Wednesday, November 7, 2012

VFVC Producer Spotlight: Yummy Yammy Sweet Potato Dips

Lisa Johnson of Yummy Yammy (far left) with our VFVC crew!

Vermont Food Venture Center Producer Spotlight

Lisa Johnson of Yummy Yammy, was one of the first clients we took on the Vermont Food Venture Center. Since her start, her fantastic energy and dedication have been an inspiration to all of us!

In our interview, she offers marketing tips, challenges and what it means to move forward. I hope you will enjoy the conversation as much as I did! Check out her product and website at

-Elena Gustavson, Program Director

CAE: I've read your FAQ on the website and love the idea you took a food that you enjoyed and brought it to the next level. Now, a few years later, tell us the truth...are you tired of sweet potatoes?

LJ: I know, it seems I should be, huh?  
I've calculated that since my first home-based recipe drafts, I (and Connor!) have cooked about 7000 pounds of sweet-potatoes. And I still love them. I'm roasting them for breakfast tomorrow morning -- my kids love them with feta cheese before school. Quick, easy, hot, really nourishing. 

CAE: I'm a fan of the Fiery Honey Lemon Dip, paired with crackers and slices of cheese. It's dinner! Which one is THE customer favorite?

LJ: I LOVE that combination too!
Retailers always want to know the 3 best sellers. I was a natural foods grocer myself for 12 years, and I always wanted to know this, too. My pie chart shows Medium Fiesta Dip with a slight lead, and all 4 of the others completely tied. I guess Medium is the best seller because it sounds safely in the middle. But really, it depends on whether you like heat or not, sweet or not (two have Vermont honey in them), whether you want chunky or smooth, whether you eat sandwiches/wraps/cheese and crackers, or nachos and burritos. And everyone's different! 

CAE: Your website is so much fun. One of the challenges of being a small business, is marketing your product. Any secrets you want to share?

LJ: I'm so glad you find it fun. That's one of my major goals. I decided early on, if I'm going to promote an orange food out of the ground, I'd better have a sense of humor. 

Two combined secrets: the taste of food is not an intellectual experience -- it's a sensory experience. And, under-promise and over-deliver

An example of this is, at tastings I ALWAYS offer samples. I can't stand talking about food without food there to eat. It's not a concept, it's a flavor, color, smell, and consistency experience that brings up memories and intrigues the senses. We all make such great foods, always get people to eat it; don't talk too much. So, at a tasting, I start with, "Everything's made of sweet potato." They taste it. Then, after people love it, I tell them there's no fat. That's a fact that gives them the feeling of over-delivering: they already found a dip they like the taste of, and now they're finding out it's also fat-free. Then I tell them there's also tons of nutrition, making it the "opposite of just about every dip in America". Again, over-delivered. Then, when they buy one from me, I give them a cute little refrigerator magnet "just for fun" = one more little delightful over-delivering.

Also, I think the biggest challenge of marketing, especially for folks like us who are putting our lives into that jar/bag/box/bottle of food... Marketing always works better when it's about how it's going to benefit the customer. Not about the great features I've put into it. For example, my current label says, 

"At Yummy Yammy we roast naturally nutritious, U.S. grown, orange sweet potatoes, then add delicious, wholesome ingredients to make the yummiest food anywhere." 

It's all about the features, all about what I am doing. Customers don't care. They just want to know what's in it for them, in their busy lives. 

Our next labels will say something like, "You will feel so good eating our new, fun sweet potato dips. Why? 'Cuz they're delicious and loaded with nutrition from America's favorite super-food: sweet potato. Yup, they're also naturally fat-free. Enjoy!" Totally different, all about benefit. Benefit to the customer. I'm constantly making sure I'm speaking to the customers' needs, not mine.

CAE: Now that you are three years in, what is your next step?

LJ: Sad as it feels at times, this means the VFVC has been super successful for me! Honestly, I would have shut down in July 2011 if the VFVC hadn't opened. I couldn't do one more summer day with 9 crock pots going at once in my kitchen! It is a great place to find out if your product has a future or not. I can't thank you all enough.

As hard as it is to imagine, I am beginning to plan our fledging from the Center. I keep reminding myself that this is the plan for an incubator: to give safe shelter to a start-up until it's strong enough to survive in the outside world, til it's getting big enough that the numbers will add up better outside. While I've been at the Center (YyYy was the 2nd company in the door, starting July 2011), the stability has allowed me to solidly establish pricing, good labeling, food safety plan, marketing, distribution (!), trade show planning, inventory sourcing and management, production needs, retail relationships, and effective acidified food production. 

Whew! Now it's getting to be time to stop peeling sweeties by hand, and move on to a profitable business model.

Yummy Yammy Sweet Potato Dips can be found online or at retail establishments throughout the Northeast, including:

Dan & Whits, Norwich, VT
Hanover Coop Foodstore, Hanover, NH
Whole Food Market, Hingham, MA
White River Coop, White River Junction, VT

and several other locations!

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