I don’t know about you, but 2023 was a little bit of a challenge both for me personally and for our business.
Don’t get me wrong, there were many gifts. But there are shadows of real struggle and I can’t help but share. Perhaps some of my own struggles mirror yours, or perhaps they are similar enough that you can relate. Either way, I find myself reflecting for a moment on the year behind. And, then too, looking forward with much hope for the year ahead.
For our business, we saw more bumps than any year before. For one, we chose to enter into a relationship with a second co-packer for the manufacturing of our products. Our first co-packer has been wonderful to work with, but we had a handful of frustrations and saw many opportunities for improvement. One issue is that they are all the way in Washington State, and yet we fulfill out of Pennsylvania! So, we thought, let’s get a second co-packer on the east coast – for better shipping times, cost savings and improved customer service. We did our research, got samples, sent lists of all ingredients – and thought we did all the due diligence we’d need. We didn’t. While this new co-packer was established in manufacturing dry powder products like ours, what we came to learn is that they had very little experience creating baking mixes. As we learned, a company that just fills pouches with one ingredient (say, a gluten-free flour) may or may not be great at creating baking mixes (which counts on exact measurements of multiple ingredients).
Our first run with them, they chose a fine, but not extra-fine Tigernut flour for our Banana Bread and Pancake & Waffle Mixes. While this doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal, it left us with a grainy end result for both skus – and ultimately, two mediocre products. In an effort to keep the peace and build a relationship with them, we opted to share the feedback with them, get fresh samples and try again. Our next run with them was in the middle of the summer, in preparation for holiday! That’s right, we placed our PO with them in July, so as to receive product by the end of August, just in time for the launch of the Fall baking season. With some slight delays on their end, we received the product in mid-September. And as we tested them off the line, three of our skus (Pancake, Banana and Pumpkin Bread) were absolutely terrible. Terrible? Yes, terrible. Like horrible smelling and tasting. Heather and I were both in shock – and also, had a major fear around what was causing the issue. They almost tasted poisonous. And we had already begun fulfilling orders for these skus to all of our precious customers.
In the end, after much testing, worrying, research, worrying some more and grilling the copacker to find out what in the world could have gone wrong, we had our answer. Our co-packer had mistakenly used Black Salt instead of Himalayan Pink Salt, in a 1:1 ratio in our mix. If you are not familiar with Black Salt, it is often used in vegan or Indian dishes, with just a light dusting, so as to give a slight egg-like taste. Unfortunately, when used 1:1 as Pink Salt, the entire mix tasted like gritty rotten eggs.
It was a nightmare for us. As a business, we have traditionally done 40% of our business in the last 3 months of the year. Now, we had to pivot, scramble and hustle to try to contact hundreds of customers, remake the product and replace it all. During a time when we should have been reaping, we were digging and planting. Our sales decreased. They flat-lined from the previous year. We were getting bad reviews. And yet, we had to put on our shiney, happy faces and pretend that all was wonderful. We shared fun recipes for holiday. Made cookies with our happy kids. All the while, we were in a dark time.
For me personally, my health had a handful of bumps over the year as well. My health is fine. It totally is. But, with Type 1 diabetes, there is such an ebb and flow of management and mental stability in it all. I went twice to my endocrinologist this past year (I “should” be going every 3 months) and both times, I had a higher A1C than ever before. Arg! And all this says to me is, “Kerry, you aren’t good enough. You aren’t taking care of yourself. You could do so much better. Why aren’t you doing better? Are you lazy? Air-headed? Ir-responsible? Why can’t you just get it right?”
I also developed a bad pain in my left knee in the Spring. I had to stop being physical while I figured it out. I actually knew what it was. I had allowed beloved gluten back into my life, and just as it has in the past, it began to create physical ailments in my body, mainly in my joints. Stopping exercise tends to make me slower, less inspired, slightly sadder. Its nothing like how I want to feel!
The darkness of 2023 has been tough. Whether for these business or personal reasons, there were many days I had to drag myself up and get going. But I did. Heather and I both did. We had resolve. We were going to make it through. We were going to learn. And rebuild. Rethink. Recreate. Rework it all.
And so, at present, I am wishing good riddance to 2023.
And now I look ahead. And its interesting because, while nothing has yet happened to make anything better, there is one thing that always makes things better. HOPE. And, I believe we have lots of it! Here is what we’ve done to regroup from our challenges and what we look forward to in the beautiful year ahead:
- We shifted all of our business back to our original co-packer and have a stronger relationship than ever with them.
- We have reformulated many of our products to become coconut-free and/or vegan in some cases. And all will be slowly coming out over this year!
- We are in talks with several large businesses for opportunities in both the retail and the private labeling world. They could be giant for us!
- We are launching 2 new products over the next several months that we believe customers will love!
- Because I took out gluten, I have now been running 5 days/week and I plan to keep it going!
- We are planning an amazing eat GANGSTER fundraiser in Charlotte, NC this Spring that anyone local will be invited to. It’s gunna be awesome!
- We are investing in new social media, email and SEO tools to help us reach more people!
There is lots to look forward to and lots to learn from from this past year of challenges. We hope you are picking yourself up from any of your own struggles and leaning into the HOPE we all have for a wonderful year ahead. To More in 2024!
Co-Founder, eat G.A.N.G.S.T.E.R.