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Mitchell Roth of ‘Bourbon Brothers’: “Never wait to deal with problems until they’re right in your face”

“Never wait to deal with problems until they’re right in your face.” In business, you’re going to face challenges or problems and you are best equipped to deal with those problems when you can still see the entire playing field. In a startup environment you need to manage cash flow, and being able to predict […]

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“Never wait to deal with problems until they’re right in your face.” In business, you’re going to face challenges or problems and you are best equipped to deal with those problems when you can still see the entire playing field. In a startup environment you need to manage cash flow, and being able to predict cash flow issues is something that will allow flexibility.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitchell Roth.

Mitchell Roth is the Co-Founder, President, and Chief Operating Officer of Roth Industries. Roth opened the plant in 2016 alongside his father Colorado where the company produces a broad portfolio of ready-to-heat, restaurant-quality prepared foods, under the brand, Bourbon Brothers. He has led the company from dollars in sales to over 10 million in annual sales in less than five years. He has developed the brand substantially, and is responsible for growing the brand from 3 initial SKUs in 123 Safeway stores in Colorado to what is now more than 40 total SKUs available on a national scale.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I really got into the food industry in a little bit of a backwards way. After college I moved to New York City and was working in finance, something I had always wanted to do with no intention of ever leaving. My family is very entrepreneurial and I remember having a long conversation with my dad about building something together. Not long after, I ended up packing up my belongings and heading back to Colorado to build a business with him. Prior to Roth Industries, my dad was an owner of a custom meat packing plant in Northeastern Colorado. He had sold the company to the employees and a financial sponsor. We both recognized that the prepared foods category would see the most growth in the food manufacturing industry, so we started Roth Industries as a state-of-the-art prepared foods manufacturer that would co-pack products as well as produce our own branded line of prepared foods for grocery stores, called Bourbon Brothers.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Roth Industries is a cutting edge disruptor in the prepared foods business in numerous ways, but primarily through flavor innovation and manufacturing technology. Through flavor innovation, we have led the charge in introducing chef driven, on trend, gourmet flavor profiles to “fully cooked meat sets”, a category that has experienced almost zero innovation in the last twenty years. Until we began introducing these new, on-trend flavors, there were only four to five different variations of BBQ pork and chicken along with a couple “dinner entrees” like beef roast in brown gravy available to consumers. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of those items and there are absolutely people who love them, but we felt there was a huge opportunity to attract new customers to the category by introducing products like Basil Pesto Chicken and Pork Chile Verde. These recipes pushed the boundaries of what the set had historically offered, and successfully attracted new consumers. Secondly, Roth Industries is a disruptor through technology. We have leaned into vacuum skin packaging as a tray sealing technique, which allows us to naturally extend the shelf life of our products without the need for artificial ingredients or preservatives. We believe that customers care more than ever which ingredients are in the products they’re consuming or feeding their family, so we strive to provide the cleanest ingredients possible with a long enough shelf life to make our products viable for supermarket retail.

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?

I am not sure this is the kind of mistake you’re referring to, but I can tell you a story about a trip I was on to present Bourbon Brothers to SaveMart in Northern California with our EVP of Sales. We were in a small break room microwaving some samples, getting plates and utensils ready to go, making sure we had our decks and all of the materials for the meeting. Everything was about set, so I began cleaning up the kitchen to leave it nicer than it was when we found it. Behind us was an accordion wall like you’d see in an old school gymnasium, which separated the area where we were working and the room where we’d be meeting. Either way, I am cleaning up in the sink area and I reach to pull the faucet out, like I do at home, but quickly realize it isn’t the type of faucet that extends. Instead I had accidentally pulled the entire faucet head off the sink and water was gushing like a fire hydrant! I quickly tried to jam the faucet head back into the sink and as soon as I did the accordion wall behind me opened and the two buyers were sitting there. They hadn’t seen the gushing water, so I wiped up a little and sat down next to Bill Ciani, our EVP of Sales, across the table from the buyers. It was mid-July in Modesto California, so I was wearing the thinnest white dress shirt I owned which was sopping wet. I never addressed it and neither did the buyers. I am sure they’re still talking to this day about the really sweaty guy from Roth Industries! The lesson I learned was not to break the customer’s faucet.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

There is no question that my dad has been my number one business mentor, but not only in the ways you might assume since we started this business together. When I was young I always looked up to my dad as a businessman. He would travel to New York City to raise capital all the time when I was a kid. There were points in time where he was in New York raising capital as much as, if not more than, home in Colorado. During the summer, so long as it didn’t conflict with baseball, I’d go on business trips with him. We used to have packed days from a 7am breakfast at the Cosmo with old stock brokers smoking cigarettes waiting for their breakfast, to a breakneck pace of meetings all over midtown during the day, to dinners at Keens with various IR people or investors. I’d tag along to 90% of the meetings in my little tan suit from Walmart. I say 90% because there were simply certain meetings where it wouldn’t be well received to have a 10 year old sitting in the meeting, but for the most part the old guys loved having me there and I loved being there. I used to describe it as similar to watching tennis. My dad would talk for a while, then the investors would talk for a while, and this would go on for what seemed like hours. After the meetings, my dad and I would hang out in a deli and talk about everything that happened that day. I was learning about securities and cap tables, but more importantly I was watching and learning how sales happen and deals get done. It is experience that is irreplaceable.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

To me, disruption occurs when innovation is met by consumer acceptance. Generally speaking, this is always a good thing. Disruption means someone, somewhere, figured out how to do something in a non-traditional way and the consumers prefer it to the previous way either because the product is better or cheaper. Disruption can be harmful in some ways, as may be the case with automation, where you see a dramatic loss of jobs, or with machine learning or artificial intelligence where there are unintended consequences which might not be known for years or decades. But generally speaking, in the food industry, disruption is a good thing with very few unknown or unintended consequences.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Never wait to deal with problems until they’re right in your face.” In business, you’re going to face challenges or problems and you are best equipped to deal with those problems when you can still see the entire playing field. In a startup environment you need to manage cash flow, and being able to predict cash flow issues is something that will allow flexibility.

“Keep the main thing, the main thing.” This is more of a life lesson that I love and think about all the time. The first “main thing” is the ultimate objective that you’re fighting to achieve. The second “main thing” is how you’re prioritizing your life, duties, and the means to whatever end you’re working on. An example of this is, the main thing in our business might be to become the number one national brand at Walmart in our category, therefore, what are we doing today to achieve that. It’s easy to get caught up in headlines about what other companies are doing and lose focus, but if we keep the main thing, the main thing in our effort we will stay focused and be more likely to achieve that goal.

“Perfection is the enemy of progress.” We all want a slightly more beautiful website, or a slightly heavier tone of a certain flavor profile in a new product, but at the end of the day, speed to market and the agility to react are far more important than perfection. I have been guilty of getting caught up in perfection and have had an uneasy feeling about products that I didn’t feel were perfect, but ultimately, getting to the market, reacting and working tirelessly to refine products that are 80% “perfect” is far better than being the last one to the dance with a product that YOU think is 100% perfect, because you’re never right 100% of the time.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We have some very exciting new objectives at Roth including new packaging technology that will allow us to introduce some innovation in side dishes. We’re coming out with some gourmet side dish recipes, as well as some healthier veggie options that will shake up the starch-heavy sides assortment in the Home Meal Replacement set and offer healthier, on-trend items.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but the one series that should be a MUST listen for any entrepreneur in any industry is the “Acquired Podcast.” Ben and David are the hosts, both of whom are venture capital guys and they do an incredibly deep dive on tech startups that ultimately get acquired. They have recently branched out to companies that are less tech-y. For example, they did a deep dive on the NBA from formation through its existing business model and positioning in the industry. I think understanding what the catalysts and differentiators are, like a flywheel effect and how it can be leveraged for growth and market positioning, is applicable to business in non-tech industries and nobody does it better than the Acquired FM guys.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I am going to go back to “keep the main thing, the main thing.” I admit that I have not always been one to heed this advice, but in every instance where I didn’t, I wished I would have. I have a younger sister who I say this to all the time. In her life, as a high school student and soccer player, I give her the example that when you’re at soccer practice, the main thing is to get better at soccer and grow as a soccer player. Sometimes that’s going to mean putting yourself in uncomfortable positions on the field and making a mistake or looking foolish, but it’s ultimately going to make you a better player. When she is in the classroom, her main thing needs to be to learn the material being taught. Try to keep a 30,000 foot perspective all the time and allow it to inform your behavior. This is obviously applicable to entrepreneurs as well. If your goal is to find product market fit or raise a round of capital, keep the big picture in mind and take action.

You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂

To me, the greatest unlock we have as a society is DRAMATICALLY improving public education. I went to public schools for the majority of my life and was fortunate to get a great education by teachers who cared about the success of their students. Unfortunately, as a country, we spend more money on education per pupil than any other country in the world and yet we generate very mediocre results in proficiency. The kids from both our urban centers and rural areas have built-in resilience but are less likely to prosper in life or achieve a high level of secondary education. In my opinion, it should be the “main thing” we focus on as a country to reduce poverty, domestic violence, crime, and drug abuse.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow Roth Industries by signing up for our newsletter at rothind.com or by following me on Instagram @mitchellrroth.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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