In Edible-Alpha® episode #21, Tera talks with Matt and Clare Stoner Fehsenfeld, the married duo behind Quince and Apple, a national brand of small-batch, well-balanced preserves that are often paired with cheese and charcuterie. When they started their business, they realized that because they have a labor-intensive, artisanal product, their best strategy was not to compete on quantity or price. Instead, they chose to compete by dominating an emerging niche (pairing their products with specialty cheeses) while telling the defensibly unique story of their brand’s artisanal processes.
Partnerships with specialty cheese shops as trendsetters and capitalizing on the explosive growth of the artisanal and good food movement has helped them to be successful. Most of their products reach the consumer through distribution, but they do have direct relationships with small, independent artisan food stores and need both channels to make their business model work. They get retailers to accept and move their product by helping them tell their story and demonstrating how their product helps increase the retailer’s average basket size, due to its pairing qualities. They priced their product knowing they were going to sell into wholesale distribution in grocery stores and never sold at farmers markets because they didn’t want to build their cost structure around farmers market pricing.
Keeping production in-house has allowed them to keep costs down and control their unique manufacturing processes. However, the regulatory environment has become more stringent since they began and that has raised the compliance burden for their company. This, combined with trying to match their production with the demands of a national market has proven to be their biggest operational challenge as a national brand.
Because they make their product in small batches and chose to grow slowly, they have had to be patient in going national and reaching breakeven. While they didn’t seek outside investor money to accelerate top-line sales growth like other national brands, they did utilize term loans for equipment purchases and a line of credit for working capital to finance the seasonal nature of their business. Matt views a collaborative relationship with a lender as essential for anyone wanting to start or grow his or her business.
When asked about their advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs, Clare cautioned that food entrepreneurs should be aware of the financial and other sacrifices of this lifestyle. Matt advises that having great products with great branding is necessary but not enough to be successful. He says food entrepreneurs should focus on developing their business skills (honing their value proposition, developing financial literacy, etc.) to support building their business. Both Matt and Clare also reflected that it is difficult for one person to be both process-oriented and brand-oriented. However, both orientations are needed and they as a team are able to bring both mindsets to bear in running their business successfully.