Chris is the founder of America's fastest growing hummus brand - Ithaca Hummus.
In this episode we discuss:
You can find Chris on LinkedIn here.
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[0:00:01] George Reid: Welcome to us, Always Day One. My name is George Reid, a former Amazonian turned amazon consultant. Each week on the podcast you're going to hear industry experts, brand owners and amazon employees share their answers to the basic yet fundamental questions you should be asking yourself about your amazon business now, let's jump in. Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of It's always Day one. Today I've got Chris, Kirby speaking with us and me from the autonomous, really excited to be to chris, I've been following him for a long time now and linked in loving his content, loneliness, mental attitude towards everything business and life related. Um but Chris Welcome to the show, trying to give us a quick kind of 22nd background on who you are, what you do etc.
[0:00:50] Chris Kirby: Absolutely, yeah, George thank you for saying all that and thanks for having me obviously um I am the founder of Somos. I started the company after a seven year career as a chef. I wanted to get out of the restaurant business and focus on one, doing one thing really well. So I opened up the farmers market us stand in Ithaca new york and that's what we call today, if the Bahamas
[0:01:18] George Reid: not know that ethical was a place in new york and that's where the name comes from. That's quite interesting. I like you immediately kind of got me onto a point, they're just focusing on doing one thing. Well was was homeless, just, I like commerce, it seems like a good opportunity or was there kind of some sort of passion behind it And just if we nail that just double down on being really good at one product. What was the kind of an initial thought process of interest?
[0:01:45] Chris Kirby: Sure, the passion for me is, has always been just generally food. And one thing that I learned in my professional culinary career was that simplicity is key, really high quality ingredients, you don't need many of like a lot of times, the most amazing thing that you'll taste has very few ingredients. It's just very focused on and very well balanced. And so I kind of took that same mentality um when I thought about starting a business and I really started with the local economy, the local area of Ithaca new york, what could I do here in Ithaca new york and be successful. But then I also tried to layer on like, okay, if I'm successful on a local scale, I want to choose something that also has some national potential. So I started to look at, you know, the homeless category nationally at the time, even still true today, relatively flat, um especially when you compare it to the plant based trends that are just so booming right now and I just felt like there was an incredible opportunity to um just do it right and have an amazing product that's undeniably the best in the category. And Uh, that's, that's, that's been the focus since day one
[0:03:12] George Reid: and nice tie back to the day want to um I like your passion for the is undeniably the best in the category. When you think about that mindset of doing one thing, Well, I assume was it a case of, we're just going to ensure ingredients are very high quality. That's kind of box one, tick and getting that balance box too. Then when it came to that large process, what did that look like? Did you still have the same mindset about doing one thing well at a time? Or was it a bit more juggling
[0:03:44] Chris Kirby: in a way? I was almost forced into, you know, doing kind of throwing all that I had into doing what was right in front of me to the best of my abilities before I could move on to whatever the next thing was. And as you said, initially that was product development, how am I going to make this product stand head and shoulders above anything else? And so yeah, we checked that box and as a byproduct of that and using fresh lemon juice, all the fresh ingredients that go into our product. Um it also meant that we only had a seven day shelf life. So When I turned the page two, distributing it and growing the footprint of our distribution, I was almost forced into keeping it local and slowly kind of growing in concentric circles on the map from there. And you know, I also feel like I didn't come into this business as a marketer or a salesperson, You know, I was a chef and I knew how to make good food and thank God for that because we um because I've always relied really on the product selling itself and the repeat that comes from just having a really high quality product that resonates with people.
[0:05:10] George Reid: And what you've mentioned, the quality that you mentioned, that development process is challenging to ensure that your head and shoulders above.
[0:05:18] Chris Kirby: What were you
[0:05:19] George Reid: doing at the time to validate any of this? Because you're obviously ex chef, you go, yes, it's good, I've got a thumbs up for me and I know about food, but then when it came to the target audience, you you obviously go into those local farmers markets. Was that your initial validation with any other things you were doing, or
[0:05:37] Chris Kirby: no, it was really about being at the farmers market, standing in front of my consumer, you know, consumers, customers, fans and watching them experience tasting the product for the first time. Um, that, that validated that I had the right formula. And um, it also was an incredible form of entrepreneurial kind of energy to see the excitement from people who tasted the product and just had this almost like mind blowing experience of, wow, you know, I, I buy homes all the time at the grocery store, but it never tastes like this. Um, that was the singular um, source of validation. It's all I needed.
[0:06:27] George Reid: Mm No, that makes, that makes a lot of points and now you, you get ridiculously good feedback, like when you share stuff on linked in and going through your social platforms before, that's your fans are next level. I haven't really seen anything like that. Another similar one I had was like wild deodorant. They have it in their community as well. And it's so good when you see these raving fans who just want you as a brand to do well, when you think about that, what are you doing at the moment and talk me for your mindset little around community, Are you building out these communities? Are you encouraging people to post and share all your strategies to get some of that raw, engaging content from your users?
[0:07:17] Chris Kirby: That's a really good question. And um, it's funny because we have tried like, you know, post a photo with Ithaca HMOs and tag us and we'll choose a winner if we? Re posted and things and of everything that we've tried, it feels like none of that stuff has worked for us because I can take a guess as to why this isn't based on any research, but
[0:07:42] George Reid: it just
[0:07:44] Chris Kirby: in hindsight may have felt a little bit ask E and and sales E and inauthentic. Um, and so in contrast to that, I think what has really inspired people to vocalize their thoughts and opinions about our product is really, I hate to simplify it, but it's really just the quality, the taste, the flavor, the
[0:08:12] George Reid: texture. Um
[0:08:14] Chris Kirby: it's it's so very different and in a way, like, remarkable to people who are used to eating the bigger brands that are here in the States. And um I think really when you when you have that, that is enough, that is all you need to incite that consumer rage that you can. I mean, I'm very flattered to here to here that you can see that because we certainly do from inside of the walls of Ithaca Hamas, but it's always good to hear from others that they see it too
[0:08:47] George Reid: like that. I use the term invoke an emotion a lot when it comes to kind of packaging your your brand visuals on your site, whatever it happens to be. And I think what you just touched on there is they're experiencing that having an emotion that makes them want to like, take an action. I want other people to try this. Similar to, you know, we homeless on our balcony and the other day there was two different types and you're immediately and having a conversation about home and then telling other people about it. And have you tried this new one? It's invoked emotion and that's a knock on effect. Um, but are you doing in the thinking? So then go, right, that's foster this, Or is it just we just focus on creating quality? You're not fostering in the slightest, you're just going, what will be will be. and we don't do them posts anymore. Like poster photo shoots whenever you just ditch that completely and it just relying on good human nature.
[0:09:42] Chris Kirby: Yeah, we have and I will say one The one thing that we are very focused on is just simply community engagement in the sense that if someone reaches out to us, if someone comments something, you know, a flattering comment, um, we always make sure that we take the time to answer every direct message with care. I always say to the team like we don't want one way conversations that just dead end. Be curious where we want to be curious about who are consumer is. So um, it's not just, hey thanks for buying our product. It's hey thanks for buying our product. And where did you try it? Where did you try it the first time? What flavor did you? I mean we'd like to ask questions to have conversations and um, you know, I think that's working so
[0:10:40] George Reid: well. You just, you're hitting what the fastest growing homeless brand in America at the moment. So something, something's definitely working there. And I really like your point answering every message which everyone says anyway, right? But then you'll follow up with care and you see that a lot. You know, I've seen it with people on amazon for instance, when they respond to customers, there isn't the care there, it sounds transactional and that in my opinion compounds over time of their transactional brand that a transactional company, it just, it makes it a hard edge as opposed to a nice rounded edge. And I really like your point about being curious because that displays more of your, your brand's identity, which again, when it comes down to that space you've reserved in someone's head, which is in my opinion, what a brand should be. It's there a curious brand. They're interesting. They care. And this all kind of stacks up when it comes down to them going, I'm going to tell a friend about this that is echoed in that conversation with a friend and compels them to buy. I also love the point don't be a dead end. And I think many people, you know, I've seen it when you engage in someone's post unlinked it, which is you know, best practice thing to do to get a bit of brand awareness and then they kind of give you a shitty response, been like gee thanks or thumbs up emoji and you know, okay, you haven't really, you just shut it down. You pick the box by like your mindset of going, don't be a dead end care, be curious, ask those questions when you ever get any data back that goes, this is working guys, let's keep caring. Probably not. But you kind of macro pictures sales are going up, so we're doing something right. Is that your mindset?
[0:12:28] Chris Kirby: Yeah, it's it's a it's a qualitative approach as opposed to a quantitative. I mean week I cannot possibly quantify um the return on investment of, you know, the salary of our community engagement manager. I can't do it. But what I can point to is conversations like this where I'm receiving feedback and hearing from people, wow. You know, your your consumers and your fans seem very engaged. Well, I would assume that having a community engagement manager as the singular like only staff person on our social media team has something to do with that. And the other thing that I'll say is I referred to are the quality of our product a few times now. Um, but I think what makes it even more powerful is our brand and our packaging communicates something right? It always does. And I think, um, it are specifically communicates clean, wholesome ingredients, um, freshness and when the brand and what the brand is communicating matches up with the experience that the consumer has, when they have the product, that's also a very, very powerful thing because I think in today's world that's somewhat of a rarity, brands make a lot of promises to sell product without the, um, without the follow through of making sure that, that they're delivering on those promises,
[0:14:09] George Reid: kind of an over promise and under deliver sort of mentality. Um, that does make sense. Your brand does look a little bit differently. You know, even if it's, the traditional homeless comes invariably in a circular tub with transparent labelling and packaging etcetera, yours comes in more of a cube rectangle shape. I've been picked up so it's difficult, I'm guessing here, but from pictures and it looks like the lid maybe like a slightly wavy shape or is it pure straight edge? I don't know your helmet.
[0:14:43] Chris Kirby: Yeah, it's um, it's not, it's a straight edge, but there is some contour from the side angle, but, but you also brought up a good point. A lot of the other, um, most other, um, is packaged in a clear plastic and it was a big leap to say, you know what? We know that consumers like to see the product inside. Like that was the insight that that packaging was developed off of and ours is not clear. You can't see the product inside. Um, but to your point, it communicates that we are different and when it's consumed and people taste it and it actually is different. It's just a reinforcement that you know, hey, this brand kind of aligns across all the communication touch points,
[0:15:30] George Reid: it's a very good point. We're going to be different from the offset, which is here is our initial introduction to you as an individual looking on the shelf and we're different and then when you experience it, it's different. Again, it kind of reinforces it, which I like just sticking on this community point for a minute and I do kind of have a question for you here, I had a quick look for a facebook community in a group, is there one of those at the moment? And if not how
[0:15:57] Chris Kirby: there's not and the reason kind of goes back to focus, I would say are our social media channel of choice is instagram and I know that instagram and facebook kind of go hand in hand, but I think we all know that in order to be successful on facebook requires a different, different approach than what it takes to be successful on instagram and you know, we've just simply chosen and, and feel like, you know, we should really choose one and instagram has, has been the, the channel of choice for us and so I'm almost ashamed to say it, but we just don't do a whole lot on facebook. Um, and if we were maybe we would have created some groups by now
[0:16:51] George Reid: it piece by piece, right, you're not gonna nail everything in day one. Um, so yeah, solid answer. Um, now I want to pivot a little bit um, to think a little bit about amazon and you've probably been selling now or not selling, you've been a brand for eight years, but you haven't got into amazon from my brief thing, it looks like you've got a whole foods product up on their, with what image? Not necessarily optimized, I may add. Um, why, what's the decision making around amazon? Let's just keep it broad like that. And then we can see where we go.
[0:17:29] Chris Kirby: Sure. Um, amazon. Uh, you know, obviously, and in all of our minds represents one of the largest director, well, one of the largest direct to home channels that exists and by nature of being a refrigerated packaged good, it's a very difficult product to ship. And so that's just kind of fallen by the wayside to a degree for us. However, my personal feeling is, is amazon is going to be the first to figure that out. And we're, and so it was kind of like a stepwise approach to it. It's like, okay, if we want to win on amazon is the big goal, then that means we first have to win at whole foods in the brick and mortar scenario. And that took a long time to go from regional to now as of like a week ago, National with whole foods very excited about that. And so now that we're national with whole foods all of a sudden that does open up the amazon world to us with prime and delivery from the whole foods stores. And I do have someone on my team who is in charge of doing the best that we can as you know, mere mortals in the amazon world to make sure that we've got the right imagery and, and our peach looks, um looks the way that it needs to, she is currently focused on making sure that the stores are being reset properly and I think that's her next um next objective. But you know, we'll see where it goes. I'm very excited to now have amazon available to us and to our consumers by way of whole foods, national distribution.
[0:19:23] George Reid: Hey folks, is George here. I'd like you to check out my new site, georges dot blog. It's where you can find all of my famous weekly emails as well as how we can work together to repeat that georges dot blog. Now, let's carry on with the episode. I like again your mindset around, let's just do one thing right at a time. Rather than I asked the question to a number of the people, would you launch on amazon or your website first? Um Some people kinda go both and you immediately juggling right? They both require a degree essentially in order to be able to do it. Um So I like that you've gone, we're gonna nail our website and I think that the strategy that works really well here is because you've already got such brand awareness, such great following. You don't really need to care about other, um, are sellers on amazon or other grocery sellers as competitors and think, oh, they've got five years of additional kind of sales on their views building up because if you've got a solid product and a solid audience, you can kind of turn the tap on quite nicely and start directing traffic to amazon should you want to. Um, you've already got some assets that you can work on, you know, 20,000 followers on Instagram, highly engaged people loving your product that you can, you can create really strong content. Them kind of leap into it essentially. Um, so there is merit in this particular example of taking your time nailing one thing, which is what you've done and like your website is an absolute beauty. I remember putting a video up a while ago of your landing page, um which I think was our first interaction like six months ago. If anyone wants to check it out, that you go to the website straight away, it's really nice and it's an experience. Right? So you've nailed that doubled down on that, which has allowed you then now your whole foods nationwide, it's going to make it much easier for you to launch and launch well. Um, but we could go down all sorts of rabbit holes there. So you're thinking about your, your website a little bit there. I want to focus on this content piece because what you do really well, it's create great content. When I say content. What are you and your team thinking about just as an overall peace
[0:21:39] Chris Kirby: content? Um, you know, to me it has to do has to do one of a few things. It's got to add value to whoever is consuming it, it's going to tell a story about us, it's got to educate on attributes of the product and benefits and why we're different. Um it's got to deliver a trademark impression and, you know, and any given piece of content to be successful in my view, can do one of those things, you know, they don't the best content does all of that.
[0:22:16] George Reid: Um
[0:22:17] Chris Kirby: but at the end of the day, I think obviously content is all about engagement and um you know, we just we just try to create content that we think is going to resonate with our audience and almost um leave people with that feeling of, you know, they get me, they get they get me, they get who I am, and they understand what it is that I want and and what's going to resonate with me. I mean, if we're doing that well then um I would agree. We have great content in that, in that scenario.
[0:22:56] George Reid: Do you, do you lean on your customers a lot for that content piece, like on your side on instagram with amazon, is that going to be part of your strategy as well? To go? We're getting great user generated stuff, which is incredible social proof. Anyone else considering this product is your plan? And do you currently do it with your normal channels? Do you lean on that kind of content paid a lot or not
[0:23:22] Chris Kirby: big? It's big. It's huge for us, user generated for all the reasons that you just mentioned. Plus, you know, there's a lot of learning is there for us. There's a lot of inspiration that comes out of seeing how people are using your product. I would just today actually, there were to back to back stories on instagram that were posted about us and we were tagged in and the first one was someone eating hummus for breakfast. And the second one was like a midday, like quick snack and you know, seven years ago I would have looked at that and said like, oh, that's, that's really cool. But today, like having been a student of the CPG world for so long, what I realize is that, well, they're communicating usage, occasions and frequency that the rest of the category isn't really educating on right now. And that's a huge objective for us at the Bahamas is um, setting ourselves up to grow the category, not just our share, not just steal share from the competitors. We want to grow the whole pie instead of just our slice. And the way that you do that is by growing household penetration and usage frequency and occasions. And so when I see content like that, it's inspiring. And it's the kind of content that I immediately want to share, whether it's out on our social channels or to a category manager that I'm working with, that whole foods or target just to say like, look, look, this is how we're growing the category. You know, the big brand in the category right now is focused on like summertime party. Like I'm going to go by the 17 ounce product and bring it to a barbecue and maybe it gets used and maybe it doesn't, that's not a frequent usage. I mean we want to see people eating it at, at work and for breakfast and center of the plate for dinner and for lunch on sandwiches and um, I think I'm way off of where your initial question was, but um, user generated content is, uh, is a huge source of, of the content that we re share for sure.
[0:25:43] George Reid: I think that's a really interesting kind of way to look at it as well. We're not looking just to steal how through from other people. Like you can do that all day long and it just ends up being a battle. We're looking to think outside the box is grow. It is a very valid point, but I really like the educational piece kind of how are you using it? What are you doing? Whether you consume it? Why do you consume at them asking those questions or not necessarily asking because you're getting it anywhere? Um, but you know, that's a great opportunity for you then go, okay, well they're having it at breakfast. Does that mean other people have it at breakfast? Maybe we start sharing some ideas around that and planting that seed in people's heads, whether it be, um you know, maybe you're making your morning fry whatever it happens to be at the weekend, and you've got a dab of us on the side and then back in the background and you're informing people that this is an option, this is something that can happen. Um kind of changing the way people think about when they shouldn't, shouldn't use it. Um and that obviously just increases adoption, right, increases maybe people go, I never snack on things in the afternoon, but the idea of making my breakfast a little bit more interesting, Well that sounds great. So now I'm a new customer for homeless as a whole, and that's the category growing. Um Really, really like that, you then let's say this example today with someone having a breakfast, which is a bit strange but fine. I'm also gonna go try it now. Probably not with milk and cereal, but with a cooked breakfast perhaps. Um What are you thinking of doing with that content now? Are you gonna go right social manager, let's take that and create 10 pieces with just that one that she or he shared with us. Are you then going maybe we get some new graphics done with this idea and post that across the channels? What are your thoughts? Mhm.
[0:27:40] Chris Kirby: Um I think all the above when when we see content that we like and we feel like, wow, that were on there, we're onto something here. Um Yeah, well, will either try to create more of it in a more, you know, sophisticated way or curated way sometimes or the antennas will go up and we'll just look for more of it first to validate that, wow, this is actually a real, this is actually a real insight here because it's not just a one off like some wacko is having promised for breakfast. Well we don't want to chase down that rabbit hole until we validated a little bit. So um, you know, but if you can validate and, and, and in this case with this example, we actually have, um, there is this emerging trend of oddly enough us for breakfast that we found and in in the best case scenario user generated content like that can actually trans end into inspiration for R and D and new products and um, in our case it has done that. And so in the fall we are launching and everything bagel, HMOs, which is a huge like massive hit of a huge trend flavor profile in the U. S. I'm not sure if it is in Australia. Um but off of that insight of wow this could grow usage occasion and frequency and we're confident in it because we see that people are not only adding everything seasoning to our classic flavor but also consuming this product in the breakfast meal period. And so why don't we combine all of that into a new flavor and try to accomplish a handful goals with it
[0:29:36] George Reid: like this, with that. You also not necessarily solving people's problems like authority on this wavelength and experimenting with this idea, this new trend, you're just going well let's just make a like a little bit easier and kind of merging into what when when you say everything bagel just clarify that. What, what is that? Sorry,
[0:29:55] Chris Kirby: Apologies. Yeah, of course. Um so everything bagels are like this, you go into a bagel shop in in new york city and um you know, they've got the poppy seed and the sesame seed and the sea salt and the everything bagel is just like every spice that they have back there, and and they just like dip it in, you know, the spice plate that that's left over from all the other bagels that they've done, and it's actually developed into this like mega trend here. That did start on bagels, but um eventually spice jars of everything, bagel seasoning started to come out, and then you started to see the everything bagel profile show up in all sorts of categories. And yeah, so in terms of what it actually is, it's like sesame seeds, dehydrated onion, poppy seeds, um dehydrated garlic. Uh and I think caraway seed,
[0:31:03] George Reid: you're now just throwing that into HMOs and then just go, just slammed this us on your bagel. And you've kind of got a bit of everything tastes on the bagel and you don't need to worry about getting all these separate ingredients essentially is kind of a problem solved. You get the taste, but without the hassle and the mess of doing all the other jazz.
[0:31:21] Chris Kirby: Yes.
[0:31:23] George Reid: Love it. Love it. One final question is to tie things up. I don't want to take up too much of your time is what are your strategies? And you're thinking when it comes to pricing, you had a brilliant term that I saw and do a little bit of research, which was you'll never discount your way to dominance. So in treed by obviously you're a premium product. But johnny just talked to that topic around pricing a little bit more.
[0:31:49] Chris Kirby: Sure, Yeah, pricing and promotions specifically, um, are just, it's one of those things that plagues so many early stage founders, because we have an entire industry of distributors and brokers and sales agents telling us that in order to get people to try this stuff, you got to discount it, you've gotta sell, buy one, get one free, you gotta, and you know, there's, there's really, I mean, that's true. Um, and if you're lucky to have a good solid product, it can work that way, but you're much better off in the minds and hearts of consumers educating on the benefits of why your price is, what it is, is premium, um, why is our price point premium? Um, it's because our product just costs more to make than the competitors and all things being equal margins throughout the supply chain. It just kind of comes out that way. But uh, in the end, we don't want to, we don't want to make the impression the first impression in the consumer's mind that, like, oh, this is a brand that I wait, um, for once a month, when it goes on deal to buy, you know, you don't want to, you don't want to train your consumer to buy on deal because you just will never have a chance to sell any volume at full price. And, you know, pricing is a whole big, it's a whole science. Um, but I just think generally the more that you can do as a brand to educate on your unique selling points, um, to gain the trial, um, as opposed to just discounting the price below your competitors, it's just a more sustainable strategy.
[0:33:53] George Reid: What did that look like initially? And what does that look like now, that educational piece that you think is working for you when people are making that comparison on the supermarket shelf,
[0:34:06] Chris Kirby: the majority of it just comes down to packaging, you know, having a unique packaging that cuts through the clutter of the shelf and really has stopping power is critical to get people to just see it in the first place and then be curious and pick it up. And then once they do, um, you know, we list out our ingredients on our packaging twice, which is a little bit insane because if you saw it, it's, it's actually quite small package, there's not a lot of room. Um, but, you know, step one, I think it's all about packaging. In the end, Step one is having a well designed um, package that stands up and and gets people to pick it up. And then once they do, having great content on there that resonates for us. It's about a clean ingredients story, a founder story and an origin story. Um, and then, um, you know, once you gain that trial, it's about again, having, having a product that lives up to all those promises and um, when you are confident in the repeat, then it's worth investing in in the trial.
[0:35:18] George Reid: Very good summary packaging as it is a great piece. And I'm sure we can wrap a lot about its 245 minutes. But I think what I'll do is I'll put it there, we'll tackle those of things and thank you so much for your time Chris that it was incredibly valuable. I'd love to have you on in the future if you're keen to come back on and say yes time. And we can see where you're at their, particularly with this new everything launch, which still battles neighboring country.
[0:35:43] Chris Kirby: But yeah, it's a pleasure and I'd be happy to come back and uh, you know, thanks for having me.
[0:35:50] George Reid: Nor is good man. Chris enjoy the rest of the day part.
[0:35:52] Chris Kirby: Thanks. Thanks George.
[0:35:54] George Reid: Hey guys, just a quick one. If you are enjoying the podcast, I either have some actionable next steps or new ideas. I'd really appreciate if you could one subscribe to the show and leave us review. These are really, really important to us as you probably know being in the amazon world and two. If you're looking for additional support with your brand, head over to the website, it's always day one dot co dot UK where we've got links to other resources. As often our guys speak soon.