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Being a Tastemaker in Your Category, with Gail Becker, Founder and CEO of CAULIPOWER

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The newest diets and food fads are hard to keep up with, and some come and go without you even noticing. But there are some things that aren’t just passing trends. Cauliflower-based foods is one such thing, and no one in the category has done more for the movement than CAULIPOWER. Why? Because not only is CAULIPOWER gluten-free, it’s also absolutely delicious, which is what Gail Becker, the founder and CEO of CAULIPOWER, believes is the secret ingredient to success. 

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, I sat down with Gail for a fun chat about how she went from cooking a disastrous cauliflower pizza in her kitchen to running one of the fastest-growing frozen food brands around. She talked about how she got her foot in the door at Whole Foods, what her omnichannel strategy looks like, and why you should never let the copycats in your category get to you. Plus, stick around to hear the story of how a tiny pink house changed the course of Gail’s life forever. Enjoy!

Main Takeaways:

  • Showing Up Is Half The Battle: There will be times in life and business when simply being in the right place at the right time will change everything. But if you don’t show up, you’ll never actually find those serendipitous moments. Think of every event and every opportunity as a step forward and a chance to take your company to the next level.
  • Don’t Bat An Eye: If you have made an impact in your category, there will always be copycats and competitors. You can’t focus on them because it will distract you from what’s important. All you should do is work on making the best product so that even with all the competition in the world, customers will always return to you because your product is far and away superior.
  • Prioritizing What’s Needed: When you’re first getting your business off the ground, oftentimes you have to build the plane as you’re flying. You don’t always have the money or the resources to set us your backend systems or marketing teams the way you want to, so you just do what works. But as you grow, you have to go back to those foundational elements of a business and prioritize your efforts to sure everything up. 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

 

“I think because of my parents’ background and because they never really had food growing up or enough food, that food always played a really important role in our lives. We all sat down to dinner every night. Even if money was tight, you never scrimped on food, you always got the best food you could get and, quite frankly, you always showed people you love them by cooking for them. And so, food always had a really important place, including you never threw it away. So, my mother used to put all kinds of scraps into the freezer which I’m pretty sure is how I ended up in frozen food.”

“In the early days of gluten-free, if you think about the products that launched the movement, it didn’t have to taste good and it certainly didn’t have to be better for you. It only needed to tick the box of being gluten-free and I thought, ‘Well, why can’t we ask for more?’ Is that too much to ask for it to be better for you and actually taste good, too? And so, that is really what helped fuel the beginning.”

“Scaling is really hard because what happens is you have to find a manufacturer that’s going to take you on with very little volume. And so, everything up to that point is just a bet. All the money that you put in and all the time and energy and resources, that’s just a giant bet that this is going to take off.”

“Something inside me said you always got to show up. Wherever you are in life, it’s always the things that you didn’t show up for that you regret. You never regret for going.” 

“When you start a business, you really have to be super clear, particularly an industry like food. This is not an industry I knew anything about. Obviously, I knew a little bit about food in that I cooked it, bought it and ate it, but really knew nothing about how the industry worked. And so, I knew there was a lot of conventional wisdom that I needed to follow, lots of experts that I needed to listen to, lots of people who had tremendous amounts of experience that I should really heed what they say. But there’s also a part, particularly when you’re a founder, everybody has to answer for themselves. What rules are you going to break? What are you going to do a little bit differently? So, recognize everything that you need to follow but listen to your gut and say, ‘Hmm, everybody does it like this, I’m going to try it like this,’ because if you don’t change up some things, you’re just going to be like everybody else and who needs an everybody else.”

“Frozen shipping is high. It’s very expensive and consumers don’t necessarily want to pay that and I don’t blame them. Now, are we available on Amazon? Absolutely. Do people buy our products on Amazon all the time? Yes, they do. Is it ever going to be a huge channel for us? Not in the D2C way for frozen. Now, as the company evolves and we go into other categories, then, for sure, it will be but frozen does make it a little bit tricky. But what we have done really well is we partnered with a lot of the retailer dot coms, the kroger.com and walmart.com and target.com so that people can easily order our product for delivery and that has been tremendous.”

“Competition is going to happen no matter what and the only thing that happens when you look behind you is you stumble. So, we’ve got our eyes forward, we’re not looking at all the imitators, we’re not looking at all the competitors. We’re driving ahead and we’re putting everything that we have into ensuring that we have the best product on the market and we do. Sometimes people are promiscuous, we hear it all the time. ‘Oh, I tried another one and I came back to CAULIPOWER.’ Great. Try another one, come back. I’m like, “Yeah, you want to date around? Go ahead, date around. I know you’ll end up dating me and we’ll get married and live happily ever after.” And that’s usually what happens and I love it. But the onus is on us because we have to make sure that the product always delivers and that’s what we focus on. We don’t focus that much on the competition.”

Bio

Gail Becker is the founder and CEO of CAULIPOWER, a food company on a mission to provide affordable healthy alternatives to highly processed foods. Prior to founding CAULIPOWER, Beker worked in the corporate world in communications. She has a Bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA and a Master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern.


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Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey, everyone, and welcome to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie, CEO at Mission and, today, we have a very tasty episode. I have Gail Becker joining us who’s the founder and CEO of CAULIPOWER. Gail, welcome to the podcast.

Gail:

Thanks so much for having me.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I’m very excited. So, I have a special love for CAULIPOWER because my mother-in-law has celiac disease and, 10 years ago, there was nothing. We couldn’t find anything good, it was really hard, we were trying to bake our own stuff, there wasn’t good flowers. And so, I have a very special place in my heart when CAULIPOWER came out where I’m like, “Ugh, this is so great.” So, I want to say thank you, first of all, for the amazing product.

Gail:

I’m pretty sure I should be the one thanking you but, there you go.

Stephanie:

It can go both ways. We can just have a-

Gail:

Okay, okay.

Stephanie:

… whole podcast about that. This is great.

Gail:

Excellent, excellent.

Stephanie:

So, before we dive into CAULIPOWER and you starting it and where it’s at today, I actually wanted to start with your background because I think it’s very interesting. I want to talk about your upbringing and your parents and where did Gail come from?

Gail:

It is probably the most obscure route that one could possibly take. I’m a first generation American. Both my parents were Holocaust survivors and they came to this country with literally nothing. And my father built a small business and it was, really, when he passed away that I decided to turn my life and to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps. But when I look back at my childhood, the things that I think, maybe, influenced me but, of course, you had no idea at the time.

Gail:

I think because of my parents’ background and because they never really had food growing up or enough food, that food always played a really important role in our lives. We all sat down to dinner every night. Even if money was tight, you never scrimped on food, you always got the best food you could get and, quite frankly, you always showed people you love them by cooking for them. And so, food always had a really important place, including you never threw it away. So, my mother used to put all kinds of scraps into the freezer which I’m pretty sure is how I ended up in frozen food.

Stephanie:

That’s great. So, what lessons do you remember? You’re saying with your dad passed away, that’s when you’re like, “Now’s the time I need to do something.” What was running through your head to know that was the moment that you needed to change everything?

Gail:

It was really this culmination of feelings, to be honest with you. I had worked in corporate America for many years, probably too many, and I became really disenchanted, very uninspired by what I was doing. And most notably, I just stopped caring and when you stop caring, that’s when you run into trouble. And so, I knew I wanted to do something different but I didn’t really know what that was. And it wasn’t until the passing of my father that I thought, “God, I have got to do something more meaningful. I’ve got to do something that’s going to help people in some small way.” And I also wanted to do something that I could build on my own. And so, it was really all of those things put together that made me decide to chuck it all and bet in on a vegetable.

Stephanie:

Yup, that’s great. So, what did the early days look like of having the aha moment of, “I’m going to make cauliflower crust pizza.”? What did that actually look like?

Gail:

It looked like a big mess is what it looked like. I did a little bit of research, not a lot, certainly not as much as I should have. I stumbled across cauliflower crust pizza one day on the internet, there were over 500,000 recipes the day I checked, I made one and it was okay and I just thought it was an extraordinary amount of work. And when my son asked me if I was going to make it again, I said, “There’s no freaking way.” It took 90 minutes to make a pizza crust after a full day of work. Who has time for that? Isn’t it insulting that people actually expected us to?

Stephanie:

Yeah, yeah.

Gail:

So, it was really that frustration and that led me to start CAULIPOWER and what it looked like is, ironically with the pandemic, I’m not very far from my home office, 20 feet from my home office where I started CAULIPOWER. It was very lonely in those days. It was just, literally, me in the office with the postman occasionally when he would bring by packages. It was very lonely but it was also very freeing in the sense that nobody knew what I was doing. So, I didn’t really have anything to lose. I was just working in secret so I didn’t put anything out there, nobody knew what I was up to and I really enjoyed that time because I couldn’t fail if no one knew what I was doing.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup. And both your sons have celiac. That was the itch that you were trying to scratch, right?

Gail:

Yeah, both my sons have celiac disease and they were born with it at such a young age that there was no gluten free food in the store at all. And so, it gave me a really good viewpoint from which to watch the gluten free industry evolve and I just began to notice all the junk the industry was putting in gluten free food and I thought, “Well, someone’s going to do something to change that,” but no one ever did. And so, finally, I thought, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to do it myself.” Now, I will say that even though that’s the reason that I started CAULIPOWER was because of my two sons, it’s not the primary reason why people buy CAULIPOWER. Obviously, we’re the number one gluten free pizza in America and that’s really important and everything that we do will always be gluten free, but we don’t lead with that. We’re a great tasting, better for you product that happens to be gluten free.

Stephanie:

Yup. Yeah, I remember the early days of the gluten free market and you’re looking, first ingredient was just sugar and everyday-

Gail:

Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Stephanie:

And then I would look up recipes to do a gluten free crust and it’s just cheese.

Gail:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Just cheese and you’re just frying on a pan.

Gail:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

I’m like, “Something has to change.”

Gail:

Well, you’re right because in the early days of gluten free, if you think about the products that launched the movement, it didn’t have to taste good and it certainly didn’t have to be better for you. It only needed to tick the box of being gluten free and I thought, “Well, why can’t we ask for more?” Is that too much to ask for it to be better for you and actually taste good, too? And so, that is really what helped fuel the beginning.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So, when you look at the headlines of CAULIPOWER, everyone sees the same things of you went to a hundred million in three years or less and you’re doing really well now, of course. You got in Whole Foods right away but I wanted to hear what are some more funny moments from the beginning, the founding stories? Or, you’re looking back now and it’s just funny how you did things or handle things or try things?

Gail:

Yeah, boy, there are lots of them. You mentioned Whole Foods, so I’ll start there. And this is for any of your listeners if you want to start a food business, you can always pitch the local region of Whole Foods where you live. So, for me, that was Southern California. So, I got to drop off my product. Couldn’t get a meeting but, literally, carry a styrofoam container full of four of the most expensive pizzas because they were made on the line and drop them off, almost like you were dropping off your kid at daycare and I just hoped for the best and hoped that the receptionist would pass them along and, clearly, they did.

Gail:

But there was the time when Whole Foods made their first order and my truck got locked out from the manufacturing plant to the distributor that was supposed to give it to Whole Foods. And so, literally, my entire life was stuck on a Midwestern highway in the middle of January, freezing cold. Thank God it was gold or my product would have melted. But literally, that was my entire life stuck in a truck overnight. And so, lots of occasions like that that, now, you can laugh at but, at the time, tears were much more represented.

Stephanie:

Oh, man. I can’t imagine. How has the Whole Foods relationship evolved? What was it like in the beginning, early days to now? What does it look like now?

Gail:

Well, look, I’ll always be really grateful to Whole Foods because they took a bet on me and they brought us into 30 stores. And, if they didn’t, who knows where CAULIPOWER would be? So, they took an early bet on us and, now, we’re nationally available in Whole Foods and with a number of different products but we’re also in 30,000 stores. So, we’re in Walmart, Krogers and Albertsons, Safeway, Target and on and on and on. And so, it’s really nice having that diversity of retailer representation because my whole reasoning for wanting to bring CAULIPOWER to market was to really make nutritional products accessible to all and that doesn’t matter if you shop at Whole Foods or Walmart or everywhere in between. That was really a goal of mine and why I decided to leave corporate America. And so, it’s something I’m very proud of.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s amazing. Congratulations, super impressive. When they first told you, “Yes, we’re bringing you into 30 stores here,” what was it like to scale up? How many pieces have you made before that? And then, how did you quickly make sure you had enough to get into 30 stores?

Gail:

Well, it’s such a good question. I’ll tell you a little bit. You always remember that moment when you found out. So, I happened to be in a Starbucks in Washington, DC when I got the email and, “Oh, we’re going to bring you into 30 stores,” and, literally, I screamed out loud and the whole place looked at me and I wanted to buy everybody a latte, but I couldn’t afford it but you always remember those times. And then, scaling is really hard because what happens is you have to find a manufacturer that’s going to take you on with very little volume. And so, everything up to that point is just a bet. All the money that you put in and all the time and energy and resources, that’s just a giant bet that this is going to take off.

Gail:

So, once I got my first order, it was incredibly exciting. And we filled it, except the problem with the truck but, other than that, we filled it. And we were at Expo West in March, we landed in Whole Foods in February. We were at Expo West in March and that’s where we just took off with all these other retailers who came by our booth. I think there were only three employees at the time at the company and we must have cooked 1,200 pizzas that weekend and it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. And it was really one of those moments, I’ll just share, that I almost didn’t go to that show.

Stephanie:

Wow, what was swaying you to do something else?

Gail:

Well, it’s interesting because when I found out about the show, it was all booked up so I put myself on the waitlist. And then, someone from the industry said to me, “Oh, don’t worry about it. Not a big deal. Those shows are worth anything, don’t bother. You shouldn’t even go.” And I thought to myself, “Do I listen to him or do I just keep bothering and keep trying to get off the waitlist?” And something inside me said you always got to show up.

Gail:

Wherever you are in life, it’s always the things that you didn’t show up for that you regret. You never regret for going. So, I just kept hassling the poor guy. I should find out his name because, boy, did I hassle that guy. And finally, he called me one day and he said, “All right, a spot just opened up. Please leave me alone.” And it was that spot that opened up that really changed my life. I ordered a banner from Zazzle, I don’t even know if it’s still around anymore. I bought a tablecloth at Target and I bought some fresh cauliflower as my booth decoration and I showed up.

Stephanie:

That’s amazing. How have you, now, used what you know around that gut feeling and showing up and just do it? Do you take that away into your everyday life now?

Gail:

I do, I do and I think there’s probably lessons there for everyone. Because when you start a business, you really have to be super clear, particularly an industry like food. This is not an industry I knew anything about. Obviously, I knew a little bit about food and that I cooked it, bought it and ate it, but really knew nothing about how the industry worked. And so, I knew there was a lot of conventional wisdom that I needed to follow, lots of experts that I needed to listen to, lots of people who had tremendous amounts of experience that I should really heed what they say. But there’s also a part, particularly when you’re a founder, everybody has to answer for themselves. What rules are you going to break? What are you going to do a little bit differently?

Gail:

So, recognize everything that you need to follow but listen to your gut and say, “Hmm, everybody does it like this, I’m going to try it like this,” because if you don’t change up some things, you’re just going to be like everybody else and who needs an everybody else. And so, I have carried that through. I’ve made some really good decisions, I’ve made some really bad decisions but knowing the rules that I wanted to break and follow has really been key to CAULIPOWER’s success.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I love that. Yeah, great lesson. So, because you had a marketing background, I want to hear about some of your favorite marketing campaigns in the beginning to get CAULIPOWER on the map and to people who knew about this amazing new product coming out. So, what did you do? What campaigns were you running to get some interest?

Gail:

Well, in the beginning, we had no campaigns because I had no money. And so, we relied on a lot of earned media, there was a lot of media that covered us and that was really great. And then, I used all that media to tell all the retailers, “Look how consumers are so excited about us and how the media is so excited about us,” and that would generate excitement. And then, I sent a lot of free pizzas out to people who I hope would post about it and share and they certainly did. And then, we’ve done some crazy campaigns over the years, my goodness.

Gail:

The one, I think, was a probably one of our most successful and I think really shows the quick thinking of our team is, right when the pandemic started and everybody was locked at home. And we were a brand that was out and about, we had trucks, we went to shows, we were giving out free pizza left and right. And now, what do we do in the middle of the pandemic? Not even in the middle of epidemic, at the beginning of the pandemic. And so, we got a couple of well-known influencers to create some content by making pizzas and we shared it on our Instagram Live and we happened to get Dan Levy from Schitt’s Creek just as the show had ended. Literally-

Stephanie:

That’s epic.

Gail:

It was epic.

Stephanie:

Like we want more Dan. You’re like, “Here you go.”

Gail:

I’m like, “Here you go, making a pizza,” and he was fantastic and I think the internet broke that day. And people still comment about Dan’s pizza and the cheese poll, anybody who has seen the show will understand that. But it was great and I just love that because, in this business, in any startup, you have to be really, really flexible and malleable to what the world is throwing at you.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Gail:

A global pandemic is one’s extreme to be sure. But there are a lot less extreme versions and you just have to be like this. And the reason you do is because that’s what’s so great about being a startup, is you can move quickly, you can turn on a dime, you can up end your marketing campaign overnight. And guess what? The big boys can’t.

Stephanie:

Yup.

Gail:

The big boys can’t do that. So, your weakness suddenly becomes a strength and that’s pretty extraordinary.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. Have you felt any friction around that? As you’ve grown bigger and the company is doing really well, have you started feeling a little bit like constraints sometimes pop up because you’re getting bigger?

Gail:

It’s a really great question and it’s something I’ve tried to be very cognizant of. I really haven’t and I’ve worked very hard to try and foster that risk taking, innovation centric environment in every part of CAULIPOWER. Not just the food development and the food innovation but innovation throughout the entire company. And so, I’d like to think that we haven’t lost that, maybe we’re a tiny bit slower but I actually don’t think so. I think we’ve maintained that pretty well.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. So, I want to shift and talk a bit about consumers online and hear your thoughts around CAULIPOWER website and selling directly to consumers. How have you guys thought about that approach? Because most people who come on the show are D2C brands or bigger brands who have omnichannel presence and I was looking up CAULIPOWER and there was this one website that said, “Buy CAULIPOWER.com.” I don’t even know who they are, I don’t know if they’re stockpiling CAULIPOWER or something-

Gail:

Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie:

… and then shipping it out. I’m not sure.

Gail:

There’s lots of them, yeah.

Stephanie:

Yeah, but I was like, “Wow, I’m going to go tell Gail.” So, I want to hear your thoughts on, yeah, having an online presence and-

Gail:

Well, all those brands that you’ve had on your show, I’m going to venture to guess they’re not frozen.

Stephanie:

No, we’ve had Yasso a frozen ice cream.

Gail:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Ice cream, similar to that. I think there’s one other one but, yes, most are not frozen.

Gail:

And frozen is the trick.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Gail:

Frozen shipping is high. It’s very expensive and consumers don’t necessarily want to pay that and I don’t blame them. Now, are we available on Amazon? Absolutely. Do people buy our products on Amazon all the time? Yes, they do. Is it ever going to be a huge channel for us? Not in the D2C way for frozen. Now, as the company evolves and we go into other categories, then, for sure, it will be but frozen does make it a little bit tricky. But what we have done really well is we partnered with a lot of the retailer dot coms, the kroger.com and walmart.com and target.com so that people can easily order our product for delivery and that has been tremendous particularly during COVID, but even now.

Stephanie:

That’s how I order. I’ve always ordered you through Whole Foods, Amazon.

Gail:

Oh, is that right? Yeah, there you go.

Stephanie:

Yeah, it’s been great.

Gail:

Good.

Stephanie:

So, when thinking about the messaging and people going online, ordering online, picking up in store, how did you have to change how you, maybe, spoke to your customers or retailers? Did you have to think about anything different when the buying patterns may be shifted from everyone going in store and be like, “Yeah, I always get it and store and, now, I’m getting used to buying it online and trying to figure out is this the same box that I’m buying in person.”?

Gail:

Yeah, it’s an interesting question. To be honest with you, the trickiest part was, and this is so laughable, but just getting our name. If people were inputting CAULIPOWER, they’d either get frozen florets of cauliflower or frozen blueberries.

Stephanie:

Yup.

Gail:

So, just cleaning out the pipes took a long time, particularly for a company that’s called CAULIPOWER.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Gail:

So, that was a huge effort. I think the great thing about CAULIPOWER now and particularly our consumers is they know that there’s a number of ways they can get us. You want to get us in store? You can get us on store. You want to get us on delivery? You can get us on delivery. Do you want to get us on Amazon? You can get us on Amazon. And we’re also on Instacart and FreshDirect and all of those as well. So, we do live in an omnichannel world as, obviously, does our consumer and we’re very aware of that and we work very hard to make it as easy and seamless as possible.

Stephanie:

Yeah, cool. So, how do you view the frozen food landscape right now? When you look around, it does seem like there’s, I wouldn’t call them competitors because they’re not as tasty, but there’s definitely a lot of new incumbents popping in that you go then you’re like, “Oh, where is the one I want? [inaudible] more time than it used to?”

Gail:

Yup.

Stephanie:

So, how do you view the market right now? How are you staying competitive?

Gail:

Well, it’s interesting. So, CAULIPOWER was, obviously, the creator of the category and it’s an age-old story that is not limited to frozen pizza. Someone creates a category, lots of people enter it, lots of people leave and then, usually, the brand that created the category plus one or two others remain. And what happened with CAULIPOWER is, obviously, we took off and had tremendous success and then the retailer’s thought, “Oh, well, maybe if I bring in this brand, this brand, this brand and this brand, then I’m going to have that much more success. It’s going to be completely incremental.” And what ended up happening is they realized it wasn’t incremental and that it was actually cannibalistic which was not good for the retailer. So, that was pretty much 2020.

Gail:

And then, what’s happened in 2021, is a lot of the retailers have removed a lot or have deleted a lot of the ankle biters or brands that just didn’t reach a certain level of sales and that’s proved well for us. But I really think you hit the nail on the head. So, that’s for my category perspective. But I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about and I very much appreciate it. You said, “Well, where’s the tasty CAULIPOWER?” Look, competition is going to happen no matter what and the only thing that happens when you look behind you is you stumble.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gail:

So, we’ve got our eyes forward, we’re not looking at all the imitators, we’re not looking at all the competitors. We’re driving ahead and we’re putting everything that we have into ensuring that we have the best product on the market and we do. Sometimes people are promiscuous, we hear it all the time. “Oh, I tried another one and I came back to CAULIPOWER.” Great. Try another one, come back. I’m like, “Yeah, you want to date around? Go ahead, date around. I know you’ll end up dating me and we’ll get married and live happily ever after.” And that’s usually what happens and I love it. But the onus is on us because we have to make sure that the product always delivers and that’s what we focus on. We don’t focus that much on the competition.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Have you had to adjust your packaging to connect with people in a different way? Because at one point, I definitely saw some people have their packaging look similar to yours that we-

Gail:

Do you think? Yeah.

Stephanie:

Yeah, we accidentally bought it and brought it home. I’m like, “What is this? This is not”-

Gail:

Yeah, I have heard that a lot, too. Yes, my mother used to say, “They’re only jealous, honey. That just means they like you.”

Stephanie:

There you go.

Gail:

But yes, it is frustrating. We did recently, in early 2021, we have our new stone fired pizza and we put that in new packaging which, I think, is further well-delineated. We are the only one to have the black letter memes on the front of our box which keep it light, keep it funny, make you smile because pizza should make you smile. And I think our new packaging has worked out very well.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I agree. So, I want to dive a bit deeper into working with retailers because so many people on here, they’re still wondering, maybe, how to break into that or they have advice and that makes them wonder like, “Is this advice that other people would give?”

Gail:

Interesting.

Stephanie:

So, what are some of the lessons, maybe from this past year or two, from working with retailers and getting in so many different stores? If you were to look back and do anything over again, whether it’s deals or arrangements or how you have something set up, is there anything that’s pretty in the weeds that you think if someone’s going and exploring this path right now, this one piece of advice would really help them or this one thing to avoid would really help them?

Gail:

The one piece of advice that I did that I think would help people and maybe it’s similar to the advice I gave earlier, you always show up.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gail:

And early on, I went to every single sales meeting for CAULIPOWER, every single one. There were times when I was flying to three and four cities a week.

Stephanie:

Wow.

Gail:

But I showed up because no one can sell a product like the founder. That’s my third child. CAULIPOWER is my third child. And so, I think people really like and appreciate to hear the vision and to hear how the product was born and to hear your hopes and dreams for this product and why it’s different than anything else and why the retailer should bring it in and why the consumers gravitate toward it. So, I always think the more interaction a founder can have with the retailer, the better.

Stephanie:

Yup. Yeah, I love that. That’s great advice. What big moonshot bets are you making right now that you’re not sure if it’s going to have a big, successful outcome but you guys are trying things out seeing what might stick?

Gail:

We have a couple of products coming out. I can’t talk about it right now but is it a moonshot? Maybe, maybe a moonshot.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Okay.

Gail:

I don’t know. I like it, I like that term. Maybe it’s a moonshot. But then, again, all of CAULIPOWER was a moonshot.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Gail:

I never knew it would be like this. I thought I could have a little business, maybe send my kids to school and just work for myself and that would be that. So, the whole thing’s already a moonshot, everything else is just gravy. But I do believe that because we’re CAULIPOWER, we’ve got to take risks. And they’re not always successful but we have to take them. It is in our ethos, it is our reason to be and, if not us, then who?

Stephanie:

Yup, that’s great. So, outside of new product development, what are some things you’re exploring right now?

Gail:

Let’s see. Trying to think of things I can talk about.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Gail:

You know what? Look, we’re not that old. I think people look at our size and they think we’re much older than we are. And so, to be honest with you, some of what we’re doing right now is just building the plane because we’ve been flying it but it’s been rickety so we’re putting a lot of things in place that, quite frankly, we should have had a long time ago but we didn’t have the money for it, we didn’t have the resources, we didn’t have the know how, we didn’t know we needed it. Now we do. And so, now we’re building the support behind this rocket ship to make sure we can continue on our trajectory. So, is it that exciting? Probably not. Is it as important as hell? You bet it is. And I think CAULIPOWER is really remarkable because we’ll have both.

Stephanie:

Yeah, yeah. So, I can only imagine when you’ve been flying the plane and there’s a bunch of things and that are all duct taped together.

Gail:

Exactly. Don’t look over here, right?

Stephanie:

Yeah, don’t look here. Look over here, look over here.

Gail:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

But now’s the time to actually build the foundation.

Gail:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

I want to hear how you prioritize because this is actually a theme. I was just talking to the North Face earlier and they were saying the same thing. They’re like-

Gail:

Oh, really?

Stephanie:

… “Now it’s actually our time to build the foundation. Right now, we’re just going to make sure our whole back end works. We’re not doing some shiny things, we’re working on the unsexy things.”

Gail:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

And now, you’re saying this, too. So-

Gail:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

… how did you go through and prioritize stuff when I’m sure that’s a very big list of things that had to be taken care of?

Gail:

It is a big list. We looked at our biggest pain points. Where we’re really hurt, where were we unable to compete? A lot of it, to be honest with you, is data driven. We needed more data, we just needed all kinds of information that we didn’t have. We needed a lot of platforms, a lot of technology to help us fuel and not just to support us from the beginning, but even stuff that we did at the beginning, we’ve now outgrown. So, we’ve had to upgrade so many different platforms three times because we outgrew it. And so, it’s a lot of that.

Stephanie:

Got it. So, you’re mentioning data, I want to hear what data were you missing that you’re realizing, “Okay, now I actually need to have this.” Was it first party data because you’re working through retailers where you weren’t getting anything on it?

Gail:

It was both. It was first party data, it was industry data, category data, competitive data, all kinds. And then, data driving our supply chain and our operations and things that just help us run more smoothly really. There’s enough out there in the world to throw bumps in the road as it is-

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Gail:

… we didn’t need to make our own. So-

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. And how are you thinking about now attracting new customers? What are the best ways that you’re finding new customers because, to me, the brand awareness seems already there but then, every once in a while, you meet people who maybe don’t even understand that category. They’re still going [crosstalk].

Gail:

Oh, my gosh. You know what? It’s funny because CAULIPOWER, thank you, has come a long way in a short amount of time but our unaided awareness is low.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Gail:

There is still huge growth opportunity for CAULIPOWER. So, we have a lot of demand generation that we do to raise awareness and brand awareness and there’s a lot coming in the new year toward that end which, I think, will be really good and I’m excited. And, particularly, as we increase our number of products because there are people who buy our chicken who don’t even know we make pizza.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup.

Gail:

So, we want the people who buy our pizza to know, “Hey, guess what? We make pasta now.” So, it’s a lot of cross purchase and awareness. So, it’s awareness to new consumers but, also, to our current consumer base who may not know about all of our other magnificent products.

Stephanie:

Is the cross promotion happening within the packaging? Like, “Hey, you bought our pizza, now go check this out as well”? [crosstalk]

Gail:

It is hard to do on the pack. There are some things that you can do and we do, but some of it is hard to do on packaging because you can’t control where it ends up. And so, if you’re in a retailer that sells your pizza but not your pasta and you say, “Oh, go buy our pasta,” that’s challenging. So-

Stephanie:

Yup.

Gail:

So, there are some things you can do but there are challenges around that as well.

Stephanie:

I always think about when I buy something at a retailer, they have that little sticky piece of tape looking coupon on it.

Gail:

Yes.

Stephanie:

It’s like [crosstalk].

Gail:

… it off?

Stephanie:

Is this for now? Later? I’m very confused.

Gail:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Can you throw this away?

Gail:

No, it’s actually for now.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Gail:

So, you should use those now. Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie:

Good to know. Yeah-

Gail:

[crosstalk]

Stephanie:

… I always look at that. Is this mine? Is this pretend?

Gail:

It is yours. No, peel it off. It doesn’t get easier than that.

Stephanie:

So, where are you hoping to be in the next one or two years? What’s your vision right now?

Gail:

Sleep sounds good.

Stephanie:

Yeah, sleep. That sounds good for me too.

Gail:

That sounds great because I have insomnia. No, I’m kidding. One to two years, I think … Look, the world is our oyster which is nice. Perhaps different geographies, definitely different parts of the grocery store. We’re exploring and have already put into use a number of different vegetables. In fact, our new rice cups, sorry, our new breakfast cups include a vegetable that we’ve never even used before, broccoli, which is really exciting. So, diversity of vegetables, diversity of places, of aisles in the grocery store and continued innovation and both within pizza but outside of pizza as well.

Stephanie:

Yeah, amazing. Okay, let’s shift over to the lightning round.

Gail:

Okay.

Stephanie:

The lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

Gail:

Okay.

Stephanie:

This is where I ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready, Gail?

Gail:

I guess I’m ready, yes.

Stephanie:

Okay. First, what’s the funniest ingredient you maybe tried your recipe when you were first starting out with CAULIPOWER? Is there any ingredient where you’re like, “That was weird I tried that or that ended up tasting really funny.”?

Gail:

Not for the first pizza but we did do something like … Oh, I can’t even remember. It’s like tiger nut silk something, it didn’t taste good.

Stephanie:

I don’t even know what that is.

Gail:

[crosstalk] flower or something like that. Yeah, no, I didn’t either. I ended up not using it. So, there you go.

Stephanie:

Okay, tiger nut flower. I kind of want to check it out and see if I can make a [inaudible] or something [crosstalk].

Gail:

Yeah, maybe you’re good.

Stephanie:

What’s up next on your reading list?

Gail:

Next up on my reading list is … I tell you what, I started a book and I am on the last chapter and I’ve been on the last chapter for about four months now. So, I really want to finish the last chapter and I know this sounds so boring and I’m really embarrassed to say it but it’s a book about the grocery industry. But it sounds really boring, oh, my gosh. But what makes it so exciting is it really just shows the role that food has had in people’s lives and that’s really what I love about it. So, I don’t want people to think, “Oh, my God. She’s obsessed with groceries.” I’m really not but I’m obsessed with food.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So, it’s a page turner until the last chapter?

Gail:

Yes, exactly. And then, all hell breaks loose. It’s been busy, we’ve been so busy. It’s embarrassing to admit actually.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Well, let’s check that out. Do you remember the name because now I’m actually-

Gail:

It’s called Grocery.

Stephanie:

Oh, it’s just called Grocery? Wow.

Gail:

It’s called Grocery and it’s actually on The New York Times bestseller list, in my defense. So-

Stephanie:

Oh, well, okay.

Gail:

… it’s a really, really good book. Check it out.

Stephanie:

You don’t have to defend it, come on.

Gail:

Yeah, I don’t have to defend it. The New York Times said it, so must be true.

Stephanie:

So, if you had a podcast, what would it be about and who would your first guest be?

Gail:

That is a good question. What would it be about? It would be about risk taking.

Stephanie:

Okay.

Gail:

And not just as it relates to companies but as it relates to life. I was just having a conversation with someone who broke up with someone in their life and I said to them, “The easiest thing is to stay. The hardest thing is to leave.” And I think that’s so true and I apply it to my own life in how I started CAULIPOWER and, I think, we can all apply it to every part of our life. There’s a famous quote that inspires me every day and it’s, “Drowning is not what happens when you fall in the water. It’s what happens when you stay there.”

Stephanie:

Hmm, that’s a good one. Love that. Wow. Okay, next question.

Gail:

Okay.

Stephanie:

What’s one thing you don’t understand today but wish you did?

Gail:

One thing I don’t understand today but wish I did. Oh, my gosh, this is tough. I don’t know. All of our supply chain issues.

Stephanie:

You and everyone else.

Gail:

I do get, I do understand it. I don’t understand why the truck just can’t come and pick it up. It’s something we struggle with like everybody in this industry right now is struggling with. And, sometimes, people just don’t show up and it’s heartbreaking. And so, yeah, I guess intuitively I understand it but still beating my head against a wall.

Stephanie:

Yeah, yeah. A lot of people have said that so-

Gail:

Oh, really? Okay, good. Okay, yeah.

Stephanie:

Yeah, a lot of people. All right. Now, last one.

Gail:

Okay.

Stephanie:

What’s the most memorable thing someone’s done for you?

Gail:

I might start crying.

Stephanie:

It’s okay.

Gail:

But probably my dad who came here with nothing and built a small, small business in San Francisco, bought a house in the early 1970s for $62,000 in the middle of San Francisco.

Stephanie:

Wow.

Gail:

And when he passed away, he left me the house and I sold it and I put every last dime into CAULIPOWER.

Stephanie:

Wow.

Gail:

And CAULIPOWER would not exist today if it wasn’t for that little pink house. And the hard part is he didn’t know what that house did for me. Although-

Stephanie:

He might.

Gail:

He might. And you know what? Today is his birthday. Today would’ve been-

Stephanie:

Happy birthday, dad.

Gail:

… his birthday. Today would have been his birthday. So, Dad, if you’re listening-

Stephanie:

He definitely is.

Gail:

… thank you for the house.

Stephanie:

Wow. Do you have a picture of the house that you have in your house?

Gail:

I do have a picture. I do have the tiny little pink house. Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie:

That’s amazing. Well, that is the best way to end this episode. So, Gail, thank you so much for coming on here, sharing your story. It’s amazing, it’s powerful and I loved every minute. So, where can people find out more about you and CAULIPOWER?

Gail:

Well, to find out more about CAULIPOWER, you can go to eatcauliepower.com or you can go to CAULIPOWER on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. And, can I offer a little special something for your listeners?

Stephanie:

Yes.

Gail:

Excellent. So, anyone who DMs us at any of our social channels at CAULIPOWER, all you have to say is Next in Commerce and we will send you a free coupon for any free product.

Stephanie:

Wow.

Gail:

Who doesn’t love free? There you go.

Stephanie:

I’m doing it right now.

Gail:

Please do, please do.

Stephanie:

Stephanie, you’re not allowed.

Gail:

There might even be two for you. Go for it, Stephanie.

Stephanie:

Yes, thank you, Gail, so much. This was a pleasure.

Gail:

Thank you. Pleasure’s all mine,

Episode 174