15 Dec “It Takes What It Takes” – A Tale of Two Product Launches
Launching a new product can be both exhilarating and terrifying. To help ease some of the woos, we sat down with two powerhouse CEOs to hear their tales of what it was like to launch a new product. Megan Foreman, Co-Owner of Gracious Bakery, and Erika Lassair, CEO of Diva Dawg, will share the mistakes made and lessons learned along each of their product launch journeys.
When Megan Forman and her husband Jay opened Gracious Bakery in 2012, their idea was to bring great coffee and great food together in one place. Nearly one decade and three locations later, a global pandemic prompted them to consider a new line of business. In November 2020, Gracious Bakery debuted its first packaged good – a boxed King Cake kit.
“We thought it was great for the pandemic, because a lot of people had learned how to bake, so this yeast packet and this mix we were doing was not as intimidating as it may have been in previous years,” Forman said. “Also because people weren’t going out as much, it was something you could do at home. Everyone had a lot of time on their hands.”
Their first run did well, selling roughly 5,000 kits.
“It was exciting! We didn’t have money for market viability tests, we just thought it was a great idea. I’m pleasantly surprised to see it do well,” Forman said.
Ericka Lassair’s first foray into food was her Diva Dawg restaurant, which became Diva Dawg food truck in 2014. She also has a catering service and most recently jumped into the consumer packaged goods arena with Chef Diva Foods – which currently includes a plant-based etouffee sauce and spice mix.
“I’ve always wanted to bottle my sauces and spices, but I didn’t know how to go about it. But the pandemic gave me more time to focus on it,” Lassair said.
“You think you can just put a sauce in a bottle and boom there it is, but there’s so many moving parts. It actually took a year to really get going.”
The know-how wasn’t her only hurdle. Lassair launched Chef Diva Foods in early September 2021 without any product in hand because the power outage from Hurricane Ida meant her entire inventory was ruined due to lack of refrigeration. It took two more months to get the product replaced because of supply chain challenges.
“I feel like I’ve restarted several times in my business. Entrepreneurship takes a toll on you and you have to navigate through the ups and downs and seeing it as something positive and something new and bigger coming ahead,” she said.
Both Forman and Lassair pointed to several lessons learned along their journey to bring a packaged good to market.
Lesson #1- Know your limits and ask for help when you need it.
“We knew that if we did this that we would have to outsource it because we don’t have the facilities for the packaging that has to happen,” said Forman, of her King Cake kit that had 8 separate components. “It’s very hard to find something custom like this. We ended up finding someone Jay met at a networking event. We signed a non-disclosure to protect our proprietary recipe and had upwards of 5 or so iterations…they really did an amazing job.”
Forman recommends getting a lot of eyes to proof packaging. And although mistakes will undoubtedly happen, try to find someone to help you avoid the costlier ones.
“Find yourself a mentor or someone who has done this to talk through some of those details,” she said. “The more information, the better.”
Lesson #2-Be willing to consider different approaches to your product.
“I went back and forth with the plant-based sauce because I didn’t not want to do my original sauce, but I was encouraged to go this route because there’s a need for it, pay attention to the changes in the world, no one is doing it,” said Lassair, who came around to the concept. But, she said, “It was a lot of work. I had to redo the recipe to make it gluten-free, vegan, and still having the same flavor as my original sauce.”
She plans to eventually have her original sauce out under the Diva Dawg name – creating a plant-based line and an original products line to help boost her sales.
Lesson #3- Leverage local support.
“We had a lot of luck locally and shipped a lot last year, right after Thanksgiving. People start thinking it’s great for gifts, great for Mardi Gras,” Forman said.
Lassair is still working on where and how she’ll sell her products. In New Orleans, it is available at Southern Food & Beverage Museum and also on her website(link to purchase). She plans to approach smaller locally-owned grocery stores in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette in the coming months.
“I would love to have a partnership or help with this because it is new to me. I want to grow bigger than just me doing it,” she said. She’s approached at least one national partner to inquire.
Lesson #4- Everyone has a learning curve.
Forman admits Gracious Bakery struggled taking the King Cake kits from regional to national outlets. Though they had conversations with some large brand-name national retailers, it hasn’t yet resulted in partnerships.
“I feel like Jay and I are still such a mom-and-pop shop. We don’t have a lot of money for marketing and we’re still cold calling people,” Forman said. “You have to learn somewhere. All I can do is ask around and try crowdsource information. You really need someone to help you out – that’s why I love what you guys do [at Go.Be.]. It’s like, why are people not helping each other out more?”
Despite the lack of help offered, Forman says she operates differently.
“Everyone that I work with, I tell them, if you’re going to do your own thing, please come to us first. If I can tell you about any mistakes I made I will be happy to, because that’s the whole point of getting experience. Among the things she had to learn: wholesale versus retail pricing, margins and markup for distributor sales.
The entire process was a lesson, Lassair said.
“From finding my bottles to my lids to my labels. Finding a manufacturer – which came first and they helped with a lot of steps I didn’t have to take care of,” she said. “What do I need to say and prepare for when I am approaching people to have the product in stores? I’m still learning that process as well.”
Lassair is a big advocate of continuing to educate herself and that’s her biggest tip for others interested in launching a product. She echoes Forman’s advice to find others who have been where you are for guidance.
“I love opportunities where I can learn and also network with other people because it helps you expand your entrepreneur circle of resources and that’s the one thing that helps me throughout this process. Surrounding yourself with people in business where you want to go so that you can reach out with those small questions,” she said.
Lesson #5- Keep innovating.
Lassair says she’ll work on marketing her etouffee sauce for a year before rolling out new different sauces and other products. “I’m hoping by Essence [Festival] I’ll be able to feature the sauce and myself to a bigger audience,” she said.
There is a vulnerability as a creative person in making something and putting yourself out there, Forman said. But, she added, she’d do it again.
“It takes what it takes, right?” she said. “When you’re putting yourself out there and trying things for the first time, you’re going to have some money wasted. Even if you’re asking and getting all the information, you just have to do it yourself and learn what to look for in the next round. You have to have some stumbles.”
Next on the horizon for Forman and Gracious Bakery is a specialty grind for iced coffee that customers can take home and brew themselves. Find them online at www.graciousbakery.com and on Instagram at @graciousbakery.