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Articles from 2021 In March


What is your highest value activity?

Elliot Begoun

You are part of an emerging brand and a young business. As a founder, there is no want for things to do or lack of ways to spend your time. You wear dozens of hats, from leader to accountant; salesperson to a dispatcher. You’re busy!

In the chaos that defines an early-stage CPG company, there is one question you should continually ask yourself, “What is my highest value activity?” 

Your answer to the above may change as the needs of the business evolve over time. Yet, I am going to posit that, in most cases, the highest value activity of any founder is finding and building relationships with the people who can positively influence or affect the long-term outcome of the business. 

This includes investors, advisors, evangelists, professional service providers and more. There is very little that is more vital than surrounding yourself with the team you need to accelerate growth.

The next question is how do you identify, connect and build relationships with those people? There is no one way but there are some simple approaches I can offer. 

  1. Make a list with two columns. On the left-side, identify the people you’d like to meet. On the right side, write the reason why and how they can help the business. Next, prioritize the list based on the impact each person can have and the likelihood they’d be interested. Now, take the first two or three names from the list and send emails to people already in your network asking them if they know them. If so, see if they’d they be willing to make an introduction. Make it easy for them by including not only the 2-3 names but also the reason why you’d like to make the connection. Continue this process for a few weeks until you’ve worked through your list.
  2. Using that same list, leverage LinkedIn. For each person, look up their profile. Go to their connections and filter the list based on any 1st-degree connections. Send a LinkedIn message to any of those that you shared asking for an introduction. You can also make a connection request directly referencing the shared or similar connection you have.
  3. If you want to meet people who can be important to your business, then you must be where they are. Attend the events. Not just the big trade shows but the educational seminars, pitch slams, morning mingles. Put yourself out there and be visible.

Once you’ve made the connection, the next step is to build and nurture a relationship. That starts with a simple conversation. Reach out and invite the person to coffee, lunch or if they are far away, a phone call. At first, invest time in getting to know each other and not just on the transactional part of the desired relationship. Always ask how you might add value to or help them. Don’t allow it to be one and done. Establish a regular cadence of outreach. It could be as simple as an email, text, or call checking in and providing an update. But again, make sure there is a reciprocity of interest. Ask them how things are going and always inquire how you can help or add value. 

So, how are you spending your time? Are you connected with and surrounded by the people who can help you grow your business? If not, why not? It is easy to get swept away in the busyness of entrepreneurship, but don’t lose sight of what is most important. Don’t let that busyness keep you from doing what might be a little uncomfortable. Building a network is not easy and can be awkward. Yet, in my opinion, it is one of the highest value activities for any founder. 

Elliot Begoun is a 30-year industry veteran, author and the founder of TIG, a practice focused on helping emerging natural product brands grow.

Have some big ideas or thoughts to share related to the natural products industry? We'd love to hear and publish your opinions in the IdeaXchange. Check out our submission guidelines.

[email protected]: Frontline workers face increased risk as states ditch mask mandates | Benefits of combining farms with solar panels

Veolia North America Donates 40,000 Masks to Hospitals

Frontline workers feel increased danger as states drop mask mandates

Essential employees have faced combative customers since the pandemic began, with some threatening to physically assault workers who enforce mask mandates (or even worse, doing so). Now that states including Mississippi and Texas are removing mask mandates altogether, well before the majority of people have been vaccinated and while frightening new variants of the coronavirus continue circulating, these workers are once again scrambling to defuse confrontations. The New York Times delves into the issue.

Why combining farms and solar panels could transform how we produce both food and energy

Have you heard of "agrivoltaics?" This is the term used for the practice of putting solar panels on farmland so the sun can both fuel crops and produce renewable energy for a given operation; the presence of plants ups solar energy production, and solar panels returned the favor. This simple system of solar panels above plants can also help crops need less water to thrive, another sustainability boon. However, one drawback to agrivoltaics projects is that they need to be tailored to each region specifically. Another is that there are crop constraints, as some plants require aerial spraying or full sun exposure. The Counter reports.

What if crop insurers tied policies to soil health?

Researchers say that soil health should now be an integral part of crop insurance calculations because there are so many liabilities that result from climate change. The team of scientists recently found that adding a single percent of soil organic matter to maize crops has hugely positive effects, including increased yields (about 35 bushels per acre) and decreased vulnerability to drought; the latter is something that should matter to crop insurers, even though they have largely failed to incentivize farmers to adopt practices that lead to healthier soil. Head to Modern Farmer for the full story.

In a suburban parking lot, a portrait of unyielding need

At least 42 million Americans, a third of them children, now fall into the "food insecure" category. This is a 55% increase since the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic began, according to The Washington Post. The extra demand is expected to continue for several years, but donations are drying up in many areas and food bank volunteers are exhausted. While government officials have extended unemployment benefits and increased federal SNAP benefits by 7%, advocates say those steps are simply not enough to prevent long-term, widespread food insecurity in the U.S.

How David Yeung, the man who wants to turn Asia vegan, raised $70M in funding and launched the Whole Foods of plant-based supermarkets

In September the founder of Green Monday, David Yeung, raised $70 million in funding for his global plant-based meat company and all-vegan retail venture Green Common. Yeung has now opened 14 stores in Hong Kong; h launched his first international stores during the pandemic. About the plant-based food industry in Asia, he says, "The landscape is exploding. You have plant-based protein, plant-based milk, cell-base start-ups and conglomerates starting to come into this space." Business Insider has the scoop.

Resources for Indigenous-owned natural products businesses

Mar Bertran indigenous-owned business resources

According to the latest data from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the number of businesses owned by Native Americans grew 15% between 2007 and 2012, representing 272,000 firms and $39 billion in annual receipts. At the same time, Native Americans are still one of the most economically disadvantaged populations in the US.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that roughtly one in four Native Americans lives in poverty, compared to about one in 10 of whites who does. As a result, the Native American population’s median wealth is equal to just 8.7% of that of all Americans. They face academic, geographical, infrastructural and other barriers that can leave them disadvantaged and often without work, home ownership or buildable wealth.

Because of these unique hurdles, it can be difficult for Indigenous people to find business resources, from mentors to financing. The following groups are stepping up to fill the void.

Networking and mentorship groups

Change Labs

Change Labs is a Native-led and Native-controlled 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in the Navajo and Hopi nations. In addition to lending, coworking, networking and mentorship opportunities, 20 high-potential Native entrepreneurs are chosen each year for the Change Labs business incubator. Participants receive mentorship, community, hands-on training, branding support, coworking resources and up to $10,000 in seed money to launch their business.

Hello Alice

Hello Alice matches underserved small business owners with resources that can help them. In addition to in-person workshops and accelerators across the U.S., Hello Alice also matches business owners with online opportunities and resources, customized to each person’s unique need.

NAFSA Food and Culinary Mentorship

NAFSA’s (Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance) Native Food and Culinary Mentorship delivers hand-on action and education. It works with Indigenous people, nations, tribes and communities to offer traditional food systems-based social and entrepreneurship learning opportunities, mentorship and development support.

Accelerators and business resources


The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) is the only federal agency solely dedicated to the growth and global competitiveness of minority business enterprises. It invests in a national network of Business Centers (staffed with business experts to help companies secure capital, compete for contracts, identify partners and more), Specialty Centers (export, manufacturing and federal procurement centers) and grants for women of color, former incarcerated persons, American Indian Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian people and other members of the BIPOC community.

National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED)

NCAIED has over 40 years of experience helping Native tribes and tribal people realize their business goals. It helps businesses with procurement, supply management, technical assistance, training and advocacy as well as hosts conferences, trade fairs and fundraising events that advance development across the country.

North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS)

NATIFS is a nonprofit group formed to address the economic and health crises affecting Native communities by re-establishing Native foodways. It recently launched the Indigenous Food Lab to help entrepreneurs start and run a successful culinary businesses based grounded in Native traditions and Indigenous foods.


Some of ONABEN’s signature programs were created for Native veterans, artists and women looking to start their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Tribal Link Foundation

Tribal Link connects Indigenous people to information, resources and relevant networks. Its Indigenous Entrepreneurship Program helps Indigenous people bring their products to market, and all members of any of Tribal Link’s programs become part of the community and are afforded individualized counsel and support. This includes but is not limited to scholarships, fellowships, funding, communications training, legal advisory services and networking.

U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA)

ONAA provides access to business growth and expansion tools, from training and technical assistance to website design and marketing opportunities. It also hosts entrepreneurial workshops and empowerment workshops to help entrepreneurs take their idea from concept to completion.

Lending, banking and investing


Accion’s team of lending officers specializes in loans for BIPOC-owned businesses and is trained to help entrepreneurs clear some of the unique and inherent hurdles they face.

Indian Loan Guarantee and Insurance Program (ILGP)

To qualify for a loan through ILGP, you must be: an individual who is an enrolled member of a federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribe or group; a federally recognized AI/AN group; or a corporation, limited liability company or other business entity with no less than 51% ownership by federally recognized AI/AN individuals.

Kapor Capital

This Oakland-based fund is committed to funding underrepresented businesses, including BIPOC-owned businesses. In fact, 59% of the current investments at Kapor Capital have a founder identifying as a woman and/or an underrepresented person of color.

Oweesta Corporation

Oweesta Corporation directly provides Native American communities the tools and capital support required for real and sustainable job creation and small business development. Borrowers must be Native-controlled and have a primary mission of serving Native communities.


Comcast RISE Investment Fund

Eligible BIPOC-owned businesses in the Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Philadelphia areas can apply for $10,000 grants through the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which focuses on small businesses that have been operating for three or more years with one to 25 employees.

Food and Beverage Investment Fund

The James Beard Foundation recently launched the Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans, which offers $15,000 to small Black- and Indigenous-owned food and beverage businesses.

Indian Equity Fund (Montana)

The Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development gives grants to new or expanding Native American businesses in Montana through its Indian Equity Fund, with awards reaching upt to $14,000.

Tribal Economic Diversity Fund (New Mexico)

This fund from the Regional Development Corporation provides grants to businesses with at least 51% ownership by a member or corporation of the Pueblos of Nambe, Ohkay, Picuris, Santa Clara, Pojoaque, Taos, San Ildefonso, Tesuque, Cochiti or Jemez, with a company headquartered in Northern New Mexico.

CBD companies harmed by DEA's interim final rule on hemp invited to file comment on lawsuit

Getty Images hemp plant

Companies harmed by the interim final rule on hemp issued last Aug. 20 by the Drug Enforcement Administration can have their perspective enjoined in a lawsuit seeking to remove the DEA from regulating hemp—as explicitly mandated to do so in the 2018 farm bill.

The Hemp Industries Association, on behalf of RE Botanicals and sister company Palmetto Harmony, is requesting comment for its case. The HIA is famous for defeating the DEA in court starting in 2004 when it successfully won the right to nosh on hemp seeds.

“We have a robust case but we need more documentation for harm,” said HIA president Rick Trojan. “If they call us for evidence, we’d like to have that in our pocket.”

The HIA is seeking a stay in district court. Companies can go to this link to register their complaints.

The simple form lists five different broad criteria for registering how the DEA interim final rule on hemp has affected business practices:

  • Caused changes in business practices.
  • Delayed or undermined business deals, contracts or plans.
  • Created confusion among suppliers, local law enforcement or customers.
  • Created uncertainty or worry among business partners, employees or customers.
  • Resulted in state or local law enforcement interference.

“We’re looking for evidence of harm,” said Trojan. “If the news caused you to cool your jets, type of thing.”

The comments will be reviewed by HIA and its legal team and may be included in the lawsuit, but also may remain confidential with the HIA. Respondents will be asked permission again if the HIA deems the comment worthy of inclusion.

Lawsuit issues

But drug warriors do not go quietly into that good night, and the DEA remains in the picture. It issued an interim rule seeking to regulate the industry—in particular, against extractors. When processing hemp from the hempy biomass to oil, the intermediary hemp material (IHM) transiently contains THC levels above the legal limit of 0.3%. The DEA has taken that scenario, as well as waste hemp material (HWM) as another inevitable byproduct of hemp processing, as a reason to crack down on extractors.

Enter the 43-page HIA lawsuit. The HIA is seeking comment from anyone affected as part of the case it is building against the DEA.

The DEA’s interpretation of the farm bill has “serious, immediate, and irreparable consequences,” according to the HIA complaint. “Allhemp processors and manufacturers who work with and/or store IHM and/or WHM must now choose between ceasing to process, manufacture and/or store hemp; obtaining a Schedule I license from DEA; or risk criminal prosecution under the [Controlled Substances Act]. Given the centrality of hemp processing to the hemp industry’s supply chain, forcing processors to choose between the foregoing options would effectively destroy the entire hemp industry.”

The plaintiffs ask the court for a judicial determination that the definitions of hemp and THC in hemp in the 2018 farm bill includes IHM and WHM, and that such materials are therefore not controlled substances, and that the DEA lacks any independent authority to regulate any aspect of hemp production including IHM and WHM.

The lawsuit also makes note of the DEA’s continuous attempts to regulate the hemp industry as a means of informing the court of continuous and historic overreach.

It’s anybody’s guess which way the court will decide. On the one hand, the 2018 Farm Bill is rather explicit about writing the DEA out of the regulation of hemp. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote a rule re-inserting the DEA. And the recent hubbub over buzzy delta-8 THC has raised eyebrows that this kissing cousin to get-high delta-9 THC, while technically legal per the farm bill, nevertheless is reason enough to get the DEA back in hemp’s business.

The HIA is a trade association that represents more than 1,000 member hemp businesses, including some 300 hemp processors and individuals involved in the manufacturing, distribution or sale of hemp extract and other products lawfully derived from hemp.

Law firms working on behalf of the HIA include the Hoban Law Group, Vicente Sederberg and Knight Law Office.

Pet industry sales in 2020 surpass $100B for first time

Getty Images pet care coronavirus 2020 sales

The pet industry reached a milestone in 2020, with total sales of $103.6 billion, a historic high, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) State of the Industry Report. That marks an increase of 6.7% over 2019 retail sales of $97.1 billion.

"We have reached a critical milestone, generating $103.6 billion in sales," said Steve King, president and CEO of APPA. "We are bullish for the coming year, projecting growth of 5.8%—well above the historical average of 3% to 4%. This past year presented a host of challenges that resulted in consumers across the country turning to their pets for comfort and companionship. Interestingly, the product trends we are seeing in the pet care community mirror those of consumers—a desire for a healthier lifestyle, increased focus on fitness, turning to supplements for improved wellbeing and technology playing a larger role in everyday life."

Of that 2020 total, $42 billion was spent on pet food and treats, a 9.7% increase year over year; $31.4 billion was spent on vet care and product sales, a 7.2% increase; and $22.1 billion was spent on supplies, live animals and over-the-counter medications, a 15.1% increase from 2019.

Pet 2020 size of the industry.png

An additional $8.1 billion was spent on other services such as grooming, dog walking and boarding—a 21.4% decline from the previous year attributed to COVID-19 lockdowns and the economy. As quarantines are lifted and consumers venture out, the use of these services is expected to rise, the APPA predicted.

Sales of pet food and supplies skyrocketed in the COVID panic buying period from March to May last year, leading to supply chain disruptions and reports of shortages and out-of-stocks. Demand continued to be high for the remainder of 2020, but panic buying subsided and supply normalized. With people spending more time at home with pets, sales of accessories and treats remained strong, while an uptick in new pets—including a 30% increase in the small animal, fish and reptile category—led to increased sales of supplies as well.

Pet 2021 sales estimates.png

For 2021, APPA estimates total sales of $109.6 billion, with increases in all categories, including 20% growth in other services as that segment normalizes. Growth is projected at 5.8% across the industry for 2021.

In other findings from the APPA report:

• 47% of pet owners reported they increased the number of times they purchased products online.

• Pet specialty and independent retailers experienced solid growth.

• 30% of pet owners spent more on their pet/pet supplies in the past year with only 10% saying they spent less.

APPA released its State of the Industry report findings during the online Global Pet Expo held March 24-26.

supermarket news logoThis piece originally appeared on Supermarket News, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more grocery trends and insights.

[email protected]: Meat, dairy companies make ESG strides | Mark Cuban's biggest 'Shark Tank' investment is an alternative milk machine

Kickstarter numilk machine

Major meat, dairy companies behind in ESG efforts, but making strides

A recent study has found that the world's largest meat and dairy companies are making decent commitments when it comes to mitigating energy use, but they aren't doing enough to reduce emissions resulting from animal and land use. Of the 35 companies studied, only Dairy Farmers of America, Nestlé, Danish Crown, and Danone had made commitments, as of July 2020to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The biggest CPG companies, on the other hand, have made pledges to reduce emissions on an even shorter timeline and are engaging in long-term projects to do so; for instance, Kellogg has announced it plans to shift its manufacturing electricity sources to over 50% wind energy globally by the end of 2022. The Food Institute has the full story.

Mark Cuban just made his biggest 'Shark Tank' investment: $2M for DIY vegan milk machine

Have you heard of NuMilk? You will soon: The plant-based milk machine company just scored $2 million from "Shark Tank" investor Mark Cuban—his biggest investment on the show to date. NuMilk launched its first large-format kiosks in select Whole Foods Market grocery stores in 2018 and has since developed Numilk Professional machines specifically for use by baristas at cafés. Its newest product, Numilk Home, has already raised $37,000 more than its $100,000 goal on Kickstarter. VegNews reports.

One kind of food might be risky for brain health

Processed meats still aren't faring well in the world of food science; a recent study has linked consumption of the stuff to damaged brain function later in life. Researchers found that the people who had reported eating the most processed meat were also the most likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, a form of dementia caused by stroke. Learn more at Inverse.

Meet the New York founders taking on 'Big Spice'

Burlap and Barrel founders Ethan Frisch and Ori Zoharhe are disrupting the 4,000-year-old global spice market with their DTC spice business that cuts out middlemen and deals directly with farmers worldwide. The spices are fresher this way, and its unique business model also means there is more money to give to farmers for their crops. The Business of Business delves into Burlap and Barrel's supply chain wins that arose thanks to advances in technology.

Extreme weather is wreaking havoc on olive oil production

A risk analysis of climate change suggests that changes are a-coming to the regions where a bulk of the world’s olive oil is produced—and each harvest induces more panic on the part of manufacturers as sudden extreme weather conditions become commonplace. Interestingly, olive trees themselves are pretty resilient plants when it comes to drought and other stressors including frost, but while the trees may survive their olives and valuable olive juice suffer. Read the details at Eater.

What brands need to know about getting a QVC broker

Diane Rubizhevsky Andrew Suzuka and Diane Rubizhevsky on QVC

Getting a spot on QVC can be a gold mine for a lot of entrepreneurs in the natural foods industry.

Last year, Otamot’s Andrew Suzuka sold 20,000 jars of sauce in 8 minutes. He got on QVC—and has been on 16 times in a little over a year—thanks in part to Diane Rubizhevsky, a broker and an independent manufacturer’s representative who specializes in plant-based foods and healthy brands. She co-founded ACS Marketing, a sales and marketing retail group with her husband Fred Natrin. Together, they get clients on QVC and HSN.  

For the past 25 years, Rubizhevsky has helped brands like Eat Bare Life, Super Seedz, Actual Veggies and Otamot land spots on QVC by finding emerging natural food businesses at tradeshows, pop-up events, social media and via word-of-mouth referrals.

When companies approach Rubizhevsky about pitching a new product on QVC, one of the first things she’ll ask: “Have you ever looked the QVC’s website?”

Many haven’t.

She’ll advise the brand to do some research. Look at what else is being sold and understand the competition.  

“Look at the total landscape and check out how you compare to them,” says Rubizhevsky. “Have something unique and different to talk about. Because being on QVC is really about the uniqueness of the product.”

Here are Rubizhevsky’s insights into getting a broker and selling on QVC.

What do you look for before taking on a client?

Diane Rubizhevsky: I have a passion for health and wellness. I’m looking for ways to help people improve their health without changing their lifestyles by finding innovative companies that might provide better options.

What do you look for in an emerging brand that wants to be on QVC?

DR: I want to know what is unique and different about the product. Marketing and sales done through TV combines the best of retail media and social media. You have to be able to give them that experience.

Why do they want your product? Why are they going to buy it? QVC is not just TV anymore. It’s predominantly TV but the way people shop today, it’s through every media out there, from seeing a post on Instagram or Facebook, even though hosts have their own posts and might post about something that’s coming up.

That sounds a lot like knowing your unique value proposition. QVC is known for finding niche undiscovered products. How do you determine what’s unique and what’s redundant?

DR: When you look at someone like Otamot, the name [tomato spelled backwards] was so clever and Andrew is a such a great guy, but the reason he created the product was to get his daughter to eat more vegetables. So he had to find a way to make something delicious. That’s why it’s such a great story.  

Actual Veggies is probably the cleanest veggie burger I’ve ever eaten or seen because it doesn’t have any fillers in it. That’s very appealing to someone who’s learning to look at labels.

So at what point do most companies start working with you?

DR: They are at retail but not mass distributed. That’s good because QVC stands for quality, value and conveniences. So you have to offer them a good value. It’s got to be better than where they could find it anywhere else because why else would they want it on QVC, except if they hear the story.

How do you know a brand is going to work?

DR: It’s just gut. So I found another company, Bare Life Chocolate. The owner is terrific and her products have been selling like hot cakes on QVC but with COVID there’s been an issue with supply chain. I have a couple companies like that. So she sells out and then she’s out of stock. So she won’t be going forward. That can be a little frustrating, not knowing how well your product is going to do. And if it does super well, how prepared are you to get back into it? You have to have a tough skin, too, because QVC customers are very opinionated. The reviews are extraordinarily important. If something consistently has a poor review, even if it’s consistently sold out, they’re probably not going to put it back on again. Or if there’s a lot of returns.

What else hasn’t worked?

DR: I have another company that I work with that sold out and the products are delicious, but it's so different that the return rates are very high. The guys are like ‘Diane, what should we do?’ And I said, 'Listen, it's up to you. You know, do you want to go back on again with that kind of return rate?’ And then I've got to go back to QVC and say, ‘Hey, you know, here's our reviews. We're not exactly where we want to be. Do you want to try it again?’ It's really the buyers and the planners who judge as to what those next steps should be.

What else should businesses know before they approach you?

DR: I don't want to take anybody on who's going to lose any kind of money. A lot of people like Andrew [Suzuka of Otamot] in the beginning looked at being on QVC strictly as a marketing and advertising tool. It really helped him a lot because now he's recognized all over the place.

I just want everybody to be a little bit on the positive side. And I've had plenty of people tell me they just can't make the numbers work. And that's OK. You don't go into business to lose money.

What are some of the minimums entrepreneurs should have?

DR: You don’t really need a lot. It does depend on the price point to the number of units. It can be anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 units of whatever it is you are selling. You are judged by the units you sell because everything is based on dollars per minute. A store is based on dollars per square foot. So airtime is based on dollars per minute and that changes depending on the time of the year and time of day.

How does a brand get to come back on QVC?

DR: If they hit the numbers and the reviews are good. Then they’re almost always going to come back.

Can you walk us through what you do as a broker to help a brand get on QVC?

DR: There’s the introduction of the brand. I’ve got to be excited about it to get the buyer excited about it. Then there’s the product presentation. In the food area, it’s all about taste. It’s got to be delicious. If it’s accepted, there’s a pretty substantial amount of traditional paperwork that’s got to be done before you go on air. Then it’s up to the vendor to say when they can be ready. I just had a chocolate company tell me they can’t be ready until September, which is way better because QVC stops selling chocolate after May because it gets too hot. So it worked out.

What are some of the potential supply chain issues companies need to think about before going on QVC?

DR: Can they supply it? For instance, if they sell out of units and QVC wants them back 45 days later (because they really like to look at reviews and returns for about 30 days), can they be ready with the next order?

Is there a sweet spot, a key price point for selling food on QVC? I’d heard $30-$50 was a good range.

DR: It can go higher, but it has to be in the value. Maybe $39 or $49 is a good price. If the brand offers four different flavors, the consumer really likes the variety pack because it gives her a chance to try everything. You can charge a little bit more for multipacks.

Why did you become a broker?

DR: I’ve always loved sales. In my original career, I was a dental hygienist and then I got into dental sales. I was the first woman in dental sales in the country. Nurses in pharmaceutical sales were women, but there was nobody in dental sales. I happen to meet the president of a very big company at the time and I said, ‘How come there aren’t any?’ And he said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ That's how it started.

I got turned on by sales. I lived overseas for a while and when I came back, I started a pillow company called The Painted Pillow, with hand-painted pillows out of the Philippines. I had no idea what I was doing. I just wanted to sell these really beautiful pillows. And from there it blossomed, and I started selling on QVC.

You meet people and you meet other buyers. And, hopefully, you have a good enough reputation that other buyers from other departments will hear what you have to say.

How did you start focusing on the natural food industry on QVC?

DR: I love food and I’ve always dabbled in food. Because I have such a strong interest in health and wellness, I graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach. That was the turning point for me to start looking for healthy products and bring them to QVC. I’m always looking for ways to help people improve their health without changing their lifestyles by finding innovative companies that might provide better options.

What sets you apart from other brokers?

DR: I don’t know other reps who care about health and wellness the way that I do. It’s important to me personally and professional to be able to help people make healthy choices. One snack at a time, one meal at a time, especially in a time like this with COVID.

So what trends are you seeing in the natural food space right now?

DR: I’m pretty involved in the plant-based world. The growth is just enormous. I’m getting ready to launch something totally different. They’ve never done plant milks on QVC but I’m working with Patch Organics and we’re going to try it. I’m pretty excited because it’s absolutely delicious and full of nutrients. It’s made from pumpkin seeds. Right now you can only get it on its website.

How has QVC changed since you began?

DR: When QVC first started, they looked for nobodies. When branding got so big, they were really looking for brands. Now, I think they’re going back and want more discovery, which is really fun for me because I’m finding these smaller niche brands that want to be discovered. They’re also trying to gain a younger customer.

What’s the target demographic? I’ve heard it is soccer moms, traditionally 45 years and older, who live in a metropolitan area and make $75,000 or more.

DR: Yes. And it’s a higher income than you think it is.

What other pieces of advice can you share to help companies before they have their first big meeting with QVC?

DR: It’s about the story and the branding. QVC is about discovery. To me, it’s always: Why did you create the product? Why would she want to buy it? Because they call their customer 'she.' Why does she want to buy it? What’s compelling about your story that she’s going to pick up the phone or her tablet and buy it? How is the product going to make her feel good?

You’re really talking about the brand story coming through by being genuine and authentic.

DR: Yes. It’s being genuine and telling your story. To me, that’s the most important part about QVC. You have to love what you have and believe in what you have and be able to translate that to somebody. And have them to listen to you and understand what’s the value in it.

Yolélé: Designed to bring change to African farming

yolele fonio

After Chef Pierre Thiam immigrated to the United States, he began considering how to help the smallholders of West Africa, his homeland, benefit from the crops they grow and how to restore the land they work.

He was also interested in sharing fonio, the climate-resilient African grain those smallholders grow, with Americans.

Thiam shared his vision with Philip Teverow in the early 2000s, and Teverow, who had more than 30 years' experience in the food business, was intrigued.

"I saw that there would be a market for that because it's a gluten-free ancient grain that cooks up deliciously in 5 minutes," Teverow said in a March phone interview. "He was struggling to turn that vision into reality because he hadn't been down that road. He's a chef and cookbook author; I imported quinoa in the 1980s. and I know how to do that. I knew that I could help him."

The two men launched Yolélé—it means "Let the good times roll"—in 2017. They recently added fonio chips to their brand and are working to expand their mission to more areas of Africa.

pierre thiam philip teverow headshots

Pierre Thiam (left) and Philip Teverow (right).

Why did you decide to work together to create Yolélé?

Pierre Thiam: Both of us are from the food business, although different angles of it. I'm from the kitchen side. My background is so important, my being from the Sahara region—the area where we are focusing on at the moment—and having a more intimate connection with our mission, because what I lived is important.

Phil and I, we complete each other. He's from the other side of it, from the market aspect. Our friendship turned into this vision and this mission and this business.

Philip Teverow: I have launched a lot of brands over the years. In particular, I have experience introducing Americans to exotic ingredients and kind of an affinity for that. I've been looking for a way to induce more meaning to my work life than making fancy food for fancy people.

How will Yolélé's mission effect change in West Africa?

Thiam: The consumers are supporting this thing, more than bringing food to the table—which is something that is very important—but they're doing it in a conscious way. They're supporting small farmers who are the future of food. It's about climate change and a mission to transform the food system. It's a contribution to changing the food system by returning to supporting small farms and farming that takes into first consideration the environment and the soil, right where it should begin. And then the farmers themselves who are working that soil, so they should be the beneficiary of this business model. And we see it as a model of development as well. So there's many layers to this mission.

Teverow: At the core of what we're doing is supporting smallholder farming systems that are like agro-forestry, so it's trees and crops and grazing and using that system, rotating over different plots of land and restoring soil and absorbing carbon. And all of it is entirely climate resilient, rain fed, it's not irrigated.

One of the things I've learned working with Yolélé is how much international funding goes toward development in sub-Saharan Africa, and how much of that has an emphasis on the agribusiness model and using a lot of chemical inputs. That wasn't sustainable in North America, it's not sustainable in Europe and it's no more sustainable in Africa, and it shouldn't be deployed.

How did you get your first retail account?

Teverow: Our first customer was Whole Foods Market, one store in Harlem, and that's what prompted us to get into action. We pitched them and they accepted us. Then, of course, we're on their timeline and we had to hustle to make it happen.

They said yes to an idea, they didn't even see the branding and, in fact, we ended up having to work fast on the branding. We came up with the kind of a stopgap package that we knew didn't meet our needs but at least we had a package and it was ready and we could ship it.

Really, the missing link in the packaging was an emotional one: It didn't elicit the emotional response that we wanted. We knew it, but we figured we didn't have time to figure out how to elicit that emotional response visually.

You changed the packaging when you released pilaf in the spring of 2020. What attracted you to the new design?

Thiam: The packaging, the way this map of Africa is designed with the countries—just names but you don't have a sense of borders—is a response to colonization. It's an attempt to wink at the colonizing.

The name of Yolélé comes from Fulani word; Fulani is the largest nomadic group in the world and they transcend borders. They still cross east to west Africa, north to south Africa, and this is the reality that existed when fonio was first cultivated 5,000 years ago.

We have, in this packaging, in this design, a symbolization of this Africa that we are aspiring to, where we are producing our own crops, we are transcending borders to bring our own food culture to the rest of the world.

Teverow: The borders were all drawn by colonizers and they're not real. The people who live on the continent stretch all across today's political boundaries and our company is about crossing boundaries, transcending boundaries, as Pierre did as an immigrant to the U.S., and as we're doing with the products themselves.

How does your packaging tell that story?

Thiam: The package already discusses our mission when you look at the back. It explains a bit of the background of the grain itself and the environmental aspect. We plan to have a QR code on the package that takes you directly to the website where there are more details about our work with the smallholder farmers.

Teverow: One of the key things that we've learned is that what sells a product is what it does for the shopper. There are shoppers who want to know that the product has got a moral compass or maybe it's doing achieving something good, and we're letting them know that.

How do you get your story across to retailers, particularly independent retailers?

Teverow: Media coverage is invaluable, so that always helps. But in addition to exhibiting at trade shows, even when tradeshows are virtual, we have found that by getting media coverage on consumer publications, that has brought the trade and retailers to us. The people come looking for us when they read about it in consumer publications.

Have you been working with independent retailers?

Teverow: Our products are sold through distributors and of course they service independent retailers. When we first started, we started reaching out to these hipster groceries in Brooklyn and natural food stores. We found there was actually, to our surprise, more of an appetite and interest among the kind of specialty, foodie stores than in natural food stores. There may be a spirit of culinary exploration in the specialty and gourmet shops and versus satisfying a nutritional need in a natural food store.

Why did you expand your brand to include fonio pilaf and, in February, fonio chips?

Teverow: We knew, first of all, that just selling the grain itself—although it's wonderful to turn people onto something—if it ever became super popular, it's really hard to command any brand loyalty for what becomes a commodity. The first category we did that in was pilaf because it wasn't much of a stretch.

We always knew we wanted to be in categories that are characterized with faster velocity, wider appeal. There's nothing like a salty snack, where everyone eats them and they're looking for excitement, they're looking for novelty. The nature of it is, you open up a bag, you eat it, you love it, you get another one. It lends itself to big displays, and that's how you achieve visibility. We just knew that was going to be the right category.

How do you plan to grow Yolélé and your mission?

Teverow: Millet and sorghum are other grains, climate-resilient grains, grown by fonio farmers. And then there's Bambara groundnut that we're looking at, and the traditional rice of West Africa, Oryza glaberrima—multiple crops, and that's just West Africa.

We're also talking with growers in other regions of Africa about the particular unique ingredients they grow and bringing them to market.

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