What was the inspiration for your business? What inspires you daily?
I am a registered dietitian. When I had a nutrition practice I was dismayed by the startlingly low levels of vegetable consumption among my clients. Despite their best efforts, they found it difficult to eat more veggies. I gave them recipes, but many folks don't cook. I began to make vegetable soups for them, and this they loved. I realized that a ready-prepared vegetable product was what my clients needed to up their veggie intake. Eventually people outside of my practice wanted the soups and a business was born. What inspires me daily is our mission: to help folks get more veggies into them easily and deliciously.
What's been your road to success and critical success factors along the way?
My road to success has been very bumpy. Because I am a dietitian and not a food industry insider, I have had to learn everything about this business on the fly with a lot of trial and error (I don't advise doing it this way). I would say that my No. 1 critical success factor has been keeping at it. I get up every day and give this business my best shot because in the end I know that we have a great product that people need and I want to make a difference in people's lives by helping them improve their diets.
Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it?
My biggest mistake was not finding a mentor right from the beginning. It would have saved me a lot of time, energy, money and drama had I had someone in the industry of whom I could ask questions and seek guidance. Now I regularly hire consultants to keep me on the right track.
What's your best piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Before jumping in, speak to as many people as you can who have done this before. Try to get as realistic a picture of what you are getting yourself into and then know that it will be twice as hard and (hopefully) twice as rewarding when you meet your goals.
Where are you going? What is the vision for your business in two years? Five years? Ten years?
Online! We are very lucky to have a high demand for our product, however getting into the number of retail stores necessary to increase our reach is a slow process. In an effort to get the product to our clamoring customers outside of our retail sphere, we have decided to open an online store. We aim to be set up in the next few months and shipping to customers all over the U.S.
In the next couple of years, our all-vegetable product line will be expanding and evolving past soups. We also have a strategic plan to continue our growth within the retail marketplace over the next five years. There are many possibilities for the 10-year mark, however I have not firmed those up yet.
What was the first retail account you landed?
Our first retail account was LoMo Market. This is a local mobile market where a pickup truck pulls a small trailer that is a mini farmers' market/health food store. They make more than 40 stops per week in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina. They really helped us build brand recognition quickly when we were just starting out. We still work with LoMo and appreciate the small business supporting small business model they abide by.
Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers?
We found that many small retailers were not willing to take on a new, locally made product. That was not surprising—it was shocking. Whole Foods was verysupportive of our little soup company. That was a pleasant surprise.
How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?
Right now, our products are only in natural retail outlets and soon, online. We strive to get the message out that the Thince Foods line of soups is not just a vegan soup line. Yes, they are vegan, no salt added and gluten free, however I did not conjure the soups to have these buzz words attached to them. I designed these soups specifically to create balance in the body. These soups are functional foods. I often say that they should be sold in the supplement section of the store because they are designed to have a targeted effect on the body just like a supplement.
How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company story?
We do a lot of demoing in stores. We see these demos not only as an opportunity to reach our customer face to face but to get to know the staff members of the store and to allow them the opportunity to buy in to the message behind the soups. We find that store staff and customers get it right away and are quick to evangelize the message. This is a product that customers are seeking and staff members know it. They feel good recommending products that are not only delicious but that will also help customers meet their wellness goals.
What most helped market your product in the beginning?
My former nutrition clients. They were the ones that wanted soups for friends and family members. We then brought the soups to farmers markets and developed a loyal following. Our customers spread the word and that is how we eventually got into Whole Foods. Rabid fans are the best.
What’s a guilty pleasure of yours?
A day of veggin' out." It happens so rarely, but if I can spend the day in bed doing nothing, thinking of nothing and expecting nothing, it's as good as spending a week on the beach. Heavenly!
What's the inside scoop on yourself?
Spanish is my first language. I grew up in a small beach city in Venezuela.