Sunday, July 29, 2007

How much is that cookie in the window?

This past week we started reaching out to retailers in the Western Pennsylvania/ Pittsburgh area to see if they would be interested in carrying our Chocolate Cashew Meringue cookies. Cold calling specialty food stores and coffee shops was difficult and a bit awkward for me at first, but after a couple calls, to my surprise, I got into a groove and discovered that I actually liked giving the sales pitch about our cookies over the phone. It's exciting and challenging at the same time because you never know what the reaction of the individual you're speaking with will be. Sometimes you catch people at a bad time and they won't let you finish your first sentence. Other people can be extremely kind and you get off the phone and give yourself a pat on the back because they sounded really interested.

My quick sales pitch and initial introduction to our cookies over the phone goes something like this (mind you, all of this is said without taking a breath):

"Hello! My name is Stephanie and I co-own a local baked goods company. We're launching a new Chocolate Cashew Meringue cookie that we thought would be great for your store. I wanted to see if I might be able to swing by with some free samples for you to try."

I have a theory that if I can just get to the part where I talk about bringing in free samples, that the chances of a potential retail customer agreeing to meet with me goes up about 50% or so. I mean, who would turn down free food? I am never one to walk through Costco or Whole Foods without taking a detour or two to sample that new smoked Gouda or artichoke ravioli.

I admit there were some folks who were not willing to try our cookies, but there were also a number who were very enthusiastic about sampling our treats. At the end of last week, we had 6 retail locations place initial orders! As of this week, our cookies will be carried at the following Pittsburgh area locations:

Coffee Tree Roasters (at all 4 locations in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Mt. Lebanon and Fox Chapel)
The Uncommon Market (Mt. Lebanon)
T-Bones Marketplace (Wexford)

We are scheduled to make deliveries tomorrow morning to 5 of the 6 locations. So hopefully by the end of this week or next week, we'll have a better idea of how our cookies are being received the the general public. Cross your fingers!

Monday, July 23, 2007 is live!

The official website for our company, Amandari Co is now up and running! The URL is It's all very exciting, especially since I had my doubts about just how much I remembered from the web design class I took last year at the School of Visual Arts in New York. These days, I think it's important for just about any business to have some sort of presence on the web. Obviously a company website is a great marketing tool and a way to reach customers on a much wider scale, but I think it also lends a certain aspect of credibility to your business.

I designed the site in Dreamweaver, which is an HTML based web design program. It's actually very user friendly (i.e. you don't need to know HTML coding to use it). I tend to like a clean and simple design when it comes to websites, so that's what you'll see if you visit ours. Eventually, I'd love to either learn Flash or get some help from a programmer to make the site more interactive, but tight purse strings precludes me from doing this at the moment. We also have plans to include an on-line store in the coming month or two, where customers will be able to order our baked goods directly from us. For now though, I'm pleased with the way the site has turned out. You'll see the first sweet treat we're launching with, Chocolate Cashew Meringue cookies, prominently featured on our Products page!

The Products page of

Monday, July 16, 2007

How many calories are in your cookie?

Last week, we were worked with a lab to figure the exact calorie count and nutritional value for the cookie that we are planning on launching with first. I have to admit, it was pretty fascinating, and it almost made me want to go back to school for chemistry or food science. What's interesting is that the FDA says that small businesses are exempted from labeling their food products with nutritional info as long as a company makes less than 100,000 units or has less than 100 employees. So, technically we fall into this category, but we decided that it would be smarter to include the nutritional information, since our company focuses on healthy baked goods. I mean, how can you really tell if something is healthy, if you don't know the calorie count, amount of sugar or fat in the product? That would be just plain sketchy.

So when I called the FDA, they noted that we should provide information about our cookie to a lab that uses FDA approved techniques to analyze the nutritional information for food products. There are two ways that a lab can come up with this information: 1) take an actual sample of the food product and subject it to various kinds of lab testing (i.e. running it through the calorimeter, etc.) 2) using the recipe for the product to calculate nutritional values through a complex database system of ingredients and formulas. Both techniques are used within the food industry and the latter is actually used in most cases, because it is as accurate as lab testing, but much more cost efficient. Knowing this, we went ahead and had the lab come up with the nutritional details using the database technique.

It looks like the verdict is in- our cookie is only 24 calories per piece. We are planning on selling our product in two sizes- a bag of 5 and a bag of 10, with a serving size being 5 pieces. So one serving size is only 120 calories. We also discovered that our cookies are fairly low in sugar and a pretty good source of iron and fiber. So no feeling guilty about eating our cookies!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Old McDonald Had a Farm(ers' Market)

With summer in full swing, farmers' markets have been on my mind lately. Over this past weekend, I traveled one town over to visit their Saturday morning farmers' market. Picture a shady tree-lined street with novel two-story houses. Now picture a church at the corner of this street. Once a week, the parking lot and a portion of the green grassy area in front of the church gets transformed into a market where local farmers sell their produce, bakers offer their bread and nurseries arrive with trucks of sweet-smelling flowers.

Fresh zucchini and squash from Woodward's Orchard.

While I was at the market, I spoke with the founder, who explained to me that the market is just 3 years old. They have been gradually growing the number of regular vendors, so as not to oversaturate it and create too much competition within the market. The market was very diverse, with a variety of vendors. While I was there I spotted a pierogi stand, a table selling homemade Greek food, a tent with all kinds of different preserves and a woman selling salmon, which her fisherman brother catches in Alaska.

When I was living in New York, the Greenmarket in Union Square on a warm and sunny Saturday morning was the place to be. Over the past 30 years it has grown to one of the most expansive in the area. There's nothing like chomping on a freshly picked apple or having crisp cool lettuce for a salad, so I would walk down to the market when I could.

Farmers' markets have been gaining in popularity around the country over the last couple years and I love this trend. If you think about it, the farmers' market is really interesting, because the idea is not really new or novel- a hundred years ago, before we had Food Emporium, Giant Eagle, Harris Teeter and the like, open air markets were how many people in cities would shop for their food. On one hand, today's farmers' markets are a symbol of culinary sophistication- many of the best chefs and the most health conscious and adventurous of eaters swear by these markets. On the other hand, the farmers' market is a return to the most simple and 'salt of the earth' way of getting your food. It's quite the dichotomy.

Summer flowers for sale are in full bloom.

When I talked to the markets' founder, I asked him about the possibility of us having a table where we could sell our baked goods. Since they are still in the growth stages, he mentioned that new vendors interested in participating could be invited to come and sell their products a couple times each season. He noted that once we were ready to sell our products at the market that I should get in touch with him, which is great news. If it works out, this will be a nice way to get some additional exposure!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

New Skoda Fabia TV Spot

I stumbled upon this TV spot for Skoda, the Czech car manufacturer and had to share. Never knew car commercials could make you this hungry. It's an homage to my previous career in advertising and it's completely baking related!

Ok, so I also used to reenact the "So Long, Farewell" number from the Sound of Music as a kid- the music makes me feel all nostalgic.

The Business Plan = Map to Success

Writing our business plan has made me use my brain in more ways than I have since college, I think. Lack of planning is one of the top ten reasons why small businesses fail in their early years, so having a solid business plan that includes information about your company, its products, your distribution and marketing strategy and financial projections for the next couple years is like a map that will help you chart out your course of business. Although it's taking a while to put the various sections of our business plan together, I have to admit that it's been really great to get all the ideas that have been swimming around in my head onto paper (or rather, typed out on my laptop).

Of course, it always helps if you have deadline to adhere to when you're working on a document like this one. We have an appointment to review our business plan with a consultant at a Small Business Development Center located at a nearby university in two weeks. This organization is part of the larger network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) across the country, which provide resources and services to help entrepreneurs at little or no ost. They can offer many of their services for free because they partner with universities, colleges and state economic development agencies as well as the U.S. Small Business Administration. At our meeting, the consultant will review our initial draft and provide us with feedback on any parts of the document she thinks can be flushed out.

Screenshot of SBDC website

Being the NPR addict that I am, I found out that NPR's daily show that focuses on business, Marketplace is currently doing a six-part series on small businesses called Nuts & Bolts: The Basics of Building a Small Business- it's pretty interesting, because they interview real entrepreneurs from all walks of life and discuss why some businesses fail and others flourish. You can also download podcasts for this series.

Screenshot of NPR Nuts & Bolts website

It's 4th of July tomorrow- enjoy those fireworks!