February 26, 2018

The Next Step In Building A Sustainable Family Legacy (PODCAST)

Today’s interview with Mike and Laura Ellis of Mt. Hope Farms is going to be a little bit different, because it’s going to be more of a coaching style. They are facing some challenges, which I think are similar to what many listeners may be facing. I wanted to just open it up and make this more of coaching style; so that you could hear the challenges that they’re facing. Potentially, you won’t feel so alone; and that also you can hear potentially some ideas and tips that may work for you as well.

By way of background, Mt. Hope Farms is based in Molalla, Oregon. They specialize in preserved foods and unique fruits. They have won awards from the Good Food Awards for their fruit spreads; which are made with the best fruit that they actually grow and source. They are an operating farm, and much of the produce from their farm goes into their … preserves. They also source ingredients as well, which can include local spirits, spices, organic sugar, and other ingredients that also contain no GMOs.

Each recipe is original and each jar is made with love. It’s meant to pair with cheese, charcuterie, baked goods, and anything else you can imagine. Their products are a reflection of their farming heritage, their love of the land, and are meant to highlight the berries and fruits that are so special to their farm and family.

Laura and Mike, thank you so much for joining us.

Laura: Thank you so much for having us.

Jennifer: In the bio that I just read, we were talking about … or one of the pieces that we talked about was farming heritage. I wanted to actually start just with a very basic foundation question, which is what is your history or your background with farming?

Laura: Well, Mike and I are on his grandpa’s farm. That’s the land that we’re farming, the ground that we’re farming. We’re the third generation. He knows all of the … Actually, do you want to tell them about the background and everything?

Mike: My farming history, it goes back as many generations as I can count back. I remember being told about … it was my great, great grandpa that walked out here to Oregon on the Oregon trail.

Jennifer: Oh wow.

Mike: At the age of something like eight or something like that. We bounced around throughout the valley, throughout our history; but my great grandpa settled around the area and grew lilies and glads. His wife bred pansies. They shipped bulbs and seeds all over the world.

Jennifer: Oh, interesting.

Mike: Did that throughout … They survived the Great Depression. They always would say that people would buy flowers before they’d buy food; something to make life seem normal again.

Laura: Lift their spirits and make them happy.

Mike: Yeah.

Jennifer: Yup.

Mike: Also, traded flowers and bulbs for musical instrument they donated to the high school for their music program.

Then my grandpa branched out on his own. He went into grain farming, … and slowly kind of moved from one farm to the next as we head from Canby over to Molalla. In ’62, he bought the farm that we’re on right now. My dad farmed with him all of his life, growing grain crops. Then, they transitioned over into grass seed production. We do … still do some grass seed production, some clover seed and radish seed for cover crops and forage.

Laura: Yup.

Mike: Then, with our … with us coming on the farm, we decided we needed to look to the future, do something that was going to be more sustainable because all the farms around us are three to four times our size. We’re small; and trying to grow a commodity, there’s just no profit margin in that.

Laura: Yeah.

Mike: We needed something that we could find a niche market with, and something that we could have a little more control over ourselves. That’s what’s prodding us to shift towards fruit and berry production. We’re gradually phasing in a little bit of that. It’s also what sparked the idea for the fruit spreads, having a way of preserving that fruit and being able to market it year round.

Jennifer: Yeah, so tell me a little bit … Let’s kind of work into the food business side of this now. Tell me a little bit about when you decided to start the fruit preserves side of this, and what was the impetus behind that? I mean you mentioned that a little bit, but tell us a little bit about that journey.

Laura: When Mike and I moved back over here to work with his family on the farm, it was when I was pregnant with our oldest son; a little over five years ago. Like Mike said, we kind of knew that we needed to do something different, just to set us apart and to make it so we were more in control of our market. We decided to start doing a bunch of farmer’s markets. We were doing everything, all the things. It was really overwhelming. The first year that we did a farmer’s market, we planted a huge garden and sold vegetables. We sold pastured lamb and pork; all these things.

One of the things that we did is we decided, “Okay. Well, let’s see how … you know, jams and jellies and stuff go,” because I have always loved cooking and I love being creative. I preserved some foods that are food direct cottage food law thing that we have in Oregon … and was able to sell anything that we grew and canned directly to consumers at the farmer’s market.

We went ahead and did that. We were really, really successful; but what we found out was is we were doing too many things. We could make a lot more profit off of selling our … what we called ‘jam’ then, rather than five cucumbers or a pound of tomatoes, or whatever. We found out that, that was a lot of work; and there’s so many bigger farms around us that we needed to become really specialized. We needed to find … like Mike, when you said, kind our ‘niche,’ … in the food market place.

We decided to focus more on that and more on our unique fruits and berries for larger sales, … and so far we’ve gone into fruit spreads and everything through wholesale … and still continue to do some events and markets, and things like that.

Mike: And some of the … happened with diversity was we knew those first few years, it takes two or three years to get a lot of the fruit and berry crops into production. You sit there and invest into them. You plant them. You take care of them; but it takes a couple of years before you see a crop off of them. We knew that some of that was a little bit stop gap to let us get out there, see what the markets were, and then have something in the meantime while we were getting those into production.

Laura: Right, and they were really … the jams were really popular at the markets; that I was actually really surprised because when I made them, I was like, “Gosh, these are kind of different. Don’t know if people will like. We’ll see.” They really took off. Like I said, we found out when we’re preserving like our apples and making an apple fruit spread, we made more profit. We had a lot longer shelf life than if we were just to go sell apples. For us, it’s really worked out well. It was just this long process those first couple years of figuring out what we wanted to do and narrowing everything down.

Jennifer: Then, so you just mentioned … remind us, what are your main sales channels now?

Laura: Right now, we sell mostly wholesale. We were doing markets and a lot more events up until this last year when I was pregnant with our second son. I couldn’t do them anymore. I couldn’t keep up with them. It was just too hard physically.

Mike: Your doctor actually told you, you had to stop.

Laura: Yeah, the doctor said, “You know, you need to take it easy during this pregnancy, so you’ve got to stop doing all of these events.” We do wholesaling with a bunch of regional …

Mike: Grocers.

Laura: Grocers, … and some small local cheese shops, too.

Jennifer: Okay.

Laura: Yeah.

Jennifer: Okay. Well, as I mentioned in the introduction, this podcast is a little bit different than some of our others because it’s not just a straight Q&A, but more of a coaching; because you have mentioned when you reached, that there was some challenges that your business was facing right now that as you and I have talked prior to this, that we thought would be great for other people to listen to, … because it’s probably some issues and some challenges that other small businesses are having regardless of what type of food they produce.

Let’s talk a little bit about what are some of those? What are some of the big hurdles that you’re facing right now?

Laura: Right now, everything is centered on time. We just don’t have any time. I know that’s the story of everybody’s life. One thing that we’re wanting to do is we’re wanting to build up a bigger social media audience and following with the hopes that we can do more direct sales straight off the farm, straight off our website. Our problem is, is being consistent and figuring out how to build that online relationship with our customers. I know Facebook has changed their algorithms, all that good stuff.

We’re not quite sure … how to find the time to be consistent; and even if we have a little time, how to really …

Mike: How to use it to the best.

Laura: How to use it … really wisely to connect with those customers. It’s not that we want to get … 10,000 likes or follows on our Facebook page; which that would be awesome. That would be great, but we want to make sure that we’re connecting with the customers that we do have. With each new one that we have liking our page or following us, we want to make sure that they … feel like they know us, and feel like they trust us.

Jennifer: Yup.

Laura: … and help them to decide to buy our product, ultimately.

Jennifer: I hear you on time. I hear you personally as a small business owner. Then, but I know just talking to other food entrepreneurs that time piece is the biggest nut to crack; followed secondly by having enough money to do everything that you want.

Laura: Right.

Jennifer: Also, this piece that I’ve heard about social media and wanting to grow social media, but not being able to find the time, and how do you stay consistent? I mean this is something that I hear over and over again. You’re right, in order for social media to be effective, there does have to be a fairly regular interaction and engagement with that audience. Now what ‘fairly regular’ means is going to be different depending on your goals with social media, which tools you’re using, … what your audience wants. There’s always some tweaking in there. …

I guess that would be … I would throw a question back to you, which is, which social media channels do you use, or are you thinking of using? Or, of those that you use, which have you found to generate the most engagement or return on investment, whether that’s of time or resources?

Laura: We’re very … what I would consider very active on Facebook. Over the holiday season, we worked really, really hard to be consistent in our posts. We did live videos. We saw … a three fold increase from last year in our online sales because of that, which is a great conversion rate for us. We did great on our website sales. We’re really active on Facebook.

We’re also pretty active on Instagram, but we’re not quite as focused on that. It’s just … It’s kind of one that I keep in the loop, because I know a lot of other people that maybe don’t follow Facebook … are on Instagram. Mike has actually just started …

Jennifer: In the start-up phase of it, at least.

Laura: Yeah, we’re in the start-up phase of doing a YouTube channel. The purpose of that is to kind of show the background of our work, the farming, and I’ll share recipes, and things like that. We’re just in the start-up phases of that; just to kind of help get people to know us a little bit more.

Anyway, long story short, the most active social media platform that we’re on is Facebook.

Mike: That one’s yielded the most results, too. It’s a question of is it really our most productive, or is it just because we’re putting the most time in there?

Jennifer: Yeah, that’s true. Chicken or egg?

Laura: Yeah, yeah.

Mike: Yeah.

Jennifer: The first thing though … the fact that you’ve seen good conversion, you know that when you put that time and energy into Facebook, that it’s yielded something. That’s a great piece to know, because there are sometimes a lot of folks who will spend a lot of time on Facebook or on one social media channel of their choice; and not necessarily know if that’s giving them the return on investment that they’re hoping for. Now certainly of course, the disclaimer is like well, Facebook’s changed their algorithm since Christmas.

Laura: Right.

Jennifer: Whether that will impact you guys or not. … I guess … I have sort of two answers, or I … not answers, because I never have perfect answers. I have two suggestions for you.

Laura: Okay.

Jennifer: The first would be … the very first would be to take a look at everything that you have to do … with regards to the running of the business, and the farming, and all of that; as well as having a five year old and a newborn, because that does take an immense amount of time and energy as well … and figure out, are there pieces of the business that you are ready and willing to outsource? Then, which of those pieces is it? Which are the things that … bookkeeping tends to be one that goes pretty quickly off most-

Laura: Right.

Jennifer: … entrepreneurs’ plates. If you’re finding that … I guess ask yourself, do you think that social media is one of those that right now, you’re like, ‘We just … We are ready to take this off of our plate, because we don’t have the time to invest in keeping it where we need to; but also potentially because we just don’t have the time to figure out all these changes that are going on to make it work the way that we want it to work … because these changes kind of seem to happen so rapidly in social media.’

I think sometimes people get scared that if they outsource something like social media, it means they can never get it back. I’d encourage you not necessarily to look at it that way. Hopefully if you were to outsource social media, you would find somebody that you love and you do work with them for many years. You can always pull that back into the fold if six months or a year from now, you find that … you do have the bandwidth to do it. You’re better ready to wrap your hands around it.

The other thing to think about is you can outsource social media, but you don’t necessarily have to outsource all of your social media. If you’ve been finding that what you’re doing on Facebook has really been working; and that you’re … and that you have the time and enjoy doing that, then maybe look to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to outsource the Instagram piece of it.’ Maybe that makes sense instead.

Certainly social media managers would prefer that you give them all of it; but you can always talk to them about saying, “Well, let’s .. Why don’t we have you take this one piece of it for a little while, and let’s see how this goes.”

The other thing I was going to say is that if you decide that either you’re going to keep a piece of it, or that you’re … you want to … You’re just not ready for whatever reason, and also, financially. It could be finances could be a reason … to let it go … from a scheduling standpoint. I mean the thing … is … I’m exactly like you guys in this regard, where it’s like, just don’t have the time to keep up with social media the way that I want to. I know that I should be doing a better job.

After talking to a lot of entrepreneurs, one idea that was shared with me, which is something that I’ve incorporated into my own life, is that once a month; usually kind of towards the end of the month. I will sit down. I will plan out all my social media for the following month. I’ll block out on my calendar that … It’s usually the last Friday of the month. I’ll block out two hours in the afternoon. I will block it out on my calendar so nothing else can get in there. I will sit down and I’ll plan out all my social media for the following month. Then, where possible, I will actually … especially with Facebook, I will … create posts and just have them ready to go on that date, so I don’t have to think about it.

Then, there might just be other things where it’s like, ‘Hey, well I know we’re working on this video, and it’ll be ready at the end of the month.’ It’ll be ready at the end of next month, but I don’t … I can’t post it yet because it’s not ready. You can make notes to yourself and reminders to … put that on when it’s ready.

I do find that just sitting down, having a concentrated block of time to sit down and say, ‘Okay, what am I doing next month based off of whatever,’ … like potentially holidays are coming up. In that you can be talking about running promotions. You can be talking about sharing pictures from behind the scenes, or videos, or recipes.

There’s a wide range of stuff that you can share; but I always like to just sit down and look at the month wholistically, and say, “Okay, what’s going on … holiday-wise? What’s going on kind of locally in the … in my … kind of more regional customer market? … What’s might also be going on kind of … in a wider national or international stage?” Like right now, maybe … just speaking off the top of my head, maybe there could have been some tie-in with the Olympics; something like that. I’ve seen lots of food businesses doing like a ‘Go for the Gold,’ or … ‘Here’s our gold medal winning,’ whatever. Just taking a look at everything that’s going on, and then figuring out okay, where in the month … or in this coming month, is there things that I can do on social media that’ll just help engage people and keep them interested, and … keep them entertained, and share them tidbits of who we are … bits and pieces into our farm.

I think that especially for you guys, that’s a big driver for your customers, I would imagine is the fact that you are a family farm … in a part of the country that’s very … concerned and interested, and cognizant of family farming.

Laura: Right. Yeah, we found that our biggest … engagement on social media comes from things that have actually surprised me; but I don’t think they should. People really react with Mike and his dad out working on the tractor. They like seeing videos, and pictures of that. They like seeing … Mike and me out talking about field work, and different things like that. They love seeing the background of how a family farm runs, how the generations work together. I think really, especially like in the Portland and [inaudible 00:20:38] Valley area, like we said, people are really into knowing how their food is made, who’s making it, and what’s in it.

We’ve been trying to keep that mind through all of our posts and everything. It’s kind of a hard balance to … We want to show our family life and things like that, but at the same time, we want to also not go overboard. We always try to think about that. The other thing I’ve been trying to do to save some time, and I don’t know if you have any … advice or thoughts about this is, I’ve been using a third party app to do scheduling. I know Facebook has a scheduler, but I found it a little bit cumbersome sometimes, and kind of hard to figure out where I was at on posts.

I’ve heard that Facebook doesn’t show the third party apps as much as they will their own … other posts if you’re using their scheduling tool, because they want you to use their scheduling tool. I don’t know. Do you have thoughts on that?

Jennifer: I’ve been told the same thing.

Laura: Okay.

Jennifer: That already Facebook is … showing your post to all of your followers, … to a significantly smaller percentage of your followers than they were three years ago … and certainly with the last change, business pages are going to be seen even less by viewers. Yeah, I’ve heard that the third party posts, that they … Those are kind of the third tier in Facebook’s mind. They do get a lot less eyeballs on them.

Laura: Okay. Another thing I was trying to do before doing that third party app, I was trying a whole bunch of different things to kind of make it easier … is I sat down with a paper calendar. I was like scheduling out posts, and different stuff like that, and what I would be doing. Like you were saying, like for holidays and events, and things like that. It just … takes a lot of time.

I don’t know … Outsourcing it kind of does scare me, because I don’t want to lose our voice, and I don’t want to lose … people to lose that connection of who we are and everything like that. How do you … outsource something? How do you do that? How do you find the right person to … take that on and … still keep it ours? Does that make sense?

Jennifer: Yup. I definitely do … I do know that good social media managers can … I mean they’re almost like actors, if you will. They can take on the voice of the company … that they need to. I think a key thing is as you talk to different social media managers, in addition to of course understanding their pricing and all of that, but is understand what … what sort of information do they want from you? Not just like ‘oh, they want a picture once a week.’ What do they want to know from you about your brand; because they need to understand your brand intimately. If they don’t ask a lot of questions about your brand, or if they don’t have a … onboarding process, if you will, where they’re going to learn about your brand. That would make me a little bit concerned, because you do want somebody who knows your brand intimately.

Of course, as you talk to different people you want to ask, ‘Well, what accounts do you manage?’ Then, go and look at those accounts, and start following those accounts; and see, do you believe that those accounts are being written in the voice of that particular brand? Or, is it a little too generic?

Laura: Right, okay.

Jennifer: But really good social media managers, I mean they are like actors. They can absolutely do it.

Laura: Right, and we just … we want to keep it so we’re not just … people get kind of annoyed if you’re just putting out sale post after sale post after sale post. Like we’ve just talked about, they really seeing the inner workings of the farm. … It’s just a matter of I’m doing everything, and Mike is doing everything in real time. I don’t like that. I want to make sure it’s scheduled out, that everything has a purpose, … and that we’re really working hard to reach and engage our audience.

That’s a really good tip on the social media … managers, about them asking questions; because that’s … that’s important.

Mike: Yeah.

Laura: Yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah, they need to know you guys. I think the fact that you could go to social media managers with some background. That you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ve seen these type of posts really work well; which makes sense to me. I think that in addition to showing the people behind the brand, those type of posts also let those of us who live in cities live vicariously.

Laura: Right.

Mike: Yeah.

Jennifer: It’s nice to sit there and dream, and think, ‘Oh, well one day, maybe I could do that.’ Or, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice?’ I know that of course, those of us, myself included, who live in cities, we tend to … It’s all unicorns and rainbows, which I’m sure it’s not on a daily basis on a farm. It doesn’t surprise me that that’s what people-

Laura: Right.

Jennifer: … are drawn to.

Laura: They like that nostalgic.

Jennifer: Yup.

Mike: Romanticized view of the farm.

Laura: Yeah. Which I get that. I like that, too. Yes, that totally makes sense.

Jennifer: Aside from social media, what other … things are you guys working on that you’re struggling with?

Laura: Well, … one of the things that we are working on right now is our goal is by the end of the year to have our logo and our slogan trademarked. I don’t know our next steps on that. I’ve looked at services like Legal Zoom; and I thought, ‘Well, I guess I could do it through there. It looks fast and easy.’ But I don’t know if they are … as … I don’t know how to put this. I don’t know if they’re going to cover all of our bases well enough, or if I would be better off going with a local … lawyer and working with them through the process. Or, if I should just do it myself; but that seems like it takes a lot of time. I don’t know if you’ve worked with a lot of other brands that have trademarked, and if you have any thoughts on that.

Jennifer: Yeah, I have. I’ve had folks go one of two ways. Either of which is I’ve had people … do the Legal Zoom or similar routes, and said it was reasonably cost effective. They never ran into problems. I’ve never heard anything bad about that route. I also know people who have gone the … work with a local attorney to trademark it, more expensive but there was a bigger level of comfort associated with it; at least for those individuals.

I will say, I haven’t had anybody that I know do it on their own. I think as you mentioned, part of it just being like everybody’s feeling that they’ve got enough on their plates.

Laura: Right.

Jennifer: You just hate to go through that process and … maybe not have fully understood something correctly; and there to be a mistake that ultimately it turns out that you’re not trademark protected. Yeah, I know folks who have done … both sides of that, kind of the services, we’ll say more of the online services, or an attorney to help them through the process.

Laura: Okay, okay. Have you ever dealt with anyone that’s had to kind of defend their trademark at all? Like any issues that have come up and … have you seen how those were handled? Or has everyone had pretty good luck?

Jennifer: During … The big asterisk here, I am not an attorney.

Laura: Correct.

Jennifer: When … the times that I’ve gone through the process, as you go through the trademark process, … basically, your mark and logo, all of that will get sent to the … US Patent and Trademark Office. Just as a quick note, obviously. Anybody listening who’s not in America, your process might be totally different. We’re speaking the US trademark system. Which is also, when you trademark your business name here in the US, it’s only for the US. You’re not necessarily doing an international trademark.

It goes to the USPTO, the US Patent and Trademark Office. They will check it against the existing marks that are out there that might be similar in name. They’re also looking for category, if you will, to make … because they’re looking for potential for consumer confusion. Then, after it kind of gets cleared by them, you usually … if I remember the process correctly, it kind of has to be … There has to be a public notice saying that you are intending to use this mark; and that if anybody can prove that the mark was used prior to you, then this is their time to come forward.

That’s some of the public notices that you see in the back of newspapers.

Laura: Okay.

Jennifer: That’s that type of thing. Again, this is where an attorney or potentially a Legal Zoom could help you with. It has to be out for a certain amount of time. Then, if nobody … has a complaint, then usually the trademark is issued. I do know somebody who had an existing trademark and found a company just by randomly going into a store in the Eastern part of their state. It was even still within the state. Their logo was incredibly close and like font and everything. They were both small businesses, so I don’t necessarily think that one was trying to steal from the other.

The first company, the company that I know had to send out a ‘cease and desist’ letter saying “You’re infringing on our trademark. We hold this trademark. It was issued on this date.” The other company did have to change. By the same token, I also know people who have on the flip side, unknowingly been infringing on somebody else’s trademark; and then have had to go back and change all of their packaging, all of their marketing, everything.

It can be a … I think if there’s an issue, it’s not necessarily hard to … resolve; at least in the case that I know of. The ‘cease and desist’ letter-

Laura: Right.

Jennifer: … was sent, and then that issue was resolved. They never had to go to court or anything like … about … nothing like that happened.

Laura: Okay. Okay, well that’s good to know. Yeah, that’s one of our end goals for this year just to make sure we’re kind of covered and protected because as we start expanding our brand more, especially regionally, and as we get more notice and different things like that through sales channels, and awards, and … podcasts, and things like that, we just want to make sure that we’ve covered all of our bases. That’s our next goal for this year.

Jennifer: Great. Then, you had also mentioned just right before we started talking, you had said that there was another piece that had just come out … just come up recently. I’m trying to find it in my notes.

Laura: Oh, is that about our co-packer?

Jennifer: Yeah. Just tell us … Can you tell us that story? Only because I think that it’s a story that again, a lot of listeners can resonate with.

Laura: Yeah. Okay, so I know we chatted. It might not be a big coaching point, but one thing that we’ve been going through is for years, I was the one was that making all of our fruit spreads. Mike and I were doing all the work. We’d started growing and kind of exploding. We had little kids, and we were farming. When we would bring in fruit, we would have hundreds if not thousands of pounds of fruit to go through.

Jennifer: Oh wow.

Laura: It was just us in this little kitchen that we were renting from our local Grange Hall. I loved doing it, but it became so taxing to do the making and all of the other things that went with the business that we decided, ‘We’ve got to find a co-packer. We’ve got to find one that’s going to keep up with the quality, that’s going to use the same ingredients. Basically, have the same end product.’ We found one and we absolutely loved them. Last year, they sold to a larger company. The former owners had always worked with smaller businesses, smaller people like us, doing everything in pretty small batches. … Everything was going pretty well with the new company. We kind of thought nothing was going to change. Then it did, like all at once. There wasn’t a ton of warning.

Mike: There wasn’t any warning on it. We got a letter on a Monday afternoon.

Laura: Yeah.

Mike: It said that their minimum quantities to run were going to increase by-

Laura: 10.

Mike: … 12 fold or so.

Laura: Yeah, 10 or 12 fold.

We were like, “Whoa. Okay, cannot do that.” Essentially, we have found ourselves … looking for a new co-packer that will meet our needs. It’s really challenging because all of the little people that were at this one co-packer are now also in the same boat looking for the same type of co-packer. … Everything’s getting filled up really quickly. … It’s also just an intimidating process to kind of let stuff go. It was hard the first time around; but then we got really comfortable with the owners.

We kind of find ourselves in the same boat now; like, “Oh, okay. We’ve got to sign all these non-disclosures,” which I know protect us. But, it’s just scary to let all of our information go. It’s scary because we’re kind of in a limbo right now of we didn’t really have a transition period. Now we’re sitting thinking, ‘Okay, we’ve got all these promotions coming up, and I don’t know if we’re going to have enough product.’

Jennifer: Yeah,

Laura: We had planned on doing different orders, and things like that with our former co-packer.

Mike: The week we got that letter was the week we were going to be submitting another request for another run to be done.

Laura: Right.

Mike: Our inventories are sitting … not bad, but lower than we’d like them to.

Laura: Right.

Mike: Then we have to go through the start-up phase with another one now.

Laura: Right, and all I can say is thank … goodness that this did not happen in the middle of summer when we were totally swamped with all of our harvest; and we had a bunch of fresh fruit just … sitting there waiting for us to either have to process it ourselves, or … to go into a freezer to wait, or whatever.

It’s … an incredibly big challenge that we are facing right now. I think that we have found somebody that’s going to work. It’s … intimidating because you’re releasing all of your hard work to them, and trusting them with this. You’re hoping that they’ll communicate with you well, and that things will go smoothly; and that you can have a really good relationship with them. It’s challenging.

It’s been a huge source of stress for the last few weeks because we’re like, “What do we do?” We don’t want to go out of business because we’re doing so well, but we can’t go back to me making me everything; because we just had a baby.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Mike: our business is growing.

Laura: It’s grown too much.

Mike: Yeah.

Laura: That’s the challenge.

Jennifer: That’s a huge challenge. Yeah, I was just going to say, yes. You personally processing thousands of pounds of fruit is not really a … sustainable business strategy.

Laura: No, it’s crazy. Yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah, as we said, this isn’t really a coaching point other than I … very empathetic. I mean that’s a huge … stressor, especially when you were feeling so … happy and confident with the old co-packer to have to start from scratch again with this.

Laura: Right.

Jennifer: Is really stressful.

Laura: Right. One thing that we looked at, for anyone else listening, too, before we started the co-packing process, is one thing we had thought about is … what if we just did an on-farm kitchen and hired people to come in to help us process the fruit and had our own facility, and sold off farm; all that good stuff. By the time we looked at all of the costs associated with that-

Mike: And the regulations.

Laura: … and the regulations. Our regulations probably are going to be different. They’re going to be different for everybody depending on where you’re at. Ours were really, really challenging through the county … actually, not so much through the USDA, but through the county were very challenging. It was going to be so much money that we never … It would have taken us forever to recover from that. … That would have been … It would have been really, really hard to do and hard on us. A lot of liability, too.

We just decided, “You know, the best thing we can do right now is get into a co-packer, get a good relationship going with them, … find one that has storage for fruit so they can work through it in a timely fashion. They’re also taking on some of the liability. They have to meet a bunch of the standards. They have to go through inspections. … Honestly, it took a lot of stress off of our plate. It took us a while to work with them and get everything right; because when you blow up a recipe, it’s not just as simple as multiplying it.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Laura: We really had to work with them on … We use really, really low amounts of organic sugar. We had to work with them on getting the consistency of the jam correct. … We had to work with them on finding … a way to order our ingredients in larger quantities to get our cost down; but we also wanted to just keep those same ingredients because those were important to us. They were important to our customers.

By the end of the process, once we had kind of a flow going, it really helped with our stress level. It helped us get more done. It helped us move a lot more product. I was against the idea of a co-packer for the longest time, because I didn’t want it out of my hands. I kind of felt like, ‘Oh, well it’s not … it’s not going to be as good.’ Really, in our case, … it was just as good. It allowed us to blow up our quantities more. The product is exactly the same as it was when I was making it.

I don’t have … Like I remember when I would be cooking … our apple fruit spreads … Sorry, our autumn apple fruit spread. The splatter burns and stuff that I would get; because when you cook apple it’s so thick that when it heats up, it bubbles and pops. I just remember thinking last year like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I don’t have to cook that right now,’ because I would come home with little burns and things like that.

Anyway, it was a great scenario when it was working correctly. Now it’s just kind of the stress of … finding a new source for co-packing.

Jennifer: Well again, I wish there was … I wish I did have an answer to this for you. I wish you the best and … Also applaud you the fact that you can look at it and say, ‘Okay, this is really stressful, but at least it isn’t in the summertime when it would just be overwhelming.’

Laura: Right, right. That’s … yeah, we’re very thankful for that; and thankful that it happened after the holiday rush, too. Really, best time it could have happened but we wish it wouldn’t have happened at all. But we’re moving on and hopefully we can keep going.

Mike: Or that we’d at least had a little bit of warning, so we could have-

Laura: Right.

Mike: … ran a few more runs and stocked up our inventories to give us some time.

Laura: Right.

Jennifer: perfect alternative.

Laura: Yeah, yeah. That’s our huge challenge right in the moment.

Jennifer: Then one last question for you guys, other than … I mean obviously finding the co-packer is the first … goal for the year, we’ll say. Then, you’d also mentioned trademarking. What other thing … what other big thing are you guys hoping to do this year? I’m going to … Actually, I’m going to lie. I’m going to have two questions for you. Then, the other one is okay, to the folks who are out there listening, and of course, everybody’s got different business models and different products. I mean you guys have been doing this now for five-ish years. What would you tell other folks?

Laura: I think we would both say to … grow slowly. Which is hard sometimes, because you think by growing faster, you’re going to make more money. Honestly, we found that that’s not been the case. We have found that by focusing more locally … So what we’re doing right now is we’re kind of in this bubble where we’re trying to sell to shops that are within a four hour radius of us. Then, we’re going to start to try and build out more and more from there … because there’s all kinds of pieces that go into it. By doing it locally, we can keep distributing ourselves. We know … We’ve hired some people to help us demo. We know that they will work locally, and I can talk to them in person. We’ve been able to talk one-on-one with all the different stores and … cheese stewards, and grocery managers, and things like that. We’ve been able to chat with them in person, and get to know them.

A lot of that growing slowly is also about relationship building. That has been so, so important. When people see that you are invested in them, they will continue to invest in you. Even with our products being a little bit more expensive for a jam or jelly, … we’ve been able to work with the different retailers that we’re in and really make our product pretty popular; because they like us and they like our family. They like what we’re doing. They love our product. We keep showing up. We’re consistent on being in stores and demoing. When people try it, they purchase it.

We’ve had to go about everything pretty slowly and keep building up on our relationships. What would you say, Mike?

Mike: The other side to that moving slowly on things is when you make a mistake, because everybody makes mistakes, … and I’ve made more than my fair share of them. Those mistakes are small. You learn from them. You don’t take as big of a hit. You correct that before you move on to the next step. Even on the stuff that I’ve planted out here on the farm, by going slow and going small, and incrementally phasing it, I’ve seen mistakes I’ve made. I’ve corrected them for the next time down. It’s saved a lot of money by correcting them as I go rather than making that mistake on every acre that I farm.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Laura: Yeah, and so it’s … One of our goals is to keep growing and to keep expanding, and … but to go slowly, and to do it the right way. … It’s so far, it’s been working for us. … We’d love to be of course making more money, and things like that, but I think it’s coming to that point where things are starting to take a turn. If we can really figure out this co-packer issue, and keep moving forward, I think things are going to … work out and going to be okay. We’ve just gone slow and done what we can handle. … We’re making sure that everything that we do, we can do it really well; because if we can’t do it well, then there’s not a lot of point to it.

Jennifer: You’re right, because that goes back to … that trust piece of your brand that we were talking about earlier; … whether it’s the buyers or whether it’s the customers. If it’s … not there, then you lost that trust. You’re not going to have those people come back ultimately.

Laura: Right, right. Well, and we’ve had a lot of … customers that are repeat customers because we’ve been in stores so much. I was doing a lot of face-to-face time before I had the baby and everything. It was me in there doing demos.

Jennifer: Yup.

Laura: They got to know us. They trusted me. They knew that we put out a good product. They knew I knew exactly where the ingredients were coming from. I knew … what was in it. I knew how it was made. … All of those pieces. They trusted us. They’ve come back, yeah.

Mike: Luckily, we found demo people that can convey that; just like you talked about with the social media, they can take on … our brand’s persona.

Laura: Right.

Mike: They can represent and they love it just like we do.

Jennifer: Yup.

Laura: Yeah.

Mike: They do such an awesome job-

Laura: They do, they do.

Mike: … representing that we can feel completely comfortable with them out there doing demos for us.

Jennifer: That’s great. It’s almost like you were talking about with the co-packer, too. It’s so hard in the beginning to let go of that and then learning to trust, and that there are people who can be as excited and passionate about your brand as you are; even if they’re not you. It’s hard to get to that point.

Laura: Right, yeah. Yeah.

Jennifer: Well, I thank both of you guys for taking the time to come on and … not just to share your story, but also to share some of these challenges; because sometimes it’s hard for folks sometimes to share challenges publicly. Obviously like I said before, there’s lots of other food entrepreneurs who are struggling with these same issues or very similar issues. It’s great for them to be able to hear that they’re not alone, and potentially get some ideas as well, as they move forward. Thank you so much.

Laura: Yeah, and I just want to put out there, too, one thing that’s … part of our goal is, is we want to always help people. If anyone ever has questions, they’re welcome to contact us because we really do believe in community over competition. I know a lot of people just say that. Well, I think a lot of people believe it, but we really do believe that. We’ve had a lot of very kind and helpful people help us out and answer questions, and kind of have been on this journey with us.

If you can find someone that can kind of mentor you, or answer questions, or you can partner with and have a good relationship with, that’s … so important. I just encourage people to really find others that they can ask questions to, and … work with; even if it’s the same product. You guys can all benefit from working together.

Jennifer: Oh absolutely. I’ve always believed that a rising tide carries all boats. The more that everybody can work together, truly, it will just … help the entire artisan food industry as a whole.

Laura: Right. Thank you so much for having us. It was a lot of fun. Good tips, thank you.

Jennifer: Well, thank you. Thank you so much. … Well thank you guys.

Laura: Yeah, have a great day. Thank you [crosstalk 00:49:29] so much for having us. It really was helpful.

Jennifer: Oh good. Good, I’m glad. Either Allie or I will follow up … probably hopefully by the end of the week to give you an idea of when we plan to air this.

Laura: Yeah, yeah. That sounds great. Truly, if you ever … I know that you coach a lot of people. If you ever hear of anybody that has questions, feel free to send them our way because … seriously Jennifer, that’s how we’ve kind of gotten as far as we have is people have been helpful and kind in answering to us.

Jennifer: Yeah, I’ll be … Thank you, I would be more than happy to do that. Yeah, I love to put … just to put people in touch with one another. … As weird as it sounds, it brings me a lot of joy because I know that both sides of that partnership can benefit from that relationship.

Laura: Right. Yeah, we’ve found a lot of connection in … the Good Food Awards. The Good Food Guild community-

Jennifer: Yup.

Laura: … has been really good about kind of connecting people together, too.

Jennifer: Very nice.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah, it was so lovely to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Thank you.

Laura: Have a good day, and hopefully your kiddo is better.

Jennifer: Thanks. Like I said, she seemed fine when I left her. I haven’t gotten a call, so I’m assuming she’s fine.

Laura: Oh my word. We have been … My preschooler has been out of school for a few weeks now because they were calling me. I’m going to check in today and just saying … all the kids are out with the flu. Since we have the newborn at home, and Mike’s dad just had open heart surgery, we’re … and he works with him. We’re having to protect them, too. We’ve kind of held him back and I’m hoping if I send him today, that he won’t come home with anything, so we’ll see.

Jennifer: Oh, fingers crossed. Yeah, this is a … tough flu year. I did hear recently that they thought, because I’m up in Seattle, but they thought in the Pacific Northwest that we were peaking and that we were on our way down.

Laura: Good.

Jennifer: I’m hopeful. I know other parts of the country are still really struggling.

Laura: Yeah, yeah. For sure. Well thank you, Jennifer. I hope you have a great day.

Jennifer: Thanks, you too.

Laura: Okay, we’ll talk to you later.

Jennifer: Okay, bye.

Laura: Bye.

Jennifer: Speaking of having a place to ask questions and connect with other food entrepreneurs, this is a great time to mention that on Facebook, we have started a food entrepreneurs and business owners group. This is for food producers only, and it is a closed group; so that it’s a chance for you to interact with one another, ask questions, get feedback, share ideas, all in a setting that you feel comfortable. If you are on Facebook, do a search for food entrepreneurs and business owners group. It’s, like I said, a closed group. You’ll have to answer two or three questions about your business. Then, as soon as I have time, I will approve your application and you can come in and join the conversation.

There is, as always, a lot more information on the SmallFoodBiz.com website that I invite you to check out; including other podcasts that we’ve done with other food entrepreneurs in the past. When time allows, we are also on Facebook at Small Food Biz and sometimes on Instagram. Speaking of needing to do social media better, I myself am guilty of that.

No matter how you find us, I hope that you have a chance to connect. As always, look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.

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