Do most things by yourself — A CEO with formal attire looks great but you have responsibilities at every level. Therefore, getting yourself accustomed to all aspects of business will give your better control and understanding.
Have a proper marketing plan. — Wow you have a great product however there is small problem. Where to sell it. Every market seems saturated. Proper marketing plan is essential. This includes sales distribution, advertising and PR strategies.
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 Vivek Sharma, CEO of Laumière Gourmet Fruits, who is an experienced professional in the F&B industry. He has played a pivotal role in building one of the largest brands in Middle East and is now focusing on establishing Laumière from California. With the extensive knowledge, he works on creating products which are bound to entice you and expanding the B2B business.
Varun Sharma, Co-Founder of Laumière Gourmet Fruits, is a young entrepreneur passionate about technology, management, philanthropy and music. He has experience managing large-scale digital transformation projects. At Laumière, he focuses on establishing the brand and growing its e-commerce presence.
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 rather small town in Himachal Pradesh, India and moved to Dubai to kick off my corporate career. I spent nearly 20 years there playing a key role in establishing a major firm in GCC. I then moved to Bakersfield, California to launch Laumière Gourmet Fruits. It is a purpose-driven company. We are an innovative food brand exploring the connection between luxury and nature in a quest to combine gourmet excellence with a healthy lifestyle. I always wanted to create a natural and healthy food product but never had the courage to start a venture as children were in their formative years and their education was the priority. Now I am ready to take this on and here I am a year later, bringing a change to how customers perceive fruits.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
Travelling to Paris has always been learning for a fine food lover. While having lunch during 2014 at my favourite Fauchon, an idea was born to create a Parisian experience with natural ingredients. From then I spent time on conceptualizing Laumiere and launching it 5 years later in 2019.
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?
We claimed our product as Vegan initially but it had honey and realized it once the product was launched. This was a learning for us which plays a key role in how we are growing and now assess every product and ingredient. We eventually learnt the best practises and recently got Kosher certified.
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?
Gourmet Food business takes time to grow. Demand is almost nonexistent initially. Therefore, it’s better to control inventory as tightly as possible, even if small orders cost you more. Once you start scaling up and the demand picks up, increase inventory but in a controlled manner.
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?
Thorough market research is imperative. This includes product research, pricing, geographic research, and food preference. Product innovation backed by market research is the key. It took me 5 years to get it going and I would definitely recommend everyone to spend time on it before launching their business.
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?
Business is a lot about numbers. Ideas need to translate into a commercially viable option. This requires proper planning to make it real. Hence, ideas by itself are worthless. Execution is truly what matters.
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?
Business requires guidance at multiple levels. Invention development is just one aspect. I would encourage consultation regarding commercial viability, funding and return, break even point wherever needed.
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 personally feel bootstrapping is the only option to start with. Venture capitalism should be applied (only if required) at the expansion stage with well-defined targets. Unless commercial timeline is 100% adhered to, the venture capitalist is a clear no. At Laumiere, we are entirely bootstrapped and a year in, have been able to do record sales with an ever increasing market.
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?
USPTO has one of the most systematic and user friendly systems to file a patent. Don’t waste time and money with agents. Do it by yourself. Here is a secret: through USPTO you can file global patents with 90% of the world’s countries covered under WIPO, it is the most economical and systematic way to register your brand globally. We were able to do it and hence recommend everyone to do the same.
Manufacturers are distributors are industry specific.
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.)
Have a solid concept — When we started Laumiere, I had a vision to create sweets with any sugar. As impossible as it sounds, we were able to create our Superfood Parfait Collection that is loaded with nutrients and is made with absolutely no added sugar! Today it is one of our best sellers and is truly a work of art we are proud of.
- Do your homework — I decided to launch the brand from California and focus on a D2C model. These were big decisions but because I did my homework, we were able to establish the business and truly create a change in the healthy gifting segment. The vision was to think of a product that would be relevant even 10 years from now. We believe people are truly focusing on their health and its a trend we want to support. Home work might sound small but is huge in terms of work involved and its effect on overall result. It includes pre-product research, recipes, commercial research, packing analysis, government regulations and approvals, target markets and their packing requirements, nutritional analysis. Online business requires smart planning in terms of shipping and packing size. Pricing plays a very important role and shipping is an important component of it.
- Start small — Even if you conceptualize an assembly line-based product, never start full blown. Most of the time recipes require fine tuning and consumer feedback turns out different from expected. You might have to assemble products with exceptionally high labor cost to start with. That’s Ok. Believe in your product.
- Manage and control your overheads. — I cannot emphasize this enough. It’s very easy to have money being lost to various expenses. Starting production with state of art large set up and huge raw material inventory can be avoided to start with. Not only recipes change over a period but you realize that some machineries may not be required at the moment. Controlling staff expenses is equally important. No technical jobs might require some multitaskers with proper cross board training.
- Do most things by yourself — A CEO with formal attire looks great but you have responsibilities at every level. Therefore, getting yourself accustomed to all aspects of business will give your better control and understanding.
- Have a proper marketing plan. — Wow you have a great product however there is small problem. Where to sell it. Every market seems saturated. Proper marketing plan is essential. This includes sales distribution, advertising and PR strategies.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Established food sectors have big and established players. Penetrating that market is almost impossible. You can’t compete with Starbucks or McDonalds. Try to find a gap in the food market and see if you can develop a product for that niche segment. We tried to do that and it has been working rather well. What we do not give the customer what they ask for. If we offer them something they aren’t accustomed to, something so far superior that they take a while to develop their taste, we can create a sense of discovery, excitement, and loyalty that will bond them with the brand. It may take longer but if we have great products, we can educate them to like it rather than a mass-market product.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As said earlier that we are a purpose driven company. We are committed to healthy food. Laumiere should be the gourmet experience of nature’s offerings, dried fruits and nuts. Customers should savour its taste and refinement & while gifting, should reflect givers’ impeccable taste. Our company is all about making the world a better place. We recognize our limitations and imperfections as it is, think of the world as we want it to be and make sacrifices and work hard to create the world we want to be a part of it.
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.
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.
Howard Schulz without a doubt!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.