Sweet smell of success
Aligned with the nation's largest organic and natural food distributor, Lori Forrest expects to sell as much of her salt caramel syrup as she can make in coming months.
The reviews, blogs, taste tests and track record all point to long-term success for Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup, a product developed for her company, The French Connection.
She was on the cusp two years ago before a deal with Bed Bath & Beyond went south. But with the help of a Portland broker, Grass Roots, Forrest has access to United Natural Foods Inc. and distribution in every corner of the country. She can produce 20 cases in six hours, and estimates by year's end she'll be shipping 300 to 350 cases monthly.
The ingredient list is fairly short: caramelized cane sugar, mineral water, Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, Boyajian Natural Maple flavor, and Jacobsen sea salt. The latter two components replaced Tahitian vanilla and Celtic sea salt in the original formula.
"The caramelized sugar cane is sweeter than maple syrup," she said. "It's like honey, so you only need a drop to sweeten coffee, and it's thick enough to put on ice cream."
Before a series of marketing potholes jostled her plans, Forrest cranked out 1,200, 12-bottle cases in 2013 and 2014. The product went from her kitchen to a local commercial kitchen and back to her kitchen, slowing the company's growth. For the first three years, the syrup was sold at Cost Plus World Market and World Market sections of Bed Bath & Beyond stores. When the retailer saw a discounted version was undercutting store sales, it severed ties, she said. Undeterred, Forrest sold through Amazon.com and other websites.
She contracted with Gilded Rogue to produce the syrup at Basil & Berries in the Rogue Valley at the Mall in 2015. But that partnership ended before the year was out, putting Forrest back into production.
Forrest was hoping to fund marketing of the Salt Caramel Syrup with revenue generated from a hazelnut spread that was manufactured in Fresno, California. But when the company failed to properly refrigerate the product, the syrup was pulled from the market in 2016. She's awaiting proceeds from an out-of-court settlement to boost her latest effort.
In the early going, Forrest produced labels by hand. When she met designer Anton Kimball at a trade show, however, she gladly exchanged 100 bottles and some cash for a new label.
"He loved the product," she said.
While larger firms have approached Forrest about acquiring the product for mass production, Forster simply shakes her head.
"It's all made by hand, it cannot be mass produced," she said. "When you mix all the ingredients together it creates a volcanic effect. Unless you built special equipment that would be very expensive, you couldn't do it."
To please the carbon counters in her midst, Forrest notes the equivalent amount of maple syrup to her 8-ounce bottle requires more than twice the amount of carbon emission.
"It's much more sustainable than maple," she said. "That's because you don't add much to the sugar cane."
The syrup is available at Shop'n Kart, Market of Choice, the Ashland and Medford food co-ops, Food 4 Less and Gooseberries.
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.