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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.

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Lifestyle

Divorce as Seen Through the Eyes of a Child

I have often heard the saying, "You were probably too young to remember this, but . . ." I can honestly say that I can recall quite a bit from my childhood even though I can't seem to recall what I had for breakfast yesterday. I remember a lot, including some things that I wish were fuzzy.


I know this sounds strange, but I remember my dad leaving. I was barely two years old, so obviously I was at an age when I could not fully comprehend what I was experiencing at the time, but I already knew I missed my dad and I wanted him to come home. Divorce is a topic I am very familiar with, both personally and professionally. There are countless people who seek counseling in various areas of their life and to me; that is just another day at the office. However, my story hits a different type of nerve for me. It is a story that I had processed in my own therapy, but this is the first time I am sharing it with the public, so (deep breath) . . . here we go.

As I mentioned before, my dad left when I was about eighteen months old. Just as I was trying to adapt to these changes as best as a toddler could, I met my dad's new "friend" and her kids. I remember she took my hand and walked me around where she worked. I am sure a lot was going on behind the scenes between my parents, but again I was too young to put things together at the time. Fast forward to age four or five, I was introduced to a new friend: anger! Oh, and nightmares. Plenty of them. One recurring nightmare was my dad leaving me. I would wake up screaming and crying, filled with a mixture of sadness, anger, shame, and guilt. My mom would come running into my room to comfort me as I sobbed against her shoulder.

Looking back now, I realized that the word that truly defined what I was feeling was powerless. My mom decided that she needed to do everything in her power to help me. So, she went to the bookstore and found several books that were supposed to help kids deal with their parents' divorce. She would read them to me, but they often told stories of children that I could not relate to, or they were often telling me how I should feel, rather than allowing me the space to access my own feelings. It was frustrating and overwhelming.

It is fascinating how quickly we can adapt. I started to get used to going back and forth between my two homes. However, it was only for a short period of time that I felt "okay." Fast forward again to around age ten. Just as I was starting to accept all the changes including separate homes, blended families, and different sets of rules, I had to endure a long and terrifying custody battle. I felt like my parents were playing tug of war with me in the middle! The anger that I thought had disappeared came back in full force and even brought additional feelings, including shame, grief, sadness, low self-esteem, people-pleasing tendencies, just to name a few. That voice I was working so hard on developing was silenced as I decided to just say or do what I thought would please my parents as well as others. I not only lost my voice, but I lost myself.

That's when my mom introduced me to a journal. What started out as doodling tiny drawings in a lined notebook became pages and pages filled with my innermost thoughts and feelings as I got older.

I also learned some interesting techniques from my mom. She created "games" for us to play including what we called "give me the bad stuff," which is where I would think of all the different things that were bothering me, shout, "I don't like this," while bundling them up into an invisible ball, and then handing them to my mom who would then pretend to throw them out the door or window.

My mom would tell me that I am just a kid, so I did not need to hold on to all this "yucky stuff" inside. It was the first time in a while that I felt like I had a voice. It was wonderful! I would also scream into or hit my pillow as if it were a punching bag. Pretty creative stuff, right? As my mom always says, "It takes a village," and boy was she right! I lucked out by having such an amazing support system at my elementary school.

My guidance counselor established a support group for children of divorced or divorcing parents, and it truly helped to normalize what I was feeling. I was able to speak to peers my own age going through the same things, which was helpful as many of my close friends could not relate to what I was experiencing. I was given safe, nonjudgmental outlets to express myself, and little by little I felt better.

So why am I sharing my story? Well, today as a therapist, I listen to other children's stories. Divorce is definitely not pretty, but it does not have to be so ugly! Whether the parents decide to "stay together for the children" or go their separate ways, children are getting pulled into the chaos. Sometimes, children will pretend they don't know what is going on or act as if they don't care, but trust me when I say it all leaves an impact.

My book, My Parents Are Getting a Divorce . . . I Wonder What Will Happen to Me, is an interactive workbook that was created by my mother and me during the terrifying custody battle that took place between my parents. I felt it was imperative that I assist as many children as possible to help them explore and uncover their innermost thoughts and feelings regarding their parents' divorce. Within the pages of the book, children are encouraged to write and draw as well as ask questions to get in touch with what is inside that needs to be healed.