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63 minutes | 9 days ago
Driftless Provisions Slices into the Charcuterie Business
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #89, Tera is joined by Ryan Wagner, Justin VerMeer and Spencer Schaller, the trio behind Driftless Provisions, an artisanal salami company based in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Since launching in 2017, the guys have grown the business steadily and smartly, recently taking production in-house. Ryan got the idea for a premium salami company several years ago, having realized the charcuterie market in Wisconsin was wide open. After business school, he moved to the Driftless Area, a hilly region in the state’s southwest corner that’s dotted with small, sustainable farms, and invited his pal Justin to join him. While working as the business manager at the acclaimed Driftless Café, Ryan met Spencer, the sous chef, who had started an in-house butchery there. Together, they developed a charcuterie program at the café, giving Ryan his salami-making start. Because fermenting and dry-curing salami is a complex and precise multiweek process, it took some time and tweaking to develop a product for market. Meanwhile, Ryan and Justin raised money via Kickstarter and learned what launching a charcuterie company—a high-barrier-of-entry business—would entail (Spencer didn’t join the company officially until 2021). They also dialed in their brand proposition to convey the Driftless Area’s ethos of respect for the land. This influenced many decisions, including basing the company in Viroqua, a town of about 4,400 surrounded by family farms, and sourcing only humanely raised pork. To cure and dry the salami, Ryan and Justin would need a USDA-certified meat processing facility with multiple climate-controlled environments—an astronomical cost. Given the working-capital constraints, they felt it would be smarter to start with a co-packer, a decision that influenced the smaller gauge size of their salami. Working with co-packers on a highly nuanced product is never easy, and Driftless Provisions cycled through a few in the first few years. However, contracting out manufacturing allowed them to get their products out there, first at farmers markets and then at retail. This, in turn, helped them build up their direct-to-consumer e-commerce business, which proved fortuitous once COVID-19 hit. It also let them prove their concept to future investors. After switching co-packers mid-pandemic, Driftless Provisions caught a break. A space once occupied by a cheese manufacturer opened up at the Food Enterprise Center of Viroqua, a 100,000-square-foot multi-tenet facility. Since it was climate-controlled already, the company didn’t have to spend a ton of money to retrofit the space. After raising about $230,000, they brought in equipment from Italy to set themselves up for long-term success. They expect they can reach up to $600,000 in sales before needing to upgrade the space. Now, with the pandemic winding down, business is ramping up, especially on the retail side. Ryan, Justin and Spencer look forward to being able to demo and sample again, as charcuterie requires consumer education. They are also experimenting with other meats besides pork and exploring complementary revenue streams. We see many great things ahead for this company!
65 minutes | 23 days ago
Katie Mleziva Gets Real About Brand Strategy
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #88, Tera talks with Katie Mleziva, founder of Real Food Brands, host of the Real Food Brands Marketing Podcast and instructor for our upcoming Building a Brand That Stands Out training course. FFI is a strong advocate for locking down your brand strategy early on so it can be systematically and intentionally engrained in all areas of your business. As a brand strategist, Katie helps natural food and beverage companies do this through defining, aligning and activating clear, consistent brand strategies that resonate with consumers. Before striking out on her own, Katie worked in brand management and marketing for Kraft and other Fortune 500 companies, which informed the concepts she teaches now: “I took those big-business ideals, streamlined them down and resized them for small entrepreneurial startups and emerging brands looking to scale up.” Next, she and Tera discussed the importance of branding for food companies. Basically, unless a brand establishes an emotional connection with consumers and why it’s special, shoppers may see it as just another brand of cheese, cookies, kombucha, [insert any product here]. Katie said entrepreneurs are often so engrossed in their products and business operations that they don’t truly think through how their brand benefits consumers—or know how to convey that benefit through branding. She helps them to think externally so they can transition from just having great products to owning a strong brand. As FFI Founder Tera Johnson often highlights in our Boot Camp your business is more than your products! But to do that, food, farm, and beverage entrepreneurs must first lock down their values and vision—know who they are as a brand before attempting to sell it to others. Then, Katie stresses the three C’s: consumers, competition and company. Brands should identify their target consumers based on demographics and psychographics and determine how exactly the brand benefits them. Next, they should look at what their competitors are doing and saying to ensure their brand offers a suite of attributes that truly stands out from the competition. Based on consumer needs and the competitive landscape, companies can establish a few main brand pillars, qualities such as sustainability or locally sourced ingredients. Katie explained the importance of aligning brand strategy around those pillars: “If your whole brand strategy is the north star, this is the light that shines on the path to say we’re on right path. If we’re building everything around these pillars, we know we’re sticking to what we said we wanted to do in terms of overall vision.” Another important element is brand voice, which should be consistent throughout marketing, messaging, packaging, and internal and external communications. Cohesive voice gets the team on the same page and lets consumers know what to expect. After defining (or refining) and aligning the brand strategy comes activation—how the company executes based on its business goals. This involves everything from posting on Instagram to creating an advertisement. This work can be challenging for entrepreneurs, yet it is definitely worth tackling. That’s why Katie is so passionate about coaching brands through the process. We look forward to working with her on our three-day Building a Brand That Stands Out workshop May 19 to 21. Hope you can join us too!
41 minutes | a month ago
Connoils Scales from One-Woman Op to One-Stop Shop
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #87, Tera is joined by Stacy Peterson, founder and CEO of Connoils, a manufacturer, distributor and wholesale supplier of oil and oil powder ingredients for food and beverages, dietary supplements, personal care and pet food. As a seasoned entrepreneur—and one who works on the ingredients side of food—she provides valuable insights for listeners. Kicking off the conversation, Stacy shared the history of the company she launched in 2007. It all started when her then-employer, Cargill, decided to discontinue its line of nutritional oils, eliminating her job along with it. Seeing an opportunity to keep serving those customers while ensuring her own employment, Stacy proposed forming an independent company to acquire the product line. Cargill agreed and sold her its remaining inventory at a discount. So, with an established product line and customer base, Stacy began her entrepreneurial journey. At first, she was a one-woman show. She worked out of her home, stored inventory at the food-grade storage facility where her husband worked and relied on contract manufacturers for oil encapsulation. As the business grew, Stacy began hiring help, and after a few years, moved the company to a 7,500-square-foot facility to bring more of the work in-house. Connoils eventually outgrew that space too, building a brand-new 25,000-square-foot facility in Big Bend, Wisconsin, last year, complete with solar panels on the roof. The new space better allows Connoils to be a one-stop shop for its customers, offering manufacturing, spray-drying, encapsulation, bottling, private-labeling, white-labeling, R&D consultation and shipping. The company’s portfolio now includes about 200 types of oils in multiple formats, including canola, avocado, sesame seed, evening primrose, CBD, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and fish oils, sourced primarily from the U.S. and Mexico. Like all businesses in the food space, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Connoils early on, with some customers delaying product launches and orders ramping up for ingredients used in sanitation products. Domestic sourcing has proved fortuitous, given the ongoing logistical problems with international supply chains. Looking forward, Stacy sees more growth ahead for Connoils, especially in MCTs, CBD, immune health products and pet nutrition. She is currently mapping out strategies to boost efficiencies and continue scaling smartly. To wrap up the interview, Stacy offered her best advice for food entrepreneurs just starting out, including the importance of mentorship, collaboration and joining business groups such as Vistage. Tune into the full podcast!
54 minutes | 2 months ago
The Nuts and Bolts (and Benefits) of Scenario Planning
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #86, Tera sits down with Eric DeLuca, founder of Leverage Point Consulting, a market development firm focused on land-based, sustainable and socially responsible enterprises. With vast experience in organizational and food-systems development, strategy and finance, he helps food and farm businesses strategize and secure funding to scale. One of Eric’s areas of expertise is scenario planning, a proven method by which companies map out multiple potential futures and craft action plans for each. The idea is that by considering and strategizing around various outcomes, businesses will be better prepared to navigate “unforeseen” events, such as a drastic decline in market demand, a devastating drought, a significant capital loss or a global pandemic. After sharing the fascinating history of scenario planning, Eric delved deeper into what it is, first by saying what it is not: a crystal ball. Rather than predicting the future, it involves examining all plausible futures with a pragmatic, unbiased eye and then telling a story around them. While it’s tempting to focus on scenarios a company wants to happen, it’s critical to consider all scenarios that could happen. This involves ditching the rose-colored glasses, testing long-held assumptions and viewpoints, and really thinking through outcomes both positive and negative. Scenario planning would behoove most any business at any time, but the COVID-19 crisis has made it especially crucial. Eric and Tera met in 2018, when he completed FFI’s Value-added Food & Farm Business Consultant Certification Training. They further reconnected through the Edible-Alpha® Consultant Huddles last year, which led them to team up to develop a Scenario Planning training program to help scaling food and farm businesses in this time of crazy uncertainty. In discussing the pilot cohort they led, they remarked how beneficial it was for the participants to step away from their day-to-day to strategize in this way. Entrepreneurs spend so much time working in their business—especially these days, with the pandemic still throwing wrenches—that they struggle to find time to work on their business. But in the boot camp environment, each participant was able to move from the tactical thinking they use to run their companies and put out fires every day to thinking more strategically. This shift then greatly impacted how they described their business models and brands. Next, Eric shared his recent experiences working with advisory boards and funds and how their priorities have shifted in response to the pandemic, recent social justice reckoning and intensifying threats of climate change. He said there is now more emphasis on diversity, inclusion and ensuring that funding and business-assistance opportunities feel accessible to all and truly match the needs of potential recipients. Listen to the podcast to hear the full discussion on scenario planning. For more info on FFI’s Scenario Planning program and to be considered for an upcoming cohort, click here.
62 minutes | 2 months ago
Mentorship and Sweat Equity Build Meadowlark Organics Value-Added Small Grain Farm Business
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #85 Tera talks with John Wepking about building Meadowlark Organics, a diversified small grain farm enterprise, on 800+ acres in the Driftless region of Wisconsin. As a young, married couple John and his wife Halee found a mentor and a clear path to 100% ownership of the land they are currently farming on. This conversation shows how mentorship and sweat equity can lead to a successful farm transition.
80 minutes | 3 months ago
Expert Insights into Selling Successfully on Amazon
In podcast #84, Tera talks to Amazon expert Michael Zhang, CEO and founder of Fenrici Brands. The lifestyle company, started in 2018, sells over 50 items exclusively on Amazon generating over $4 million in sales. Combining that success with his previous experience as VP of Ecommerce and Innovation at Lands’ End, Michael has added Amazon coaching and consulting to his business portfolio. In this episode, he and Tera discuss what it takes to sell well on Amazon. Often, smaller companies are intimidated by Amazon, but Michael reassures what will set you up for success is no different than what you are used to in retail or other sales channels. Three key things he calls out: You need to be committed to selling on Amazon, which includes investing in advertising and promotion and spending regular time managing your account. You need to have confidence in your products, should know the unique problems your products solve and have clear messaging around your unique differentiator. You need to be prepared to manage your inventory and to have the cash flow to support stocking Amazon distribution centers with your products. Once you make the commitment to sell on Amazon, it is important you set yourself up for the best launch possible. When it comes to fulfillment, Michael recommends setting your business up as FBA – Fulfilled by Amazon, which ensures you get the “Prime” badge. When it comes to positioning, a tip is to look at similar competitors and their product listings. By reading the 5-star reviews, you can see what customers like about those products and borrow words they are using to describe their experience to improve your listing. Similarly, by reading 1-star reviews, you can glean insights about what customers are missing in those competitor products and speak to those features or aspects of the experience within your listing. Once you have launched on Amazon, it is important to drive traffic to your listing through advertising and promotion. Don’t be afraid to spend time experimenting with Amazon advertising. It is important to have a paid program, but you can start out small, as low as $5/day, and grow your spend. One paid option is Cost Per Click Ads. These ads help your products get placed at the top of search results. In addition, you can set up coupons, a special store for your product, lightning deals and more to increase traffic to your listings. There are also many free ways to create a narrative around your brand, including writing posts and adding to the live stream on Amazon.com. As you build your Amazon business, don’t lose sight of the importance of building out your social media promotions and digital advertising to further your channel growth. Amazon notices when you drive traffic, and it is important to fully activate this channel once you’ve committed to it. Ratings are an important contributor to your success on Amazon. Michael recommends new-to-Amazon businesses take advantage of the Early Reviewer program and encourages you to check the Amazon Vine program as well. In their first month on Amazon, Michael’s company sold $100,000 in products. At the end of their first year, they reached $1 million in sales, and after three years in business, they surpassed $4 million. This illustrates that a committed and savvy entrepreneur who had the time and resources can certainly build their business on Amazon solo. But often food entrepreneurs are busy making their products and wearing many other hats to keep their business afloat. If that is the case, finding a third-party Amazon expert is a solid strategy. Michael says the best thing to look for in a partner is results: What can they do for you in 3 to 6 months? For more insights into selling online check our our free course here!
85 minutes | 3 months ago
Breadtopia Builds off Pandemic Business Boom
In podcast #83, recorded at Edible-Alpha® Live!, Tera interviews Galen Saturley of Breadtopia, a virtual baking-education hub and seller of grains, flours and baking equipment based in Fairfield, Iowa. What started as a passion project for Galen’s mom and stepdad in 2006 is now a booming e-commerce business with an engaged national community, which have only grown stronger through the COVID-19 pandemic. From the start, Breadtopia’s main mission has been to ensure that “baking perfect bread at home is available to everyone.” Founders Eric and Denyce created a content-driven website, featuring recipes, how-to videos and interviews, and funded it through sales of baking equipment, sourdough starters and organic wheat and rye flours. This was back in e-commerce’s infancy, so they learned as they went while milling grains to order and packaging products in their garage. As interest in Breadtopia mounted and sales grew, the mom-and-pop operation had to scale. They rented a bigger workspace space in Fairfield, brought on a few employees and expanded into ancient grains and other flour types. Before long, they needed even more space. Once Galen joined the business in 2012, he helped upgrade the milling operation and streamline inventory, and the company settled into 15% to 30% year-on-year growth When Galen first met Tera in 2018, he shared their designs for a new 8,000-square-foot facility. Tera suggested they go even bigger, which proved sage advice. When a 40,000-square-foot space downtown became available last October, Breadtopia found its new home. Amidst its busiest season ever, the team moved everything over, figured out operations and got ready for a stellar 2020. Little did they know, COVID-19 was right around the corner. In early March, as the nation locked down and everyone started baking bread, average daily orders surged from 125 to 600, sending the team scrambling. To continue meeting loyal customers’ expectations while also serving the influx of new ones, the company went from eight employees to 30. As grains and flours became nearly impossible to find at grocery stores, Breadtopia’s sales kept climbing. The company’s close relationships with small farmers and plentiful backstock allowed it to come through when few other retailers could. Galen said the team didn’t relax until June, when orders leveled off. Thanks to the heady sales of last spring, they began transforming HQ into a literal breadtopia—complete with a bakery, education center, retail shop and commercial kitchens—a few years ahead of schedule. Tera and Galen also talked about online sales strategies, including Breadtopia’s experiences with Amazon, and the company’s next project: working with farmers and grain organization to build a sustainable local food system. Be sure to catch this podcast for the whole Breadtopia story and e-commerce lessons for food and farm businesses of all sizes!
43 minutes | 4 months ago
Paul Willis Talks Scaling up Humanely Raised Pork
For Tera’s final Edible-Alpha® Live! famous founder interview, she spoke with Paul Willis, director and founding hog farmer of Niman Ranch. An ardent animal welfare advocate, he helped transform the pork industry by scaling up the humanely raised, free-range model. A longtime Iowa hog farmer, Paul proudly raised pigs on pasture, but by the 1990s, CAFOs were threatening to put little guys like him out of business. The message, he told Tera, was to “get bigger or get out.” Paul refused to do either and began exploring his options. Knowing most Iowans at the time wouldn’t pay a premium for his pork—or purchase more than just the chops—he spent years looking for a viable market. Eventually, he met Bill Niman, who was successfully marketing humanely raised beef in and around San Francisco, a much more progressive food scene. Paul sent Bill a pork chop, Bill loved the taste and Paul’s values, and a partnership was born. Paul formed Niman Ranch Pork Company and began sending hogs to the West Coast for processing and sale. Under a hybrid LLC–co-op model, the company grew its network of farmers to meet increasing demand, guaranteeing them a premium for their animals plus stock in the company. Also, from the get-go, Paul wanted a way to distinguish his humane methods from those of CAFOs. There wasn’t an official recognized standard back then, so he helped create the Certified Humane standard, now a trusted, widely known seal. The money held as farmers’ stock provided working capital for the company to continue scaling. That, plus a forgivable loan from the Iowa Department of Economic Development, furthered its growth, and landing Whole Foods Market and later Chipotle as customers helped turn Niman Ranch into a sought-after national brand. As more consumers nationwide have woken up the value of humanely raised, free-range pork, demand has only intensified. A few years back, family-owned Perdue Farms bought out Niman Ranch along with its specialty processor. Because Perdue was rich in resources, the co-op was disbanded and farmers paid back every penny. Paul stayed on as director to ensure Niman Ranch’s values and commitments to farmers were upheld under new corporate ownership. “The integrity of everything we do is 100% intact,” Paul said. “It’s even better today because we have some money.” In fact, his influence has even prompted Perdue to improve its animal welfare practices. Paul is proud that today Niman Ranch has 700 farmers and ranchers in its network. Although he could certainly call it quits after all he’s accomplished, he’s not ready just yet—which, Tera noted, is our gain, because the food world needs Paul Willis. His passion and innovation have helped hundreds of small farmers and ranchers stay in business while offering consumers nationwide more sustainable—and better tasting—protein choices. Tune in to Tera’s full interview with Paul, as well her chats with other famous founders from Edible-Alpha® Live!
42 minutes | 4 months ago
Impact Investing Fosters Organic Farmland Security
Tera’s second Edible-Alpha® Live! famous founder interview featured David Miller, co-founder and CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT. Founded in 2007, this innovative finance company provides secure land access to organic and regenerative farmers through long-term leases and mortgages. To kick off the conversation, David delved into the genesis of the company. After a 30-year career in banking and real estate financial management, he had purchased a family farm he wanted to transition to organic, doing his part to change the “dead-soil monoculture” of the Midwest and benefit the environment and human health. Simultaneously, he and longtime friend Dr. Steven Rivard had been discussing the dearth of solid investment opportunities and came up with an idea: What if they could connect mission-driven investors with organic farmers, who struggle with land security and whose needs often go unmet by traditional financing? Many people thought they were crazy for asking investors to sink money into a long-term proposition with no option to exit. But as David explained, that structure was necessary to secure sustainable leases and garner farmers’ trust. Soon, enough investors had seen the value in supporting small to midsize organic farms to get Iroquois Valley off the ground. This was impact investing long before that term was used. David described how the company has evolved over 14 years to meet the financial needs of farmers. Iroquois Valley became a Certified B Corporation and, three years ago, a Public Benefit Corporation, which allows everyday people, not just accredited investors, to invest. The company also added a redemption mechanism for investors and mortgages and operating lines of credit for farmers. Iroquois Valley increasingly collaborates with other credit providers, nonprofits and other entities to broaden impact. Lately, they’ve begun planting trees on farms, helping to build investment cases for silvopasture, permaculture and other regenerative agriculture practices that don’t easily attract conventional financing. The company also recently purchased its own farm, Rock Creek Farm south of Chicago, for research, collaboration and demonstration. Although Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT has already done a ton to foster the next generation of organic and regenerative farmers, David and company are nowhere near finished. They are continually buying more conventional farmland to convert and working to scale up these sustainable systems for the good of people and the planet. Tune in to Tera’s full interview with David, as well her chats with other famous founders from Edible-Alpha® Live!
46 minutes | 4 months ago
Gary Zimmer Shares How Healthy Soil Yields Success
Among the highlights of the inaugural Edible-Alpha® Live! event, held online December 9, Tera interviewed agriculture pioneer Gary Zimmer and his daughter Leilani Zimmer Durand. As the founder of Madison, Wisconsin-based Midwestern BioAg, Gary is considered the father of “biological farming”—essentially the first iteration of regenerative agriculture—which focuses on balancing soil biology, chemistry and structure to produce greater, higher-quality yields. When Gary started the company in 1983, his approach was virtually unheard of in the U.S. Convincing organic dairy farmers that the ticket to more efficiency and profitability was improving their soil required a lot of education. But as Midwestern BioAg’s processes and nutrient-rich and carbon-based fertilizers got great results, the company grew steadily, expanding beyond just dairy farms and beyond Wisconsin. Gary and Leilani also wrote the book on biological farming—literally—which helped spread his philosophy and practices around the world. Still, investors weren’t lining up to jump in. Gary bootstrapped the endeavor, including establishing the fertilizer processing arm, landing no outside capital and getting by on debt financing. And when he couldn’t convince university researchers to help him test his innovations, he established his own organic, 100% grass-fed dairy farm for in-house R&D and demos. Today, the company continues to thrive, and Gary now works with some of the world’s largest farms, both organic and conventional, on incorporating biological farming. He also has his hand in many tangential projects, including processing ventures, a new consulting business with Leilani and an initiative to revitalize rye as a vital soil-regeneration crop. He’s also thinking about succession plans if ever he opts to slow down. Next, Tera asked Gary and Leilani what’s next for regenerative agriculture. This led to a great discussion on what the term truly means, its potential benefits for the planet, the role big food companies can play, how Big Ag needs to evolve, and how eco-minded consumers are a driving force for change. They also discussed the challenges and opportunities for food and farm entrepreneurs today and the need for more impact investment to further these endeavors. Subscribe to the Edible-Alpha® YouTube channel to be notified when the Video Podcast drops!
64 minutes | 6 months ago
Scaling Managed Dairy Grazing for Max Impact
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #79, Tera is joined by Joe Tomandl, Executive Director for the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA). This first-of-its-kind program launched in 2011 and trains aspiring dairy farmers on managed grazing, a regenerative system that carries major impact for the environment, food systems, and rural prosperity. Explaining the genesis of DGA, Joe noted that independent dairy farms have been declining for decades in Wisconsin, contributing to the demise of rural communities. One reason is it’s tough to teach the myriad aspects of dairy farming, especially managed grazing, in a classroom. Seeing the success of trade apprenticeships, Joe realized this was this ideal model for onboarding new farmers. So, DGA was born, offering 3,700 hours of paid, hands-on training plus 300 hours of classroom instruction. Along with providing a natural, low-overhead onramp for new farmers through workforce training, education, and networking, the program also benefits current farmers seeking assistance or eventual successors. Knowing that the pathway to dairy was similarly difficult outside of Wisconsin, DGA expanded nationwide in 2015. It now has a presence in 15 states, with 200 approved training farms and 45 apprentices currently in the program. Next, Joe and Tera explored the philosophy behind managed grazing. Put simply, it involves rotating cows through paddocks of permanent grass and ground cover to have them do as much of the forage harvesting and manure spreading as possible. This natural approach is a far cry from conventional systems, which require a ton of time, money, and fuel. But this isn’t simply opening a fence and shooing the cows out. It’s an art, requiring farmers to meticulously monitor fields, forage, and weather patterns to ensure cows hit each paddock at the optimum growth, density, and nutrition stage. Done right, this approach increases field productivity over time. It also has major environmental benefits. Whereas conventional dairy farmers till and expose soil, causing rains to sweep phosphorous and manure into watersheds, managed grazing keeps soil covered, which reinvigorates the soil, prevents runoff, and sequesters carbon. Plus, the carbon-generating fuel inputs are drastically less, and grazing cows, with their nutrient-producing ruminant stomachs, help revitalize ecosystems. Now DGA is looking to scale the system for max impact. As Joe put it, “there is incredible opportunity within managed grazing dairy system to address big challenges—from nutrient-dense food to processing and distribution systems to climate, soils, water, and environment—with independent farms where the land base is matched much closer to what the livestock-carrying capacity is.” As industries look to go net zero in the coming decades, managed-grazing operations can help them achieve their goals while also uplifting rural communities. But scaling this system will require innovative finance and impact investors to step up, more consumers to demand sustainably produced dairy and the value proposition for farmers to be realized. DGA is on a mission to line up these variables and move managed grazing mainstream to benefit the climate, the food system, farm succession, and rural prosperity. Learn more about impact investing and innovators like DGA at our upcoming Edible-Alpha® Live! Event!
97 minutes | 7 months ago
Transparency and Trust Fuel The Honest Bison’s Rapid Growth
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #77, Tera talks with Sean Lenihan, founder of The Honest Bison, a direct-to-consumer purveyor of 100% grass-fed bison and other meats. Committed to total transparency, The Honest Bison gives consumers easy access to premium, nutritious, ethically and sustainably raised nutritious animal proteins as an alternative to conventionally raised, grain-fed red meats. While starting the company as a side hustle in 2012, Sean spent two years visiting ranches and slaughterhouses, attending conferences and learning everything he could about the bison industry. He was surprised to discover that bison, which carry a sustainability and health halo, were mostly still finished in feedlots. But as Sean explained to Tera, following the conventional beef industry’s template had been a market necessity for those who built the bison industry from scratch. However, after seeing the carcass of a healthy-looking 100% grass-fed animal next to the carcass of a sick, stressed cow raised in confinement, he knew it was time for change. With the Better Food Movement sweeping the nation at the time, Sean felt there were now plenty of consumers who were hungry for more sustainable, humane and nutritious meats from a brand they could trust. The Honest Bison earns that trust by partnering closely with ranchers who use regenerative practices. The company furthers its sustainability by selling unwanted carcass parts to other CPGs to use in their products. But back in 2014, Sean knew the regular retail route likely wouldn’t work for this premium produt. E-commerce, on the other hand, while not very popular for food back then, could. “When we started selling frozen meat over the internet in 2014, you had to have someone super motivated for the benefits and very emotionally against normal meat production,” Sean said. He was right, and as time went on and more consumers become concerned about their health and the environment, the customer base swelled. Fast-forward to 2020—which has exposed the countless problems with the food supply chain, made climate change unignorable and empowered consumers to get closer to their food sources—The Honest Bison has grown 400% this year alone. “As this crisis has accelerated things, buying frozen meat over the internet is more popular now than last year,” Sean said. “We are riding that wave but also meeting the challenges that come along with a great change, some of which are exciting and some that are super scary.” Like many food businesses today, the Honest Bison is dealing with the shortage of cold-chain storage, newly reconfigured distribution networks and delivery snafus. Sean has had to hire more team members to handle the volume and all that comes with it. And with investors still hesitant to back regenerative agriculture endeavors, the company has managed with limited resources. Sean and Tera go on to discuss the rapidly changing food industry, where more innovation is needed, what it’ll take to continue revolutionizing the food industry and how it’s more important than ever to offer consumers good value and transparency. Tune in to hear their full fascinating, insightful conversation.
72 minutes | 7 months ago
Lost Creek Farm Shares the Stories Behind Food
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #76, Tera talks with Mike Costello and Amy Dawson, owners of Lost Creek Farm in Lost Creek, West Virginia. Although Mike officially holds the titles of chef and farmer while Amy is farm manager and baker, the duo does everything in tandem, from restoring the long-vacated family farmstead to sharing the rich cultural heritage of their Appalachian-inspired farm-to-table cuisine. Both Mike and Amy grew up on farms in West Virginia, but neither started their career in food. Mike initially wanted to be a chef but headed to journalism school instead, which taught him the value of place and storytelling. Amy earned a law degree. Eventually, their interests in food and farming were reignited, and when the opportunity arose in 2013 to purchase the property and reconstruct the farmhouse Amy’s great-great grandfather built in the 1880s, they jumped on it. So began a long, challenging but highly rewarding journey. For two years, Mike and Amy rented an apartment nearby while restoring the farmhouse and doing popup dinners and guest chef nights. They marketed their business as Lost Creek Farm from the start, knowing they’d eventually host formal dinners on the farm featuring ingredients grown and foraged onsite. Once their farm-to-table dinners got going, they went all in on elevating the unique ingredients, recipes and culinary traditions of Appalachia. Along with growing heirloom beans, corn, squash and other vegetables from seeds passed down for generations, their efforts include lots of historical research and collecting oral histories. Because to Mike and Amy, the stories behind ingredients and dishes, which illustrate people’s connection to place, are just as important as flavor. This is especially true given the widespread misconceptions about what Appalachian cuisine actually entails. As the years have gone by, Mike and Amy have built a solid business, attracting guests from all over the country to their farm-to-table dinners. The late Anthony Bourdain and his crew even spent a day dining, swapping stories and filming with them to be featured in one the final episodes of his TV show. But Lost Creek Farm also attracts a fair number of locals familiar with common Appalachian food narratives of shame and desperation. West Virginia's culinary traditions were largely born of necessity––that is, food people ate not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Rather than defining food by the shame of hard times, Lost Creek Farm offers proud narratives about innovative cooks who created complex, healthy dishes with extremely limited resources. Through culinary storytelling, Mike and Amy strive to change the way West Virginians see food as a source of place-based identity. Although they were geared up for a bustling 2020, COVID-19 forced Lost Creek Farm to cancel all dinners and other events for the year. Mike and Amy have stayed plenty busy, though, developing their education curriculum, planning the buildout of their commercial kitchen and classroom, and producing a long-form-narrative podcast, The Pickle Shelf Radio Hour. Lost Creek Farm’s success has proven that people are hungry for authentic, local experiences, flavors and culture. If anything, the pandemic has increased their appetite, which should bode well for this unique multifaceted business.
73 minutes | 7 months ago
For Atlantic Sea Farms, Mission Drives Market
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #75, Tera interviews Briana Warner, CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms, the nation’s first commercial seaweed farm, based in Saco, Maine. Since Briana took the reins in 2018, the company has developed a dynamic mission-based brand around promoting kelp consumption, diversifying the coastal economy and mitigating climate change. Although nutrient-rich kelp has gained popularity in recent years, Briana explained that 98% of it is grown in Asia, often in dirty water, then dried, imported and sometimes rehydrated and dyed. This includes seaweed salad from sushi restaurants and those seaweed snacks millennials love. Atlantic Sea Farms, on the other hand, is vertically integrated, providing the first U.S.-grown kelp products for foodservice and retail. The company started out cultivating its own seaweed in Maine’s cold, clean waters but needed a different strategy to scale. Now it contracts a couple dozen local lobster fishermen—who already had the boats, equipment and ocean know-how—to grow kelp on lines in the off-season. Atlantic Sea Farms provides the seeds and training, then, once the kelp is harvested, picks it up at the dock and drives it to its facility to flash-freeze or process immediately. The result is two frozen and three fermented SKUs for retail, plus a foodservice line. But this business is about much more than crafting nutritious, delicious, sustainable food. As Briana told Tera, the effects of climate change have hit coastal Maine hard, with carbon-driven ocean acidification decimating commercial fishing. The lobster industry has been spared for now, but catches are expected to decline as the ocean keeps changing. Therefore, by building up a market for kelp, Atlantic Sea Farms is helping fishermen to diversify their income now while honing a new skill that’ll keep netting them money if and when lobster collapses. Along with its economic-development mission, the company also confronts climate change head-on just by planting kelp. This seaweed sucks up carbon from the ocean, making local waters less acidic and benefitting the entire aquatic ecosystem. There’s a social justice piece too. Atlantic Sea Farms pays staff fair wages, supports a healthy work-life balance and gives its farmer partners buying guarantees. Briana admitted that this massive undertaking, with all its interconnected and moving parts, is a giant experiment. The company is learning every step of the way as it builds an entirely new industry and market in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made things any easier. But Atlantic Sea Farms has pivoted where necessary, such as by fast-tracking its national retail launch earlier this year as its foodservice channel got trounced. Briana is grateful to have a solid slate of impact investors who are devoted to the mission and supportive of switching strategies. While it’s still too soon to tell how well the products will perform at retail, Briana believes the combo of award-winning flavors and clear environmental and social values will elevate Atlantic Sea Farms into a trusted, must-have brand. In doing well by doing good, she hopes to be a model for future kelp operations and other industries.
50 minutes | 8 months ago
Brix Cider Pivots to Food Hub to Withstand Pandemic
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #74, Tera chats with Marie Raboin, co-founder with husband Matt of Brix Cider in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Four years after launching a wholesale cider business and a year and a half after opening a taproom and farm-to-table restaurant, Marie explains how her company pivoted strategies in response to COVID-19. Before delving into the pandemic’s impacts, Marie shares their struggles securing a building for the taproom. Once Brix Cider found its home in downtown Mount Horeb, a village of about 7,500 residents southwest of Madison, the cidery opened in January 2019—smack in the middle of a polar vortex. The cold weather kept business slow through April, but by patio season, it was rocking. The community fell in love with the revolving menu of top-quality ciders, locally sourced farm-to-table eats, live music, and film screenings. By early 2020, Brix Cider had hit its stride. Then came COVID-19. Devastated but determined not to put staff and clientele at risk, Marie and Matt made the hard call to close on March 13, ahead of most restaurants in the county and before the governor issued his stay-at-home order. The next day, the couple thought long and hard about next steps. With about 25 farmers relying on their orders, they wanted to avoid cutting off their vendors’ revenue stream while also keeping their own lights on. Marie and Matt hatched a plan: They’d turn the taproom into a food hub to distribute their partnering farmers’ meat, dairy, produce, and other goods to the community. Matt built an e-commerce site, and within days, Brix was taking orders for weekly boxes, packing them onsite, and offering touchless curbside pickup or delivery within a 10-mile radius. Brix’s pandemic pivot was a success. Weekly orders kept increasing. Community members had easy access to super-fresh, sustainably produced foods. Farmers had an alternative sales channel to make up for the suspended Brix orders. The company even partnered with the Mount Horeb food pantry to give financially strained community members access to this high-quality food. As the quarantine restrictions eased up and the weather warmed, grocery orders slowed down. Midsummer, Brix reopened the taproom for outdoor cider sipping and dining. Along with maintaining weekly box orders, they also converted the indoor space into a co-op for the community to shop for locally produced groceries. Marie isn’t sure what will come next for Brix. Much of that depends on the virus, the safety measures businesses must follow, and consumer shopping and dining habits during the ongoing recession. Brix secured multiple government grants and loans to fuel operations, and Marie and Matt have a few game plans ready for winter to keep them afloat until the taproom business picks up again in the summer. But like most food companies today, they are facing many unknowns. For now, though, Brix Cider is getting by while maintaining its vendor relationships and building stronger ties to the community. This company proves that with innovation, collaboration, and a willingness to pivot, businesses can weather storms such as COVID and set themselves up for long-term success.
64 minutes | 9 months ago
Bread SRSLY Puts People Ahead of Profit
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #72, Tera talks to Sadie Scheffer, founder and CEO of Bread SRSLY, a gluten-free, vegan sourdough bread company based in San Francisco. Sadie began experimenting with gluten-free sourdough recipes in her apartment back in 2011 in attempt to woo her gluten-intolerant crush. Her baking not only won Jesse’s heart—it also led to a successful wholesale and e-commerce business rooted in values. In the early days of Bread SRSLY, Sadie offered a rotating menu of sourdough flavors, along with muffins and cookies. But as the company grew organically, she realized her tasty gluten-free sourdough bread was the brand, so best to focus on that. Bread SRSLY moved through a series of production spaces and worked with a co-packer for a few years before landing in the certified-gluten-free, certified-vegan kitchen it holds today. To complement its strong wholesale business, the company began selling direct to consumer in 2014 and built a loyal customer base. Having an e-commerce infrastructure in place proved fortuitous for the COVID-19 era, which has shifted massive food dollars online. Pre-pandemic, Bread SRSLY’s business was 75% wholesale, 25% e-commerce. Now it’s 50-50. And yet, despite a huge spike in demand this spring, this values-aligned company put its employees’ well-being ahead of profit, actually dialing back capacity to ensure no shortcuts would be taken on safety. A response team was assembled to plan ahead for various scenarios that COVID-19 could trigger, such as what to do if an employee tested positive. Well, one did, so the company shut down operations for three weeks while the whole team quarantined, receiving pay the entire time. Because of the pre-planning and ongoing engagement with employees, Sadie says shutting down was a stress-free decision and the company is prepared to do it again if necessary. Over the last few years, Sadie has come into her own as a leader. Of all her CEO responsibilities, she most enjoys cultivating strong teams and empowering others with leadership roles. She has “flattened out” the organization as much as possible to make it less hierarchical, thereby boosting employee engagement. She is especially proud of her sales and marketing team, which, driven by values, recently requested that Bread SRSLY join the Stop Hate for Profit campaign and pull its ads from Facebook and Instagram. The team is also examining how to be more inclusive in its messaging to engage a broader audience, and the company is exploring how to accept EBT dollars online. As the pandemic drags on, Bread SRSLY is focused on cultivating its growing e-commerce channel, launching its first new product in five years and hopefully moving into a more cohesive kitchen space. But no matter what the future holds, this company, with its highly engaged team and unwavering commitment to values, is built to prosper.
63 minutes | 9 months ago
Scout Canning Makes Shelf-Stable Seafood Sustainable
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #71, Tera talks to Adam Bent, co-founder and CEO of Scout Canning, a Toronto, Ontario-based craft cannery launched in December 2018. This impact-driven company is revolutionizing the North American canned seafood market by celebrating a variety of locally harvested species—not just tuna—and shortening the supply chain, both of which help protect fragile ocean ecosystems. To start, Tera and Adam discussed how the canned seafood market has seen almost no innovation over the last several decades. Canned tuna, in part because it’s so cheap, remains the most popular species consumed from a can—and the second-most consumed seafood overall, behind only shrimp. The problem, as Adam explained, is the fish is predominantly caught overseas, where the supply chain is murky, labor conditions are terrible and ocean health isn’t prioritized. In co-founding Scout Canning, he and Chef Charlotte Langley, a seafood specialist and chef ambassador for Marine Stewardship Council, aimed to do things entirely differently—with integrity, purpose and a focus on sustainability. They are on a mission to move more seafood to the center of the plate by proving that shelf-stable canned products can be just as delicious and nutritious as fresh and frozen. They present a variety of tasty species to broaden consumer palates beyond tuna, dressing them up in rich oils, herbs and seasonings. But what really differentiates this company is that instead of importing seafood or buying from commodity markets, Scout Canning sources directly from MSC-certified fisheries and aquaculture operations in North America, ensuring a traceable, sustainable supply chain. Through its engaging branding and top-quality products, Scout educates consumers on the issues plaguing our oceans and their connection to climate change. Like most every food brand, Scout Canning has been impacted by COVID-19. The products were set to launch at Natural Products Expo West, which didn’t happen, forcing a pivot in distribution and marketing strategy. The company still landed key retail partnerships but also put more muscle behind its e-commerce strategy than originally planned. This has worked out swimmingly so far, with consumers clamoring for the canned seafood and even asking for a subscription option. The pandemic has also benefited Scout Canning in unexpected ways. In the early days, when consumers feared food shortages and panic-purchased shelves empty, demand for shelf-stable foods like Scout’s skyrocketed. Also, in speaking to our shaken nation, respected media outlets, influencers and culinarians touted canned seafood’s immense value, shining the spotlight on this oft-overlooked category. Although his brand’s launch looked different than expected, because Scout Canning is still small and nimble, it could change course when necessary and find success. The company is starting important conversations around sustainability and already transforming the stale category it was founded to disrupt. These wins show that, with purpose, resiliency and flexibility, emerging brands can indeed make a major impact, even during the unsteady coronavirus era.
47 minutes | 10 months ago
Transforming ‘Waste’ into Wow-Worthy Beverages
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #70, Tera chats with Paul Evers, co-founder and CEO of Bend, Oregon-based Riff Cold Brewed , about the successful startup’s origin story, the power of a strong brand and upcycling a would-be waste ingredient into a crave-worthy craft beverage. Unlike most food and beverage entrepreneurs, Paul’s primary priority was to create a brand that really resonated with consumers; next, he decided which products to pursue. With a background in brand-building and creative services, and as co-founder of Crux Fermentation Project, a craft brewery in Bend, he was well-suited to take the emerging cold-brewed coffee category by storm. After assembling a skilled team of founders that includes a cold-brewed coffee pioneer, Nate Armburst, and his son, Bobby, Paul and Bobby embarked to Colombia to learn all about coffee production from small, independent growers and brewing techniques from local cafés. Their trip was transformative and informed both Riff’s product development and design of its Taproom—the brand’s epicenter of innovation and consumer connections. There, Riff tests out new beverage concoctions on visitors and uses their immediate feedback as R&D. The Colombia excursion also opened Paul’s eyes to something unexpected that has shifted the brand’s purpose and mission. He learned that after the coffee bean (which is really a seed) is separated from the surrounding fruity pulp, 70% of the coffee fruit is thrown to waste. However, the sweet-tasting pulp, called cascara, is far from worthless: It’s packed with nutrients and caffeine and can be transformed into delicious foods and beverages. But because there’s very little market demand for it currently, cascara winds up in waterways and landfills. Shocked by this practice and the lack of information about it, Riff sponsored a study, supervised by a senior climate change scientist at Oregon State University, to accurately estimate the magnitude of discarded cascara and its environmental impact. The researchers determined that 100 billion pounds of cascara goes to waste, generating up to 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Determined to do something about this issue—and simultaneously reduce the footprint of its coffee-making endeavors—Riff began turning cascara into a line of natural energy drinks dubbed Alter Ego (named for being coffee's lesser-known counterpart). The beverages were set to debut at Natural Products Expo West, where the brand would also participate as one of ten semifinalists in New Hope’s pitch slam, but the event was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. Alter Ego launched online and at retail in the Northwest this spring, and distribution is expanding quickly. With its eco-forward mission firmly entrenched, Riff joined 1% for the Planet and the Upcycled Food Association and is teaming with fellow cascara product producers to create a cascara trade association. While Paul didn’t start this journey with cascara or even necessarily cold-brewed coffee on the brain, his story is an inspirational example of what brands can achieve when they remain open to all possibilities.
60 minutes | a year ago
Reshaping the Supply Chain for Max Efficiency
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #69, Tera interviews Brad Rostowfske, founder of Raise the BAR Innovation and director of industry growth at FaB Wisconsin, about the food and beverage supply chain before COVID-19, the current state of affairs and what it could look like post-pandemic. Brad has long recognized the fragility of the system and has been working toward making it more dynamic, interactive and sustainable so it can better absorb shocks like this global health crisis. As Tera and Brad discussed, several aspects of the food and beverage supply chain weren’t working well pre-pandemic. He noted that grocery stores had been losing $75 billion annually due to products not being on shelf, whether because of out-of-stocks, late shipments or incomplete orders. Manufacturers were losing $50 million. These losses stemmed from squeezes to freight capacity, slow turnaround times at warehouses, the not-yet-rectified disruption of e-commerce and a laundry list of other factors. Then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, traditional sales channels were altered, consumer demands skyrocketed, food-buying behaviors shifted and gas prices dropped, exposing the existing cracks in the system and widening them into gaping holes. As a result, many food businesses are now struggling to source ingredients, stick a steady manufacturing schedule, get their products into distribution, get them onto retail shelves or any combination thereof. Meanwhile, consumers are left wondering why the pasta aisles are still so sparse several months into this mess. But before all this transpired, Brad, along with FaB Wisconsin, had been engaging with key manufacturers, retailers and other stakeholders to map out a macro supply chain and address the system’s many pain points. He noted that no single entity “owns” the supply chain, yet the old-school system is not very collaborative, causing unnecessary snags and inefficiencies for all. However, if multiple stakeholders up and down the chain worked together, goods could flow much more smoothly. And if there were more transparency and intercommunication throughout the system, those seeking out freight, warehouse, cold-chain or manufacturing capacity could actually find it. Simultaneously, those with excess capacity could fill it instead of wasting money. Unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed progress on this front, as everyone is focused on keeping their own businesses running. Even so, Brad hopes that lessons learned through this experience can feed into a reimagined supply chain, one that is much less tenuous and can more easily flex to accommodate upheaval. He and Tera compared this vision to power microgrids, in that certain fractions can function semi-independently if needed so a shock to one part of the system won’t totally derail the whole shebang. They also discussed how the pandemic has introduced new dynamics that will impact the supply chain long-term and therefore must be accounted for in future planning. For example, the sharp increase in online grocery shopping will likely hold, as will people working from home, which changes the channels through which they acquire food. And how will the economic recession impact consumer spending on food overall? These are all big questions without clear answers, but they make it abundantly clear that the time to reevaluate and re-envision the food and beverage supply chain is now.
52 minutes | a year ago
How Self-Manufacturing Helps Food Brands Be Nimble
In Edible-Alpha® podcast #68, Tera talks with Kate Flynn, cofounder and CEO of Sun & Swell Foods, a Certified B Corporation based in Santa Barbara, California that offers organic whole food grab-and-go snacks and pantry staples. They discuss the challenges and benefits of being a mission-based brand, self-manufacturing and shifting strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kate and her husband, Bryan, started Sun & Swell in 2017 to fill an unmet need for simple, nutritious grab-and-go snacks made with organic real-food ingredients. Just two years earlier, Kate had overhauled her diet, started eating clean and began feeling better than ever because of it. Frustrated by the lack of suitable snack foods on the market, she and Bryan took to creating their own and sharing them with friends, eventually landing wholesale accounts. Though Kate was initially dead set against continuing to self-manufacture, they struggled to find a fitting co-packer for their precise specs and small volume, so they continued handcrafting their products in rented commercial kitchen spaces. Though Kate felt great about providing consumers with healthy snacks, she was never quite comfortable with Sun & Swell’s contribution to the single-use plastics problem. A few years into the business, she learned that compostable packaging technology was available but little used, so the brand took a leap and transitioned to the eco-friendlier solution. They discovered that some of the challenges presented by compostable packaging made it hard to move product through traditional food distribution channels, but rather than abandon it altogether, they opted to limit sales to select channels of distribution, such as e-commerce and corporate offices. Even though this choice has complicated operations, Kate firmly believes that compostable packaging’s ecological advantages make it worth the hassle—and she acknowledges that self-manufacturing has enabled Sun & Swell, which now has its own facility, to go this route. Self-manufacturing has also proved fortuitous as the coronavirus pandemic has played out. When half of Sun & Swell’s wholesale business froze in March, the company was able to pivot more easily. Along with ramping up their existing e-commerce business, they revamped their product portfolio to deliver all of their snacks in pantry-size bags. They also begin selling their ingredients in bulk as a new product line of ‘pantry staples’. Thrilled with the success of the bulk business and the fact that it allows them to carry out their mission in a bigger way, Sun & Swell is now adding ingredients beyond those used in their snacks, sourcing directly from family farms. Although Kate wasn’t keen on continuing to self-manufacture in the beginning, she is grateful for the opportunities it affords Sun & Swell, especially in surviving the pandemic and setting themselves up to thrive in the future. Because as she and Tera discussed, nobody knows what the world will look like once the virus threat lessens or how this experience will change consumer shopping patterns long-term.
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