In 2013, when I was getting ready to launch Not Ketchup, my line of all-natural condiments, I had a secret weapon: Food Bloggers Los Angeles (FBLA), a professional networking group I co-founded in 2009.
Now several hundred members strong, FBLA meets monthly for education, exploration, and community service. My fellow food bloggers and I cook for each other at themed potlucks, prepare meals for women’s shelters, recruit social media and technology experts to lead roundtable discussions, and organize food crawls throughout Los Angeles. Members bring both culinary and business skills to the group. In addition to learning about food, over the years we have taught each other how to write, understand website analytics, use new social media tools, take better photos, work with PR reps, and sell our value as “influencers” as the media landscape shifts under our feet.
When I started playing with recipes for my fruit “ketchups,” my fellow food bloggers were my first guinea pigs. I brought samples to monthly meetings and asked for feedback. Did it need more salt? Which flavor worked better with chicken? Was it spicy enough? Which of the three potential names did they like most? How would they describe this sauce to a friend? FBLA members served as taste-testers, focus groups, and marketing consultants. And they were happy to do it, eager to help me get my business off the ground.
I bottled Not Ketchup for the first time in January 2014, and FBLA members got the very first samples. My husband and I spent an entire day driving around Los Angeles, hand-delivering Not Ketchup to blogger friends who stood ready to talk up my products online. Within days they had published dozens of blog posts with beautiful photos and original recipes. Every blog post and social media share drove traffic to my website and jumpstarted sales.
Through FBLA, I also met traditional journalists and those relationships led to national news coverage in print, on TV, and online – all of which helped introduce Not Ketchup to foodies across North America. When I was looking for natural fig paste for a new flavor, I called the head of the California Fig Advisory Board, whom I’d met at a food blogging conference. Not only did she point me to suppliers, she took my Spiced Fig Not Ketchup to New York for her annual deskside meetings with magazine editors.
Two years later, in 2016, a different Business-to-Business (B2B) community supported Not Ketchup as I went through a major rebranding. Seeing the increasing interest in Paleo, Whole30, and ketogenic diets – and dealing with my own diagnosis of type 2 diabetes – I made radical changes to my Not Ketchup recipes and removed all the added sugar, sweetening my new sauces only with real, whole fruit. I had new labels, a new story to tell, and new market segments to reach.
So, in addition to my FBLA friends, I hooked up with Hubba, an online B2B community that brings together emerging brands, retail buyers, and influencers. I created detailed product listings and a profile that told the story of my brand. Hubba has discussion forums where I started interacting with other artisan food brand owners, sharing my expertise and learning from others.
Hubba has been a tremendous resource as I’ve taken my company in this new direction: Within days of signing up, buyers who focus on healthy living reached out to me, resulting in new wholesale accounts. Because of Hubba, my business is now international: Fruitchup, my healthy ketchup, is now selling in Canada. That’s the power of community.