What was the inspiration for your business?
I really wanted to get involved with the natural foods industry and also wanted to make a personal shift in my own lifestyle and have it fit in with my daily work. So, starting a highly nutritious, organic and non-GMO snack company was everything that I wanted to do for the next stage of my career.
What have been some critical factors on your road to success?
Certainly the people that we’ve hired to come aboard the team have been the most important factors in our road to success. I love the people who work at Rhythm; they all come with a varied background and bring tons of knowledge to the production, development, sales and marketing processes. We have some pretty smart directors on the board who have been there when times were tough and helped us persevere… with investment capital and great guidance.
Lastly, I think we’re simply in the right place at the right time with the right product.
Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it?
Our original name was Daily Juice Foods, as Daily Juice was the name of the smoothie and juice bar company we started with. We quickly realized that the 'juice' part of our name was a signaling mistake. We didn’t do anything with juice, so it was confusing to customers and consumers. We changed it six months into the company’s formation and had to readjust all the business cards, letterhead, distributor and retailer documents we had already started with… it’s a mess to change your name, but it worked in our favor!
What’s your best piece of advice for your fellow entrepreneurs?
I always tell people to keep doing whatever they are currently doing and not start a company… then if they come back and ask several more times for some advice, I know they have the tenacity to make it to the next step.
Secondly, hire the best you can afford when you finally have a product to scale with. Don’t scrimp on the people you hire or you’ll lose so much value down the line in lost sales, preventable production errors, marketing messaging gone awry, etc.
Where are you going? What is the vision for your business in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years?
We want to lead the vegetable and fruit snacking tidal wave. The changing American diet is one of the greatest opportunities today, and for the next 20 years, to create a new class of “great for you” foods that people love. We want to help lead that revolution while innovating more delicious products and establishing the brand in the minds of Americans as the best of the best in snacking.
What was the first retail account you landed?
We were already in Whole Foods Markets in the Southwest region in two stores when I came on board to help out the company. We then got into all of the Florida Whole Foods stores and Ralph’s supermarkets in California. Back then, it was only Rhythm Superfoods in those stores, so the velocity on shelf was enormous. As competitors came into the category, or moved into the same shelves as we were, the velocity growth subsided… so we went out and got more accounts; still going today.
Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers?
They’re pretty nice people; I guess we’re all in the same business just opposite sides of the table. We make sure we listen to any customer first before start opening our mouths. It’s important. You have to listen before you talk to be a partner to an independent retailer… they have a set of objectives that might be very different than a larger chain. Listen first, then open your pie hole.
How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?
Mass has been a struggle to find the right place for the kale chips. Produce is a great merchandising area, but there are no raw or superfood sections like some of the natural stores have. So, we take each retailer one at a time and try to determine where we best fit in their layout. It’s not like Bar-B-Q sauce, where there is one aisle for them all. Kale chips can go to natural snack, gluten free, produce, salad bar area etc. You have to tailor it to each retailers’ needs, which does make it a bit difficult, but more effective in the end.
How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company's story?
We attend a lot of trade shows, national and international, as well as dozens of distributor shows, so we have a lot of opportunity to talk with our customers beyond the one or two times a year we visit formally with them. We also invite them to our trade show happy hours so we can relax a little and have a good time with them. We’re in the business for the long haul, so it’s important to be on a friendly basis, so difficult issues can be worked out with ease once they arise… as they always do.
What most helped market your product in the beginning?
The kale craze. We didn’t really know it was going to be such a phenomenon in the beginning. We just knew it was healthy and delicious. When everyone started making everything with kale, it kind of took on a life of its own. Our PR agency, Konnect PR, did a huge lift in the beginning by getting us in front of every media outlet that would taste a chip.
What's a guilty pleasure of yours?
Peanut butter. I love it in every form: ice cream, energy bars, plain out of a jar, smoothies, etc. My son has a severe treenut and peanut allergy, so I have to keep all of the peanut products out of the house for his safety. I’ll go out of my way to sneak the occasional peanut butter ice cream cone or something like that.
Give us an inside scoop on yourself.
One of my close friends and board members, David Smith—co-founder of Sweet Leaf Tea and High Brew Coffee—took several months off with his family and sailed around the Caribbean after his exit from Sweet Leaf Tea. He worked hard and had the opportunity to do something really special with his family… I think I like the sound of that.