Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, I’m Elizabeth Giannuzzi, co-founder and CEO of Siren Snacks. Siren is a snack company focused on re-imagining the protein bar aisle and creating convenient snacks using simple, plant-based ingredients.
At Siren, I’m focused on sales, marketing, finance, and new product development. Today we make several lines of bite-sized snacks with added functional benefits including protein bites, energy bites, relaxation bites, and keto bites.
Our products are sold online and in over 7,000 stores across the US including Whole Foods, Target, CVS, and more.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Our brand started by trying to solve a personal problem - I had switched to a vegan diet, and was trying to eliminate packaged products made from processed ingredients. With the transition to a vegan diet, I found it hard to get enough protein, and all of the plant-based protein bars available either tasted chalky or had long lists of unrecognizable ingredients that I didn’t feel good about.
Know that you will make mistakes along the way and that’s ok!
My sister Abby and I decided there had to be a better option, so we started creating our plant-based protein bites in our dorm room kitchen while we were students together.
After sharing these recipes with friends and family, we realized we were not the only people who found it challenging to find great plant-based protein snacks- this was a common pain point that many health-conscious shoppers faced.
That gave us the confidence to begin making these in a local commercial kitchen and dropping off samples to local grocery stores - we found that these local markets were interested in putting our bites on the shelf, and the early traction encouraged us to keep going, quit our jobs, and run Siren Snacks full-time.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Our prototypes were made in a dorm room kitchen using ingredients we bought on Amazon or from Costco. They tasted great but were not shelf-stable for more than a few weeks and the process of making them was very tedious.
We needed help to make these at scale and needed to understand how to keep them shelf-stable for more than a week, so we hired a food scientist who worked with us and was able to honor our strict ingredient standards of no animal products, no preservatives, nothing artificial, and no grains or gluten.
It took several months to get the recipe right, and we continued to tweak and improve it even after launching the brand. Our learning here was that it's ok to launch before you feel ‘ready’, and you can continue to improve and tweak your product once it's in the market based on customer feedback.
We initially tried to find a co-packer or manufacturing partner to make Siren Snacks for us at the time we launched, but we were told that our brand was too small and we needed to hit larger quantities for them to bring us on and make Siren for us.
So, the first 2 years were spent manufacturing Siren Snacks ourselves in a shared commercial kitchen and then manufactured at our production facility in the Dogpatch neighborhood in San Francisco.
During the first two years, we relied primarily on our savings, along with a convertible note ‘seed round’ to provide the capital to keep the business growing.
Say “Yes” to as many opportunities as you can!
It wasn’t until our third year in business that we were able to attract the attention of a co-packaging partner and hit the minimum order quantities that they required to work together.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Early on, the hardest part of launching our business was taking the home recipes we made for ourselves and scaling them up so they can be made using wholesale ingredients and produced efficiently at scale.
For the first 2 years, we were making everything ourselves in a shared commercial kitchen which allowed us to continue to tweak and optimize our recipe and manufacturing process. We also enlisted the help of several food scientists and operations experts to help us extend our shelf life, improve our flavors, and manufacture our bites more efficiently.
In the first two years, my job consisted of lots of cold calling and showing up at grocery stores across California with boxes of samples to share with the grocery buyers. Once you connect with the buyer, you just have a few minutes to give your pitch and hope they enjoy the samples!
Putting myself out there and visiting so many stores was definitely outside my comfort zone, but it helped us to quickly build up a core group of local stores that stocked Siren Snacks and still have our products on the shelf today!
During the first few years, we also sold our snacks online at SirenSnacks.com. We didn’t have any marketing hires or marketing budget, so we relied primarily on word-of-mouth marketing and sampling at events to grow our e-commerce sales.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We’ve found that offering a unique, high-quality product helps us retain customers and keep them coming back for more.
Growing Our Wholesale Operation
When speaking with wholesale buyers, we found that having the founders share our story and why we created the products was much more impactful and successful than relying on third-party brokers or outsourced salespeople. We focused on starting with Northern California stores, proving strong sales in a small collection of grocery stores, and then using those metrics as case studies to help us expand into other grocery chains and regions.
We’ve done everything from local events at gyms and offices to sampling at our local grocery stores. Handing out samples and letting customers interact with our team at events was a great way to share our brand story and get customers excited about our products. We also found that creating colorful, social media-friendly booths at events always helped bring people to our table.
Word Of Mouth & Brand Ambassador Program
We also find that word of mouth marketing has been very valuable, and have built a brand ambassador program to reward our top customers and superfans for spreading the word about Siren. We provide our brand ambassadors with a special affiliate code and discount and provide them with a commission for all new customers and sales they generate. We also aim to create a sense of community with our brand ambassadors so they feel like an extension of our company and team.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re coming up on our four-year anniversary, and are proud of how quickly we’ve been able to grow with a small and scrappy team. We have 4 unique product lines, 13 flavors, and distribution in over 7,000 retail stores across the US. Siren Snacks are sold in retailers including Target, CVS, Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, Jamba Juice, and more.
Looking ahead, we’re excited to expand into the club channel with retailers like Costco and are designing a larger format pack size for Costco that we hope to launch later this year. We’re also working on reestablishing partnerships with our office and foodservice customers, many of which closed in early 2020 due to Covid and are beginning to reopen as employees come back to the office.
We’re also excited about the potential to expand into other product categories beyond bites so that you can find Siren Snacks in multiple aisles across the grocery store! We’re looking at everything from the breakfast aisle to cereals and granolas - nothing is off-limits and we feel like we’re just getting started.
We’re also excited to continue to grow our team this year with several new hires planned for the fall.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Early on, we tested out Siren Snacks in several different sales channels including natural grocery stores, conventional grocery stores, offices, gyms, cafes, and online. It was helpful early on to test where our product worked best and learn from the different channels on what we needed to be successful in each one. Once we had an understanding of which channels were best for our products, we were then able to lean into and invest more heavily in the top few channels that were best for us.
Additionally, we invested in making sure our branding, packaging, and marketing materials were professional from the beginning. We haven’t had to make any changes or major packaging updates since the beginning, and by starting with our brand already developed, it led a lot of people to think our brand was a lot bigger than it was when we first launched, which I think can be a good thing.
I’ve also learned to get out of my comfort zone when it comes to networking events, pitch competitions, and applying for other emerging brand opportunities. You never know who you will meet or encounter through the experience, your business will benefit from the exposure, and it's a great opportunity for personal growth as well! We found that especially as a new brand, there were so many pitch events and networking opportunities available. These events are also a great way to meet with other brands at a similar stage to Siren - many of the founders we’ve met through these events have become good friends today!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We also keep everything organized with Dropbox.
I also like Asana for to-dos and task management
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- The Great CEO Within: The Tactical Guide to Company Building by Matt Mochary
- Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
In the first year, say “Yes” to as many opportunities as you can! We participated in dozens of pitch competitions, speaking events, and other sampling opportunities to help get our brand out there and meet as many people as possible.
Also, get to know other entrepreneurs who are at a similar stage to you - it's nice to have others to connect with who understand what you’re going through, and often the best advice or most valuable introductions I’ve received come from fellow industry friends who are on a similar journey to Siren Snacks.
Also know that you will make mistakes along the way and that’s ok! You don’t need to have everything figured out to get started and will learn and grow as you go.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
This fall we’ll be looking to hire a few key roles in sales, digital marketing, and e-commerce!
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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