On the same day Maazah was featured on the TIME Mother’s Day Gifting Guide our manufacturer texted me to say they were pulling our chutneys from the production schedule and wouldn’t have capacity to run our products for months.
I couldn’t believe it. This shocking news came seven days before a scheduled launch event at Mariano’s in Chicago, the first stop on a national rollout of Maazah at Kroger grocery stores. I called my mom from the parking lot of the Good Acre, the St. Paul commissary kitchen that still serves as Maazah’s warehouse. I told her the terrible news and sobbed loudly on mute. The last time I cried that hard was in the 10th grade when my 11th grade crush didn’t return the gah gah feelings I had for them.
This was the first time in the business that we did everything we were slated and planned to do and it didn’t go our way. I knew this Kroger opportunity would be challenging. I needed to adapt to a new set of new rules and make good business decisions. I’ve dealt with the uneasiness of uncertainty before, so I knew I had the stomach for it. I’ve surrounded myself with amazing mentors and recently finished ImpactSKU, a Twin Cities-based accelerator for purpose-driven consumer product startups, so I knew I had the brains for this. But did I have the heart for it when things weren’t going my way?
In my family, food is how we show love. We want to feed you, we want you to take a second serving and we want you to take leftovers home with you. There is nothing more fulfilling than sharing a delicious meal with the people you love. In growing this business, I’ve always been able to rely on my passion for great tasting food and sharing my love for my culture through food. But scaling up production required outsourcing manufacturing and losing some control. It’s not easy as a small brand to find co-packers that are willing to work with you. Some didn’t know anything about chutneys and wanted to change the products or the packaging. Others wanted proof of a contract that we were really going into Kroger stores. Still others just didn’t return calls.
After months of looking for the right manufacturing partner, I found someone who met all the requirements we were taught to look for. They were transparent about their process. They let us in to see their facility. Their R&D director director understood what we were trying to do. She was from India and grew up with similar chutneys. It felt like we found our people. So I was completely blindsided by the call canceling our production time. They said they were overcommitted and had a longtime client’s order that had to be filled first.
“Just tell them they have to make it,” my mom suggested when I shared the horrible news. I told her I had tried that, and it didn’t make a difference. But no other manufacturer I contacted tried could take us on in such short notice. If I’ve learned anything as an entrepreneur, it’s the importance of building a network along with your business.I knew I needed to leverage connections. I called a mentor and everyone else I thought might be able to give us advice or help communicate on our behalf, vouch for the urgency of the timing. I told the co-packer I understood their growing pains; we were going through the same thing, and if they would just help us meet this big moment for Maazah… and they did! They filled the order and we were on store shelves at Kroger just in time for our Mariano’s launch.
We’ve never done a grocery store launch party, or even knew that it was a thing. They activated an entire section of the store with Maazah showcased at multiple sampling stations and even a balloon arch in our brand colors. We had the opportunity to collaborate with a chef to prepare the sampling menu for the evening. We had a grazing station that included crudite, charcuterie and cheeses, caprese skewers and feta watermelon salad skewers. There was a grilling station with mini turkey burger sliders, elote and brats. My absolute favorite was the “composed bite” station with deviled eggs and a shrimp guacamole bite. So delish!
Customers were so enthusiastic and impressed with the versatility and flavors of the product; it brought back all of those feelings we got at our very first farmers’ market events years ago—that sense of, wow, this could work! And we were in a totally different state, selling to people we didn’t know. It’s not like my aunt or friends coming to the store and buying the products; this was big time! The relationship with our customers is our lifeline. It’s why we do the Mill City Farmers Market on the last Saturday of the month. We still get goosebumps every time a customer enjoys a sample of Maazah. It’s a reminder we are not just bringing a solution to the dinner table—we are creating connections.
The inevitable lows of entrepreneurship might not always seem to justify the incredible highs, but the authentic connection with our customers will always keep fueling our journey.
Learn more about TCB’s Founder’s Journal project.
Yasameen Sajady is the founder and CEO of Maazah, a line of Afghan-style chutney sauces.
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