Epic Naturals, LLC, co-founder Rudolph, who is still just in his mid-twenties and admits he felt out of his depth in some of his early meetings with potential customers, was nevertheless convinced he was onto something special with his 150-calorie pots with fruit and hydrated chia seeds at the bottom and thick Greek yogurt on top.
And the 'chia' factor coupled with the appealing packaging, nutritional profile (17g protein, 3g fiber) and brand name - 'The Epic Seed' - also impressed retail buyers and distributors, who gave the brand a shot in July 2013, and have since worked with the start-up to expand distribution to around 700 stores including Whole Foods, Sprouts and Safeway on the east and west coast.
You’ve got to start small and build slowly
But they probably would have balked at the proposed $2.99 price tag had the success of the Chia Pod - a dessert made with chia, coconut milk, and fruit which sells for $3.29 at Whole Foods - not proved that shoppers were willing to pay for this kind of product, Rudolph tells FoodNavigator-USA.
“The Chia Pods kind of primed them if you like, as before that there wasn’t really anything with chia to compare us with.”
As for distribution, while it might seem odd that a company based in Venice, California selected a manufacturer in New York to produce the product, this is not as unusual as it sounds, notes Rudolph, given that his first major distribution wins took him into Whole Foods stores in the northeast as well as his home territory in southern California.
Even major yogurt brands that have a presence on the west coast are still manufactured in New York, he points out, while if things take off in California he could look to work with a co-packer there in future.
“When we started we’d heard that it was sometimes possible to get a national roll-out with Whole Foods from the outset, and that seemed like it would be a really great way to start, but if that had happened we probably wouldn’t still be here.
"You’ve got to start small and build slowly, with small distributors and then larger ones.”
In addition to raising some capital, I want strategy and insight
As for financing, for the first year, it’s been possible to get by with money from friends and family, says Rudolph, who co-owns Epic Naturals LLC with a business partner. But it’s now got to the stage where he’s looking for outside investment, but also strategic support.