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July 17, 2014

Entrepreneur Spotlight – ‘Chups

food business entrepreneurJuly is a month of picnics and bar-b-ques and neither is complete without that old staple – ketchup.   Today we’re talking to Matt and Kori Wallace, the husband and wife team behind ‘Chups which is taking a new twist on ketchup by going really old school.

Traditional tomato-based ketchup is basically it’s own food group in America and you’re trying to start a revolution – can you tell us a little bit about what Chups is.

Chups are fruit ketchups on a mission to diversify the tomato-dominated market! They are made with whole fruits, vinegar and spices, providing the same tangy, zip of regular ketchup but with a whole new range of flavors and food pairings.  We offer 5 original flavors: cherry, blueberry, plum, mango and peach.

 While fruit-flavored ketchup may be a new concept now, it actually has really old roots.  Can you tell us about that.

Absolutely! Celebrating the history of ketchup is a big mission of ours. Most people don’t know that ketchup actually started as a fish sauce in Asia hundreds of years ago. It made its way West, where early Americans made all sorts of varieties, including walnut and oyster. Multiple “catsup” recipes appear in one of the very first American cookbooks, “The Virginia Housewife”. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the tomato variety we know today was made mainstream by Heinz.

 What led you to think about starting up a food business and, ultimately, what was the idea that sparked ‘Chups?

Matt is a wonderful cook and we are both passionate eaters. A couple years ago, we were having some run of the mill turkey burgers for dinner, and true to creative culinary form, Matt needed to jazz it up a bit. We had a bowl of cherries that were nearing their end and after doing some recipe research, he decided to make them into ketchup. It was delicious!!! A few months later, we were still thinking about that meal, and both having the itch to start something that we could call our own, we decided to move forward with the idea.

How long did you research and test before deciding to turn this into a business?food ketchup

About a year and a half. We spent a lot of time testing recipes on family and friends. People have a very clear idea of what ketchup is, so we needed to develop recipes that were unique, but still appealing to consumers. And of course tasted amazing! The main attraction to pursuing the idea as a business was that we would be (re)introducing a brand new product to market.

A lot of entrepreneurs struggle with that point of having tested and feeling ‘pretty’ confident in their idea and actually jumping off and making a go of the business.  Was it easy for you two to take that leap?  Any words of advice for anyone who is at that point on what they can do to prepare and make themselves as ready as possible?

It was definitely scary and while we always knew we would take the leap, we took our time with it. There were a couple things that happened that really gave us the final push and a big dose of confidence to know that we really had to go for it and go for it now.

There is a big difference between “I think people will really like this!” and “How can I fulfill  the real demand for this?”. We had legitimate interest in ‘Chups from several restaurants and markets before we made the decision to start the business. It’s best if you can see your landing area before you take the leap.

A huge thing that has helped us immensely is finding a local food incubator — in our case, Union Kitchen in DC. If you are in a larger market, we HIGHLY recommend searching out this kind of option. A food incubator is essentially a shared kitchen space, but SO much more than that. Union Kitchen has provided us with various levels of professional support — everything from helping us obtain necessary licenses to helping us plan and throw our launch party, as well as built-in wholesale relationships and opportunities for collaboration with other members. It has been a game changer in helping to take our product and turn it into a business.

How long has ‘Chups been in business?  Is this a full-time job for both of you or part-time?   (if part-time, what’s the job that pays the bills for now?)

Not counting the research/testing phase, we’d put our official business launch at the beginning of this year when we finished our Kickstarter campaign. But we’re still finalizing a lot of things business-wise, just started wholesaling, and our launch party is slated for June 26, so I guess you could say the process is still underway. :)

Matt is full-time as an energy analyst and Kori I’m a part-time contractor, so ‘Chups is not full-time for either of us.

foodpreneurOne of the things you did as you started was create a very successful Kickstarter campaign.  Why did you decide to go the crowdfunding route?

I have a tech background, with a lot of social media experience, so it was natural for us. Not only is it a great way to gauge viability and interest in your product, but it’s a perfect launching pad for saying “hey, look at our idea!” without having to take on all the risk of spending your money upfront. Also, Kickstarter has a great community. People love being early adopters and it allows you to build an engaged customer-base right out of the gate. 

 

Do you have any tips or thoughts on how other entrepreneurs can make crowdfunding work for them?

If you are serious about it, put in the work. Do NOT expect to throw up something in a week and for it to be successful. Research other projects. Set a launch date and build momentum. Tell your story clearly and make others believe in it. Invest either the time or the money in a good video. Crunch the numbers. Be transparent with the community and communicate during the campaign and after (for example, we were way too aggressive with our reward fulfillment estimates, so we’ve been very open about delays in shipping). Solicit your backers feedback — they WANT to feel like they are helping to build something. Take advantage of that and also, make sure they know you appreciate them.

Going into the campaign we had a high degree of confidence that we could raise  a significant portion of our goal. We set our goal based on the minimum requirements to get off the ground and went into the campaign with a full head of steam. Fortunately we surpassed our own expectations!

We have a lot of tips on crowdfunding, so happy to answer more questions from the Small Food Business community. 

Where are your products currently being sold?

Currently online and starting next week, in a couple small markets in DC & NY.  We are in talks with several great restaurants in the DC area, so stay tuned!

Food service is an often overlooked sales channel for food entrepreneurs.  How has your experience been trying tochups3 sell into that arena?

Food service is definitely an area we would like to get into, but it is also more of a volume-based business with fairly high costs to entry. Getting involved with distributors is another business mechanism we have yet to address. However, our goal is to grow the business so that we can handle large food service orders and distribution. It’s a great way to grow your business once you’re to that point.

Have you found that there’s a need to educate consumers about fruit-based ketchups because it’s not something they’re familiar with?  If so, how do you do this?  What have you found to be the best marketing tactics for ‘Chups?

Getting ‘Chups into peoples’ mouths is our ultimate goal. They quickly figure it all out once they taste it, but getting to that point has been more difficult than we thought. “Is it like jelly?” has been a common question. :) Luckily, people are quick to catch on once you explain and very receptive to the concept.

But we do feel that marketing face-to-face is very effective, which is why we’re investing time into some local DC markets like District Flea and planning to recruit some Brand Ambassadors to hit the streets for us. It is also the reason we want to leverage the influence of chefs, as the public relies on them to introduce new food trends and concepts.

And in the end, consumers will find their own ways to use ‘Chups, which helps showcase the real versatility of ketchup.

No entrepreneurs’ journey has been without challenges but at the same time there are those moments where you can’t imagine doing anything else.  Can you tell us about one of your favorite ‘good’ memories of your business thus far.

Meeting José Andrés at a holiday party and bonding with him about ketchup. He was amazingly gracious and enthusiastic and has been such an inspiration to us. Also, being in the May issue of Food & Wine as an editor’s pick was pretty surreal.

The best moment, though, was probably meeting someone who knew about ‘Chups that we didn’t know and hadn’t talked to. She saw it in Food & Wine and it had resonated with her. It really felt like we were starting to make an impact.

Now, looking forward, where do you  hope to see ‘Chups by the end of the year?  What about 3 years from now?

By the end of the year we’d love to have hired a couple of employees to help us with production and have a significant presence in the DC food scene (markets, restaurants, etc). In a few years we expect to have our distribution system established, expanding into other cities, and diversifying our outlets, including larger restaurant chains and university dining halls. We also enjoy making other homemade condiments so in 3 years, I could see us expanding our product offering.

For more information about ‘Chups, check out their website here or follow them on Facebook.

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