Today’s podcast is kind of near and dear to my heart. The interview today is with my friend Erika Kerekes from Not Ketchup. She has been a true support, mentor and friend for me over the past few years of running my business. She has SO much knowledge about the food business and speaks so well about it. On another note, this podcast is always a work in progress, so I’m trying to figure out how best to write and use these show notes/blog post. If you have any ideas, I would LOVE to hear them. I want them to be valuable and helpful for you!
Erika Kerekes is trying to turn the condiment world upside-down with NOT KETCHUP, her all-natural “ketchups” made from (other) fruits instead of tomatoes. An award-winning food blogger, Erika made her first batch of Cherry Chipotle Not Ketchup after a very productive trip with her two sons to a u-pick cherry orchard. She spent the summer of 2013 making “ketchup” out of every fruit she could get her hands on and now offers five flavors: the original Cherry Chipotle plus Blueberry White Pepper, Smoky Date, Spiced Fig, and her newest flavor Tangerine Hatch Chile, which she makes without any added sugar (hello, Paleo friends!). A longtime writer and marketing executive, Erika is a native New Yorker who moved to Los Angeles two decades ago. She still can’t believe she lives in a place where food grows on trees in her backyard.
How would you say that being a blogger and your consulting business helped you in starting your own physical product line?
Blogging helped me in two ways. One way, I had a lot of contacts in the food industry, from retailers to distributors to manufacturers to start up brands, like I now am, to PR people and marketing people. I had met people pretty much in all avenues of the food business and I didn’t know it at that time but every time somebody told me what they did and what their business is, apparently I was listening because when it came time to start my own business not only did I have those contacts under my belt but I knew a lot more than I thought I knew. I was familiar with the process of figuring out what the market needs, how much you’re willing to pay for it and how you are going to describe it. You look at all the competition to figure out where you fit in and how you’re different, you figure out how you’re going to deliver the product and how much it’s going to cost you to make it. I had done all of that in business. I had never done it for a product I held in my hand and in my house but I had done it.
The things that I thought that I was more prepared for, but actually wasn’t, is all the “stuff.” I hadn’t really come to terms with the fact that when you sell a product that’s a physical product, there are all these other issues that you have, like breakage and spoilage. Things that go out of date and you have to pay to store it and then every time you do an event you have things like racks and table cloths and signage. The stuff part of it was a little bit overwhelming.
What has been your proud moment so far?
It’s totally dorky but definitely my proudest moment was seeing the first bottles on the shelf of a major retailer at Central Market in Texas. I walked into the store and I saw my bottles not only on the shelf but on an end cap display. My younger son was with me and I started to cry. I was so excited, happy and proud. A similar moment was when I first saw my bottles on the shelf at Whole Foods because it’s the holy grail and I had been working towards Whole Foods for a while. They had my product on the shelf on opening day. I walked in and I saw them on the shelf and the tears came. I did the super dorky thing and I stood in the aisle for about an hour and every single customer that came by I said, “I’m really sorry to bother you but I’m a start up Food Company and those are my products and this is the first Whole Foods store. Can you take a picture of me with my product?” I asked about 20 customers to take pictures of me standing next to my product. That gave me the opportunity to talk them about my product some of them bought them? That worked well but I wasn’t dorky to be strategic, I was accidentally strategic while I was dorky.Find someone with 2 million dollars with @notketchup #blissfulbitespodcast Click To Tweet
What would you say to someone who says, “I just wanna grow and be a national brand as fast as possible.”
I would say find someone with 2 million dollars because that’s what your going to need in marketing to develop a national brand to the point where people are going see it in a store and know what it is and think, “I heard about that and pick it up.” I consult with startup entrepreneurs and go over their plans and a lot of the times they realize that they don’t have anywhere near enough money to do what they thought they wanted to do. One of the things I tell them, “Look, I’m a little bit of a downer. I will definitely say to you I think there are things you do not want to do.” One thing you don’t want to do unless you have 2 million dollars is assume you’re gonna be a national brand.
Tell about the moment it went from hobby to business for you.
For me, it was all about the money. It was a hobby while I was making it in my kitchen; it was a hobby while I was refining the recipes. In the summer of 2013, I had been writing this food blog for years, I took my kids in June of 2013 to pick-your-own cherry orchard North of Los Angeles. They picked 30 pounds of cherries in 30 minutes and so we went home with a bath tub full of cherries and after a day I had made some jam and I had made a couple pies. I realized I still had 15 pounds of cherries left and my boys didn’t eat jam, they eat burgers. So I thought what can I make that goes with burgers? I did a little research and I discovered that adventurous chefs and in fact historical chefs had made ketchup out of things that are not tomatoes. I decided to make a batch of ketchup out of these cherries and my husband, who does not like tomato ketchup particularly, tasted it and said, “Wow! That’s really good.” Then during the summer 0f 2013, still a hobby at this point, I made ketchup on every fruit I could get my hands on.
Everybody really liked it and I kept giving people things to taste and they were like, “What is this? This is fantastic!” The moment I knew it wasn’t a hobby was when I paid money to a food chemist to take my home recipes and turn them into formulas that a factory could use. At the point I was making the first batch and spent the money for label design, logo design, label printing, money for ingredients, money to my factory to make it and a trademark search. I realized at that point I was in for about $15,000 and that was the point at which it felt real. I had the money I had been working as a marketing consultant, I was very busy, I had a lot of clients, I worked all the time, and I had the cash. I had a good first half of 2013 and I decided it was time to invest in me for a change. You can invest in the bank, you can invest in the stock market but I had an idea and I thought there was a future in it and I wanted to invest it in me.
Tell us what’s the ‘Why’ in your business?
I think I have two why’s and one is about the food. I do love feeding people. It makes me so happy when someone I don’t know leaves a comment on Amazon or emails me or post on Facebook and says, “I bought this product, I fed it to my family, they loved it!” It makes me really happy. My other why is that professionally I think it makes me more interesting and appealing professionally and I think it is good for me as a business person to have experience with this kind of business. I think it makes me more authoritative when I work with other businesses on marketing and communications. I think it gives me a really different and personal perspective on calculating the return on your marketing investment. For me a lot of the ‘why’ is I think it has made me a much more savy business person overall which helps both my business and my clients.
What would be your biggest piece of advice to someone who is just starting out?
My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you understand the numbers before you spend any money because there are things you’re going to want to do that costs money. You don’t want to be in the middle of it and feel like you really need to do something in order to grow and not have funds to draw from. What I tell people at the beginning is you need three times as much money as you think you need, if you want to grow. If you want your business to grow slowly and organically, make sure that you are making a little bit money on each sale and take that money and reinvest it. If you want to grow it quickly you have to have some bank to draw from whether it’s the bank from you or the bank of your 401k or the bank of grandma or whatever.
How do you actually stay balanced? What do you do to make sure your day is successful?
My days are still regimented. I still hold down a full time job. I am at that job 8:00 am-5:00pm or 9:00am-6:00pm and that has really forced me to be much more efficient with the time I have left over because I also have children, a husband, friends and I have a mother across the country who I talk to everyday. I have made the conscious decision that I am not going to grow Not Ketchup as quickly as I thought. At first I thought it was gonna be super big, super quickly. I have pulled back that expectation because I do still need my full time job in order to provide money and benefits to my family and to provide the seed money that I still need to help Not Ketchup grow.
I try to make sure that every day I am doing a little bit of the things I needed to do. I have a to-do list in Not Ketchup. It is in my face at all times. Every day I get one thing on that to-do list done and there are bigger things and smaller things on the weekends I try to tackle. I make sure that every day I call my mother, I spend as much time with my kids as they want to spend with me, every day I spent time talking to my husband, every day I make sure we sit down to dinner as a family and whatever time is left over I use it well.
Tell us one thing you want your customers and our listeners to know that you think they don’t know.
I think they probably don’t know how many hours in the day I spend thinking about this business and how I can make my customers lives and tables better.
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