Jereann Zann Of Little GF Chefs: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand
Passion for your product or idea. Passion is contagious. It will inspire your team and your customers, which will help your business succeed. Plus, start-ups require long hours, so it’s important to do something you really are passionate about and enjoy.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jereann Zann.
Jereann Zann is the founder of Little GF Chefs, and the proud mom of two amazing kids with celiac disease and food allergies.
A self taught baker, Jereann has created hundreds of delicious gluten free and allergy friendly recipes aimed at helping other families. One of the biggest challenges she faces raising children on restricted diets is helping them build self confidence when they often feel different or left out at school and social gatherings.
When she discovered that getting her kids in the kitchen was having a tremendous impact on their self-confidence and teaching them to have a positive relationship with food, she was compelled to help other families and founded Little GF Chefs.
Prior to starting Little GF Chefs, Jereann spent her career as a marketing executive founding a brand development and digital marketing agency in 2010 and CeliacMama.com in 2015, which is an online resource for families raising children with celiac disease. Jereann is also a national speaker, celiac disease advocate, and member of International Women’s Forum.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Both of my parents are entrepreneurs and my siblings and I were lucky to see the innerworkings of founding and growing small businesses from a young age. I still remember watching commercials on TV as a young child and my parents asking me what the marketing implications were from what I had watched. We often laugh about that now, but their influence gave me a great foundation for hard work and the courage to follow my dreams.
I also have very fond memories of spending time in the kitchen with my grandmother and my mother as a child. To this day, when I make a particular recipe it reminds me of happy times with them, which is one reason I carry that tradition on with my children.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
I remember going to a birthday party with my daughter years ago and watching her drool over donuts she couldn’t eat. I was determined to show her that she didn’t have to live without or be defined by her food restrictions, so naturally, I went into “mom-mode.”
After the party, we went right to the grocery store. I purchased all of the ingredients needed to make our own safe donuts, and we went home and had some messy fun in the kitchen! As time passed, baking with both of my children has tremendously helped them build confidence and develop a positive relationship with food.
The “ah-ha” moment came when I thought about how many more children were experiencing the same feelings, and how we could really help other families. So, at my daughter’s urging, I started Little GF Chefs to empower, educate and create FUN kitchen experiences for children on restricted diets.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Our first month in business, several of our baking kits were mailed without the recipe instructions card inside the box. It’s funny to remember now, but definitely wasn’t funny to us at the time having just gotten started!
We emailed the instructions out to subscribers right away and implemented a new quality control system so that it wouldn’t happen in the future. We learned that having a multi-person check policy on every one of our baking kits is the best way to ensure everything is included as it should be.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The most common mistake I’ve seen is growing too fast, and taking on more than a company is ready to handle. It is very exciting to get new orders, especially big orders, but it’s more important to make sure you have the team in place and the time to fulfill them. Overpromising and under delivering is something we strive to never do, so we grew very slowly the first year in business to make sure we’re truly ready to expand.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Believe in yourself and go for it! Start by doing your product research, see if there is competition and if your product addresses a consumer need. If you want to test an idea before going all in, then start small with limited customers and see how it goes. If you enjoy the process and all of the work involved and receive positive customer feedback then you’ll know it’s time to take your business to the next level.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
Good ideas are often the inspiration for great businesses, but it’s important to do your research before taking an idea to market. Doing your research on what needs your product or service would fill, the market size, and competition is vital. Understanding your target market and what you need to do to differentiate your brand will not only help you be successful but will also give you the confidence to take that idea and transform it into a thriving business.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I haven’t personally worked with invention development consultants, so I don’t think it’s necessary. That said, I do think it’s important to have mentors that can help you along the way with sage advice. If you don’t have business experience, it may be a good idea to work with a consultant or partner with someone who does.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I believe bootstrapping is the best way to get started so that you don’t have to give equity away too early. I believe there is a misconception that you have to go into debt to start a business, and if you grow slowly and keep an eye on your numbers you don’t. There is a great book called Bootstrapping 101 that teaches entrepreneurs how to start a business with limited cash and resources that I recommend reading.
Venture capital is great when it’s time to expand and really take your company to the next level, but I don’t think it’s impossible to start or grow a business without investors.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
At Little GF Chefs, we promise not to use raw ingredients that are made on shared lines with gluten or any of the top 8 allergens (wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish), which limits the number of manufacturers we can work with. When looking for a raw ingredient manufacturer, we first make sure they meet that allergen-free standard, review their certifications and then test the product repeatedly to see how it performs when baking. We primarily sell directly to the consumer, so we don’t have advice on how to find a retailer or distributor but hope to grow into that area next year.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Passion for your product or idea. Passion is contagious. It will inspire your team and your customers, which will help your business succeed. Plus, start-ups require long hours, so it’s important to do something you really are passionate about and enjoy.
- A key differentiator. There are many food and beverage companies. Decide what makes you different and will help you stand out from the competition and focus on that.
- Strong and consistent corporate identity. A brand is the emotional response that people have to your business. This sign, symbol, slogan, design, or name becomes a vital factor that helps customers recognize you and builds trust. Make an investment in a graphic designer or do it in-house if you have the skills to create a logo, print collateral, and website before you start your business.
- Connect with your target market. Share your story and what’s happening at your company often on social media and via email marketing. Choose the digital channels where your customers are and focus on them, as it can be overwhelming to try to engage across all of the social media platforms at once.
- A great team. Entrepreneurs often have to wear many hats, especially in the early days of a start-up, but one person cannot do everything well on their own. When you can, build a great team around you, and don’t be afraid to hire people that are smarter than you or may have more experience in some areas.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Creative marketing can create a buzz, but if your product can solve a problem for someone or make their life easier they will naturally be crazy about it and love it. Find out what your target audience needs most and focus your product development on addressing those needs.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Our mission is to help make the world a better place for children on restricted diets due to celiac disease, food allergies, or other health-related issues. At Little GF Chefs, our goal is to show families that they’re not alone by giving them healthy and fun tools to build their children’s self-esteem and address food-related anxieties. We hope to inspire children to believe in themselves.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to be a part of inspiring inclusivity in the education system for children on restricted diets. It is not their choice to be born with health conditions that result in the inability to eat certain foods, and that in itself is challenging for families. I wish that these children were not left out so often in school, which negatively impacts their social development. This could be accomplished by non-food reward systems, non-food-based learning activities in the classroom or by incorporating top allergen-free foods into classroom activities. I would also like to see required food allergy training for staff in schools and daycares.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.