January 26, 2015
Tasos Manouras may have come from a family business background, but that doesn’t mean that starting a business while being the primary caretaker of his growing family has been easy. In this interview he shares with us a little about Ariadne Pure, a company focused on providing consumers and retailers with oils, vinegars, spreads, and honeys from his native Greece, and his goal to complete a ‘D’ every day.
Ariadne was officially founded in January 2013. However it took me about 6 months prior to starting, to acquire licenses, design the labels and educate myself as much as possible on the market. The impetus I would have to say was, and still is, my family. Since I do the majority of the cooking in the house, I was constantly looking for quality Greek products to prepare the dishes that I grew up with. After two years in this business, I would say that I treat my existing customers as my family and I try to provide them with the healthiest and tastiest products available.
What were you doing prior to starting the company?
I used to live and work in Greece. I started this company approximately a year after we relocated here. Back in Greece I used to work in the family business and owned an advertising company.
Your company and your products draw heavily on your native heritage. Are these types of products things that are commonly found in Greece and Cyprus? What gave you the confidence that they would be accepted by the American market?
At this point Ariadne has a line of 19 different products. Some of them are pretty basic, like the Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the Raw Honey and some of them are a bit more adventurous, like the raw honey with hazelnuts. Mediterranean cuisine is based on simple and pure ingredients. Honey and Olive Oil, I would say, are used on a daily basis on every Greek – Mediterranean table. I think that the American audience is more open to trying something new. The infused olive oils for example have a huge market here. Another product that really stands out as well is the Pure Grape Syrup (Petimezi). Ancient Greeks used to add Petimezi in water and drink it as a healthy and antioxidant drink as well as use it as a natural sweetener and now people use it on gourmet dishes and are more creative with it.
You come from a family background in food. Can you tell us more about that?
I think every Greek comes from a family background in food more or less. Food and family is a central part of Greek culture and mentality. For me I think it comes down to education. From a really young age it was made clear to me that I needed to eat healthy if I wanted to live a healthy life. I was also taught to prepare my own food and distinguish and appreciate quality in the raw ingredients.
Despite that background, dealing with US food rules is different than in the EU. What were some of the challenges you had to overcome to be able to legally sell your products?
US food rules and legislation, long and sometimes difficult to follow as they are, have to ensure that the food released to the public is safe to use. I have to say that my impression for the officials that answered all my questions prior to me starting and all those that I dealt with every time I imported, is 100% positive.
We wanted to create an everyday upscale product that is completely natural. This was really difficult in the sense that if you create a food item that it is so beautiful to look at, people will often not use it. On the other hand you need to create a label that is beautiful to attract consumers when it is sitting on the shelf. We aimed for the design to be the first step for the consumer to notice the product, the literature on the label to purchase it and the taste and health benefits to re-purchase.
Your distribution strategy is an interesting one in that you put a lot of focus on approaching restaurants and encouraging them to use your products in their recipes. How have you gone about reaching out to those restauranteurs that has made this strategy so successful for you?
I love working with chefs. You can see it in their face when they like your products and they come up with ideas of how to use them. I try to find restaurants who are not afraid to try something new, chefs who are always looking for new dishes to spice up their menus. It comes down to product placement, you need to find the right audience for your products. That being said a large number of my customers are also grocery and specialty stores. Foodies and generally people who consume healthy products are everywhere and they keep growing. Sometimes they approach me through my web site and otherwise I meet them during demos.
In the Seattle area, do you work with a distributor or food broker? What are some of the benefits and challenges of making the sales and distributing the product without outside assistance?
At this point I do my own distribution and sales. I prefer the personal contact with the buyers and the end customer. Of course this means that it is a full time job and it can be exhausting from time to time especially since we also have 2 young children. However I love what I do and it never feels like work. My theory for now is that I need to be as close to my customers as possible. If in the future I have to go through a broker or a distributor I would only do it so that I can scale together with providing a better and faster service to my customers.
You face a challenge that a lot of entrepreneurs do in that you also have young children at home whom you are the main caretaker for. How do you balance the working on and growing your business with time with your family? Any tips or advice you can share with other parent-entrepreneurs?
I wish I could say that I could manage to keep a balance every day, but some days are very tough. Owning a business is like raising another child. It requires a lot of time and dedication. Unlike children, it will not nag if you don’t pay attention to it so you have to make time for it no matter what. My biggest advice would be to be open and honest with your customers. I have informed all my buyers of my situation at home and everyone has been really supportive. I have delivered products with our baby, some buyers sometimes ask me to bring him along so that they can see him growing! My wife is a full time professional, she fully supports me and the business and I could not do it without her. A nice and simple rule that helped me get started is the rule of “d” s. Every day you have to fulfill one ‘d’ for your business, deliver an order, deposit a payment, close a deal or do a demo. The more you grow the more d’s you have to go after on a daily basis.
What are your goals for the business as the new year gets underway?
My first priority is and always will be keeping my existing customers satisfied. I have already started working with customers outside Washington, in New York, Portland, Massachusetts and California. Getting more customers is really important but maintaining existing relationships is what keeps your business stable and allows you to grow. I would really like to bring more new products and increase the overall Mediterranean presence in the market and at the same time approach the right customers for my line.
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