How I Scaled My Small Business From Farmer's Market Stall to National Brand

This founder never planned on having a national CPG brand but ended up as a Whole Foods staple. Learn the tactics that helped her grow.

Aug 9, 2023 5 min readFlow
Photo of Starr Edwards
Starr Edwards

Founder & CEO of Bitchin’ Sauce

I never planned to run a national consumer-packed goods (CPG) brand. My business started out of a simple need to contribute to my growing family. I didn’t even set out to sell products at all—I was a personal chef, trying to get clients. I brought my almond-based sauce to a farmer’s market, hoping people would get a taste and decide to hire me. Instead, everyone kept asking how they could buy a jar of the sauce! We repainted our sign to double down on the dip, and just like that, Bitchin’ Sauce was born.

Because of our unusual beginnings, I never had the detailed growth plan that many of my peers in the CPG space have. The first time I tried to create anything remotely resembling a plan, it was just a few scaling goals scribbled down: Whole Foods Market, UNFI, East Coast. That’s where I wanted us to grow—but I had no idea how to make it happen. So, I decided to take advantage of every opportunity that was presented to us and figure things out along the way.

Miraculously, it worked. We went from selling every tub of plant-based dip directly to customers at local farmers’ markets in 2010 to landing in our first Whole Foods Markets in 2013 and then starting to distribute nationally in 2015. Today, we’re selling in over 12,000 stores across the United States and British Columbia. That always-growing number includes the mom-and-pop stores we’ve always partnered with all the way up to the biggest names like Kroger, Target, Walmart, Sprouts, Albertsons, Costco, Ahold Delhaize, and more.

If you, similarly, have ambitious growth goals but feel unsure how to reach them, here are some of the steps that helped us make it happen—without deep industry knowledge or a real plan in place.

We worked backward from our goals to determine what we needed to learn

When you’re trying to grow a small business into a big brand, the chasm between where you are and where you want to be can feel vast and overwhelming. It helped me to think of where I wanted the company to be, and work backward to figure out the steps I needed to take now to eventually get there.

For instance, when I thought about getting into Whole Foods, I knew we would need to eventually invoice them properly. And in order to do that, I would need professional accounting software. To get that, I needed to research and select the best one for our company's size and budget. By breaking down every nebulous and overwhelming goal like this, I had a tangible task list and knew (at least some of) the steps I needed to start with.

Bit by bit, I dug in and figured everything out. It also helped that I had a mindset of seeing every new challenge as an exciting opportunity. Learning how to calculate nutrition facts was fun to me; becoming a mechanic for our used piston filler was an adventure (even when it blew up on me a few times); writing a 500-page food safety manual with no experience was a lot of work, but I’m so thankful of how much I know about it now.

Eventually, it was worth hiring people with more industry expertise, so I didn’t have to spend time learning every facet of the business on my own. But for the first few years, when we had no capital, being undaunted by figuring things out myself was critical.

We found partners who were willing to guide us through the process

Of course, when it comes to scaling in an unfamiliar industry, there’s so much you don’t know you don’t know. That’s where asking for help and finding mentors to guide us through the process was so valuable. And in fact, our customers and vendors ended up being our best teachers.

I remember walking into one of the first grocery stores we wanted to distribute in and trying to hand them a tub of sauce in hopes that they’d love it and stock it. They came back with a ton of questions I didn’t know the answer to: What’s the best buy date? Do you have a UPC? What’s the cost per unit? Looking back, those were the most basic of questions, but having them guide me through what we needed to do so they could distribute our goods was critical. Costco has since become one of our greatest mentors for growth because they have such strict standards and never let up on us, but they’re also always willing to educate.

It’s easy to feel like you must have it all figured out (or at least appear that way) when talking to buyers, but our tactic was always more about asking questions that would help us determine how to best serve them. It didn’t cause these future partners to not take us seriously (or to try and take advantage of us)—instead, it opened the door for them to help us, and allowed us to make growth gains we couldn’t have done on our own. The more I asked questions, the more I figured out the rules of the game and was able to play.

We used a modular growth structure to keep pace with demand

One of the hardest things about scaling is ensuring sales and demand match production. You don’t want to overproduce and have a surplus of goods, since that’s just wasted time and resources. But you also want to have enough product on hand to quickly take advantage of opportunities when they come your way.

We found that a somewhat modular approach to growth helped us navigate this balance. For instance, many companies are tempted to upgrade to larger production machines when they have dreams of scaling. But what we learned from others in the industry is that the big machines break just as much as the small ones do—and if you’ve invested in one machine to produce everything, it takes the whole line down. Instead, we decided to start with a bunch of smaller machines (Vitamixes for us). That way, if one broke, we could keep producing on the others. Manufacturing ourselves instead of immediately outsourcing also gave us nimbleness: We didn’t have to overproduce to hit a MOQ (minimum order quantity) and could work through the night if needed to respond quickly to last-minute orders.

This approach also helped with our cash flow, preventing us from ever feeling desperate to raise money or take drastic measures just to keep the doors open. We didn’t try to outgrow what was happening organically and stayed patient—and it really paid off in the long run.

We had a product we were always excited to share

In the end, none of this would have worked if we didn’t have a product that people loved—and didn’t work hard to get as many new folks to taste it as possible. Sampling at the farmer’s market is how our journey started, and sampling has been instrumental in keeping us growing. Many of our grocery buyers found us from sampling at the market, participating in the Costco roadshow, and offering in-store samples has kept our sales there high, and being willing to go to our partner stores and introduce customers to our products is what’s kept our vendor relationships strong.

Getting to be there in person—to curate that moment of initial impact for potential new shoppers—is a powerful barrier-breaking tactic. It introduces Bitchin’ Sauce as something social, a novel experience that people want to remember and share. In a tangible and grassroots way, we’ve made a lot of really enthusiastic fans through this type of personable approach, bringing the farmers market experience everywhere we go.

As I look back on what’s gotten us to where we are, it’s really been an insistence on keeping our heads attached to our shoulders. It's being humble enough to ask questions again and again and again. It’s allowing the complexity of the journey—and the unexpected discoveries—to be something that thrills rather than terrifies. It’s been about maintaining a level of earnestness and healthy vulnerability that lets you make allies, find mentors, and assemble a strong team of like-minded employees. All of that can happen when you have a product that you really believe in.

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