win your #superbowl party this weekend with these ridiculously easy #koreanbbq flavored #meatballs! INGREDIENTS: • 1 lb. lean ground #beef, #pork or #turkey • 8 oz. #tofu, drained (~1/2 brick) • 1 egg, raw • 1 c. #beansprouts, rough chopped • 1 bunch #greenonion, chopped • 1/2 c. #genuinegrub #organic #originalkoreanbbqmarinade or #spicykoreanbbqmarinade DIPPING SAUCE: • 1/4 c. genuine grub original korean bbq marinade or spicy korean bbq marinade • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar (distilled white vinegar will do in a pinch) DIRECTIONS: • preheat oven to 425 degrees. • in large bowl, combine all ingredients. • with clean hands, hand-mix ingredients until meatball mixture is evenly combined. • spoon or hand-form golf ball size meatball (~1 large tablespoon) onto non-stick or foil-lined pan, leaving at least 1/4 inch space in between meatballs. • bake for 20 minutes. DIPPING SAUCE: in small bowl, combine marinade and vinegar. (TIP: for more dipping sauce, just add marinade and vinegar at a 2:1 ratio). • transfer cooked meatballs onto serving plate or directly into mouth and enjoy! SKILL LEVEL: EASY YIELD: ~30 meatballs #sffoodie #food #foodporn #foodie #foodblogger #foodstagram #foodgasm #foodspotting #foodhack find genuine grub @draegersmarket @unitedmarketsca @driversmarket @goodeggs #tokyofishmarket @rainbow_grocery and #piazzasfinefoods
A photo posted by @genuinegrub on
When a distributor agreed to take on my young but growing company, I was thrilled. Having a distributor is how you expand your network. It’s how you grow.
Or, in my case, it’s how I nearly wrecked my business.
The plan was to transfer my existing book of business (retail grocery outlets) to my new distributor, which would allow me to focus on signing up new retail accounts. I had more than a year’s worth of point-of-sale data for each of the retail customers. I handed it over to my distributor—and I transferred inventory based upon what it said. The distributor assured me that the transition would be seamless.
But then came a sign that something was amiss. The distributor’s orders were becoming smaller and smaller. Strange, I thought. Maybe it was the recent Christmas season. Shortly thereafter, I was told to hold off bringing in any more product. I knew something wasn’t right—but I trusted that the team at the distributor were doing their job—and I didn’t want to step on their toes by getting involved. Besides, I was busy trying to sign new customers. But when newly signed customers started telling me that they were receiving deliveries of expired product, I had no choice but to investigate myself.
I quickly discovered that order fulfillment simply wasn’t happening. My food sat in the warehouse for two months before the first case even went out! This was all the worse because my products, naturally fermented pickles and vegetables, have a four-month shelf-life from date of manufacture and require refrigeration, so when they finally started making it out to grocery stores, the opportunity for the retailer to sell my food was greatly diminished.
This bungled transition resulted in lost communication, unfulfilled orders and my getting kicked out of several stores, including my number-one brick-and-mortar. Instead of my revenues increasing, they fell—and I experienced a setback in sales velocity as I had to stop signing new accounts in order to stabilize my book of business, while at the same time, repairing relationships. Needless to say, my distributor and I parted ways.
At the end of the day, I take full responsibility for this mess. But, it provided some valuable lessons.
- Your food could be one of a distributor’s 50,000 SKUs. Given this, how front-of-mind do you think your products will really be for the distributor? Stay involved with your accounts. Don’t give up your book of business to anyone.
- If your product’s movement inexplicably changes, investigate right away. Don’t make assumptions as to why sales are off.
- Don’t rush into working with a distributor just for the sake of having one. Make sure it’s a good fit for your company.
- Don’t be afraid to cut the cord from your distributor. You may feel like your company needs them more than they need you, but if the distributor isn’t helping grow revenues, then they’re not providing any value.
In the 1992 film, SCENT OF A WOMAN, there’s a scene where (poor kid) Charlie Sims, played by Chris O’Donnell and (rich kid) George Willis Jr., played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, are subjects of a disciplinary hearing that’s played out in front of their entire high school student body; the intent to pressure the boys to divulge the culprits of a school prank whereby the school’s headmaster, played by the late James Rebhorn, was the victim. Al Pacino’s character, Col. Frank Slade, proclaims that the difference between George and Charlie is that when shit hit the fan, George cut and ran by naming his best friends, while Charlie faced the (consequential) fire by refusing to name the culprits – despite the fact that they weren’t his friends to begin with. Likewise, every startup faces crises that will, literally, bring it to its’ proverbial knees. This will usually occur on a weekly basis, if not more. How you deal with them is a test of patience, resolve and commitment. What to do? Cut and run like George Willis’ character? Or stay and face the fire like Charlie Sims’ character?
Last weekend was the ultimate test of all the above.
CRISIS #1, SATURDAY
My food manufacturing startup was skedded for production for one of my pickle SKUs. Except that it almost got shut down before it started. Upon arriving at the wholesale produce terminal, my supplier informed me that there were no pickling cucumbers. “No pickling cucumbers – at all?” I replied? “Monday,” I was told. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time my supplier let me down; only two weeks earlier, they shorted my pickling cucumber order by nearly half. I knew supply was extremely tight – especially in light of the recent cucumber/salmonella outbreak/recall affecting the nation. My guess is that my supplier allocated part of my order to a more established customer. With only half of a production and half the finished goods (but still 100% of the full production costs) under my belt from two weeks ago, combined with the possibility of having no pickles to manufacture this week, I was definitely up a creek.
As the gravity of the situation quickly sank in, the stress, the fear and sense of helplessness swept over me. Contractually, my production was locked in. I had sunk costs that were unrecoverable. I had my team of 4 depending upon me to provide them with work – it was too late to cut them loose to find replacement work the next day. I thought about making one of my other SKUs – the problem was, that I was completely out of inventory of the SKU I needed to make that weekend – and it would be another two weeks before I could manufacture again. And if I didn’t have product to supply my retail partners, my shelf slots were at risk for getting replaced because grocery stores don’t make money off empty shelves.
I made the decision to proceed with my original production. The only task at that very moment was securing pickling cucumbers at any cost – with only 2 hours to accomplish it. (Not all wholesalers open on Saturdays – and those that are, only open for a few hours in the morning.) After some mad-dashing between vendors and hitting the phones to retailers up to 50 miles away, I secured the raw goods needed for production. Ok. Crisis resolved. Game back on.
CRISIS #2a, SUNDAY
Before hand-packing my products into jars, I remind my team that they must hit a specific weight beyond the listed weight of the product label. This is done to ensure customers truly receive the amount of food they’re paying for. Just before the capping stage, I happened to spot-weigh one of the just-filled jars – to discover that it was short on weight. – by about 9%. Uh-oh. I checked another jar. Short as well. This was bad. REALLY bad. The consequences of being discovered selling short-filled jars was a showstopper on many levels – my company would be open to state audits and inspections; I’d be forced to recall products; the perhaps-unrecoverable damage to my company’s reputation; getting kicked out of Whole Foods (whereby 1) I had just spent the previous year and a half trying to get into; and 2) Whole Foods had, literally, just been caught short-filling customers’ food orders themselves so no doubt they’re hyper-vigilant about the issue now); and the financial cost of having to deal with all of this. My production weekend that got off to a bad start just got a whole lot worse.
CRISIS #2b, SUNDAY
My false assumption that my team that day knew fractional weights was a clear oversight on my part and led to the second part of this short-fill crisis. Because this was the same team that had helped with production two weeks earlier, I knew that that entire batch was at risk for the same error.
I immediately had my team re-weigh and adjust the fill-weight of each and every jar currently in production – an exercise that added an additional 8 ½% cost to that day’s production run. Luckily, the second batch in question had not yet made its way to the distribution channel, but still necessitated me clearing Monday’s schedule in order to break open each case of the batch in question – and weigh each jar – not once – but twice – to ensure my products were in compliance. I ended up withdrawing a little over 4% of that specific batch from inventory. (I was equally horrified to learn that most other jars were overfilled up to 7% – equally disturbing, albeit for other reasons.)
CRISIS #3, SUNDAY
Partly as a consequence of Crises #2a and #2b, one of my employees quit – on the spot. You might think that one person quitting not to be a big deal, however, that one employee represented 20% of my workforce. Fermentation is all about time, temperature and pH levels – I absolutely needed him because my inability to hit specific time and temperature benchmarks could deem this entire production run worthless. This production run that previously went from bad to worse – just fastracked onto the highway to hell.
At that moment, I was forced to shift from figuring out how to complete my production run to figuring out how to get this employee to re-engage. At that moment, he no longer cared about money. And nevermind the fact that I had given him a ride from the City – and the fact that it would take him upwards of 4 hours to get back via public transportation on what turned out to be a scorching, 90 degree day. This employee had complete leverage over me, whether he knew it or not. I appealed to his sense of pride – pride in finishing the day and finishing the day strong. After some coaxing, he reluctantly re-engaged.
After three days of production and inventory (working the final 23 hours straight), production wrapped, inventory got corrected – and I crashed out in my office chair for 6 ½ hours straight. Needless to say, it was the most mentally and physically grueling experience in my company’s short existence. There were many lessons learned. The most important: remaining calm in the face of crisis; quickly assessing risks and exposures; determining solutions; then executing through those solutions. That’s not to say that I didn’t have my freak out moments – but I knew I had to quickly transition to problem-solving mode. Early on, I was dead-set on finding a way to do the original production I intended – no matter the financial cost. It was more important to me to take the short-term financial loss in order to preserve the longer term relationship with my retail partners; to show them that I was a dependable supplier/partner – despite what was happening behind the wizard’s curtain. When my employee quit mid-production, I knew the only currency I held in return for helping me complete production was appealing to his sense of pride. The under-fill/over-fill issue showed me that not only do I need to better educate my employees, but I need to establish better controls in order to mitigate this issue going forward.
At the end of the day, crisis moments are requisite tests to the success of any startup. They can be brutally painful to get through, prove potentially fatal, but are functionally important by exposing areas for needed improvement (and weeding out weak businesses). I don’t know if my company will be the success I hope it will be some day, but with each crisis fought and won, I know my company has a better shot at making it.
NOTE: please don’t harangue the author about punctuation, story structure and sentence structure errors – he’s too busy trying to source pickling cucumbers.
With greater frequency, I’m asked about starting a food business. Makes sense because, honestly, has there ever been a better time to love food? Top Chef, rock-star celebrity chefs, innumerable glossy food-porn magazines and Instagram pics just add to our industry’s perceived sexiness. Consumers are more educated and more willing to try new foods. Living in San Francisco, we’re fortunate to have access to so many talented food producers. The number of choices and flavors seem limitless.
As a result, perhaps you’re inspired to take the leap and start your own food business. Maybe you have that well-guarded family recipe passed down from Grandma that you want the world to know about. Perhaps you’ve discovered that “umami” that just totally blew your taste buds away – and are set upon creating and sharing your own. Dare I say that you’re confident that you can make something better than what’s already out there, pickles included?
Before you take the plunge, you should ask yourself, what is your goal? Do you want to just make food a hobby and sell your product through a few local corner stores? Or do you want to try to become the next Chobani Yogurt success story – a brand that went from $0 to $1 billion in sales in 7 years? Depending upon your goal, the commitment, hard work, sacrifice and financial resources will vary exponentially. And even then, there’s no guarantee of success.
Obviously, you’ve gotta have a product. Whatever your product is, don’t try to follow food trends. Why? Food trends come and go – and even when they hit, who knows how long the trend will stick around. Today’s kombucha may become yesterday’s goji berry. Besides, what happens if it takes a few years for your product to gain popularity? Which brings us to the second part of determining your product: LOVE THE FOOD YOU’RE MAKING. It goes without saying that you have to be dedicated to your food. Your business will fail if you don’t LOVE your food because you’re going to find yourself making that food. All. The. Time. To the point that you’ll dread having to make it. Think about it – could you eat your favorite food every single day for years – because that’s what you’re going to be faced with – and that’s just the times when your food comes out correctly. (Think about having to taste your food when the recipes are wrong. Ugh.)
Now more than ever, have a great personal story. Making your product relatable to the consumer is almost as important as the food itself. If you’re going to make bbq sauce – a highly commoditized product – amidst the dozens of bbq sauces available on store shelves – most of which are pretty much the same – what makes YOUR bbq sauce so amazing? Why should consumers choose your bbq sauce over the 30 other incumbents on the shelf? Maybe the recipe is handed down from your grandmother who lived in the midwest, who served it to homesteaders making their way across the country during the Depression. (I’m making this example up.) Maybe there’s a social cause that you care deeply about – and you intend to donate a portion of the proceeds to that cause. Whatever your story, consumers want to feel connected to their food, even if in some small intangible way – and a good story may be just enough to get consumers to give your product a chance over another.
Are you ready to take the plunge? If so, get ready for a helluva rollercoaster of a ride – one that’s full of wild ups and downs – but one that you may discover to be the most rewarding of your life.
NOTE: the author is not a professional writer, but a mildly successful maker of naturally fermented foods, so please don’t yell at him with spelling, story structure or punctuation errors because he’s going into a second day of production without sleep. And even if he wasn’t in production, he sucks at 2 of those 3 to begin with.