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David Czinn and Brian Finkel started sustainable superfood company D’Vash Organics by selling at farmers markets.
Today, the brand’s date-based sweetener and snack products are sold in 9,500 stores with a model that stretches across wholesale, retail and ecommerce channels. Its business lines span from food service to direct-to-consumer to B2B.
And it recently got a fresh boost. When we caught up with Czinn recently, the Los Angeles-based company was rolling out its date syrup in 2,800 Walmart and Costco stores, as well as date bars in Sam’s Club locations.
The company's journey to this point offers plenty of insights into building a brand. During a recent interview, Czinn shared what’s working now, and learnings along the way. Here are the key takeaways:
In college, Czinn and Finkel used to joke about starting a business. They also shared a passion for food. Those ended up coming together after Finkel learned about date syrup on a consulting project in Israel. With dates also having a big presence in California, where Czinn was based, they realized there was a business opportunity. After research, sampling and consulting with food industry experts, they decided to move forward with launching.
The products stand out on a couple levels. For one, dates bring a healthier option to the sweets category. Date syrup is vegan, it has 25% less sugar than honey and it’s a low glycemic food. For those who aren't familiar with dates, it also has a subtler taste.
“The beauty of the sweetener is that it’s so versatile that you don’t necessarily know that it’s made from dates,” Czinn said. “The fact that you can use this as an alternative to cane sugar, maple syrup and honey is really perfect.”
The recipe also includes sustainability. The products are made from recycled produce in order to reduce food waste.
From farmers markets to Dubai
When Czinn and Finkel first sensed they were on to something, they started selling right away. Farmers markets and holiday markets in Los Angeles provided venues to make sales. Perhaps more importantly, they also provided a chance to get valuable early feedback. The D'Vash team A/B tested logos, products, packaging labels and designs at the markets. The learnings along the way helped put them on a path to retail.
Later, after conversations with buyers from Whole Foods and Sprouts, they started expanding the product line. Now, it includes date paste, date sugar, date bars and date bites. What started with syrup is now setting up to become a wide-reaching date company.
With interest from buyers and customers, another key step to expansion was bolstering production. Czinn wanted to diversify the supply chain. A 2021 partnership with Al Barakah Dates Factory in Dubai boosted capacity to grow. Czinn said the company initially reached out to the factory via email. It ended up leading to one of their most important partnerships.
“It’s amazing what just one email was able to do and where it’s allowed us to go today,” Czinn said.
Every company is a marketing company
The expansion has included growing sales on ecommerce channels. Following a pandemic-era push in which brands benefitted from the ease of selling online and shoppers got more comfortable with digital channels, the company has a big presence on Amazon. It is also growing on channels including Shopify and Thrive Market.
With ecommerce, content is particularly important alongside product and operations, Czinn said. That resonates across every channel.
“Every CPG company, every retail company has to look at themselves as a marketing company because it’s on you today to tell your story. It’s on you to come up with the content and the branding that you want to speak to your community and your consumers.”
Lately, TikTok has proven to be a particularly successful platform for growth. The brand is working with creators who post short-form videos on that app, as well as Instagram. With a coupon code, the brand can track the results of campaigns on TikTok.
“TikTok has been incredible and we’ve only scratched the surface there,” Czinn said. It reminds him of the rise of Facebook over the last decade, as brands realized the power of the tools and the potential they brought for growth. “It’s a nascent channel where there’s so much opportunity if you can execute it appropriately,” he said.
Alongside marketing, brands that can build loyalty are likely to gain repeat customers. Czinn said D’Vash has built some of its biggest fans through a focus on customer service. The team responds within 30 minutes and is attentive to what customers want. This has also helped to bring about shifts. Reported issues with previous partners who were shipping the company’s initial products in glass containers helped to bring about a change to BPA-free, recycled plastic packaging, which also turned out to be a must for ecommerce.
While building a brand, business strategies and tactics may change, but an orientation toward customers must remain.
“You need to constantly pivot and constantly change direction if you have to, but you always need to put the customer first,” Czinn said.
Trending in Marketing
The job market continues to hum.
The labor market continued to show strength to start 2023, as the monthly jobs report posted big numbers.
Key data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly jobs report:
- Unemployment fell to 3.4%, ticking down from 3.5% in December to remain at historic lows.
- The economy added jobs to the tune of 517,000, which bested the 2022 average of 401,000.
- Average hourly wages rose by $0.10, marking year-over-year growth of 4.4%.
The Current’s view: The labor market continues to be an economic outlier. While there are signs of consumer pullback and belt-tightening among tech companies and retailers after months of high inflation, the job picture remains bright. While tech companies and some retailers are cutting back markedly, there are few signs of the widespread “pain” that economists predicted in this indicator of the economy.
What brands and retailers are thinking: Jobs are a major indicator of demand, and the labor market continues to hum along. That means the consumer pullback is tied to choices about discretionary spending and holding off on certain purchases in the face of high prices, moreso than being unable to afford items altogether.
What the Fed is thinking: Here’s more evidence that a soft landing might be possible. The Fed has been raising interest rates to bring down inflation. There is risk that this will slow down the economy, including employment. There was some slowing in job growth in December, but this report indicates labor market softening still hasn’t happened for a sustained period, even as inflation is cooling. After the central bank scaled back its latest interest rate hike to 0.25% on Wednesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said he sees a “path” to bringing down inflation without a significant rise in unemployment. Here’s one more piece of data to bolster that belief.
Keep in mind: The labor market is still out of balance between supply and demand. This report shows a big rise in jobs and the labor force participation rate remaining the same. Job openings actually increased in December, the Labor Department found. So there a still the case. Eventually, it will likely have to come into balance. But given the unpredictability of this economic era, it’s tough to know when, or even how.