Anya Corson: “Trust your gut”

A story- YOUR Story: My business is rooted in my family. Sharing the evolution from cooking for my kids in my kitchen to creating the fermented honey sauces you’re able to buy on the shelves is part of my story. Much like how my holistic health background and culinary experience is a part of who […]

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A story- YOUR Story: My business is rooted in my family. Sharing the evolution from cooking for my kids in my kitchen to creating the fermented honey sauces you’re able to buy on the shelves is part of my story. Much like how my holistic health background and culinary experience is a part of who I am as the Anya’s Apothekere business owner. Sharing what’s unique about you, your brand, and your “why” is really your main marketing asset.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anya Corson owner of Anya’s Apothekere.

Anya Corson’s culinary and extensive holistic health background shapes the way she operates as Founder + CEO of Anya’s Apothekere. Her line of fermented honey sauces and healthy bone soaks are rooted in her passion for her family’s health, with the primary inspiration of the sauces stemming from her children’s dietary needs. Anya’s brand boasts the only fermented honey sauce on the market, and has proudly been a secret weapon and staple in her kitchen for years.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

My parents both graduated high school in 1968, they were hippies and my mom shopped at the health food store long before it was cool. I’m the second of four kids, we were embarrassingly fed carob instead of chocolate, honey instead of sugar, and ants on a log instead of HoHo’s. I was taught about the importance of healthy foods at a young age and it seems to have stuck. My mom, who also happens to be my business partner and the best human being on the planet, returned to college when we were younger to become a registered dietician, a clinical nutritionist, and ultimately got her Master’s in Nutrition. Her love of healthful living has had a major impact on my perspective of food and health.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

As a single mom, the last thing I thought I’d ever add into the mix of my chaotic life was being a small business owner. When my daughter was having a significant amount of gastrointestinal issues, digestion problems, and allergies, I knew I needed to infuse her food with all the healthy probiotics + benefits of fermented foods. But, how can I also get her to eat veggies, too? My first ah-ha moment came when I found that if I put fermented honey sauces on most veggies it made the most awesome sweet and savory combo that my children would actually eat. Then, that sauce and style kind of became “my thing” I was known for sharing at parties, with friends, and family.

After a few dozen friends and family regularly asked me to sell them some of my small batches, I thought about who else might like it? Then, with the encouragement of my family and friends to start Anya’s Apothekere I took the leap to share the sauces with everyone!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Back when I was still working out of a closet, (literally, a coat closet still full of coats), at my mom’s 8th-floor condo, I was experimenting with adding yeast to the ferments to make them bubble and start the process a bit faster. I went with only one gallon-sized jar for the experiment, I just put in a small pinch, less than 50 teeny tiny pieces of yeast, and well…within 24 hours, there was honey bubbling out of the jar all over the mats and spilling onto the hardwood floor. It was a fast and easy lesson, slow and steady wins the race of fermentation.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I think people tend to try to follow trends and therefore become a part of a very saturated market. Instead of choosing a niche and going all-in with something they’re doing that’s significantly different from their peers, it’s tempting to stick with what’s hip right now. I know there are a few “trends” that are here to stay: health, sustainability, and supporting businesses with a mission. I feel If food lines are passionate, transparent, and seek to share a product that’s truly good then they’re off to a great start.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Test. It. Out. But, by all means, go beyond just your family and friends who are going to pat you on the back and tell you you’re great. Seek out the opinions of who you envision your target audience to be. Get in front of some crowds and try to get comfortable there. If you’re going to be producing something and you’re going to be the face of it that requires you to be confident in what you’re sharing, and confident in yourself. The best remedy for both is diving in and being able to respond to criticism and bouncing back!

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

Trust your gut — and trust the experts. If you’re not extremely comfortable developing a business plan, establishing capital, or pitching products, then my biggest recommendation would be to hire experts. If you cannot afford to hire an expert, see what you can do in trade. Learn as much as you can when you work alongside them and remember to appreciate their expertise and meld it in with your personal desires and vision you have for your unique business.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I am a huge advocate for collaboration and if that means working with invention development consultants to perfectly tweak your product I say- go for it. But, be sure who you’re working with has what’s best for you and your business in mind and they have a track record of success.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

If you’re able to bootstrap and not owe anything to anyone, then by all means! Many aren’t in that situation and need to seek capital from other sources. I was fortunate enough to know my investors personally and have a level of flexibility with what was expected from their investment. Most don’t have that option. Again, if you need to collaborate with that part of your business I think it’s absolutely an option to explore but remember that they’re in the business of investing and seeking return which means you will owe them, and you will pay them first.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

It’s pretty incredible how much collaboration goes into a small business! I started researching where I could source ingredients and was connected with local producers and farmers and these people in turn connected me with other resources I needed for my business. Being open about what my needs are and connecting with trustworthy professionals has opened so many doors! If you find a product you like, or a high-quality ingredient, and you respect that producer — chances are they’re going to know others like themselves who you may want to work with (or who you may want to avoid!)

Attending food shows, meeting other small business owners, and hiring experts to help me find the right retail spaces and distributors has also helped my business grow.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. A Product You’re Passionate About: If I didn’t care about what I created and believe in it wholeheartedly I would have thrown in the towel long ago. Small business and the foodie industry isn’t for the weak. There’s fierce competition and if you don’t believe in what you’ve made no one else will either. Because of my holistic health background working with healthy, whole ingredients just made sense for me. Which brings me to…

2. A story- YOUR Story: My business is rooted in my family. Sharing the evolution from cooking for my kids in my kitchen to creating the fermented honey sauces you’re able to buy on the shelves is part of my story. Much like how my holistic health background and culinary experience is a part of who I am as the Anya’s Apothekere business owner. Sharing what’s unique about you, your brand, and your “why” is really your main marketing asset.

3. Great Branding: In a world where middle schoolers are building websites and creating videos shared by millions — if your branding isn’t spot-on, people aren’t going to look twice at your product. Your branding decisions include the logo that’s across all of your products, the colors you choose for your packaging, the website your customers order from… all of this should strengthen and support your story and your product. If it doesn’t- then it’s time for an update!

4. Sustainable Mindset + Framework: When I say sustainable, of course, I want things to be as waste-free as possible. Saving waste = saving money. If you’re a small startup food line, then saving money can make the difference between whether you’re here next month or not.

5. A Strong Team: I am grateful to have a team that helps me when I need their incredible expertise. My partner helps me in the kitchen, I have a web designer and graphic designer who is phenomenal, and marketing team that helps me polish my story online and in the media. What sets my team apart? They are all just as passionate about the success of Anya’s Apothekere as I am. That’s why I chose them! Finding people who lift you up, understand your weaknesses, and strengthen your business is absolutely a necessity for creating a specialty food line.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

People have the ability to research who creates their food products, what their mission is, and what the real benefits are behind them. Creating something people love means staying authentic and being transparent! People know whether or not you’re genuine, and whether or not the foods you’ve created are as good as you claim, as healthy as you claim, or as environmentally friendly as you claim… so staying authentic and creating something that’s genuinely good are key!

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Considering we are still growing traction and climbing up the tree of success, I’m still working at a grassroots level by teaching my children the basics that my mom taught me: “ You always have to eat one bite, you may not have liked it last time but this time you could love it.” And when they do, watching those same children gobbling vegetables down because they taste good and all I’ve done is dressed them up with living probiotics, that’s a legacy I can live with.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

As a single mom, I’d love to be a part of something that gives more moms and families access to healthy, whole, delicious foods. More than that — I’d love to be able to teach families how to make more healthy and delicious meals for their families. I envision something similar to a pantry that’s also a test kitchen, where classes can be shared and people can take the foods home that they make! A place that sparks a passion for healthy eating, but also puts those foods in the fridge for the families that need them most.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Not to sound Cliche, but honestly, I have to go with Oprah. I feel her integrity and personal relationship with her fans are very much like our own. To see what she has accomplished for women, and how she has helped share the stories of people from across the globe — it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring. Since her show, she’s continued to find ways to tell stories and ballyhoo brands by showcasing them in her magazine. I feel like if you’ve made it on Oprah’s “list” of favorite things then you’ve really made it!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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