How I debuted a new product with no cash, investor, or loan

Hanley's Strawberry Vinaigrette
Hanley’s Louisiana Strawberry Vinaigrette — Taken in my backyard on my kids swing-set

Back in January, I wrote an article asking readers to vote on the next salad dressing we make. One called Greek, Crack, or a Strawberry Vinaigrette and the winner will be at the farmers market to taste and to purchase (here is the article). Almost 50% of the votes where for the Strawberry Vinaigrette, so I got to work the next few days to make the perfect batch. Once I had a batch that I was comfortable with I pitched it to my top 3 selling grocery stores, asking them to pre-order 35 cases (12 bottles per case) to help me bring this to market. I only needed two of the three stores to make my projected batch of 150 cases, without hesitation from the store managers… I got all three.

The recipe has to be great, not good.

Strawberry test batchesWhen making the strawberry vinaigrette, I made a lot of “good” recipes but I wanted this to be great. Our Sensation salad dressing makes people stop in their tracks and buy it after they taste it. It is a delicious, great salad dressing (that is going to be the next Ranch, mark my words) — and everything else has to live up to that. To be great, not good.

I discovered that the best way to make a great strawberry vinaigrette, is to use a ton of fresh strawberries. And while I knew it would cost more to produce, I also knew it could cost more in the long run if it wasn’t great. So, the number one ingredient in the vinaigrette is fresh local strawberries.

I sourced Louisiana strawberries, pecans, and cane sugar from local farmers to make it truly local and fresh. I loved the peppered texture of a strawberry, so I experimented with chia seeds and poppy seeds to give it a solid strawberry feel. A few days after bottling, I noticed that the chia seeds start to dissipate, however the poppy seeds really pop. Especially when you pour it over a salad, the whole presentation looks amazing.

Getting cash & yelled at

After doing a fun little experiment on my blog to have people vote on the next salad dressing, I had to figure out exactly how I’m going to do this. I didn’t have the cash, I wasn’t ready for an investor, and there’s no way I could get a loan or do a Kickstarter campaign in time. And now I made this promise to bring this to the market. I had enough cash to make one batch (65 cases), so after perfecting a great recipe, I put some samples in my car and went to my first store (1 of 15) to see if they where interested. Not only was the first store interested, they wanted the entire batch. Making it exclusive to that one store, I thought it was cool — I was going to go back and make another batch in two weeks for the other stores. Until I got a phone call from another store yelling at me about this exclusivity. The word got out and a customer went to another store to complain, “Why doesn’t your store have this new Strawberry Vinaigrette?” The other stores were pissed, and they had a right to be. I didn’t think of it like that. I can’t have haters this early, we are just getting started.

So now I have to figure out how I’m going to pull this off, I went back to the drawing board and figured that if I could get two of my top three selling stores to pre-order 35 cases, 4 weeks before it debuts — then I would have the cash I need to make three batches and deliver to all the stores we’re in. I first went to the store that wanted my whole batch and said that it can’t work, but if you could pre-order 35 cases, it would give me the cash I need to bring this to the market and I would promote it on TV (watch cooking segment), online, email, farmer’s markets, and store demos — all of which are free outlets of advertising. Without hesitation, he said yes. Then, I went to the other stores and had the same results. I collected the checks and it was game on. Now I just had to figure out how to make it.

Turning the “perfect” bottle into the “perfect” 2,000 bottles

Producing the Strawberry VinaigretteThis isn’t the easiest step in the world, I had to figure out how much ingredients and cost per ounce are in a bottle by making a small batch and seeing how many bottles that makes. Then, I used a calculator to scale-up the cost and ingredients I’ll need in order to make my projected batch. Here’s an article that shows you how to calculate a recipe, plus a download: Product Calculator for Startup Food Entrepreneurs. Just scaling a recipe isn’t always going to work, we had a miscalculation in strawberries (going from whole strawberries to a strawberry purée) and almost ruined a batch. Thankfully, it was a small test batch and we where able to save it.
Photo: Hand-making 2,000 bottles of Strawberry Vinaigrette. Thanks Stefanie, Katie, Kate, & Mom!

The no-budget marketing plan

I had a solid marketing plan, or at least I thought so. It went something like this:

  • Social media campaign — Promote on FB, Twitter
  • Email campaign (email) — Send out an email to everyone I know
  • Photography (photo) — Take that “hero shot” and make it look delicious
  • Website updates (website) — Add new salad dressing, photos, and copy
  • Reach out to 15 top food bloggers — Announce the new local salad dressing
  • Send PR to 15 local news stations, paper, radio, tv
  • Store demos all weekend during salad dressing launch — Have customers try it
  • Make mini bottles of salad dressing (photo) — Give out to store employees, customers, and promotions
  • Some guerrilla idea — I sill don’t know quite what that is, something big though
  • Contest ideas — On social media to have people win free salad dressing, tshirts, or coupons
  • Sponsorship on The DOcast
  • Blog announcement
  • Printing materials — T-shirts, 3×5 cards (for handouts/store shelf/demos), and posters

The only cost was the printing materials and it was less than $200. My biggest problem wasn’t the cash, it was the time — I had less than 2 weeks to pull this off and that includes making almost 2,000 bottles of salad dressing. I was only able to do about half of that list, but I was happy with the results.

We’re doing it again

I have another three salad dressings in the works, and once again we’re going to produce the winner (by you voting) later this year. Without giving away too many details, I will say this: Swamp, Black Magic, Plantation. Stick around the blog (subscribe here) as I’ll reveal those next three for you to vote on for our next salad dressing.

Please check out the Hanley’s Strawberry Vinaigrette and try a bottle before it’s out of season. Also feel free to ask any questions or comments below (especially if you tried it), I would be happy to answer.

Dress it up!

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