I love hot and spicy food. One of the best things about living in Dallas-Fort Worth is going to ZestFest every year.
ZestFest is a trade show devoted to hot and spicy food products. It’s got jalapeno salsas, habanero salsas, spicy BBQ sauces, hot-n-spicy pickles, peppery pralines, dessert sauces with Scoville ratings… you get the idea. These are not items you’ll find in your local grocery store. Most of them are available only through the internet or mail order, unless you’re lucky enough to live here and have something like Central Market.
We went last year and had a terrific time. The place was full of mostly small businesses, often family-run outfits who had a great recipe that everyone loved. They had heard over and over again that it was so good they ought to sell it, so they finally put together a recipe, found a bottler, and were off to the races. And they had wonderful stories about their products. They really believed in them, and it shone through in every conversation you had.
You like a sweet and spicy but really hot salsa? Someone at ZestFest had it. You like a fruit-based BBQ sauce, but with some heat? A spicy Ethiopian sauce? Here it is. You love jalapenos, but you want a great-tasting pickle, not the nasty canned ones? Right over there.
So we went to ZestFest in Fort Worth a couple of weekends ago with great expectations… which were promptly dashed.
The place was full of bigger-name vendors. TGI Fridays. Budweiser. Hot sauces my mother can get at her grocery store in rural Mississippi. The specialty hot sauces that tasted incredible and were really new and different–where were they?
Where were all the little guys? Mostly not there. And the ones who WERE there seem to have forgotten about the need for a great recipe. Instead, they’ve skipped great product and gone straight to great marketing… you know, the wild and crazy name (say, Leslie’s 007-Secret Spy Nuclear Hot Sauce… So Hot You’ll Glow In The Dark) , the glitzy, cartoonish label, the people in the booth dressed like pirates or whatever.
We left with only two items, a great Asian-inspired BBQ sauce and an African sauce. Last year we found EIGHT sauces we couldn’t live without.
As we drove, complaining, back to Dallas, it occurred to me that there are lessons to be learned here.
1) Some wellness businesses spend more time dreaming up the perfect name or logo than they do actually developing programs that will make a difference in customers’ lives.
We bought Chef Dean Martin’s Asian BBQ Sauce & Marinade this year. Cute and clever name? Ummm… no, not really. Glittery exotic label? Nope, pretty ordinary. But the sauce is amazing, and the people selling it took the time to actually engage with each customer, offer samples, and give you ideas about the best ways to use the sauce. No showmanship whatsoever–just great sauce and genuine conversations with customers.
2) Some wellness businesses spend big bucks on promotion–elaborate trade show booths, radio, TV, and newspaper ads, four-color full-page magazine spreads–only to be disappointed when nothing much happens. Yet, if they had focused on making their products and services great, word of mouth from happy and loyal customers would have added measurable new revenues and profits.
We bought Uncle Brutha’s Gourmet Fire Sauce #10 last year. Absolutely delicious. Uncle Brutha’s never advertises–I doubt they can afford it. But we were so happy with it that we recommended it to a couple of friends who bought it, and to a local store. We’ve reordered since then ourselves. And the cost to them of getting all these new customers–almost nothing. It doesn’t hurt that their customer service is both personal and excellent.
3) Some wellness businesses “bolt on” a sales and marketing approach that doesn’t really fit their style or their product. For example, they make cold calls when they hate doing it and don’t get good results. Or they feel that they have to use a high-pressure sales pitch, even though they privately think it’s sleazy.
Here’s what I mean: Pirate themes were “in” at this year’s ZestFest. No idea why, but people in pirate costumes staffed several booths. They were full of “ahoys” and “yo ho hos”. Of course, that didn’t leave much time to actually talk about how great their hot sauce was and what made it special. And they didn’t actually have genuine conversations with anyone who stopped by. But the play’s the thing, right? Right?
On the other hand, the guy pitching Ebesse Zozo Hot Sauce, an African-inspired sauce, is from Africa. He MAKES the sauce. He dresses in African clothing, plays African music at the booth. He’s got a truly effervescent and happy personality. It works, and it’s totally consistent with the product. There’s nothing fake, nothing forced about it. He’s not outgoing because someone said he should be. He’s genuinely excited about the sauce. He really clicks with potential customers, describing the sauces and what they’re good with.
We bought that one.
The pirates? Skipped right past ’em.
4) Some wellness businesses (think weight management, for example) have the classic sales pitch nailed….”You’ll change your life” or “Take control of your future”. But their programs don’t deliver. In truth, they’re just trying to jump on a bandwagon and make a buck. Or they mean well but haven’t gotten past what worked for them to thinking more broadly. You can tout the benefits your weight loss plan offers all day long, but if the plan is ill-conceived and doesn’t work, customers will eventually notice.
Several of the new hot sauce vendors we saw had the usually selling points nailed…”It has flavor, not just heat” or “Great on grilled meat”. But the actual sauces–nothing to write home about. Nothing unique, nothing special. And simply mouthing the usual selling points doesn’t mean it’s true. Customers may believe you once, but if your product or service doesn’t deliver, they won’t be back and they won’t refer others to you.
Food for thought.
PS Our hot sauce recommendations:
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