Kate Stoddard of Orchestra Provisions: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food

Create a mission statement based on values you are aligned with. If your business and products have a strong set of values driving them, you will find the confidence and stick-to-itiveness needed to succeed. Working toward something bigger than yourself through a business gives you the purpose to keep forging forward in the face of […]

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Create a mission statement based on values you are aligned with. If your business and products have a strong set of values driving them, you will find the confidence and stick-to-itiveness needed to succeed. Working toward something bigger than yourself through a business gives you the purpose to keep forging forward in the face of adversity. It is common for entrepreneurs to experience moments of self-doubt and questioning, but when your ethics are firm, it is easier to let insecurities and criticism fall to the wayside. Orchestra Provisions has experienced plenty of turbulence concerning human acceptance of an alternate protein source. If the morals driving the company’s success weren’t rooted so strongly, it would be easy to give up in the face of shocked consumers. It is simple, choose to focus on enthusiastic consumers that are supportive of the big picture.

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 Kate Stoddard.

Born and reared in Idaho, Kate Stoddard earned her M.S. in Nutrition at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Kate is a working mother bootstrapping her way to an environmentally impactful and socially responsible successful business. She is passionate about addressing global food security and human nutrition derived from healthy food systems, which inspired her to launch Orchestra Provisions — a business that seeks to normalize food staples underutilized in the sector of entomophagy (eating insect protein).

Orchestra Provisions’ main products are superfood cricket seasonings packed with flavor and nutrition. Kate’s tasty recipe won her $20,000 and shelf space at Albertsons in the 2019 Trailmix competition at the fourth annual Boise Startup Week — a highly competitive event that attracts the most innovative food companies in Idaho. Orchestra Provisions’ products are now available at more than 25 shops and restaurants throughout Idaho and three online platforms.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kate has leveraged the opportunity to showcase the value of her products. As more consumers experience disrupted supply chains and growing food insecurity, it’s clear that Orchestra’s offerings are a sustainable, socially responsible food solution. Through developing a brand around social responsibility, sustainability and taste, Orchestra Provisions is overcoming people’s aversion to insects and is developing new products that will launch in 2021.

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 Boise, Idaho with a strong connection to nature. My parents emphasized the importance of appreciating the outdoors through recreation and conservation. I was taught to tread lightly and to protect wild spaces. This appreciation of the natural world my family embedded a sense of stewardship that has no doubt fueled the sustainability mission behind Orchestra Provisions. I was also very involved in ski racing, which shaped me as a human immensely. Ski racing set a high standard to achieve my goals in school while allowing me to travel the world independently at a young age. The most important takeaway from my ski racing career was a lens in which to see the world with cultural humility. There are many ways to be in the world, all are a product of how you came to know it.

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

My company, Orchestra Provisions, hatched in graduate school in answer to broken food systems, an environmental crisis and global food insecurity. I had been working on an iron deficiency case study in a lifecycles class when I came across some research suggesting insects as a viable source of heme-iron. (Heme-iron, which is carried by blood of animals, is 90 percent absorbed in the human gut, whereas vegetable iron, or non-heme-iron, is 50 percent excreted). Since iron deficiency is a top global health concern, I was initially interested in forming powder capsules as a therapeutic means to address this problem. I ultimately concluded that my philosophy of whole food nutrition should be aligned with my products. This guided me away from supplements and into the food space. The AH HA moment came when I ordered several types of insects in bulk to experiment with in my cooking; the silk worms, grasshoppers and crickets sat on my pantry shelf for far too long as I discovered that I was afraid I would “ruin” a meal if I used them. This gave me the insight that everyone else likely feels the same way about eating bugs. Afterall, who wants to ruin a meal? This discovery led to the idea that insects don’t need to be eaten whole; you can still reap the same nutritional and environmental benefits of entomophagy (the practice of eating insects by humans) using them as ingredients. This is how I came to develop my seasoning blends. I knew that seasoning blends live on most kitchen shelves and most people know how to use them. Marrying one of human’s oldest food traditions and oldest food trades (insect protein and the spice trade) resulted in an incredibly approachable product that makes the entry into entomophagy easily accessible. Gram-to-gram, crickets have more protein than beef, more iron than spinach and more calcium than milk. Cricket farming requires a fraction of the arable land, water and feed as other competing protein sources…this even includes plant protein, which needs significantly more water and land. So, insect protein is always a strong sustainability choice.

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?

In the beginning, it was very important for me to have a standard of quality that included freshness of all herbs and spices. This meant laboring over a mortar and pestle grinding cardamom pods, which resulted in great forearm strength and fatigue- it took forever! My consumers loved the chai spice with cardamom, but winced at the crunchy cricket parts. Here’s what’s funny: The inconsistency of my hand-ground spices made people think they were chewing on cricket leg, which was actually incompletely ground cardamom pods. The cricket powder comes to me as a finely ground powder that’s indistinguishable in its texture. I started sourcing my cardamom pods pre-ground after this. I found that certain spices hold freshness and potency longer than others, and I’m able to choose which ones are important to grind fresh and others which I can order ground. I learned that consistency and scalability can make or break your business. I quickly came to understand that my product had little room for error because of its peculiar nature. I need to have a finished product that far exceeds expectations (with eating bugs the bar is low), because my consumer is searching for imperfections.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line?

Two things, I think: Not investing in quality packaging and not figuring out how to market to a highly defined target audience. These were both critical aspects for my cricket products. I had to figure out who the most likely customers were and find a way to reach them. I also had to develop professional packaging them gave them trust to try the products — I didn’t want packaging that was anything less than stellar so that it wouldn’t give a customer new to entomophagy an excuse not to try my spices.

What can be done to avoid those errors?

It is easy to get ahead of yourself and rush things to market, but you only have one chance to introduce people to your idea; if they don’t like it the first time, they’ll never buy it again. Make it as close to perfect as you can, and make sure your supply chains are strong because when they DO like your product, the second worst thing is for them to not be able to find it again.

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?

Everyone is different and if I have learned anything, it is that there are many roads to success. My personal path has many branches. I like to get a big piece of paper and write down everything that comes to mind whether it is a TO DO or simply verbs and ideas. It is a total mess, but when I am inspired so many thoughts fly into my brain that I am afraid I will lose some. The paper is my form of a butterfly net for my brain! Next, I play around in the kitchen forming recipes and prototypes. I use my friends, family and social network followers as a research and development team. I make sure everyone knows I want total honesty and not nicety. Utilizing all of the tools you already possess is an art and a strength. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t have what I need to be successful, but if I take the time to sit with a challenge I always find that I have everything I need within my reach.

Separating ego from your product is the most important thing. If you get attached you can’t evolve it in to the best product it can be; sometimes what people really want is different from how you initially envisioned it. Humility and flexibility are essential, and just because your first try wasn’t successful doesn’t mean your pivot won’t be a great success. I have realized that fluidity and evolution will help me to be successful in the long run. In a world that is constantly evolving and changing, your business must do the same.

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?

Starting a business is incredibly overwhelming, especially to someone who doesn’t have a traditional business background. Don’t expect huge success overnight; pick apart a checklist and be happy with small victories. Remain positive and keep moving forward in the face of adversity. My favorite saying is, “Businesses don’t fail because they don’t work, they fail because people give up.” Cultivate a strong sense of “stick-to-it-iveness” and if something doesn’t work or someone criticizes you, check back in with your intuition and values. If you are still aligned with your values and intuition, use your shield to let negativity fall to the way side. Stay inspired, listen to podcasts, seek out mentors and additional information that is related to your mission. Sometimes when I fall into a slump I need to listen to a “How I Built This” episode and I am back on the inspiration train. Surround yourself with a community of smart and motivated humans, as this network will nurture you and your business much like Boise Startup Week and Trailhead/Trailmix did for me in Boise, Idaho.

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?

This is going to be a very subjective and situational call. I went out on my own and eventually won some consulting sessions in the Boise Startup Week pitch competition with Steve Cleere at Nexxtlevel Marketing. His expertise has been crucial in helping me address all kinds of challenges. From the beginning, I have also utilized many experienced minds that are in my personal orbit free of cost. Always remember that your network wants to see you thrive. Startup costs can be intimidating, and before you have the funds to hire a consultant, look around, you likely have more available resources that care about your success than you realize.

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

I have been strategic in waiting to pursue outside investment that makes sense. My particular market space is dependent on consumer behavioral modification. Changing consumer behavior through product development is not the traditional model for a successful business. This is a risky space to inhabit when you take on outside investors who look at the bottom line and work on a set timeline. I need to make sure the values remain my own in order to achieve my goals. For me personally, I could pursue venture capital aggressively, but it would have to be the right investor that recognizes the unique nature of what I am doing. Bootstrapping has allowed me to move at a healthy and mindful pace. My opinion is to start by bootstrapping and grow into the world of venture capital once you have more market research and consumer support. This makes accepting venture capital less risky and more calculated. I have always admired Guy Raz’s podcast “How I Built This,” and often joke I am obtaining my MBA from Harvard of the Mountain West this way. I notice the formula is more often than not: 1. Harvard Business School; 2. Major investor is in the network and loves the idea; 3. Massive success resulting in a multi-million-dollar company. The struggles these stories tell usually equate to eating a lot of ramen in the Bay Area. This is not relatable to the lay-woman, single-mom-living in rural America with several jobs business model that I am working with. I want everyone to know that there are other blueprints that can be successful. Positive mentality, Patience, timing and a steadfast commitment to your business can see it to success.

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?

You can’t patent a recipe, which is both encouraging to people entering the food space and scary to the entrepreneur as well. What you can trademark are your company and product names and logo, which reinforces how important branding is. So far as I can tell, sourcing good, raw, quality ingredients is all about paying for them. Scaling can help bring down the price point, but can also discourage quality. When you start small, quality ingredients will be a considerable cost. I could easily drop my price 4 dollars a unit if I was willing to use non-organic ingredients grown with chemicals provided by companies who don’t value their workers, but I am unwilling to compromise my values, or offer inferior product I don’t believe in or wouldn’t want to feed my own family.

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. Create a mission statement based on values you are aligned with. If your business and products have a strong set of values driving them, you will find the confidence and stick-to-itiveness needed to succeed. Working toward something bigger than yourself through a business gives you the purpose to keep forging forward in the face of adversity. It is common for entrepreneurs to experience moments of self-doubt and questioning, but when your ethics are firm, it is easier to let insecurities and criticism fall to the wayside. Orchestra Provisions has experienced plenty of turbulence concerning human acceptance of an alternate protein source. If the morals driving the company’s success weren’t rooted so strongly, it would be easy to give up in the face of shocked consumers. It is simple, choose to focus on enthusiastic consumers that are supportive of the big picture.
  2. A supportive network- No one creates a successful business alone. Be resourceful about using your alliances to bolster your weaknesses, whether it’s through collaboration, mentorship, your social network or otherwise. The ability to listen will show you that you have more resources than you know. Friends struggling with the same problem you are addressing can be a valuable research and development team. Orchestra Provisions relies on its collaborators and supporters to help educate the masses and validate the concept of entomophagy as a solution to many of the problems we are faced with as humans. The Boise Fry Company is a strong example of a steadfast collaborator. Excited by the sustainability values of Orchestra Provisions, Boise Fry Company started using the seasonings as an elective salt topping in their famous fries in Boise, Idaho. Many of their loyal customers were enticed and excited about the unique way to flavor their fries. On the other hand, some were infuriated and one actually called the police. Another complaining customer called the USDA about the Boise Fry Company, and when asked by the USDA what they were serving the individual replied “crickets.” The representative at the USDA replied, “Crickets, that’s great!” Alliances like these are invaluable to Orchestra, building its validity and strength in the marketplace. We are always stronger together.
  3. Unique value proposition and setting your brand apart- The last thing you want is for your product to blend in with a saturated marketplace. Positioning yourself in an anomalous manner helps attract attention to your business. Orchestra Provisions’ products have a shock value that attracts curiosity. Nothing exists like these seasonings and specialty powders in the marketplace. The value proposition may even threaten the traditional spice share of the market. Why wouldn’t you use delicious spices that have added nutritional value such as 3 grams of protein, 25% recommended iron and plenty of prebiotic fiber? Look out McCormick’s!
  4. Effective packaging- This follows #3 nicely. I think we can all agree that terrible packaging, no matter how great the product, will be completely ignored. You have spent so much time and love crafting a perfect product, now the outside must match. The packaging communicates to the consumer what is inside without having to sample. My marketing team at Oliver Russell and Associates has done a flawless job of speaking to my target market. The look is clean, professional and honest, offering full transparency. The labels sell the product so I don’t have to. Branding has immense power over your consumers. Failing to harness this power is a huge missed opportunity that can equate to the failure of the brand. How your message is communicated through your packaging is equally as important as beauty. Your packaging is an opportunity to educate, which is massively important for Orchestra Provisions. One marketing executive for Starbucks picked up my product at a pitch competition and said “You are missing an opportunity girl, the whole proposition is protein and I would have no idea, you need to put the word protein front and center”. He was so very right. I had placed a nutrition label on the back of the product boasting protein content, when putting the word protein on the front may be the only reason people are motivated to look at the back. Curating a concise message with an efficient use of space may be the deciding factor between your product being left behind on the shelf, or traveling to the conveyor belt.
  5. Sustainability commitment — Our food systems are broken and vulnerable. The way we live on earth is killing her. It should be more of a rule than a suggestion that new businesses in the food space are committed to using a sustainable lens, both in packaging, design, and sourcing. The millennial dollar is driven by intention and solutions for broken food systems moving toward environmental reparations. A strong dedication to whole foods, simple ingredients, free of chemicals and un-pronounceable ingredients, helps to support organic and regenerative farming practices. While developing recipes, I always look into using plants that are native to the area they are growing at scale, organic, drought resistant, and never grown with pesticides or other chemicals. It is similarly important to me that the humans working the food chain have high quality working conditions. A commitment to sustainable food systems is one for healthy humans. What is healthy for the human generally winds up being healthy for the earth too.

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

My success seems to be driven by the shock value of the product itself and is not necessarily a traditionally successful approach. The packaging draws people in, and regardless of how people feel about eating insects, they want to try the product because it seems outlandish or unique. The bar is so low when people imagine eating insects that it is easy to exceed their expectations. This product creates a contagious “buzz” that’s a conversation piece and draws even more people in. When people try a sample, they are amazed by how good it tastes. They then are ripe to hear about why you would actually incorporate something like a cricket into your diet. The added values of a nutrient-dense superfood and a more environmentally friendly protein source makes supporting my products a win-win. Ultimately, we live in a time where we are faced with some pretty heavy problems, and this can drive people into a place of apathy and paralysis. The up and coming millennial dollar is driven by purpose and being a part of a solution. People identify with my business values and out transparent brand lets them be a part of driving change in the marketplace. I think if you can help people to be a part of a solution and create an innovative movement toward making the world a better place, then you can have meaningful success.

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

Orchestra Provisions’ initial product line is only the beginning. The concept behind my business is the continued success of my business is one and the same with the world becoming a better place. The education that’s integral to my business is teaching people that the way they eat and where they spend their dollar in the grocery store is directly correlated to their health and the health of the earth that sustains us. Orchestra’s lessons of nutritious behaviors in the kitchen, global food security and access, and sustainable food systems that promote conservation of vital ecosystems, are intrinsically tied with the success of the products. I see a future where Orchestra helps bring nutritious meals to underserved communities to help face malnutrition in a way that is Earth-friendly.

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.

Entomophagy! Substituting a comparable serving of insect protein for any serving of meat once a week would have huge positive impacts on our environment and make you healthier, too. When we figure out ways to incorporate insect protein into our diets, we fuel an industry with massive potential to address global food security/access and malnutrition with culturally appropriate meals where insects are powdered ingredients.

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.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Dwayne Johnson is the fourth most followed human on Instagram. Much of his following is male and curious about his lifestyle. This is a target market I want to access. I found myself in a room with four men recently, who had each individually read about “The Rock’s” diet. The immense volume of protein that fuels Dwayne’s lifestyle begs a sustainable source. I think he would be interested in driving this change through supporting Orchestra Provisions.

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

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