#SWAAYthenarrative
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Staying True To Your Brand In A World of Mass Distribution

Career

When we started our specialty food company Date Lady in 2012, we were excited to conquer the world with a new product that would offer a clean alternative to the processed sugar predicament stalking US households. We had discovered date syrup while living in the Middle East. We were attracted to the syrup not only for its luxurious taste, but because of its simplicity as it is made only with 100 percent dates. Sure, there were things like agave nectar on the market, but deriving agave nectar from a plant is a complicated chemical process that takes some education. Date syrup production can be surmised by just about anyone – an uncomplicated, one-ingredient product without anything added to it, full of natural vitamins and minerals and ready to be enjoyed on pancakes or in coffee. We loved the concept of clean, simple food and saw the opportunity in an increasingly concerned US market. So, we went for it, and we immediately sold the syrup to some of our favorite specialty and organic food stores and eventually expanded our line to include six products. One of those products was a caramel sauce that used the natural caramel notes of the date syrup for a base. By reducing it a little, and then adding caramel extract and sea salt, we were able to create a delicious sauce without the use of any added sugars.


Eventually, we ran into a complication with the caramel extract. Most of you know what an extract is. Think of vanilla extract. You can easily make it yourself at home by splitting open vanilla bean pods and letting them soak in an alcohol (such as vodka) for a length of time. The alcohol extracts the vanilla from the vanilla bean. It’s a straightforward and wondrous process. We inquired of our then supplier about the caramel extract and how it did not add any calories or significance to the nutrition if it indeed was extracted from actual burnt sugar, cream or any of the other common ingredients you would use in real caramel.

They never answered these questions directly and eventually changed the title of the product we were purchasing to caramel “flavor,” which changed the ingredient by definition. We were reassured by that supplier, and others, that the flavor was non-GMO and contained none of the common allergens, which put our minds at ease to a point.

We kept coming back to the same question – How can we sell a product without knowing what is in it, no matter how minimal its amount is in the recipe? Since our company mission is to offer only clean and simple ingredients, you can understand our dilemma. If we couldn’t understand an ingredient, no matter how accepted by the public, then we couldn’t feel good about putting it into our products. Was it our second best selling item? Yes. Would people continue to buy it regardless of our troubled conscience? Yes. So could we keep going with it? Negative.

As we got to the end of our caramel flavor investigation, we decided that we had to make a change. We still had the caramel in Amazon inventory, in our warehouse, and on shelves in stores around the country. But we knew that we had to make the transition. Just like that. We saw the restock orders come in from retailers and distributors and we contemplated making further batches to fulfill those orders, but the truth was, if we did that, we’d be continuing to invest in & promote a product that we didn’t feel 100 percent about just to avoid losing sales or to take the easy path.

DateLady products.

I had always wanted to produce a different caramel, in a more traditional way, using real cream. I had done some experimenting just for fun, with the future in mind, but had never brought the recipe to completion. With the original caramel now at its end, we decided now was the time to get that caramel with cream ready for market. We ended up going into absolute overdrive on the recipe hoping to launch it as a replacement for the caramel without missing a beat.

Colleen Sundlie.

Not only did that put us in a precarious situation to quickly find the right suppliers and get the recipe sewn up, but it required a substantial amount of test batches, as well as investing an exorbitant amount of cash in lost product, labor and marketing. I think most of us know what the cash flow is like for young companies. Tight! The other notable factor was that the original caramel was dairy free and because of that, we had a significant vegan following. So even if we had a caramel to replace the old version, we didn’t want to leave our vegan customers hanging. So, we rolled up our sleeves and simultaneously worked on another option we had started on a year prior that hadn’t been completed. Vegan Coconut Caramel.

We ran into many problems and it almost broke us. But in the end, after many long hours, late nights and restless sleep, we had two new products ready for retail to replace the older one that we were discontinuing. We often questioned if we were making a good choice, but we always came back to the fact that we couldn’t sell something that wasn’t true of our philosophy.

So, in March 2017, we launched both caramel sauces. We ended up winning the prestigious Specialty Food Association Sofi award for our Date Caramel, a competition we had entered our original caramel in for three years previously without success! And, our sales are already showing favorable results with both caramels together on a path to outpace the original caramel numbers. Regardless of those successes, are staying true to our brand, and that makes us happy.

3 min read
Culture

Please Don't Forget to Say Thank You

"More grapes, please," my daughter asked, as she continued to color her Peppa Pig drawing at the kitchen table.

"What do you say?" I asked her, as I was about to hand her the bowl.

"More grapes?"

I shook my head.

"Please?"

I stood there.

"I want green grapes instead of red grapes?"

I shook my head again. I handed her the bowl of green grapes. "Thank you. Please don't forget to say thank you."

"Thank you, Momma!"

Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children?

Many of us are busy training our young children on manners on the other side of the Zoom camera during this pandemic. Reminding them to say please, excuse me, I tried it and it's not my favorite, I am sorry, and thank you. And yet somehow simple manners continue to be undervalued and underappreciated in our workplaces. Because who has time to say thank you?

"Call me. This needs to be completed in the next hour."

"They didn't like the deck. Needs to be redone."

"When are you planning on sending the proposal?"

"Did you see the questions he asked? Where are the responses?"

"Needs to be done by Monday."

Let me take a look. I didn't see a please. No please. Let me re-read it again. Nope, no thank you either. Sure, I'll get to that right away. Oh yes, you're welcome.

Organizations are under enormous pressure in this pandemic. Therefore, leaders are under enormous pressure. Business models collapsing, budget cuts, layoffs, or scrapping plans… Companies are trying to pivot as quickly as possible—afraid of extinction. With employees and leaders everywhere teaching and parenting at home, taking care of elderly parents, or maybe even living alone with little social interaction, more and more of us are dealing with all forms of grief, including losing loved ones to COVID-19.

So we could argue we just don't have time to say thank you; we don't have time to express gratitude. There's too much happening in the world to be grateful for anything. We are all living day to day, the pendulum for us swinging between surviving and thriving. But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?

If you don't think you have to say thank you; if you don't think they deserve a thank you (it's their job, it's what they get paid to do); or if you think, "Why should I say thank you, no one ever thanks me for anything?" It's time to remember that while we might be living through one of the worst recessions of our lifetimes, the market will turn again. Jobs will open up, and those who don't feel recognized or valued will be the first to go. Those who don't feel appreciated and respected will make the easy decision to work for leaders who show gratitude.

But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?

Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children? Remind them with flashcards? Bribe them with a cookie? Tell them how I proud I am of them when they say those two magical words?

Showing gratitude isn't that difficult. You can send a thoughtful email or a text, send a handwritten card, send something small as a gesture of thank you, or just tell them. Call them and tell them how thankful you are for them and for their contributions. Just say thank you.

A coworker recently mailed me a thank you card, saying how much she appreciated me. It was one of the nicest things anyone from work has sent me during this pandemic. It was another reminder for me of how much we underestimate the power of a thank you card.

Apparently, quarantine gratitude journals are all the rage right now. So it's great if you have a beautiful, leather-bound gratitude journal. You can write down all of the people and the things that you are thankful for in your life. Apparently, it helps you sleep better, helps you stay grounded, and makes you in general happier. Just don't forget to take a moment to stop writing in that journal, and to show thanks and gratitude to those you are working with every single day.