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Katie Paul of KeHE Distributors: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food

Have a strategy. Know who you are today and who you want to be in the next 1–3 years.Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Spend money where you will make money.Know which shows to attend. Everyone loves a good show, even virtual right now, but know which ones will best suit your brand. As a part […]

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Have a strategy. Know who you are today and who you want to be in the next 1–3 years.

Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Spend money where you will make money.

Know which shows to attend. Everyone loves a good show, even virtual right now, but know which ones will best suit your brand.

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 Katie Paul.

Katie is currently Vice President, Category Management & Growth Solutions at KeHE Distributors, where she develops supplier and retailer category management solutions based on analytics, consumer insights, and category trends. Katie has been serving at KeHE for eleven years and has held positions in Analytics, Pricing, Integration, Category Management, and Growth Solutions. Katie received her Bachelor of Business Administration in Food & Consumer Packaged Goods Marketing from Western Michigan University. In 2015, Katie was named one of Griffin Report’s Food Marketing “40 Under 40”. She received her EMBA degree in Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in 2017 and is currently applying that knowledge back into the industry.

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 Southeast Michigan, just north of Detroit, as the oldest of three siblings (one sister and one brother). My father is a boring mill operator, which I still don’t fully understand, and my mother was a stay at home mom until she went back to cosmetology school and still works as a hairstylist. We grew up blue collar, without a ton of money, but with a ton of love. My best memories as a child are frequent, loud, family meals and heading to Northern Michigan on the weekend for boating and bonfires.

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

The reason I studied food marketing in college was because the job placement rate after graduation from Western Michigan University’s program was 99%+, not due to my passion. My passion for natural and specialty food grew as I started to learn more about health and wellness. My “ah-ha” moment was when I nearly reached 300 pounds and decided I needed to make a life change. My love for the food industry, small and emerging brands, and passionate entrepreneurs grew as I embarked on my health and wellness journey and dropped 150+ pounds in 1 year.

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?

The most common mistakes people make is underestimating the costs associated with going to business and committing to certain things, distributor policy & procedures, retailer slotting and advertising, etc., before fully understanding the commitment. Have the right people around you that can help you navigate going to market and demystify the expenses as you build your brand.

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 risks, fail fast, and adapt quickly. The only constant is change and an idea that might have been great two weeks ago, might not do well in two weeks. However, you need to do your research. Actively seek input from pertinent sources to make timely and well-informed decisions. Acquire data from multiple and diverse sources to ensure you are solving a problem or consumer needs state.

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?

Most passionate entrepreneurs have great ideas, but struggle to translate into an actual business. Invite input and share ownership and visibility with a team of people that can help you. Build a strong team of employees, brokers, consultants, etc. that apply their diverse skills and perspective to execute the great idea.

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?

Not only will consultants help with development, but they can help navigate the industry. They know the right people and have the right connections to come alongside someone with a great idea. However, before hiring that consultant, do your research, asks a ton of questions, and feel fully comfortable with their capabilities and strengths.

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) Have a strategy. Know who you are today and who you want to be in the next 1–3 years. (2) Tailor your strategy. What works for one channel (natural vs. conventional), region, or retailer might not work for the next. (3) Create a promotional roadmap. Know the right frequency and depth of deals that will drive a lift in sales. (4) Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Spend money where you will make money. (5) Know which shows to attend. Everyone loves a good show, even virtual right now, but know which ones will best suit your brand.

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

The way we think about new product success is based on five key factors. Innovation is the first factor; is the product capitalizing on an existing trend, is it paving a path for a new trend, is it unique in the marketplace? The second factor is Ingredients; is the product clean, is the ingredient list short, are there functional ingredients that add benefits, is the ingredient list understandable? Taste is the third factor, which changes to scent or flavor if we are talking about HBC or VMS products; does it have a good texture, how is the mouthfeel, how does it compare to like products in a blind taste test? The fourth factor, which arguably could be the most important, is Salability; does the product compete on price, is the right promotional strategy in place, is the packaging eye-catching, are the right people behind the brand? Lastly, Purpose Driven, is the fifth factor. Consumers are looking for brands that align with their beliefs and values. They are also looking for hip, cool brand personalities, so we ask ourselves, is the brand transparent, are they practicing sustainability, are they mission based?

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

At KeHE, we give 10% of our pre-tax profits to KeHE Cares. We have a mission to relieve human suffering and we serve to make lives better. We don’t just write a check to organizations, we come alongside organizations to make the world a better place. Personally, I’ve been all over the world with KeHE Cares®, from local to me in Chicago to Honduras, Haiti, and Nepal. In addition to that, we partner with mission-based brands that do the same through our CAREtrade® program. Lastly, we are supporting diverse brands that are certified women, minority, LBGT, disabled, or veteran owned through our DIVERSEtrade™ program.

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.

Through our KeHE Cares® efforts, I have become inspired by organizations in the fight to end sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is happening everywhere, even in our own backyards. Aligning more food industry leaders with this need will help millions of women and children around the world.

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

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