Jeanne David of Outer Aisle: “Proof of concept”

A name that can be trademarked and a general branding concept that conveys the product’s benefits. For us, we wanted to promote a healthy brand that represented a healthy lifestyle based on swapping vegetable-based foods for processed carbs and sugar. The Outer Aisle of the grocery store is where the vegetables are located, so this […]

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A name that can be trademarked and a general branding concept that conveys the product’s benefits. For us, we wanted to promote a healthy brand that represented a healthy lifestyle based on swapping vegetable-based foods for processed carbs and sugar. The Outer Aisle of the grocery store is where the vegetables are located, so this name was a great fit for our product, our business and our mission.

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 Jeanne David.

Born entrepreneur Jeanne David invented cauliflower bread when she made the delicious, versatile, cauliflower-based Sandwich Thins and Pizza Crusts known today under her Outer Aisle brand. When she invented this low-carb cauliflower-based bread substitute, her main goal was to help more people say “goodbye!” to processed carbs with a gluten-free, grain-free, nutritionally dense, and tasty option — she had no idea she had jumpstarted a national trend of cauliflower-based products. Nearly a decade ago, Jeanne and her husband decided to change the way they ate by cutting out sugar and processed carbs from their everyday diets. To avoid the blandness that often comes with eating healthily, Jeanne experimented with vegetables as substitutes for other ingredients in their favorite foods. With the simple goal of enjoying sandwiches, burgers, tacos, and pizzas without the negative effects of processed carbs, Jeanne successfully built a thriving food CPG brand. As a female entrepreneur, Jeanne gets her motivation and winner’s spirit from her drive to inspire others to chase their goals. Jeanne truly created the best-tasting, most convenient, better-for-you product since sliced bread and built an innovative, needed company alongside employees who play an invaluable role in inspiring her leadership, gratitude, and positivity.

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”?

I grew up in a big family with 12 siblings in uptown New Orleans. I studied nursing for two years at LSU but chose not to continue my practice as a nurse when starting my family. From an early age, I always loved the concepts and structure of business and the thought of inventing and making something. I was always looking for ways to be industrious and earn an income. I had my first business in 5th grade at the age of 10, a summer day camp for kids in my neighborhood. My first foray into the food industry was when I started my own home-made cookie dough company in my 20s ‘The Beary Best Cookie Company’ made with all-natural ingredients.

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

In 2013, my husband and I decided to change the way we ate by cutting out sugar and processed carbs from our diets and substituting vegetables. When we did this, we soon realized that, if we didn’t get creative, we were going to get bored with the meals we were consuming every day, which consisted of a protein and a plate of raw or steamed vegetables. In a lot of diets, it’s easy to feel like you are being deprived of all your favorite foods! We were determined to make our new way of eating a lifestyle change that we would stick with for the rest of our lives, so I began experimenting with substituting veggies for the over-processed carbs that used to be a large part of our favorite foods — sandwiches, tacos, lasagna, pizza, you name it. After more than 80 different attempts and variations, I finally whipped up a cauliflower “bread” with just four ingredients that was low carb and truly tasty, and it became a staple in our kitchen. My family had the “ah-ha” moment that others would like my new “veggie bread” before I did and urged me to bring it to market. After my previous cookie dough business, I knew the challenges and work that would be involved in actually doing this, and so was reluctant at first. However, after a lot of convincing and soul searching, I decided it was time to launch Outer Aisle Gourmet. That decision made Outer Aisle the first brand to offer a cauliflower- based bread alternative. I never could have imagined what a success it would be.

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?

With the R&D batches in the beginning, we were vacuum sealing the samples to ship to family members. these vacuum sealed samples squeezed out all the oil from the cheese and made the sandwich thins into an oily wafer. It was not appetizing at all. Our family did not want to even try them and they certainly did not see the future potential for Outer Aisle!

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?

One of the most common mistakes that I have seen is not choosing a name that can be trademarked, and actually taking the steps to trademark the name. People often do not understand how important this is at the formation of a company. If the company name is not trademarked, it is vulnerable to being claimed by another business, which often means having to rename your business — and losing the valuable brand equity in the name you have worked hard to build — just as the business is gaining traction.

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?

Take a cold shower, walk around the block and try to shake it off! If you can’t shake it off, make sure the product fills a gap, meets a need or solves a problem in the market, preferably one that connects to you personally, and, if it is a food product, it tastes great. Next steps would be to work on the formula and refine the product until you are completely satisfied with it. Afterwards, I would recommend sharing it with friends and family to gather critical feedback on taste and texture and their thoughts on the product’s general nutritional attributes.

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?

In the beginning, you must take the first step and get out of concept mode and into action mode. I think it is important to have a goal of what you want to accomplish, and what you think you can accomplish in the market. For instance, from the beginning of Outer Aisle’s product development phase, we said we wanted a nationally distributed product for the grocery store shelves. Although I only shared this with close family members, in my mind, I wanted to, and thought we could move the bread industry in a healthier direction.

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 would suggest striking out on your own and trying to find a mentor who has experience in the industry and who is willing to lend their wisdom and advice. We found that consultants are generally too expensive for a small brand just starting out and that it is hard to get a consultant’s full attention and focus if you are not paying them much.

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

Bootstrapping is good in the beginning as valuations for a startup are usually not very favorable, which means giving up majority ownership and control at the start with a venture capital firm. Bootstrapping forces you to have much-needed discipline and creativity in accomplishing critical milestones for your startup. Each step in the process provides valuable feedback as to the viability of your product and business plan. If you can find friends and family to invest in the business until you have strong proof of concept and viability, this is preferable to relying on an outside venture capital firm at the start. Venture capital is a good next step when the business is growing and succeeding, and you need to finance the growth.

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?

  1. In the food industry, patents are not really viable or advisable. For one thing, it is very hard to get a patent on a food product. Even if you do, you will have to disclose your recipe and production steps, which anybody can alter slightly and copy.
  2. Sourcing good raw ingredients is all about research and tenacity. An industry insider could be very helpful here. In the long run, it is about having the staying power to get big enough to be able to negotiate favorable prices.
  3. Sourcing a good manufacturer will require industry knowledge, whether from research or preferably an industry insider. Getting the assistance of an industry insider will be much easier if you are able to show that your product has great potential.
  4. Finding a retailer is fairly simple. Start in your immediate area and target your local stores. Local stores — and their customers — are usually interested in local products, so you can sell the retailer on this benefit for them.

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. An amazing product — A product that fills a gap or meets a need in the market and that tastes great!
  2. A name that can be trademarked and a general branding concept that conveys the product’s benefits. For us, we wanted to promote a healthy brand that represented a healthy lifestyle based on swapping vegetable-based foods for processed carbs and sugar. The Outer Aisle of the grocery store is where the vegetables are located, so this name was a great fit for our product, our business and our mission.
  3. A pricing structure that will allow you to grow and expand. To succeed beyond the local level, you will need profit margins that will allow for the company, the distributor and the retailer to make a profit.
  4. Proof of concept. You must move product off the shelves to prove that you have a viable/scalable business. We did product demos ourselves every weekend for the first year in our first 4 stores.
  5. Financing for the business. We bootstrapped in the beginning. We brought in friends and family as our initial investors after that. When it was time to build out our new manufacturing facility to meet growing demand, we brought in a large investment.

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

Create a product that is needed and fills a niche in the market. For us, that was a veggie-based bread alternative and veggie-based pizza crust. As low-carb diets continue to trend, people continue to look for vegetable-based products like Outer Aisle’s sandwich thins and pizza crusts to satisfy and sustain themselves. It’s all about getting in tune with the things that would make your life and the lives of others easier. Once you come up with that idea, work to make it tangible and available to as many people as possible, and to get the word out about the product.

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

The United States is facing a health crisis. Almost half of American adults have diabetes or prediabetes. Not coincidentally, a similar number are overweight or obese. Studies show that, unless current trends change, these conditions will affect as many as two-thirds of American adults within 5 years. Furthermore, inflammation associated with these conditions are a significant underlying cause of three of the major diseases that are putting stress on the U.S. health care system — i.e., heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Outer Aisle’s mission is to help people suffering from these conditions and diseases improve their health and their lives by making it convenient and affordable to shift from the standard American diet (SAD), with its unhealthy amounts of sugar and highly processed carbs, to a lower carb plant-based diet. The positive testimonials we get from diabetics and people with gluten sensitivities and digestive issues make all the effort that it has taken to start, run and grow Outer Aisle worthwhile.

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.

I formed a Giving Circle, called “100 Women,” to gather together women who are passionate about combining their resources to encourage, inspire and amplify each other, and to help others. Each member of the Giving Circle will commit to give a 5,000 dollars annual charitable contribution, which combined will be 500,000 dollars per year to make a gift that will make a real difference to a non-profit we select as a group. Many non-profits are stretched thin at a time when contributions are down. Now more than ever, the world needs all of us to come together to bring light in this dark time. Our first designated charity will be Team World Vision, which builds water systems in impoverished areas of the world. The leadership team at Team World Vision has agreed to create a matching donation drive, which will increase our donation to 1,000,000 dollars. This will be a huge donation that will significantly impact the organization and make a life-changing difference for thousands of people who are currently without clean water. I am hoping and praying that other groups of women around the country will be inspired to create their own Giving Circles. My hope is that 100 other groups will be formed. When we all come together in love, we can have a positive impact on our communities, our country and the world.

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.

Oprah Winfrey or Bethenny Frankel.

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

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