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Lowell Bieber Of Platterful: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand

Have fun! Related to working with an awesome team, make sure you don’t lose sight of why you started the business in the first place. It was probably because you were sick of the day-to-day corporate grind or to be able to make your own hours or pursue your passions. Don’t forget this!

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 Lowell Bieber.

Lowell Bieber launched Platterful in November 2021. Platterful teaches you how to become a charcuterie artist. Their All-In-One kit sends you a perfectly curated box with everything you need to build a drool-worthy spread every month! Their tailored instructional worksheet and videos make assembling the perfect board a breeze! Platterful provides you exactly what you need at a good price. All delivered straight to your door. While they aim to deliver you a unique experience monthly with their subscription offerings, their stand-alone box is a great option for any occasion! For every Platterful box sold, they donate a portion of the proceeds to No Kid Hungry — enough to supply 10 meals to children in need. The best part? The more boxes you buy, the more they donate. At the end of each month, they total up all the boxes purchased that month and update the above counter.

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 into a family of teachers and grew up outside of Lexington, Kentucky. Growing up I’d always had little businesses. The classics; lawn mowing and tutoring. The one I really wanted to start with my family but never got the chance was a firewood splitting business. We would chop wood for our fireplace at our house and I always wanted to turn that into a business.

In college I studied Engineering and Energy and wanted to get into renewable energy. After working for a few larger engineering companies, I realized that my passion was in start-ups and that I’ll never work for a big business again!

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

Ryan Culver, one of Platterful’s 3 co-founders, and I had just recently sold our previous subscription box company. The itch hadn’t yet left us, and we knew that we wanted to start another one. Great subscription box businesses are made of consumable products that also give the customer an experience in helping them curate a set of unknown products. We thought about complicated everyday tasks that consumers do that consist of consumable products… charcuterie boards instantly came to mind.

With charcuterie boards, anyone can throw one together, but to get the tastebuds really interested, as well as the eyeballs, you need real talent in both putting together the board as well as identify the products that go well together.

That’s where our third co-founder Caroline comes in. Caroline was already running an extremely successful local grazing table business. When we teamed up with Caroline, we knew we had the perfect all-star team to tackle this problem.

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?

Well, we’re a small startup with a tiny team without outside funding so we’ve needed to find the most cost effective solutions where possible. This means that for some of our equipment (racking, freezers, etc.) we’ve had to turn to some… unconventional methods. There have been many occasions where we’ll just be driving along the road and will need to pull over if someone is selling a set of racks so that we can haggle with them and try and get a good deal on it. This has led to meeting some interesting characters… and some good deals! I think the lesson here is to never get too big for the “start-up” mindset. Always be looking for time and capital efficient ways to improve your business.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food or beverage line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Managing expiration dates for food and beverage products is extremely important and difficult to get right. You’ll never get it perfect, but you MUST have open lines of communication with your suppliers to make sure that you understand when the expiration dates are for the products that they’re sending you and how you’re going to manage those dates. There’s nothing worse than sending a customer expired product!

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?

Research the competitors in the space! You should order at least 5 different competitors’ products to get a sense of how they’re doing things. Everything from the ordering process to the pricing to the shipping process to obviously the product itself. Take extensive notes on this. If you’re an expert on the market and your competitors, then you’ll be able to see where they’re lacking and mold your company to this.

Even if you think there aren’t any direct competitors, start talking to customers and other players in the space to get a sense of a feature or a product that they wish they had.

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?

It sounds simple but you’ve just got to start. Every day you need to be doing something that moves the ball forward, even if it’s just in a small way.

I think it’s also important to celebrate the wins. Each time you get a positive piece of customer feedback or cross a new sales milestone make sure you celebrate it! Trust us, there will be plenty that will drag you down along the journey so you need to do all you can to celebrate the wins so that you have the motivation to keep moving forward.

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?

Honestly… I would never hire one of these consultants. I’m sure there are exceptions, but most of the time I think you’d be better served to just ‘get your hands dirty’ and start making mistakes on your own. Even if you fail initially, you’ll have learned along the way and it might be a slower journey, but you’ll be better served to tackle the next problem for you.

Spend that money you’re saving on customer acquisition or product improvement! You’ll be talking to your customers, so you’ll be best served to know what they need.

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

We’ve only ever bootstrapped out businesses, so we’re naturally biased towards that path. I think there’s a time and place for raising funding but it’s only for certain types of businesses and after significant traction has been realized.

For food and beverage businesses, you’d be best served to, if you’re able, using a small amount of your own savings or raising a very small amount of capital to get an initial product run produced once you’ve identified your product. Then you can test the market and see if there’s truly a product-market fit and if your customers like what you’re putting out there into the world. Once your company has proven they can profitably retain a customer and you need cash to go develop a new product, go acquire a huge swath of customers, or go after a new market, then you should turn to venture capitalists as you’ll be able to use your leverage for much better terms. Until that point however, we think you’d be well served to retain ownership of your company and finance it on your own, if possible. Obviously, everyone’s situation is different and if you’re not able to or not comfortable using your own cash to finance the initial investment, then venture funding is an excellent resource.

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?

We haven’t filed a patent with this company so unfortunately, we don’t have any experience in that regard, but we have established an awesome relationship with a distributor or two as well as with several brands directly. Once you find a distributor that you like working with and that is helpful, they’ll be an incredible asset to your team. It takes time though; you’ll need to reach out to several and have loads of conversations. The same goes for sourcing retailers. Online marketplaces can be helpful for finding these companies.

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.)

  1. An innovative idea. It probably goes without saying but you need to do something new and interesting to attract customers. This can be an innovation on the product itself, how it’s presented or packages, how it’s delivered, the experience or even how you find your customers. For us the innovation was offering charcuterie as a subscription. Who doesn’t love new meats and cheese every month? People were starting to offer charcuterie kits, but no one was packaging them as a subscription product.
  2. A great fulfillment strategy. Since you’ll likely be shipping products with a perishable component, you’ll need a great logistics partner who knows how to ship your product (does it need to be refrigerated, do you need to use FIFO methods, what do you do with expired product, etc.). We use Lessgistcs and couldn’t be happier with their knowledgeable team!
  3. A great team. Another one that’s a “DUH”. You can’t enter this business without someone who knows your specific product niche like the back of your own hand. For us, that someone was Caroline. Caroline has deep knowledge in the charcuterie space. That’s why we call her our Charcuterie Queen, of course!
  4. Customer feedback. Before really starting to push your product, it’s important to make sure you get some valuable feedback from your potential customers. And it’s important to clarify a few things here. This doesn’t mean that you should only ask for feedback from family and friends. Go out and find some real customers who you’ve never met before who are going to give you honest feedback. Secondarily, this doesn’t mean that you should wait and talk to 100 customers before launching your company. Launch before you’re ready but continually as for feedback. For Platterful we chose to launch via an Indiegogo campaign which was a good way to gather feedback on our initial customers.
  5. Have fun! Related to working with an awesome team, make sure you don’t lose sight of why you started the business in the first place. It was probably because you were sick of the day-to-day corporate grind or to be able to make your own hours or pursue your passions. Don’t forget this!

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

There’s no ‘million-dollar secret’ here. It’s helpful to spend a lot of time in the industry that you’re thinking about entering so that you can understand what the industry or specific niche is really lacking. It’s also helpful if you are your own customer. If you would buy the product, you’re looking for then you know you’re onto something. But then you need to validate all of this by listening to the feedback of more and more customers.

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

We sure have! We’re proud to say that for every box we sell we donate TEN meals to children in need across the US. That’s right, for every single box that we ship and sell, we’re providing funds to some incredible organizations that allow them to feed 10 kids in need across the United States. You can learn more about initiative right here. As of February 2022, we’ve donated almost 9000 meals to kids in need and we’re so excited to see this number continue to grow.

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.

Personally, Lowell speaking here, I think there’s a lot of truly impactful good that can be done regarding mitigating our impact on the environment and combatting the effects of climate change. We only have one planet so we might as well make ‘er last! In terms of specifics around this, I’d love to see some more innovation around public policies that incentivize the usage of green energy vs. fossil fuels. Private companies (like Shopify, the platform that Platterful is built on) are also making strides towards allowing consumers to select more carbon-neutral shipping options.

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

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