November 17, 2020

My guest this week is Lara Fordis, a former corporate market researcher turned independent who loves helping small brands validate their idea and make sure they know their target customer and whether they will be successful in the marketplace.

Lara has great ideas on how to do market research on a small scale and tips to avoid to get false positives. In fact, it has gotten easier to do marketing research during COVID!

My big piece of advice for any entrepreneur is to be willing to step back and be open to feedback. You need to be willing to adjust your brand and idea without taking it personal. 

Sari 0:04
I'm Sari Kimbell and I've done just about everything in the food industry. I have helped hundreds of packaged food business entrepreneurs and now I want to help you make your delicious dream a reality. Whether you want to be successful at farmer's markets, online, or wholesale on the store shelves, Food Business Success is your secret ingredient. I will show you how to avoid an expensive hobby, and instead run a profitable food business. Now let's jump.

HI everyone. Welcome back to the Food Business Success Podcast. I'm Sari Kimbell. And I am super excited to be talking to our guests today, Lara Fordis. And we are going to get into a great topic that I get asked about all the time, and that is on doing market research, and really proving your product concept before you ever launch. So Lara and I connected a while ago, a couple months or so. I don't know, probably maybe longer. Time is a little bit of a black hole these days. But we had a great conversation and about this topic. And I was like, Oh my gosh, you have to come on the podcast because I have so many people ask me about this. So welcome, Lara. Thanks so much for your time today.

Lara Fordis
I'm excited to be here. Thank you.

Sari 1:29
Yeah. All right. So I'm gonna read the bio that you gave me. And then I'll let you kind of fill in any gaps or add to it. So Lara is a market research veteran with vast experience leading, developing, designing and executing qualitative and quantitative primary research studies. She uses a broad array of innovative approaches, which we're going to talk more about today. She serves as a strategic thought partner to her clients. She's adept at developing research plans that address business issues, and provide the foundation for actionable outcomes. With extensive experience in the food, beverage and better for you categories- love that term- she is passionate about helping small businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs and startups. So she is going to be an awesome resource for you guys that are just starting your business and loves this food category. So is there anything you want to add to that, Lara?

Lara Fordis 1:35
Well, I just, you know, I want to say I'm really excited to talk about this actually. Tonight, I'm doing focus groups on chocolate cannabis edibles. So it combines cannabis and food. And so whenever I get to do research, and food and cannabis in one night, you know, it's a win. What can I say?

Sari 2:57
I love that. Now, do you get to try that product?

Lara Fordis 3:00
I did samples, but I do not use them on work days, that's for sure.

Sari 3:06
Fair enough. But we are in Colorado so.

Lara Fordis 3:08
Yeah, totally legal. I'm just a suburban mom doing legal things.

Sari 3:17
I love it. All right. So let's jump in and start talking about why do we need market research? Why is it important, an important part of a business strategy. So for people wanting to start a packaged food business? So you really have kind of three buckets that that you're gonna talk we're gonna talk about today. So the first one is determining your business viability. So do you want to expand on that? Why should people invest in market research in this area?

Lara Fordis 3:51
Well, I mean, for a lot of entrepreneurs, you know, especially now, what you're looking at when you're taking your packaged food business and thinking about its next steps, is you don't want to quit your full time dependable job and dump your life savings into something before you're pretty darn sure that it's going to be viable. And by that, I mean, you're going to be able to make a living wage and, you know, get through those first, you know, 1 to 3 years of challenges until you, uh, sensibly become profitable, and have that trajectory toward the future. What I, the reason that I think it's important to do market research is that people tend to jump in to a business with a lot of enthusiasm, which is awesome. And it's often fueled by friends and family. Great too. But

Sari 4:49
Especially with food, right? I feel like

Lara Fordis 4:51
Yes. You know,

Sari 4:52
An extra level of passion because its food.

Lara Fordis 4:58
Yeah, it's food and you have gotten compliments on it at every level. My, my sister, in fact, makes amazing chocolate macaroons, not macrons. But macaroons. And she, you know, got lots of great feedback about how wonderful it was. And eventually, it became, it became her full time business, along with other things. But one thing and this is kind of like the, the, the cliche cobblers, you know cobbler's kid who has holes in your shoes, she didn't ask to do market research really before she jumped into it. So something can be really great. And people may even say they're willing to buy them. And it's the greatest thing ever. But what people say they're going to do, and what people actually do, especially when it comes to spending money tends to be there tends to be a gap there. So just because there's an unmet perception of an unmet need, or an unmet want doesn't mean that your company is going to be successful. And there's a typical assumption that if you fill an unmet need, that's, yeah, that's the key, but there's a lot more complexity that goes into it. So understanding your competitive landscape, understanding what people want, and what people are willing to pay for, what they say they want, and how frequently they're willing to pay for what they say what they want, is really important. And a really common misstep I see is that someone says, Oh, I did a survey monkey survey, and I posted it to my Facebook, and everyone loves it, it's gonna be amazing. But that's what's called a self selected sample within unprofessional survey. And that can lead to, you know, to a plethora of problems down the road, by self selected sample, I mean, that it's everyone who's in your orbit, who has a, you know, usually a personal connection that may be somewhat removed, but they want to see you succeed. So it's not a representative sample. So they're inexpensive ways to do surveys where you can get a representative sample, for instance, Aunt Karen has awesome carrot cake, she's gonna open up Carrot Cake Emporium, in, you know, in Boulder, and everyone thinks it's gonna, you know, it's gonna change the face of cake and Boulder, whatever. But before you, you know, you go into investing in space, and, you know, quitting your job and spending your life savings, it would behoove you to spend, even if it's under $5,000, making sure you do your due diligence, and do a, you know, survey with a representative sample of people who live within five miles of the proposed location, or who purchase from bakeries that are in within five miles or so in the proposed location. And well, market research can seem like, Oh, that's for Procter and Gamble, and you know, Coca Cola and Pepsi, you know, it's not for small businesses, it very much so is and that investment cannot only save a great deal of pain, but it's that metaphorical sharpening of the saw when you when you hear Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of successful people that begin with the end in mind, and marketing is a tool. Market research is really sharpening the saw, and it tends to pay in dividends, because, you know your target audience, you know what they're looking for, and oftentimes, what entrepreneurs think their target audiences is, is quite different than what it actually is. It may be bigger and maybe smaller, it may be different. But that that's another pretty common misstep is that you don't know what you don't know. And oftentimes, that's the target audience of their particular product.

Sari 9:23
Yeah. So I mean, I work with students and Food Business Success a lot on this and with clients, and everybody resists narrowing down their target customer and their market. They want you know, like, like you said, everybody in their, in your, in their circle. I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this story, right, just like your sister, and thanks for using a real life example. It's like everybody says, This is amazing. You know, you're going to revolutionize the bar world or whatever it is, and so you get really excited. And there's this idea of like having a very funnel down narrow target customer, people really resist that. They just they keep telling me and I'm sure you hear it all the time. Yes, everybody loves this, right? I can't, I can't choose just one type of person.

Lara Fordis 10:23
And it doesn't have to be one type, but it can't be, if I hear the word Oh, but mine is the best, I'm just gonna lose my lose it. Because it's just, you know, everyone thinks there's the best, everyone thinks there's better everything. And, and you can't rely, you know, for the most part, you can't compete on price, and you can't compete on being the best, you have to compete on more relevant differentiating features that appeal to a particular target audience. And if you don't know, the target audience, and what is going to be most compelling to them, then then you leave yourself open to this very diluted approach to marketing and promotion. And in trying to be all things to all people you end up appealing to not

Sari 11:22
No one, yeah. Absolutely.

Lara Fordis 11:22
know or Yeah, and that's, and believe me, you know, I feel very fortunate that most of the entrepreneurs that I that, that I work with, are able to make a go of it. But I also feel like I have a ethical and fiduciary responsibility to tell entrepreneurs when they have to, they have to, you know, take a moment to refine their product. And, you know, before they go full on out there. I'm working with a client right now who's who started a Kickstarter campaign prematurely for their particular product. And, you know, it's because everyone in their Survey Monkey that they placed on Facebook, said it was going to be awesome, and they could raise, you know, $200,000 to launch

Sari 12:15
That's a lot of money.

Lara Fordis 12:15
this product. It is a lot and most most products obviously don't have that ambitious goal. But I think they've really raised when I checked earlier $1,468. So, you know, they

Right. What people say they will do and actually do is very different.

Yes, exactly. So, you know, when you're asking people to commit actual dollars, and that's just a one time thing. I mean, in order for a product to be self sustaining, there has to be repeat purchases, and a whole lot of other contributing factors to success. So sometimes I come in a little too late in the game. And sometimes as you know, sometimes, you know, clients don't like what they hear, but I want to be able to sleep at night. So I'd rather be a straight shooter and tell people you know what I see it, you know, from an objective point of view, and based on all of what I've looked at, so they can make an informed decision as to their level of risk. And, and entrepreneurship is or is is always a risk. So I feel really good about the fact that about seven years ago, I decided fortune 500 research shouldn't be the sole purview of big companies. It should be there for entrepreneurs and startups. And I'm excited to be able to say, Hey, you know, before edible, raw cookie dough was a thing, I helped someone with a mail order, customizable, edible, raw cookie dough business and beef jerky and other food products that have sort of unorthodox spins on the conventional execution of the particular product. And it's fun. Does it mean everyone's I've come into contact with has always been successful? No, but I feel good about what I've done to inform them so that when they go in front of investors or to venture capital or to a Kickstarter campaign, you know, they bring their A game and they've done their research, and they have something to show for themselves.

Yeah, so I want to ask a follow up question and then I want to ask you about what stage should they actually invest in market research, but my follow up question would target customers. Do you feel like the market research needs to help inform the us? The, the entrepreneur who their target customer is? Or I mean, a lot of times, we're not doing market research and kind of I'm using my experience to kind of go on a gut feeling about who the target customer is right? We do some target customer worksheets and questionnaires. But a lot of times we're kind of defining it ahead of time. But do you feel like the market research can actually help inform who the target customer is?

I do? I do. Because oftentimes, the inspiration for the product is based on certain presumptions that there is a target audience and narrowing that down can be difficult. But I've also seen the inverse, where someone has had a idea that it's going to be a connoisseur of a particular product amd then it turns out that they actually, the target audience is bigger or different than. Now more typically people think their target audience is bigger than it actually is. I think, you know, that that's the more typical scenario. But I think that that's a common place that people make a misstep is that they give their branding agency that marketing agency, their, you know, the people around them, they tell them what the target audience is, but it's based on gut feel, and anecdotal evidence, not based on hard data.

Yeah, I love the combination that would be amazing to have more data coming in then just me and my graphic designer. Yeah, the person's gut feeling.

Yeah. Because you're not the target audience. I mean, I know, I've been in market research over 20 years. And, you know, I know that I'm not the target audience for most things. I'm actually a terrible brand switcher. I have no brand loyalty whatsoever. Partially because I'm very curious and like to experiment and try new things. But, um, you know, I know that about myself. And I've searched, and I hypothesize, I keep those to myself, often times, and sometimes I, you know, I'm right. And sometimes, you know, I'm, I'm wrong about something where I think like, Oh, you know, I'm betting the research is going to play out this way. And thank God for objective research because sometimes, you know, my hypothesis is not on track. And then that's why we do research. It also, I've been thinking about this lately, it mitigates a lot of second guessing, because a lot of times entrepreneurs are relying on feedback from their spouse, their family, their friends, and so they make things like logo design decisions, website decisions, you know, messaging decisions, based on Yeah,

Sari 17:52
I get that all the time. It's like gone too far down the road with some some real good data gathering and actual brand identity we've only collected, we've only gotten opinions from friends and family, who are definitely not necessarily a target the target customer.

Lara Fordis 18:09
No. And the Kickstarter campaign that I'm referring to, it's been, it has been quite painful to watch how many people he said, said that they were going to support him. And when it came, push came to shove, and you had to commit money, they didn't. And, you know, so it's a lot easier to say that you are all in and I and I'm not saying it, that people are nefarious, I'm just saying, it's easy to put, people don't always put their money where their mouth is. And it can cause a lot of distress. And also, I've seen you know, marital disharmony, I'll call it, as a result of someone having an opinion and disagreements about an opinion, and pointing fingers about the outcome of the decision. That if there was data to back it up, would prevent a lot of that second guessing and resentment that comes with entrepreneurship when it's close to home. And so there Yeah, there's some secondary aspects and advantages of market research beyond the insights that have to do with just making informed decisions and having data to point to instead of finger pointing about someone's gut or opinion.

Sari 19:37
Yeah, definitely can help eliminate some of that confusion. And that second guessing, which I see all the time, and sometimes I just say, well, here's your decision. Like, there you go. There's your there's your answer. We're moving on but having some data would be amazing. So, so a lot of my folks, they who go through Food Business Success, they they do want to just start at a farmers market, which I love when people do start a farmers market, because I do think, and you kind of mentioned like a $5,000 investment. So I'd be curious, like, if you have thresholds or ideas on that, but I typically say, like, you can start, especially if you can go cottage food and start at home, not paying for a kitchen, like, you can start very inexpensively at a farmers market. If you have to get the kitchen, I mean, it can be a little bit more expensive, depending especially depending on the product type. But so it can be up to I would say, like up to $5,000 to get started at a farmers market, which I think is a great place to get, you know that at least some market research, it may not be super formal, but certainly you can do some observational market research as well as just ask people, and you can play with your pricing and your packaging to some extent. But yeah, where do you suggest, you know, do you suggest like first thing at a farmers before you even start? Like if you're going to farmers market route? Or is this more for like retail, wholesale online?

Lara Fordis 21:09
There, there are a couple of different things. I love the farmers market route. And one of my clients is a beef jerky company. And this is an example is beef jerky, it was you know, no artificial flavors and preservatives, no sugar, but it also had a softness to the texture. And there was some question as to whether that was going to be an advantage or disadvantage to that. But I was mostly concerned with the potential for mis-managing expectations. Because, I mean, I've done this before where, you know, you bite into something and, you know, you think it's a chocolate chip cookie, and turns out, it's an oatmeal cookie with raisins. Now, maybe my eyes are bad. But, you know, it's not that I'm averse to oatmeal cookies with raisins, it's just if you're expecting a chocolate chip cookie, and you get oatmeal cookie with raisins, you know, it's, it's just a jolt. And so we did some market research, because he was very, you know, fixated on the ingredients and the nutrition and I had some concerns about the texture. And so we did a, we did a survey, I think the stats particular project was like 2350. I mean, it was it was actually much less expensive. And it turned out that soft, the soft texture was actually an advantage. It was a differentiating and advantageous feature. Even though traditionally beef jerky, people are expecting a chewier flavor, but it was important for the packaging, to communicate that so that people didn't bite into it and have a surprise, even if it turned out that it was an appealing surprise. You just don't want that jolt of, of mismanaged expectations. So so he and he, you know, did the farmers market thing, still does and is now different distribution in microbreweries as well. So he's kind of taken the next step. But I think that doing some initial read, in addition to your farmers market anecdotal conversational feedback, getting some quantitative feedback from a larger population is going to serve you well, you know, and that may be 300 people, you know, it may not be a huge sample, but it tends to offer some, some perspective that's gonna be different than the one on one interactions at the people that were willing to come and talk to you at a farmers market.

So I think both ways and they still wanna,

yeah, there's sort of a vested interest in, in pleasing, you know, in pleasing you. Because no, you know, no one wants to be mean. And say, I want your direct honest feedback. And, and I will as a market research person, I do do that. And then my, my son and my husband rolled their eyes, they're like, I can't believe you actually said that. I'm like, he, you know, he asked to my honest feedback. They're like, you've been, you know, sugar coated it. I'm like, Well, you know, so I don't know.

Sari 24:36
I think you are, we wear the same hat and that way and I sometimes I'm like, Yeah, you're not always gonna like what I say. I feel like a truth teller, but you might not like it.

Lara Fordis 24:49
And I'm very diplomatic about it. It's just, you know, I want to you know, I don't I don't want someone to not be set up for success. And in any way that I can contribute to setting them up for success with constructive feedback, that's what I'm going to do. Not only for strangers and people at a farmers market, but obviously for my clients as well.

Sari 25:17
Right, I guess if I could just, you know, add a little caveat here. Like, if you're listening, and you are thinking about starting a packaged food business, you're going to grow your business into wholesale or Amazon, online, the more that you can, you know, not take things personally and let go of that personal attachment to your product and really take that feedback, especially if it's coming from, you know, people like myself, or you who are in this industry, and also your target customer, those are the most important people, like really listen to them. And and when they do give you hard feedback, I know a lot of people just get so defensive, and I get it. Like it's, it's your baby, it's this passion project. But if you're gonna go about being a real business, you got to drop some of that that personal connection and

Lara Fordis 26:12
And I came up with actually a tool that I use, and I really love this for, for businesses that are trying to get into a Whole Foods or, or a retailer. There's a company that I did some beta testing at with not too long ago out of California. And they have this really cool app where you, they have what's called an online panel and market research. But it's, they have geo fencing around Whole Foods locations, Target locations, Walmart locations. And so let's say you're a tumeric laced to beverage company, and you're trying to get into Whole Foods. You pick the whole foods that you want to get get into and then you are able to do a survey where you can actually see in video, a self administered shopping experience at the store shelves. So you so the person got, you know, someone's walking into Whole Foods, they get an alert on their phone that says, Do you want to take a survey? Yes, no? Today, are you shopping it for milk or beverages or cheese? If they say, you know, functional beverages, then they purse, you know, proceed to take the survey and they get incentivize, they get some money for this. And you can ask them what's called quantitative questions, which are traditional survey questions. But you can also have them take pictures and video of what they see from their vantage point as they shop the store shelf where you want to be which gives you a tremendous advantage, not only in terms of its insights, but also in terms of when you do want to go to Whole Foods and say, Hey, you know, I want to, you know, I want my tumeric beverage to be on your store shelves, you can say and I hear your, you know, here's video from your customers talking about their experience and what they see and what they don't see. And this is where we fit in. And it's a really creative way to be able to experience the customer journey without being there, being kind of a fly on the wall. And

Sari 28:27
Wow, that would be it's such a cool technology.

Lara Fordis 28:30
It's a really cool technology,

What, how to be able to go into a retailer like Whole Foods, or any of those big ones and be able to tell that data story. I mean, I have an interview with Doug Helbig, all about growing your, you know, to a $1 million business and it's all about that data story. Wow, that was that's so powerful.

Well, what I really like about that, it's the it's the only company I've come across that does quality control on their videos. So for instance, if I end it mind you, you're not going to do like 300 that would be cost prohibitive. But what I do is let's say you want to be able to go to an investor and say, here are 300 surveys with people that live within five miles of pipe store location or that live in Colorado where I'm going to be distributing my product, to be able to have the overlay of the actual video tape of the customer from their vantage point and talking into the camera, have that qualitative overlay with the you know, charts and tables is a really powerful story. Because usually you get one or the other and this sort of is a hybrid that combines the two that that people really like. And you know, it's all about storytelling and impact and some people are more audio oriented or video oriented or numbers oriented. It covers off all those three in one shot.

Sari 30:04
Wow. That's amazing. So what other tips or tools are you using? Given that, you know, you're probably not doing in person focus groups, you know, I used to do those at Whole Foods, and we would have those in person focus groups. And and I know I had some clients asked me about, how do we do this now, you know, with COVID, and we're not meeting in the same way. So how are you managing this kind of new virtual world?

Lara Fordis 30:35
It's been really easy for me, I've been doing it via Zoom. And now, I tend to have more, instead of this sort of recruit 12 people for, you know, eight or nine to show, I tend to recruit more like 10 people for six or seven to participate. So the groups tend to be smaller. I forgot to do that with the cannabis chocolate edibles groups that I'm doing tonight and of course, everyone says they're going to show so I'm not sure how it's going to be a really crowded Zoom virtual focus group tonight. But almost everything you can do virtually. And one of the beauties in terms of market research of this time or a silver lining is that market research costs have come down because it's based on incidence in the population. As well as willingness and support. Ayear ago, I would have had an in person focus group where they would have had to come downtown to Field Work Denver and park and go in and be in a conference room. And all of that takes time. Now the expectation is doing virtual, so it cuts your time like to a third or a half. So the cost of me paying someone to do that is significantly less. It's had even more of an impact in the b2b space. But it's had an impact on customers as well. And in terms of surveys, let's say I may have had to pay someone, a couple dollars to take a five minute survey a year ago, now people have a lot more time on their hands. So what you have to pay out to get people to do it is much less because people are looking for distractions, a little extra money, something to occupy their time, not be bored by so actually market research is cost less to execute due to COVID than it did before.

Wow. So just like, I'm just so curious. So are there, there must be services, then that people sign up for just regular Joe's sign up for that they can then take a bunch of surveys and make a little money?

Yeah, there's, and if you want, I can try to follow up with some links, or if someone emails me or calls me, but basically, you know, you can probably do a search for, you know, paid online surveys. Now some of them can be scammy so you, you know, you kind of want to go with ones that have a reputation, you know, and some of them, you know, you accumulate points and then get a Amazon card or Starbucks card. Some of them, it converts to cash that they pay you with PayPal or Venmo, you know, different.

Sari 33:34
Yeah, Oh wow, great.

Lara Fordis 33:36
to take surveys. There's more money in what's called, you know, in depth interviews or focus groups, participation, and they tend to be more fun and engaging. And they're also services ones called that you can sign up for. And I use that for everything from dating apps to concept tests, where I've interviewed people. And you know, those you could make 40 bucks or 50 bucks for, you know, an hour an hour and a half of your time and they tend to be a lot more fun. Not as commonly done, you can't do them, you know, you know it all the time. Yeah. It's, it's a pretty cool way to get paid for your opinion.

Yeah, I think it'd be really interesting, especially as a food producer, entrepreneur to actually sit in on a couple of those. And can I hear the questions and see what it's like, on the other side. Anyway, I just find that stuff super fascinating in general that, like, Oh, I want to do some.

Yeah, and now technically, you know, if you're in the industry, you know, they'll ask you what's called a prescreening questions. So if you're in the food industry, you won't likely to be able to effectively participate in a focus group.

Sari 34:54
Oh yeah, that makes sense.

Lara Fordis 34:55
But you can you know, if you're in the food industry, maybe it's a a dating app focus group or a health care related focus group or interview about a topic. So, you know, just as a side note, just to kind of get a feel for what market research looks like, you can always start by being a participant and get a sense of what, what it feels like being on the other side.

Sari 35:23
Yeah. Well, very cool. Well, I think that's great news for everyone that and I love that you are really focused on helping those startups and early early stage entrepreneurs and making it cost effective and really trying to work within people's budgets. I mean, you know, focus group budgets can be ridiculously large when you're a, you know, a big company. But it's great that you're making it accessible for the bootstrapping startup.

Lara Fordis 35:51
Well, the great thing is, is that it doesn't have to be Yeah, I mean, if you're going into a facility, like if you're, you know, if you're a big, you know, fortune 500 food company, you're caught talking about spending, you know, the cost of buying it a new Jaguar or Tesla on focus group research, but there are creative workarounds, you can do it virtually. When it comes to food products, sometimes what I have people do is, in lieu of paying out a cash incentive of $75, we'll have them do $100 worth of shopping for what would be on the competitive landscape of the foods and reimburse them and then you get to see what the experience shopping for the competitive landscape is like for people without having to pay out a typical cash incentive. Now, people are always more motivated by cash. But I have done things for breweries where I've paid people in beer and cannabis edibles and candy, you know, I mean, I've done some creative workarounds. But unless you you know, unless you have a really, unless you have a really universally appealing product, you probably do have to pay that in cash.

Sari 37:11
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Alright, so we kind of got off, you know,

Lara Fordis 37:17
oh, sorry. I was having so much fun talking with you that I kind of got on a tangent.

Sari 37:21
It's alright. We went down a great tangent road, but I'm going to bring it back and talk a little bit more about, um, we did touch on it already, like everyone says, they love it. And, you know, how should I price this? Like, you know, I call it being, you know, that we can stand out, we can be differentiated, uniquely different, right? Like, what is our competitive advantage? When it comes? Like you said, we can't we can't compete on price, typically, when you're a small producer.

Lara Fordis 37:54
Yeah, not at all.

Sari 37:54
And so how do you use market research to kind of determine your price, but then also, how you're gonna stand out in the competition?

Lara Fordis 38:03
Well, I think it's, I think that differentiation and understanding what advantages you bring to the table for a certain, you know, targeted segment is always the safest way to go. In terms of pricing that gets complicated because people notoriously miss report what they will pay for something, and even miss report what they've paid for something in the last 30 days. I mean, that never ceases to amaze me. And then when I think about it, I'm kind of a hypocrite, because if people asked me what I paid for certain things in the past 30 days, I probably wouldn't remember either. But that, you know, that tends to be a dicey way to go which is why the things at the farmers market or places where you can test the price elasticity is very valuable. Um, but in terms of understanding where to where to differentiate, but you know, asking people, when you're when you're doing a survey, there's what's called open ended questions and closed ended questions. So closed ended questions are like multiple choice questions where you check a box. Open ended questions or where you ask them for more depth, which sounds great, except for people tend to be increasingly terse and use the most emojis and bad grammar and all sorts of things that make open ended questions a lot more of a pain than they used to be in the past, and which is why I'm a big proponent of doing some qualitative research before your quantitative research to mitigate the impact of that reality. But in terms of understanding how you differentiate, it's asking people so when you do some interviews or focus groups, you begin to understand those nuances. And then you test them out quantitatively so you can confirm rises to the top. Like with the beef jerky example I referred to earlier, I thought figured people who eat beef jerky like that sort of chewiness. Turns out when we tested the different attributes of this beef jerky, that soft texture was a really appealing and differentiating factor in the beef jerky. So understanding what makes you different is paramount to succeeding on a competitive landscape for sure.

Yeah, and, you know, there's that kind of scale of like, Is it something ubiquitous that we all know, like a salsa, right? And so how are you going to stand out as something really unique and different? And, like you said, everyone's like, well, mine's better Well, there's a lot of products that are winning in the marketplace, but kind of suck, right? Like, we've seen better.

I mean, look at all that Olive Garden. And I go by Olive Garden, and I see the lines of Olive Garden. And I just think, you know, WTF just kind of like races through my mind, you know, like, mediocrity, but

Sari 41:13
Why is that place always packed?

Lara Fordis 41:13
I know, because people care about care more, in some ways about consistency than they do about quality. So mediocrity can be very successful, if it's marketed properly, with the right, a certain price point. But for the most part, that kind of entrepreneurs that would be listening to this and be interested in this, are not going to be looking for a trajectory or something with a little bit more color and passion and, you know, change. So it's, yeah, you can't it. I mean, that I maybe I'm dating myself and showing how old I am. But I remember Betamax, you know, what, Betamax was considered a superior technology to VHS. But VHS is what won out in time.

Sari 42:10
Got to get people to pay for it.

Lara Fordis 42:12
Yeah. It's what people are willing to pay for. It's what's marketed. It's what's, you know, what people know about, like, they're just so many things besides inherent quality that contribute to the success of something. So sometimes things that are amazing products and services fail, not because they're not amazing, but because they're not marketed properly.

Sari 42:36
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think I have a client now, Barfly salsa, who it's a salsa, right, like, it's good, it's great. It's a great salsa. But it's also you know, we can find salsa anywhere, but doing something fun with the marketing and kind of, you know, playing on this fun concept of being a Barfly, and he's got a whole strategy, but but then I think, like to the other side where your product is so unique, that it actually requires a ton of education. So it is very differentiated, but then people actually don't know what it is. And so you have to, like, do a lot of explanation on that.

Lara Fordis 43:18
And it doesn't have, you know, a place for it. I'm trying to think of

Sari 43:23
Right? Like what category? Where does this go on the shelf?

Lara Fordis 43:25
Like, where'd it go? Well, yeah, where exactly that it needs and all of a sudden, it's on the you know, it's on an end cap or something, and you can't find it, but it doesn't fit in anywhere else. So, yeah. And so yeah, so sometimes, there are things that are just different and how, you know, how do you educate someone about a category that's untouched? And I'm trying I'm trying to think of some examples of things that are so commonplace now. But just getting people to understand the concept was a hard initial sell. But yeah, it's so not having a competitor sounds initially like a great idea. But if not having a competitor means it's an unknown category, then you're you become responsible for educating people about the category and why it's needed, in addition to selling them on buying yours. Yeah, presents a different set of challenges.

Right. And I do think market research could definitely help you in that area, too, by, you know, figuring out how can you explain this like so actually, on the other end of like, sort of salsa ish. I have another client who has a very different kind of chili sauce, but we can't it's not a salsa. It's something it's like a totally unique, you know, hot sauce. It's not a hot sauce. It's not a salsa. It's,

it's like a ambiguous condiment.

Yeah, it's a totally different kind of condiment, which is great cuz nobody else is in that space, but then we nobody else is in that space. Right? So how do we? How do we actually educate people on what this is and get them, get them tp tru it and connect the dots? Yeah.

Because usually there aren't a lot of pain points, like, there aren't people waking up at night, like saying, Wow, if only I had a slightly different kind of condiment, you know, the world would be a better place, you know, so there is a pretty big, you know, it's a pretty big ask to have to inform people about something different and get them to not only try it, but buy it and repeat buy it, especially if it's an exotic condiment. And when I used to go to I used to go every year to the National Association of Fancy Food Retailers, which would be in San Francisco one year, and San Diego one year and was my it was the highlight of my year, I was just, it was just like being in Nirvana, as I'm sure a lot of listeners would feel like, you know, you're just surrounded by new products in the, you know, in the food space, food and beverage space. But yeah, I tasted some great things, but I couldn't help but wonder like, they're probably not going to be there next year, because it tastes great, but there's just no, you know, no easy and affordable way to execute on the distribution of this. Because people want easy people, you know, distributors, and you know, there's a limited shelf space. And so they need to know that something's going to move. And without a lot of pre planning on how to educate people and motivate awareness and requests or interest in the product, you can have something languish, and then it goes stale, and then stores aren't gonna want to carry it. And that's actually the company that I'm doing the cannabis chocolate edibles for tonight, that was a challenge for them is that they're great product, but there's a lack of awareness, and there's not the shelf life of gummies. So how do you change the way that they do their marketing so that they can get greater traction and have reason for dispensary's to carry them?

Yeah, that's great. Well, for time, let's right, we're gonna move on. So if you could offer one sentence, one piece of advice to somebody just starting out or wanting to grow their business beyond the farmers market, or small wholesale, what, what piece of advice would you offer them?

I would say is to, to seriously consider that there may be things that you don't know that you don't know, and get some objective input. In, you know, there's various ways in which to do this, but get some objective input before investing a lot of money, sweat and tears into something. Make sure you do your homework and make sure that the homework that you do do is bullet proof. You know that it's not it, actually, I'm going to retract that my single biggest piece of advice is don't do a Survey Monkey survey that you post on Facebook, and extrapolate that the findings are going to guide the trajectory of your business.

Sari 48:41
That's the prequalifier and then the objective research.

Lara Fordis 48:46
Yeah, the yes, the you know, but the main advice is, take your your your passion and your love for what you do and make sure that other people are going to you know that the people outside of your orbit are going to be willing to pay for it to make it a viable business for you. Because you probably have a wonderful product. And I you know, I want you to be set up for success. And part of doing so is having a little bit of a thick skin and getting objective feedback about your product.

Yeah. A hundred. Thick skin. Well, that's a great segue into what how can people find you? How can they go learn more about you? Or how to connect with you?

Well, you can find me on LinkedIn at Lara Fordis, the only Lara Fordis, L-A-R-A Fordis that is out there. And I do have a website and actually just going to my book a time to chat with with me, mail, my pleasure and you can go to it redirects to my Calendly link, and just set up a time to chat I, I love talking to entrepreneurs and helping guide them to the resources that are going to set them up to success, whatever those may be.

Awesome. And be sure if you go and go to and book a time with Laura, be sure you mentioned that, that you heard this podcast and the founder, founder through Food Business Success, she'll still give you some extra special treatment.

Certainly will.

Sari 50:35
Um, well. Great. Well, I want to wrap up with my last question that I've been asking all of my guests. And I I get this quote from Michelle Norris, but "Let's not strive for normal, let's not strive for the new normal, let's strive for better." So as you're seeing this last year, you know, 2020 unfold, how do you think the industry is going to change or is changing for the better?

Lara Fordis 51:03
Well, I think that what one of the things that I love as a sort of silver lining is that people are realizing that life's too short for mediocrity and not pursuing your dreams and not being creative and thinking outside the box. So I think this has been a great opportunity for people who were on the fence of entrepreneurship with their packaged food product to really explore that, you know, a lot of people have had a lot more time on their hands to, you know, to think about what you know, what's important to them, what did they want to bring to the world creativity through a food product or otherwise? And so I think that really creative, unconventional and unusual food products have been something I'm seeing coming out of this time because more time on their hands has led to creativity and taking risks in a way that I wouldn't have seen a year ago.

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I'm seeing more and more people apply for Food Business Duccess and reach out and want help starting that business. It's like, what am I waiting for? I've been wanting to do this for years, I've been like, what am I waiting for a pandemic like?

Yeah, you know, if we're gonna be an Armageddon, it might as well taste good.

Sari 52:31
I love that. All right, I just found a great new quote. Well, that is amazing. This has been such a great conversation and something that is gonna be so helpful for people just starting and growing their business and how important it is to, to build that data story and have really great data and information to help make decisions and, you know, impress the retailers. And there's so many benefits to this and not just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks. It's definitely a good, I think it pays for itself in the long run for sure.

Lara Fordis 53:10
And and it doesn't have to be all about numbers. I mean, I know as a market researcher, people assume you know, you're going to be a data nerd and hard to talk to. And I've been, I think of myself as being a very gregarious, easy to talk to data nerd. And what you want to be able to do is go to your investors, your customers, and so forth, with a compelling multi dimensional story. And, and there are really some creative and inexpensive ways to do so. And I'm happy to point people in the right direction, because there's nothing more satisfying than seeing five years later that a business you helped in a very small way is still there and thriving, you know, half a decade later, and you know, feels great.

Yeah, so rewarding. Well, thank you so much, Lara for your time today. It's been a great conversation. And I'll make sure and put your links down in the show notes so people can find you. You have a fantastic day. I really appreciate your time.

Thank you. It's been great and I look forward to chatting more in the future.

All right. Thanks, everyone, for listening. I hope you have a fantastic week.

Sari 54:31
Are you ready to start that delicious idea that you make in your home kitchen, or grow your existing packaged food business and take it to the next level? The most successful food business entrepreneurs have support, guidance, focus and accountability to help them make it happen quickly without wasting time or money. Plus, I think starting your packaged food business should actually be fun. Food Business Success is your secret ingredient to creating your food business dream. Please don't go this alone. Check out the private free Food Business Success Facebook group to connect with other foodprenuers, get your questions answered quickly, share your wins and receive special training and tools I only share inside the private community. Just search for Food Business Success on Facebook, or get the link in the show notes. Curious about how Food Business Success can help you? Head over to and fill out the application to see if you're a great fit for the program. Together let's make your food business dream a reality.


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