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E34: Omnichannel Marketing and Scaling DTC and Retail with Entrepreneur David Habib, CEO of Yo Mama's Foods
Episode 3420th January 2023 • Remote Start Podcast • Jim Doyon
00:00:00 00:40:47

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Join us on this episode of Remote Start Nation as we speak with entrepreneur David Habib, CEO of Yo Mama's Foods. David and his team craft delicious and healthy pasta, sausages, salad dressings, and condiments that can be found in over 16,000 retail stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Giant, and Amazon. Listen in as David shares his startup story and the importance of building a strong brand. He'll also delve into how Omnichannel marketing played a crucial role in scaling Yo Mama's Foods to where it is today. If you're an entrepreneur looking to grow your business or simply interested in learning more about building a successful brand, don't miss this episode!

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Jim: Remote Start Nation, the more your brand grows, the more you're putting out content and customer touchpoints. That means the more important an Omnichannel marketing strategy becomes for you. The goal here is to move the customer further through the purchasing pipeline at all of your touchpoints and at these touchpoints, the customer experience should be seamless and effortless. So let me ask you, do you have a product that you sell in retail stores? Is it also sold online? Are you managing sales through not only direct to consumer, but also through other partners? I'm Jim Doyon, your host, and on this episode, we are going to be speaking with one entrepreneur who's been crazy busy scaling his brand, Yo Mama's Foods. David Habib is the CEO of Yo Mama's Foods. They craft healthy pasta, sausages, salad dressings, condiments, and they can be found in more than 16,000 retail stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Giant, and Amazon. Remote Start Nation, David is gonna share his startup story and help us understand more the importance of building a brand and using Omnichannel marketing as a strategy to do so.

So without further ado, I wanna welcome you, David, what's going on, my man? Thank you for joining us.

David: Jim, thank you. This is awesome.

Jim: I am very excited to have you on board. I'm very excited to not only talk about Omnichannel, which we haven't talked about on any of the episodes so far, so I'm excited about that and to hear it from your firsthand approach of how you've used it, but I'm really excited about this, this business that you created, and you know, you being first generation American, grew up inspired by your mom and her ability to unite people of all cultures and backgrounds around the table of healthy and delicious food. So my first question to you on that is, how has your family and your upbringing played a role in starting your business?

David: Yes, Jim, you know family is definitely everything to me, and growing up you know, mom was such a unifier, she always, valued home cooked meals, she was a working mother, as was my father, but you know, family dinner was something that was non-negotiable and it's still, negotiable today. And those you know, special moments around the dinner table is you know, a huge piece of my upbringing and a big piece of our brand today. So that cultural element of just gathering around the table, even if it was for five minutes for, you know, a quick meal, those are, those special moments that I think our world needs even more so today, you know, as everyone is plugged into 55 different emails and devices, that family dinner and that gathering around the table is what we ultimately strive to do.

ama's Food. So you started in:

. So, I left my job, January,:

Jim: So before, that's such a cool adventure by the way, there's such a, a cool story of, you know, seeing that and understanding that there's a void and, you know, making a difference and deciding to become an entrepreneur to fill that void. Did you, what were some of the processes that you went through prior to launching? I mean, this is, I imagine there was a lot of testing, it was, you know, probably a lot of conversations with your mom about recipes and everything else, like walk us through that.

David: Yeah, you know, I call this phase the expensive error phase, you know, I think there's a competitive advantage with being a little bit naive and not knowing much about how the food business works, how the packages, foods business works, you know what a distributor is how the stores work, I feel like if I knew everything I know today, I would've never had the courage to ultimately do it. So I think that there's a huge advantage there, but really, I mean, food, food is all science. So our first piece or our first, you know, puzzle that we have to solve is how can we create something that tastes good, that's good for you, that's unloaded with all this preservatives and junk and garbage, only uses ingredients that mom has in her pantry, but how can we ultimately make it shelf stable so it doesn't, you know, spoil. And my mom used wine in her sauce growing up, and wine broke down the acidity of the tomatoes, all of the alcohol cooked off during the cooking process, and it just, right, it brought out a really nice natural sweetness to the pasta sauce without having to add sugar, and without having to put a lot of salt in it to preserve it and then ultimately bottle it. So that was, you know, that's what we still do today, you know, everything's made with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh onion, fresh garlic. There's no added sugar, it's low in sodium, it's all keto and paleo, paleo-friendly as well. But it's really just taking these seemingly complex items that, you know, people purchase and saying, Hey, how can we do this in a homemade approach using only ingredients that you know mom has, but how can we also understand science, and say, okay, well you need some type of preservative element in this so that it lasts long and it still tastes fresh, and instead of using all these garbage items, well, why don't you look for something, with a vinegar or a wine base that can ultimately make it and even better. So that was really the initial days, I'd say there was a lot of mistakes, a lot of errors, a lot of, you know, people trying to take advantage of you in those early days as well, you know, I think, it's very easy for you know, larger companies to kind of overlook you and to not really take you seriously, especially in the food business. So, yeah, you know, the first couple years were a big challenge, it was a big uphill battle, you know going through a hundred percent plus of your personal savings building out the products, understanding who the customer is, constantly iterating, your packaging just based on, on customer feedback. But to really answer your question, Jim, the first thing I did was create the actual grant, and that was that's what got me excited about the entire process, so I went on the US PTO website, I made sure that, you know, that I could get a trademark for our logo and our brand name. I worked with a good friend, Madeline, who did our first logo. And that was really the most important step for me ‘cause I'm just a very visual person. So one, once I could see, and hear the actual brand, then the rest of it all just became fun.

Jim: Now, did you decide when you started, was it based around a pasta sauce or is that just the first product you knew you wanted to get to market but the brand was gonna incorporate a whole slew of product?

David: Exactly. So we, I always had this vision of making it a large collection of fast moving items that customers use quickly. Specifically for me, I was using a lot of pasta sauce and salad dressings, and those were the two gaps that I saw in the marketplace. Just from a personal use of areas that we wanted to ultimately focus on.

Jim: That's, so smart. And to start with your brand, from a owning a branding agency, I can tell you I feel that's very important. No, a lot of times when you have that, you're that visual learner, like you said, and to see something and understand like, okay, this is my baby, I've got it. This is now it's just fit, you know, going from step A to B. Now that you already have the vision created, a lot of times that that helps you, to go along the way because you know, like, hey, this is the real deal. Like this is here.

David: Exactly, exactly. Right.

Jim: That's awesome. So, alright, so you start, you quit your job in January, you launched this in February, right? You said February?

, we launched Mother's Day of:

Jim: Okay, Mother's Day. And I mean, was it right away? Like where was the first place that you sold this? How did you go to market?

ure. So this is now, October,:

Jim: And I want to, I definitely want to talk about that further, but I wanna hold you there for a minute and I want to go back to something that you've mentioned twice in Remote Start Nation, I want, you know, even though we're talking right now about, we're gonna get into Omnichannel and talking about, you know, direct to consumer and, you know, even if you don't have a product that's going direct to consumer, it's so important as David did to get in front of your customer. And you had mentioned David early on about, you know, you've changed up the packaging and you've, you've changed up different things about the brand and it's because you've listened to your customer, and when you're first starting and you don't have a lot of customers, there's no better way to get in front of them at doing an, doing an event, doing a pop-up, doing, you know, something for vendor days, doing something to get in front, and giving samples or just showcasing your product to get feedback and understand what your customer, what they want. So it's not always about what you want, it's about producing what your customer wants. So you hit on that twice, and I just wanted to bring the importance of that back up to the top and just remind the most our nation, like regardless of what your product is, getting in front of the right customer and listen is going to help you to grow tremendously and I'm sure you know back to you David, I'm sure a lot of that when you got on the Amazon, you probably continued to listen to a lot of what about what your customer was saying on there.

David: Absolutely. So, we started looking at how customers were finding us, and so much of it was through low carb search terms, or keto or paleo type of search terms. And these were things that, you know, we didn't try to build our brand on that platform, and we don't do that today, but we were naturally a low carb, healthier alternative because we didn't load the product with a whole bunch of sugar or you know, preservatives and then sodium. So by understanding how customers found us, that was a really important piece that enabled our online growth because now we can start to geographically understand, you know, where is the demand for our brand? How can we look at, at the specific zip codes that we're shipping to and that really allowed us to start early on, and I'd say that this is such an important piece of any brand launching online, is make sure that you study and you really understand that customer data because it's so important. And that geographic targeting you know, these were now heat maps that we can then take to retail stores and say, Hey, you know, we have this data that's showing that, you know, X percent of our online orders are in this sp specific region, you know, we see this as a great opportunity for your chain to ultimately carry our items, and that just snowballed over time you know, I tried to get into Whole Foods, that was one of our first major accounts that I tried to get into in the early days. And it took us a while to ultimately get in. I tried with the Florida region, it didn't work out, I tried with the southeast region, it didn't work out. And then we tried with the national region, and the buyer was Danielle and she was really our first major account and she really looked at that Amazon data and that was the same time that Amazon acquired all foods. And that was a really important piece of honestly growing our brand and building it to the exact target customer. So you know, when I think about a specific framework and how you can kind of break it down I think it is the idea of starting small, yeah. While also thinking big, you know, and then making sure that you're scaling quickly. But before you scale quickly, as you said already, Jim, you know, making sure that you understand who your customer is and why they are finding you and why, they need your item before you do all of that.

Jim: Yeah, it's such good advice. So you took this data about your customer, you knew where they at, were at, and you used that to now, I mean, people can't lie with the data. So if you're showing a customer like, listen, this is needed in, people are searching for this, it's a lot harder for them to say no, and finally, it sounds like you got a yes and whole Foods, that was your first big retailer you said and you know, it took off from there. So, you know, from day one of the Whole Foods to now being in over, 16,000 retail stores nationwide, did you continue to use that same model or did you have to scale and do different things?

David: Yes and online and E-Com and the Omnichannel approach is really crucial to our brand. And where our team spends a lot of our time is really understanding that intersection between both retail and online, and how can online compliment retail and how can your retail presence also compliment online? Jim, you know, COVID was a huge, piece of I think our growth, you know, we were one of the fortunate brands, that, you know, saw extreme demand as customers were cooking more from home. They were, yeah, reading labels more, they were looking for healthier, alternatives. And you know, we saw huge, huge growth, during Covid and it was really, it really traded up a lot of customers, you know, people who were buying, not as premium brands or brands that didn't taste as fresh, stumbled upon our brand because we had a very good and still do have a great online presence. And that was a good, you know, decision point for them because they were able to ultimately try our brand and they came back. Are still our customers today, so you never know with the online side, you know, what specific spikes can occur, you know, you may get a local news segment, you know, maybe you're on Oprah's favorite things and you see all of these spikes, but nothing is as important as. Understanding the intersection of retail and online, and I tell that to a lot of different brands. I don't think that brands today can only have a retail presence, and I don't think brands today can only have a online presence. You absolutely have to have both.

Jim: And it's about, to take it one step further, it's not just about having both, it's about having the same consistent message, the same look, and feel the same, target and understanding your customer and then bringing your product to them and how and the way they wanna see it, right?

David: Exactly, exactly right.

Jim: What are some of the ways, you know, let's talk marketing a little bit, what are some of the ways in even advertising that you're, you know, when you say you have a very strong online presence, you know, what are, what are you doing, what's the team working on that you're seeing you know, drive pretty successful results?

David: Yes, one of our favorite things that Kristen on our team has been working on. So we have these great recipe videos, that educate customers on some unique ideas of how they can ultimately use our items and that, we use a QR code on all of our packages. And that allows, you know, thousands of customers who are purchasing our items weekly. It gives them a platform to then scan that code and go and see all of our online work, see our social media work, our branding work, our recipe work, and that allows them to be a little bit more engaged in a really interactive way. These recipe videos are 30 seconds each, we're not asking them to watch for 30 minutes, but it's really allowed us to connect with the customer on a much more meaningful level. Another thing that we just started we launched our brand on QVC this year as well, and we never had the opportunity to sell on the TV medium which is, you know, I think another channel versus the E-com channel, but that's been another really unique way of reaching the customer at a different medium and also being able to work on that same messaging and have additional outlets to sell the items.

Jim: Now with that said in QVC, do they have you come on the show from your people from your team, come on the show and actually sell the product or are they selling it for you?

David: Yeah, so I had the opportunity to to go on the show and do a nice sales segment, which was excellent.

Jim: That's cool. That's where I was going with that, did you, so, I mean, what was that like? Did you, were you pretty nervous, leading, numb to it.

David: Yeah. I wasn't too nervous, you know, I think I've had my fair share of, you know, category meetings and public speaking, what was very challenging, Jim, was that I filmed it during Hurricane Ian, so I was, it was the day that Hurricane Ian hit Florida where we're headquarters. And our power at the headquarters was going in and out all day. So, you know, just another challenge for a entrepreneurs, you just say yes and figure it out later, but you don't realize that you're gonna be scheduled on the day of a major, you know, cat four, hurricane. But fortunately we had made it through, it was a nine minute airing, great experience and definitely looking forward to, to some additional TV opportunities.

Jim: That's cool, that's what an awesome experience and the fact that you as the CEO could go on and talk about your product and tell your story and, you know, I'm sure that was something that you'll never forget.

David: Definitely.

Jim: So let's talk a little bit more about marketing. So, I love the QR code. I think that's a great idea because what it does, and you kind of hit on this a little bit, but it, you're not just selling a product now, you're inviting them into your family, you're inviting them into, it's now it's becoming more of a lifestyle, you know? What else can you know, just this product do for them? Well, it's gonna show you how to make better food, how to, how you do it, how the family did it, like that's, I think that's such a good idea. And when you can tie in, you know, and Remote Start Nation, think about this for your brand, what can you do? What can you offer your client that is educational, that can help them understand your story better and fit into their lifestyle? And that's what you guys have done, and it's great.

David: Thank you, you know, it's definitely a work in progress and, you know, we're always listening to what customers message us or tell us, and, you know, for a long time they were asking for recipes and they were, you know, wanting to see different, versatile uses for the dishes, and you know, we knew that we had to invest that time and those resources to ultimately make that.

Jim: That's great. What is there anything else on, you know, omnichannel strategy and, you know, things that have worked for you that you might be doing that could help some other business owners?

David: Yes, don't decide to launch on Amazon until you are ready, for Amazon. I think it's a really important lesson is that, you know, you need to be ready to do customer service 24/7, you need to be ready to really manage your brand, unfortunately, there's so many things on the online channel that's out of your control when it comes to shipping or it comes to damages or lost packages. And these are things that you have to have very clear plans and very clear paths outlined with your team in order to succeed, because ultimately that's your reputation online. And that's, you know, going back to that Omnichannel, you know, customers are in stores, looking at items and then they pull out their phone and they go on Amazon and they try to see if they could get it cheaper or if they could get it faster, if it's out of stock. And that works vice versa too, you know, someone's reading something online, you know, maybe it takes them seven times to see your brand before they ultimately purchase it, but if they saw you online and they read, you know, poor feedback, it's very unlikely that you'll get that, you know, future order from them in the actual store. So customer experience is absolutely everything and making sure that you delight those customers that you have plans in place for when things, don't go well, because that's inevitable in the world of shipping, I think that's a really important piece of your online strategy.

Jim: And do you have, is there like a tolerance level that says, you know, we'll refund or we'll give back in this a certain amount or how do, what's your procedure there?

David: As long as customers show us that they purchased the item and can prove with a order ID or a proof of receipt, we have a no questions asked policy. So if there's anything that our customers are not happy about, as long as they can prove that they purchased it we will ship them of replacement at no cost.

Jim: Speaking of customer feedback, I imagine you get quite a few customers that are extremely happy about that.

David: Yes, you know, I think it's very rewarding for our team to take, a zero star experience and turn it into a loyal five star customer who will then tell their friends and their family, you know, about a company that went out of their way to make sure that they were taken care of and there's that framework of one ha one happy customer will tell one person and one unhappy customer will tell 10, and that's, you know, very true. So anything that you can do to make an experience a happy one after it's been a negative one is very important. And again, it can be very frustrating because so many things are out of your control, you know, it's not our fault that you know, one of the postal carriers, chose to play football with one of our packages, however, it's just something that the old brands have to deal with when, when they're shipping online.

ness partner and I sold it in:

David: Absolutely, yeah.

Jim: So let's talk about the business model and how, there's a lot of differences I would imagine between, you know, direct to consumer brands, retail and then into like the distribution and dealing with the Whole Foods and some of these other customers versus the end user. Was that hard to kind of figure out there?

David: Yes, retail is a jungle and to try to understand retail takes a lot of skill and experience and expertise. So most items sold in retail work through a distributor, so there's a middleman between you and the store, but understanding how the economics work, you have to sell it to the distributor. The distributor sells it to the store, and the store sells it to the customer. So, you can't produce something that is not accessible to the customer, and what I mean by that is, no one's gonna buy a $19 jar of pasta sauce at Walmart, it doesn't e exist. So yeah, you can have the best product in the world. But if it's not accessible to the customer, then, you are setting yourself up for failure. And you know, understanding that piece in retail is very, very important and making sure that you have the right margins in place to be able to support the brand and to market it, and to spend a considerable amount of time dealing with deductions and damages and scan backs and you know, all of the important elements of running a successful retail business. That's all, you know, things that we've learned over time and very important, pieces of running a successful retail business direct to consumer. It's different where, you have the ability to own more of the experience and to own more of that relationship. But the volume just isn't there. I mean, for us, we're not gonna sell 10 million jar of sauce through our website, can we possibly do that in the retail side? Absolutely. So, you have to have a clear direction into where you want to invest your time and your efforts. And does it make sense to spend a considerable amount of time and resources in direct to consumer? Yes. Does it make the same amount of sense to do that in retail? Yes. So if you can do both together, I think that you'll ultimately snowball and they will both just continuously compliment each other as the business and the brand grows.

Jim: And to bring this back to the Omnichannel strategy and the approach, this ties into, you know what you were talking about with the QR codes, and everybody gets that QR code regardless of where they get the product. And they get to feel like that customer experience, that touchpoint is there and they can feel like they're part of the brand, which I know from experience, a lot of brands, when they get to that distribution level and they try to figure out the direct to consumer level as well, they forget that they think it is definitely two separate beasts, but to the end user, the end consumer, that experience has to be top notch. And it has to be the same with the product regardless of where they get it. And to nail that and get that down right, like you have incredible way to grow your brand, and I'm sure you've seen that like we've talked about first hand.

David: Yes, you know, it's really rewarding almost, we're finishing our fifth year now, so, it's very rewarding to see all of the important pieces that we're all questioning the investments in the early days. We weren't sure if they were right or wrong. But to see your time and your efforts pay off and to ultimately see customers happy there's nothing better than that.

Jim: And to be in 16,000 stores, what's next?

David: What's next? So we are pushing big box now. So all the Costcos and Sams and BJs, we are looking at getting into Kroger next year as well as Wegman. So there's still a decent amount of retailers who don't have Yo Mama's Foods yet. And then we've been growing on the international side as well. So, we started shipping New Mexico, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, UK Ireland and are excited to expand our reach throughout the entire world.

Jim: That is incredible. I wish you the best of luck with that, I think you've done an incredible job with your company, and I'm so excited to have you on this podcast and share all the knowledge that you've shared today. So, I thank you so much, David.

David: Thank you, Jim. Yeah, it's a great honor. So thank you.

Jim: Absolutely. Well, I've got two more questions for you. The first one, where can the Remote Start Nation find you? And I know we've talked a lot about the stores, but if they wanna know more about the product, they wanna research, they want to, you know, reach out to you where they, where can they find you?

David: You can find us, through our website. You can find us at your local Walmart, Publix, Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Lowe's Foods, you can also find us online through Amazon,, and

Jim: Excellent. What's the biggest takeaway you can lead the Remote Start Nation with that we hit on today?

David: Biggest takeaway, would be that that framework that I outlined in the beginning and something that I really use a lot, is the starting small, thinking big and scaling quickly. And you know, I think a lot of entrepreneurs out there think that they have to start, you know, large, they have to invest, you know, millions of dollars into something. I think that there's huge competitive advantage to starting small. And you'll enable yourself to iterate as we discussed in this podcast, and learn and really see what the customer wants and what the customer doesn't want, you know, thinking big and vision, that's extremely important. When you're starting anything or running any business, there needs to be very clear direction on where you're going and where you want to go. And that needs to be clearly communicated with all of your stakeholders. And lastly, scaling quickly, if you're in this CCPG world or you ship to retail or you want to ship towards retail, you need to have the right infrastructure, the right manufacturing presence, the right space to be able to ultimately, you know, grow and have fun doing it.

Jim: David, that's incredible. Thank you again. Remote Start Nation. I hope you learned as much as I did today and can put some of what David shared with us to work for you today. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for joining me on this journey as I help you to start a business, grow your brand, and connect with your community.

Remember, leave a comment, subscribe and share this episode with your community who you think could learn from what you heard here from David today. Go get yourself some Yo Mama's food, get some pasta sauce, some salad dressing, check it out. Until next time, go something, start today and go build the lifestyle you desire by taking action.