In this episode, we’re joined by Jeremy Vandervoet, CEO and President at Little Secrets Chocolates; an innovative and fast growing chocolate company competing against some of the heavyweights in the confectionery industry.
Jeremy talks about the trends he sees in the CPG space and what he describes as the white space for innovation, including new business models and ventures.
We also talk about the effects of COVID-19 accelerating direct to consumer businesses and how it presents challenges with shipping a product like chocolate, especially in the summer months.
Listen on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here.
Ken Ojuka: Welcome to the Physical Product Movement. The 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 Ojuka: In this episode of the physical product movement podcast. I speak with Jeremy Vandervoet, CEO and president of Little Secrets Chocolates, an innovative and fast growing chocolate company competing against some of the heavyweights in the space. Little secrets describe themselves as the line of all grown-up chocolates.
Ken Ojuka: You loved it as a kid with better ingredients, better taste and less. sugar We talk about the trends Jeremy sees in the CPG space and what he describes as the white space for innovation, including new business models and ventures. We also talk about the effects of COVID and accelerating direct to consumer and how it presents challenges with shipping a product like chocolate, especially in the summer months, Jeremy was an open book with loads to share from his experience in the space, including 13 years at Nestle and three.
Ken Ojuka: As president and CEO of little secrets, I think you’ll learn a lot from this episode. Enjoy. All right. Hey Jeremy, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me this morning. How are you doing?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Awesome. Thanks for having me really appreciate that.
Ken Ojuka: Well, yeah, I’ve been watching your company a little bit and you guys are having some success.
Ken Ojuka: And so I’m just glad to be able to get a few minutes of your time. Before we launch into you and your company, why don’t we kick it off with a quote? You know, maybe there’s something, a quote that’s meaningful to you that helps you get out of bed every morning and keeps you going. Is there something that comes up?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah. There’s several quotes that come to mind. I think the one that I would probably mention now, cause it’s relevant during my time here at a startup is when faced with big challenges or issues, it’s best to shrink the change and shrink the problem into smaller bite size pieces and then tackle and tackle each piece at a time.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And I think that quote or that philosophy almost if you will, is incredibly helpful when you are in a really difficult or have a really difficult challenge or problem to solve, like breaking it into smaller bite size components. And then tackling each one really helps shrink the problem and makes it feel less overwhelming.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And it allows you to kind of control or focus on what you can control in more bite-sized screenshots. If that makes sense.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, it makes perfect sense. And in fact, you know, I’m a programmer by trade and that’s exactly what you have to do whenever you’re building any sort of complicated system, you know, you have to break it down and just, just by the nature of it, you can’t take the whole thing in at once.
Ken Ojuka: But I imagine, you know, it’s exactly the same for launching a CPG brand for doing anything. I think that that’s difficult, and being. Yeah, you have to shrink it down. Do you have any examples of that as something that maybe was daunting and huge, in the beginning and, and you know, maybe the process of how you applied that quote.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You know, when I first left Nestle and came to Boulder, Colorado, to, you know, to work on the little secrets talk brand and business, you know, there were incredible amounts of opportunities and there was a significant amount of challenges. And if anyone at any sort of noses it’s this, you have challenges commercially and opportunity from a supply, or sorry, from a distribution, from a marketing, from an awareness trial, and repeat standpoint, you might have challenges getting distribution.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Or you have, that’s going well, but you might have a consumer velocity challenge. You might have co-packer or margin challenges, supply challenges, cash challenges, right. Cash flow, et cetera. So when you step back, you can sometimes wake up in the middle of the night. So a lot of anxiety or, or concern of like holy child there’s.
Jeremy Vandervoet: There’s a lot of things to focus on from an opportunity. And there’s a lot of things that I could be worried about or, or, or anxious about. And I think it was really helpful to write out like a one pager on like, what are my three Muslim battles? What are the three things? That I have to do. And if I don’t do them, we’re not going to be successful and take that list of 10 to 20 things and get it down to three, which is incredibly helpful to do like, right, right.
Jeremy Vandervoet: When I got here three years ago.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. And I’d imagine too, I mean, there are more than three items on there that are important, but you know, part of the struggle is figuring out how to ruthlessly prioritize. And just find, okay, these three things need to happen and everything else is nice to have, and we will do our best, but these three things I can’t drop these three balls.
Ken Ojuka: Is that exactly?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah. That’s exactly what I mean. And I think coming from a big company too sometimes, and I think this is true as small companies, people value activity a lot. Like you are doing a lot of stuff, something will happen or something, you know, and so I’m going to do 20 things. And that’s not always creating value.
Jeremy Vandervoet: I think doing three things really, really well or excellently is more valuable than doing 10 or 15 things. Okay. Or slightly above average. And I think shrinking that to the, yeah, these three things are must lens are, was just really focuses the mind and also focuses this, you know, the team, you know, if you lead a team of people, if it’s not clear what those three things are, then that can create a little bit of stress and confusion with you know, starting a team.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. Yeah, that’s awesome. You know, it’s funny. I help coach my older kids. I’ve got a twelve-year- old. He actually just turned 13 last week, a 13 year old and a, and a 10 year old and I coached them in soccer. And it’s interesting when you see kids play, you know, in any one game.
Ken Ojuka: There could be, you know, 20, 30 things that you want to talk about, you know, that they need help with, or that they need to do differently. But even, you know, I think your point about, you know, how you lead a team and how you focus, the team is really important. And just even in sports, but for little kids, it’s like, they can’t remember.
Ken Ojuka: You have to pick out like the one or two things from the game that you’re actually going to work on and that you’re going to improve on. And then you just have to kind of be okay with the other stuff is important too, but it has to take a back seat to like the two or three things that you’re really going to focus on.
Jeremy Vandervoet: It’s so funny that you mentioned that because I played college basketball, I’ll never forget, like there’s so many great lessons from sports into business, but, yeah. It’s like, you know, when you’re playing any sport or anything competitive, like it’s fast moving, you know, there’s a whole bunch of things going on.
Jeremy Vandervoet: It, it really helps when there’s a timeout hall and it’s like, okay, we got to stop turning over the basketball. You guys will make your shots. Don’t worry about the offense, but on defense or sorry, you’ll play defense is good, but in our office we’re turning the basketball over twice as twice, as much as we used to.
Jeremy Vandervoet: If we just started literally turning over the basketball, we’re going to get more shots. We’re going to get better shots, et cetera, et cetera, everything else will solve itself. It’s just like, just do that one thing. And that was like, I always remember those times. Versus a coach, just yelling at you to like score more or play better, or do this and deacons do that, you know?
Jeremy Vandervoet: And it’s like that kind of motivation never works. It’s just like you guys just do this one thing better.
Ken Ojuka: No, and I, and I think good leaders know how to do that. You know, you just still, you know, you figure out what exactly is that the core of, you know, the struggling, or the lack of success or whatever is going wrong.
Ken Ojuka: And then you just focus on, okay, we’re going to do that. Do one or two or three things. Well, Jeremy, we kind of launched right into it. I want to hear more about you, like where you’re from. And how do you, how do you say your last name?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Vandervoet is like a poet but voet with a v.
Ken Ojuka: Vandervoet, okay. I would’ve said Vander votes. I’m sure you get that a lot.
Jeremy Vandervoet: I get that a lot. It’s all good.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. So where, where, where are you from? And then, you know, I kind of want to hear a little bit about what motivated this move. And I know that you spent 13 years at Nestle. I think that’s something that we can touch on.
Ken Ojuka: But yeah, just tell us a little bit about where you are from and how you ended up in Boulder, running a chocolate company.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah, the quick back story is coming out of undergrad. I went into Madison and consulting at Bain, working on a number of different clients. And one of the clients that really piqued my interest in marketing was actually Nike and got to work with other cases and other brands.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And got it, but just working on that one client at Bain, where I got to see great marketers, a great brand, a great company, I kind of, that’s what inspired me to be. I really wanted to be on the other side of the table, but, you know, just seeing it being in management consulting, I wish I could get onto the brand side and make decisions to make things happen, create products and experiences that really impact people’s lives.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And I saw it firsthand. You know, that’s the way. And then what does this school do and got my MBA from UCLA and got into brand management at Nestle. And was there, yeah, for 13 years in the confectionary chocolate, sugar portfolio division. And did a number of roles working in a number of brands, got to do, let our seasonal team let our sugar confectionery business.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And then most recently left our chocolate portfolio and got to do some really exciting things on Butterfingers, specifically, butterfly launched Butterfingers, peanut butter cups. Butterfingers bites. Did, are, did the companies for Super Bowl commercials on butter finger cups, and grew the brand by 50% in a category of growing, you know, two or 3%.
Jeremy Vandervoet: So it’s like some really, really cool things that got to do that. But what brought me out to Boulder was, I learned, and I’m so grateful for my time at Nestle. I learned so much, there were so many great people and. We, as in all food and beverage categories, I’ve seen some pretty big macro trends shifting, to, you know, to better for you, et cetera.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And that space absolutely has been impacting snacking confectionery. And one of my roles at the very end was looking at M and a and looking at white space. Innovation actually is part of my job while I was running the chocolate division. So I was out in Boulder on behalf of. Looking at brands that we might acquire or partner with when I was at Nestle at when Justin’s a little secret in that, you know, other chocolate brands, it all didn’t work out.
Jeremy Vandervoet: But in 2018, I just kind of started to make the jump from big CBG, out to Boulder, because I believe in what was happening out here. And I believed in what was happening at a macro level with consumers and category shifting and I just really was eager to learn something new.
Ken Ojuka: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
Ken Ojuka: Okay, so you, you worked on Butterfinger, then you said that was a childhood favorite of mine, you know? And so, I actually haven’t thought about it in a really long time, but that was always my candy bar of choice. You didn’t have anything to do with it, like, being linked with the Simpsons.
Ken Ojuka: I think Bart was a spokesperson for a couple of commercials or something like that. I seem to remember that.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Well, I brought Bart back in 2013. So I was the brand manager in 2013, the Bart Simpson arrow put butter finger on the map, like literally put butter finger as a household name back in the nineties, 1990s for about eight or nine, 10 years.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And then the partnership kind of ended there at the end of the nineties. And then in 2013, It was the 90th anniversary of her finger. And I had this whole campaign that was like a look back over the last 90 years. And of course I had to include the Simpsons. So I called Fox and got a deal done and we got a really cool Bart Simpson’s promotion.
Jeremy Vandervoet: There was a digital component. Someone had stolen parts far away. One of the, you know, that it was like a, who did it type promotion on pack in store on, online. And it was really, really cool. It’s one of my favorite marketing campaigns that I have ever done on Butterfingers. And then, and then just to build on that one other thing.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You know, you love butter fingers and grew up with it. You have a lot of affinity for it, but haven’t thought about it in a long time. That’s why we launched butter finger BICE and Butterfinger, peanut butter, Tufts to make Butterfinger more broadly appealing. Because everybody knows about her finger, but the insight there was that not a lot of people or not.
Jeremy Vandervoet: As many people were still concerned.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. And I, you know, I think I just kind of grew up, right. Like it was great as a kid. My tastes kind of changed a little bit. But yeah, I’m curious about that. Why, why do you think that, you know, butter finger, you know, kind of saw that, that dip and sort of mindspace and consumption and, you know, I assume it was reflected in the Butterfingers sales, you know, what was your, what was your theory behind that? Or what was the research.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Well, Butterfinger was always and has been a very unique product. It actually gets stuck in your teeth. And it’s a very unique taste, texture and color, and it’s very polarizing and the irony is. Everybody has tried Butterfinger. A lot of people love it. Some people don’t, it’s not for everyone, but a lot of people also use it in alternative ways.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Like they’ll crumble. It’s a really great ingredient for either skiing or ice cream toppings. So it kind of travels into other usage occasions really well. And so. Part of the marketing opportunity was to reinvigorate the brand by considering alternative uses. Other than asking you to go buy a full sized Butterfinger bar, which you might love as a teenager, but maybe not want when you’re 35, 40 years old as an adult.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And so, it was trying to tap into that affinity, that equity and that. I remember eating Butterfingers, but I want it now in this form or on this occasion. And so, yeah, that was part of our challenging class opportunity when I was there.
Ken Ojuka: Cool. Cool. Well, it sounds like an awesome job.
Ken Ojuka: So yeah. Tell us a little bit more about why you, why you left it. I mean, why, so you saw the opportunities going on in Boulder, had you always considered starting a business of your own? Did you want your own brand, and did you know that you wanted to do it in, in chocolate?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah. And, you know, just to be clear, I didn’t start little secrets from scratch.
Jeremy Vandervoet: I joined about two or three years after it had started. I joined in 2018. I think it started in 2015. So I joined kind of early on in the phase, but, but yeah, I just to be clear, I didn’t start it, but you know, what really brought me out here was I had learned a lot at big CPG and Nestle, but. I kind of zoomed into this category.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You know, chocolate confectionery is a 14 plus billion dollar category, just in the U S when you add sugar, it’s over $20 billion and it’s dynamic. It’s a variety. So you can category. There’s a lot of room for a lot of brands and a lot of innovation. There’s a lot of usage occasions and it’s going through.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Where there is a big macro shift to better for you. We can get into better for you because that’s defined, you know, 10 different ways by different consumer segments. But, there is an, I saw the data. I saw the writing on the wall and in 2018, I actually helped Nestle sell the chocolate division to Ferrero. And I was part of that process. So I kind of had an opportunity to go with the acquiring company or I could leave at that point and jump off and go kind of do and go learn something new. And I think it’s like stretching yourself. And, I mean, I still have a lot to learn and, you know, jumping from a big CBG into a small company is like jumping into the deep end and sink or swim.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And I just feel like if I was ever going to do that in life, that was the moment to do it. And then, the category was changing. There was a pretty big consumer shift to natural and better food chocolate. And so this opportunity rose. Strategic partners, where they were looking to invest in this area.
Jeremy Vandervoet: I had met them a couple of years prior and the stars kind of aligned, and I just don’t want to look back with any regrets. So I just jumped into the deep end and moved down here to Boulder.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, that’s awesome. I think everybody knows that big companies are different from small companies. What are some of the things that maybe surprised you about a small company?
Ken Ojuka: You know, I’m sure it sounds like, you know, just in your daily work with Nestle, you were interacting with these smaller brands all the time, but what are some of the things that surprised you about joining a small company?
Jeremy Vandervoet: So at a small company. Yeah. It is amazing how close to the business everybody needs to be.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And. You know, when I joined, I didn’t completely understand that. Like I might, I will actually get involved in production planning and knowing the production schedule, calling a co-packer to make sure that we’re running to make sure that our packaging arrives on time. I mean, you need to know the guts of the business.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You need to know the financials of the business in more intimate detail than you ever need to know at a big company. And I come with marketing. You need to know your business inside and out because you are able to adapt and be much more nimble at a small company. The decision-making process to do anything it’s just inherently a lot faster, and that’s not a knock on a big company.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Big companies have more resources. They can do big things on big scales and it’s just apples and oranges. And when you come to a small company though, you just don’t have an army of people solving or helping you solve all of your challenges. And so it is more up to you to articulate the opportunity, to articulate the challenge and identify solutions, in a much quicker form.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You probably don’t need as many meetings to do it. And that’s one of the things that would just hit me over the head, like a ton of bricks.
Ken Ojuka: You don’t need as many, maybe don’t need any meetings to do it you know.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You might not need any meetings. You can probably just decide in the moment, what needs to be done. Yeah.
Ken Ojuka: So you mentioned a couple of things, macro trends, whitespace innovation. And then, you know, just the big trend of the better for you. Do you mind talking to the audience a little bit about what you mean by that and what you see from your vantage point?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah, I mean the whole Genesis for little secrets, chocolate, and why I moved out here was so, if you think about legacy conventional big chocolate, there are these phenomenal brands that are, you know, there’s the Butterfingers, the m&ms sneaker. Twix Kit-Kat Reese’s right. Big brands. Right? Well, if you think about all those brands, they’re predominantly in very unique chronic forms. So peanut butter cups, little tiny chocolate candy coated pieces for M and M’s, a cookie bar covered in journal for a Twix, a chocolate wafer with chocolate cream, for a kitchen and so on Butterfingers and crispy, crunchy peanut butter bars and the product forms all exist.
Jeremy Vandervoet: For different reasons. There’s different states. There’s different reasons why people want the dolls. There’s different flavor profiles and inner variety seeking and categories. There’s a lot of room for a lot of different product forms in different product experiences for different consumer segments, for different needs states.
Jeremy Vandervoet: So on and so on. And it always struck me and at sunrise, strategic partner Steve Hughes at sunrise had the same insight as I did as like, it always struck us. It was just going back three or four years. The natural chocolate category, which is growing at 15 to 20% a year, was predominantly. And even still to this day, predominantly these large chocolate tablets.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Chaco love, which is a bellwether and a great brand within the chocolate, natural chocolate category or Lilly’s endangered species and all these phenomenal brands that really started and built the natural chocolate segment. Vast majority of them are in large chocolate tablet blocks, and there’s not these popular nostalgic classic chocolate favorites.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Really until justice came out with the organic peanut mark. Product on a national basis that took a chocolate classic, like Reese’s peanut butter cups and mating organic better fees. And that’s where the light bulb went off. It’s like, holy cow. But where’s Kit-Kat, where’s Twix. Where’s m&ms where’s.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And so where’s the Milky way? Where’s all these? Products that we all know and love that had a lot of, you know, that taste great, but have artificial ingredients and have a lot of sugar and all these things. Is there a better version of these and are there a lot of people that would eat a natural, better version of these chocolate classics and then, wow, this is a huge, these are all, you know, multi-hundred million dollar brands.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Is there a consumer signal out there that wants a natural, better version of these and it’s not available to. And that’s the Genesis of what we’re trying to accomplish.
Ken Ojuka: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So you were gracious enough to send me some samples, a box of quite a few samples, and I got to say they were gone in like 15 minutes.
Ken Ojuka: We devoured them and they were awesome. Do you mind describing the products just a little bit? Just so people know. Concrete leak and can understand, you know, what you guys are doing a little secrets. I think that would be illustrative of the point you’re making.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah. And, you know, we just relaunched our website.
Jeremy Vandervoet: This is all available on little secrets, chocolates.com, and you can order it, but we basically have three products, segments. We have chocolate pieces, which is, you know, a version or a better quote-unquote version of. And our top selling flavor is our peanut butter pieces, which isn’t a very indulgent peanut butter in dark chocolate in a little candy coat shell.
Jeremy Vandervoet: So remind you of Eminem’s. And then we have our chocolate wafers, which is a, our take on a cap and a is their top selling item. We have four flavors: dark chocolate with sea salt, milk chocolate with sea salt, peanut butter and almond butter.
Ken Ojuka: So Kik, that’s my wife’s favorite chocolate bar.
Ken Ojuka: And, Her name is cat, you know, so I wonder if it was just, you know, as a kid, she liked that. But I gotta say that the crispy wafers were also my favorite and I thought they were better than a Kit-kat, for sure.
Ken Ojuka: The brand manager, the marketing guy coming out right there.
Ken Ojuka: You know, so I actually liked the dark chocolate one. I like the sea salt in it, you know? And so I think it was just a little more interesting than just a sweet kick up a bar. But then, you know, it’s also the texture, It trenches a little bit different than a Kit-Kat bar. So for me I kinda liked the, it felt almost like a more sophisticated taste than like a typical Kit-Kat, but it still reminds me of, it reminded me of like a Kit-Kat.
Ken Ojuka: Does that make sense?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah, well that’s so what you just said is what our big idea and our brand promise. That’s what I want it to be. And that’s what I want people to do: organic rethinking and steel. When they eat our products, it reminds me of them. It elicits the emotions of eating these great chocolate brands that I grew up with, but it’s elevated.
Jeremy Vandervoet: It’s more premium. It is a premium experience. It’s dark chocolate. It’s a little bit of sea salt. It’s a Christie wafer. It’s actually a little bit larger too. And here’s the mind-blowing insight is that we’re able to do this and an adult taste forward way. We’re going to have a taste for brands forever, but we’re able to do it with 30% less.
Jeremy Vandervoet: So it’s truly better for you and not only. And it’s also non-GMO and it’s of course, artificial colors and flavors. Those are just table stakes. So we’re able to do it with higher quality ingredients, but we’re also able to do it with less sugar, but also be indulgent. And I think that is our unique proposition that I want everybody to eat it, that light bulb moment to go off as like, holy cow, this is special.
Jeremy Vandervoet: I, I, you know, I want more of this.
Ken Ojuka: Well, and I, and I think you guys are nailing it. And you were going to talk about the other segments. I think you’ve got cookie bars and then D do you have
Jeremy Vandervoet: Correct, our third product segment is a really nice indulgent cookie bar, a Twix, and we have two flavors in dark and milk chocolate.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Dark chocolate has an assaulting terminal and with a premium cookie bar. And, we just launched that about a year and a half ago. And then we have some really exciting innovation coming out in just a couple months from now, which are going to be our creamy, caramel NuGo bars. I will be inspired by the Milky Way.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And three must get here. We have one with, without caramel, which is just, and we added a lot of extra cocoa into the nougat to make the new, get really premium and then put it in a dark chocolate. And then we have one with a terminal. So that will be inspired by Milky Way
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, that’s awesome. You know, I really kind of liked what you’re saying about some of these macro trends.
Ken Ojuka: And I think Boulder is like a hotbed of some of this innovation that you’re seeing in the food space and the CPG space. Are there other, other CPG categories where you’re seeing similar things happen? You know, maybe, maybe, you know, listeners could look to, you know, just as a point of study to understand what’s going on with the market.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You know, I feel like what we’re talking about within chocolate is, and has been happening in literally just about every single food and beverage category. You think that if you think about the grocery store, I mean, I can’t think of a category that has not been touched by this and in the, you know, the closer in categories to us, right?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Our snacking, you think about the snack category and, you know, what’s happening, whether it’s protein, snacking, et cetera, all the way through ice cream, which is another indulgent category. That’s really just, you know, right. For new brands and experiences and flavors and better for you, all the way to, beverages and everything happening, which just looking at the beverage
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah. I can’t almost think of a category that has not been touched by some of the trends that we’re talking about.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, one of the brands that comes to mind, I mean, you mentioned Justin’s and what they did, you know, sort of the peanut butter space, you know, and they’ve had quite a bit of success. And then also, I think of the brand, the ice cream, one halo top
Jeremy Vandervoet: is that the big one halo top exploded.
Jeremy Vandervoet: What was it like four or five years ago? And the ice cream segment and that, you know, they did that with low Cal low calorie. And, you know, every brand has tackled this space in a very different way. Lilly’s which was just acquired by Hershey and smart suites has done a really good job in our space.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And then you have brands like Ali pop coming into the beverage category. Doing a really great, you know, you take on pull up, but then you have brands like Justin’s that put this category on the map and it was a fully indulgent, dark chocolate, or, you know, organic indulgent, peanut butter and almond butter cup and did it in a very intelligent way.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And so
Ken Ojuka: Where they can get butter cups, is that what they came out with? I think of them as peanut butter primarily. And then it seems like the peanut butter cups came later.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Right. They had a spread business first. So they started out as a spread as a peanut butter almond butter spread business in a jar.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And then in those little squeeze packs, I think, you know, probably 8, 9, 10 years ago, they extended into peanut butter cups kind of category line extension. And that really took off.
Ken Ojuka: Okay. Yeah. And I’m sure you’ve been keeping an eye on them. I actually don’t think I’ve tried their peanut butter cups, you know, but I’m a huge peanut butter fan.
Ken Ojuka: And, I thought that one of the innovations was just even putting the peanut butter in the smaller, you know, what is it, the little plastic container thing that you can just carry with you? I thought,
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah, that’s a great example. Of innovation around a use of education and making it easy for people to try and discover your brand.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And that’s a great example of innovation. Doesn’t always have to be a new product or a form. It can sometimes be a usage occasion. And so people don’t have to buy a 12 or $14 jar of almonds. They can buy a little tiny sample pack or a single serve in our category. You can buy single serve or multi-serve you, there’s different ways for people to discover and actually try your brand.
Jeremy Vandervoet: So, yeah, they did a really good job with that.
Ken Ojuka: Cool, cool. So, you’re launching a new product. What was that, what was it again? And when can people expect to see.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah, it’s, it’ll be available on Amazon and our website coming this fall probably sometime around November. And it is a creamy caramel bar.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And then we have one without caramel. So a soft, soft and creamy yoga bar platform. There’s two products, right? There’s one that’s inspired by three must sit here one by the Milky way. The main difference between the caramel between the two. And, it was really inspired by two things. Our portfolio today has cookie bars.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Crispy wafers have pieces, which has a little crunchy show on it. So there’s a big textual component to what we have in our portfolio that has a crunchy, crispy texture and having. Indulgent caramel nougat experience is very complimentary to the product portfolio we have today. And that was very thoughtful as well as the fact, and probably equally important that these products don’t exist in the marketplace.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You can’t find until January of 20, 22 at Whole Foods, you won’t be able to find a product like this in the marketplace, because if you look. Caramel and you get it in soft adult textures and easily. You don’t want a Christy or harder texture and you want something soft and indulgent. This is now a product, right, for that consumer saying, they’re looking for that type of a product.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And these products are a kind of white space within nature.
Ken Ojuka: Okay. Awesome. Awesome. Yeah, that sounds great. And I’ll definitely look forward to eating whole foods. And you guys are in whole foods nationwide, is that right?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah. We have our entire product portfolio of pieces, Christy wafers and cookie bars.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And now it’s coming in January nationwide and then we have other great partners beyond whole foods. But from a national perspective. Whole foods and now sprouts have taken us. And we have other partners like fresh market and natural grocers and you know, many other partners in the natural channel, that have our portfolio and distribute.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. Well, congrats that, you know, I think that, that we could keep this interview going. I mean, there’s a lot of, you know, topics that I’d love to pick your brain on. I’d love to hear you know, view Amazon, how you approach Amazon D2D sales or D2C sales, sorry. COVID how that affected the business.
Ken Ojuka: And then, you know, maybe we just touch on one, just shipping a product like yours, you know, when you go a DTC, and you’re shipping chocolate, you know, that obviously melts if it’s left out in the sun, you know, what are some of the challenges around that? How do you guys approach. And, and how is, how has that been in terms of sales and sort of relaunching your website and all that?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the logistics and the shipping of chocolate is very. Challenged to tackle in this industry as anyone who’s in the industry knows, especially during the summer, there’s kind of two big windows is the winter and the summer ship window is a big deal because when consumers look and find any, you know, this category or your brand and they buy it, they expect it to, with the summer, the one that they expect to arrive.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Not only quickly, but without it melting and with height, you know, and if we’re in the natural chocolate space, there’s a premium to it. They expect it to taste. Good. It Looks good. And talk gets a little technical here, but to bloom and it can turn white or it can get a little spot. It can, it can change the actual color of the chocolate.
Jeremy Vandervoet: If it, if it melts. And so figuring out the logistics behind the scenes, has been, has been something that we really focused on. And we have partners in the summer ship with ice packs for our Amazon business, so that we could finally, for the very first time this year, keep Amazon, live year round. And so we, because before, you know, we were only available in the winter, through FBA.
Jeremy Vandervoet: During the winter, and then we have to shut the whole thing down every summer and it is, you know, the flywheel and the algorithm. And, you know, you need your listing up available at all times, but you can build right? So there was one big problem and finding the right partner with the right logistics and shipping time with ice packs on the right, at the right cost and price point.
Jeremy Vandervoet: That was a huge project that we undertook to get ready for this year. And that’s been exciting. And then we moved offices actually in Boulder, we changed offices. Lost our D to C website, and now it can fulfill products quickly with ice packs in the summer farm, you know, from our office, from our warehouse here, you know, just your locally for, for orders online.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And that was a whole logistical problem.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. So just wrapping up here, are there, are there any shows that you guys are attending, any promotions you guys are having right now for anybody that’s interested in, you know, getting in contact with your company or trying out your product
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah, well, we have some, you know, we have a sales team and going to expo east here, coming up in September. We plan to, and I know that’s, you know, we’re reading the tea leaves as COVID and you know, different, different health and health and safety protocols are changing. So we’ll be very much paying attention to that for extra east, as low as XLS next year, our promotion, you know, on our website, we’re available to contact.
Jeremy Vandervoet: There’s a contact link at the bottom there, and we have some great in-store promotions that people are wondering about our brand. We have a fall seasonal program. That’s hitting shelves actually, as we speak with our limited dish and fall crispy wafer lineup. And then we have some really great holidays for the holiday time period coming up in November, December, we have some peppermint pieces and peppermint crispy wafers coming out, limited edition, coming out in the holiday time.
Jeremy Vandervoet: That we’re really excited about.
Ken Ojuka: Well, nice, nice. We’ll look forward to that. Let’s switch over to the quickfire round. I’ve just got four questions for you. And we’ll just, just tell me the first thing that comes to mind. You know, what’s one tool or resource that you feel has helped you a lot in your position.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Just, I have to admit, it’s just looking at the data, the POS data from the whole flu portal and the census data that we use and knowing the numbers and looking at our distribution, looking at our voice, looking at our velocities, looking like just that tool in, and of it, like really getting into the data, and knowing your POS data has, has been something that, and then we create POS reports.
Jeremy Vandervoet: We track things and you know kinda go from there.
Ken Ojuka: What’s one book that you could recommend to people?
Jeremy Vandervoet: You know, I’m going to give you a curveball answer. I’m reading a book on D-Day right now. And, and it’s the same author that wrote undaunted courage and all these great history books came out 20 years ago. But, Steven Ambrose.
Jeremy Vandervoet: It’s a book about planning due to, I mean, if you ever get into D-Day the amount of planning and coordination and courage and tenacity and problem solving. Like, it’s kind of going back to the sports analogy we talked about earlier, but like there’s so many great lessons to learn and I’m reading this book and just amazed at what that generation did and how much respect I have.
Jeremy Vandervoet: And there’s some great business lessons in there too. And I’m reading it right now and I’m just like, I think about our country, and I don’t want to go down this road, but I just think a lot of, I think our generation, my generation and so on could learn. By reading what happened 60, 70 years ago and what they tackled and the problems they solved.
Ken Ojuka: That’s awesome. What’s the name of the book?
Jeremy Vandervoet: D-Day, it’s actually called D day. Yeah, it’s a great, great, great book, and it really gives an in-depth account and even gives the planning and how they prepare for it.
Ken Ojuka: That sounds really interesting. I’ll put it on my list. I’ve got audible credits, just burn a hole in my pocket.
Ken Ojuka: So hopefully there’s an audible version of it.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Oh, I’m sure there is. It’s a very popular book. It’s awesome.
Ken Ojuka: What is one piece of advice that you’d give your 21 year old self?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Oh, that’s a great question. Life in your career. is a marathon It’s not a sprint. And seeing the forest from the trees, it’s kind of a little cliche, but viewing things as a marathon and letting go of what you like, what you worry about or your problem today, and your problem next week is really not the end all be all.
Jeremy Vandervoet: It feels like it’s the weight of the world, or it feels like. I think it’s a very big thing. And it’s been surmounted sometimes as things feel insurmountable or you’re anxious about this issue or this person, or this challenge, but stepping back and viewing things as a marathon has really helped me whether it’s at Nestle or even when I’m here at a startup and we’re moving fast.
Jeremy Vandervoet: I wish I didn’t worry about the day-to-day so much when I was younger. And it could step back a little bit more and see the forest and the trees.
Ken Ojuka: And then who’s, one person in your field of work that you’d love to take to fill lunch. You know, somebody, maybe it’s another entrepreneur that you look up to or, you know, anyway, who’s somebody that comes to mind.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You know, I have learned a lot from people that are ahead of me in my career and in my life in general. And I’ve had just a phenomenal mentoring relationship. With Peter Burns, he’s the ex CEO of Justin’s and he also then went to help justice and that team have a successful exit and help seal that business with a great team in place.
Jeremy Vandervoet: You then went on to one bar and, just recently about a year or two ago, helped them to have a successful scale and exit. He builds great teams. She’s focused. He has great balance, and an approach to business. And, he’s just been a phenomenal mentor and I’ve just learned a lot from him. So I think finding people like that with, you know, having found people that have been successful in that are kind of, ahead of you in your career, is I think that’s critical for everyone to find those.
Ken Ojuka: All right. Well, Jeremy, thank you so much. You’ve been a wonderful guest today and I love the experience that you bring, you know, from big company to small company. And I think you guys have a phenomenal product and if somebody wanted to get a hold of you or wanted to reach out to you and maybe online or something, what’s the best way to do that?
Jeremy Vandervoet: Yeah. LinkedIn of course, send me a DM or on our website.
Ken Ojuka: Awesome. And the website again is Little Secrets Chocolate,
Jeremy Vandervoet: littlesecretschocolates.com
Ken Ojuka: Okay.
Jeremy Vandervoet: At the end little secrets chocolates.
Ken Ojuka: Awesome. Well, thanks Jeremy. Thanks again for jumping on and sharing your journey with us. We’ll talk soon.
Jeremy Vandervoet: Awesome. Thanks man. Appreciate that.
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