A slice of success

Carina Linhares
October 13, 2022

We're back, baby! First things first, we want to congratulate our host Chris on his marriage last week! 🔔 Now, buckle up and get ready for this week's rundown of the My Biggest Lessons podcast. Emanuel Storch, founder & CEO of Blackbird Foods, joined Chris on the pod this week to chat about what it takes to make it in the food industry with plant-based products. Check out the full episode below! ⤵


From a kitchen in NYC to the shelves of retailers like Whole Foods, Emanuel Storch has scaled his plant-based pizza company faster than any other pizza brand in the past year. Yeah, you read that right — plant-based pizza saw more success than other popular pizza brands in terms of growth.

Emanuel, along with a group of chefs, co-founded Blackbird Foods with 1 goal in mind: creating a versatile, meaty, and tasty plant-based protein. With trial and error, they were able to perfect their version of seitan, a wheat protein that mimics the texture and taste of meat. Starting out just selling to local restaurants in NYC, they quickly ballooned to success with over 300 restaurants on board with their plant-based protein seitan.

Today, Blackbird Foods has shifted mainly to retail, with over 60% of its business coming from sales to distributors, who in turn sell and place Blackbird's products on the shelves of retailers like Whole Foods and Target. 

Entering into the food space can be quite the feat, especially breaking into retail with plant-based products. Taking the right approach from the beginning will almost always guarantee success. So, how did Emanuel and Blackbird Foods do it? 


Making in-store sales 🏪 

Driving a lot of sales in a retail setting is a big marker of success in the food industry. So, how exactly do you drive and measure retail success without the direct feedback you get with DTC sales? For Emanuel, demoing food samples at both the retail level and trade shows has been key to fueling their success. Putting a team on the ground to get instant feedback from customers and tell the brand's story is a surefire way to boost sales in retail stores.

For anyone looking to make a move into retail, especially food brands, it's important to allocate money to put back into store-level marketing. Emanuel allocates a whopping 20% of the gross purchase order (PO) amount to put right back into promotions, shelf placement, and other in-store activations. The food space can be expensive to operate in, so allocating a budget to put towards discounts, sales, coupons, and off-shelf placements like end caps is an important thing to consider to help continue driving sales.


Rolling out to retail 🌀

Getting products on the physical shelves of retailers is a tough feat for new entrepreneurs. In the early days of Blackbird, Emanuel found himself wandering the streets of New York City with samples of seitan on ice in his backpack, handing them out to any restaurant that would take them. 

While he did garner interest from restaurants, he found that it wasn't a great use of time and made for a long journey to getting into retail. Emanuel's advice for new entrepreneurs looking to streamline the process without wasting time: think about who your customers are, how you're going to target them, how you're going to get your product in front of them, and trust your instincts when it comes to your brand.


Getting the most out of every dollar 💲

It's commonplace for brands, especially newer ones, to raise money and take on investors to help drive sales and scale the business faster. For Emanuel and Blackbird, it was actually less about raising enormous amounts of money, and more about finding people who are passionate about your product and the space that you're operating in and utilizing the skills within your team. 

Building your brand off a shoestring budget will help you get the most out of every single dollar. For example, Emanuel was looking to hire a brand designer for Blackbird and was getting quotes for over $100,000, which was entirely out of budget. Instead of putting himself in the hole to hire one of these agencies, he set out to find a local artist who would charge 5% of the original quotes and ended up with a more authentic brand feel while supporting a small business. Sticking to your budget and saving those dollars where you can will only help your brand in the long run.


Stick to the stuff you know 📘

For any brand owner, watching your business successfully grow is exhilarating, and fuels the urge to continue innovating and creating products that people will love. While this is generally the natural course of a business, it's important to take the time to step back and think about what works where, and what doesn't work at all.

Emanuel's approach to expanding Blackbird takes a few things into consideration: core consumers, education, and application. For example, their seitan products are perfect for restaurants, but not great at the retail level as most customers need a level of education on the product and how to use it. Knowing what people like, they're launching products like wings at the retail level, because consumers are more familiar with them than a block of seitan. 

Want to learn more about ecommerce growth through the personal trials and obstacles of industry professionals? Subscribe to the My Biggest Lessons podcast on YouTube, Spotify, and wherever else you listen to podcasts.