Learn from the food industry to spice up your product management
I have often discovered new insights about developing and managing products when talking with someone in a different industry than I normally work in. So, when I had the opportunity to talk with the creator of Dave’s Gourmet, a specialty foods company, I jumped at it. They make a wide range of products including Gourmet Pasta Sauce, Hot Sauce, Condiments and Spices.
Dave Hirschkop is the founder and creative force behind Dave’s Gourmet. He joined us to discuss how to go from idea to award-winning food product.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers[2:50] How did you come up with the idea for Dave’s Insanity Sauce?
I opened a taqueria and starting making really hot sauces to mess with the drunk people who would come in, and I found that some people actually liked it. I made the sauces hotter and hotter and finally made the hottest sauce in the world.
[4:42] Where do you start when it comes to bringing a food product to market?
A lot of people start at home with what they like. There are two categories of food products. One is the better mousetrap, like a salsa that tastes better, perhaps based on a secret family recipe. The second is a solution to a problem such as a nutritional challenge. Once you have an idea, make sure that you can make it attractively and consistently, scale up the production level, and implement food safety. You also need to test whether others like your product enough to pay for it.
[7:36] If I come up with a wicked Mac and Cheese that I want to sell, what would I do next?
First, whip up a bunch of it and have a tasting party where a hundred strangers try it and give you feedback. You can also gauge how much people might be willing to pay for it. Next, consider production by looking at how mac and cheese is packaged. You might freeze yours and see if it still tastes good. Find out what would be involved in production by talking with a co-packer or an R&D consultant. Test any modifications you need to make for production. Selling your product at consumer fairs is a great way to make money and get feedback.
[13:34] What should you consider when using a co-packer?
Your product will always have some differences when you switch to a co-packer or from one co-packer to another. You will have to make trade-offs between cost and logistics like the availability of your ingredients. Know what your consumer likes about your product, and know what your goal for your business is. If you maintain the purity of your product, you may sacrifice some commercial success. And that’s okay–you can make good money in a niche.
[16:36] How vulnerable is the food industry to supplier issues?
It’s tough. One of our first products was a pasta sauce made with yellow tomatoes from only one supplier. When the supplier went bankrupt, we were out of business. A big company can create an entire supply chain, but a small company has to rely on bigger companies. Small companies need some luck to run into the right supplier. You may have to convince co-packers to make something special for you. If you want to innovate, you have to push.
[19:53] How can food contests help you?
Winning contests validates your product and gives you free marketing. The online digital space is another great way to test a product visually and conceptually.
[21:50] Why is it important to know your customers?
The customers of food companies vary alot. Your customers depend on your packaging, pricing, and marketing. Be scrappy. Ask yourself, where are my consumers? Don’t get too comfortable with your product. Be ready to change.
[24:31] What was the tipping point that put Insanity Sauce on the map?
We’re an odd company because Insanity Sauce was an instant hit. We were cheeky but it was fitting. I wore a straight jacket to trade shows and our booth looked like an insane asylum. It took off fast, but because it takes customers so long to use a jar of hot sauce, we knew we weren’t going to get very large. So we shifted by adding unique pasta sauces. I thought, why does pasta sauce have to be red? Why not use heirloom tomatoes or butternut squash? We are better known for hot sauce, but we sell more pasta sauce. For me, a worthwhile product has to be something new that will help people–something special that moves the market forward.
“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
“There are not more than five primary colours, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.
“There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavours than can ever be tasted.”
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.