Abe Kamarck On Finding Your Buyer And Building A Household Brand
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Your condiments are full of sugar. They most likely have corn syrup, which is full of fructose. You don’t want that if you’re focusing on having a healthy diet. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know that because healthy food education is not too common. You don’t need to throw out your grill; you just need to know the good ingredients from the bad.
In this episode, Evan Brandoff speaks with Abe Kamarck, CEO and Founder of True Made Foods, about why you must study your customer before going to market, why it’s important to rise with a trend when it comes to educating the consumer, and how True Made Foods is changing the game in the condiment space.
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Abe Kamarck on Finding Your Buyer and Building a Household Brand
In this episode, we welcome Abe Kamarck onto the show. Abe is the CEO and Founder of True Made Foods. He is on a mission to help save American family occasions by making them healthy again. Let’s get into it.
Abe, welcome to the show. How are you?
Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m honored to be here.
Thank you so much for joining us. We love at our household the True Made products.
That’s great to know.
For those who aren’t familiar, can you tell us about True Made Foods?
We make a whole line of condiments and sauces like ketchup, barbecue sauces, mustards, hot sauces, and sriracha, all without sugar. We cut the sugar out and we naturally sweeten our products. We use pureed whole fruits and veggies, and cooked into the sauce to give that natural sweetness that you miss. We take out all the corn syrup and the added sugar. Our ketchup is made with tomatoes, apple, carrots, butternut squash, vinegar and spices. It still tastes like ketchup. It reads like a smoothie ingredient but it tastes like ketchup. You have no idea that you’re not eating regular ketchup.
It is such an amazing product. I know you’re a big family guy. You got four kids. Have you done the blind taste test with the kids, True Made Foods ketchup versus other name brands?
I wouldn’t be here talking to you and we wouldn’t have this company if my kids didn’t love the product over everything else. My kids were the ultimate taste testers. They are my picky eaters at home. This is the reason I started the company. I am trying to feed my kids healthily. They didn’t want sugar. I’m trying to feed them a lot of veggies and basic stuff. Ketchup was a sauce in the household that I was trying to get out of because I knew it has a lot of sugar. It’s more corn syrup than tomatoes. The regular ketchup and even the organic ketchup are all cane sugar. It’s got more sugar perhaps than ice cream.
The regular ketchup is like a dessert. A serving has 4 grams of sugar, which is a teaspoon full of syrup. You have seen kids having a lot more than a tablespoon. You’re not going to stop cooking out. You got family and kids. You’re not going to stop going to ballparks, going to the cookouts, going to Friday night football games, or all these things where they use ketchup and barbecue sauce and so on. We love going out for burgers. There’s nothing I like more than doing burgers for my kids and ketchup was always there.
Barbecue is not unhealthy on its own. It’s the ingredients that make it unhealthy.
Burgers and barbecues on their own are not that unhealthy. It’s the ingredients and how it’s made that make it not healthy. That’s what’s there. It is all about whole foods. You probably hear a lot of noise about nutrition and how you’re supposed to eat out there, that they should be vegan or keto. Normally, it’s all just whole foods. Eat whole foods and unprocessed foods as much as possible, and cut out the added sugar. The added sugars are 90/10 when it comes to eating healthy. Cut out the added sugars and the artificial sweeteners. That’s the easiest thing you can do.
Eat whole foods. That’s what we did. We tried to create products that were made as close to being whole foods as possible. We don’t want to give up the backyard cookout. We don’t want to give up trips to the ballpark just because we’re trying to eat healthily. We don’t have to throw out the grill and start eating keto salads outside. Let’s eat real food. Buy the better hamburger and the better buns. Use our ketchup and you’ve got a real meal.
That’s our goal as True Made Foods. We allow American families to keep these habits and processes. It’s not about the event or the occurrence. It’s the ingredients that have been put into it over the years. That’s the thing that we have to clean up. I want my kids to have these experiences. At the same time, I want to take the guilt away from it as a parent. That’s the whole purpose of the company.
You clearly practice what you preach in terms of being healthy and in good shape. Have you always been health conscious? What’s your story in terms of being health conscious?
It’s a slow awakening towards everything because I’m an old man. I was born in the ’70s and grew up in the ’80s. I grew up with an Italian mother. We’ve cooked a lot in our family on that side. I got the idea for the ketchup because we always use carrots as the natural sweetener for our pasta sauce. We’re making pasta sauce weekly. RagÃ¹ was a four-letter word in our house. My parents didn’t own a microwave. We cooked a lot in our house and really cared about food. It’s not to say we didn’t eat bad food. There was still bad food around and a lot of unknowns.
My parents would still buy juice and things like this, which now we know it’s as bad as soda. The apples are good, but the apple juice is terrible for you. That’s pure fructose. It goes right to your liver. We still eat McDonald’s and things like that. It wasn’t perfect, but I was introduced enough to good food and how to cook. I was taught how to cook at an early age. That’s the key thing, especially as the oldest sibling and both my parents worked all the time. I was always in the kitchen helping out and always having to make my own food. I always make food for my siblings, so I had to learn how to cook.
I learned my way around the kitchen at an early age. The key for anybody who wants to eat healthily is understanding how food is made. Making your own food makes a big difference. When I was in college, and then after college, I was in the Navy, I always had roommates who grew up much more on the standard American diet side. I had some roommates in Florida when I was stationed there at Mayport that were very much on the standard American diet growing up. He grew up with the ground beef diet like hamburgers, tacos, and pasta out of the jar. Those are the different meals rotated through their household.
We were in our early twenties. My roommate was struggling with his weight and I’m not. He’s eating much more crap at that time. He’s criticizing what I’m eating because I’m pouring olive oil on everything. I was probably only 23 years old and was buying huge amounts of olive oil at the time. This is 2001 and 2002. I’m buying gigantic amounts of olive oil and pouring it all over. Every single meal I ate was covered in olive oil and usually garlic. He was like, “There are so much calories in that. That’s so wrong.” I was like, “This can’t be right. Olive oil can’t be bad for you,” while he was drinking the chocolate syrup out of the bottle. It can’t be good for you.
I started doing more research on my own slowly over the years, and then it accelerated when I had kids. I started doing research on what it is that you need to do to stay healthy. As I got older, I started thinking more about this and what you need to do to stay healthy. It was always my background habit as a cook too. As somebody who’s avid about cooking, it felt right that falling back onto the way people used to cook and the way our grandparents cook is completely healthy. For a while, in the ’80s and ’90s, we were slamming the way our grandparents cook.
My great-grandma on my dad’s side is from Southern Virginia. She was a famous cook in DC. Her parties apparently were amazing because of her cooking. She always had lard and butter. Those were her two secrets of cooking right there. She didn’t use a lot of sugar in anything that wasn’t a dessert because it was expensive pre-World War II. She grew up poor, so she cooked that way. It’s the way they did in the mountains in Virginia. Looking back at this and the way my mom used to say is only on lazy times we put sugar in the sauce. In Sicily, where her grandparents were from, they had carrots that they grew in the garden all the time.
They didn’t have access to sugar. Sugar was refined. It was expensive. It came from factories. Anything that came from a factory back in the day was extremely expensive. Now it’s the opposite. What comes from the ground seems to be expensive, and what comes from the factories is extremely cheap. It’s probably why our sugar consumption has increased by 200 times since 1850. The average amount of sugar that Americans eat has increased by 200 times between 1850 and 2000.
How does that compare to other countries?
I’m not sure, but I’m sure we’re leading the way. Probably the other English-speaking countries are not shortly behind. England drove the sugar industry early on from what I understand from reading Gary Taubes’ book, The Case Against Sugar. There are so many things wrong with sugar when we stick to its history.
It drove the slave trade too. It created modern-day slavery or the slavery of African-Americans because sugarcane was such an awful crop to work on that they couldn’t even get indentured servants to work on it. They couldn’t get local people to work on it and things like that. They had to use slaves because it was such an awful job. The demand for sugar that was coming out of England at the time created trade triangle, sugar, slaves and rum from the Caribbean and Africa, back and forth.
My wife and I are watching The Sopranos. About 60% of our cooking at home is Italian food inspired by The Sopranos. I’m jealous of your upbringing. It sounds like an incredible time cooking with your mom and making sauce. I could see how that would yield you being into health and wanting to create those experiences that you had at home. Why isn’t everyone using carrots to sweeten their sauce, and why aren’t we applying that same rationale to things like ketchup? That makes a lot of sense. Before we get more into True Made Foods, your background is so interesting and incredible. Did you grow up in Virginia?
I was born in DC. I lived in Virginia until I was ten, and then we moved to Brooklyn, New York. I lived in Brooklyn until I was sixteen, and then we moved to the suburbs of DC in Maryland. I enrolled in a public high school in Maryland and graduated from Montgomery County Public School. It was an amazing and incredible public school. Now I feel like I can claim to be more from Brooklyn than the people who live there now.
You’re pretty Brooklyn. I could see it. You went to Vanderbilt and joined the Navy. Was that right after school?
I went to Vanderbilt on an ROTC scholarship. The Navy paid for me to go to school. That was always the plan. In high school, I decided I wanted to join the Navy. I hadn’t even started looking until enlisting, My parents were pushing me hard on the officer program because they wanted me to go to college. I got into the Naval Academy and got the ROTC scholarship.
When you go to market, start marketing online before going to live events.
I turned down the Naval Academy to take the ROTC scholarship to Vanderbilt, which was a good decision for me personally. I needed that time to mature in undergrad and make stupid mistakes, be crazy a little bit, be free of responsibility, and get that out of my system. You realize that you’re still going to school for free, and you get commissioned right after you graduate at the same rate as the academy got us.
I might need you to have a conversation with my nephew who has his mind set on going to the Naval Academy. I liked the route that you took.
For other people who are able to get on, it’s great. If my kids or my daughter decided to go to the Naval Academy, I would be excited about that because I probably don’t want them doing what I did in college. I prefer going to the Naval Academy for my kids. My wife went to the Naval Academy too. She was a 2000 graduate. We met in the Navy afterward. This is ironic but it’s one of the reasons I turned out at the academy because at eighteen years old, I wanted to go to a school with more girls. Back then, Naval Academy was 10% women. A couple of years later, I ended up marrying a Naval Academy graduate. She probably wouldn’t have liked me if she had met me at that age.
After the Navy, you lived abroad for quite a bit. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
I was a helicopter pilot in the Navy stationed in Florida. I was then deployed to Iraq during the Iraq War. We were in the Gulf. After you do a flying tour, you do a shore duty where you’re working in an office or you’re teaching. I went to US European Command and got stationed in England. I was stationed at satellite grants for US European Command in England. We lived in Cambridge, England, and then I got my executive MBA at London Business School while I was there. I did that nights and weekends. I got out and we decided to stay in England.
My wife had gotten out at this point. She was doing her grad degree in LSE as well. We thought we should stay in London and make a go of it since we both got our grad degrees there. That was where our potential professional network was. We then got into a recession in 2008. It was the worst time ever. There was no job. Nobody wanted to hire ex-military people at that time. In 2000, there was no military support for veterans like there is now, which is fantastic. We ended up working overseas more. I went to Bulgaria for my next job. My family didn’t come with me for that.
My wife moved in with my parents and had my second son. We had two babies at that point. I’m in Bulgaria on my own for about eight months. We then went to Doha, Qatar. My wife got a job and I got her over there. I started my own company that was emerging market-focused because that’s what I’ve been working in. I’ve worked in emerging markets on consulting and innovation side like how to start businesses in these markets and work on infrastructure projects and stuff. Doha was a good location because I could get to Egypt, Ghana, Uganda, China and places like that where I was working.
I did some work in setting up a company in Doha to start up there as well because things seemed like they were booming at the time. It was 2010. They just won the World Cup, and there was a lot of investment there. It wasn’t as big an opportunity as we thought. We left after three years. It worked out well. It was a great experience. We’re glad we’re there. It was a wonderful experience otherwise. We had great local friends there and everybody. We still stay in touch with them. The travel was amazing, and the projects we worked on were incredible.
Is True Made Foods available outside of the States yet?
Not yet. We’re working on it. We get inquiries all the time. Everybody is always pretending they’re an importer and exporter. You got to look and make sure you’re partnering with the right people.
I know someone that I could potentially introduce you to that is legit. You will be the judge. Fast-forward, it bothered you that ketchup was so unhealthy. Your kids love ketchup. Everyone loves ketchup. It’s just so much sugar, so you develop a product that tastes as good, if not better, and has no sugar.
We didn’t start with a full no-sugar. We started with a low-sugar version. We started with carrots and butternut squash. We tested and tested until we got to a point where we were using half the sugar in regular ketchup. In regular ketchup, you have 4 grams of sugar per serving. We got to a point where it’s at 2 grams of sugar per serving. I thought, “That’s probably good enough to start.” There was no other thing like that in the market at the time. It was 2015 and 2016. That was our minimum viable product. We pushed that out there. That was the initial product we went out to the market with.
What does that look like? You have a product and you think it’s good. How do you go to the market? What’s your go-to-market strategy with a product like this?
I can tell you what I did and then I’ll tell you what I recommend for people instead. We launched out of an accelerator in New York called Food-X, which doesn’t exist anymore. In 2016, there was a lot of money coming into food from the tech side. People were getting excited because the market was shifting. I was getting excited about this idea. We jumped in full-in. The accelerator was great because it forced me to do the company full time, which I don’t recommend doing until you have a figured-out product. If I hadn’t done it full-time at the time, I probably would have faded out.
I probably would be out of the job or something like that. Between four kids, I can’t do a startup, a full-time job, and take care of workers at the same time. It forced me to do it full-time. The accelerator gave us the initial $50,000 to help reduce the cost. The idea was there were all these craft foods coming out of New York City at the time. My dad lived in New York at the time. He had an apartment there, so I had a place to crash. We launched out of New York City. The idea is we have the product around all the different places.
New York has a lot of these small specialty stores or higher-end stores where you can talk to the manager about the product. There were a lot of smaller ones too like Brooklyn Fair, Society Fair, and things like that. You bring your products in and pitch them. You give them a free case, go back, and demo it a few times to get customer feedback and talk to people about it. You’re going with these shoppers who are looking for something new and aren’t price sensitive. That was the test. That was the first year. We’re testing the market in these small stores in New York.
I would drive up to New York or take the bus up to New York and take the products around all these stores. I was delivering it myself, following up with the stores myself, trying to get paid for things, and testing the market that way. Now, I would tell somebody instead to go online first. Do your website. Do your own direct-to-consumer. Maybe set up Amazon if you understand Amazon. Do a test on merchants on Amazon. Do events like farmer’s markets, flea markets, and things like that to get people sampling the product, buying it the first time, and trying to reorder online, and then see how many followers you get online.
You can go to local stores and things like that. I would not do what I did, which I was living in Virginia and trying to sell in New York, because that was too much for me and my family. I was lucky my dad lived there in an apartment, so I had some place to crash. The commute was awful. I would go to local stores and test things out. Figure out your category well. That’s one thing that we didn’t do well. The mistakes that we made early on were the key. Our category is very difficult. It’s a slow turn category, naturally. How many times a year are people buying ketchup?
When you’re starting a product, you have to ride a trend where somebody else is educating the consumer for you.
What is the answer to that?
The average household in America buys ketchup 3.3 times a year. For mustard, it’s 2.2 or something like that. That’s skewed because you have single people who never buy it or buy it once every two years. There’s one bottle sitting in their fridge forever, or you have families with five kids, like mine, who are going through it on a regular basis and buying it almost weekly. You have these very few shoppers who are buying it a lot. The problem is those people who buy that product a lot for our category don’t shop in specialty stores.
They don’t live in New York City unless you’re Orthodox Jewish and you live way up in the alphabet area, and you probably don’t have any kids living in New York City. It’s the challenge that we had with this category. It took me a while to figure this out. In this route we took, we were copying other artists and natural food or crafty foods that were coming out at the time. They were in different categories where that worked like coffee. It doesn’t work well with condiments because ketchup is boring and ubiquitous.
This is what I liked about it. It’s a suburban purchase, and it’s very conventional. It’s a billion-dollar category in conventional food sales. It’s a $15 million category in the natural channel. Conventional stores like Stop & Shop sell $50 million to $80 million for ketchup a year. Whole Foods only sells $12 million for ketchup a year. At the time, it was still a viable strategy. Today, if you’re better or whole food, you want to get your first $5 million to $10 million at sale in a specific channel or region.
If you’re selling a kombucha, jerky or something like this, you focus on your local region or your Whole Foods channel. You try to own that region and get up $5 million to $10 million in sales. You can’t do that with ketchup or barbecue sauces. It’s hard trying to become a $5 million brand just selling to Whole Foods when Whole Foods sells $12 million worth of ketchup annually across all their 510 stores, and half of that is their private label.
That’s an amazing amount of marketing and brand awareness you would have to do to be able to get up to that consumer. It’s a slow-term product. Every time you convert a consumer, they’re not buying it every week or every day with the beverage and the salty snack. They are buying it then the next month, 3 months or 4 months. If you want to keep driving your sales up, you have to constantly be finding new consumers. The math behind it is different for our category.
The two challenges with our category are they’re very slow turn and conventional focused, which is more expensive to operate in because you’re working with big stores like ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Giant, and Safeway, which are more expensive and difficult to deal with than the small channels. That was the hard part for us. We tried to launch this crafty thing and it doesn’t work. Marketing yourself as crafty ketchup doesn’t work in Stop & Shop. It’s not a product that sells.
We had to pivot our branding multiple times away from that crafty look that we started with to be more bold, approachable and conventional. We want to be better, but we’d want to be seen as a big American brand that’s approachable and better. We had to balance that out. That was our challenge early on. That’s when it took a long time for us to get started and figure it out.
A common misconception when creating your persona is we want to reach health-conscious people, and not look at the data behind how much are certain segments of people buying a certain category. That’s interesting.
You got to figure it out. Our best customers are people with kids or people who do backyard grills. People in New York don’t have grills. They’re not cooking outside, so we need to find more suburban products at the end of the day. We need to be in suburban stores, targeting suburban shoppers, which is harder and more expensive. They’re further apart and harder to reach. That’s your challenge if you’re developing a product, especially a food product or beverage.
You need to think about who your shopper is, who your buyer is, what channel they are on, how you are going to find them, and where they want to buy your product, which is why I like going online. It is the best thing to do. If you can get people buying online on a regular basis, at least it shows some data on customer loyalty to figure out who your customer is and what resonates with them too. That was a challenge for us too.
We’re making these products with all these vegetables, which is the ultimate selling point that most people were mostly convinced. When we did a lot of customer interviews, people loved the fact that there are carrots and butternut squash in the product, but it’s also the biggest barrier to trial. We realized that pushing the vegetables first makes people weird out. The other thing about better food products is if you want some type of mass appeal, you don’t want to be weird.
You need to de-weird your brand, especially if it’s ketchup. The biggest thing going through a mom’s head when she’s looking at this ketchup with carrot and butternut squash on it is, “Are my kids going to eat this? If I bring it home, are they going to get pissed off? They’re not going to eat it. They’re not going to eat dinner, and these bottles are going to sit in my refrigerator for three months until I finally throw them out.” That’s what every parent is thinking when they’re going through that first thing. You need to make it easier for them.
We finally got to the point where the veggies are a secondary thing. That’s how we close the deal. It’s the no-sugar. In 2018, finally launched the no-sugar version of ketchup. We realized we could add apples and completely cut the sugar. That was a game-changer. We focused on no-sugar first and then drove the no-sugar piece of it and got Whole30-certified, paleo-certified, and keto-certified. We were able to pull in all those channels and get that social proof going. We still are up against that barrier because people expect things with no sugar to be bad too. That’s what they normally do.
It makes a lot of sense to lead with no sugar. It stands out, especially in this space. With that said, something I always find interesting is how you could see a candy box that says fat-free on it. Sure, but there’s a ton of sugar, and sugar converts to fat. Have you found that challenge? How much of a priority is educating consumers about sugar and what it does so they understand what zero sugar means?
We did a lot of work against a lot of challenges, but we think we’re riding a wave of education that‘s happening more organically. Otherwise, we can’t do this ourselves. That’s something important when you’re starting a product unless you got $20 million of your own money that you pump into educating the consumer. Hopefully, you’re riding a trend where other people are educating the consumer for you. You can ride that wave. We think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg.
A key for us too when we started is that no-sugar was not as big a deal in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, people finally started to get excited about no sugar. It’s just getting bigger and bigger every year. We have this challenge where you say no-sugar. The other problem is a lot of the other brands, including Heinz, that are riding the no-sugar waves have an artificial sweetener in the no-sugar version of their products, either in barbecue sauce or ketchup. It’s usually the Superlose. It tastes terrible and it’s bad for you. We have that barrier as well.
We love to see that those products are selling well because it means that the no-sugar thing is so big that people are making this sacrifice, so they’re buying these Superlose products. We’re hoping we can start converting them and say, “Here’s one that doesn’t use an artificial sweetener,” and they are reading apple, carrots, and butternut squash instead. It tastes much better too. That’s our big push on that.
Find brand advocates who can interact and recommend your products to people on a regular basis.
How much of the condiment space is sold directly to consumers versus B2B to ballparks, restaurants, and all the different places where you’ll find condiments?
Amazon’s share ketchup is tiny. It’s $89 a year or something. It’s got to be more than that, but it’s pretty small. Amazon’s ketchup sales are pretty small. It’s weird because when we first looked at it, it was ketchup, barbeque and hot sauces. In retail, ketchup is bigger than barbecue and hot sauces. On Amazon, it was the reverse. Hot sauces are much bigger than barbecue and ketchup. That’s because people will go to Amazon for fragmented categories where there are a lot of choices, and they want to find something unique. Hot sauce is like that.
It’s a very fragmented category where there are lots of uniqueness and differentiation. Barbecue sauce is a little bit more like that. Ketchup has never been fragmented. Private labels like Heinz are 90% of the market. The next is 8% or something like that. There’s no differentiation or there hasn’t been for a long time to ketchup. Why would people go to Amazon for ketchup? You would assume if you didn’t know about our products, every store would have Heinz and a private label, which you assume is the only thing that’s available. They’re going to have an organic version. That’s usually the only thing that people think is the only healthy option if they’re not familiar with our products and other natural ketchup.
Online and direct-to-consumer is not a huge thing. That’s one of the challenges too. It’s why we went to stores first and do online, and why we weren’t all in glass bottles to start. Shipping glass sucks. Amazon wouldn’t even let us move initially back in 2015 and 2016. At first, Amazon wouldn’t let you ship food or sell food in glass bottles because of the breaking of glass. They changed that in 2017.
It’s one of the reasons that we went store first because consumers don’t buy our products online. Purchasing online only makes sense when you’re buying in bulk. It’s a slower-turn product. Who’s buying 3 or 6 bottles of ketchup or barbecue sauce at a time? It’s very difficult to measure repeat sales on customers because you could sell a case with six bottles of ketchup to a customer, and they could be one of your best customers. They love the product, but you may not see a sale from them again for another year at least because they just bought six bottles that may last over a year or maybe two years.
What have you found to be effective channels of reaching fragmented suburban families?
It’s standing as well, but getting into the right stores like key stores and then suburban markets. We’re doing in-store events like demos. In pre-COVID, we realized that our biggest marketing was events. We would do field marketing events in stores. We used to do gluten-free events all over the country. You got to saturate that allergen-free and gluten-free market where people are. That’s an early adopter consumer that’s suburban-based usually and kids. They’re very hungry for new products. They don’t trust anything that’s on that product.
They’re also very active in social media. It’s a small community and a small percentage, but if you can get into that community, they will promote your products significantly. There are a lot of Facebook groups where you’re talking about products all the time and sharing. We did that, then we discovered fitness events too, which we found were amazing, and even bodybuilding shows. Especially with the no-sugar products, the bodybuilders are eating bland meals most of the time, so they’re excited to find some type of sauce they could use that wouldn’t throw off their macros.
They were also very active on social media and promoting products. In fitness shows, you get dietitians and fitness instructors. We’re trying to find these early brand ambassadors and advocates that we can create a personal connection with. Dietitians are another one. We do dietitian shows and go to places where dietitians are, and then try to convert dietitians and work with them. It’s whoever we can find brand advocates who are interacting with people either on social media or in-person on a regular basis so that they know and can recommend our products.
That was a key thing that we did all the time. It was all about interacting, trying to find these people, creating events, and creating memories. We found that in-person things were the most important thing we could possibly do. We did foodie shows and anything family-focused, mom-focused, health-focused, and fitness-focused. There was a Venn diagram of family, fitness, food. We have a t-shirt that says, “Family, fitness, food.” That’s our key thing right there.
I like that. That’s a good thing.
I ran that in the Leagueside, which hopefully will be great for us because it’s connecting with those suburban families. It’s not always in-person, but almost in-person as close as you can get, sampling, getting in front of people, getting connected with them, and then them being brand advocates for you afterward.
The families in these youth sports organizations, once they learn more about True Made Foods, they’re so excited to have you as a sponsor, and also excited about the product, which is a tremendous win-win by helping more kids play sports and live healthier lifestyles. I love how our missions align.
I felt the same way, especially as somebody who spends 90% of my time driving my kids around or dealing with some type of youth sports thing when I’m not working. It has become my life. I was telling some parents. They’re not talking about work or kids’ sports. I have nothing to talk about. I feel like I have no competition. My three kids are in serious sports. They’re all serious athletes.
My daughter has been travel soccer for three years now, which is insane to think about for a young child. She’s trying a lot of things. She’s in fifth grade. Her mom has become their team manager for the past few years. We’re all in the world of soccer. My wife is throwing acronyms at me like CCL, NCSL, ODP, and all this stuff, and I’m constantly trying to keep track of it all. My two oldest boys play football very competitively. They did try for football in NYFL. We’re going to be in Baltimore camp. We’re always doing these things and these events.
What I found too with youth sports, and this is why we want to work more with youth sports, is there is a lot of knowledge in the coaches about training, the sport, and physical training like working out. They’ve done a lot better. The coaches have been smart about physical training and fitness. The coaches still don’t know anything about nutrition. They are telling the kids to eat healthily, but they don’t know how to talk to kids to eat healthily. You go to the events, and they’re selling junk foods. The snacks that parents bring for the post-game are complete toxins all the time. There’s a part where I almost had to try to take over certain things and be like, “Nobody else is buying food. I’ll provide all the food. It will be good. I promise you that you’ll love it.”
I’m so sick of seeing all the junk food showing up like Gatorade. Seven-year-old kids playing soccer don’t need Gatorade. They don’t need Clif Bar or Gatorade. There’s way too much fructose in them. There’s a great opportunity here to help educate and bring the kids to do something about fitness. It’s so important. Parents are so insane about their kids’ sports now, but nutrition is one thing they have not learned to take seriously yet. It’s not the parents’ or the coaches’ fault that the material out there is bad.
People still go off of the calorie thing when it’s not. You think all kids can eat anything because they burn some calories. That’s not true. Sucrose table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Your body burns glucose, but your body can also make glucose out of anything like protein. Glucose is a simple sugar. If consumed too much, it creates fat. Fructose is the real problem. Corn syrup is 100% fructose, and it’s not metabolized by the body. Your body doesn’t burn fructose as a calorie. The calories in fructose don’t even count.
Parents are so insane about their kid’s sports, not so much about their nutrition yet. And it’s not their fault.
It’s like alcohol. It goes right to your liver. Giving a kid a Gatorade is like giving them a beer. Metabolically, it’s like getting the beer. It goes right to your liver. Your liver can’t handle it, especially the little kids. They can’t handle all that fructose. It gets overwhelmed. It creates visceral body fat and spikes insulin. People thought that it didn’t spike blood glucose. The reason fructose doesn’t spike blood glucose is because it’s not getting metabolized. It’s not turning into sugars in your bloodstream that can be burned by yourself. It’s going right to your liver and causing spikes because your insulin is a hormone that reacts to be able to handle that and take care of that sugar. It causes insulin resistance faster than anything else. We got another rabbit hole we can go down.
To your point, you’re riding a wave of education. People are becoming more aware of how to be healthy, but there’s still so much more room to grow. You’re seeing at every game that you’re going to on the weekend.
We have our communication strategy, and that’s key to our product. Why we do well is because we try to keep the semblance like no added sugar. People are starting to know that no sugar is best. Eat more vegetables and veggies instead. We’re not trying to educate them about nootropics, ashwagandha, macha, or some other types of weird roots.
Most suburban families that have never heard of those don’t understand the concept of things like this. We’re just saying veggies or apples. Everybody knows it. Apple should be good for you. There is confusion because apple juice is bad for you. With apples, carrots, butternut squash and tomatoes, people understand these are healthy things. You should be eating these things. You want your kids to eat more of them. That’s our piece right there.
Through the strategy that you found to be effective through the fitness events and youth sports, it sounds like you’re finding these micro-influencers in each of these communities that will love the brand and promote it to other health-conscious family-oriented people in the community.
We hope that the education keeps getting better and more people get out there and start listening to the doctors and dietitians who are saying the right thing out there. It’s about eating whole foods and cutting out sugar. Veganism and plant-based got highly accelerated because it is the perfect combination. You had hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into these companies that then spent it all on PR to pump up a vegan lifestyle. They created documentaries, got celebrities on board, and everything like this.
The milk and the meat industry were getting flat-footed because plant-based meat and milk have not been around forever. It has been 0.1% of the market, and they never thought about it. All of a sudden, all this money came in, promoted it like crazy, and became a thing. It’s an over-promise. You see Beyond Meat’s share price. They went a little bit too far. The problem with the no-sugar movement is there are not hundreds of millions of dollars coming in and promoting anti-sugar or no-sugar diets.
Instead, you have hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by the lobbyist of the sugar industry in America, the large food corporations and soda companies. For many years, they are trying to change nutrition and advice out there and buying doctors. All the no-sugar movement is completely organic. We’re getting to like the ground flour, which is always risky because you don’t want to be too far ahead. We’re getting to ground flour and thought we could just keep writing this up. It has the terms.
My theory is in ten years or sooner, sugar will be like smoking. People will be completely turned off. They’ll be looking back at the way we look at 1950s movies with doctors smoking. Part of the fact is you could smoke on an airplane. Hopefully, we look back and be like, “Kids don’t need sugar. What are we thinking?” Hopefully, it changes sooner rather than later.
Giving a kid a Gatorade is like giving them a beer.
Anything you’re doing from a marketing perspective, you need to try to make sure you’re riding that trend because if there’s not a mass awakening or movement happening around you, if you’re not part of some type of wave, then you are battling alone out there. That’s a hard thing to do, creating your own education unless you get some Silicon Valley investor to give you hundreds of millions of dollars.
Abe, this has been so much fun having you on the show. I love what you’re building. It’s delicious. It’s sugar-free. There are vegetables. These are good things. We all need to be consuming healthier products, especially in this country, and you’re making it possible. Before I let you go, we’ve got one last section of the show. It’s called the lightning round. I’ve got four questions for you. It’s the first thing that comes to mind. First question, what is your favorite youth sports memory?
My favorite youth sports memory was in eighth grade. It was the basketball finals. We’re through the final championship thing in my middle school basketball team. I had exploded in growth and could jump like crazy. I can grab around at thirteen years old. I was chasing down guys on fast breaks and blocking the ball up against the rim. Every time I did that, I would get called. I was so upset. It was the most emotional thing. It was one of the greatest moments ever of exploding as an athlete, and all of a sudden turning to the corner and the ref was screwing you over.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I want to be an astronaut.
What is a brand whose marketing you admire most?
Nike by far. They’re the best.
Finally, what is a go-to cause that you like to support?
There are a lot of them out there. The one that comes to mind the most now is the Parkland shooting victim thing.
Abe, thank you for servicing all of us with delicious food that is healthy. We’re cheering for you and wishing you the best of luck. I can’t wait until everyone is refreshing their condiment cabinet with everything True Made Foods.
I appreciate it. Thank you so much. Thanks for doing what you’re doing to help us out, family helping families, and helping kids with sports. It’s so important.
Thank you for reading this episode with Abe Kamarck. As a recap, we discussed go-to-market strategy, marketing strategy, and health trends, specifically the negative effects of sugar. Thank you for reading. See you on the next episode. Play on.
About Abe Kamarck
Abe Kamarck served for eight years as a US Navy Helicopter Pilot before earning his MBA at London Business School and leaving military service to work overseas in impact entrepreneurship. After years overseas living in emerging markets with his family, he returned home to Virginia and was brought into the food industry by a charity that hired him to launch a social impact coffee. When the charity ran out of funding, Abe took it as a sign to launch his own food venture and he started True Made Foods.