Innovation is a popular term these days and it can sometimes come across as a daunting task. How do you innovate in your current business or industry on a fixed budget and limited resources? How can you make it happen when you just don’t know where to start or how to do it?
Our guest today, Gardar Stefansson based out of Iceland, shares with us how he has brought new ideas and innovation in a very old industry. He started his innovation with jam. That’s right, literally making changes one small bite at a time to an industry that seems to have been around forever. You are going to love his story of how he has created the 17th largest jam company in the United States.
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ABOUT OUR GUEST:
Gardar Stefansson, CEO, and Co-founder of GOOD GOOD, studied in Aahus, Denmark, and started off in the salt business. In2015, he exited the salt business when he was approached by his co-founders of GOOD GOOD. Their first product was created in his kitchen, which they later launched in the US in 2018. About Good Good: Founded in 2015 when Gardar Stefansson, Agnar Lemacks, and Johann Kristjansson were searching for solutions to help relatives with Type 2 diabetes. The trio learned that natural alternatives to sugar were key to limiting sugar intake, and they created a blend of stevia and erythritol to replace sugar in day-to-day foods. After launching a business around this product, they decided to experiment further by creating jams, which quickly became the brand’s most popular line of products. The brand’s products now include multiple flavors of jam, spreads, keto bars, syrup, stevia drops, tablets, and stevia and erythritol blend. GOOD GOOD can currently be found in over 6,000 stores in 16 countries.
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Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:00):
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Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:42):
Welcome to the Multiply Your Success Podcast, where each week we help growth-minded entrepreneurs and franchise leaders take the next step in their expansion journey. I’m your host, Tom DuFore, CEO of Big Sky Franchise Team. And as we open today, it’s all about this idea of innovation, and it’s such a popular term these days, and it can sometimes come across as a daunting task. You ask yourself questions like, how do you innovate in your current business or industry on a fixed budget and limited resources? I know I’ve asked myself that. Or how can you make it happen when you just don’t know where to start or how to do it? How do you create innovation?
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (01:18):
I know these are questions I’ve wrestled with. And our guest today, Gardar Stefansson, who’s based out of Iceland, shares with us how he has brought innovation and new ideas to a very old industry. And he started his innovation with jam. That’s right. Literally making changes one small bite at a time to an industry that seems to have been around forever. You’re going to love his story and how he’s created now the 17th largest jam company in the United States in just a few years. Let’s go ahead and jump right into my interview with Gardar Stefansson.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (01:53):
My name is Gardar Stefansson. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Good Good. We are an Icelandic based company producing no added sugar products, breakfast and brunch items, jams, chocolate spreads, bars and syrups, and yeah, that’s about it.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (02:17):
Excellent. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for being here, and I’d love for you to share a little bit about really your history. You said no added sugars, right? And that’s a big deal, at least in my opinion, and as it’s hard to find products, at least in the United States and maybe other parts of the world, too, that do not have added sugars included into it. So talk about some of the history of what made you want to start a business that has no added sugar.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (02:51):
Yeah. And that’s a great question. So it started in 2015, I mean my entire professional career, I’ve been a food entrepreneur. So I started salt companies in Iceland doing sustainable salt, and I accessed that business. And my two other co-founders, Agnar and Johan, approached me about this great idea of producing stevia drop sweeteners. There was a factory here in Iceland that was doing it, then I just acquired it. And I really just wanted to spread that out and begin that business. And I was extremely interested at the point in stevia and the natural sweeteners. It was the first time I was really introduced to the concept of you could replace sugar, the big culprit, with a natural solution. I knew about the artificial sweeteners in the past.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (03:46):
My aunt is diabetic. So I tried all the sugar-free products at the time. And honestly, I thought they were, as a child, really disgusting, excuse my French, just to use that word. And that exactly was what excited me, and them as well. And then we started to develop those sweeteners. We were selling them, but it didn’t go as well as we had hoped. So we were not getting as many prospects out there negotiating was taking a long time. We got some sales, but still we had too much inventory. And at that turning point, we had a couple of tons of sweeteners that are about to expire. And for a young company, that’s not only bad in regard of food waste, but it’s also financial hit.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (04:34):
So we needed to do something. And I remember, and I always do this every fall. I go to the mountains, I pick some blueberries in the mountains here in Iceland. And I just remember that in that blueberry jam recipe, the sugar content is basically 60% of the entire jam. So I was just like, okay, here’s an idea. We can actually take those blueberries and add it with natural sweeteners about to expire. And we tried that. So we go. Our Ikea pots and pans and decided to make it, we did the first batch one evening. Tasted absolutely disgusting. So we did couple other ones. And about the third day or fourth day trial, we actually hit the recipe. And, and then we started to do jams on an industrial level. We found a couple manufacturers. And then just a couple of years later, we are the 17th biggest jam producer in the US and just expanding the portfolio. So basically never stop innovating and experimenting, and problems can actually the facilitator to create opportunities.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (05:46):
Yeah, absolutely. And to be the 17th largest producer in the United States in just a few years, that’s quite a feat to come up, and that means you’re taking market share. And I would have to imagine, and I’m just going to kind of pose this as a question, too, but I would imagine that there are people who maybe weren’t buying jams previously that maybe found out of a no added sugar option that became available. Would you say, that’s the case? How has that kind of grown and been able to occur in that way?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (06:22):
Yeah. And it’s a great question. And the truth is that diabetes is on the rise and it’s just everywhere. It’s a big problem in US. It’s a huge problem in Europe. It’s a problem in any country in the world. And I believe so that people have to cut down on sugar, they will automatically stop eating jam. And looking at that category jam, there hasn’t been an innovation for like 100 years or something since they decided to condense it or something, but it’s not a lot of innovation. So I think that’s also key. We came into category that’s not specifically exciting and nothing new happening and just started to innovate. And yeah, I truly believe that we got some new customers just wanted to try a sugar free version, and yeah, and you also have to think about it from parents. They want to be educated. They want to give their children delicious no added sugar foods.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (07:20):
And this is just the right way to go, is to choose, from the beginning, products that doesn’t have any added sugar, because when you go to the supermarket, you don’t go there and buy a pound of sugar. That’s not longer in the cupboard, but all of these products that are out there, they’re just filled with sugar, you don’t do even know about it. Even though they claim that they’re natural and stuff like that, sugar content is really high. So that’s basically what we are trying to [inaudible 00:07:47] with our breakfast and brunch items is just replacing and substituting those high sugar products with a natural, no added sugar ones.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (07:56):
Yeah. That’s amazing. And as I understand, just from reviewing and preparing for our interview, you’re in over 2,500 stores and 16 countries around the world. That’s substantial. I think I’ve worked with other entrepreneurs in the past that have new food products or new food items. Breaking into the retail market and getting into stores and getting shelf space is really hard. You’re competing against oftentimes large organizations or brands that have been around for decades, and to your point, products that have been around for a hundred plus years, that have kind of been unchanged. Talk a little bit about what you did there. I think that’s an interesting journey to talk about.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (08:42):
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, the key here is always, specifically with food, is just to have a good, not only food, all products, a good product. We are in this business because we want repeated purchases. We want our customers to become longevity customers, buying our products again and again. So, so we cannot put any discount on the quality of the product. Second is, branding is experience. It’s storytelling. You’re telling a story and you’re also portraying who you are and what kind of food you eat. So it’s also very important to incorporate the branding because you only have two seconds in the supermarket to get their attention, and the branding needs to be there, and people really need to associate with it. So they will also take the product with them home.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (09:36):
If you get those two right, then you have check at least two items of maybe 100 to get into sales. But then again, it’s just a little bit of luck, just to be at the right moment, right place where the right people are. And we had some success in Europe. We were selling in Scandinavia and in Netherlands and Portugal. And we were approached by a US buyer. So we thought about, okay, maybe we should check out a trade show in the States. So we went to [inaudible 00:10:11], the first trade show in 2018. And we were picked up by Myers, one of our first customers in the States. And then we just started to build through their distribution, of course, and also their key natural distributor, which is KeHE. And then we just started to learn.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (10:33):
And I also think that’s something good because we just of the craft course and did so many mistakes on the way. Just inevitable, but we’re always like, mistakes is just a part of the learning process. So fail in the small scale so you can succeed in the big scale. And we learned a lot of lessons going there. And I think that coming in new, not afraid to ask questions, not afraid to talk to people if we didn’t understand it, we just said it. We just knew we really want to succeed and just getting along, learning on the way. And then of course getting more amazing people on our team to help us grow and scale and do better. So it has been a very long journey of four years now, I think, but it’s just about never stop learning. The industry is always changing. It’s always something new, and it doesn’t have to be at disadvantage if you don’t know anything about the business, you just have fresh sets of eyes. Just as long as you ask the right questions.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (11:35):
You talked about kind of growing and getting in with a chain and a brand such as Myer, and then growing from there. I could imagine production issues could happen if you start getting a lot of orders for fulfillment. And the last two years in particular, the supply chain has been a mess, globally. It’s just been a real challenge for any business. And then you couple on the fact that I’m sure there could be temptation to use alternative products or supplies when you are going into your direction. Talk through how you’ve managed that and stayed the course.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (12:13):
Yeah. And that’s a great question. So we started in Iceland, which is probably one of the smallest countries in the world. It just doesn’t make sense to produce food products here, unless they are originated from Iceland. But we innovate and design and develop all of products here. And then we produce the product in the Netherlands, which is like a hub for almost everything in Europe and the outside world. So by doing that, we could find great producers that could scale with us. So we started small. We were really stressed about the quantities, and then we have been growing. So we always try to select co-manufacturers that can scale with us. So that’s one key factor why we can deliver to the bigger chains in the US. And also around the globe.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (13:01):
Talking about the supply chain issues, COVID started of course in 2019, but really hit Europe in 2/20. And then US one or two weeks later. I was actually in US when they were closing the borders. And so we had always great relationship. We source our sweeteners from Asia, for example. So we have great relationship with all of our suppliers and co-manufacturers. And we talk to them almost, if not daily, then weekly. And we were aware of the situation in Asia with COVID. So we decided to order a lot of quantities because we only thought it’s going to be closing on the Asian market to Europe and USA. So we did that in January, 2020, and then we had ships on the water filled with raw materials to produce our products, and then COVID hit Europe.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (14:02):
But then we had all the raw materials, the fruits of course, all from Europe. So we were able to save that [inaudible 00:14:11] with quite good inventory that helped us also succeed because at the time, it was just about those who had stock could deliver. And then we of course had the stock, but at the same time, the retailers stopped taking meetings. They didn’t invite any new product to come in. They just kept to their categories. So nothing changed in the supermarket sales for about a year or more.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (14:37):
Then we, of course, had the eCommerce and we already had invested there, and we had the platform ready. We, we are doing quite well on Amazon. So we just shifted the focus on eCommerce, and then we could grow quite a lot and sell quite a lot of products and increase the turnover. So basically it’s just the same. Don’t have all the same acts in the same task and being lean and agile and always willing to change. Don’t always think about… Plan and stick to it because sometimes you just need to adjust the reality, and you need to make your organization also be able to change rapidly when shut down, pandemics or whatever happens. So that’s just key DNA in our team.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (15:26):
Yeah, absolutely. And you use the word agile that I think is certainly becoming a little bit more of a buzzword today and just the business community in general, but being agile is critical, and being able to make those localized decisions. So were you working with your suppliers or your co-producers in these different regions and countries? How are you actively communicating through that?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (15:53):
Yeah, it depends on the area. We are quite global company and I mean, being from such a small population like us, we just had to depend on the outer world for everything. So I think it’s just part of our culture is just to be open and frank and honest, and just like, we need this, can we fix it? And then we talked to different cultures. So in Asia, we have emails and they’re very formal, and it takes a long time to go through because the time difference is so huge. But then we also use WeChat, and that’s where you get, at least from our suppliers, you get all the real answers there, what’s happening with the supply chain. Yes. We had a big problem here.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (16:38):
You don’t see that in a format email from a company. So we’ve been using the right platforms to communicate, trying to get the real information at real time. In Europe, it’s quite frank and honest conversation. If there’s a problem, they’ll tell you immediately. But pretty much often on time, and in the US, there’s not a lot of big cultural difference in my opinion, but it works the same way. If you’re just open and upfront about any problems, delays or anything, as soon as you know, you convey that message, then you just get respect backwards and honest opinion. And if you deliver, when you say you deliver, then you, in my opinion, that’s been a really good step for us in that efforts.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (17:27):
Interesting. So even communicating to your clients and your customers and letting them know we’re going to be our shipments going to be delayed. Here’s the expectation, it’s been revised, keeping that open line of communication. And then when you say we can fulfill X number of orders by a certain date, and then fulfilling that, whatever orders you’re able to produce and then deliver that, it further enhances or develops that relationship. That’s very interesting. And is that how things have still been continuing as we continue to have the issues with supply chain?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (18:02):
Yeah. We are least seeing a stabilization in that regard. Prices are skyrocketing on all raw materials, and hoping they will stabilize in the middle of this year, 2022. In my opinion, they are stabilizing. I think the packaging industry is starting to achieve equilibrium, but the prices are quite high. And that’s what we ask consumers, but then they see the price quite high until that will stabilize as well. But yeah, I would say that, but with the recent events, you never know what’s going to happen, but we’ll see.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (18:40):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s interesting. I have a good friend, he’s a food manufacturer. He runs a food manufacturing company, and one of their key ingredients is wheat. And given the situation with Russia and Ukraine, they are two of the five largest producers of wheat in the world. He just said, it’s the pricing, it was already high, and now this conflict in what’s going on there has just really thrown in a bigger challenge. So it’s really interesting to see how all of this is going to play out. Well, what I’d love to do at this point here is transition to our little formula for the show. And we like to ask every guest before they go the same four questions. And the first question we like to ask, has there been a miss or two along the way and something you’ve learned from it?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (19:35):
Absolutely. I mean, since I graduated from university I’ve been a food entrepreneur, and the definite miss there is basically, as a young male, I thought I was Superman. I could do everything best. I always knew better. And I had the right answers, and by the end of the day that didn’t serve me or anyone else in my team really well. It’s like, I made some wrong decisions. And also I think that it can cause burnout if you have so much belief in yourself. Of course, it’s really important to believe in your own capabilities. And it’s really important to just know that you are not always with all the answers. It’s nothing wrong with finding out and getting more talent on board and just, if someone is special in something, just try to get that from that person. You know? That’s a miss. I learned in a way just to surround myself with smarter people than myself. That’s not a [inaudible 00:20:48] .
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (20:49):
I totally understand that one for sure. And, well, let’s look at it from the other side, how about a make or two? You’ve had a lot of successes and makes in your career. Are there others you’d like to share that kind of stood out?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (21:03):
Absolutely. And at the same time, what I’ve been saying this entire time is just like we’re not afraid of experimenting and innovating and doing mistakes and reflecting and learning. And that’s a key parameter in any startup or scale of business is to take the risk but just do it, and if you can do it in small scale, then you don’t affect the entire business.
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (21:32):
So that’s a make we have done. Like with the jam I pointed out earlier that was a kind of risky, and also it was an experiment that was totally out of the business box we had built around what we should focus on, and we do this every day. We are introducing new peanut butter now that is just an amazing product. And it’s not a jam, and focusing on breakfast and brunch and doing something creative every day. And you don’t have to depend it on new products either. It’s just about running the operations, being clever and communicate with your time and supplier on WeChat. Get the answers right away. Don’t wait 24 hours for a formal email about the status. So it’s just about being innovative and trying to get the right answers and communicating in an honest and direct way.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (22:26):
Thank you for sharing that, and how about this idea of a multiplier? We had such a broad set of responses from guests that have been on. Is there a multiplier or two that stands out that you’ve used as you’ve grown?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (22:39):
Yeah, absolutely. So I mean, people, they are key, and I think that what we have always done is, specifically on a later stages because we were just the co-founders in the beginning, then we started to hire and build the team around us, is to find people that are just much better in doing what you thought you were good at and just getting them on board, and see them access whatever tasks there is, and just multiplying the entire growth and scope of that different segments. And building on that is key for us, and we have been really successful and lucky and targeted in selecting our team members going forward. So I think that’s absolutely key. By end of the day course products and brand, and everything really matters, but if you have the right talent on board, you can reach to the stars. Definitely.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (23:37):
Yeah. The final question we like to ask every guest is what does success mean to you?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (23:43):
As a food entrepreneur success for me is by the end of the day, if our products that we are striving to make and focusing on every day, if they give people added value in terms of taste, nutrition and health, that’s, that’s what I love. That’s success for me by the end of the day. And just seeing that grow and seeing more people enjoy it, I think that’s really amazing. And I just like, sometimes I just go on amazon.com and just read. I mean, we have 5,000 reviews on our jams. I don’t understand why there’s so many people, but I love them all writing a review about jams. But I just go in there just to get the feedback, to see what people are saying. And it’s really… I love it. And seeing that grow and going to the supermarket and building on that…
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (24:39):
Yeah, well, I love what you’re doing. Certainly it’s something. I have three kids and trying to help teach them healthy eating habits, it’s so easy to purchase junk food or treats and sweets, and even foods you don’t even know are treats or sweets. You may not even realize it. So I love what you’re doing, and producing a quality product with no added sugars, I think, and just providing to the general consume a convenient way to have another option to use and explore. And so with that, I’d love for you to just kind of share how can someone that’s maybe listening in, you mentioned Amazon, where can they find your products to learn a little bit more?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (25:21):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, online Amazon or our own website, walmart.com. In stores, we are in about 6,000 stores in the US. Myers, Publix, Albertsons, Safeway, Save Mart. We have store locator on our website with good.net. And yeah. And, but you can find us online, all information is there.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (25:42):
Well, great. Well, and as we bring this to a close, is there anything you are hoping to share that maybe you haven’t had a chance to yet?
Gardar Stefansson, Good Good (25:51):
Yeah. That’s the most hardest question, Tom. Yeah, we are launching peanut butter. I think I said it already in the interview. It’s going to be a game changer, I think. Oh, okay. It’s going to be quite pretty good.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (26:06):
Gardar, thank you so much for a fantastic interview. And let’s go ahead and jump into today’s three key takeaways. So takeaway number one is when Gardar talked to us about how he uses the right platforms and communication methods to communicate with his customers. And I thought that was excellent. He talked about how he was being honest and upfront, and it made a big difference. And he said doing business with his European clients and American clients, that he needs to be direct and upfront and communicate in those kinds of ways. And when he’s doing business with his Asian clients and vendors and suppliers, he said, it’s a little more formal where there’s email communication and formal communication going on there.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (26:48):
Take away number two comes from when he talked about a miss that he had, which was when he was young, that he thought he was Superman and that he had all the answers. And so he thought, he said, it’s important you want to believe in yourself, but it’s also an important to recognize that you don’t know everything and don’t have all the answers.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (27:08):
And takeaway number three is kind of tied into that miss that he shared, where he talked about the idea of reflecting and learning. So taking this idea and the time to reflect and learn from things that you’ve done, from the makes that you’ve had and those misses as well. And now it’s time for today’s win-win.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (27:33):
So today’s, win-win really is this idea to be innovative and be willing to take risks. Gardar took a very old industry and found a way to see opportunities for something new. How can you do this for your own business? What can you do to take risks? But maybe just to start on a small scale. Innovation and risk taking, they don’t have to be a bet the farm strategy. Where can you implement new innovation or just maybe some small adjustments in your company maybe this week or this month? Same thing for our own business.
Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (28:10):
And just as a recommendation or something for you to implement immediately here, maybe take this idea of innovation on a small, small scale and add this to your next quarterly planning session or your next leadership meeting as a discussion point and talk about it. And that’s the episode today. Folks, please make sure you’ve subscribed to the podcast and give us a review. And remember if you or anyone might be ready to franchise your business or take their franchise company to the next level. Please connect with us at bigskyfranchiseteam.com. Thanks for tuning in. And we look forward to having you back next week.