The Current, delivered daily.
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
New advertising opportunities are being beta tested for in-store audio and product demos.
Retail media’s fast growth isn’t only limited to increasing spend. The advertising itself is also poised to appear in more places beyond ecommerce marketplaces, and even beyond the web.
The latest example comes from Walmart Connect, which is the retail media arm of the world’s largest retailer.
Walmart shared details on testing that it is completing for in-store retail media. To this point, Walmart Connect has been considered the advertising platform for Walmart’s ecommerce site. But these tests indicate that’s poised to expand.
Stores present a potent opportunity for Walmart. It has 4,700 big box locations around the U.S., and customers returned to them in droves last year. In 2022, 88% of the retailer’s customers visited Walmart stores.
Walmart Connect already has already dipped a toe into in-store advertising, with a TV wall, self-checkout ads and integrated marketing. The new pilots aim to take a step further.
“The next frontier of retail media is in-store experiences, and it’s one we’re excited to chart,” Whitney Cooper, head of omnichannel transformation at Walmart Connect, wrote in a blog post on the new tests. “But it’s still an emerging opportunity for us, as we continue to test what serves customers best and which solutions are scalable to Walmart’s size.”
Here’s a look at the two new offerings currently under beta test:
Walmart suppliers will be able to integrate product demos into campaigns across in-store and digital environments.
Product demos aren’t new to store floors, but Walmart Connect is seeking to give them an update that blends digital and physical experiences.
“Part of our test is how to enhance the omnichannel experience by bridging the physical back to digital: For example, by pairing a demo cart with QR codes that link back to a curated Walmart.com landing page so customers can find inspiration and shop their list all in one spot,” Cooper wrote.
Walmart is currently offering 120 demos at stores each weekend, and plans to scale to 1,000 by the end of 2023.
Walmart Connect will now offer advertising placements on Walmart’s in-store radio network. Suppliers will have the option to purchase ads by region or store, enabling targeting of key markets.
“This is the first time brands will be able to speak directly to Walmart customers through this medium,” Cooper writes. “These ads also create a new upper-funnel touchpoint for brand marketers and out-of-home (OOH) buyers to create awareness, because in-store audio is about connecting with customers wherever they are in the store — they don’t have to pass the brand in the aisle.”
With the tests, we’ll be watching for how this advertising is measured, and whether Walmart Connect is tracking impact across different types of formats, and not just a single campaign.