welcome, Morgan.
Morgan Potts: [1:10]
Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here and I am-
Alison Smith: [1:13]
We’re stoked, too.
Morgan Potts: [1:15]
Stoked, love that. Already speaking the lingo at Granarly. Yes, I’m excited-
Alison Smith: [1:18]
That’s right. I’m in the Granarly headspace, that’s right.
Morgan Potts: [1:20]
You are. Love it. I love it. That’s amazing.
Alison Smith: [1:25]
But, yeah, we haven’t seen each other in a while, so it’s definitely time to catch up.
Morgan Potts: [1:30]
Yes. Lots to catch up on with me. I … As you know, and follow on social, I am all over the place, but back in Austin. Thank the good Lord. So I’m excited to see you all in person, hopefully. And, yeah, this will be a fun conversation. There’s lots happening.
Alison Smith: [1:45]
Absolutely. So let’s start off with your background. How did you start Granarly? How did you get to this point? Let us hear it.
Morgan Potts: [1:55]
Let’s hear it. Okay. I’ll keep it short so I don’t talk all day long. But I have a degree in animal science and I love mentioning that because I feel like the more people I talk to as I grow up, I guess you could say, a lot of people are either using their degree for their career or they’re like, “I have nothing to do with it.” And I just think it’s funny that I thought I would be a vet. So that’s my background. But growing up, I always thought I would be an entrepreneur. My mom was always like, “You’re going to be an entrepreneur,” but I’m stubborn and I wanted to go save the elephants in Africa and go that route.
So that’s my background. Right after college, I got accepted to vet school or … Right, my last couple months of college, I got accepted to vet school on an island and in Grenada and I was so excited, but the week I got accepted to vet school, I had this dream. And then the dream, it was put whiskey and granola and call it Granarly. And fast forward, that’s what we’re speaking about today. But since then, and we were just talking about this right before the show, it’s been quite the journey. I have not always just done Granarly, but I have worked for Women Founders. I worked for companies like Outdoor Voices, Impact, Cardi, and just really wanted to learn business and everything ever since I started Granarly and turned on vet school.
So that’s where I’m at today. And I’ve been saying this for a couple years, but I’m finally, finally, finally almost to the point of just doing Granarly. So that’s the goal. But, yeah, that’s a brief history of the past seven years.
Karin Samelson: [3:22]
That’s a big deal going from grinding with a lot of different things into just growing your brand. How does that make you feel? Are you excited?
Morgan Potts: [3:35]
I’m super excited. It is scary, but I think … I’m 29. I don’t mind mentioning that on here and I think it’s worth mentioning because when I was 22, I said, “Before I’m 30, I want to go all out.” And I … It’s one thing to preach on our brand. I preach get outside, get out of your comfort zone, take risk, and go for it. And I feel like I do that in a lot of ways, but if we’re being honest and transparent, which I love to do, I haven’t fully done that in every capacity.
And when I woke up on my 29th birthday this year, I said, “If I’m going to preach this brand, I got to live it out.” And so here I am going for it, and it’s really scary, but I feel so supported. And every time I let go of other things distracting me from Granarly, I see something grow in our brand and then the company and in myself. And so I just know that it’s finally time and I could not be more excited. So, anyway.
Karin Samelson: [4:22]
Love when the universe pushes us in the right direction.
Morgan Potts: [4:26]
I know. I tried to get another job and literally like not got fired, but that sounds bad. But basically the door shut on me and I was like, “Okay, world, I see you. I’m going to do it.” Yeah, I’m not even going to glance it the other way anymore. So it deserves it.
Karin Samelson: [4:41]
Yeah. Yes. The brand that you’re building deserves your time and energy as much as you can afford. So you said that Granarly came to you in a dream, but is there any other reason why granola?
Morgan Potts: [4:56]
I love that question. So the Granarly came to me in a dream. I was about to go snowboarding and in my little gnarly brain, I was like, “Oh, whiskey keeps you warm on the mountain. This will be the perfect snack.” And so honestly, I wasn’t much of a granola consumer and I would never make fun of someone, but I would see it around, it was expensive. And I’m like, “I could make this at home.” I never, ever, ever thought I’d be making granola. And it’s humorous now because it’s my livelihood, I guess, you could say.
But what I did notice when I started doing Granarly is, one, whiskey comes from grains. And so it made sense for it to be baked back into a grain product. So I thought that was really cool. And then what I noticed when I was walking the aisles researching about Granarly and figuring out where we wanted to go, I noticed that the granola aisle is the same. All the packages look the same. And I realized that everyone uses it as a topping. Everyone’s like, “I put this on my smoothies. I put this on my yogurt. I eat this with milk.” It was always a topping. And what I say about Granarly is we’re not just the sprinkle on top. We like to be the main event because I wanted to make granola snackable. I’m like, “There’s a million granola bars out there. There’s trail mix, but there’s no in between.”
And so we started our food truck in Austin. And then from there, people love the granola so much that we started doing little two-ounce packages and making it snackable where we were reteaching consumers to consume granola by itself.
Alison Smith: [6:25]
What a journey. I had no idea that you had a food truck, by the way.
Morgan Potts: [6:29]
Yeah. Yeah. I don’t … That was another adventure I could talk about for this entire podcast, but that’s what brought me to Austin, actually. I … For you people listening, this is worth mentioning, too. I do things backwards and I applied for a food truck competition in Austin because I wanted to move here. And literally within 30 minutes, I got accepted and I didn’t have a food truck. And they were like, “Can you send us a picture of your food truck?” And I was like, “Oh, it’s in the shop,” and I’m not kidding. Two days later, I got a food truck. I renovated it for a month. I moved to Austin a month later. I was on the news the next day. And then the next day, I competed in the food truck competition. And that was my first ever time opening the doors of our food truck.
Alison Smith: [7:10]
I love it. I mean, this really goes to show taking chances, they work out most of the time.
Morgan Potts: [7:19]
Most of the time. I mean, [inaudible 00:07:19]-
Alison Smith: [7:20]
Even if you fall on your ass, I mean, you learn something, right?
Morgan Potts: [7:23]
Exactly. I was like, “What’s the worst that could happen? I was smart about the money with it. We didn’t put a ton of money into it. We made it really cute. And I was like, “You know what, this is worth doing.” And I feel like that’s being an entrepreneur and you all know, you have to learn to pivot and not go where the wind blows, but see what the consumers want. And I was like, “Well, at least this gets me to Austin,” and I will forever be grateful for that. So, anyway.
Alison Smith: [7:46]
Yeah, exactly. And probably a platform, too, to start off with. Well, yeah, tell us more about the entrepreneurial journey. What are some wins and also pain points that you’ve had to deal with in the past, what, seven years?
Morgan Potts: [8:00]
Yeah, seven years. It’s crazy. I feel like it’s been a journey and I’m sure you all can relate the more I talk … I love talking with people. I feel like my … I always say my favorite part of Granarly is these relationships and these conversations because the more I open my mouth and talk to others and allow them to speak is that we’re all trying to figure it out, we don’t all know the answers, and I think that’s been the biggest thing. And maybe when, for me, along the years, is just learning from other people. I went into this not knowing what the heck I was doing. I didn’t know anything about nutrition labels or food safety or manufacturing, co-pack, all these things. And I’ll toot my own horn for a second, I think it’s a blessing and a curse, but I don’t overthink.
So with the food truck, I just go for it and figure it out. So that’s been really fun. But with that, I was actually reflecting on my drive back here to have this call and interview with you all about if I would’ve had a different mentor when I was 23, Granarly may look completely different right now, but she was who I got connected with. She manufactures Granarly right now and she runs a family-owned mom-and-pop style business that is really successful, but is a lot different than now where I want Granarly to go.
And so I have no regrets, but I think along the way, I didn’t raise money. I have done this by myself. And now that I’m finally at this point where we’ve seen so much organic growth, I’m excited to bring in a partner, I’m excited to build a team, I’m excited to raise money, but we’ve definitely had those moments where I look at our bank account, we have $50 and I’m like, “Well, now what?” I don’t … So I feel like … But I feel like that’s with anything in life. And that’s the moments I’ve had over the past seven years is like, “Is this worth it?” And to me, it’s absolutely hell yes. I would do it over and over again, no matter what the hardships have come. And they are there, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, even if I act like it is sometimes. So I don’t know if that answers your question.
Karin Samelson: [9:55]
Yeah. I mean, what a feeling to be doing this on your own and being like, “Okay, the possibilities are endless, but also it’s really freaking scary.”
Morgan Potts: [10:10]
It’s very scary. And I think that’s the moment I had this past year is I got to a point where it was my baby, my passion project. I wanted to grow it, obviously, and not have control over it. I’ve been very open handed with Granarly, but I’m at the point now where I’m like, “If I want this to be a multimillion, billion-dollar company and sell it one day, I can’t do it by myself.” And so I have to really push control. I have to figure out what I’m really good at and what I’m really awful at. Figure out what that looks like to bring people on and just know there’s people out there way smarter than me.
So I think that’s been a big pivot is I want to have conversation with people and make decisions with someone. And that’s something that I haven’t had for the past seven years necessarily. So I’m excited to step into this new chapter of Granarly and build a team. So, yeah.
Karin Samelson: [10:57]
Yeah, that’s super exciting because if you’re listening and you don’t know Morgan, she is a people person. And she has many mentors, many connections. And I think that that’s an incredible thing for any founder, any business person, anybody just having the right mentors and the right community makes all the difference. So …
Morgan Potts: [11:19]
Karin Samelson: [11:20]
… you talked a little bit about those pain points, but what are some wins? What are some big wins you’ve got?
Morgan Potts: [11:25]
Ooh, big wins. I love this. Well, the most obvious is our launching in central market almost a year ago in September and across all Texas. Yeah. And then our recent launch into whole foods in Austin. It’s crazy. I was demoing there today. I’ve been demoing all week and this is worth mentioning, too. You see me on the aisle on this photo at whole foods and I still can’t believe it, and I have to get better about celebrating the wins because it’s a huge deal and that’s something I’ve wanted and prayed about and believed for since I started Granarly when I was 22. But to actually see it, it’s like I have all these other stressful things that I need to be dealing with, but I have to take a second to be like, “This is a huge deal. This is exciting. We’re in freaking whole foods.”
And so … But I’m out there demoing every day, sitting behind a table, passing out samples. I’m at the farmer’s market for four hours every day, but it’s fun. And so with all the wins, there’s all the other things, but that’s been a huge win for us. Yeah. Grocery. And then, gosh, I don’t even know. I’m like there … I have other things we’re working on that some I can’t mention and some I can’t, but just the growth of Granarly and seeing it around town and places I don’t even know it existed, that’s cool.
Alison Smith: [12:38]
Yeah. I mean, I think central market and whole foods is a big enough win for us to talk about. And I would … I think we should explore that more. I mean, tell us how that came to be and what you did, you think, to get Granarly on the shelves and two huge retailers.
Karin Samelson: [12:57]
And also, how did you get on that shelf talker or that shelf thing? I want to know. I … How did you get on that?
Morgan Potts: [13:08]
I think … You mean the picture of me?
Karin Samelson: [13:10]
Yes. I don’t shop at whole foods, so I haven’t seen an IRL. And when I do, but, yeah.
Morgan Potts: [13:17]
Give me a selfie. Please let’s take a selfie. It’s our selfies. So that’s a great question. I think whole foods has really been working on highlighting their local products and local companies because you walk to aisles at whole foods now, and there are local signs everywhere and it’s so cool. I love seeing it with other brands and seeing familiar faces from people in the CPG community here. So I didn’t pay extra for that. I don’t know what I did. Maybe I’m just a nice person. I have no clue, but that was really cool to see in the aisles. And I was very surprised by that.
So let’s talk about … I’ll group them together. I’ve had different experiences with them and I won’t get into the details of them, but I do have to say, first and foremost, working with central market and whole foods with local and Texas has been amazing. They love working with small brands. They have been nothing short of helpful. And especially central market just … I mean, they send you these forms and I’m like, “I don’t know where to start with these,” but just walking you through them, not making you feel stupid and really nurturing you, allowing you to come in and demo. I go drop off my orders directly at whole foods around Austin just because I love to meet the people that are stocking the aisles and are talking to the customers about what products to purchase.
So I do think … You go back to what you said, Karin, like nurturing relationships with people does go a long way because we’re all human and we’re all just living life. And so what happened is the same time I bought the food truck in 2017, I was here at the whole foods at the domain, and I brought my bags of Granarly into whole food. And I put them on the shelve and the guy on the aisle was like, “What are you doing?” And I was like, “Oh, my product’s going to be here one day. I just know it. And I just wanted to see what it look like.” And he was like, “Wait, what is your product?” So we got to talking. I was like, “I’m just so bold.” I was like, “I have to get someone’s attention somehow.”
And so he took to the back. I met the store manager. They were so nice. They’re probably like, “This little girl, what is she doing?” But they gave me an email address, the whole thing. And the buyer that purchased it from me this year is the buyer I got connected to back in 2017, which is crazy. I found my old notebook. I journal everything because I love moments like this. But … And I posted this on my social media when we launched. Looking back, if we would’ve gotten into whole foods in 2017 or 2018 when I thought I was ready, would’ve been awful.
I am so glad that we were not there because I’ve grown as a person, I’ve grown as a business owner. I’m way more connected. Granarly has a better presence here. And then our branding, we rebranded during COVID and now our brand is what gets the most comments. Anyone I meet at whole foods or central market is like, “Your packaging is like no other.” And so I just am so grateful for the timing of everything and persistence. And I really do think persistence and just nurturing friendships before you start selling really goes a long way because at the end of the day, people want to buy from people and they want to know that you believe in your product and you are passionate about it and you’re going to keep going. So that was a very longwinded answer.
Alison Smith: [16:18]
No, but it was a good one. No, I mean, I have two questions. First of all, did he remember, he or she remember you?
Morgan Potts: [16:27]
I think it was one of … I mean, yes and no. I think it was one of those like it got passed down and it got mixed in and I just didn’t give up. I’m big on the follow through. I’m like … I mean, I let email … No, no, you all emailed me and it’s gone way down my inbox. I’m like, “I got to keep up.” And so even if they weren’t like, “Not right now,” or “Try again next time,” I kept trying again and I kept finding ways in. I really do take notes right now until someone’s like, “No, we will never, ever, ever, ever, ever bring this product in our store,” I’m going to keep trying.
Alison Smith: [16:58]
You’re like, “No, please do not contact me. I’m getting a restraining order.”
Morgan Potts: [17:01]
Alison Smith: [17:03]
That’s when we stop.
Morgan Potts: [17:04]
Yeah,”Okay, fine, I’m throwing in the white flag.” But, no, I think … And they don’t refresh their categories all the time so I think it really is a timing thing. And I had to change how I think about things and my buyer was just doing her job. She wants products on a aisle that are going to make sales for whole foods. That’s her whole job.
And so I had to remember, this is not a personal thing. This is a business thing. And so when I started talking about our success at central market and bringing in a new consumer to the granola aisle that’s more of the cool whiskey dads then the moms of the world. Then things started happening.
Alison Smith: [17:37]
Yeah. I think it’s just such a good lesson to know that you’re going to get a lot of no’s and it was probably in your best interest. You might have not have gotten your product, taken off the shelf as quickly because you didn’t have that community built up as you do now. So no, it doesn’t always mean no, it just means no right now.
Morgan Potts: [18:00]
Exactly, exactly. And I am so grateful. Looking back, I am so grateful it didn’t happen until this time.
Alison Smith: [18:07]
That’s great.
Karin Samelson: [18:10]
So … I mean, we can talk all day about the hardships of being a small business founder, but what I really want to know is, what are your favorite things about growing your business? And if you have any advice to other founders as to what they could do to maybe try and improve and feel better about when growing their brand.
Morgan Potts: [18:36]
I love that question. I think it’s all a reframing of the mind. I think … I get in these reps where I feel like it’s the end or I don’t have any ideas, but I think my favorite thing about owning a business is the sky is the limit. We get to create, we get to dream. And I don’t know, I take things in the mindset of why not do that. And I’m getting smarter now about asking conversations and being more wise with money and I can’t just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks, but I do think it’s fun to think outside the box.
I’m pausing for a second because I got distracted because I’m dreaming right now. But, yeah, I think that that’s my favorite thing about Granarly is not being limited to just making granola. And I mentioned this right before our call and I want to talk about it right now. But if I started Granarly as just a whiskey granola company and left it at that, it will probably be great and that’s fun and all. But I just know our new mission is get outside and get out of your comfort zone. And I really believe that when you get outdoors and move your body, it changes something in you mentally, physically, it’s just good for your soul to be outside.
And then also taking risk and getting out of your comfort zone, it is challenging, it’s scary, but it really does help you tap into your potential and unlock parts of you that you may not know existed. And I had to do that with myself and it’s been the most green feeling ever. And I know that’s a little woo-woo, but I really believe that we’re on a mission to create products to encourage you to do that in either small or large capacities, whether it’s going outside on a walk and sharing a snack with someone or going to hike Mount Everest. I mean, it could be anything, but we’re launching a line of whiskey. I can mention that. We’re launching … Yeah. And I have this thing I’m working on that’s like a on-the-go whiskey to take while you are skiing or snowboarding or on a … People throw back a little hard on shots.
Morgan Potts: [20:43]
And so I’m marrying a snack with a shot situation and I can’t really give all the details right now
Karin Samelson: [20:48]
Oh my goodness.
Alison Smith: [20:50]
I know it’s exciting.
Morgan Potts: [
Yeah. And then our lama odist, I called him the God of granola the other day. I probably shouldn’t call him that, but he’s like our adventure guru. He’s our inspiration and we’re personifying him. I want to write a children’s book about him and I want to launch some greeting card lines. I just feel like there’s lots that I can do with what we, as in the team I’m building, can do with Granarly that’s not just granola. And I think that’s my favorite part to circle back around through your question.
I think that when you think outside the box and think bigger than just yourself, there really are so many things that can happen. And my advice to people starting out, or no matter where you’re at, whoever’s listening, no matter where you’re at in your adventure journey, I call it that because I don’t think that I was talking to … I have a therapist and I like mentioning that. I was talking to her the other day and she’s like, “When you’re hiking a fourteener, you get to these peaks where you need to take a breath and drink some water, eat a snack before you keep going.” And you can see the top of the fourteener and you know it’s there, but you have to regroup along the way, or you’ll be so famished and parched by the time you get to the top and you may not be able to make it.
And she’s … This summer, I took a little hiatus. I went back to Georgia for the summer with my parents. And I had that. I said, “This is my moment to regroup.” And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And that’s why I want to mention to people listening is it’s not linear. It’s not going to be always perfect and it’s going to have hardships, and you’re going to have moments of amazing growth. And you’re going to have moments where you’re like, “Why am I even doing this?” I have those all the time, but it makes the win that much better. And if it’s something you believe in and you’re passionate about, and you couldn’t see a day without, then keep going.
And I think my biggest piece of advice I’ve learned and I love sharing with other people is to talk to other people that aren’t your friends and family, like mentors and business owners, and get honest feedback because not all feedback, even if it’s negative, is not bad. Your friends and family love you so they’re, of course, going to be like, “It’s perfect,” but I think it’s important to hear well-rounded feedback and then base your next move or decision on that, but also staying true to your mission and vision for what you’re doing.
Alison Smith: [22:56]
Yeah. I really like that. And just like Karin was saying earlier, just praising you for how you’ve surrounded yourself with people who can give not only feedback, but trusted advice and guide. I did … What you’re saying about taking a hiatus and taking a break, I think that’s so important, especially as entrepreneurs, business owners, anyone, truly …
Morgan Potts: [23:22]
Yeah, anyone.
Alison Smith: [23:24]
… who has a job or doesn’t, I don’t care. There’s a million decisions that you have to make in the day. And there’s a thing called decision fatigue. And it makes you burn out really quickly, where your brain is just like, “I cannot even think of what … Is it a yes or no at this point?” It’s a real thing and the only way to really solve it is to reduce the amount of decisions, take breaks. It could be months long. It could be just one day out of the week where you’re like, “I am doing deep work and I’m not talking to anyone. I’m just thinking today.” I think that’s super important.
Morgan Potts: [24:04]
Alison Smith: [24:05]
So I’m glad you mentioned that.
Morgan Potts: [24:07]
Yeah, we’re not meant to be robots. We live in this world where we feel like we have to do, do, do and go, go, go. And that’s why I love encouraging people to get outside because I have … Some days, I’m so swamped and I’m like, “You know what, the last thing I need is a walk for 15 minutes.” But it’s the most healing thing I could have done all day for myself to clear my head, even if it’s not long. So, yeah, I totally agree with you. And it’s a hard thing to grasp because it feels like you’re behind, but you’re not. It’s really setting you up for more success, I think.
Alison Smith: [24:36]
Exactly. Yeah. But still, just the excitement and energy that we just heard is you are onto something and you’re killing it. And so I would love to know how you stay so inspired. I know you talk about getting outside and all that, but who inspires you?
Morgan Potts: [24:58]
Oh, I love that question. And I wish I had one person that’s my role model that I look to, but genuinely, and you all are going to laugh and be like, “You’re so freaking cheesy,” it’s people like you all, like my friends, my community, and just even going to demo whole foods and seeing the look on someone’s face, especially like a guy. And I’m like, “I make whiskey granola,” because they just see me with my little samples and look at me and I’m like, “Whiskey granola,” and they turn and then they try it and the look on their face like, “Oh, this is actually really good.” That’s what keeps me going because it’s just like the surprise factor and the … I don’t know, I just love it.
And so I really do feel like it’s the people I have in my life. I don’t think people that I surround myself with would let me give up if I tried. And I talk to people, especially women in business or wanting to start businesses, reach out to me often and ask similar questions like this. And it’s my favorite thing in the world to just encourage them. And I don’t know all the answers, but just be realistic. And so that’s what keeps me going. I don’t have … I mean, I have so many role models and so many mentors and so many people I look up to that are way more talented and successful than I am. But I really do think it’s the people that, hopefully, I can encourage and inspire one day and hope to do along the way. That’s why I keep going.
Karin Samelson: [26:16]
That’s so sweet. That’s so sweet.
Morgan Potts: [26:18]
It’s true.
Karin Samelson: [26:19]
I love symbolism. And I also love therapy. And I love … My therapist was talking about this and taking breaks, but I’m just going to keep building on it because when you take those breaks and you’re drinking water and you’re eating a snack, you’re also enjoying the view from where you are, and it’s still pretty freaking awesome.
Morgan Potts: [26:44]
Karin Samelson: [26:45]
It’s not just when you get to the top, that view’s amazing, too. But I think that that’s something that you do really well. You’re enjoying these parts that might not feel the most glamorous, but you’re making the most out of it, and it’s just really fun to watch.
Morgan Potts: [27:01]
Thank you. You’re so sweet.
Karin Samelson: [27:03]
Morgan Potts: [27:03]
I just got chills. But then … And it’s so true. And one of my friends when I first started Granarly, he said, “You can treat this like a runway. You can either run really fast and fall hard or you can strut yourself and take it all in,” basically, like you’re saying. And not that you can’t. There are businesses that have overnight success and that’s amazing and more power to you, but I am so grateful as much as I’d want to be onto the next adventure right now, I am so glad that these past years have been that. Stopping and looking around, learning along the way, and haven’t just been easy because I don’t think I would’ve learned as much and I’m still learning. So, anyway.
Karin Samelson: [27:42]
Always learning.
Morgan Potts: [27:44]
Karin Samelson: [27:45]
Love that. Well, Morgan, we mentioned this at the very beginning, you are a part of our growth course community, which we are so …
Morgan Potts: [27:53]
Karin Samelson: [27:53]
… thankful for. So we want to ask a couple of questions around that if you’re open to it.
Morgan Potts: [28:01]
Let’s do it. I love being a part of this community. I’m probably the worst student you’ve had, but that’s okay. We can talk about it.
Karin Samelson: [28:08]
We can talk about it.
Alison Smith: [28:08]
I’ll never forget, Morgan’s always in her car whenever we do …
Morgan Potts: [28:12]
Oh, yeah.
Alison Smith: [28:13]
… live calls. She’s always in her car driving with her video down here and it’s like, “Where are you going now?” She’s always on an adventure.
Morgan Potts: [28:22]
Always. And I’m like, “I learned so much and I still am.” I still talk about you all’s course to people. I … Anyway. You’re going to ask questions, but I loved it. I just can’t with myself sometimes 
Alison Smith: [28:35]
That was awesome.
Karin Samelson: [28:36]
Yeah. We’re just happy that we have you here for 40 minutes. We’re here with you. So what was one of the favorite things you liked about taking the course?
Morgan Potts: [28:48]
I think … Well, let me mention, you all know Kate was part of it and she’ll be on the podcast and she’s one of my best friends and she just spoke so highly about it. And I know her business changed so much from it. And so it was a no-brainer for me to do it. And I think I am not afraid to admit, I learned so much. And I said on … The community was so great for me and just the meeting times and you all. And I was going to say how you all dumbed it down for me, but I think the better word to use there is it was so approachable, which I love because it can be intimidating. There’s so much, it’s constantly changing.
You all are always still, to this day, sending me updates on what’s changing with Instagram, what’s changing with X, Y, and Z, and it’s super helpful. And I think that you all really care about what you’re doing. You’re really skilled in it and you’re always staying on top of it and learning, and it’s helpful to someone like me that’s all over the freaking place and would love to focus everything on marketing, and ads, and email, and campaigns, and all that jazz, but it was just tangible and easy to incorporate into our business, if that makes sense. So I really do think that that was my favorite part. I learned so much.
Alison Smith: [29:55]
We loved having you in the community. And you’re still there, you’re just busy, busy, getting into central market.
Morgan Potts: [30:02]
I know. I need … I know. And I’m like, “I needed to be better.” Our website has gotten no attention, but I still reference all the sheets we did and everything like that. I’m like, “It’s super helpful.” So I just think that, yeah, I can’t brag enough about how easy it was to comprehend. So I’m excited to incorporate more.
Alison Smith: [30:23]
Thank you, Morgan. That’s nice.
Morgan Potts: [30:25]
And you all made me not be so scared to spend money on ads, even though I’m not running any right at this second, but I probably shouldn’t say that. But that was my thing. I was like, “You have to spend money to make money.” And I’m like, “I don’t care if I’m in that,” but you all made it more approachable for me.
Alison Smith: [30:39]
That’s good. Yeah, that’s a big one for us. So since this is for the most part, it’s a digital marketing podcast for CPG. What are you most interested in pursuing or what are you currently doing with your current marketing?
Morgan Potts: [30:56]
I have started implementing SMS marketing, which has been fun, and I’m still nurturing my email list, but I did set up evergreen campaigns and that has been great. I have evergreen campaigns with my emails and my texting, and that’s great because those are just flowing without me even touching it. And I think that’s one of the best things I learned from you all is just getting my systems organized. So as an only person doing this right now, I need things to be happening when I’m not happening. You know what I’m saying?
And so right now, we’re not doing any paid marketing at the moment just because our website is getting renovated and we have some exciting things coming to the site with the launch and whole foods and central market. But I am about to start running ads and incorporating things I learned from you all to promote more shopping to the stores to support the stores because I want to do well in central market and whole foods here so we can grow nationwide. And I really do think that’s going to come from some marketing. So that’s my focus right now.
Obviously, I’m always on Instagram and I’m still running that by myself and I use my social calendar to get all that set up and everything planned. So that’s just rocking and rolling, too. And even just down to the basic social calendar that you all gave me, that has been just my bread and butter. So I think that’s all we’re doing right this second. I’m trying TikTok, but there’s so much-
Karin Samelson: [32:22]
Aren’t we all?
Morgan Potts: [32:24]
Morgan Potts: [32:26]
I’m like, “We need to hold catch-up call just on all the new things happening in the world.” I’m like it’s just forever changing, I think.
Karin Samelson: [32:31]
Yeah. Yeah. We need to have another side combo, for sure.
Morgan Potts: [32:35]
Karin Samelson: [32:36]
But just … And a friendly reminder that you never have to do all of it. Even if you have the tools in your toolbox, you don’t always have to use them. Use what works at the time, what’s going to actually help you move the needle and go from there. That’s really exciting, though. You’re always crushing it on social and I need to sign up your SMS.
Morgan Potts: [32:56]
Yes, you do.
Morgan Potts: [32:58]
Yeah, that’s been a fun one and something new. And I feel like text marketing is … I don’t know, people are into it now. So I fall for text message marketing. So I was like, “Let’s try this out.” But, yeah, I think … And I love that you said that because I beat myself up with not doing enough a lot of times, but focusing on these grocery stores right now has been my focus. And until I bring on some other people on our team and have some growth, that’s just … I’m doing the best I can right now. So, anyway.
Alison Smith: [33:26]
Oh. But, yeah, let us be the one to tell you, you are doing enough and you’re killing it.
Morgan Potts: [33:32]
Thank you. You all are so sweet.
Karin Samelson: [33:34]
Who are you going to be hiring first?
Morgan Potts: [33:37]
So I brought on … His name is Matthew and he’s amazing. And he is my-
Karin Samelson: [33:41]
Shout out, Matthew.
Morgan Potts: [33:42]
Matthew, I don’t know if he’ll listen. I’m sure he will. He’s a dad to two boys. They’re so cute. And he’s married and he’s amazing. We went to college together, but I brought him on as my sidekick, I guess, is the best way to put it. He’s really well versed in systems, operations, and finance, which are three things that I do not like. And so he’s getting into the nitty-gritty of all our numbers, figuring out how much money we need to raise, figuring out where our money’s going, all that jazz. And he has been a lifesaver. So I brought him on about a month ago.
And then with that, we’re planning out our first fundraise and then we’re planning out what our key hires will be. So stay tuned.
Karin Samelson: [34:19]
Whoo, Matthew. Let’s see it. Let’s …
Morgan Potts: [34:22]
Let’s see it.
Karin Samelson: [34:22]
… do this.
Morgan Potts: [34:23]
And put him on the spot. He’s got a lot of work to do. I was going to help him ready for a fun time because there’s nothing short of that around here.
Karin Samelson: [34:31]
That’s just CPG.
Morgan Potts: [34:33]
It is, it is.
Karin Samelson: [34:34]
Cool. Morgan, we enjoyed having you on so much. So glad you’re back in Austin, too.
Morgan Potts: [34:39]
Karin Samelson: [34:40]
Let’s definitely go get some happy hour coffee, dinner, whatever. But would you like to leave the audience with a link or call to action? What do you want to tell?
Morgan Potts: [34:48]
Yeah. So you all can find Granarly at I have a code just for you all for 20% off and it’s UMAI 20. So we’ll put that in the show notes or somewhere and you can shop If you’re listening and you’re in Austin, we are … Again, you’ve heard this a million times, we’re in central market and we are at whole food. And also, if you’re listening and you are just starting out in your company business, you have an idea, you want to talk any of those things that I mentioned, I love connecting with other people. And the best way to reach me is probably on my Instagram, which is Morgan A. Potts and just DM me or send me an email,
I love to hear from people and would love to grab coffee or have a Zoom. I welcome that with open arms. And, yeah, just stay tuned. Sign up for our email list and sign up for our text message marketing on our website. And there’s lots of exciting things coming you all’s way.
Karin Samelson: [35:44]
Awesome. Thanks, Morgan. We’ll put all of that in the show notes so people can find direct links and …
Morgan Potts: [35:50]
Love it.
Karin Samelson: [35:51]
… yeah, keep killing it.
Morgan Potts: [35:52]
Thank you all so much. This has been so fun. I want to talk forever with you all.
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind-the-scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, Catch you back here soon.
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#31: Creatively Marketing your Herbal Brand while adhering to Regulations with Zoë and Summer

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#31: Creatively Marketing your Herbal Brand while adhering to Regulations with Zoë and Summer

We’re speaking with Zoë and Summer, herbalists, creatives, and regulatory nerds to share how herbal brands can creatively market their brands despite strict regulations. Zoë, a PhD in Plant & Soil Sciences, and Summer, Communications Manager and author of Kosmic Kitchen Cookbook, met while working at one of the largest herbal tea companies. They both dropped out of the corporate world at the same time and decided to join forces. They realized that in the world of herbal products, the regulatory and creative teams deeply need each other in business.

In this podcast episode, join Alison and Karin, Co-Founders of UMAI Marketing, as they break down the journey of Summer & Zoë, as well as how they help herbal brands succeed.

Let Us Break It Down For You…

[0:46 – 4:32] Introduction
[5:58 – 8:11] The Emblossom conference journey
[9:09 – 12:20] Overcoming hurdles as herbal brands
[12:57 – 15:35] Marketing and creativity tips
[15:56 – 20:37] Defining regulatory categories
[22:40 – 29:11] The right approach to marketing your herbal brand
[30:59 – 33:42] Who should be in your regulatory Rolodex?
[33:46 – 36:16] Resources to use for FDA and to stay up to date on regulations
[36:23 – 39:10] Other resources and outro


Mentions from this episode: 

Learn more about –

  • Find Summer at warmly, the agency, here
  • Find Zoe at HerbNerd Research, here

Join their mailing list –

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#31: Creatively Marketing your Herbal Brand while adhering to Regulations with Zoë and Summer

Karin Samelson:[0:46]
Great. Welcome to the UMI Social Circle, where we’ve taught consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Allison co-founders of UMI Marketing, and we’re being joined by Summer Singletary and Zoe Gardner of Emblossum, a three-day conference for emerging herbal product businesses. Thank you guys so much for joining us.
Karin Samelson:[1:11]
To start, let’s give our listeners just a little bit of a background. Zoe, what does your background look like?
Yeah, well, I’ve been in the herb world for about 20 years now and always guided by my love of the plants and it’s taken me to all kinds of places I wouldn’t have expected. I was in academia for a while and focused on botanical safety and the safety of different herbs, and then went on to run R & D, research and development, at a major herbal product company where Summer and I met so I’ll leave that for her introduction.
Part of the safety work was writing the Botanical Safety Handbook. It’s a book that goes over the safety issues of about 500 different herbs used in herbal medicine so it’s a really thorough resource and it was a great grounding for the technical work going forward. I have my Ph.D. In plant science and kind of went on from the work at the company. I’m a corporate dropout like many of us are here I think, and decided to become a consultant. I work as a regulatory consultant for herbal product companies and Summer and I, and another colleague co-founded Emblossum Herbal Business Conference a couple of years ago. It’s been a wonderful smattering of activities along the way.
Karin Samelson:[2:28]
Yeah. You are an herbal expert that’s for darn sure. It’s great to have you here and helping our brands that might not know that they’re an herbal brand, but just might be, and we can get into that a little bit more later, but Summer, what is your background?
Yeah, a bit of a windy road. I can’t say that I imagined that I’d end up in marketing, but here I am and I love it. I started getting into plants more deeply in college, where I was really into developing community gardens with friends. We did one on campus and I was really more focused on creating food equity and growing organic gardens and creating more access. It was through gardening that I actually fell in love with the plants and around that time was the last recession. I got out of college with an environmental studies degree and a passion for herbalism and there wasn’t much going on so it actually gave me this unique opportunity to dive into what I was most interested in, which was herbalism and gardening at the time. I came from that angle at first and studied at herb schools, a couple across the country.
I’m from Florida. So originally there and some in Vermont and then eventually I led to California and when I finished my schooling at the California School of Herbal Studies, it was just perfect timing. I had been marketing unknown to me the whole time. I had cabbed an Instagram and a blog. It was that time when blogs were very popular and I was doing marketing, I just didn’t know it at the time. It was just perfect timing. One of the bigger tea companies, if not the biggest herbal tea company in the United States, where I met Zoe. They needed somebody to develop their Instagram and start their blog. I ended up working on the marketing team and developed my chops as a marketer and I absolutely loved it.
I realized that when you work for a brand that has a really strong purpose and message, it can be quite easy to be a marketer. I think that’s probably the goal for most marketers too, is to work for a brand that they’re very passionate about. I was very lucky and learned a lot about social media advertising, compliance, writing creatively within the guidelines, and copywriting. Now I have a small boutique communications agency and also co-run the Emblossom Herbal Conference with some amazing humans. Yeah, herbalist and marketer, strange duo, but I absolutely love it. It’s really fun to be able to work with the plants every day in that way and write about them.
Alison Smith:[5:18]
Absolutely. I love both of y’all’s stories and they kind of match Karen and I as well, where we work together at a larger place, and then we went off and came back together to create our own thing. Yeah, so we met Summer and Zoe and all the other amazing people that run Emblossom Herbal Conference. Karen and I were lucky enough to speak at one of their last conferences and it was wonderful. The community is just rock solid, really smart people doing really cool things. I would love to hear more about how the conference came to be, how y’all decided that it was a good fit, and there was a white space for it.
Yeah, well, it was 2020 when we started it, which was, as we all know, without saying a crazy year. We had already been freelance both of us for a bit. We do a lot of work together when folks need both compliance and copywriting and creative marketing work. We’re a good team. And we love working together. We found ourselves with Jacqueline, Jacqueline Smith, shout out to our third Emblossom founder. We found ourselves in this space where we are at home, not much to do, lockdowns, and we are just hearing from our clients this huge need. Not only was it hard to be in business at that time, but the guidelines were already challenging as emerging brands.
We started offering free monthly webinars to folks and from topics, everything from general manufacturing practices to compliance, to social media marketing, to financing and loans. We just saw that there were hundreds of people signing up and definitely 30 people showing up live every time. We thought this is just our core network. We don’t even have an entity yet. It’s just kind of us putting the word out there in a grassroots way. This is really successful. I wonder what this would look like if we made it a bigger, more intentional event and that’s how the event was born. It was funny. We did a couple of press things in the beginning. I remember this sweet man who was interviewing us. He’s like, “huh, this is really niche. Who’s going to show up?” We’re like, “we don’t know, but you know, we’re just going to see what happens.” Actually, over 200 people showed up. There are actually a lot of herbal brands that are craving this information that is accessible and scalable so it’s been really, really fun.
Karin Samelson:[8:13]
Well, that’s just so crazy impressive that you guys just realize that, “Hey, there’s a need for this because people are showing up and they’re consuming our content and they want more.” That is so proven, 200 people that is an incredible success so congratulations on that. We got firsthand experience with that. Like Allison mentioned, we had the opportunity to speak there and your community is strong and they’re smart and they ask all the good questions, and just very cool. If anybody is interested in that, you guys got to go check it out, we’ll keep it in the show notes for sure. But moving into kind of some of the things, some of the challenges that herbal brands might face. We talk to a lot of small emerging consumer packaged goods brands, but those challenges might be a little bit different. What are those big hurdles that herbal brands need to overcome, especially in the beginning?
Yeah, I think from the regulatory point of view, I’m just always going to answer with the regulatory nerd answers here so from the regulatory point of view, it’s first understanding what category you’re in. I think for food companies, it’s really clear. They’re food, it’s something tasty or nutritious to eat, but with herbs, everything runs a spectrum from food to medicine. There are no clear lines in an herbalist’s mind. Whether you eat the herb or whether you put the herb on the skin, it’s all herbal medicine from somebody who’s trained as an herbalist, but FDA doesn’t see it that way. No surprise. Figuring out what category you’re in, which will make a difference as to what you can say about your product, how you need to manufacture your product, and a whole bunch of other things.
Figuring out whether your product is a food or beverage, so that would be one category. Whether it’s a dietary supplement, that would be in the category of kind of anything that helps gently fix. So it’s herbs and vitamins are all in the same category. Whether it’s a cosmetic, which is something used topically, or whether it’s a drug, so that’s mostly going to be out of, out of the reach in terms of compliance and manufacturing and all that. It’s an FDA category that they’re very clear about. Drugs heal things and other products do not. That’s the first one is getting clear on the regulatory category because that’ll determine what you can or can’t say about a product. So that’s, that’s number one.
I think one of the other big challenges that herbal brands face is the passion of the founders in a really good way. Most people educated as herbalists who have had really positive experiences with the herbs and then go on to start an herbal product company are people who love to educate about herbs and there’s so much that herbs can do. It’s really hard to know all the things, but only be able to say a small fraction of what each plant can do.
It’s just challenging, and I guess hand in hand with that is the fact that the regulations are fairly murky. There’s some guidance, but there’s not a ton of clear guidance and there are a lot of expectations from the FDA. What is it that you can say about a product that’s going to be okay, versus a statement that might get you a warning letter? Sometimes the difference is really small. As one wild example, if you talk about a product that treats constipation, that would be considered a disease, but if you talk about a product that treats occasional constipation, then that could be a supplement. It’s an occasional thing. It happens to all of us, but it’s not chronic constipation. There are really fine lines between some of the things. There’s nowhere on the FDA website that delineates exactly what you can and can’t say, so a lot of folks carry anxiety around that because they’re aware of the regulations, but haven’t gotten good guidance because it’s hard to find. Yeah.
Alison Smith:[12:23]
Yeah. I just have to say, I just love y’all’s duo. Zoe is regulations and FDA and Summer’s like, here’s how you can massage it and share it with consumers. I would love to hear, speaking of all that, because it is very scary and you’re not just if you’re an herbal brand scared of the FDA, you’re also scared of getting your marketing channel shut down, therefore not being able to market your business. It just is a trickle-down. Summer, I would love to hear how creatively and how through marketing, you take everything that Zoe just talked about and get it out there and amplify it.
Yeah, totally. Yeah. You know, it’s no easy task. Obviously, as marketers, we know that it’s going to change with the brand voice and what the brand is about and their positioning and things too. I really encourage founders or copywriters or marketers whoever’s working on the project to just stay positive. I think the guidelines are in some ways kind of nice because you don’t have a totally blank canvas. You have a prompt at hand which kind of can make your life a little bit easier sometimes. Also, it’s kind of good for the industry not to make wild claims. When we see things like we saw things around COVID-19 that were… It harms the whole industry when we oversell and under-deliver. In some ways these guidelines are, I think as an herbalist, they could be a lot better, but in some ways, it really, really protects us as a whole.
That’s the first step is just to try to stay positive. Then the next step I usually think about is I, as a copywriter, think about the brand voice and how to make things playful. Also, we’ll go into a little bit more about this, but within the guidelines thinking about what is the context that this person is using these plants, and how is the design lending itself a little bit more to the brand and communicating. As an example, if you want to serve a clinical look, then maybe you’re packaging has that kind of clinical look and feel, or if you’re having an herbal food where it’s more of a beverage where it’s a beneficial tea that somebody needs to drink every day, maybe it’s labeled as a tonic and it feels playful, approachable, and tasty.
I think the product itself and the design can lend it to that and also the colors and the illustrations. A lot of times people shout out plants on the front of the packaging or the images. There are actually a lot of ways that you can stay creative within the guidelines. I think just as highly educated plant people, we want to share everything and more so it can feel a bit daunting.
Karin Samelson:[15:35]
Oh, well, it’s exciting to hear that even though it kind of is intimidating and can be a little bit scary, for lack of a better word, you can still get super creative with it and still have fun with it as long as you’re talking to the right people. We’re going to talk a little bit about that later too, but coming back to the regulations, we’d love to learn a little bit more on the specifics on the regulatory categories that you were talking about when it comes to food and bev or cosmetic and how you go about just handling that.
Yeah. I would say how you go about figuring out which category you’re in or deciding which category you want to be in. Yeah, it’s tricky. So let’s see, the first thing is to know the category. As we mentioned, there’s food and beverage, there are dietary supplements, there are cosmetics, and then there are drugs. We’ll leave out drugs for now. The key thing to remember is that your category is determined by the intended use of the product. You could have the very same product and you could be a food or you could be a dietary supplement depending on what you say about the product.
For example, with peppermint tea, you can have peppermint tea and you can sell that. It can be a tasty, minty tea, everybody loves peppermint, and that can be in the food/beverage category or you can sell peppermint tea. You can have a claim on that package and say, this is peppermint tea for relief of occasional indigestion, for help with tummy rumbles, for upset stomach, and because you’re making a claim around how that tea can benefit a system that puts you in the dietary supplement category. So again, exact same product, but depending on how you’re indicating your consumers to use the product, then that’ll put you in a different regulatory category. That’s often a hard one for people to wrap their head around. The ingredients matter, but what matters more is the intended use and the claims for the product.
Another one we like to talk about a lot as a great example is oats or oatmeals. There are oats as oatmeal that we eat for breakfast. Herbalists like to use oats the seeds just before they’re ripe and those go into tinctures or teas and they help calm the nervous system. They basically come from the same plant part harvested at slightly different times, but with different uses. Then you can have oats ground up in moisturizing creams, and it can be a really great moisturizer. Oats is also allowed as an over-the-counter drug ingredient and so the same ingredient but can be used in very different products. That’s getting clear on the categories and figuring out the intended use of your product.
Karin Samelson:[18:34]
Karin Samelson:[18:37]
Oats. I was just like, oh yeah, we’re talking oatmeal here.
Yeah. Oatmeal.
Karin Samelson:[18:43]
Yeah. Just that alone makes my brain kind of turn on like, okay, what other random ingredients like that are just so much more robust than that one use case that we’re so used to?
There’s a lot.
What makes it really complicated? Yeah. As you can see. Yeah.
Alison Smith:[19:06]
I was going to say, this is why y’all are important because I’m like, “well, what does that mean?” Yeah. That’s tough. Did we, did we cover all the types of regulations or is there anything else that you wanted to cover Zoe?
Yeah, I guess the other piece. The area that I focus on is mostly labeling claims, et cetera. The other huge thing is the manufacturing practices. Foods have a lot of regulations around food cleanliness and all kinds of practices in your manufacturing facility, cosmetics a little bit less so, but there are still paperwork requirements and tracking and regulations on the ingredients that go in. When you go to dietary supplements, it gets a lot more complicated. There’s a bunch more testing. There’s testing of all the ingredients for identity, strength, and composition so making sure that the ingredients are strong enough for their intended use and then finished product testing. Again, that same peppermint tea, you’re selling it as a food, you have certain manufacturing requirements, but then you sell it as a dietary supplement, and all of a sudden your costs go way up because you need to do a whole bunch more testing on the ingredients in there. So, those are the two main sets of regulations that herbal product companies need to be aware of. There are a few more small ones, but those can be for down the line.
Yeah. I just want to jump in and say too, I imagine people that are listening right now, especially if you’re considering starting a business and this is all new, you might be feeling really overwhelmed and something that I really like that Zoe says a lot too and I think some of our other colleagues have said before is that compliance is a journey. It really is because the laws are constantly changing. They’re being adapted. They’re also just really hard to reach even as multimillion-dollar companies so don’t be too hard on yourself and do as much as you can now. Usually a journey and a spectrum of compliance, not saying that you should do anything illegal. I think there are some areas you should be more risk-averse than others. Like that example that Zoe said with peppermint, maybe you don’t have the funds right now to start a supplement brand, but you eventually really want to make claims. Maybe you start out in the food category with your peppermint tea, and then eventually when you’re moving and shaking, you can go ahead and make it a supplement. It’s not to say that this is completely prescriptive, but it is how the laws are written so just to add that in there
Karin Samelson:[21:59]
I mean, language is so important always, but even more so here. It’s a really good reminder, but that compliance is a journey reminder is just so good because especially with something that’s not black and white, it’s just, you got to remember that things change over time and to just go with the flow a little bit more and just come to it with a little bit more patience. With that kind of risk and gray area that we’ve been talking about with herbal CPG, especially in marketing, how do you generally approach this through your marketing? Is every platform the same or do you have to approach it differently?
Yeah, that’s a great question. Zoe and I work on this together a lot and what we’ve kind of summarized over the years is the packaging. It can be really expensive to change, right? We tend to advise folks to be more by the books when it comes to physical things that are printed and packaging. It also can affect your partners because if you have to change all your packaging or I don’t know, somehow they get looped in, it can just not be the best experience. It doesn’t happen often, but you don’t really want it to happen, especially on a bestseller. Then you go to digital spaces more so, and you think about product pages. If you’re having things like advertisements, go back to product pages that’s probably another one I would be maybe less colorful with all the descriptions and all the things you want to say as an herbalist.
I would say you can take more risk there and I’ll let Zoe pop in and make sure I’ve got this right after I go through it. I would say that would be somewhere maybe less and then once you get to blog and social media and things like that, we tend to say more. Those things can be updated so if somebody contacts you can go ahead and update those pretty immediately. You’re not going to get warning letters from meta or advertising private platforms as much. You’re not going to get dinged. You’re not generally advertising to a blog page. You can sometimes so just think those things through a little bit before you go on your claims journey.
Karin Samelson:[24:40]
Yeah. Zoe, anything to add to that?
What do I want to say about that? Yeah. Right. There are printed materials and those are tricky. There’s a spectrum of risk. What I often see is small companies push the edge a little bit. If you have a small business, it’s a side hustle, you’re just selling at the farmer’s market then it’s easy to say many things and not be too worried about enforcement. What I often see is as companies grow bigger and get more responsibilities to employees, investors, and anybody else along the way, they get more conservative. Yeah, there’s that change that happens over time and with greater responsibility. FDA, I think it’s good for folks to keep in mind does do a lot of their monitoring online. The easiest thing for them to do is to pay people sitting at computers to search key terms that they’re on the lookout for, and they’ll search websites. They’ve been doing social media. I just saw a little piece that said there was just a warning letter that went out that included a claim made on social media eight years ago. They’re getting their search skills strong and they’re going…
Alison Smith:[26:02]
They go back eight years?
They went back eight years. I’m not sure how they did it, but yeah. It’s a little startling. Social media can be a great place to try things out and then you just want to keep in mind that as time goes by, it may be good to clean up the older stuff, especially as FDA or other organizations just have different priorities that they’re enforcing around.
Alison Smith:[26:29]
That’s really great advice, I think, to go back, because like you were saying, I got really excited when you said it’s a spectrum. When you’re first starting out you can be a little more, I don’t know, maybe a little bit more aggressive in your claims, but as you have more responsibilities, like you said, most likely more capital, you have more resources, you have more education, you’re making less and less of those claims, but what you just said is so important. Definitely go back in time and clean things up once you start understanding what you can and cannot say.
Yeah. Just to add too there are some big trigger words too, and you’ll notice when things ebb and flow. When you follow the regulations more and we’ll share some resources at the end, but you’ll notice there are some hot phases or trends. The regulators will kind of follow those. If you have cures, heals, COVID-19, and things like this it’s just going to really put you at risk. It really is a spectrum, but also knowing what words are on the side of which things. Making any disease claims you really want to do things that support body systems not heals X, Y, Z, fixes, cures. Just learning the terms to even search for is probably a good place to start as well.
Yeah. The other tricky thing we’re seeing is that it’s not just FDA anymore, that a lot of different hosting services want to reduce their risk also so whether it’s Shopify or Meta. I had a client who recently got a 24-hour notice from Shopify that they were about to stop her payment processing because they said she was selling pseudo supplements and she’s got a good dietary supplement brand. We were able to work with them, but it really is these other platforms that are enforcing their interpretation of FDA regulations and that’s where folks are getting into trouble even more so than with FDA. Just such frustrating spots at times, with Meta, it can be just many hours trying to get recourse on why your ads aren’t showing or things like that. The more you stay towards compliance, the less challenge you’ll face there, but you’ll also be saying less about your products, which is a marketing disadvantage so there’s a balance to be struck there.
Alison Smith:[29:12]
One hundred percent and we’ve dealt with Meta for a decade, maybe close to two at this point. One little trigger can shut down your account, and then we’re seeing it, like you said, with Shopify. That’s your livelihood right now so it is very scary and it really is your responsibility if you’re using these types of ingredients to know these things and to keep on top of it. One thing we say with social media, in general, is when in doubt exchange words for things like supports or helps and Summer, I’m sure you could speak a lot more on that, but it just kind of helps your brain train to say it supports this instead of it cures you or anything like that.
Totally. Yeah. There’s a lot you can say, actually, but I think when you first find out the regulations, you’re like a deer in headlights. You’re like what? I can’t talk about all the wonderful things that herbs do. I want to scream it from the rooftop, but then you realize there are other channels and people always find their way to the information that they need. We have such great access. Your product might just be the amazing first step on their journey or their aha moment that leads them down the path to other books and courses.
Karin Samelson:[30:44]
Yeah, definitely. We’re talking about how scary it is, but Summer we love that you’re bringing us back to earth because people are doing it every single day and there are things and resources that you can utilize. Let’s talk about those resources a little bit. Who should be in your Rolodex when you are wanting to start an herbal brand?
Yeah, that’s a great question. We say a lawyer who tells you what you can’t do. That’s a really great person to have. They’re also the first person to call if you get a warning letter. Don’t reply on your own. That’s a big thing we’ve learned over the years. There’s a very expected process that goes through and you might save yourself a lot of worry and back and forth if you kind of go the way that they’re expecting things to flow and it’s just good to have a lawyer if you do end up getting that call. A regulatory consultant, like Zoe, that researches what you can do. Zoe also does a lot of different things like figuring out the right amount and the right dose for certain claims. One herb might do dozens of different things, if not hundreds, but if you’re going to make a certain claim, it might need to be at a certain dose to state that it does that. So having a regulatory person that can look at that, look at how to put it on the label, how the packaging can look, it’s pretty comprehensive.
Then a copywriter that makes it all sound more appealing. Those are kind of the three people we think when you’re doing communications and positioning your botanical brand that are really important. Kind of like we were talking about before this call too, you might think I’m not an herbalist. I don’t have an herbal brand, but if you have some of these active ingredients, you do. Just knowing that too. If you’re using things like adaptogens and you’re using things that are more for the supplement category and you’re positioning as in food, you might actually need to pay more attention than you think. So again, working with the regulatory consultant to figure that out with your positioning would be wise if you’re using botanicals that have a little more oomph to them.
Karin Samelson:[33:07]
Nice. We have two of the three here, unfortunately, or fortunately. Allison and I are not lawyers.
Alison Smith:[33:15]
We’re not lawyers.
Karin Samelson:[33:16]
If you guys have any lawyer recommendations, we’re happy to put those in the show notes too, just so people can can see, but Zoe, did you want to add something to that?
Who was next on the list? You need a copywriter because there are all the boring regulations that I focus on and then you have to have the person with the enthusiasm and the light to make everything sound good in spite of all those guidelines so that’s the other person on the team.
Karin Samelson:[33:42]
Yeah. We got a good balance here, which is awesome.
Alison Smith:[33:46]
Okay. Zoe, did you want to talk about FDA labeling guides, all of that jazz as well? Okay. Let’s hear it. I’m just going to re-ask that. Zoe, what other resources do you use personally often to check in with the FDA and all the regulatory people?
Yeah. All those regulatory pieces. One of the things I find myself using most often is FDA’s labeling guides. FDA has labeling guides for foods, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. For companies that know what category they’re in and are updating their labels or creating their labels for the first time, those guidelines are super helpful. They go into excruciating detail and it’s all in there so all that information is there. FDA warning letters are horribly dreary to read and one of the most important or most helpful resources so there’s a whole database of warning letters that go out to all the companies the FDA regulates. They will say claims that they did not like on a product and they’ll talk about things that they saw in a manufacturing facility that were not up to their expectations. It’s a really wonderful way to just get a sense of what they care about and therefore what other platforms will care about as well in the future.
Alison Smith:[35:24]
That’s all… Sorry to pause you there. That’s all front, anyone can access those?
Anyone can access that. Yep. There’s another consultant Asa Waldstein and he has a wonderful newsletter. It’s called Warning Letter Wednesday. He also has it on LinkedIn with some little videos. He can save you the work of reading all the warning letters and he brings highlights and talks about those so those are wonderful. In addition to his newsletter, the American Herbal Products Association has a weekly newsletter to help keep up on industry trends and also has some of the FDA actions in there. Then as we talked about before the Emblossom Conference. We hope to keep it an annual event and it’s really one of the best places for small companies to come and get clear on the regulations, on the trends, and hear from a wide variety of people. We usually have lawyers, copywriters, marketers, finance folks, and a bunch of other people to help everybody along in their journey.
Karin Samelson:[36:17]
That’s awesome. The Emblossom Conference is once a year, but outside of that, do you guys have other resources for folks?
Yeah, we do. We both have our own consulting businesses so if you want to work together one on one, I do copywriting, and communications and Zoe does regulatory work. We’re often a good duo or if you need any of those things, we both do that and we are coming up with some very special offerings that are coming soon. Without going into too much detail, if you are well on your journey and you need some deeper support, we’ll be offering some programs and classes coming up soon in-between time for people that want to dive deeper between conferences. So is where you can sign up for our email list. I’m sure we’ll have it all in the show notes so if you want to pop over there and sign up for the email list or just say, hi, we’d love to meet you.
Alison Smith:[37:24]
That sounds exciting and mysterious. I’m already on your mailing list so I can’t wait to find out, but you can find Summer and we’ll put all this in the show notes at and then you can find Zoe at and all this will be in the show notes for y’all to check out. Thank you summer and Zoe. This was so enlightening, so much good information. We really appreciate it.
A pleasure to be here with you and just a word of uplift to all the herbal companies out there. You can do it. It’s a journey and the support is out there. I’m just excited about everybody who is an herbalist and you know, wants to bring out products to help folks. There’s a lot to be done there.
Yeah, we need you so don’t be discouraged. We need y’all leading the industry. That’s a big reason why we do what we do. We believe people that believe in the plants and have a relationship with the plants should really be steering the ship in this industry and a huge part of it if not at the front. It’s really important that people that care about our ecosystems and our traditions and the plants, that they’re a bigger part of this industry. We’re really passionate about that so don’t be discouraged. It’s going to be okay. That’s my big ending moment.
Karin Samelson:[39:11]
Love it. Thanks so much, you guys. We can’t wait to share this with our herbalist and botanical brands. I’m sure they are getting a whole lot out of this because we definitely did.
Awesome. Thank you for everything you all do.
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind-the-scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, Catch you back here soon
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#30: Define, Align and Activate a Killer Brand Strategy with Katie Mleziva

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#30: Define, Align and Activate a Killer Brand Strategy with Katie Mleziva

Independent Brand Strategist, Katie Mleziva left the corporate world after working with brands like American Girl and Kraft Foods to pursue her own entrepreneurial journey as an independent Brand Strategist working with smaller more natural food businesses and farms. She joins UMAI Social Circle podcast to chat about why brand strategy is paramount and dives into detail on her three-pronged strategy for brand success. Let’s get into it!


Let Us Break It Down For You…

[3:48]  Introduction
[3:49 – 7:03] Katie explains what a brand strategist is.
[7:24 – 9:12] Zoom out to redefine your overall brand strategy
[9:43 – 11:11] How to become the brand owner
[11:22 – 13:33] Traits of being a really good brand manager
[14:11 – 19:10 ] Katie’s three-pronged strategy
[20:11 – 23:11]  Use this strategy to continue building your brand!
[25:07 – 27:25] The second stage of brand strategy, align.
[27:52 – 31:08] Discovering how to activate the strategy you’ve created.
[32:30 – 34:44] Inspirational brands that stand out
[35:03 – 38:37] Closing thoughts and how you can contact Katie!


Mentions from this episode: 

Learn more about –

  • Real Food Brand, here

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Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#30: Define, Align and Activate a Killer Brand Strategy with Katie Mleziva

Alison Smith:[0:45]
Welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Allison and Karin, co-founders of Umai Marketing. And we are being joined here today with Katie Mleziva. Did I say that right?

Katie Mleziva:[1:03]
You got it.

Alison Smith:[1:04]
Okay, good, of Real Food brands. Hi, Katie. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Katie Mleziva:[1:12]
Oh, I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Alison Smith:[1:14]
We’re excited, too. So first of all, how has your week been?

Katie Mleziva:[1:19]
Good. The weather has been pretty good here in Wisconsin in the summer. We really rely on these summer months for some nice warm weather. So yeah, it’s been good, thanks.

Alison Smith:[1:30]
Oh my gosh. We are opposite end of this spectrum. Right. We, we cannot go outside right now unless you’re going straight to water. We’ve actually been having rolling blackouts to-

Katie Mleziva:[1:44]
Oh, wow.

Alison Smith:[1:45]
… preserve energy. So, yeah, a little jealous of the Wisconsin summer right now.

Katie Mleziva:[1:52]
We’ll talk in winter and then yeah.

Alison Smith:[1:54]
Right. Maybe we could like split our time between Wisconsin and Texas.

Katie Mleziva:[1:58]
There you go.

Alison Smith:[2;01]
And that would be perfect.

Alison Smith:[2:04]
Oh, man. That’s awesome. Well, first of all, we’d love to just get your background, hear from you how you got started, and where you are now.

Katie Mleziva:[2:14]
Yeah. Yeah, good. Well, I started my career at large companies, so American Girl, the doll and book and magazine company, and then Kraft Foods. And then I did a short, well, it was six years, so I guess not that short, in health insurance. And so, the interesting thing was that I saw kind of the front end of the food at the big food companies, and then sort of in some ways, the back end, what happens through the health insurance company when people aren’t taking good care of themselves.

Katie Mleziva:[2:46]
And so, all of these things along with starting to have my own family and my own health just really led me to think, “I really want to use these skills that I have to work with natural food companies.” And I specifically like smaller, more emerging natural food companies that are, I like to say, shaking up shopping carts. They are looking to do things differently.

Katie Mleziva:[3:09]
And so, I left the corporate world and went out on my own to be a Brand Strategist, Independent Brand Strategist. And so, I have a network of people such as yourselves that I collaborate with, but I’m a solopreneur, and I love working with smaller food brands and farms to really define their brand strategy, which I know that we will talk about a little bit more. But to me, it’s just a lot more than selling food. It’s about the sustainability side and the health side and the small business side, so there’s lots of reasons why I feel lucky to do what I do every day.

Karin Samelson:[3:49]
So Katie, brand strategy, you’re a Brand Strategist. That’s a term that a lot of people use, we hear so much, but it’s kind of not clear to a lot of people and sometimes to us, what exactly that means. So could you explain what brand strategy is for the regular old person who’s never heard of it?

Katie Mleziva:[4:11]
Absolutely. And I’ll start by saying that this is not just a food term. This really goes across all industries. So before I focused on food, I worked with all different kinds of businesses. And then I really said, “You know what? This is where my passion is. So I’m going to focus here.”

Katie Mleziva:[4:27]
So when we talk brand strategy, there’s a common confusion between brand strategy and a visual brand. So your visual brand is your logo and your fonts and your colors and things that are very, very important. And when a lot of designers specifically are talking about brand strategy, they’re talking more about visual brands. Some designers actually do both. They do the backend strategy work to inform the design. Some designers prefer to have you share the strategy piece, and then they do the visual brand.

Katie Mleziva:[4:59]
So there’s these two pieces to it. The visual brand is a piece of brand strategy. It’s an outcome. So then you say, “Well, okay, so what is the bigger brand strategy, as the way that I view it anyway?” It’s really almost more like your business strategy. It’s not necessarily all the details that go into the business strategy, but it’s more at that level of strategy in your business. It is the North Star that ties together everything that you do.

Katie Mleziva:[5:27]
So I like to explain it by sort of a three-step process. So we define or refine your brand strategy, and I’ll share what that includes in just a second, and then align your entire team around that or all the different areas of your business, and then activate. So a lot of people like to go right to activate, but it’s hard to activate if you don’t have these strategic inputs.

Katie Mleziva:[5:53]
So some examples of those inputs are things like, I like to just reference back to the three Cs, so your consumers, your competitors, and your company and your competitive advantages within your company and what really sets you apart. So we take those pieces and we say, “How are we going to position your brand to meet the needs of your consumers in a way that your competitors either can’t or won’t.”

Katie Mleziva:[6:21]
And in doing that, there’s a lot of work that goes into kind of doing that simple thing of positioning your brand. But in doing that, that sets the stage for aligning both the front and the back end of your business towards where you’re going, like I mentioned, a North Star, that thing that you’re working towards to continually deliver on that positioning that you’ve selected.

Katie Mleziva:[6:44]
So I know we’ll break this apart a little bit throughout the conversation, but at the highest level, that’s what it is. It’s the thing that unifies everything that you do on the front and the back end of your business, both yourself and your team, to be working towards owning that position and serving your consumers needs.

Alison Smith:[7:02]
Yeah. I love how you said that this is what you do before you get into action. So just to really define that, for people listening, this is what needs to happen before you go out and market your brand, or before you engage with a PR agency. Or maybe if you are already doing that, it’s time to step back and redefine the overall brand strategy. Is that right?

Katie Mleziva:[7:31]
Yeah, absolutely. So, a lot of partners can get this information out of you, but I kind of say, “Why not come to the table with the basic information, at least, and then the partners can ask questions and help you dig in further and refine it.” And then, I guess the point is, let them do the work and focus their energy and the time and your budget on the things that they do best, and come to the table with some of these foundational pieces, so that then they can help bring it to life versus trying to slog through it with you drawing it out of you when you haven’t set aside the time to think about it prior to engaging with someone like yourselves or web designers or packaging designers or any of the partners.

Katie Mleziva:[8:15]
And I’ve heard multiple times people say, “I know I really need to work on my brand strategy as my brand grows, but I’m going to do it after my website redesign.” And I get it. As much as I understand my ideal world is not always the world, you have to know who you’re talking to and how your brand is differentiated, and the high level messaging as well as the support points. What kind of photography are you going to be using?

Katie Mleziva:[8:45]
So again, that visual brand does play into it, but even things at the bigger picture, when you’re developing your product formula, what are those guide rails that you’re going to follow from the beginning or reformulate a product recipe? So it really does guide everything. Whether you’re doing this and wearing all the hats or you’ve got a cross-functional team, it really guides everything that everyone does.

Alison Smith:[9:13]
Yeah. I’ll just say, Katie and I had a chance to talk before this call and, Karin and I, being in the service industry, we see this all the time with clients or our course members, where they outsource all these different endeavors, and all these outsourced teams are a little bit confused. They have a different idea of what they need to be doing or how they need to be doing it. And it’s really you, the brand owner, that has to have that solidified and unify all your teams. Otherwise, you’re not going to get what you want and you might end up wasting time or spending money, things like that.

Katie Mleziva:[9:58]

Alison Smith:[9:59]

Katie Mleziva:[10:00]
Yeah, absolutely. I like to think of it as a hub and a spoke. So typically, with the size brands that I work with, they don’t have a specific brand manager, sometimes, but not always. So often then, the owner of the business is still serving as that central point, that is working with all the different team members. And so, one of the hats that they need to wear is that brand manager hat, thinking about everything working together and the filter of when you have a documented brand strategy that everyone is briefed on and then working against, and then you can use that filter when you’re reviewing creative or recipes or partners or anything. It just really helps everyone get on the same page.

Katie Mleziva:[10:46]
And there’s obviously a lot of emotion when you’re reviewing, let’s say marketing execution, but this helps keep people in their logical brain as well, or at least have the conversation, “I hear you on this. Also, this is where we said we wanted to take it. So this is why we went this route.” And at least it helps you tee up the conversation if somebody is kind of taking a different route than everyone had agreed on.

Karin Samelson:[11:11]
Yeah. So you just mentioned that if you don’t have a brand manager on your staff, you kind of have to be that brand manager, as the owner of your business. So what are some personality traits, what are some traits that make a really, really good brand manager, so that our founders can listen and be like, “Okay. I don’t have any of those. I might need to outsource this.”

Katie Mleziva:[11:34]
That’s a really, really good question. So brand managers really, they are the Jack or Jill of all trades, where in larger companies, you own the P&L and you’re working with financial folks. You’re working with the packaging designers. You’re working with the operations team. Literally all the areas of the business, the buck stops with you. So being able to multitask, being able to rely on experts, other people who are giving you information. And you need to be able to process that and ask good questions, even though you know that you are not the expert in all those areas. So I guess selecting people and then trusting them to be your guides, that’s a piece.

Katie Mleziva:[12:23]
There is that mix of art and science, where there’s the quantitative side, so you have to be really great with the numbers, but then you also have to be able to think about the market research results and how that would, for example, play into creative design and marketing plans and things like that. So it really takes a lot of different sides of your brain. And at larger companies, that’s often how it works, ownership of the P&L and running cross-functional teams.

Katie Mleziva:[12:54]
For smaller companies, sometimes the brand manager is more the one that is specifically keeping all of the marketing pieces on track to be cohesive and consistent. So I’ve seen it both ways. So in that case, it’s more of someone who is a good project manager, somebody who has big picture thinking, but can also really get into the details and proofread copy and make sure that you’re using this word over here and you want to use it consistently, and are you using it consistently throughout everything you do? So somebody who can bridge that big picture and really detail-level thinking. Does that help?

Karin Samelson:[13:31]
That’s awesome.

Katie Mleziva:[13:32]

Karin Samelson:[13:33]
Yeah. That’s super helpful. Because I always think when one of our brands is hiring a brand manager, in past lives with other companies, I’m like, “What all is that person doing?” So that really is very helpful.

Katie Mleziva:[13:46]
Good. I loved that role, because you kind of have your hands in a lot of stuff. So I would say curiosity, too, always wanting to learn and be interested in what’s going on is a good trait too, because you guys know, there’s always a lot going on in businesses.

Karin Samelson:[14:04]
Yeah, for sure. Sounds like a fun job. Sounds like real exciting, never boring. So you do talk about, so you have your define and refine, align, and activate. That’s your three-pronged strategy, right?

Katie Mleziva:[14:24]
Yes. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:[14:25]
So, what are some of the benefits of that define and refine, of really documenting that brand strategy?

Katie Mleziva:[14:32]
Yeah. Okay, good. So, I mentioned some of the inputs that we look at, consumers and competitors and your own company’s advantages. There’s a little bit more that goes into it obviously, but those are what I see as the inputs. And then, the outputs of that process are things like your brand pillars. I’ll come back to each of these, but brand pillars and personality and positioning and your brand essence. So by pillars, what I mean is that as you’re going through all of this, one of the first things that we’re doing, so most of this is internal strategy at this point. Sometimes it will spark ideas that teams will take and run with. But we’re really, I like to say write first for internal, because if you’re writing right away for external, the pressure is just so high to try to wordsmith. So right now we’re just trying to get all the ideas down.

Katie Mleziva:[15:25]
So we’ve got our inputs: consumer, competitor, and company. Then we look at the pillars. So we say, “Okay. What are the three main legs that this brand stands on? So if I just had a couple minutes to tell you about a brand, what would I say are the three most important things?” Part of the brand strategy process is a benefit ladder, where we tease apart the most functional attributes of a brand, and ladder that up to the more emotional benefits.

Katie Mleziva:[15:52]
And so, often that is one of the key pieces that feeds into the pillars. The pillars often have something about the product attributes that’s really core to the brand. But then we don’t want to just stop at product attributes. We want to make sure that we’re also having something be central to the brand that is a more emotional connection with people.

Katie Mleziva:[16:12]
So the brand pillars are really something that’s sort of an internal guide, but it also then once you say, “Okay, these are the three things that my brand is all about,” then it helps you with messaging to say, “Okay, and here’s the 20 other things that I would say about each of those.” And it sparks ideas for people like yourselves, where you then know how to create strategies around bringing that to life. But the brand can bring to the table, “I know my brand and here’s the things that we stand for.” So that’s the pillars.

Katie Mleziva:[16:44]
Then there’s the personality. So I like to say, if your brand was a person at a cocktail party, how would you introduce them? And so, we use characteristics that can help again, creative teams, especially bring that brand to life visually and in copywriting.

Katie Mleziva:[17:01]
And then, the positioning is a statement that you get really succinct. So I like to think of this as kind of a funnel. You’ve got all your inputs at the top, and then we whittle down and we really are wordsmithing until we can be really concise in terms of that positioning statement, that puts into words that idea that I was saying, of how are you going to meet your consumer’s needs in the way that your competitors can’t or won’t?

Katie Mleziva:[17:27]
And then, one of the last two things is the essence. So if you just had a word or maybe two, to boil everything down to that was the core of your brand that you wanted to permeate throughout everything that you do, what would that be? And that really helps people. We put this all on a one-pager and they keep it on their desk. And sometimes, they refer to the whole 30+ pages if they want the more detail, but this one-pager really helps people have a reference point to go back to. But that essence is something that really sticks with them. It elicits a feeling as you think about that word, and that’s what you want to make sure is that thread that runs throughout everything that you do.

Katie Mleziva:[18:10]
And then the last piece is the brand story of the definition phase. So I am not a copywriter, but as part of my process, whether it’s the online program or working-one on-one, we do have a story statement. So that is the kind of thing where it’s a paragraph. It’s high level, but it gives a partner that’s going to work on the activation a sense of, “Here’s where we’re going with this story of the brand.”

Katie Mleziva:[18:37]
So, just one more quick thing there. I like to say that the brand story is… There’s a difference between history and a brand story. Brand history is a good place to start, but it’s the past, and a brand story is where you’re going and inviting people into. So that’s sort of that jumping off point where I end the formal define, refine phase of the work. And then we start to say, “Okay. Well now how can we make this show up in everything that you do within the business and across all of the different players?”

Alison Smith:[19:10]
I really love, I think, it was a part of the pillars, where you moved from functional to emotional. Is that right?

Katie Mleziva:[19:18]
Yeah. It was as a lead in to the pillars is the benefit ladder.

Alison Smith:[19:23]
The benefit ladder.

Katie Mleziva:[19:23]

Alison Smith:[19:24]
So love the benefit ladder, moving from functional to emotional. I feel like that’s a step that a lot of brands may miss, and just talk about the functional aspects of their business. But to really attract and create a community and followers and people who love your brand, there has to be an emotional reason for them to want to purchase from you, to put it quite plainly. So I just think that’s such an important step, that if you haven’t thought of that as a business owner or a brand marketer, then absolutely, get to writing on paper wherever you take your notes and start thinking in that way. So you just mentioned all the work that needs to be done before the action. So tell us more about how food business owners use all of this strategy on an ongoing basis to continue to build their brands.

Katie Mleziva:[20:29]
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mentioned that once you have this documented, the benefit is that it takes a lot of things that are in your head or like Karin, I think it was you that mentioned that different team members may be thinking different things. But it puts it in a documented place where everyone can reference it. So, as I mentioned, a lot of people will put up this one-pager in a desk or in a little plastic sleeve, or somewhere where it’s really readily available, so that literally, as you’re making any decisions throughout the day, at some point it becomes secondhand, but they reference it to say, “Okay, how did we say that? Or how did we want to say this? Or does this new opportunity align with what we said was our main focus?”

Katie Mleziva:[21:15]
So they use it as sort of a litmus test. And I’ll get a little bit more specific, but that’s at a really high level. It serves as this foundation of something that helps make decisions, because as you guys know, there’s no end of opportunities when you’re thinking about marketing plans or partners. There’s so many ways that brands could go, but this helps you make sure that you’re talking to the right people at the right time and partnering with the right, whether it’s brands or vendors, they can help you get there. And so, that’s one of the biggest ways that people use this literally every day as a decision-making tool and kind of test to bump things up against.

Katie Mleziva:[21:57]
The other piece though, is at a more specific level, thinking about making sure that the creative, just as one example, is consistent and cohesive and all telling the same story and moving people through the purchase process. So that’s where your expertise comes in as well, to make sure that that’s happening. And once you know the brand strategy, to help your partners deliver on it. But without having a partner like you necessarily, people are sort of left to their own devices sometimes, or having multiple team members working on it. And so, this allows people to make sure that they have consistency.

Katie Mleziva:[22:39]
And I know that sometimes people say consistent is boring, but consistent does not have to be boring. It’s just making sure that… You can switch it up and surprise and delight people. It’s making sure though, that you are on strategy and on message, and it looks and feels and sounds like the same brand every time, so that you become recognizable and give people the words to be able to tell their friends and get excited about it. So you’re actually doing people a disservice when you’re trying to change things up too much. And so, this serves as sort of the guardrails to be able to do that.

Karin Samelson:[23:14]
That’s so important. We can think of so many brands that we have worked with, where it’s just like, we’re doing that here and this there, and how does that match this? It’s pretty wild how that can happen so quickly too, because it’s an on and off switch. It’s just like you think that everything’s going one way, and it turns out that all these things looked really jumbled and just pieced together, and they don’t really fit in this perfect puzzle anymore.

Katie Mleziva:[23:49]
Yeah. Yeah. And I like to say that, “One plus one equals three.” So when people are allowing you to do your thing and have it be cohesive and all work together, it’s going to be so much stronger than trying to just piece it together. Now, I know that sometimes things change over time, but you make a decision and say, “Okay, we’re going to change something” and sometimes it takes a little while to roll things out. But that’s different. That’s intentional. What you’re talking about is, it’s not that someone’s not a smart person, it’s just that sometimes with brands, people get an idea or someone else on the team gets an idea, and unless you’ve got this processor or again, kind of test to bump it up against, you’re right. It happens quickly. People make decisions just to get it out the door, and then it’s not all working together as well as it could be for the brand.

Karin Samelson:[24:42]
Yeah, totally. And on the note of happening quickly, growth happens quickly sometimes. And so, when you start hiring people and you start hiring agencies to help or internal employees to help, if it’s not aligned, then you’ll be moving backwards, so love that.

Katie Mleziva:[24:58]
So true.

Karin Samelson:[25:00]
Okay. So we talked about define and refine, and we’ve talked a little bit about the align, but how does the second stage of aligning, using your North Star that you mentioned, how does this impact the business externally?

Katie Mleziva:[25:20]
Yes. Okay. So that’s a really good point. So there’s the internal impact of the team being aligned, but then the external impact is sort of like we were mentioning, that the consumer is seeing a consistent brand. They know what to expect. You can still surprise and delight them with fun, creative, or fun, new flavors, or showing up in places, distribution channels that they wouldn’t expect, but it’s still always strategic and on brand. So the consumer starts to really get to know what to expect from you and what to trust, that your products and your brand delivers. So that is one of the biggest things, is that internally you’re aligned, but then externally people know what to expect and how to talk about the brand.

Katie Mleziva:[26:04]
So I was mentioning word-of-mouth. If we are consistent, and people know how to talk about the brand and what those highlights are, you get sick of talking about the same things over and over as a brand leader, but people need to hear it so many times because we all get hit with so many messages in a day. So when you’re consistent, then people start playing those messages back to you, maybe in comments, but then you know that, “Okay, this is good. They’re using my words. And then they know how to go describe it to somebody else as well.” So we’re listening to use their words, because we want to talk in their language, but then it’s really cool also when we hear them playing back what we’re trying to get across too, of what the benefits of the brand are, because it feels like they’re really starting to get it and excited to share with other people then.

Alison Smith:[26:54]
I love that you hit on that again, because that really resonated with me when you said you’re giving people the words to talk about your brand. That is so cool and such a goal of any brand, to have that word-of-mouth marketing and to hit it really hard, that people know exactly how to talk and share your brand in a delightful way and the way you want them to share it. So that’s really powerful.

Katie Mleziva:[27:26]
Yes. It is.

Alison Smith:[27:27]
Okay. So we talked define, refine. We talked align. We talked a bit about activate, so using all the work you’ve done on a daily basis until it’s ingrained in your head, and also sharing with any of your marketing partners during that onboarding process, and making sure that they know that they need to follow these guidelines. So anything else with activate, in terms of using all this work that you’ve just done?

Katie Mleziva:[28:01]
Yes. I’m glad you asked. There is one thing I want to mention, is that it is a little daunting sometimes to do this work, whether you’re just starting up and setting a strong foundation, or you’re looking to scale and realizing that you need a little refinement before you can really take off. And so, once you get through the defining or refining, that seems like the hard part. And it is a lot of work, but as you can see, the efficiency and cohesiveness, it really pays out.

Katie Mleziva:[28:30]
But the thing that can feel overwhelming then is that where do you start? You’ve got everything then that you want to go and change. And we know that it’s impossible to change everything all at once. So what I like to suggest is to list out all the different areas of your business that this would impact. So this starts to happen in the align phase, where you listed out at like a 10,000 level of all the people who need to be educated or have this shared with them. So you’re not starting totally from scratch.

Katie Mleziva:[28:57]
But you look at that list, and then you kind of break it down further and say, “Okay. Website, social media, posts, emails, a lot of the things that you work on, but also then thinking about ingredient labels or packaging designer.” You start to really think about all the different tactical things in the business and say… I like to have a chart, just because I love frameworks. I think it helps streamline complex topics. And so, if you labeled the chart high impact and low impact, and then high effort and low effort, and you plot out these tactical things, you can see which ones are high impact, high effort, and which ones are high impact, low effort.

Katie Mleziva:[29:44]
So starting with the high impact, low effort are the things that are usually the best place to start. So maybe it’s a website where you can’t… It’s a lot of effort to redo the entire website, but maybe you can start to sprinkle in photos and copy that support the new brand. Or maybe it’s even just changing a couple of headlines or the about us page. There’s some things that you can do that are sort of quick and easy that can help align faster. Or maybe you can start to influence the social media posts or emails, so all the things that you all are working on. And just thinking about, “How can we do those first?”

Katie Mleziva:[30:18]
Now, maybe a whole new website redesign, or a complete product reformulation or a new product that you want to launch, those kind of things might be further down the road, so you plot those in a different box. But we really want to focus on those low effort, high impact opportunities.

Katie Mleziva:[30:38]
But then it’s nice because you’ve got them all listed out. You can kind of let go of the ones that you see are high impact and low effort, because you’re like, “You know what? I may get to that, I may not. But it’s a lot of effort and it’s not going to be a really big impact on my brand. So I have other places to focus.” And it’s really nice, because it kind of releases the pressure of having to do everything, because at least you’ve got it captured there and you can work your way around the box. So hopefully that’s helpful in case anyone starts to feel overwhelmed once they do their brand strategy work.

Alison Smith:[31:09]
That is in incredibly helpful.

Katie Mleziva:[31:12]

Alison Smith:[31:14]
We are big on really trying to defeat overwhelm, just like you said, because this food and beverage business, there’s so many elements to it. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed thinking about your brand strategy, especially if you’ve been around for a bit and you haven’t done this work yet, I can see how that can be extremely overwhelming. So I really like how you laid that out and just work smarter instead of just trying to overhaul everything.

Katie Mleziva:[31:50]
Totally. Well, a lot of times I think founders… Well, what I was going to say is I think sometimes they just kind of think that the team has the same vision in their head, and it’s not intentional. They’re brilliant, but not everyone can just know all those brilliant thoughts. So that’s one reason why documenting and getting it out and yeah, having everyone on the same page, it can be such a relief for both the founder who is taking those thoughts out of their head and synthesizing them, but then also the team who doesn’t have to guess and try to draw it out.

Karin Samelson:[32:22]
So one last question for me, and this comes from us always using other brands as inspiration. We love looking at brands that are doing it right, to kind of help us, give us ideas and help us navigate some things. And something that you said earlier really resonated, where you said you want to give, and we’ve said it many times after, we want to give our audience words to describe our brand. And so, the first brand that comes to my mind is Omsom. They say the same words over. They’re a proud and loud Asian ingredient, product that wants to have bold flavors. I’m literally saying the words that they say all of the time. So what are other brands that you see that just kill their brand positioning?

Katie Mleziva:[33:19]
Yeah. One that comes to mind, and I don’t work with them, but I just have loved it, is Recess, the drink Recess, because I can rattle off several things. The positioning is so clear in terms of kind of taking a break or having a recess. And I think it’s an antidote to modern times, is one of the things that they say on the website and on the can. And then the other one, oh, I think on the website, it is, that we all have too many tabs open in our brain. So they set up so perfectly the idea that we are busy and we need to just… It’s not that we necessarily deserve it or should do it, it’s like, we need this. You need to take a step back and just let yourself breathe and reconnect, reboot maybe, they should say, if they’re talking about the technology stuff.

Katie Mleziva:[34:15]
So their visual brand also is very different. When you see the website, it’s not a traditional look. And at first I wasn’t sure what to think, but then I was like, “You know what? They own it, and they’re consistent across everything that they do.” And so, I think that’s one where the product and the packaging and the website and the social, to me, everything really aligns very well. Omsom is a great example too, though.

Karin Samelson:[34:43]
Yeah. Love that. Recess is fun. And I love… You can get exciting with all that technology, like, “Have you tried unplugging and plugging yourself back in?”

Katie Mleziva:[34:52]

Karin Samelson:[34:54]
Yeah. There’s just so many things you could do with that, which is really fun.

Katie Mleziva:[34:56]
They need you. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:[34:57]
I like that. Yeah. You can hire us, Recess. Don’t worry. Awesome, Katie.

Katie Mleziva:[35:04]
Yeah. This has been fun.

Alison Smith: [35:08]
Yeah, absolutely. Well, we just want to sum it up with, we’ve kind of talked about the benefits of getting your brand strategy down pat. Can you just tell us, everyone probably wants to know in just a concise way, what actually does a well thought-out brand strategy do to the bottom line? How does it increase your overall ROI? Why is it so important?

Katie Mleziva:[35:37]
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think the easiest way to say it is that there are no guarantees. We’re always testing and learning and optimizing, but if you have an hour to spend or a dollar to spend, and you know who you’re going to talk to and what messages resonate with them because you’ve tested and learned over time, and you know how to engage with them and what messages to tell them. So basically, you’ve worked your way into knowing what works. And so, you might not have known the day one, but you went in with an assumption versus just a guess and throwing things at the wall. You went in with a hypothesis and it’s testing and learning. And so, it makes that dollar and that hour so much more efficient because you are focused and you can optimize from there. So there’s not a specific salary amount or percentage or something that I can give, but it is all about focus and consistency and having everyone on the same page.

Katie Mleziva:[35:35]
So just quickly, I guess, the one other thing that’s hard to quantify is the team morale. Having people know what they’re rallying behind and getting really excited about being a part of something, that’s really hard to quantify, too. But the productivity and sort of advocacy that they’ll provide for the brand too, because they know where they’re going and what role they play, that is something that is… I think it does in impact the bottom line, but it’s really hard to say exactly how.

Karin Samelson:[37:05]
Oh man, that’s such a good one. That’s the last thing I thought you were going to say, but right when you said it was just like, “Oh my gosh, that’s so unbelievably true.”

Katie Mleziva:[37:16]

Karin Samelson:[37:18]
Wow. Yeah. I can remember past lives, a company that did that and we knew what the mission was and we knew what we were doing there, and the passion that you had for it was so palpable. And the exact opposite with a different brand that was kind of just a little lackluster on “What are we doing here?” So team rally, that’s a good note.

Katie Mleziva:[37:39]
That’s good.

Karin Samelson: [37:39]
Well, Katie, thank you so much for joining us. You have dropped a million nuggets of wisdom. If somebody wants to keep learning from you or get in contact with you, how can they reach you?

Katie Mleziva:[37:50]
Yeah. Well, I think you mentioned linking to my website, so is the place where you can connect to me through social media, get podcast episodes, and I’ll just call it that you can get a free Brand Checkup Scorecard there. So there’s 25 questions where people can give themselves an honest assessment of one, two, or three. And nobody needs to see it. You can share it with me if you want to. But it’s really just a way to help you go through some of the subsections of the things we’ve talked about today to say, “How am I doing? And where am I doing great and where can I improve?”

Karin Samelson:[38:23]
Thanks. And we will link to all of your social, your email, your website. And Katie also has a podcast and we can link to that as well.

Katie Mleziva:[38:32]
Yeah. Perfect. Thank you so much.

Karin Samelson:[38:35]
Awesome. Thanks, Katie.

Alison Smith:[38:35]
Thank you, Katie.

Katie Mleziva:[38:36]
Good. Thank you.

UMAI Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind-the-scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, Catch you back here soon