Can vs. Should - The Eternal Struggle Between What I Want to Say and What I Should Say

It's been about one month since my last post and I've spent the majority of that time on product development; our Classic Brownie is now optimized for shelf life and is baked without any nut products making it more accessible. While our chocolate bomb has been a labor of love, our next product in development, tentatively titled, "Oat to Joy" is an instant winner - but just because I built it doesn't mean they'll come. So I'm trying to figure out the best way to leverage this product's attributes as I portray in its best possible light. I have so many things that I should say, and only so many that I can - where's the balance?

That's why I'm writing this post - in part to think out loud, but also to ask for your help. So here goes: the first and foremost element that stands out about our Oatmeal Raisin Cookie is its taste and texture - both spot on. In other words, absent all other attributes, it's just a delicious cookie. But it does have other attributes, lots of them, and there's a point where there's information overload or in this case, a degree of 'unbelievability' that requires validation. I've already got five significant (and marketable) claims that span all of our products:

  • 4 grams of sugar (found naturally in my other ingredients) means that I can claim both "lower in sugar," and "no sugar added" - Read this for more info.
  • 8 grams of fiber means that I can make the claim, "very high source of fiber"
  • No dairy or eggs means that I can claim that my products are vegan
  • No gluten-containing ingredients and products baked in a dedicated gluten-free facility means that I can claim that my products are gluten free
  • Same goes with Kosher Parve 

Probably enough. Certainly when you're working with limited space on your packaging, you have to be very creative with your messaging and your representations. However, in developing this product, I wanted a more significant "1-2" punch than just high fiber, low sugar. Vegan, GF and Kosher are minimum requirements these days. What else could we do?

One day a few weeks ago, I absentmindedly put a MadeGood bar in my pocket before leaving to pick up my son from daycare. We buy them because he likes them and they're as healthy a snack as he's going to get without us cooking them ourselves. Our first introduction to the brand included a remark about it containing one full serving of fruits in each bar - a novelty for us because at the time, we couldn't get our son to eat anything healthy at all. Thankfully that's all changed now, but he still likes them and indeed, they're a good product. 

What if there was a better product though? What if instead of one serving, there were 5 or 6? What if we could create a truly delicious cookie that contained 50%, or even 100% of your daily recommended 6 essential vitamins and nutrients? You wouldn't have to force your kid to eat their broccoli, you could just give them a tasty cookie.

So that's what we did, using an amazing (read: natural) vitamin extract powder derived from fruits and vegetables. In fact, you can get those servings from just 225mg. That's less than 1/4 of 1 gram (less than a very small pinch). It's important because that volume makes it a very affordable ingredient to add as well as one that is undetectable from a taste or texture perspective. It's a ghost ingredient with incredible, and unfortunately, unbelievable attributes. 

Claiming that one cookie contains 5 servings of fruits and vegetables is just too incredible of a claim. It just doesn't sit right. Perhaps I'm simple minded, but reading that would make me think how impossible it would be to shrink 5 fruits/vegetables into one cookie. Than I'd dismiss that thought as a brain fart and immediately just assume that the cookie tasted like an artificially enhanced nutrient bar that usually just taste horrible. Remember that the whole point of Bald Baker is to provide a fantastic indulging experience.  

You're supposed to end blog posts with conclusions, not open questions. I haven't figured out the answer yet - it's a design question no doubt, an area that I have negative skills in. At a market this past weekend, I asked consumers that were interested in the Oat to Joy what they thought, and the unanimous response was that if I was going to make that claim, then I'd have to find a way to succinctly, and believably validate it. I already have five good health claims, there's almost no room for a sixth, much less one that I have to expound upon. It's too juicy of an attribute to ignore, both from the perspective of making an excellent product, and a profitable one.

I'll wrap this up with one or two final thoughts: It's important, in fact the most important value of Bald Baker to create delicious and satisfying products and this Oat to Joy is one of, if not the most shining reflection of that value. The vitamin claim is just an exercise in creativity; a challenge like any other to be overcome as the company continues to push the idea that healthy desserts can be amazing. For anyone out there that is working through their own development challenges - keep pushing. The answer is out there. 

Fine Line Between Evolution and Deviation

I started this blog post intent on writing about the value I place on creating and presenting a polished product. Good God, I don't think I could have written anything more boring. So as has happened so many times in this company's short life, I poured two fingers of my bottle of the moment and put on some music in order to get the creative juices flowing. Now, I can write about this theme that has been playing out in my mind recently: is growth a function of evolution, or deviation?

Metallica (one of my favorite bands) grappled with this exact question in the early 90's.  In making the famous Black Album, the band tried to evolve their sound to appeal more broadly while staying true to their head-banging roots. Ultimately, this became their best selling album, having gone platinum 16 times! They did really, really well despite losing what many consider to be their edge. (Stretch here, get ready) Like Metallica, I'm trying to evolve out of my roots at the farmers' market level by 'going retail' in order to grow the company. I'm trying to balance product evolution with legitimacy, but if ever there was a fine line, this is it: people want indulgence, but they also want authenticity. I'm really worried that I'll lose the authenticity that helped me launch Bald Baker by wrapping my products up in a polished and professional way in order to make them available on a mass scale.

This may be ambitious, but I think success is balancing the two properly which can be accomplished as long as you stay true to your raison d'etre. In fact, creating a widely-available/accepted, healthy treat isn't a contradiction in terms.  Weston Foods believes you can have both (I have to say it - have your cake and eat it too). They cite the clear trend towards healthy and conscientious eating as the reason to invest millions in the very market that Bald Baker is operating in. Rather than get scared off, I interpret this as validation that I'm on the right path. My reason for being is to reconnect you with life's simple joys; to create a happy, worry-free indulgent experience for you. As long as I don't vear too far away from that, than I can justify evolving our products. 

I'm writing on the eve of my great conundrum and the company's next major step forward: we're about to invest significantly in printed, coated wrapping materials for our treats that will save us valuable time and money, dramatically extend shelf life and lend a degree of credibility to our retail growth strategy. However, a funny thing happens when you take the same brownie and put it inside a wrapper: the expectations of the consumer change radically: cost elasticity, shelf-life expectations, quality judgments, consistency, etc, are all things that start to weigh on the purchase decision in a store relative to a market.

Here's how I'm justifying this: our overall look will be much more polished: one (of four) of the core pillars that I believe characterizes Bald Baker (the other three being Relevance, Authenticity & Gourmet). They all point to the same thing: the satisfaction you get when you indulge in a Bald Baker treat. Our company exists as the antithesis to what's on the market right now: low quality desserts that make you feel like you're settling; like you're second class. That feeling is unacceptable to us and so before you even take one bite, you should see a product that evokes certain images, feelings and physical responses, like salivation or the need to instagram what you're about to do. A polished product is a catalyst to a consumer experiencing two key, pivotal feelings: anticipation and excitement both for how it's going to taste and how you're going to feel. 

At least that's my hypothesis and I could be way off, but as an entrepreneur, if you can't follow your gut, why bother? A little polish goes a long way, so I started refining our image at the beginning of the year with a new booth experience:

Next, we're further refining the company's image with updated individual packaging. We're also going to spruce up our instagram community in the next few months to be more engaging.  It's not an overhaul. It's evolution. It's us acting our age and preparing for the next stage. 

 

Daniel Sennet
Switching it Up...

When I was invited by the fabulous Neha of Switch Grocery to contribute the below blog post to her company's blog, I jumped at the opportunity. Switch Grocery is founded on the very same principles as Bald Baker, and Neha has built the company into the exact partner that I could only have dreamt of being with when I started BB. Switch has enable me to bring our scrumptious treats to you; to put a smile on your face and a sense of satisfaction in your bellies.

What's below is a slightly edited version of that post, but part I of IV in a series that ties the main drivers of our company to the four principles it is founded upon: Relevance, Authenticity, Gourmet & Polish. I want to take some to be fully transparent about why we have made certain decisions as they relate to our products' development; specifically why we have chosen to use some of the ingredients that we do.

I legally established Bald Baker a little more than a year ago, but it really started a few years before that on a trip I was on with my brother and father in New Orleans. Our old man is my mentor, my advisor, my friend... he’s my father… and that’s why I was so terrified one night when he experienced a glycemic event after dinner. Within 30 minutes of finishing the meal, and not one in which he imbibed or ‘cheated’ with his carbs, his body just shut down. From hero to zero; full blackout. I realized in that moment that his struggle is real. Deadly real. And I was somewhat ashamed of my ignorance or even dismissal of it. As a relatively healthy, gym-going, balanced lifestyle individual, I couldn’t help but think, “You have diabetes. Stop eating sugar. Simple.”

Not so simple. I don’t have to tell you, but sugar is everywhere. Places you’d expect (like soda and most carbonated beverages), and that you wouldn’t (yogurt, pasta sauce, bread). Whether we know it or like it or not, we are chemically addicted. It is one molecule away from pure cocaine.

If a person decides to buy something in a grocery store (as opposed to baking at home), the options are limited and from what is available, the quality of the experience is very low. The branding/packaging resonates with the words: “I’m settling for something that I don’t really want, but that’s all there is.” The ingredients almost always include high-glycemic carbs, and/or high-glycemic, alternative sugars (like ‘natural’ maple syrup, honey or agave) or very poor-reputation sweeteners, like aspartame, splenda or maltitol. In other words, everything about buying a low- or no-sugar treat was negatively reinforcing, even depressing,and I knew that to be successful, my company had to be the antithesis of the norm. I had to switch things up.

So I started Bald Baker... and that’s when the fun began. I originally conceived of it as a ‘diabetic friendly dessert company.’ However, I quickly realized that sugar management is a much bigger challenge faced by many more people than just Type II diabetics. Through the genius of the company’s Chief Cookie Officer, our products became vegan and grain-free, and now, they’re kosher too. These groups encompass three very large demographics of people who are all on a spectrum of consciously trying to reduce their sugar intake. Soon after starting to produce our treats at FoodStarter, the wonderful Neha got wind of our products and proclaimed, “Hey! These are keto-friendly!” Since that moment, Switch has become our greatest ally and best friend.

In the year since we started producing our treats, I’ve been fortunate to meet thousands of people, all very impressed with our products.  A few questions or themes continuously arise that I’d like to share with you. I believe in full transparency in everything I do, so here it goes:

The first question that always pops up is “what do you use to sweeten your products?”, to which my standard reply is: “our primary sweetener is erythritol, it comes from non-GMO cornstarch, does not cause any gastrointestinal side effects [right about now, the one asking inevitably rolls their eyes], has no calories, is no glycemic impact, and doesn’t cause tooth decay. The only quirky thing about it is that it’s only about 70% as sweet as sugar, so we top it off with a bit of stevia.” Then I hear, “oh stevia - I’m familiar with that product. Ok cool.” There’s so much more to the erythritol story. The very fact that it’s a ‘sugar alcohol’ - but neither a sugar nor an alcohol - raises a few eyebrows. Its cousin, maltitol (used to sweeten 99% of sugar-free chocolate), has well publicized side effects of a flatulent nature. So there is a natural degree of fear by association, however unfounded. When we were deep in product development, I experimented with almost every approved sugar substitute; erythritol was my second choice, behind monkfruit. Both substances bake well, have negligible glycemic impact and are readily available. Unfortunately, monkfruit is not approved for commercial usage in Canada by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). This really irks me because there are more than one well-recognized, highly-regarded products that sweeten with monkfruit - which is outright illegal. For now. It’s a case of, “I would if I could, but I can’t, so I won’t.”

The next question I inevitably get is, “ugh - I’d eat your treats but you use canola oil. I hate canola oil.” When asked why, most people don’t have an answer, other than its processed in a way they disagree with. I addressed this issue in a blog post from my website called Hard Choices (Vol 1) and here’s the excerpt:

"Canola vs. Coconut Oil. I've been going and back and forth on this one for a while now. Coconut oil has recently been the recipient of some bad press. As Huffington Post notes, it's complicated. The American Health Association (which in my opinion sways which ever way the wind blows) released a pretty scathing report that blasted coconut oil, primarily due its relatively high saturated fat content. Once the direct correlation with cardiovascular disease was established, coconut oil suddenly became vilified. Canola oil's rich supply of Vitamin E and Vitamin K cast it in a much more favorable light than coconut oil. On the business side of things, coconut oil is roughly 4x - 6x more expensive than vegetable or canola oil, both much lower in saturated fat. SFGATE did a comparison of the two and noted that, "The unsaturated fats in canola oil lower cholesterol and its omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout the body." So far, it looks like canola oil for the win. BUT, unrefined coconut oil is high in antioxidants and imparts a great aroma and flavor. Our understanding of the pros and cons of saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, etc., are elementary, if not evolving constantly. Every dietitian, nutritionist, healthy and/or culinary-savvy individual I've come across has applauded my use of coconut oil. Who am I to listen to? The people who have supported my business directly; the same people I set out to understand at the beginning of the summer? Or the scientists publishing reports? Or the economics of the day-to-day ingredient purchasing?"

I wound up moving forward with canola oil based on it’s known positive attributes. Bald Baker has a commitment to quality, but every ingredient is a conscious decision that accounts for how to market the product and how to scale the company. I honestly do not believe that using canola oil is settling or lowering our standards. It’s a great ingredient, cost effective, easily accessible, less temperamental and much easier to bake with under any condition (for reasons including that it is a stable liquid at room temperature).

When you think about retailers demanding a 40% margin when they sell a product, and distributors demanding a 35% margin when they buy from the producer and sell to a retailer, there’s not much left. That’s why the vast majority of niche products stay that way - scalability is prohibitively expensive. This is one the biggest reasons why I also use artificial vanilla flavoring instead of natural vanilla extract. A few retailers have commented on my use of that specific ingredient as an inhibitor to listing. It’s unfortunate for a few reasons. The cheapest that I’ve found natural vanilla is $82.43/litre from a wholesaler. Let’s assume that I’ve missed the mark big time and that I can find it somewhere for 50% cheaper, or $41.22/litre. That’s highly unlikely, but stay with me. Compared to the surreal price of $41.22/litre, artificial vanilla is $5/litre on the expensive side, ROUGHLY ⅛ THE PRICE! Compared to the current actual cheapest price, artificial vanilla is 1/16 of the price. From what I can tell, no large company uses natural vanilla; everyone uses artificial and labels it as “vanilla flavoring” or “vanilla extract”, which is entirely misleading and the CFIA is somewhat ambiguous. If an ingredient is artificial, you must say so. However, If the total volume used is under 2% you can label with “xyz flavoring.” Just Google how many different ingredients are masked with that term. It's concerning. Nevermind that numerous taste tests conclude that there is either no difference between the two, or a slight preference towards artificial, the term natural has taken on a life of its own and people are starting to demand it. So I'm now considering removing it from our products all together.

Satisfying a sweet tooth shouldn’t be an act of remorseful indulgence. At Bald Baker, we make eating any and all of our treats a satisfying, rewarding and ultimately, fun experience. Our products let you have your cookie, and eat it too! We’ve made it fun to indulge again and we want you to enjoy every aspect of treating yourself.

I want to end on a note about our fear or rather, abhorrence of laziness. We were lucky enough to be awarded a grant from the Ontario Centers of Excellence to work with the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The project involves optimizing the formulas for scalability with a primary focus on natural shelf life extension. In other words, I want our products to continually improve, to taste better, to last longer (using no artificial, hard-to-pronounce chemicals!) and to be even more satisfying. After all - that’s what you deserve.

If you have any questions or comments, you can always reach me at treatme@baldbaker.ca. I hope to hear from you.


Dan

Daniel Sennet
The Effect of Entrepreneurship on Relationships

As an entrepreneur, I believe that my relationship-building skills have been the most utilized and the most significant catalyst to the company's growth. Yet, as I form strong bonds with the company's consumers, our retail partners, our suppliers and our vendors, I can see how easy it is to weaken the ones I have with those who are truly closest to me.

What I mean by that is every time I see a repeat customer, there's a warm, familial greeting; same goes with a retail contact that has agreed to carry our product. It's like meeting a new best friend and you can't express your joy or gratitude enough. But the people who are directly responsible for this company's growth, the ones who poured forth their blood sweat and tears in the form of late nigh packaging parties, listening ears, sympathetic advice or just standing with me for countless hours at the markets, events, expos and tradeshows, are the ones most easily taken for granted and under-appreciated. 

It's a shame and loathe as I am to take responsibility, I am to blame.

I'm not alone.  In fact, I've come into contact with too many people in similar positions - growing companies requiring every last waking breath of the entrepreneur(s) behind them, but at great personal expense. It's ironic in that like me, many entrepreneurs are building their companies inspired by- and in the name of, their loved ones. It's a difficult balancing act - professional success requires focus and great effort, but so too does maintaining healthy relationships. The people who love you and who have been there for you every step of the way deserve your mutual love, admiration and respect. Undoubtedly, they have it, but it's important to express it from time to time. That admittedly, is a daily struggle for me, but I'm trying.

So what's one to do? I think that no matter what, the support of your family and friends is committed out of love for you (and perhaps, if you're lucky, a shared vision for your company) and so it's your obligation to do everything possible to make the company successful. Your success is their success. Otherwise, a little token of appreciation can go a long way. I once presented my wife with four different brownies to sample to which she replied, "I've waited a long time to finally get my rewards from this company." I mention that moment because of my belief that when it makes sense, include who you can in the process - let them know that their opinions and advice are appreciated. And when and wherever possible, do something profound and yet so simple: say "thank you."

As we enter the anniversary of our first packaging party before the Niagara Food and Drink Festival, the very first time we went to market with a product, I want to say thank you. Thank you to those of you who have been there for me and for this company. Thank you to the people that have stayed up past any reasonable hour to help stuff cookies into wrappers and then into boxes. And thank you to whose who have donated their time and money and advice and guidance and support to help us keep pushing forward. Great companies are created good people surround themselves with great people. I am forever indebted to the great people in my life. 

There's No Magic... Only Math
I had a profound realization this morning, more so because of it's simplicity.

I'm trying to weigh the pros and cons of each alternative strategy I could pursue as I scale the company. The only thing I know is that I don't know a lot. So, I've tried to surround myself with people that can help. One such person  sat with me for an hour this morning and listened to my options and my evaluation of each. I'm hesitant because each has its own risks and exorbitant costs. Having been there before, he commiserated with me; both of us have wasted many hours pacing up and down our homes trying to get an "aha" moment to strike us; trying to figure what silver bullet exists that could propel us forward. We both consider ourselves reasonably smart...what idea or plan or solution had we not thought of?

As he clearly sympathized with my current position, he proceeded to utter words I hope I never forget: "there's no magic. There's only math." 

What he meant was, what's my quantifiable definition of success? $100,000 in revenue? $1,000,000? $100,000,000? There's no clicking your heels three times and presto - you're successful. There's only plotting out how many cookies I need to sell, in how many boxes, to how many stores, with how many repeat orders and at what price that will net me my revenue goal at the end of the year. 

The question then becomes how do I sell each cookie? With the end in clear high definition, it has become quite clear what steps I need to take to grow the company. 

Knowing that there's more that I don't know than I do, it helps me to work through the myriad of thoughts with an experienced listener. It's even more helpful when that person can provide constructive advice. And when you realize its all about the numbers, you focus on what needs to be done to hit those numbers. Despite  the seemingly insurmountable list of things to do that arise from this exercise, what you have is a tangible action plan, not a pie in the sky prayer for achieving success. 

Sweating for Sweetness

I'm appalled that it's been nearly two months since my last post, but it's been a whirlwind. So I'll start by wishing everyone reading this a safe, healthy and happy new year. 

Most people begin their new year with one or two resolutions; things they'll be doing this coming year to improve themselves, their family, their community etc. Instead, I'm starting the new year by NOT doing something - specifically, eating added sugar. I'm practicing what I preach and I gotta tell you - it is tough. Actually, it just outright sucks. I'm not sure if it's because sugar has become such a ubiquitous part of my diet (aka my routine) or it is just found in so many foods that you wouldn't expect or because I'm chemically addicted and I'm going through withdrawal, but I'll tell you what - I'm sweating for sweetness. 

Show me what your normal day is like and I'll show you ten different sources of sugar. My day almost always starts with a bowl of cereal; a bigger bowl than the one my two year old is enjoying right next to me. I thought that I was 'eating right' my choosing Multigrain Cheerios vs. Honey Nut. It has 6g per 28g bowl. Without even flinching, I can easily polish a 60 or 70g bowl of 'healthy cereal.' So before I've even left the house, I'm at least half way through my daily allotment (according to the World Health Organization). 

Thank goodness I'm a coffee snob, so no sugar there, but how many people put 1 or more packets in their coffee, and how many coffees do you normally drink in a day? What about OJ with your breakfast, or yogurt? I'd check those for added sugars if I were you.

I've made it to lunch and I'm very excited for my healthy lunch - a chicken wrap. I'm foregoing the honey mustard or ketchup or other sauce that I'd normally add. Too obvious.  I'm choosing the whole wheat instead of the white flour wrap. Strangely enough - no added sugar! I think I'll grab a bag of veggie stix as a side. Can't be any sugar in a salty vegetable snack, right? WRONG! looks like no chips for me. In fact, most of the bags of chips I grabbed had some added sugar.  

3pm. Time for a coffee and a snack. Wait a second. I'm not actually hungry, but I do want a coffee. Why am I not hungry? This is high time for a bite... something's fishy here.

Dinner. Standard move is some protein (usually a lean meat) with a salad or veggies that my wife will prep and a carb like noodles or potatoes or something. On this lovely evening, I'm moving forward with spaghetti with a turkey bolognese sauce. Or more aptly, boiled noodles, tomato sauce mixed with veggies or ground and browned turkey. A bit of staple. Now that I'm looking for it, I check the nutritional panel on the sauce, and there it is. Sugar. IN TOMATO SAUCE!!! Looks like it's garlic and butter tonight on top of my noodles. Ok - not what I was looking for, but not a major disappointment. 

Dessert? Unless it's an apple or a straight fruit - forget about it. Even 85% dark chocolate. What's in the other 15%? How about innocent Ice Cream... nope.  Maybe a cracker? Like the Arrowroot I regularly feed my kid... nope. Something? Anything? So I start buying and freezing grapes and eating those. They're actually delicious. Like mini popsicles. 

A few more hours until I go to Snoozetown, population me, and I start digging into emails, catching up on Designated Survivor, doing whatever needs to be done to end the day. After walking my pooch, I hit the hey. 

But wait... no snack? I'd normally have to have something, but you know what? I'm not craving anything. That's weird. I'm not craving anything. And come to think of it - I wasn't craving anything at 3 either. Where are my cravings? I miss that little devil in my belly enticing me to satisfy it with empty calories every day. Where'd you go little guy?

Then... I notice that my pants are a bit looser. A long forgotten notch in my belt, one that has seen better days. One that hasn't seen the buckle in years but has miraculously and suddenly resurfaced. What's going on here? 

It's been 19 days and I've lost weight, lost my unhealthy cravings and lost my need for sugar. I've come to realize that while 80% of all consumer foods have added sugar, that other 20% can actually be very high quality. Classico tomato sauces for example have a broad range of no sugar added sauces that are fabulous. PC Blue makes a few varieties of healthy bread that don't contain sugar - but you have to dig deep in your grocery to find them. Seems like the word is out about sugar and more and more people are hearing it every day.

Experiment with yourself for just one week by eliminating added sugar and let me know how it goes. Try making your own jam (it's easy, literally just boil down strawberries and blueberries and add a bit of flax) or your own salad dressings (again - just balsamic vinegar, olive oil, S&P and a bit of natural mustard) to make delicious foods available for you to enjoy. Post your stories or your history with these types of 'cleanses.' Good luck. You'll need it for the first week, but after that... relatively smooth sailing.

Cheers,
Dan

Daniel Sennet
I Blackburried Myself
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This weekend, we were humbled by our participation at the Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Expo. We had a great time overall, put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces, and I'd definitely do it again. Only differently. It was a bit of a full circle experience, since our first ever large scale show was the Niagara Gourmet Food and Wine Expo and this was the last major event of the year. It was supposed to be the culmination of everything that I'd learned, but instead it was in itself, a learning experience. A hard, but valuable one.

You see, I came into the show very proud of the work I'd done on our packaging, specifically our individual front and back labels. I figured people would love our treats; would continue to respond favorably to our sugar conscious branding and would simply gobble them up. I rested on my laurels and I was wrong. I Blackburried myself in not anticipating, not even trying to anticipate, the consumer experience. 

The show itself was great. There were plenty of potential satisfied customers - almost all of whom were indulging in alcohol (some of whom perhaps a bit too much). It made for a fun and entertaining scene with at least 25,000 people over four days. We were the only traditional baked goods company there; the only ones selling cookies and brownies. So why didn't we sell out? Why didn't we even come close? After much recollection, mostly after 1am, I came up with the following takeaways that I thought I'd share in case anyone who's reading might be able to benefit. 

  1. Blackberry's product was sexy until it wasn't and they found out too late. Like the tech company, we didn't present anything sexy and we should have. While I think our packaging is great, every other vendor at the show presented their goods with a certain flair designed for the demographic. Our location within the Hall was good, in the direct path of the main area, and so we benefited from natural wanderers to our booth. But there was nothing to draw them in; no "oooh" or "aaah" element to create buzz for our company. Just the standard display we've always erected at every show we've been at. What I failed to understand until it was too late is that this show created certain expectations with the attendees - people were looking for a gourmet, indulgent experience, one that was alcohol fueled. What we gave them was the standard presentation of our products. In this context, the display was boring and the disconnect between what people were expecting and what they saw cost us. 
  2. The messaging was redundant if not counter-productive. We had smiling, happy, boozed-up patrons coming to our booth and asking us about our cookies, and I'd launch into the story about how we're sugar conscious, and vegan and grain-free.... and what I saw were bored, glossy eyes. People weren't looking for the story - just the treat. If I'd kept it simple by saying, we have some frequin awesome cookies - a peanut butter chocolate chip and a chocolate chip walnut - we would have doubled our sales. Our products themselves are rich and delicious; directly aligned with what people were pining for, but our messaging was stale; the proverbial buzz-kill.
  3. I didn't do the leg-work to ensure a proper consumer experience. With respect to points 1 and 2 above, I could have thought about those in advance and properly prepared. While it's important to acknowledge this failure, it's more important to prevent it from recurring. I keep kicking myself though because one of the founding and guiding principles of the company is to always consider the consumers' experience and to make sure it's a heightened one and I lost sight of that. 

Our next public presence is at the Toronto Life FoodiePages Holiday Market on December 16th and December 17th.  The mistakes I allude to above will not be repeated, so get excited. We've got some zany ideas about how to make your experience just plain awesome. We're going to bring new meaning to the term "fresh-baked." I'm serious about creating oooh's and aaah's and about enriching the consumer experience when it comes to indulging in our treats. After all, you deserve nothing less.

Daniel SennetComment
Hard Choices (Vol 1)
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Sometimes I feel like I'm running two companies: the one I intended to run, and the one I'm actually running. I was told very early on to appreciate the pivot and if I've learned anything from my prior life in finance, it's to focus on your strengths. That is, if I've garnered a certain audience with a certain product using a certain message - double down on that. 

So after seven months of being in the market, it's time to make some hard choices. Originally, my intention was to focus on the diabetic population by baking sugar free cookies. I could go into the potential market opportunity, but that's a whole other post. Bald Baker's Chief Cookie Officer took my rather bland tasting and ugly prototype and turned the Frankenstein into a Frankerfine cookie by making it grain-free and vegan in addition to sugar-free. With great products, the question turned to who to sell them to. Our summer was spent trying to answer that question along with the corollary, how. 

At the outset, I realized that despite my original intentions, I was no longer solely in the diabetic desserts market; I was in the grain/gluten-free market and I was in the vegan market. Depending on where I was actually selling that day, one of those messages was prioritized. For example, at Ryerson University market, the vegan-ness of the company was what sold the cookies. At our uptown market, it was a split between sugar-free and grain-free. I found myself at two very high-profile vegan food festivals this summer where the exposure (and sales) was great. Oddly, I did not find myself at one single diabetic event this summer, or indeed, since starting the company. 

In the spirit of transparency, a value this company holds dear, I want to highlight some of the choices that I'm currently faced with - it'd be great to get some feedback. I try to make well-reasoned and well-informed decisions whenever I can. So, here goes:

Canola vs. Coconut Oil. I've been going and back and forth on this one for a while now. Coconut Oil has recently been the recipient of some bad press. As Huffington Post notes, it's complicated. The American Health Association (which in my opinion sways which ever way the wind blows) released a pretty scathing report that blasted coconut oil, primarily due its relatively high saturated fat content. Once the direct correlation with cardio-vascular disease was established, coconut oil suddenly became vilified. Canola Oil's rich supply of Vitamin E and Vitamin K cast it in a much more favorable light than Coconut oil. On the business side of things, coconut oil is roughly 4x - 6x more expensive than vegetable or canola oil, both much lower in saturated fat. SFGATE did a comparison of the two and noted that, "The unsaturated fats in canola oil lower cholesterol and its omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout the body." So far, it looks like Canola Oil for the win. BUT, unrefined coconut oil is high in anti-oxidants and imparts a great aroma and flavor.  Our understanding of the pros and cons of saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, etc., are elementary, if not evolving constantly. Every dietitian, nutritionist, healthy and/or culinary-savvy individual I've come across has applauded my use of coconut oil. Who am I to listen to? The people who have supported my business directly; the same people I set out to understand at the beginning of the summer? Or the scientists publishing reports? Or the economics of the day-to-day ingredient purchasing?

Maltitol or Sugar or .....We have an issue with our co-packer that is creating larger ripple effects than it would imply. It stems from our chocolate chips but it's leading me to question how 'sugar conscious' the company truly is. The chocolate chips we have been using are delicious and are sweetened with erythritol and stevia, just like all of our treats. They are produced in a facility that is certified kosher, but specifically, kosher dairy.  Our production facility is considered kosher pareve, which allows anything that is produced there to be eaten before, during or after any meal - it's not subject to the kosher dietary restrictions of milk and meat. Our chips cannot be brought into our facility. After a thorough and exhaustive search, I have been unable to find a kosher pareve, sugar-free chocolate chip that isn't sweetened with maltitol. Quite a few studies, noted in an article by Livestrong, substantiate the claim that moderate dosages of maltitol can lead to flatulence, diarrhea, bloating and other gastro-intestinal side effects that as you might imagine, are not the kinds of effects I'd like to associate with our brand. I can probably keep searching for the unicorn product, and indeed I am hopeful that it exists, but at some point, I have to move forward and that self-imposed deadline has got me thinking about my definition of sugar conscious. I believe that single term is what differentiates our company from all the others and it has played very well in the marketplace. I am proud to say that it means that we don't use any sugar in our products. So that I can keep moving forward, can I use sugar-sweetened chocolate chips? It bars me from making the above claim, but still allows me to say that each cookie is substantially lower in carbs and sugars than our competitors. Or, should I lower our standards and start using maltitol chips? Or should I hold out and redouble my efforts to find the unicorn? I'm trying to get creative to find a company that will fee-for-service produce my chips, but that could take months. For today, the hunt continues, but there is a hard choice that's going to have to be made unless there is another alternative that I'm not seeing. 

Finally, and this is the big one, how important is my vegan audience compared to my grain-free/gluten-free audience, compared to my diabetic audience? As an entrepreneur, I should focus on where the most positive reception (read: sales) has come from. Vegan is hot right now. It's a clear trend that is clearly growing in popularity. The sheer number of 'certified-vegan' or 'vegan-friendly' products in stores and the number of restaurants and cafes opening reflects that growth. Gluten-free was, and to a degree still is, a mainstay in the marketplace, as evidenced by the number of mainstream products (cereals, sauces, etc.) declaring GF status. But my original assertion is that NOBODY is targeting the largest population of them all: diabetics. There simply just aren't any high-quality, low- or no-sugar products on the market. So, question for me is if I should stay true to my original intentions and attempt to be a market leader, or follow the money? Not that entering either the GF or vegan markets is an easy task; rather, those markets are established whereas the diabetic market isn't (for reasons unknown to me). 

As a barely-funded entrepreneur, it's very easy to justify making every attempt possible to cut corners and maximize my margins through cost-cutting measures. Then again, why did I become an entrepreneur? It wasn't to make cheap products, but to make great ones. While the answers to the questions above seem rather self-evident, at least from a values point of view, striking the balance between product and corporate development and economics is challenging. I love this challenge, but I don't want to stay a non-profit for ever!

Is Kickstarter Begging?

What an amazing month September has been and it's about to end with a down-to-the-wire campaign on kickstarter that we are crossing our fingers and holding our breath will get funded.

It started with a mad dash preparation for the Veg Food Fest where we had an amazing weekend. Sales were good, but the exposure was great and the introductions to happy customers and future clients were simply amazing. The Toronto Sun even wrote about us!

Thinking that we could capitalize on the momentum and the exposure, we launched our Kickstarter campaign to run for the month of September. There hasn't been one day that's gone by during which I haven't wondered: "is asking people to contribute to the campaign the same as begging?" If I take away the veil of the Kickstarter platform, my email and social outreach to my network, my friends, family and supporters, basically asks, "Can I please have some of your money so that I can grow my company?"

Flip the coin, and adding back the Kickstarter platform adds a degree of legitimacy to my request for funds because many really cool products and companies have been launched using it and I'm honored to have that opportunity. Similarly, and perhaps more notably, begging implies not offering an exchange, whereas I'm offering various degrees of reciprocity. In keeping with the saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch, I made sure to offer greater value in return for the dollar sized contribution. For example a $25 show of support would receive back a $36 box of cookies; a $100 contribution would get all three products plus some awesome swag, a value of $150+ etc., and it goes all the way up to $10,000. 

However, I still can't help but think that I'm approaching people that I would otherwise never in a million years ask for money with my hat in hand. And what I realize is that it's coming down to a battle between my pride and my drive [ambition?]. My pride on my left shoulder says in a glaring voice, "you need other peoples' money like you need a hole in your foot." This pride emanates from being raised to be independent and stubborn. However, I wrote in an earlier post that advice I'd give my child is that you can do anything you set your mind to. My pride focuses on the early part of that statement, "I can do anything..." and my ambition that sits on my right shoulder reflects the latter part of that statement, "set your mind to." Pride be damned, if there's something that has to happen (like raise funds to buy a flow-wrapping machine), get creative and get it done. 

I think what it comes down to is the degree to which you believe in what you're doing. More so than anything else I have ever done, I believe that Bald Baker's products are truly delicious and that the world at large, not just diabetics, can benefit from them. If getting them to the market means using a strategic and very forward-looking platform... even if it means begging, I'll do it because it has to happen. 

If you're curious about our campaign, check it out using this link or the one from our website. As I wrote in the email I just sent out to my network: 

"Your support goes farther than you know. It boosts confidence, generates motivation and inspires us to keep breaking new ground. Bald Baker may seem like a simple dessert company, but it is so much more than that. After a summer of events, festivals, markets and introductions, we have become a company that has actually redefined how people indulge. We have enabled those that have abstained from life's simple joys to do so comfortably and happily. The sheer number of people who have thanked us - vegans, vegetarians, dieters, diabetics, old, young, mothers, fathers and just about everybody in between - has been an extreme, if not unexpected pleasure and it's why we do what we do. With your help, we can keep moving onward and upward."

Daniel Sennet
Our Most Exciting Month Ever: VegFest & Kickstarter

As we began the year and started researching relevant festivals, events, markets, etc - we came across the Vegan Food and Drink Festival which was just a few weeks before the Veg Food Fest. The former boasted of at least 7,500 people while the latter 35,000+. I figured we could throw all caution to the wind, put all of our cards on the table, use every metaphor I know to have a presence at the Vegan Fest. Nothing's impossible right? (although that's exactly what I thought at the time)

As I mentioned in the last post, a lot can happen and a lot can change. Since signing up for it back in April, we got our act together and learned how to prep 1,000+ portions for a single day. And we crushed it! (even though attendance was closer to 11,000). So now we're in the cross hairs of preparing for the Veg Fest this Friday. At first, I was scared $hitle$$, but I realized, we can do this. We know what we're doing now. Our thousands of satisfied cookie monsters have given us momentum and more importantly, confidence. 

So when a close friend recently asked me, "what do I need to pull this off?" I answered (without thinking), "more capital." He was asking me about this upcoming weekend, but I was obviously referring to what I needed to grow the business. The thing is, I want to scale the business and scale it quickly. I really enjoy working the farmers' markets and the festivals; meeting the people, perfecting the pitch and getting feedback (good and bad). However, the capitalist in me says that the real money is in volume; wholesaling to retailers. (Ew... Did I just write that?) It's true though.  More importantly, I do actually think that delicious sugar conscious desserts are the future of the industry. Just yesterday, I saw not one, but two commercials in the same intermission for no sugar added products. The collective conscience is moving towards the reduction or even elimination of sugar from our diets. I do truly believe, deep down, that our products are fantastic and they should be widely available for everyone to enjoy.

With that in mind, I'm doing something that for me, is outrageous. In retrospect, it's the scariest thing I've done to date for this company, or for any other that I've been involved with. I'm raising capital via a Kickstarter Campaign.  Kickstarter has been responsible for the launch of countless really cool inventions and innovations. It's an online platform where entrepreneurs can "do the thing you need to do for the world." It's not for venture capitalists or wealthy private equity investors (namely because no equity is transferred). It's for the world at large to fuel, to kickstart, the companies that will leave a last impression on it. It's the best way for Bald Baker to scale the company. With the funds raised, we can purchase a professional grade flow wrapping machine, we can invest in retail boxes, ingredients for a large scale production run, funds for promotions and capital to continue improving our core products and creating new ones. It lets me respond to all of the retail opportunities with a product that will blow them away. 

The wisest person I've ever come across once said to me, "if you don't ask, you don't get." Kickstarter's facade is all about asking for money in exchange for something of equal or greater value. Roll back the facade, and it's actually about people wanting to be involved in something that's big and getting bigger. Being a part of something. For an entrepreneur, it's hard to ask for help (that applies exponentially to me) but that's really the key - you have to know when to ask for help and when to take it vs. just shooting from the hip. By writing this blog post, I'm not asking you to donate (although obviously, I would be grateful), I'm asking you to be a part of something big by sharing this post on facebook, or linkedin or wherever your social presence is best expressed. Just for even getting this far into the post, I'm very appreciative. Thank you for being a part of this company's story... we're only on page three though and it's a long thriller!