In early March, we were supposed to attend Expo West in Anaheim, California, the world’s largest natural food event where new brands are given a chance to showcase their products. I had flown in a day before from London, straight from the R&D site of our new product line. We had produced several pallets of our probiotic yogurt and shipped them to Anaheim along with all of our newly minted trade show materials. As I prepared for our big launch the next day, I got a message that the expo was cancelled. Our pallets got stuck in the convention center and the yogurts went bad before they could be sold or donated.
Our ingredients warehouse got ravaged by Covid. Twenty of 22 workers fell ill. Some were out for a few weeks; some were sick for a couple of months; one died. No trucks or drivers were available to move the ingredients, so I rented a truck and drove to the warehouse where the one person still working pulled pallets of our ingredients to the loading dock, closed the rolling door, and allowed me to hand-load my truck.
After I had managed to get the ingredients and the yogurts made on time and drove the pallets to the warehouse, our distributor refused to pick them up. After an intense conversation, I was first told that they had suddenly changed us to “vendor delivery,” meaning we were expected to deliver the pallets ourselves. So I rented a cold truck and drove the pallets overnight to distributor’s warehouse. After that, the distributor refused to do their job, which is to distribute. So the pallets went nowhere. “We are overwhelmed,” they explained.
Somehow the same distributor was able to deliver large company pallets to the stores just fine, and in greater volumes than ever before. What happened was that our distributors handed the shelves we had fought tooth and nail for to big-name, additive-filled yogurt brands, and blamed it on Covid.
Before Covid, our products had been available at all NYC airports. Now all airport shops were closed.
Next, our online grocery delivery client, the largest in New York, decided to drop us “for the time being.” That was a tough pill to swallow. We manufacture our yogurts in an artisan way using expensive all-organic ingredients. Having to produce several pallets of organic yogurt and then not being able to deliver meant tens of thousands of dollars in losses. Donating to food banks wasn’t that easy either because many food banks did not have a way to store products that require refrigerating.
To attract new stores, we came up with a new promotion: “Buy one and we’ll donate two.” If the store would buy one 8-pack of Hälsa oatgurt, we would donate one case to store employees who risked their health every day by coming to work. In addition, we would donate a second case to the local food bank. After calling dozens of stores in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the stores said no. “We have no way of arranging donations to our employees,” they said.