TheraBee is Selling Culinary Honey in Vons?!
As of yesterday, TheraBee Culinary Honey™ is now available for sale in a (very) limited number of Vons supermarkets as part of their "Hyper Local" program. While there doesn't seem to be any public acknowledgement of the program, we were approached by Vons a couple months ago and were asked if we wanted to be part of the pilot project. Our reaction to their ask bounced between the continuum of "Holy crap--that's awesome" to "But our brand is 'Artisan' and 'Gourmet'" to "Holy crap--We can't even keep up with existing orders so how do we produce higher volumes AND control quality?" In the end, we decided to give it a shot under some very controlled parameters. Here's how it went down.
Since our modest launch last September at the Sunset Savor event we have been selling our product online and in over 30 retail locations in San Luis Obispo county. We honestly have more orders than we can fill, which is a good problem to have and we've thus invested in additional beekeeping, extraction, filling and labeling equipment and secured contracts with other beekeepers to source pure, raw honey. So far so good. As entrepreneurs building a brand we are constantly balancing growth with our mandate for a quality artisan product and excellent customer service and the million dollar question of, "Do we have just a great product or do we really have the makings for a great business?" So where does Von's fit in? Let's go back to our continuum of emotions:
1.) Holy Crap--That's Awesome!
This is clearly an opportunity to get immediate lift in distribution by a national retailer and build awareness. When you are talking with the big boys, they've got data...lots of data and they can pinpoint retail locations by demographics, buying power, markup points, local focus and service capability (i.e. some stores have a more customer centric service approach, like someone who can really answer your questions about cheese pairings). So Vons showed us a list of stores from here to San Diego and suggested a staged approach in a limited amount of stores that we had free choice to choose from. That was awesome.
2.) But Our Brand is "Artisan"
Our single biggest point of resistance to even returning their phone call was the fact that we built this company thru the idea that TheraBee was not just about slinging product. Our Culinary Honey (trademarked), Body Care and tea-based products (Patent Pending Bliss Balls anyone?) represent a brand of products that are literally hand-crafted with quality culinary-grade ingredients. Our honey is unique and better than any other "flavored or spicy" honey on the market...Hands down. We know it because we've tried every one we could get our hands on and because our customers say so. We know every single one of our retailers by name and they have tasted our honey and seen very positive sales in their shops. And to answer the proverbial Shark Tank question, "Why yes...we have re-orders...lots of them!" What would these specialty shops, run by wonderful, hard working entrepreneurs themselves think of our locally produced, gourmet brand of products if we are now placed side by side with SueBee Honey or Smuckers Jam (no offense...just stating the facts)? We can't do that...We are a Gourmet freakin' brand! Let's tell them "NO." Actually, let's tell them "HELL NO!"
3.) We Can't Even Keep Up With Existing Orders
Well...yes and no. Production is a constantly evolving exercise and we are scaling and learning to deal with bigger volumes, forecasting demand, ordering ingredients, jars, and grinding, mixing and infusing the product into the jars - by hand, one jar at a time. It is a LOT of work. But hey...we are a small growing company and that's par for the course so we put on our big girl and boy pants and figure it out. But retail grocery distribution is a whole 'nother ballgame; not to mention the fact that we are now servicing retail customers outside the county. It's not just about packing some online orders in the morning and throwing a few boxes in the truck (aka: Lola, our pride and joy) any more and taking a pleasant drive thru the local countryside to our winery clients. No, this is about loading up at 0-dark-thirty to get into the stores at very specified hours with cases of product labeled and packed in VERY specific ways and going toe-to-toe with other distributors who will literally push your product aside or to the back of the shelf so they can be front and center.
So, In the End...
We said "Yes!" The Vons team was very gracious, patient and anxious to build awareness around their desire (a corporate mandate, really) to be more in tune with the local markets and showcase local, artisan products. Based on our capacity and a strong desire to keep our SLO to North County (San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, for you folks who are out of town..We love you all!) presence focused on premium, artisan and local, we worked out a plan to place a limited number of flavors into some of Vons' premier locations outside of our hometown area including Montecito, Goleta and Grover Beach. The shelves are stocked and now we are back at the TheraBee worldwide headquarters making our honey, carefully packing online shipments and servicing our loyal and incredibly awesome local customers (including Whole Foods) and figuring out how we can grow TheraBee into a GREAT business.
What do YOU Think?
Talk to us. We are really trying hard to make the very best product we can and provide excellent heartfelt customer service. It is 100% natural, good for you and better than anything else out there. We want to know what you think of our product and our decision. You can add comments below or get loud on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter (check out all the buttons on the top of this page!). Thank you all very much.
P.S. You can buy some honey right here, right now with $5 Flat Rate Shipping. If you buy a LOT ($75 or more), then shipping is FREE:-)