Category - Food-business

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Defining Characteristics of a Successful Food Business: The Kitchen Coop sits down with serial entrepreneur Tom Spier

SpierCapital Management

Boulder is home some of the most successful natural food businesses in the world.  It’s also home to many food and beverage startups whose founders are always eager to hear from those who have been successful in the industry. With that in mind, Jeanne Eisenhaure of The Kitchen Coop recently sat down with Tom Spier, the former CEO of Evol Foods.  Prior to Evol Tom was COO of the very successful granola company, Bear Naked.  He is now with  Spier Capital Management.


JE: What would you identify as the single most important factor for  success in any food business?

TS: It’s rarely just one factor.  Rather, it’s a delicate balance between “Brand, Product, People, and Luck.” You won’t have these factors ideally lined up, but it is important to keep checking on each of them and working on your weak areas.

JE:  Taking Brand first – what do you think best characterizes Evol’s “Brand” boosting work and how did that help success?

We think Evol was smart in the early days to avoid pursuing the traditional fast-food market.  Instead, they went after events focused on the active lifestyle market they felt a part of – such the 10Ks runners and cycling event.  That really helped them stand out and be appreciated by that crowd.

With Bear Naked, they made sure their granola stood out on shelves with a standup zipper pouch (now ubiquitous in the grocery isles). Consumers want brands that connect your personal ethos with theirs. The brand becomes a personal connecting point if it’s strong enough.

JE: How Does Product Come Into this?

TS: Your product is the foundation for your entire business. Develop your product with eyes wide open to actual consumer feedback. Listen to your consumer as you are starting up your business. If you cannot get to the shelf – stop. Know that as you develop your product and business it will take more time and money than you could possibly imagine at the outset.

JE:  The People part. A lot of small business leaders are heard to say the hardest part of their job is building and managing their team. What advice have you got for them?

TS: Try to keep everyone “under the umbrella “and find ways to make it work – especially if the team member is passionate. And try hard to play to peoples’ strengths, notice if someone has a hard time with complex software but is great with people and post them accordingly. Finally, take the time to over communicate as much as possible. When you’re building any business it takes a lot of work to get all the pieces acting together. Be patient and work hard on your team.

JE: What do you look for when investing in a food business?

TS Again, I look for the 3 qualities I’ve been talking about. Brand, Product and People, but I also pay significant attention to a businesses capital structure. Both Bear Naked and Evol pursued a fairly fast growth curve investing significant capital from the team, friends and family, and outside investors.

JE: Is it possible to bootstrap a Company?

It’s certainly possible – look at Stacy Madison of Stacy’s Pita Chips.  But I’ll admit, this hasn’t been my personal approach. I tend to look out for a company that has both a competitive advantage and is a well-funded.


The Fundamentals of Food Product Development

When a consumer purchases a packaged food item, they probably don’t give a lot of thought to how it was produced, let alone the process by which it came to market. On the other hand, the manufacturer has given a lot of thought to this process — having made significant investments in the product concept, formulation, packaging, manufacturing process, and marketing strategies to hopefully support a successful product launch.

Just how does a new food product come to market? The complex and dynamic process of new food product development begins with multi-disciplinary teams of food scientists and technologists, raw material suppliers, nutritionists, sensory analysts, analytical chemists, microbiologists, packaging specialists, food engineers, and marketing experts. Each discipline offers a level of expertise to assure the best odds of success for the new product in the market place. Product development takes place in stages where creativity and the principles of food science are applied – the physical, chemical, and microbiological composition of food, food quality, food safety, and food processing.  A food scientist specializing in food product development is a key team member in each phase.

An approach to new product development commonly used in industry has been developed by The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT):

5 Stages of Food Product Development

  1. Decide what the new product will be.  Brainstorm ideas to build and refine the product concept. Address requirements to take the product to market and viability of the concept.
  2. Discover the target consumer and product niche.  Identify competition, consumer needs, and ways to make the product unique by performing a competitive product review. Develop and conduct screening market surveys with the target market to determine if they will actually purchase the product.  Conduct formal focus groups to determine how the product might be perceived by target consumers.
  3. Define which ingredients will be in it. Establish key attributes such as taste, texture, color and source ingredients accordingly. Consider shelf life requirements. Take into account packaging materials and how the product will be labeled.
  4. Develop everything about it.  Develop and evaluate a prototype by comparing it to competitive products or an existing gold standard. Evaluate ingredient functionality to determine if the technical realities of the product meet the marketing goals. Include sensory testing to assist in achieving the target product. Address regulatory issues associated with food labeling and the manufacturing process. Continue with product refinement, costing, manufacturing considerations and final selection of packaging materials.
  5. Deploy.  Finalize the formula, product name, graphic design, and marketing strategy. Consider available distribution channels, shelf price, and profit goals.

To learn more about food product development and how food science impacts the foods you eat every day, visit The Institute of Food Technologists at

Kathy Lewis, MS RD is a food scientist and registered dietitian with 20 years combined experience in food product development and regulatory compliance.  Ms. Lewis can be reached at or 303-513-5737.