Interview With Gluten-Free Flour Brand, Blends by Orly

gluten free, flour, cpg, grocery, brand
Orly Gottesman has figured out how to sell a niche product to an audience in need

At Food & Restaurant Marketing, we are obsessed with understanding the type of insights that allow brands to break through a crowded category like the gluten-free industry. This 3.2 billion dollar industry (Statista 2016) demands brands to take unique approaches to positioning their products. With almost 30% of all adults in the U.S. trying to avoid gluten, we wanted to talk with someone who is intimately involved with the industry to discover insights about this ever-growing audience and what drives them to consider gluten-free products.

Blends by Orly

Orly Gottesman, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, discovered her passion for baking while at culinary school. During that same time, Orly’s husband Josh discovered he had celiac disease. Josh, who grew up in the baking and restaurant business, thought his life was over. He’d never be able to enjoy a bagel again. Orly saw an opportunity to focus her studies on gluten-free and worked with the head chef of the baking program to conduct an independent study around gluten-free baking.

From there, Orly set out to create the highest quality gluten-free flour blends for those that love baking. Blends by Orly launched in August 2014 and since that time, Orly has been navigating her brand through a rapidly growing industry.

I recently sat down with Orly over Skype to learn more about her business and customers.

AB: What have you learned about your current audience that made you take a different look at how you thought about your brand?

OG: First, we learned that this is a very female-focused product. For a demo, we would bake a whole bunch of product, mostly cookies. Women would love them and say, “oh wow that’s a really great idea to make cookies with this blend.” Men would come over and say, “where can I buy these?” Then we’d tell them that actually the product is the flour and you actually have to bake them. They’d look at me and say, “oh, I don’t bake.” Even a man who had three children with celiac walked up to me, loved the cookies and said, “not for me.”

I find that I’m wasting my time talking to men. Even the buyers at supermarkets, the female buyers always get it more than the male buyers, unless they are a chef.

The other key element I’ve found is that the blends don’t sell as well in cities or densely populated areas like Manhattan. Kitchens are tiny and people generally won’t bake if they feel like they don’t have enough space in their kitchen. We sell much better in suburban areas. People that do a lot of cooking and entertaining are really our sweet spot in terms of a target audience. Also, it’s a higher priced product, so it’s a given that we are seeing higher income customers interested in our product.

AB: How large is the gluten-free business and how many people suffer from celiac disease?

OG: 1% of the total population suffer from celiac disease. Many of my customers actually don’t have celiac disease. They do, though, find themselves sensitive to gluten or have other autoimmune diseases. Gluten can cause inflammation, so many people get off gluten to support an anti-inflammatory diet. The good thing about my blends is that they provide options for dietary restrictions like a sugar-free, gluten-free diet.

AB: Any opportunities or feedback from your customers on new products?

OG: I have recently launched a kosher baking mix for Challah in three different flavors: traditional, chocolate chip, and poppyseed & onion. That was very specific and the opportunity was clear in terms of bringing a new product to the market that doesn’t exist.

I’m also thinking a lot about distributing a pre-baked gluten free bread product. Blends are great for a very specific audience. If I’m going to expand, I think it’ll have to be with ready-made products. I don’t want to come out with just another cake mix.

AB: How are you attracting the audience that is considering a gluten-free diet?

OG: We are beginning to send nutritionists promotional material. Nutritionists are the first ones a doctor sends them to if they need to alter their diet. For example, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia and I learned I was eating too much sugar and gluten. These nutritionists will recommend easing up on the gluten. They aren’t going to recommend trying a gluten- free brownie mix. They’re going to recommend finding a wholesome gluten-free flour like one of my blends. Some of the specialty markets we are in will have nutritionists on site, so we talk to them and let them know about our product. We’re starting to consider the right time to put together a plan for marketing.

AB: What was your initial strategy for distribution and how has that changed over time?

OG: Starting out it was “the chicken or the egg” scenario. We started out doing all the distribution ourselves. Obviously, you’re not going to find a distributor to take you on initially if you don’t have accounts, and then a lot of stores don’t want to take you unless you have a distributor. Our initial strategy was to just pound the pavement and go to stores that would allow us to distribute directly to them. It was truly door to door sales and cold calling.

Once we had enough stores with our product, we then decided to go to the distributors and show them what we accomplished and why we are a great product that people need. We got a distributor on board with us and focused only on New York and New Jersey. We took this same model of starting out by self-distributing in Chicago and then moved to a local distributor there as well as on the West Coast. But it’s a very long process.

AB: What’s the biggest challenge you are facing right now with distribution?

OG: We realized we really need brokers. We were a little late in the game here, but we’re learning fast that the brokers are the ones who get your product moving off the shelves and keep the orders coming.

If you’re interested in learning more about Blends by Orly, please check out her website where you can learn more about her gluten-free flour blends and order product: http://blendsbyorly.com/

When A Restaurant’s Brand Story Isn’t as Good as the Real Thing

Four Peaks, Brand Story, Beer, Brewpub, Restaurant, Dining, Experience
Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewery is a fantastic in-person experience, but doesn’t tell that story well.

A unique brand story is a powerful way to connect to customers. Great stories can define the brand and help people understand the role of the products in their life. Brands can struggle to find their story, even to define themselves inside their own organization, so it’s no surprise that many companies don’t have the luxury of a brand or products that translate to customers.

As a brand marketer, I love the challenge of finding that story through an understanding of the customer and their relationship to the brand. We love to take apart products that may seem dull or disconnected on the surface and dig in to find the insights that lead to meaning.

It’s much more frustrating to see a brand that has the building blocks of a great brand story and not telling it effectively. A perfect example is Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewing Co. They make a line of beers that appeals to serious enthusiasts but is also accessible for casual drinkers. Their beers (especially the award-winning Kilt Lifter on draft) was something I was seriously looking forward to when we moved back to Arizona.

They are committed to producing fantastic beer but don’t project that and come across as too serious or snobby. Craft beer can walk the line that wineries do, alienating newcomers. The focus at Four Peaks is on exploring beer in a fun, but not goofy way. They’ve designed their pubs to reflect this same feel. They are open, inviting and built around making trying the beer feel fun. The attitude is reflected in the service at pubs. Asking questions of a bartender or server isn’t intimidating. They welcome the question and provide answers that don’t make you feel uninformed.

The beers themselves reflect that feeling. The flavors aren’t shocking to the palate, trying to capitalize on trends like bitter hoppiness and going overboard. I’ve never tried a Four Peaks beer there that I didn’t like, or that even left me unsure. There are only a few other breweries that are this successful (I’m looking at you, Deschutes). While each beer makes sense in the lineup of taps at a Four Peaks pub, they stand out at other bars too. By tasting the product, you can tell the people at Four Peaks absolutely love creating and sharing beer.

Why then, do they hide this sensibility in their marketing, social and website? They do produce behind the scenes videos and some articles that talk about what they’re doing. Wouldn’t it be great if those pieces had the same feeling of sitting down at a Four Peaks pub?

Their product, the beer, is definitely created with a purpose. The marketing, less so. It feels like they produce clips for YouTube and Facebook posts because they feel that they have to which is a shame because there is so much joy behind the work they do to make their beer.

If you visit their website, they describe each beer in an almost clinical way. For example:

“An English Style stout that’s somewhat bitter, but is smoothed out by serving it with a nitrogen/CO2 blend. The nitrogen is less acidic than CO2, and creates the characteristic cascading small bubble effect and tight head. The addition of flaked oats further rounds out the flavor while creating a velvety smooth mouth-feel. Different from an Irish Stout in its subtle roastiness and subdued dryness, this beer finishes thick, chocolaty, and very creamy.”

These are the answers you’d get from a beer snob. Why is this writing so different from the answers I would get if I asked a Four Peaks employee at the pub? It is so clear that they are missing an opportunity to build a story around each of these beers. They would still be able to incorporate the details that beer lovers might want to know – the specific malts and hops. But wrap it all in the story behind the brew. What inspired them to chase down this recipe and perfect it?

If anything, a brewing brand with pubs and tasting rooms should be the most fertile ground for stories. Pubs are built on trading stories over our pints and making connections. Four Peaks has designed their pubs to be perfect for just that.

This brand is all about the beer, and they have so many stories they could tell. But the messaging they employ obscures that so people have to go into the pub to find that out and appreciate the experience. But in a chicken-and-egg scenario, would I go into the pub if I didn’t already know about their approach? Insiders may overlook their marketing and continue to buy (I know I do), but Four Peaks is missing a huge opportunity to show newcomers the fun and passion behind what they do by being more thoughtful about the way they present their brand story. Here’s to better storytelling in the future.