How to Start a Gourmet Food Business – Julie Hession

How to Start a Gourmet Food Business – Julie Hession

Erik: How has starting a granola company built
upon your previous food industry experience? Julie: I felt like I went into the granola
company with a bit of an advantage because I used to be on the other side when I had
my store. So I was — I used to be the buyer. And the granola was on the menu at my store
but I never thought it was gonna be a product. I just thought it was gonna be a menu item. So I used to go to the Fancy Food Show as
a buyer and I would visit the booths, I would get a bird’s eye view of all the different
kinds of booths. I remembered what drew me in, what was like
the hook that made me wanna buy. You know, did they have a special going on
at the show, did they have like free shipping, did they have, you know, free samples that
they sent with their product, did they have neat packaging, you know? Little things like that. So I did that for a few years, so I got really
comfortable with, you know, being a buyer and interacting with other buyers and finding
out what was important to buyers and also seeing what was out there in terms of competition. And flavors and just — you know, you really
got a feel for the market. So then when I flipped roles and I was the
producer, it wasn’t like I was going to the Fancy Food Show for the first time. Even though I was going for the first time
as a vendor, I was comfortable with the show, I knew what it was gonna be like. And I felt like I went in with a little more
ammunition than someone that might be going there for the first time, never seeing it. And so I think that helped me to attack things
a little more creatively and I was smart, I think I had a smarter approach, you know,
with the whole thing like I was one of the only people that was out there just aggressively
sampling my product to people which drew people in, having an engaging booth, that sort of
thing. Erik: What’s been the most humbling experience
to date building your granola company? Julie: Well, I would say my experience with
the Fresh Market was incredibly humbling. I thought — so the Fresh Market picked us
up after the first Fancy Food Show, and that was huge. That was, you know, they were my first large
account. They were a hundred stores. They were gonna put me in all of their stores. And you know, right off the bat I was thinking,
“Okay. Well, I’ve made it,” you know? It’s coasting from now. I’ve got — sure, I’ve got to figure out how
we’re gonna, you know, amp up, ramp up production but, you know, I think financially speaking
it’s gonna be a cake walk and we’re just gonna — so after, so I was with them for about
a year and then I got a — my friends used to go and take pictures of my product at their
local Fresh Market. And I got a picture from one of my friends
and it showed — she’s like, “Oh, look your granola’s on sale.” And I looked at the little tag and it said,
it said something like clearance or like last chance or something. And I just kind of like, you know, like what
does that mean? So I started asking people, “What does this
mean? Are you guys discontinuing my product? What’s going on?” And after about trying everybody under the
sun that I ever came in contact with I finally got an answer and they said that they were
discontinuing the product saying it was a very good product but, you know, the category
just didn’t sell. And, you know, I felt like — I felt like
I didn’t really get a fair chance because I tried to do promotional things. But you know, you can’t just like feel like
they pick you up and then you’re immune from, you know, being voted off to island, the proverbial
island, you know? I mean, even if you have a good product it
doesn’t necessarily matter. Because I’m still confident it’s a good product. I don’t think that’s the issue. I think there’s some other underlying issues. You know it’s a saturated market. You’re not safe from any of that stuff. So you know, I tried not to — it hurts, it
stung like hell, but, you know, you can’t take it too personally. You got to pick up and just take another angle
which is why, you know, I’m now focusing on this bulk thing because the grocery stores
are tough and they don’t care about you. They really don’t. They don’t care about your product or you
or the person behind the product or you know what it’s gonna do to you financially. Erik: It’s a tough lesson. Julie: Yeah, very tough, very tough.

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