May 28, 2015
A son’s love for hiking and backpacking – and clean eating – brought together the mother and son team behind Paleo Meals To Go. We had a chance to talk with Dawn Anderson, Managing Director of Paleo Meals To Go about how she and her son, Ty, recognized a underserved niche in the industry and are working to get their products into every hiking pack.
Tell us a little bit about Paleo Meals To Go. What is the business concept, who is the target market, and when was the business started?
Paleo Meals To Go was started in September 2013 with the goal to create freeze-dried meals for people following the Paleo diet. We wanted to create products that would invigorate the lives of our customers and fuel their adventures whether they were experienced outdoor enthusiasts, globetrotters, or Colorado natives playing in their own backyards. They needed to be lightweight, wholesome meal options that required only water to rehydrate and that were convenient from both an experiential and nutritional standpoint, where neither the taste of food nor the customer’s adventure were compromised. Interestingly, despite the fact that our original target audience was Paleo outdoor enthusiasts, we’re finding that our meals are appealing to a much broader circle including those needing gluten-free and nightshade-free options as well as those who are avoiding preservative and additives, basically anyone whose goal is to maintain a clean, holistic lifestyle.
What are some of the specific challenges you identified for your target consumer?
After significant market research we could not find a company anywhere in the US, maybe even in the whole world, that was making a complete, freeze-dried Paleo meal. The Paleo diet has been around for over ten years and continues to grow in popularity so after additional research on the consumer side, we knew there would be demand. In the past it was nearly impossible to easily find and purchase complete, packaged freeze-dried meals that were free of added sugar, salt, preservatives or additives and free of dairy, grain and legumes. Not to mention the inconvenience that Paleo diet followers encountered when they were trying to pack for a long trip; it’s one thing to pack a few healthy snacks but when you need complete wholesome meals, it becomes a lot more challenging so we developed a line of products to help fellow consumers satisfy their needs.
How did you come up with the idea for this company?
My son Ty came up with the idea. Ty found the Paleo diet easy enough to maintain on a normal schedule, when he could shop for fresh ingredients and prepare the food at home, but when he was off on adventures, busy at work, traveling, or at races, it was nearly impossible to stay on the diet. He was forced to buy what was available and on one trip, feeling especially poorly after eating one of the other commercially available backpacker meals, he pledged to do something about it. A few months later, and after some additional market research, he ran the business idea by me and we decided to launch Paleo Meals To Go.
Coming up with the idea is one thing but then actually creating a dehydrated product is another. What were some of the challenges you faced in creating the product initially?
The meals are actually made out of freeze-dried products, which in itself was quite the learning curve! People use “freeze-dried” and “dehydrated” interchangeably, however freeze-drying is a very different process from dehydrating. Freeze-dried ingredients retain their flavor, nutritional value and cell structure much better than dehydrated ingredients and when water is re-introduced, freeze-dried ingredients return very closely to their original state. Finding freeze-dried sources for all the ingredients in bulk size quantities (appropriate for our current production volumes) continues to prove difficult as most suppliers sell in quantities far greater than we could efficiently consume as a startup. As sales continue to increase and our production runs become larger and larger, we expect sourcing to become less of a hurdle. Another challenge was locating a USDA-approved co-packing facility. The USDA regulates meat products, but freeze-dried meats add another layer of complexity, even to trained inspectors because so few have ever worked with freeze-dried meat products. Finding a co-packer willing to sort through all the issues related to a freeze-dried meat product was a challenge that only very recently we were able to overcome.
Because of where your product is eaten – typically outside with limited access to cooking utensils, pots and pans, etc. – tell us a little bit about the thought process that went into your packaging.
We wanted packaging that had a natural, earthy look but that was also strong enough to withstand the addition of hot water so we chose IMPAK’s Foil Kraft Lamination stand up pouch. These pouches contain a barrier material used to keep oxygen and moisture levels low, which adds to the shelf stability of the products. The Kraft pouch is also pretty cool because after the ingredients rehydrate, the customer can easily tear off portions of the pouch and eat directly from the pouch as they work their way to the bottom of the bag. No dishes and no clean up required!
How are you currently selling your products? What are some challenges you’ve found selling this way and how have you overcome them?
We currently sell direct to the consumer through our website, on Amazon, Outdoor Mash, and on Grub Market. We are currently working on our retail and wholesale pricing strategy so that we can get our products on the shelves at local retailers and then expand into larger markets and bigger retailers. The benefit to the direct-to-consumer approach (where we are not paying a distribution or retail commission) is higher margins, which we need as a startup. However, the challenge with direct-to-consumer sales is getting those customers to the website! We recognized the need for a better website and an enhanced ecommerce platform so we hired Sage Marketing Group out of Fort Collins and have seen a significant improvement in our direct-to-consumer sales. We ‘ve pretty much worked the kinks out of this model and when we are fully satisfied, we will focus our efforts on retail sales.
You’ve received a lot of reviews from bloggers who focus on paleo and/or hiking – what have you done to get the product into those bloggers’ hands?
Our main approach is to simply Google different keywords that we feel are ideal markets for our products, e.g. hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, fishing, running, biking, sailing, etc., and search for blogs with a decent number of followers and that appear to be in good standing. We reach out to the blog host, tell them our story and ask if they’d be willing to try our product and blog about it. If they agree, we send them a sample bundle of our meals free of charge.
How do you define success for your business and how do you determine if the business is meeting that definition?
We set out with a mission to provide clean, wholesome freeze-dried meal options to our customers, especially those with dietary restrictions who spend time in environments that make sticking to a specific diet very challenging. We will consider Paleo Meals To Go a success when enough of those customers know we exist, love our meals, and are placing adequate orders so we can be profitable and continue to grow and expand the business. We will know we have done a good job when we have lots of repeat customers, good, positive feed back, and when folks are telling their family and friends about us. We are continually trying to improve our products, our prices, and the customer service we provide is of utmost importance to us. We hope this translates into great customer satisfaction and subsequently higher revenue numbers so we can continue to advance our business.
What are some of your business goals for this year?
Our primary goal for the next six months is to maximize our advertising budget in the most effective manner. Right now our business is very seasonal so we are looking to reach as many of our customers as possible over the upcoming months. We plan to achieve this goal by focusing our online marketing campaigns as well as advertising in some strategic print magazines. We will continue to streamline our operating procedures, focus on our affiliate program, and over the next few months we’ll be working on getting our product on the shelves at local gyms, outdoor shops, and Paleo restaurants.
Working with family can be a blessing and a curse. As a mother and son team on this business, how do you resolve any differences of opinion when it comes to business strategy or roles and responsibilities?
Fortunately we have always had a great relationship and can openly communicate so when issues come up, we just talk our way through them. Ty has incredible drive coupled with uncanny business acumen for such a young person. He has a minor in business and has put in hours reading business books and articles so I pretty much follow his lead when it comes to making strategic decisions. He works full-time at his engineering job so I keep the operations side of the business moving forward on a day to day basis. He usually calls on his commute home from work so we can discuss important issues and make decisions together about next steps. It’s been wonderful being able to interact more frequently since we’ve become business partners. We’ve had a few tough times but when you love and respect your business partner it helps smooth out the hard spots.
Entrepreneurship is, without a doubt, hard. What is the one thing you love about being an entrepreneur that you lean on after a particularly tough day?
When I’m really tired and progress isn’t happening quickly enough I just remind myself of the old adage of the tortoise and the hare. I believe that if we just keep forging ahead, working steadily towards our goal that we’re going to eventually get there. I’ve learned that there really aren’t a lot of short cuts when you’re putting a new product on the market on a lean budget. It simply takes time for things to develop. We’re persistent, hard workers and knowing that all of our effort is going into making a product that actually makes a difference in the lives of our customers is tremendously rewarding. One customer told us that her husband had such a restrictive diet that they had almost given up on being able to go to the mountains on backpacking trips, but then they found our products! They were so grateful to be able to continue the activities they love. Ty and I both like being good Samaritans and helping people so it’s incredibly fulfilling when people tell us what a blessing our products are to them. But most importantly, helping my son succeed as an entrepreneur is what drives me. Since he was a little boy he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit so it is very satisfying to see him running a successful business based on an idea he created.
If you want to learn more about Paleo Meals To Go, or to purchase some of their products for your backcountry adventures this Summer, you can visit their website by clicking here or follow them on Facebook by clicking here.