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Kim Oster-Holstein Of Twisted Alchemy: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand

Build your brand with purpose. If your product is built with purpose…more than just selling a product…it will fuel you with energy and intention, and your business will thrive. We created an initiative, Cocktails for a Cause to help make a difference while we sell juice. It gives us a chance to collaborate, be creative, and have a positive impact. We recently created the Pink Posse cocktail kit with a % sales donated to breast cancer research with Speed Rack, a womxn’s national mixology competition. It’s these collaborations, created with the intention to join together and elevate spirits with impact, that make me so excited for what we’re doing. It’s our “alchemy.”

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 Kim Oster-Holstein.

Kim Oster-Holstein is the Co-Founder, President, and Chief Alchemy Officer of Twisted Alchemy, providing award-winning cold-pressed juices and craft mixers for the hospitality industry and home cocktail kits for craft cocktail enthusiasts.

Twisted Alchemy partners with world-renowned restaurant hospitality groups, hotels, and event venues, with the mission to elevate spirits. With COVID-19, the company pivoted to elevate people’s spirits at home with the Quarantine Cocktail Hour and other virtual gatherings, from client cocktail hours and team virtual huddles to the virtual holiday party, offering a toast of inspiration.

Kim is a passionate serial entrepreneur, mentor, business coach and dream doula with a mission to help others start and build their dreams. She and her Co-Founder Scott started, built, and sold Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels to a public company in 2012. She was named the Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year 2009 by Chicago’s Womens’ Business Development Center and was recognized with the Womens’ Business Enterprise National Council Star Award in 2010. She was an inductee in the 2011 Chicago Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. Kim was honored as a JWI Woman to Watch in 2010. She is a former Chair of the Board of Trustees of JWI, and is Programming Chair and member of the Executive Committee of Northwestern University’s Council of One Hundred. Kim graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a MSA in 1990, and received her BBA in Marketing from the University of Texas School of Business in 1989.

Kim lives in the Chicago area with her husband Scott, three kids (Sonia, Dani, and Aiden) and Goldendoodle Yoda. Her passions and interests include enjoying family, health/wellness, yoga, hiking, cooking, travel, art, adventures, and helping others to tap into the “Alchemy of You.” Kim recently became a TEDx speaker as part of TEDx Wilmette 2021, speaking on “Harnessing your Inner-Entrepreneur.”

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”?

I was born and raised in Texas and always had an obsession for wandering the aisles of health food stores and specialty markets for interesting, “better for you” food/bev products. After moving to Chicago for grad school, I met my then-boyfriend, now husband, and we started making soft pretzels in my studio apartment. This led to 17 years of nourishing spirits, souls and stomachs with our gourmet soft pretzel company, Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels. After selling in 2012, we bought a food truck and hit the streets with our Crave Bar twisted pretzel ice cream bars. Then in 2018, inspired by a margarita and the quest for fresh juice, we launched Twisted Alchemy to elevate the spirits of craft cocktails. When COVID hit in 2020, we shifted to elevate the spirits of people and brought the bar home with our Twisted Alchemy cocktail kits.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

Scott and I both have our birthdays two days apart in May, and we always celebrated with a fiesta and margaritas. Scott would go on a quest to find hand-squeezed lime juice from a restaurant to avoid squeezing limes. As a former bartender in Paris, he knew the pain of squeezing. With HPP technology and the opportunity to use pressure processing innovation, we discovered we could put hand-squeezed lime juice in bottles and extend the shelf life without heat treatment….thereby saving bartenders everywhere the hassle of squeezing limes on-premise…and providing alchemy for their cocktail programs.

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?

It’s funny now, but at the time it was a crazy mistake! We had a big event in the city and drove an hour in traffic. When we arrived, the bartender asked where the mezcal was, and I realized that the samples the company sent to us at home (the blur of office and home with covid!) were actually for the event. With less than an hour until the event, I had to get creative and calm and ran to a liquor store for back-up until an Uber could make the hour trip.

The lesson I learned — get comfortable with mistakes and move to how to solve the issue versus harping on the problem.

What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen people make when they start a food line?

Some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen:

  • People get set on what they like and don’t listen to consumer feedback. They start to create a product for product’s sake vs. something needed and valued by others.
  • Often entrepreneurs get so caught up in the doing (as there’s a ton to do) and don’t spend enough time building the vision of where they want to go.
  • Being rigid in what you create and who it’s for.

It’s important to be fluid in the creation of food products. You have to be willing to modify and test and fail and recreate. You always want to get the feedback of people who are not involved and be open to shifting the vision to meet the needs of consumers.

What can be done to avoid these errors?

  • Constantly be getting feedback from consumers and people not involved in your company….people who are your target. Be open to the feedback, and take on the most negative thoughts and input to address the issues.
  • Make a date on your calendar for a “retreat” to work on a strategic plan and vision for growth. Take the time to separate from “doing” the business so that you can get a clear picture of what you want to build.
  • Be fluid and open to change. When we lost every customer in March 2020, after selling to bars, restaurants and hotels, we had to pivot. We had to reinvent the company and be open to a new way of being and meeting consumers where they were. As people were at home and needing their spirits lifted, we took the bar home and elevated the spirits of people with our home cocktail kits.

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?

I love talking to aspiring food & beverage entrepreneurs, and I have some key steps (I call them twisted tips). Here they are:

First, make samples of the product, and share them with many people. Get input on the product, and ask a lot of questions. Create a mini focus group where you can get feedback on product quality, possible pricing and a possible target of who to sell to. I love this exploratory stage, and I recommend diving into it fully to gather a lot of input. Our first pretzels were awful, and it took many tweaks before we had a product that people enjoyed. With our cold-pressed juices, we’ve had many juices with sweetness levels that were off or flavor profiles that were a total fail. It takes playing, recreating, reconfiguring, sampling again, and not giving up.

Find out if there is an incubator nearby that can be a source of assistance as you develop the idea. Incubators are great communities to start and build a business, and often they have amazing resources, including workshops and gatherings to join together and learn from other entrepreneurs.

Write a business plan draft. You can find them online, and it doesn’t have to be too formal. But write out your vision for the product, and try to include as many details as possible. Your plan should be flexible and flow with change, but it gives you a map to follow and starts to bring the idea to life.

Seek mentors. Your personal “board of directors.” Include someone in the industry who has already taken a product to market, and is willing to help guide you. Get comfortable with asking for help.

Go to trade shows, or attend virtual and in-person trade events. Bring your love and enthusiasm for your product with you, and believe in your idea as you share with others and find people, resources and a network to join you through the twists and turns of entrepreneurship.

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?

The key is moving through the struggle and never giving up. A ton of people have good ideas, but many give up way before the idea has a chance to birth and grow.

I’d also encourage someone to reach out to others for help, especially through business development centers, coaches, mentors, and incubators.

The formula of moving through struggle, while supported by a network, lifts you to overcome the hurdles.

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 it out on their own?

Every situation is different and calls for its own formula to take a dream and bring it to life. If you have ample funding and find a consultant who fits a needed role to help you launch, it could be a great idea.

For me, I’ve always loved the creative process of flushing out the idea on my own vs consultants. It’s a personal process that involves “heart storming” vs “brainstorming” and really creating a product and brand that speaks to my heart and purpose.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs. looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Venture capital is a faster growth plan with different expectations. But it can be an amazing way to take an idea and bring it to market with ample resources and a larger team.

As an entrepreneur that started our first business with a credit card and a dream, we took the bootstrapping path because it was the only option at the time. I also appreciated the chance to have our own pace of growth, and not feel the same pressure as a big VC firm might apply. Angel funding has been an option to raise friendly funds and utilize resources for growth.

With the increase of available incubators and accelerators, as well as grant funds, there are so many more options for funding resources.

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?

One of our rules in our business has been to seek experts in areas we are not. So we seek out many contacts and people to help; and if we don’t know the answer, we keep looking until we find someone who can guide us.

To file a patent, I’d look for a good patent lawyer. If funds are very tight, look at the law schools and seek a professor or student who can possibly help. To source new ingredients, I look to trade show resources. For our industry of the natural foods channel, we find ingredients through the trade show exhibitors, and through asking other companies in the industry. We are part of an amazing network, Naturally Network, which is a national network of food/beverage companies and related suppliers in the industry. There are local chapters, and we attend events, from gatherings to webinars and panels. Part of the magic happens in building relationships, learning from each other, and being courageous to ask for help. I find this network to be one of the most rewarding communities, that is fulfilling on a personal level and helpful in building our business.

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.

LOVE for all things food and drink…it’s a foodie culture, community, and it calls for a love for the exploration of products, playing in the kitchen or bar, and diving into your passion. It’s a hunger for searching the world, sampling the isles, and navigating what exists, what doesn’t exist, and what is missing. If you move with love and joy for the creative process, you’ll develop new products, have some failures, tweak, modify and eventually land the winning combination.

For me, part of that love is nourishing others and elevating others in some way with my food/bev products. It started with pretzels, then pretzel ice cream, and now cold-pressed juices. When you love what you’re doing, despite the challenges and failures, it’s crazy fun and fulfilling.

Create a mission that resonates for you, and allow it to be your mantra.

For us, elevating spirits is why we exist. It’s clear and powerful, and I know why we are here. During COVID, it shifted from elevating spirits at bars to elevating spirits of people at home. This took the mission to a deeper level and gave me even more passion for the business and how we can make an impact. Make sure you have a mission that means a lot to you, and that it brings you focus, intention and a reason to be.

You must be willing to fail, and not give up. What is after the fail? What is after a door shut? There’s another door opening. Eventually. There’s another product that could be much better and have a larger market. But you have to be willing to fail and get comfortable with failure. Breathe into it, and often success is right around the corner. We have tons of examples with this. We fail all the time. Failed flavors, like the cucumber juice…failed packaging, like the packaging with no window to see the juice…and each time I try to breathe through it and take the information to help us navigate next steps.

Build your brand with purpose. If your product is built with purpose…more than just selling a product…it will fuel you with energy and intention, and your business will thrive. We created an initiative, Cocktails for a Cause to help make a difference while we sell juice. It gives us a chance to collaborate, be creative, and have a positive impact. We recently created the Pink Posse cocktail kit with a % sales donated to breast cancer research with Speed Rack, a womxn’s national mixology competition. It’s these collaborations, created with the intention to join together and elevate spirits with impact, that make me so excited for what we’re doing. It’s our “alchemy.”

Have a circle of support….a place where you can share ideas, fears, failures, and bring your authentic voice. The more you reach out for support, the more courageous you become to tackle the twists and turns.

This has made all the difference for me. I’ve found multiple circles of support, from a personal women’s soul circle and woman within circle to a global group as part of Sonia Choquette’s Good Vibe Tribe and the Naturally Network group. These circles help me move through fear and failure…to hang in there and ride the journey of entrepreneurship.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about?

Creating a product is like creating a sculpture. At first, it’s a big piece of clay, and it takes time to chisel and perfect. With creating a product, it’s critical to get feedback, modify, shift, change, and flow with the feedback. You learn about people, their wants and needs, gaps in what they have.

You can learn about their deep wants…deeper than a product. It’s about an experience, and about life.

For us with Twisted Alchemy, we have found that people are needing their spirits to be elevated. COVID has been challenging and disruptive, and our products and experiences can help elevate the spirits of people. This is a deep heartfelt mission that taps into a vulnerable truth.

Creating a product that people really love and are “crazy about” starts when you really understand what people are yearning for — at a deeper level. It comes through understanding people deeply, how they’re feeling, what they’re going through, and how you might bring more love and good vibes their way.

There’s power in creating a product that uplifts. We center our products around crafting cocktails (and mocktails) and preparing for a toast. The toast is a “cheers” to all that’s possible, and we’re honored to be part of this universal tradition that gathers people together to recognize a milestone and send good vibes for the future. It’s powerful!

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I hope that my creative products help elevate the spirits of others. As we can elevate the spirits of people, we can help bring more positivity and possibilities to the world. Also, through initiatives like cocktails for a cause, we can raise funds and support organizations trying to make the world a better place.

I also am passionate about helping inspire others who dream about bringing a product or business to life. By mentoring, teaching, speaking to groups and supporting others, I enjoy elevating the spirits of aspiring entrepreneurs and helping them to believe in their vision.

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 ideas can trigger.

My movement would be the Alchemy of you, and creating a movement that helps people tap into their inner-alchemy, their unique gold within that is cultivated through grit, resilience, experience, being vulnerable, and stepping into the truth of their authentic beings. I have a vision of creating alchemy groups where people can support each other in building dreams and bringing ideas to life.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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