Lessons from five food industry entrepreneurs

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — For Birch Benders, a Denver-based maker of premium pancake mixes, a commodity crisis became a blessing for the bottom line when avian influenza eviscerated the industry egg supply several years ago.

“It’s 2015, we’re getting into Target nationwide, and suddenly we can’t get eggs,” recalled Lizzi Ackerman, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Birch Benders. “I’m calling our egg supplier, like, ‘What should we do?’ And he’s like, ‘You should just shut down. That’s what our other customers are doing.’”

Instead, Ms. Ackerman said she and co-founder and chief executive officer Matt LaCasse reformulated the products to remove the eggs “without our customers noticing.” As a result, margins improved dramatically, and, Ms. Ackerman added, “we don’t have to deal with an unstable commodity.”

Pivoting is an essential move in an entrepreneur’s repertoire. During a panel discussion at Natural Products Expo West, five founders of top natural and organic food brands shared some of the toughest lessons learned in the early stages of business.

“We’ve taken on projects that seem nearly impossible,” Ms. Ackerman said during the discussion. “Some of the best ideas come from being at a point where you’re not quite comfortable and you’re not sure how you’re going to make it work.”

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