black business month box good food brands Good Food Brands

TeaSquares founder explains how to best support Black-owned businesses

Jordan Buckner is bringing minority entrepreneurs to the fore via the Black Business Month Box through Good Food Brands—but his work to expand diversity within the natural products industry and elsewhere doesn't stop there.

Entrepreneur Jordan Buckner launched Black Business Month Box on Good Food Brands this summer as a way to get products from Black-owned brands in front of new consumers. We caught up with him about the idea behind the box and what else the natural products industry can do to support Black and other minority entrepreneurs as they try to grow their businesses. 

What led you to this idea of the Black Business Month Box?

jordan buckner headshotI run my own brand, TeaSquares. When I got started, I realized it took a lot to get into the industry and get to know the right people. I was able to do so over time, and found investors along the way. But one thing I noticed in meeting other entrepreneurs was that there weren’t always the right resources to get them onto grocery store shelves and into the hands of consumers who would probably love them.

In April we were highlighting brands to support frontline healthcare workers. I started thinking about how I can use this platform to support other movements, and I was looking for a way to promote and bring more dollars to Black-owned businesses. This summer, we put together a Black-owned entrepreneurial box. We’ve just about sold through on initial inventory, we did a limited run of 100. We’re going to continue selling the Black-owned brand box in September. Demand was pretty good for the initial set, we’re looking at hopefully double for September. The theme for October is still TBD.

What has the response been from the entrepreneurs featured in the box?

The entrepreneurs are really excited. It allows them to get their products into the hands of new customers. That can be challenging to do, because it can be a large investment for a consumer to buy a new brand for the first time, especially online. We package seven or eight brands all together, so it’s easier for people to discover products they like in a way that’s more affordable for them.

We hope this generates more direct sales for the brands over the long term. We’re going to survey customers to figure out what products they love and why. Our focus right now is just to get these brands in front of new customers.

What’s the barrier to commercial success that Black entrepreneurs face disproportionately that this box is helping to address?

Within the industry, the good thing is it’s relatively easy to get products by diverse makers within grocery stores. But it’s hard to tell their stories once they’re there. A lot of smaller and minority-owned brands don’t have marketing budgets to get goods into everyone’s hands. A lot of our growth comes from word of mouth. Our focus right now is just to get these brands in front of new customers.

What can consumers and retailers do to help break down the barriers this community faces?

I’d say, whether it’s through the Good Food Brands platform or finding other brands on your own—the more you can, as a consumer, support those brands and share them with your friends, your family, the better. And promote not only as a black-owned business, but just because it’s a great product. I’d love for a time when we can say, here are 10 great brands by great founders, and a lot of them happen to be black or minority—where the race or ethnicity of a founder isn’t the only reason it gets a headline.

And what about retailers? How can they be more supportive?

There was a regional grocery store chain I was looking to get into, and there was no way for me to submit my product for consideration by a buyer. I reached out, to no avail. It wasn’t until I talked to one of my mentors who introduced me to another founder who had the buyer’s direct contact info that I was able to set up the call. It really took knowing someone—and it was who you know, rather than what you’re able to do. A lot of founders don’t have those same connections.

So having more accessibility to buyers is important. Also having more affordable ways to highlight smaller brands. It’s an issue beyond race or ethnicity; it’s more based on the founder’s connections and net worth.

Whole Foods does a great job with their local brand program. They put a photo of the founder next to the product on the shelf. It’s a great way for the customer to walk in and learn more about their story and be more incentivized to pick up their product.

Has that kept up under Amazon ownership?  

There was a time for a couple months after the transition where things were on hold. I think they realized that what Whole Foods has in its DNA was really unique, so Amazon continues to let them have their secret sauce, which is their connection with their community and with founders.

What are some other barriers that Black entrepreneurs in trying to get established in the industry?

Finding a manufacturer. A lot of brands, across the board, start out small—they will manufacture in a shared commercial kitchen, but when they’re looking to expand to a manufacturer, the order quantities are really high. Any founder that has the money [can meet the minimums], but many don’t. What I’ve seen is some manufacturers, when they meet the founder, they’ll say, ‘You remind me of myself when I was younger, let me help you.’ And instead of doing a deal for $20,000, which is usually the minimum, they’ll use personal discretion and offer a minimum of $5,000.

It’s not intentional, it’s just the implicit bias that happens. When you’re a minority founder, or someone who just doesn’t look like the investor, that personal discretion doesn’t always happen.

The same happens in the investment space. Oftentimes, founders will go and talk to investors to raise money to support their brands. The same thing happens—investors want to invest in things they think will be successful. And what they use as a determinant of that likelihood is, does this founder remind me of another investor who’s successful?

Someone who’s a minority, they don’t look like that previous success. The investor might take a pass at that company, because their gut feeling is that their business won’t be successful. It’s not direct or conscious racial bias, it’s just that decisions are often based on past companies’ successes.

One thing I try to do is provide introductions and references. Any brand that reaches out to me, I can connect to buyers at Whole Foods or to other buyers.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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