Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Saga of Socially Responsible Sourcing – Chapter One. The Problem.

I work with small specialty and artisan cheese plants that are nestled in the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin.  They get their milk from small family farms.  One of my plants even takes milk in metal cans that the Amish deliver on horse-drawn wagons. 

So when it came time for me to develop our whey products, I really wanted to make sure that we knew where all of our ingredients came from.  One way people suggest that I do this is to source everything locally.  Nice idea, but I live in Wisconsin; it’s hard to get things like chocolate and vanilla locally.  These are the two most popular flavors for whey products, by far. Also, as someone who lives with indigenous people in the Amazon for fun, I know what a huge positive impact we can have when we responsibly source products from indigenous and other at risk communities around the world.  To me, the whole local food thing is really just another form of American myopia; I don’t believe that an apple grown within 10 miles of home that was drenched in pesticides and herbicides is better than an organic apple from Mexico because it didn’t travel as far.  It may actually use more petroleum based products than an organic apple from Mexico because apples are shipped in truckload quantities.  For me, knowing that I can make a huge positive impact in this world when I purchase things from people who are environmental and social stewards is far more important than distance.

After some effort, I still don’t know where all of my ingredients come from.  I am, however, a very persistent person, so I am determined to find a way to source with total transparency.  It may take me years to achieve this, so this is likely to be the first of a long series of stories  that will take me from the typical intentionally obfuscated way that food and supplement products get assembled in this world to an alternative that offers global transparency. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wow.  After so many months of legwork, groundwork, and every other kind of work you can imagine, things are now moving at a furious pace.  The first bag of powder out of our dryer landed on my desk Friday afternoon.  We're adding another half time staff person this week, which will put us at 7 1.2 fte employees.  By the end of the month we will be up to 11; by the end of April we'll be up to 14. We have our first signed contract for a significant volume of bulk organic whey and our first letter of intent to purchase goat whey.  So, things are moving full steam ahead.  Like most startups, we're in a race to get cash flow moving and we're doing it in the worst economy in living memory. What could possibly be stressful about this???

Canoecopia was a great success! We have the first 100 qualified customers in our sales database and a ton of feedback from real customers.  Interesting thing number one: at least 75% of the people we talked to who were seriously interested were women.  Another group was men who currently take whey protein with creatine and other additives in it who thought their wives would like this product better.  Most saw it as something convenient for camping and canoe trips and as a permanent change for their diet.  We now have customers from throughout Wisconsin, Chicago, and even NYC.  A number were planning to share our story and products with members of their family.  Lots of people had questions about the health benefits of whey. While only some of the potential customers envisioned using the whey powder on trips, there is clearly overlap between our target market and the paddlesport crowd.  And it really is amazing.  We talked about developing products and targeting them toward women, without customizing them to the point where they wouldn't work for men.  The result is just as we anticipated. That is certainly gratifying.  That and being able to work with people on something as important as their health and the health of the planet.  

Friday, March 13, 2009

teraswhey's maiden voyage

We're loading in for our first tradeshow and the first public display of our brand.  Wow.  It’s a great place to do it.  Right in Madison.  Canoecopia, the biggest paddlesport show in the country.  It’s open to the public so we’ll get the chance to trial our products with 22,000 people in our target market.  Our booth is my kayak, which now has teraswhey bumper stickers on it.  We actually have a backdrop sign with a huge teraswhey on it and mocked up packaging.  Our own products wont be available for about another month but we have R & D trial samples for some of our flavors.  

All a grand experiment.  It feels like its time for this brand to finally come out of the closet, albeit a bit before its time.  We’ll get  a lot of great tasting and pricing feedback, start developing a mailing list, and learn more about opportunities to work with outfitters, outdoor events, publications to get the word out about our brand. 

Of course, this means we need to have web ordering capability up and running asap.  This startup thing is unreal.  No matter what we manage to accomplish, there always seems to be something else that needs to happen next.