Amy Zitelman, CEO and Co-founder of Soom Foods, joins us in the next episode of The Physical Product Movement Podcast. Soom Foods is a sister-owned Tahini products company whose products are used by award-winning restaurants and chefs around the world.
Amy’s story is a truly inspiring one, about how she, alongside her sisters, Shelby and Jackie, started their company creating and delivering high-quality tahini for celebrated chefs and home cooks. Soom Foods tahini is a roasted sesame paste pressed from single-sourced, Ethiopian White Humera sesame seeds.
The motivation behind Soom Foods is fueled by the sister’s connection to Israel and their desire to bring a high-quality ingredient to the USA. Though it’s a less-known product, tahini is versatile. You can mix it with water, lemon juice, garlic, make a sauce that you can add to greens, soups, or use it as a substitute for oil when baking.
Amy describes how the current market offers the opportunity to educate people about tahini and distribute it. She also unfolds how they started manufacturing and merchandising tahini to small retailers, grocery shops, and restaurant chefs. Lastly, Amy unfolds their collaboration with small manufacturers, their marketing plan on promoting tahini, and details about the book The Tahini Table: Go Beyond Hummus with 100 Recipes for Every Meal, written in collaboration with Andrew Schloss.
Ken: Welcome to The Physical Product Movement. A podcast by Fiddle, we share stories of the world’s most ambitious and exciting physical product brands to help you capitalize on the monumental change in how, why and where consumers buy. I’m your host, Ken Ojuka.
Ken: In this episode, I speak with Amy Zitelman, CEO and Co-founder of Soom Foods, a sister-owned Tahini products company. Their products are used by award-winning restaurants and chefs around the world. Amy is pretty impressive. She has been featured on the Forbes 30, under 30, and she’s also the author of “The Tahini Table.”. Amy tells the founding story of Soom Foods. How she and her sisters identified Tahini as a great ingredient used heavily in other parts of the world, but underrepresented in the United States market. She talks about the challenges and opportunities of selling a product in a category that is less well-known. She also talks about the early days of loading up her bags with jars of tahini and cold calling on restaurants and stuff. And finally, Amy outlined some of the surprising benefits of targeting wholesale channels first, before eventually going direct to consumer. Amy is a great entrepreneur with a lot to share. I hope you enjoy it!
Ken: Hey, Amy! Thank you for joining us on the podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, how are you doing?
Amy: Great. Thanks. So glad to be here.
Ken: Yeah. So we were talking just a little bit, you’re out on the east coast, right? Like in the Philadelphia area.
Amy: In Philly itself? Yes. Soom HQ is in Northern Philadelphia.
Amy: If you’re familiar with the area. We are close to the PSPC and St. Christopher’s hospital, just north of Fishtown and Kensington.
Ken: Okay. Yeah, I know the area I spent a couple of years out in Philadelphia, myself. We like to kick off the podcast with a quote. Is there a quote or a definition or something that motivates you?
Ken: Do you have something.
Amy: Yes, actually, I’ve been working on a lot of planning with my team and really trying to grasp this idea of some values we’ve been putting together for the organization. And one of our values is quality. So not just quality products, but also quality work. And this definition of quality work really spoke to me.
Amy: Quality work is the service or task one completes successfully within the estimated time with the end output, satisfying the expectations of everyone involved, including oneself. So it just really nailed it for me. It’s about expectations. It’s about time management. It’s about, you know, being accountable for your own work and what other people need from you.
Amy: So, that one really hit home.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. And it sounds like you’re somebody who is running a business and, you know, dealing with the challenges of making sure everybody’s rowing in the same direction and doing their best work, you know? So, we definitely want to dig into that before we get into it.
Ken: The business that you’re running now, Soom Foods. What, can you just tell us a little bit about your background, where you’re from?
Amy: Yeah. I’m originally from Rockville, Maryland, and the DC area. And, I soon started eating with my two older sisters, as I was graduating from college. I went to the University of Delaware.
Amy: My oldest sister, Shelby, went to Penn here in Philly and my middle sister, Jackie has been living in Israel since she graduated. Well, and around the time I was graduating, Jackie was dating her boyfriend. Now husband, own Marie who’s been in the tahina industry and Israel for at this point almost 20 years.
Amy: So my background pre-suit is super brief. I started the company right out of. And, yeah, it’s just starting soon. That brought me to Philadelphia after living in Israel for a year, graduating college and doing the market research and prep for soon. So that’s a bit of my background.
Ken: So yeah, a couple of things I want to touch on their sister owned.
Ken: Right. So you guys started it together. Is that what it sounds like?
Amy: That’s right, Shelby the brains, you know, have the big idea. Jackie art really had the relationships to give us this opportunity. And I, the voice just kind of knew how to, I guess, bother enough people to get it off the ground. So yeah, it was a really complimentary skill and a very, just kind of exciting, very, Organic idea that came about that we just kept taking one step after the next, after the next, after the next.
Amy: And lo and behold, eight years later, 10 years later at some the idea we have a business.
Ken: Yeah. So, did you always know that you wanted to start a business like right out of school? Or how did that shape up?
Amy: Yeah, not at all. I mean, I was not very thoughtful about my career or what I wanted to do in college.
Amy: And. Growing up, we weren’t necessarily like the entrepreneurial sisters that had lemonade stands or car washes. But both of our parents are entrepreneurs. So we grew up with work in the home, like in a pretty healthy way, surprisingly, which I think has helped us since we started. Together. So like we grew up helping our mom.
Amy: She had a corporate gifts business, which is like swag before swag was cool. Helping her pack bags for her clients or going to my dad’s office and like stamping papers or putting three hole punches in. So I think business and entrepreneurship is in our blood, but no, I mean, Even starting soon, right out of college, I didn’t really register that.
Amy: We were starting a business. It kind of felt like a project, like a school project, you know? Okay. Now you do the market research. Now you have a sales list, blah, blah, blah. And, yeah, it’s been an exciting journey. And actually my middle sister, Jackie works with us. Part-time from Israel. Managing the relationships with our manufacturers and quality assurance and, our kind of eyes and ears and connection into Ethiopia.
Amy: And then, my oldest sister just stepped out of the business, as her full-time job just a couple months ago. So there’s been a lot of transition also since we started together.
Ken: Okay. Got it. So I guess we should probably tell the audience what an assumption is and what your product is and what makes it unique.
Amy: That’s a good point. I think we’re supposed to, I’m supposed to lead with that. If you’re familiar, not familiar with tahini, I know our samples didn’t reach you in time, but are you familiar with tahini?
Ken: I am, just a little bit, but probably not to the extent that you are. So
Amy: I don’t have anybody, but even knowing it a little bit as far ahead of most people still these days, tahini is made from ground Sesame seeds.
Amy: I like to describe it as thicker than olive oil and thinner than peanut butter, but can be used for both savory and sweet recipes. So it’s a really versatile ingredient. It’s most familiar in the American market because it’s used to make. A lot of people are more familiar with than just the ingredients, the tahini itself, and our company sells high quality tahini, and tahini products.
Amy: We have a line of sweet tahini spreads that kind of play in the nut butter category.
Ken: Okay. Got it. Yeah. I mean, I know Sesame butter, just, you know, my family is from Uganda and it’s just something that we eat there. You know, my, my mom actually makes some Ugandan dishes and they, you know, you would put it in, there’s actually one in, it never sounds good, but it’s like, one of my favorite meals is, she will make, and then put like a, it’s like a Sesame sauce with it.
Ken: And then you can eat that on a Porsche or some people call it like fufu. But it’s kind of like a corn meal type thing that you, but you know, my mom lives in Austin and I’m in Utah and, whenever she comes to visit, I’m, I make sure that she makes me some of that.
Amy: Oh, that sounds amazing. I actually have a recipe in my cookbook.
Amy: It’s a heated table that uses tahini with cream greens, whether it’s spinach or another leaf in green preference. And it almost becomes like a creamy sauce. Is that so tahini and Stephanie are really the same exact thing? I never heard of it used in Ugandan culture because what’s in our Sesame seeds grown in Ethiopia, but they don’t use Sesame seeds or Sesame paste or tahini in Ethiopian cuisine, which I always found very fascinating, but, oh, would you be willing to share your mother’s recipe?
Ken: Yeah, well, it’s her recipe. So I’ll ask her, but I’m sure. No. But let’s definitely sync up after, that’d be happy to introduce the two of you and. But yeah, I mean, and then it just in general, like just eating Sesame, I remember eating a lot of like Sesame candy, you know, growing up, it’s not really something that we do a lot here in the United States, you know, at least I don’t see it, but yeah, but Sesame has just used, I think a lot more, in Ugandan culture.
Ken: So that’s really interesting. I wanted to dig into it. The connection to Israel, you know? So you mentioned you have a sister there. So, yeah, what’s the connection? And, then how did you decide to start selling tahini?
Amy: Yeah, dumb and young. I like to say we were just dumb and yet, but yeah.
Amy: Connection to Israel is via, I mean, in terms of. A stronger connection is via Jackie. Jackie’s lived in Israel now for almost 15 years and has decided to marry an Israeli and have Israeli children there. And so, but as a family, we’ve been visiting Israel since 2000, actually. And so we have distant cousins that ended up in Israel.
Amy: I mean, a lot of our ancestors or family distribution was through the late 1800s. And of course, like World War II, after that, Our family came from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, but straight to the states. But there were a lot of relatives that either went to Palestine at the time or ended up in Israel after world war II.
Amy: But not in my immediate family. And, you know, he loves it. We love the food in Israel. I mean, anybody that goes there will agree. It’s probably its leading, most best aspect of it. And besides the beaches, I guess there are lots of other things too. We love it and you know that. Connection to Israel and connection to our own race family, and really seeing this premium ingredient that was so under appreciated in our culture and how we grew up.
Amy: Just opened our eyes and, you know, Shelby studied entrepreneurship. And, as I said, you know, our family just, I think, has it in our blood. And we really just felt this yearning to bring high quality tahini to the state’s right to open. The American market and American consumers to this amazing ingredient.
Amy: That’s so coveted in different parts of the world. So that’s our connection to Israel and also really what inspired us to start. This was when we did that market research early on, we found that there really wasn’t very good tahini available in the states. Most people had no idea what it was, if they didn’t know what it was, they were only using it.
Amy: At least in the states, most people, one reason was to make hummus and then throw it away six months later because they didn’t know what else to do, or it got really separated and hard to deal with. And when you have a good tahini available, it just opens up your kitchen. It just makes everything better.
Amy: Like it’s such a great ingredient to cook with which your mom is familiar with. It can probably attest to, it really is very friendly with, within lots of different types of risks.
Ken: So, yeah, let’s unpack that just a little bit. So, you know, for people who don’t have experience with tahini, right?
Ken: What do you typically make with it? You know, what do you guys recommend and how do you educate people on how to use it
Amy: the most traditional way that it’s used? Middle Eastern culture, which is my real, you know, connect original, I should say connection to it. Now we’ve seen tahini and Sesame paste through the lens of so many cuisines.
Amy: It’s really inspiring. But you mix tahini with water and lemon juice and some garlic and maybe, spice like human. And that becomes a sauce, fairly fixed. And that’s what people use to blend with cooked chickpeas to make hummus. But you can also use that sauce to mix it with greens. Like your ma honestly, kind of like what your mom does to make a creamier, you know, greens dip.
Amy: You can add tahini into soups, to make it creamier. You can use tahini as a substitute for the oil, like I was saying, and peanut butter when you’re baking with it. The versatility for savory and sweet is unlimited. And that’s how we spend a lot of our resources in connecting with potential customers.
Amy: And current customers are in that consumer education. We really want people who are likely to bring tahini in because they found it through a recipe that was familiar to them and that they wanted to cook immediately. But what we want people to do is to then reach for that jar a second, third of course, every day kind of time, because you can use it in so many.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s, maybe let’s double click on that a little bit. You know, so you’re selling a product that maybe isn’t necessarily, you know, well-known or well understood in agriculture. You know, I want to talk just a little bit about some of the challenges and opportunities. Of doing that.
Ken: Right. I’m sure, you know, in our audience, we’ve got, you know, people who have had the experience of traveling somewhere, trying something new and, you know, having their kind of socks knocked off by just, oh man, you know, this is amazing, you know, what, what are some of the challenges of bringing in something new?
Ken: You know, or not, maybe not necessarily new, but, but less known. Right. And let’s call it.
Amy: Yeah. Or even misunderstood, right? Like there’s nothing new about tahini. It is such an ancient ingredient. Sesame seeds themselves are one of those. Ancient, if not the first like cultivated seed for baking, and it’s amazing really the historical relevance and then its nutritional benefit on top of that.
Amy: I’d say what’s difficult is. I like you said, I don’t, it is difficult, meaning that it will take a long time, but it’s not difficult in that if you really believe in this product or this ingredient, and you really immerse yourself in it or find the right people around you that can contribute to that education, then if it’s a good product and you have all a lot of other things, obviously in a row, like it’s not so hard, it’s really sharing, you know, sharing information, sharing samples.
Amy: Set up in so many, even just small farmer’s markets, handing out a small spoonful of tahini. Now you don’t really eat tahini plain, but I didn’t know how else to get people to try it. Right. And then explain to them, you can use this in your, you know, apple crumble, or you can use it in a salad with that kill that you’re buying.
Amy: It was, it’s like so much opportunity to share with people. And also I think. And deferring to the recipient, right? To the listener. What did they like? Or like, what do they have in their cart? I used to do it all the time when I was demoing at stores, like whole foods. I’d look at so many people. This was in 2017, and they had kale in their cart.
Amy: And, you know, I had a kale recipe, kale with tahini salad, and dressing recipes on my little demo table. And I wouldn’t even offer people a sample. I’d offer them the recipe card. And so, you know, I think that that is the most exciting and fun time of at least my, you know, now journey in this business was that beginning when like any body and still today, anybody that didn’t know about tahini before that I have the opportunity to tell them about for 30 seconds or for three minutes or however long.
Amy: It’s like, it is just such an opportunity. It’s very unlimited and it’s an exciting time for sure. In the stage of the business
Ken: right, right. So let’s actually go back to that beginning. So you identify, you know, this product, that you guys, you know, and I guess I’m assuming that was the first product you guys started selling.
Ken: Did you know, did you go ahead and just get it manufactured and then bring it in and try to sell, or, you know, what were the first things that you got.
Amy: We did that market research stage, where we talked with a few different potential customers. We talked with grocery stores like small co-op owners and independent shops.
Amy: I even stopped into larger chains just to talk with the clerks, to see where tahini was merchandised in the grocery store. Chefs at restaurants that were really integral in some success and foundation through all of this, which we can circle back to because it’s like, I think it’s a really interesting conversation.
Amy: And then we also talked with large-scale manufacturers and we got this sense that at least there were some people that would buy this product. Like we were a little naive. We were really, what we said was if this manufacturer bought our tahini, then that would be. There’s a Jewish phrase called Diane, like that’s enough.
Amy: And that was kind of a joke that was like the impetus of us even registering the business was like, let’s just see if we can get to, he needed this big customer. There are great friends of ours and they still don’t buy our tahini eight years later. So lessons were learned, but I saw these like a couple of grocery stores and what was really integral to us was a conversation with a chef named Mike Solomon.
Amy: I was here in Philadelphia. Award-winning Israeli restaurant called Zahava and he was really buying into good tahini. He didn’t have good tahini. He, you know, really saw the benefit, the value of good tahini and was one of our really first customers. So once we had that little bit of confidence behind us now, totally naive and ignorant, dumb, and young, let’s go back to that.
Amy: We’re like, let’s start a business. And so. Thank God for Aomori Wright and his experience in the tahini industry in Israel, he introduced us to several manufacturers and we chose a manufacturer to work with, to start we’ve since had several manufacturers. And we really just placed an order. I mean, they gave us no terms.
Amy: We had to buy 10,000 pounds of tahini upfront and we figured out I worked with a supply chain consultant for. Four months to schedule the first import and find a warehouse for storage. And then I just put the jars in my bag and put a couple of buckets in my car. And I started driving around, you know, I followed up with Mike Solomonov and he loved the tahini and I started delivering to him every week.
Amy: And then I would make a list of restaurants and grocery stores and ice cream shops. And I still think everybody will buy tahini, but. Has been very refined since the early days. And I really just around handing out jars of SU denounced jars.
Ken: So I love the market research beforehand. Right. So talk talking to, you know, your network, you know, basically anybody that might be interested, you mentioned, you know, talking to stores.
Ken: So were you talking to them before you actually had a product? And what would that conversation be? What was that like?
Amy: I just would ask questions. I would say, you know, I’m thinking about starting a business. First I asked, like it was part of the market research, where’s the tahini, and I would ask their opinion on tahini.
Amy: And since they had no idea what it was, that was kind of like, I guess in the more conventional stores, they had no idea what it was in the, you know, I guess early adoptive stores for a brand like zoom and for natural products, like tahini. They were really the ones that shared with me like, oh, we have tahini people don’t buy it that much.
Amy: Or a lot of them would ask me, why would I bring in more tahini if the tahini that I sell doesn’t sell well. And I just listen, you know, because I didn’t have a product to sell them yet. And ultimately with that knowledge, when I did have the product, I could go back and I had answers for their concerns or.
Amy: Was better positioned to ask them to sell it on consignment, you know, or just let me come in and demo it one Saturday afternoon and see how it does. And, yeah, that was definitely the route that I took with these smaller stores earlier.
Ken: Okay. So it sounds like you targeted smaller stores. Were there any other criteria you were looking for or using, you know, to, to figure out where you should use to spend your time?
Amy: There should have been, but no, at the beginning, I mean, I would talk, I remember before I moved to the Philly area in January of 2013 and we got our first imported may of 2013 and I was just like working. I was actually living at my aunt and uncle’s house outside the city and I was just compiling. Of potential customers.
Amy: I mean, it was every store. Every ice cream store, every smoothie shop, every restaurant, every co-op. I just really thought that everybody would buy the tahini. And that’s who I started talking to. It was after like a year of selling to restaurants and selling to the smaller stores and getting rejected, obviously from bigger stores that we were able to take a step back and then prioritize where things were working.
Amy: And then we really heavy into what was working and that helped us grow.
Ken: Okay. So what did start working? You know, what were some of the patterns and you know, who was a good buyer for you.
Amy: For us, it was the chefs. It was restaurants because they buy not only more quantity at a time, but also at a higher velocity.
Amy: Right. A chef at the time, Mike Solomont was using two buckets of tahini, a we call it and a customer at home would buy a 16 ounce jar and it would take, and they would never finish it, right? Like nine take them six months or a year. They just. Ever buy it again. And so that really started working for us and it was at the same time as a lot of trends going on in the states in particular, this rise of foodie and like chef culture and interests and just culinary, heightening, really.
Amy: I think we went through like 8, 5, 8, 10 years ago when soon was getting started. And so the restaurants not only provided value to us in terms of. You know, foundation for revenue, but also because of the influence of these chefs that have become our partners and customers. And when somebody asked Mike what’s a tahini he was using because his hummus was so good.
Amy: And he said soon that trickled down to consumers. And so, it provided a lot of value for us for several reasons. And we focus there for a long time. We had our jars available on Amazon to support any kind of national interest since we were only in. Maybe 50 stores, you know, scattered around here or there.
Amy: And so, yeah, that’s that the food service though is, was really foundational for the success and the credibility and the opportunities for.
Ken: Yeah. I mean, that’s interesting. I think that it’s a great opportunity for a lot of, you know, CPG brands, to sell to restaurants and food service businesses.
Ken: But I don’t know that’s an opportunity that a lot of people, you know, focus on and especially early on, what led you to actually decide to approach Mike and, you know, start selling.
Amy: Shelby, my oldest sister went to school in Philly and also lived in Philly for a couple years after she graduated.
Amy: And she was involved in a young Jewish networking group that held a lot of happy hours, actually, as the hub before, as the hub became. That bar was wide open. There was always a kind of room available to stop in. And so she and Mike actually had an informal relationship, just through that networking.
Amy: And when we decided to start soon, food might have run into Mike at some point and said, you know what, my sisters and I have an idea about tahini. Do you mind if we come talk to you and he’s just a really great, nice guy. And he said, sure. And so we asked him the same question. You know, like I was saying that we asked everybody else, which was like, what’s a tahini, are you using?
Amy: And he didn’t know. And what happened then, which we learned about the food service or food service is a huge industry of food service management companies. I mean, there’s so much opportunity in bulk, you know, universities and institutions, but our. Foot holding was in this very niche restaurant kind of tier.
Amy: And they really talk to each other. They’re very collaborative. And you know, word got around that Mike was using soon. So a chef from this city would contact me, Hey, can I have soup? Will I sell it here soon? And I’d kind of piece it together, right? As the demand came, I would have. Find it or ship it to them directly and then find a distributor in that market.
Amy: And then we reached a point where I could just go to a market in the city and go with a list of 50 restaurants. And like I did in the very beginning, I did the same thing. Two, three years later was just literally filled a Rollie bag up with jars of tahini and handed them to people that would accept them on a list of restaurants that I had targeted.
Amy: And it was. It was a model that really worked for us.
Ken: Right. And then you had references and you could say, oh yeah, they love it in this restaurant, you know? Did you have to change your product in any way in order to sell to food service businesses?
Amy: No, but that’s only because our product, we sold as ugly, a product that we sold to restaurants.
Amy: We were selling to consumers at the time. We really just sold the same only one jar type style. We also had a larger offering, the 40 pound bucket as opposed to the 16 ounce jar, but our brand, which is why we, it took us a long time to get our stride in consumer sales channels was really not. The CPG type brand, it was not super refined and that was fine for us because the restaurants didn’t care.
Amy: So we didn’t want to invest too many resources into this brand when it was our wholesaler that was carrying the business. And so it’s only been recently that we’ve been better positioned for the channels that we’re in now. Also online, it really improved on Amazon and on our own website and other e-commerce sellers.
Amy: And now finally a real push into a retail brick and mortar.
Ken: Okay. So I guess, what did you have to change then to be more consumer ready?
Amy: Right. We had to look prettier like a prettier label. When we first launched we had it in a six and actually it was 18 ounces because it’s half a kilo size that we were doing from Israel and the feedback I was getting at farmer’s markets, which was so valuable, was what would I ever do with 18 ounces of tahini?
Amy: And so we actually came back with an 11 ounce star that was very similar to more of a peanut butter jar. You’d see. In that department, because we wanted to switch categories. We wanted to get tahini out of the international aisle and into the nut butter category. And so we put it in a jar that was what most nut and seed spreads were sold in the states.
Amy: And we really tried to market it a different way, I would say to consumers. So our first iteration of our retail jars was very simple, just to. To the point label, that mirrored what we were seeing and not butters at the time.
Ken: Got it. Yeah. That makes sense. It makes a lot of sense. I think you mentioned, selling to manufacturers.
Ken: As well. Can you tell us just a little bit about that channel for your business?
Amy: Yeah. We still don’t sell to so many large manufacturers because the product that we sell is really off but we have found a nice stride with. Small manufacturers that are also making great consumer packaged goods.
Amy: We work with the great hall, the partner Hebel in co in LA. And so that’s been a nice business for us. That’s given us the opportunity to hopefully be a part of other people, putting tahini products onto the market. But, another sense of manufacturing that we’ve found a little niche is with the subscription meal.
Amy: And being able to put the tahini into squeeze packs into one ounce squeeze packs for their kind of needs. So those are two of what we would put into marketing, sorry, into a sales bucket of manufacturing, those two types of accounts.
Ken: Okay. Got it. So I wanted to make sure to ask about your cookbook.
Ken: You know, why did you write it and, you know, what does it do for your business? You know, how’s it been used as a tool, for you to sell more products?
Amy: Well, I wrote it because I had the opportunity from a great actual customer. Assumes is a very wonderful cookbook author named Andy Schloss and Sue Schloss.
Amy: And he came up to us or to me really saying, I’d love to write a cookbook. Obviously we all know how versatile tahini is. And I really think that doing it together with your voice and credibility. Assume behind us would be advantageous. And so I only said yes, because he knows how to write cookbooks and was really kind of teaching me so much in the process.
Amy: And it totally reinforces, which is all we’ve set out to do for 10 years now, which is not only to introduce people to tahini. But to introduce people to its versatility. And for me, if somebody were to choose to bring tahini into their home, say because they saw a recipe of how to make hummus, I really want them to just use it again and again and again.
Amy: Yes, because I sell the product, but also because it’s a really special ingredient, it’s very healthy. It’s got. Great source of protein and calcium and iron and all these healthy fats. And when you start cooking with it, because it really changed the way that I cook and in my kitchen, it really is a fun product because it truly, when you add it to the recipe the right way makes it better.
Amy: And it’s just, I feel very passionate, still about people using tahini and the book really helped me kind of accomplish that on a level. I never imagined I would, when I started soon.
Ken: Right. Yeah. So the cookbook is called the tahini table. There’ll be hummus with a hundred recipes for every meal.
Ken: How does somebody go about getting that?
Amy: Oh, thanks. Oh, it’s available on our website and with, you can pair it with other products that, you know, you can use for the recipes or it’s available on Amazon and really wherever books are sold. My favorite thing is I’ve been hearing from people that they’ve found it in their local libraries.
Amy: And, and so that’s kind of a fun way to first, check out some of the recipes too, if it’s in your library
Ken: Yeah very cool, and your website is soomfoods.com, right?
Amy: That’s right.
Ken: To just switch gears a little bit, you know, so a lot of the people that we talk to on this podcast, they come really from the consumer angle going direct to consumer, you know, in generally it’s online, it’s through, you know, Like a Shopify site or something like that. Start doing ads on Facebook or Instagram, driving traffic to their website.
Ken: And then, you know, they add the wholesale component to it a little bit later, you know? And it seems like, you know, just from our conversation, you’re telling me, you kind of started the other way. You started with the wholesale.
Amy: We did. Luckily I feel so fortunate that we hit that stride because the retail, the consumer space, as we all know is so resource intensive. Soom has started to do that in particular over the past two years, really focused into our brick and mortar retail channels.
Amy: We, we are and. I still maintain the number one selling tahini on Amazon. But we’re also investing into these ads to get people to our website and it’s really resource intensive. And my sisters and I, we didn’t have the capital to support that early on. And we had the benefits of that. We talked about it.
Amy: From the wholesale. And so it kind of just funneled us there without us realizing how lucky we were to have that opportunity. And it’s really allowed us to create the demand off of the shelves. And hopefully start with a little bit of a leg up compared to if we would have gotten into even a whole region of whole foods at the time, the product wouldn’t have moved eight years ago, five years ago.
Amy: We definitely didn’t have the resources to move it right. To put it on sale or to demo it, or all the marketing that goes into getting a product off of the shelves. And, but now we do, right? Like now, people are more familiar with tahini and we’ve been able to grow the business to be able to support that type of, those types of needs.
Amy: So, yeah, we feel really lucky that we took the opposite route that most people.
Ken: Right. Yeah. I mean, besides it not being, you know, as capital intensive and then, you know, one of the benefits, I think you, you mentioned a little bit earlier was it gave you time to really hone in your brand, right? The restaurants didn’t really care about the branding as much.
Ken: They just cared about the quality of the product. Are there any other benefits that, you know, that you found along the way, of this, of this approach of the wholesale first. You know, selling food service, businesses to that approach. Were there any other benefits that maybe you, you discovered along the way?
Amy: Yeah, I was just reflecting on this morning, I think because, I guess not as a side, I assume it is fundraising for the first time. So I’m thinking a lot about high-level business stuff. And The product has reached so many more mouths than we could have on our own. You know, the fact that people are eating tahini, whether they know it sooner, not at thousands of restaurants or like we’re in Sweetgreen right now at Sweetgreen there’s something special right now that has a tahini dressing.
Amy: It’s not marketed on the menu as soon, you know, not yet. But it’s amazing that many people now might be eating tahini for the first time or especially for their second time or having this stellar experience with tahini that we didn’t need to do ourselves as a brand. It’s really, Amazing to think about.
Amy: It’s awesome to think about. In fact, how many people have been able to consume tahini without us having to put it directly into their mouth. So that to me is invaluable in fact.
Ken: Awesome. It almost just expanded your impact, I guess it almost didn’t.
Amy: Perfect way to say it. Yeah.
Ken: Yeah. Well, I know that we’re running short on time and you’ve got a hard stop.
Ken: I just wanted to launch into the quickfire round. I’ve just got four questions for you. What’s one tool or resource that you find invaluable?
Amy: That tool or resource has really changed our team. It’s a sauna. We’re managing projects a lot better, even processes like order processes. It’s what’s right for us, but that one, kind of stepped up our operations for our team.
Ken: Awesome. What’s one book that you could recommend to the audience
Amy: Presence by Amy Cuddy.
Ken: Presence. Okay. And, what is one piece of advice that you would give to your 21 year old self?
Amy: Oh, man. Go find out if your D has a business school and see if they have entrepreneurial lessons and stop doing nothing, or just, you know, go less fun and more thought.
Amy: But, yes, I wish I did do a little bit more in terms of the resources I had available at my university when I was there.
Ken: And then who has one person in your field at work? You know, maybe somebody that you look up to or another entrepreneur or another brand that you would love to take to lunch.
Amy: Oh man, That is a good one.
Amy: And I feel like you probably even gave me these before I got on and I just didn’t process them. So now I’m on the spot, but I’m one person that I would love to take to lunch. Justin from Justin’s, you know, the nut butter company really revolutionized the nut butter category.
Ken: Yeah. Well, they’ve done phenomenal.
Ken: So, well I know we’re at the end here, you know, I’m just thinking about our audience, you know, let’s think about, you know, other entrepreneurs that are launching CPG products or running CPG brands, you know, what parting advice could you give them? As we close out here?
Amy: You everybody will think I’m crazy, but like really don’t waste too much on your brand early on.
Amy: Have a good product, learn how to sell it, learn why people want it or need it and, you know, invest in the fluff. No offense. Second, as good as it needs to be. Like, it can’t be terrible obviously, but it doesn’t need to be perfect to get going.
Ken: I love it. Okay. That’s a good note to end on Amy.
Ken: I appreciate you taking the time today. This has been great.
Amy: Thank you so much. I learned a lot. This was awesome.
Ken: All right. Yeah, we’ll talk soon. Bye-bye! The Physical Product Movement Podcast is brought to you by Fiddle. To find out more about Fiddle and how our industry leading inventory ops platform is giving modern brands and manufacturers all visibility into their inventory and operations visit fiddle.io, and then make sure to search for Physical Product Movement in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or anywhere else, podcasts are found. Make sure to click Subscribe. So you don’t miss any future episodes on behalf of the team here at Fiddle. Thanks for listening.