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Breaking Into a New Market Without Prior Industry Experience - ZeroKnowledge

When Zero Knowledge launched ZK Bar, its delicious organic nutrition bar, in January 2023, the company entered uncharted waters. It previously had no background, expertise, or contacts from the food and beverage industry. All Zero Knowledge had was the Founder's obsession with tasty, nutritious food.


"I've literally tried every single recipe from every different country." Seema Shenoy, the Founder, and CEO tell us on the podcast today. It is this passion that is driving ZK Bar's promising entry and acceptance in the market today. Join us now to discover valuable insights from Shenoy's exciting adventure.



 

In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:

  • The fastest way to develop and launch a great product in an industry new to you.

  • Why iteration in product development is a non-negotiable part of the process.

  • Why passion is crucial to entrepreneurial success.

  • How building relationships with competitors can enhance your success.

  • Actionable tips for breaking into the food and beverage industry.

  • And so much more!

 

You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.


Or, click to watch the full video interview here!



 

Visit Zeroknowledge.shop to learn more about ZK Bar, the only tasty, organic, soy-free nutrition bar. Use "harvestgrowth" at checkout for a 10% discount on your purchase


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Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!

 

Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!


Jon LaClare: Today's guest recently launched a healthy organic on-the-go nutrition bar, and she shares her story on how she developed the product with no previous industry experience. There's a lot of opportunity in the food and beverage space, so this show is a must-listen for anyone launching or growing a business in that industry.

Announcer: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of The Harvest Growth Podcast, Jon LaClare.

Jon: Today, I'm really excited to have on our show with us, Seema Shenoy. She's the founder and CEO of Zero Knowledge. They've got a line of products. We're going to focus on one particular bar, a nutritional bar today that is delicious, but also very good for you. There's a big story that goes behind how it was developed and the ingredients that go into it that we'll dive into in the show. It's just a great story that you're going to hear today. I encourage you to listen. Seema, welcome to the show.

Seema Shenoy: Hi, Jon. Thank you so much. This is an honor. I'm a big fan of your podcast. I just wait every Friday for that email with a link with a new podcast. It's wonderful. Thank you so much.

Jon: Oh, I appreciate that. I certainly enjoy doing this. I'm glad when I'm able to talk to somebody who actually listens to it. It's exciting as well. We love our audience, and it's great to talk to somebody who listens but also is now on the show, and again, has such a cool product and product line. Let's start talking quickly about the company before we dive into the ZK Bar. Tell us about the company Zero Knowledge, and what do you guys do?

Seema: Okay, yes. Zero Knowledge, we started in 2019 May, just before the pandemic, and we actually, our first couple of products were based on cookware/food containers. The main thing we always wanted to do, especially me coming from the absolute obsession about the food and cooking all my life, I wanted to have a food product. Our latest product is an organic, vegan, and gluten-free nutrition bar, and I'm just ecstatic about it. We just launched it last month, January 2023.

Jon: Fantastic. Well, congratulations.

Seema: Thank you.

Jon: Super exciting. You've had some successes along the way with the other products that we could certainly talk about as well. I'm curious, how did you come up with the name of the company Zero Knowledge? What does that mean?

Seema: Yes, I get asked that a lot if you can believe that. Zero Knowledge is an oxymoron. That means, basically, how can knowledge be zero? The presence of knowledge, how can that be zero? Just the same way our products, especially the one we have right now, is exactly an oxymoron. How can a bar that is so good for you with organic, vegan, gluten-free, and tastes so amazing? That's the whole idea. We are having products that are not supposed to taste good, but they taste amazing. That's where the whole idea came.

Jon: Love it. You were nice enough to send some to us, and we've been enjoying those in our office as well. They are delicious. It's amazing, frankly, that you've got so many good ingredients that are good for you and really the elimination or avoidance of any bad ingredients. I know that's difficult. I want to talk about the process of how you came up with it and developed, and I know there's a lot of work to get to where it is today, where we can now taste and enjoy it. First of all, let's talk about a little bit more about the product itself. The ZK Bar specifically, what makes it so unique compared to other bars that are on the market?

Seema: There are quite a few bars, and some of them are not organic and they are just kind of snack bars. There are quite a few of them, but there are some bars that are organic, vegan, gluten-free, have pretty much all the markers, nutrition markers as they call, but they do not taste good. They are either very cardboard-like or they're chewy. Just not good texture, not good taste.

When I was actually-- myself and my son especially, we love to eat bars and we used to try a lot of bars. While I was working on the cookware, I always wanted to have a food product because, as I mentioned, I have been absolutely fascinated with food and cooking. That's my biggest passion, and my previous life, we may talk about it later, but that was all in high-tech. I was in high-tech business, but food was always there for me in terms of something I wanted to do with food.

When we were looking at different things that we can do with either bars or something similar, we wanted to mainly focus on taste because it's relatively easy, I'm not saying easy, but relatively easy to get and hit all those nutrition markers that you want this much protein, this much fat, that's kind of easy if you ignore the taste. This bar was, Jon, if you can believe, 14 months in making. Non-stop, I was working with a small team to make the bar. We went through so many iterations, and you won't believe some of them tasted really bad but went through all of that to come up with this absolutely winning recipe. So, now, we have it.

Jon: I'm so glad. I've tried a lot of bars over the years too, so I-- a lot of my audience knows I'm a road biker, road cyclist, not a very good one, I'm very slow, but I enjoy it, it's a hobby of mine, and you've got to eat while you're out there. Sometimes you're out there for three hours, four hours, five hours, and you've got to eat along the way. Having bars is just an easy way to do that. The ones that are good for you are terrible tasting, right? You eat them, you can taste that they're healthy. You know the difference, there's a good-tasting bar that's candy bar, and there's a healthy bar that doesn't taste so good.

It's so unique, the ZK Bar that you've been able to come up with that has kind of the best of both worlds. It tastes great, but it's good to know, and you can actually pronounce the ingredients that are in there and realize you're putting something good in your body without having to sacrifice flavor. How many iterations did you go through over that 14 months?

Seema: At least 20 to 25. At least. I literally lost count. At the end, it was like, "Okay, everything is good, but this one thing. Oh, now one thing we've fixed, something else went wrong." It was just a lot of just going back and forth and just fixing it. Because for me, personally, taste is very important because I wanted to be able to eat this bar, not just give it to others to try and eat it, but I want to eat it on a daily basis.

That's one of the reasons why I made it even organic because I'm big on organic food. Now, I myself, I'm not vegan. I'm kind of pretty much 90% vegetarian and I don't eat meat. I may eat seafood once in a while, but I enjoy vegan food. I enjoy vegetarian food, so that's why it was really important that we have a product that works for me and my family.

Jon: Yes, absolutely. Going through those iterations, were those done in a commercial kitchen environment? Obviously, at the point you're at right now where you've got to have thousands of units that are produced, manufactured, and shipped out, but along that route, how did you create these flavors? Was it in a commercial kitchen or with the factory or on your own that you then later took to a factory? How does that process work from a food perspective?

Seema: I was lucky to find a really good co-manufacturer because here's the thing, I will tell you, you can try different recipes, and I have tried in the past in my own kitchen, but when it comes to manufacturing, and that's a really important thing I learned early on that you can have perfect recipe created in your kitchen, but that will not work on large machines. All your time spent developing all these nice recipes is a waste.

You start with the right thing. In fact, the 14 months would've been probably 24 months if I would've wasted time developing recipes in my own kitchen because you have to have somebody, some manufacturer, because obviously, we can't afford to have our own manufacturing facility in the beginning. Almost nobody can. You really latch onto someone who'll work with you. They have food scientists.

The food scientist always works with you. You can tell them your ideas, what are the markers you want to meet, how much fat you want to have maximum, what kind of protein you're looking for, things like that, but at the end of it, when it comes to developing the final recipe, it's the food scientist who does it the best, and you just keep on giving them your input when they create the new versions and you tell them, "Okay, this one is a little bit sweeter. This one is a little bit coarser." You keep giving them inputs, but they are the ones who develop the recipe that will work on their machines.

Jon: That's a great thing for, I think, our audience to understand. I talk to a lot of people that they want to develop food or beverage-type item, and they're not food scientists. Like you, you came from a completely different world being in the high-tech industry with no commercial experience, at least in food and beverage manufacturing, but there are great companies out there. There's a lot of them. There's a lot of companies and a few great ones.

Find the good ones among the mix, whether it's the co-manufacturer that is used to making bars or if someone's working on a drink or on a supplement or whatever it might be, they typically have experts on staff that can help solve those problems that you're trying to. Along the way, you know what? What needs to go in there, they know how to make it happen from a manufacturing perspective. How did you make that transition from a completely different industry, high tech coming into now food and beverage?

Seema: First of all, that was an easy transition mentally, because I always wanted to do something with the food. That wasn't the problem. I truly understand food because I have literally tried every single recipe from every single country because that's my passion. I understand the tastes, the nuances, everything that goes in. When somebody says, "Oh, this tastes great," I won't say that. I would actually analyze why is it that this stays great. That part came easily.

Now, the other part was the difficult one, understanding how the food industry works because one thing I'm telling you that was literally to say mildly shocking is, all my life, I dealt with software. Software, you don't have inventory, and now, you have inventory and you have perishable inventory. Although our bars are six months shelf stable. They don't require any refrigeration, nothing just on the shelf, six months shelf-life, which is great.

At the same time, when you have inventory, it's a whole new mindset because when you're used to dealing with software, you can make changes. Like tonight, I can make changes on the software. You won't even know when the changes were made. Here, you cannot afford to make a single mistake even on the wrappers, on the boxes.

The design, by the way, I have designed this myself, and people who try this, they say, "Yes, your design is good." I'm very happy about that, but the details that go because you cannot have a single thing go wrong with your product. That was a huge learning curve for me. Now, about the food itself, I'll give you a quick backstory that I think your audiences would also like to know.

My father, God bless his soul, was a medical doctor in India. His entire life, instead of spending in cities where the doctors make a ton of money, right when he graduated from the top medical school in India, he went to villages to serve the underprivileged. My entire childhood went in a very rural India if you can believe that. Those were wonderful days because it's like you are in an area where everyone knows everyone. That kind of environment I grew in, and very modest because my father was never after money. Very modest living we had, just middle-class family.

My mother was the main foundation on which everything grew because she maintained the home. She was a homemaker, didn't work anywhere, but she helped my dad, as well as all of us, three of us growing up. She was absolutely wonderful with the food. She was a great cook and with just very modest ingredients. She used to cook very healthy food.

My dad was very particular about eating healthy food. Right now, we all know about fiber. Yes, fiber is great. In 40s and 50s, he used to talk about fiber, the importance of fiber in the food. That was amazing. He has such great ideas about how to combine ingredients. He never cooked anything but he used to give my mom ideas. Whenever my mom made any treats, anything, they were healthy treats. We grew up with this healthy food mindset to begin with when we are growing up.

Also, you won't believe, my dad had such a following, talk about before social media following. All the people in the area and the distant area who used to come because that was the only hospital that he had built in probably, I don't know how many miles, maybe a 100-mile radius. People used to come from these villages for treatment for him, with him. If he's not in the hospital, maybe has come home for a nap in the afternoon, they used to come to our home looking for him.

My mom used to just calm them down. "He will be ready very soon." Just calm them down, offer them a tea and one of these healthy treats to eat. Everybody was so calm and happy about food and drinks that were sold at our home. That's the background I came up with or grew up with. I want to make something that is very healthy.

Then my personal preference, and mom always looked at how it tasted. It was never something healthy and just didn't taste good. That's the mindset I have, and that's why what I do is different than others who might be just looking at nutrition, or there are people who just start products that are just great tasting, humongous amount of sugar. Of course, it is good, but not good for you.

Jon: Right. Agreed. What's next for your business? You're in for this particular product in the launch phase right now. What's the next big happening in your business?

Seema: I'm looking for actually growing. Right now, we are selling direct to consumer on our website. Also, we have in few stores. I'm in the Bay Area, Santa Clara Valley that is in California. Here, we have few health stores or grocery stores that care about putting some healthy foods out there. We are in those, we are just starting out. We are just barely two months in the market.

We are looking to grow national chains, also other grocery stores, local as well as other parts of California. We are also looking for Midwest. There seem to be great demand in Midwest for healthy food. Lot of people are realizing that what we eat is what we are, how we feel, how our days go by. There is lot of things happening in US as well as outside US. We really want to be in major grocery stores. That's our dream.

Jon: You're well on your way. I would encourage our audience, check out this ZK bar and other products but especially the bar at zeroknowledge.shop. Not .com, .shop. We'll have the URL in the show notes as well. If you're driving, go check it out when you get home. There'll be a discount code as well. If you use HarvestGrowth, you'll get a 10% discount on your purchase. All one word, no spaces, HarvestGrowth as your promo code. Seema, are there any resources that you would recommend that you've found helpful as you've built this business so far?

Seema: Yes, definitely. Actually, resources-wise, I literally did all my research on Google, literally, because understanding best thing to do is if you are doing anything food and that's your first product, just look for food articles that have been written. Food business articles, not necessarily food articles, but food business articles. There are a lot of them just available for everyone.

Also, there is a show upcoming that happens twice a year. If you are a new food brand, you have to be there because who's who are in that show, and that's called Natural Product Expo. There is one on the West Coast that is happening in March. It's Natural Product Expo West '23, and that's in Anaheim, California. We have a booth there.

We are exhibiting, attending lot of breakout sessions, just getting involved because that's where all the buyers of major grocery stores, hotel chains, everyone is there. This is not open for consumers. You're literally not selling your product to consumers there, but the industry, industry professionals.

I believe there are 75,000 attendees that come to this show, and it's expensive, but it's totally worth it. If you have anything to do with natural food product, they also have things like soaps, lotions. They have those also. If you believe your product is natural, I totally recommend that. The same show repeats on the East Coast in, I believe, there's September or October timeframe. I think October, yes.

Jon: No, that's great advice. The nice thing with the food and beverage industry, it's a massive industry. I've been in and out of it for a long time. I actually started my marketing career at Craft Foods and Nabisco years and years ago. It's a lot of fun to be in the industry, and I do want to encourage your audience, if you, like Seema, when she first started, didn't have a lot of direct experience in that industry, there are so many resources to check out.

Again, whether it's food and beverage or obviously we've talked about this before, whatever industry you're in, find other organizations. Typically, there's some trade event or trade show that you can attend to meet other people that have been through what you're going through, and many are willing to give advice along the way. The Natural Product Expo is certainly a fantastic resource if you're certainly in the food and beverage industry. Seema, is there anything I didn't ask that you think could be helpful for our audience?

Seema: I think you pretty much asked a lot of good things. Your questions were good. I hope whatever I said is useful for your audiences. Just one thing I want to add is, keep your mind positive because if you're an entrepreneur listening to this, you already know this, that so many times, things bring you down.

I have made so many calls that didn't go anywhere. People just brush you off. People who say they will help you, they don't help. You do come across lot of these things but look at the good things because there are people, you won't believe that I was really shocked because this is not what happens in the high-tech industry that I come from. In food industry, there is a lot of camaraderie.

I've talked to literally competitors who have bars in the market who have given me so much unsolicited help, advice, so much information, like expo that we are attending. This lady spend one hour with me, my competitor, and told me everything, what to do, what not to do when you are at the expo, so amazing people you come across, and you also come across not-so-amazing people.

Just keep your mind positive. I know it's easy to say. A lot of days, there have been some days I didn't even want to lift the phone. I didn't want to like just get up in the morning. It has been that bad. Just keep going because if you believe in your product, if you believe in your company or self, just keep going.

Jon: That's great advice. I love how you talked about talking to competitors. Many times, there are some, obviously, that are very competitive and they're not going to talk to you, but most product marketers or small businesses, especially if we've been in the trenches together, we want to help each other, right? We realize that there the world is big enough for all of us.

Talking to competitors is can be a great way to get some learnings along the way. You may find a good partner that you sell your product alongside or with, or future acquisition, that sort of thing. Start those relationships early on in the process. Seema, again, thank you so much for your time. This is a great interview. I know our audience is going to love it.

Seema: Thank you so much, Jon. I really enjoyed talking to you and your audiences. Thank you.

Jon: Be sure to go to zeroknowledge.shop to learn more about this business and this great product. Also, be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode, you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your consumer product or service business, please subscribe to our show, or you can set up an appointment right from our website to speak directly with a member of the Harvest Growth team in a free consultation to learn the process that has worked for hundreds of businesses since 2007.

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