December 15, 2020

Whatever your measure of success, from a great day at a farmers market to a $15M exit and everything in between, you need to hone your data story to increase your sales and profitability over time. My guest today is Doug Helbig, VP of Sales for Alter Eco and previously brands like Wandering Bear and Dang Foods.  

We get into a ton of topics around growing your business into wholesale including how to use LinkedIn, brokers, trade shows and community. 

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 there, everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we have a special treat. I get to talk with colleague and friend Doug Helbig. Today and wow, we are going to talk about some really cool topics that when you are ready to grow your brand and get into larger accounts and really grow sales, this is for you. This episode is definitely for you. So Doug has spent over a decade in the natural food industry. He has helped scale early stage startups like Food Belly, Nutiva, Dang. And now he is with Alter Eco Foods. Congratulations on that role. And he has a local passion for helping Colorado area foodprenuers. He founded Colorado Food Works five years ago and Doug and his colleagues really helped grow that community throughout Colorado, and providing that that support and connectivity and access for for early stage and later stage foodprenuers. His help yourself by helping others mentality has helped countless natural food professionals grow their careers and their businesses and he continues to pay it forward. And so we really appreciate you paying it forward by sharing your valuable time on this podcast. So welcome, Doug. Thanks for being here.

Doug Helbig 2:05
Thank you. Thank you. I'm I'm excited to be on.

Sari 2:08
Yeah, well, do you want to fill out anything else in there? I mean, it's definitely a great resume. But kind of what has been your your role in in some of those organizations? Or what do you say is like your zone of genius?

Doug Helbig 2:24
Oh, gosh, I wouldn't call it a zone of genius. I would call it a zone of getting by. But I've been very fortunate to be in the natural foods industry for coming on 15 years now. Like many of us, I kind of fell backwards into an opportunity as a merchandiser. Gino really cut my teeth on the streets, fighting the the juice wars of the early 2000s, where Odwalla and Naked juice and Bolthouse Farms were kind of known for stealing shelves from each other. And so really cut my teeth there. And I've had the opportunity to work for some really great mission based startup companies where, you know, great people great product, and really learned a lot about the industry and really fell in love with the industry. I think one thing I noticed about the industry was the barriers of entry to starting food company can be comparatively low, still a feat for by note by by all means, but you know, there's a lot of people who can have a passion, have a great recipe and have some success at a farmers market and launch into the food space. And before they know what they say, Oh shoot, I'm in the food space. And it really drove me to to create Colorado Food Works five years ago is you know, living in Denver and you know, traveling to different parts of the state, open wide space for community and, you know, kind of writing in the wake of an amazing organization like Naturally Boulder, who really has set the bar for community engagement. There's an opportunity to build out you know, more community and, you know, with with that barrier of entry being solo, you find, you know, what I could have termed foodprenuers, you know, you know, they have a great recipe, they have the passion, but they don't necessarily know how to navigate the potholes of a startup. And so, with all those things combined, created Colorado Food Works as an opportunity and a tool for brands to you know, reach out to their peers, to kind of gain you know, gain access and help help navigate. So, five great years of building an awesome community up to 600 members in the Denver area, have launched a Colorado Springs chapter and before 2020 hit us in the face that we had branches opening up in Summit County and even on the western slope really bringing community to communities. So I've had a really great opportunity to grow my career with some awesome brands, help build community through Colorado Food Works. And I just love seeing the I love seeing people prosper. I love seeing people help each other.

Sari 5:12
Yeah, you are, you're a true connector. I think, you know, you love connecting people together. And oh, you got to talk to so and so. And oh, my gosh, they need to talk to you. And so we really appreciate all of all of those connections. I'm sure a lot of people appreciate everything you've done for them. And, and it just comes naturally to you, which is really cool.

Doug Helbig 5:33
Well, thank you. Thank you. Well, I, I will say that I would not be where I am in my career if I hadn't had people along the way, sticking an arm out and helping me out as well. So kind of what goes around comes around.

Sari 5:48
Absolutely. I think that's one of the awesome things about the the food industry is it seems like people in general are really giving and they they know that they wouldn't have gotten anywhere without help from others. And it's just seems like a very giving industry where everybody wants to help each other out.

Doug Helbig 6:04
For sure.

Sari 6:05
So we did actually did a webinar a while back, pre COVID. Remember that? My how things have changed. But we were really talking about growing your brand to 1 million in sales or more. And I know some people listening, you know, a lot of people listening to this podcast are just like, they haven't even started, right, they just they have an idea. And, you know, I guess maybe we should just say that first of all, if you didn't know it already, if you have a packaged food product, you are in what's called CPG: Consumer Packaged Good. That's your your industry that you're in. So I'm sure we'll referred to CPG as we go through this conversation. But I want to definitely refer to some of those things we talked about. But I'll put the link to that webinar in the show notes. So people if people want to just go watch that particular webinar, but I think we can definitely touch on some other topics here. So if I was just starting out, I have a passion. You know, it's the story that I hear over and over again, I'm sure you do, too, you make something amazing in your home kitchen. And you just have this great idea. And you don't know, what, what do you do next?

Doug Helbig 7:21
Well, great question, I think you really have to understand, you know what your endgame is, you know, there's a lot of different definitions of success. And I think that what that definition is to you is what means most. You know, I know, I know, people in the community, who do a great job, you know, working 10 farmer's markets a week make a very good living, and they love what they do. And that's their definition of success. And I know others who are looking to scale their company to, you know, $50 million in revenue and exit to a strategic. So I think the first thing is defining what are you in this for? I think that will really help you avoid pitfalls down the road is being true with yourself of what you're looking to achieve. And, again, just because one person defines success as a multi-million dollar exit, that does not necessarily mean that's the same definition for success for us. So that's, I think key.

Sari 8:14
Yeah, 100%. And I really ask people to think about that pretty early on, because it's going to determine what your next steps are, and also long term, so we can plan ahead for that. But there are so many ways to be successful. And for some people, this will be a permanent side hustle, because it's just a passion for them. And, you know, they love making their product on the side or selling it. And then some people this is, you know, they are like they're in it for the big wins. So nothing wrong with either any of those measures of success. But being really honest with yourself, I think is really important as a first step.

Unknown Speaker 8:53
You know, from there, kind of once you've defined kind of what is your what is your definition of success, you know, obviously, you know, sales, people will, you know, use that as a pretty obvious benchmark. What I often find is really, brands that don't exercise the walk before you want run mentality are often the ones that will trip and fall. So, you know, that's something that focus on what you're focusing on now. And I always like to say perfect the bubble that you're in now, before you start focusing on the bubble for tomorrow. So, you know, I've got brands who are, you know, rap, you know, trying to figure out that a logo and talking about getting into Target. And that's just a very big disconnect. I think that creating your data story and your data story and turning into like a snowball effect where it just it just grows with time is the best way, the most sound way to kind of grow a fundamentally strong business. And one thing that I you'll hear me say throughout this podcast is just data, data and data. It's just the way that grocery is growing, you know, for better or for worse, you know, building your brand solely on mission and passion, that's great, and it's fantastic but if you don't have a good story to back that up, then it's, it's just not going to go not gonna go far. So really finding a way to match the size, your success, and not everyone has to be in 1000 Kroger stores to find data success. I really, you know, challenge the brands that I work with to, you know, find data in as smallest of a molecule as you can, because that's, that's the little tiny snowball, and you have to start there to get your snowball bigger and bigger. So really, really understanding what drives your sales. Learn from that, so you can repeat and if it doesn't work, you can tweak and then repeat is really going to be key. And whether that's, you know, if you work at a farmers market, you know, make sure that you have data to prove that you if you are a a that you're a coffee brand at a farmers market, you know, perfect that farmers market. Have the data that says I am the king of this farmer's market and then you take that story to two or three more farmers markets. And then you start getting that snowball where I'm the best coffee brand at Denver area farmers markets period. You take that data nugget to a an Alfalfa's or even a Whole Foods in the Rocky Mountain region. And now you're not just another brand you're a brand that has some real data momentum behind them. Now granted farmers market data doesn't necessarily correlate to being a multi multi million Whole Foods brand, but it shows that you've got the know how to build upon success and that's that's really the key is that again, having that that strong foundation and then building upon that is really key.

Sari 11:53
Yeah, and we'll keep talking definitely I know data story will be a big theme throughout this whole interview but and that goes to your point about not not running before you walk. But I also think there's that piece of like, do you need to make your product first? Like be the first one touching your product before you hire a co-packer or before you get pre-printed? I mean it could apply to so many different pieces of your business and I do think people who are like already skipping way ahead and they like you said they're still working on their package or their their final product like, let's back it up and really work on perfecting the product and the price and making sure this business model is going to work before we get too far ahead of ourselves and hire a co-packer and get thousands of units made right?

Unknown Speaker 12:45
Yeah, we I think I think owning, you know, owning your own recipe, owning your own brand out of the gates is is really truly before we start talking about even farmers markets is really understanding you know, do you know your product best and there's a lot of investment and a lot of a lot of hardship that can come if you do things too soon, especially on the financial side. So own your brand as long as you possibly can. You know working through commisary kitchens and really you know building building your product that way perfecting perfecting your formula, perfecting your branding, perfecting everything that goes into that. You know getting that get in that job right on the front end is really just going to help things in the back end.

Sari 13:30
Yeah totally well that leads actually nicely into okay, I have a product I've done some farmers markets or I've started mi e commerce I'm getting some good traction. I want to go into retail, maybe I've been around a little bit now a couple years in. This is no longer a hobby I really want to make this my you know my business, my my income and I know sales is a big can be a really big issue for a lot of people I work with in Food Business Success. I mean they're so passionate about their product and that's what they love and and even the farmers market sales that's fine you know because it's like that one on one can you know customer relationship? But how long do you need to be your own salesperson and how do you actually even start this relationship and getting into retailers? How do you get how do you be successful going into retail?

Doug Helbig 14:28
I think out of the gate you know you are your brand and I think you know you know I think that you can grow your brand substantially without outsourcing sales people out of the gate and because you know you you're brand you are your brand, keep it in his in his in house as you can until you can't anymore. So, again, you know salespeople can be expensive and not always, you know, perfectly aligned. So don't rush towards that because again, like, no one's going to sell your product better than you because your product. So I really focus, focus your efforts there. I know a lot of companies to kind of have cofounders where, you know, if you have a business partner, and you know, one person's more of the marketing person, one person more of the sales person, just, you know, make sure that you focus on on that, you know, to build momentum. Because if you don't have momentum, and you again, you extend yourself too much, either with a salesperson or with, you know, bringing on a co-packer, you're gonna get out ahead of your skis, and it's just talking to be endwell for you.

Sari 15:34
Yeah, absolutely. And I feel like, there's probably three hats that people have to wear as a food brand. It's either its production, its marketing and then it's like social media and that kind of thing. And then there's sales. And I find most people, like, they love to make their product, and they kind of love to market it and do the social media, but then the sales are really intimidated by that. So what are some of the steps that people need to, you know, or things that they need to know, in this industry, when you want to start thinking about approaching even small retailers, like an Alfalfa's or independent grocery stores?

Unknown Speaker 16:15
Or think, you know, it's finding your point of differentiation. You know, it's a, it can be a very challenging landscape, and it's very competitive. So if you're making a, you know, a dip of some sort, what makes your dip better? You know, is it, is it the function that it brings? Is it the clean label that it brings? Is it is it solely built on just the the better taste, but you know, everyone's going to say that their product tastes the best. So, you know, if yours truly does, then that's, that's, you know, your job to kind of get that across, but really kind of finding your niche is, you know, there's, you know, that buyer is talking to thousands and thousands of brands, and they all are the best of the best. So why you like, what is it about you, that's going to get you on a shelf, and it doesn't always come down to taste because it's subjective. So, you know, if you're selling coffee in your buyer hates coffee, well, what do you lean on after that, and, you know, a good buyer doesn't basis decisions off of his taste for his or her taste profile. It's really again, back to data. So I think that if you're going to be in front of a, you know, if you have 10 minutes with a Whole Foods buyer in an elevator, you can sing your praises about how delicious your product is. But what is the differentiator? You know, why? Why me? And why am I going? Why are you gonna pick me over the 999 other brands that you're seeing this year? And I think the best way I could I told you, over and over again, the best way to cut through those 999 brands is data. So you know, again, starting your data story, wherever it is. And if you break into, you know, an Alfalfa's really, you know, focusing on perfecting that data story. So, you know, you do look strong, and they say, Wow, you do turn 10 times more product than the than the competition does. There's your leg up. So that's really going to be the key in kind of kind of the why, the why do you deserve to be on that shelf?

Sari 18:16
Yeah, I think people are surprised sometimes. I mean, as a former buyer, and then now with Food Business Success, or my one on one clients, like people like but don't you want to taste it first. And I'm like, actually, I mean, it better tastes great. Like, that just seems like that's a given. But you can't sell me on whether you should do this, or whether I'm going to put you on the shelf based on taste. Like a better taste great. But that's not what's gonna sell the product when it's on a store shelf.

Doug Helbig 18:48
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Sari 18:51
So I think people spend a lot of time trying to convince me of how how delicious it is. But that's not that's not as a buyer that's not actually high on my list. I mean, yes, it better tastes good, but there's so muh more.

Unknown Speaker 19:06
But that doesn't always translate through to sales. If it does, if it is the best tasting dip out there, then the sales will indicate it. And if you say I have the best tasting dip hands down, and I said, well, how your how are your sales and they're down 20%? Well, there's a huge disconnect. Because if you were the best than your sales, but indicators, so nothing, nothing cuts to the core quicker than data in approving that, you know, that I can be successful and I can I can help yours.

Sari 19:33
Yeah, totally. And, you know, there are some other data areas like social media that you could bring into it if you're really a very young company, you know, to some extent testimonials and things but just trying to find some of those nuggets. And I know we've talked about like, you know, how frequently should you approach retailers and you know, you're very rarely if ever going to get a Yeah, bring it on in first time, right?

Unknown Speaker 20:04
Time and time again, just due diligence, you know. But, you know, give them a reason to say yes, I want to come in to see you. Again, just saying the same thing over and over again, might taste the best, mine tastes the best not gonna get you there, you know. And you know, if, you know, you just have to continually improve your data story, because if, you know, they're reading your emails, you know, and if, if they didn't choose to meet with you, it's probably because your story wasn't as compelling as it needed to be. So but they're onboard, you know, it's what's great to see is progression too, is, Hey, I reached out to you six months ago, I have something, you know, really impressive to show you that we have tripled our sales since last time. You know, that's gonna catch your buyers is is wow, these guys are, are studying the data, and they're improving. And maybe you hit that threshold of Okay, come on in, or, hey, send me samples. So be diligent, you know, you have to find that sweet spot of, you know, not emailing them every single morning at 9am. But not reaching out once a year, you know? And for each brand that's different. Um, so I think that's, that's key.

Sari 21:08
Yeah, I think a lot of brands I work with, they're so scared about reaching out, and they don't want to bother them. And they haven't heard back and follow up schedule. And first of all, we should just say, like, you do need a system, let's just go back to the basics, like some kind of customer relationship management tool, or CRM. And sometimes that's just the spreadsheet. But you do need a tool to manage all of this, don't just make a note in a notepad and then hope that you'll remember that conversation and who, you know, all of the details that you need. So definitely have a system. And then I typically tell people, you know, every every two weeks to keep following up, especially with some kind of nugget, like, don't just be like, hey, here I am again, but offer something of value.

Unknown Speaker 22:02
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Again, there's 999 people that are in that same exact inbox as you and you know, the ones that get through are going to be the one that really wow them was something that you're not their first email, you're their 999 that day so.

Sari 22:19
Absolutely, yeah. And until you get that hard, no, and and even then you may still, you know, want to follow up more, you know, on occasion, but that follow through is huge. And and just because they don't respond to you right away doesn't mean that you, you know, you're not on their mind, or that they don't recognize you. And I think people are surprised too maybe you can speak to this at the long the long lead time it can take to get into a retailer. I mean, yes, with small independents, it could be a yes, fairly quickly. They can make room on their shelf, but can you speak to kind of the length of time it can take to get into some of these larger retailers?

Doug Helbig 23:01
I mean, some of the larger retailers can take. I mean, it can take 11 months, you know, 10-11 months. You know what what you're presenting now won't even hit the shelf until, you know, 11 months from now. So I think that first smaller startups, those windows are definitely a lot smaller. And, you know, those are for more national type rollouts. But, you know, I focus on, you know, what can you affect next month, not in 10 months. So can you get into alpha Alfalfa's in the next three, three weeks, go there. Once you get in, that you get the perfect that story until you go to the next level. So understand where you can find your wins, because, you know, you can't hold your breath for 10 months hoping you get a big national rollout. And then answer is no. You know, the progression of creating your data story and making it better and better over time doing it where you can have change, you know, your local, you know, local grocery store, like, like Local Lore in Denver, great, a great chain that works with local brands. You know, if you can crack in there and create your data story, again, you don't need a 60 page deck of data to show that you're warranted. You know, you can say that it was the number one best selling sauce six weeks in a row, you know, at this store called Local Lore. That's something you know, and, you know, it'll snowball, you know? And then then you get from there and you and you get into the three Alfalfa's and you become the best selling sauce there or your velocity is 50% better category there. That's going to really help you and you know, as that snowball grows, you know your first data nugget it's probably not going to be good enough to wow a buyer. But if you grow on that and you present your first bubble, and that bubble pops and you go to your bigger buy and you perfect that one, and just snowballs and before you know it you have a data story that's starting to turn heads.

Sari 24:57
Yeah, and it's a great reminder to don't just get To an account, that'd be like, great like, now I'm on to the next one, like, you really need to baby those early accounts. And I mean, all of them should be relationship based, but especially those early independents. Like really spend time there. And I know demos are not an option for most places anymore. And that was a typical strategy, but how can you still baby that relationship?

Doug Helbig 25:26
age old adage is, you know, getting it on the shelf is the easy part, you know? Getting the say, yes, put it on the shelf. That's the easy part. Now the work really begins because if you can't get that product to go turn back off of shelves, you'll be discontinued. So, you know, celebrate, celebrate your win until tomorrow morning, and then start working out how do I how do I create my story? My story, this opportunity, so I can go to the next level. But yeah, it's you gotta focus on getting it back off the shelf, not just on.

Sari 25:57
Yeah, exactly. And yeah, I mean, we see so many brands celebrate, like, I got to know, like, okay, that's, that was actually the easy part. And they don't they don't believe us.

Doug Helbig 26:09
Yeah. I always say you have to eat them tomorrow morning to celebrate. So when you have that when, you know, celebrate with your team, but then 8am the next day start working out again.

Sari 26:20
Yeah, exactly. Um, all right. Well, those are some great tips for people kind of in their early stage. They have a, you know, a more established brand, and they're taking it from a hobby business. So now for my big dreamers out there listening to this podcast that are like, I'm gonna be you know, in every Whole Foods and every Kroger, every Safeway. They want to, they want to take over the world, right? Or at least in your in your notes, he said, but we'll call it 500 locations. So well maybe want to take over the world yet, but so somebody wants to expand into new regions, get into a lot more stores. Now, we're probably talking about getting more help in the sales area.

Doug Helbig 27:11
Yeah, I think you know, when you get to that level, where you're in 500, plus locations, even still still relatively small, you know, comparatively speaking, but you want to get to that next level. And, you know, if you have to identify again, what is your strength? If your strength and operations and creating that best own product that you can focus there. Maybe you are a sales side. Maybe you're maybe you're an extrovert who loves to sell and, you know, your product operations takes a second seat? So it's really identifying what's your strength? Or more importantly, what's your weakness? And surrounding yourself with people who can turn those weaknesses. And I would say, you know, again, one of the best things about the industry is, you know, don't be a stranger. There's so many people that are willing to help. And there's so much free education and free insight and free knowledge out there, that, you know, just inject yourself into the community and definitely a little bit more challenging you know, this day and age. But, you know, when, you know, when the smoke rises from, from what we're going through, just getting yourself in the community, you'd be amazed at that one person knows three people who know three people, and you'll really learn a lot from just, you know, plugging yourself in the communities, especially the national foods community because we just have a propensity to everyone wants to help each other. So you can really go a long way. And, you know, still not even have to go hire that big, expensive salesperson, but just lean on your community, ask a lot of questions, make a lot of friends. And you'd be amazed, you'd be amazed at how you can.

Sari 28:42
Yeah, and I mean, the positive of kind of our current virtual situation is that now actually, everything is online and more accessible. So that's kind of one of the upsides is if you're in a more isolated area, or there's just a lot more opportunities, you don't have to be in person in that space anymore. So it'll be interesting to see how that evolves. And we'll we'll talk a little bit more about Colorado Food Works here in a minute, but communities huge. How do you use LinkedIn? I feel like that might be for for many early stage entrepreneurs, they don't realize how important LinkedIn is for growing their business.

Unknown Speaker 29:22
I think that's a great point. You know, I think that obviously your Instagrams, your Facebook's is more of a kind of consumer branding, but out of the gates, you know, building your infrastructure and learning, LinkedIn is a fantastic tool. And highly recommend just plugging yourself into as many networks as possible. So your news feeds bring up interesting articles and you get connected to people who, who know people and it's a great place to I mean, again, a lot of people are out there trying to give everyone a leg up if you can tell your story well on LinkedIn, you'll you can really turn some heads, you know, and even capture buyers attention or, you know, maybe there's an investor who loves your idea. So LinkedIn is a great, great tool for kind of, you know, less consumer facing, but more like, as you build the structure of your company, and a great tool, a great, great tool.

Sari 30:17
And even potentially more now, I mean, it always was being used that way, but now we're all connecting virtually anyway. Um, do you recommend having a business page as well as or are you talking about kind of using your personal?

Doug Helbig 30:32
Both. Both. Yeah, I think it's, I think it's important to tell your story both personally, but also, you know, by creating, you know, a brand page on LinkedIn. It helps it helps people find find your brand. Another great tool for kind of early stage is, was called Range Me. Um, it's a great kind of virtual way for buyers, as high as Walmart buyers. It's kind of a virtual, like a virtual kind of trade show, if you will, where it connects brands with buyers and buyers with brands. It's relatively affordable and you can, you know, virtually submit your presentation, your deck. They can reach out and request samples. So Range Me is another another way that technology is really helping kind of the younger startups become extremely relevant because, you know, it's it's tough to kind of jockey your way ahead of, you know, all the all the big Pepsi's and, you know, late July's and big companies of the world, but Range Me is a great tool that really kind of levels the playing field a little bit.

Sari 31:39
Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of brands I work with a, you know that that price of membership can seem really high, but it is an investment. And just like with any investment, you can't just set it and forget it. You know, you have to keep in it, you got to keep working that you got to combine with the LinkedIn approach. And like, you're really, you're working the back end of your business and making those connections. So you can't just list your product on range me and then be like, cool, where are all the people?

Doug Helbig 32:08
Yeah. You know, they'll give you prompts of like, hey, this, this, this retailer is reviewing this category, you know, this month, and so it's a really good tool to help you navigate and it can really make you relevant quickly.

Sari 32:22
Yeah, absolutely. And so any other oh, I guess we talked, we didn't kind of jump into higher so and then when do you use a broker as well? So I'm wanting to grow into those those 500 locations? Probably someone in sales would would be a good first hire, unless you're really that's like your strong suit. But yeah, talk about brokers a little bit.

Doug Helbig 32:48
Yeah, so you know, as with a lot of the things we've mentioned, you know, walk before you run. You know, if you don't have the ability to scale, it's going to be difficult to make that investment a worthwhile one. So, it you know, but a broker can really help, you know, help you, you know, craft your pitch. Can help you get in front of the right retailers. Can help you improve your performance at store level. Um, so, you know, I would say, you know, once you're between 500 and 1000 stores, is when you should start looking to, you know, potentially bring on a broker that fits you and, you know, starting small, starting regionally, you don't need a big national broker to go to go in it because, until you perfect in your region, there's no reason to go to national So, you know, find a local, find a local, a local broker, and during the Rocky Mountain area to help you grow that business. Once you've perfected that business, then you can, you know, maybe go to Southern California or Texas or North Northern California. So caution to not do it too soon. But when, you know, when it's time, it's a it's an invaluable tool to bring them on. And it's all about, you know, you know, getting brokers to hold them accountable is really the key. You know, brokers, I always have the the three A's, you know, you want your goals to be aggressive, yet attainable, and most importantly agreed upon, and that's how you get to that kind of that fourth A of accountability. Because, you know, it's like the squeaky wheel gets gets the oil syndrome, so make sure that you're, you know, being fair, but you know, really, really demanding accountability with brokers and you can really, you can really do a lot of a lot of damage.

Sari 34:32
Yeah, I mean, people are so excited to like hand off the reins to a broker, but then now you have a whole new job, and that's to manage the broker.

Doug Helbig 34:43
There's, you know, there's really good solutions as in terms there too. You know, I think that there's definitely a kind of an industry of kind of fractionalized salespeople. So you know, kind of think of it as more like a consultant. They maybe work with a few startup brands. Same time and really kind of teach them the ropes. There's also really good organizations that kind of are you know, external sales team. So if you're not ready to build out a sales team and if you don't have the bandwidth to manage a broker, which is a full time job, organizations like FDM are kind of outsourced sales teams that for small startups, they can really pack a punch in terms of the resources they provide you at a fraction of the costs. So there's definitely solutions, it's not okay, I need to go hire a VP of sales. Now, you know, you can, you can get by on your own you if you have the bandwidth to manage a broker, you can do it that way. You can bring in fractional sales people, you can bring in outsourced sales organizations. There really are a lot of tools and, and ask around, you know, ask, you know, you know, again, back to the community, what works for you, and you were small, you know, now you're a $12 million brand, when you were a $1 million brand, what did you do? What worked best? What were the mistakes you made? Because we've all made them. So you know, asking questions can really help you navigate better?

Sari 36:03
Yeah, I love that. That's good, good stuff in there. And, and, you know, just to clarify, for people who maybe are listening, they're like, I have no idea what a broker is, but so how would you define a broker just so we make sure people know what we're talking about here.

Doug Helbig 36:20
So a broker is an extension of your sales team. Um, you know, brokers do manage anywhere from 20 to 100 different brands at the same time. So you're not top of mind every second of the day. But, you know, they've got, you know, you know, personnel on their team, that is that they have standing meetings with, you know, Sprouts every week, and they have standing meetings with Natural Grocers of the week. So, you know, that brand provides value to the retailer, because instead of that buyer meeting with 50 different brands, they can meet with one person that represents those 50 brands. So it's an extension of your sales team. Some of them are small, regional boutique ones, some of them are national behemoth. So it's just what stage you're at, and finding the right one that really jives with your your brand and can get excited about selling your product on your behalf.

Sari 37:13
So I'm curious, you know, trade shows, obviously, when you're working on getting into those big retailers, that was a way that was kind of one of the main tools that people use. So what are you guys doing now at Alter Eco, or maybe you guys weren't even going to trade shows anymore, because you're a much larger brand. But any thoughts on trade show?

Doug Helbig 37:39
Definitely a fuzzy picture. You know, we're a little TBD on exactly what our plans are for next year. Trade shows can be a great, great way to build buzz on your brand, a great way to network. It's like networking on steroids. And, you know, it can be a great way for you to just connect eyes with the buyer. And you know, start things out there. Every brand has that story about doing an expo or fancy food show or even a smaller distributor show where the buyer walks up, you get three minutes of their time, they say I'll give you a shot. So really can be advantageous. It can be very expensive as well, I think, you know, what I would work on before a trade show is just perfecting, you know where you are. So whether that's a farmers market, or five stores or two regions, if you can't look in the mirror and say I've absolutely dominated this level, that's where I would spend that extra dollar because trade shows can cost $10,000. In that if you just take that took that same $10,000 and put it back into where you're currently working on, your data will be better, your data will be stronger. And at the end of the day, that $10,000 is going to build a stronger foundation for you. So it really just depends upon the, the the stage and the size of your company.

Sari 38:57
Yeah, that's that's a great advice. Because I think people want that they feel like a trade show is going to be a magic bullet for their success. But it's, you know, that's not for everyone right at the beginning, by any means. And there there can be a lot better investments in in your capital, and that it is a lot of money on hope and a prayer that you're going to meet that right buyer.

Doug Helbig 39:21
Yeah, but what doesn't, you know, because you're right, that's just one little, that's just one happenstance. But what's not a happenstance, strong data. Strong data and that doesn't go away. Whereas, you know, if you look, if you look the wrong direction, one time, you might miss that buyer, but your data is going to be there, your data is going to be a stronger foundation and the happenstance that you meet that buyer that you're looking to meet. So, again, investing, you're investing your story, invest in your metrics to make sure that you know the thing is to is when you get that buyer in front of you. If he says you know, well what are your sales and you spend all your money on building that relation as a tradeshow booth and you didn't invest it back into creating that rock solid data story, he's gonna say Nice to meet you, and he's gonna keep on walking. So Exactly. Really go back to that.

Sari 40:06
Yeah, I love it, we've really hit on. I mean, we could just keep talking about data, data data. But hopefully you guys have got her data story is really, really important. And Doug, and I talk more about that in that webinar that you can grab, going and listen to that for free. But we've talked a lot about community as well, besides data throughout this throughout this interview, so, I mean, you started Colorado Food Works with just some guys, right sitting over beers and talking about your

Unknown Speaker 40:36
You know it was, again, you know, when I came to the realization five years ago, that there's a wealth of knowledge out there, and it's free, and everyone's willing to give it. And so I really invested, you know, Carlota Food Works was, there was a little bit of a self experiment, I want to connect with more people so I could learn more. More do's or don'ts, more connections really started with me and a buddy getting together and just saying, Hey, I'll help you, if you help me. You know, we kind of signed off on that. And that turned into six people. And before we know it, we, you know, we had a board, and we we really launched it. Now, again, we're at 600 people, but it's the same exact thing, it's that it's the same two people sitting over a beer, agreeing to help each other, but it's just being done at a 600 person level now. So you know, so I mean, I've benefited, you know, both personally, you know, met some great friends really love helping out small companies and getting over that hurdle. But I've also really, really benefited, you know, professionally too, you know? There's a lot of connections I made directly from Colorado Food Works. And it just shows the power of the community, if you can really harness the power of a community, there's really nothing that can stop you. And so, you know, whether it's Colorado Food Works, or Naturally Boulder, or any kind of, you know, other, you know, meetup group is really encouraging you to, you know, find your community. Because the problems that you're having, someone's had before. And someone's gotten through them before. So the answers are out there, it's just a matter of finding them. So, you know, it is a weird time and obviously, you know, excited that excited that now you will be kind of taking over as the the new the new head of Colorado Food Works. For those of you guys who haven't heard the news, as of late, after five amazing years with Colorado Food Works, I have found a suitor who is going to take Colorado Food Works to great new levels and that's in Sari. She's got you know, great energy, great community building skills, and I'm excited to pass the torch to her but at its at its roots. It's it's just a great community, with people looking to help each other. So I'm excited that and I'm proud to have built the community here. And I'll always be such a, you know, big player in the community of natural foods in general, whether it's Denver, Boulder, you know, Austin, it's just, it's just, it's awesome to see so many familiar faces and friends, and, you know, everyone's willing to, you know, stick a hand out. So it's a really, it's a really great organization that we've created.

Sari 43:17
Yeah, well, thank you, again, for building such a great, great community. I know when I moved here, it was like, my dream was to, you know, be on the board of Colorado Food Works. And so I was very honored that, that you extended that invitation to to take over leadership of it and it's gonna be a fun ride. For sure. But but many people know you know, at Whole Foods Market, one of my jobs as the marketing director was about building community and, and that is definitely a big passion of mine. So really excited to help with that. So I guess yeah, that's that's Colorado Food Works. And you know, there are Naturally Austin, Naturally Chicago, lots of other food, larger food communities, but also Facebook groups and smaller groups. So definitely everyone listening, please go out and find support and find groups to help you through this journey. It is or can be a really lonely journey, being a solopreneur or even with a partner. And and I don't think you can grow without those connections. Like you can't grow your business in a vacuum. Would you agree with that?

Doug Helbig 44:30
Absolutely. Yeah, we're all we're all in this. in a weird way. We're all in this fight together, believe it or not, so. Yeah, never, never be a stranger. And, you know, this even goes to people listening. Feel free to find me on LinkedIn. I'm always I'm always there to grab a virtual cup of coffee and connect with brands who have questions though. Yeah, please, please reach out if I can help out in any way.

Sari 44:53
Awesome. Yeah, so all I'll put Doug's information in the show notes, but so I've been wrapping up interviews with a quote from Michelle Norris, "let's not strive for normal, let's strive for better." And I think that nowhere in my mind, is that more clear than in the food industry that things are getting shaken up. So how, from your perspective, how do you think the industry is changing for the better?

Unknown Speaker 45:22
I think the one thing that has really come to come to light during all this craziness is, food is one of the most universal connectors of humans, you know? From, you know, going out to eat, which is a little bit different. Now, just sitting down with your family to baking a loaf of bread, and food is really the glue that kind of hold, you know, hold society together in a way. And I think we're all very fortunate to be in a, in an industry that is, you know, in a weird way, kind of benefiting from what we're going through. And it just shows the importance of food. You know, we're not, we're not just selling X, we really are, you know, all kind of woven together in this, this, this food system that really connect connects society and, and brings people so much joy. And so it's just really neat to be in that industry where people need food, you know, more than ever right now for more than just, you know, breakfast, lunch and dinner, but for bringing people together for finding hobbies, for getting healthy for all those types of things. And so it's really neat to be a part of, for that reason.

Sari 46:30
Yeah. 100% I mean, people are pivoting and evolving. And kind of, there's been some really neat innovation. I think, these kind of things always spark innovation, but we all have to eat. And so we're kind of figuring out what that new landscape looks like. You would also written down Alter Eco Foundation, what's that about?

Doug Helbig 46:52
That's a great thing that we're really excited about. Alter Eco, is my current job. And I'm the VP of sales, they're a great, great chocolate company, but a company that really does demonstrate, you know, doing doing right, not just kind of creating a product, but doing right by consumers, by our farmers and by our products. So the Alter Eco Foundation is something that's launching later this year. Um, and it's a, it's a great way of saying, you know, going that next step of saying, okay, I want to help the farmers I want to help. But ultra Alter Eco Foundation is a completely separate entity from Alter Eco Foods, where we're taking this so seriously that the Alter Eco 1foundation needed to be created because we had so much to do and so much to invest in so much to get back into. So, you know, a lot of brands definitely do a great job giving back. But doing it at such a level to spin off and create its own entity that solely focuses on giving is really, really special. And so as we look at how to do things better, you know, definitely bias that Alter Eco is an excellent example of brands going that extra 10 miles to really make sure that what we're doing matters. And we're not just, you know, flinging chocolate bars at the grocery store, we're doing things that help the planet, to help our farmers. And it's just a really, really neat place to place to be. So you know, check out the Alter Eco Foundation, some of the really awesome things that we're doing and how we're, you know, making, making the planet better, you know, one chocolate bar at a time.

Sari 48:29
That's awesome. I will definitely go check that out. And hopefully everyone goes and sees what you guys are doing that's got to be really fun to be part of such a great organization. Well, thank you so much for your time. I mean, you are a wealth of knowledge, especially around this sales piece that can be awfully scary for many, many early stage foodprenuers and just sharing your insight and wisdom. And, yeah, if you could offer that one last sentence of advice to anyone starting out, what would that be?

Doug Helbig 49:01
You know, just remain committed. It's not It's not always easy. Sometimes it's you know, harder than it is easier. But the brands that really do dig their heels in and pour their passion into what they do, those are the brands that you see resonating on shelf.

Sari 49:15
Absolutely. And data! Data, data data. All right. Well, you have a fantastic day. Thanks again for joining me, Doug. I really appreciate it.

Doug Helbig 49:26
Thanks so much. Take care.

Sari 49:28
All right. That's it for today's podcast. Thanks everyone for joining us and go check out the show notes for all the links that we talked about. And I will talk to you next time.

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