Small Business Insights: Spice By Rachel Sweet

Rachel Sweet, Owner of Spice By Rachel Sweet in Central Massachusetts

Central Massachusetts is home to a thriving small business community. From one person shops operating out of their homes to companies with a few hundred employees and multiple locations, it’s a diverse and supportive group of creatively talented people who all have a story to tell. Each month this blog gives one of these businesses a chance to share their story to help others on the same path looking for some insider tips to grow their business.

This month we welcome Spice by Rachel Sweet.

Rachel Sweet is the owner of Spice By Rachel Sweet. Her homemade, organic, and pre-measured spice mixes help busy home cooks create simple, delicious, and healthy recipes. Rachel is the author of two cookbooks, Recipe Collection Vol. 1 and Vegan with Ease, both available for purchase on Amazon. Buy them here.

In this interview you’ll learn:

• How trying different paths and paying attention to your interests can get you closer to your goals
• Why personal communication is so important to your marketing strategy
• How maintaining focus by narrowing your offerings and taking things one “little push” at a time helps keep your momentum going

1. What got you to where you are today?

As with many things, I’d say it was a complicated set of events that somehow lined up perfectly. I have always wanted to contribute meaningfully to the world. I work full time in the pharmaceutical industry, but I craved a more personal connection. After I graduated college (well over a decade ago now!), I immediately started thinking of ways to help others in my community. I first thought of rental properties, but I ended up getting caught up in one of those programs where they teach you everything and I got overwhelmed with all the trainings and never had the confidence to pull the trigger on any properties. Then I moved on and started a gift basket business, with lots of products and a website and blog and everything, but I was too afraid to put myself out there and advertise! So after 4 years “in business” and not a single sale, I closed it down. When Covid hit I was single and living alone. I was first on this list to be laid off as I was in a contract position at the time. So, as a backup plan, I dove in and started a business that would help people who were newly stuck at home learning how to cook or who were sick of the same old routine meals.

2. How do you stay motivated to keep on your path?

Well, I have to eat every day! In all seriousness though, I just enjoy cooking. When I was looking for business ideas I scanned my personal Instagram page and noticed that my post history was a 50/50 split between photos of my cats and photos of what I had for dinner. I was already doing it, so all I had to do was actually write down the recipes I made so that others could replicate them. In my full time job I worked in a Quality Control laboratory where everything was very exact. My kitchen is my Research & Development laboratory where I create my own meals and have the freedom to try things that might not work. It’s a good balance between the two approaches.

3. What has been your most successful marketing strategy? What keeps people coming back for more?

I truly think that it is getting out into the community. When I set up a table at farmers markets or fairs, I get to chat with people and connect with them. My best ideas came from talking to others, whether they purchased my products or not! I find that when I explain how my products work to someone, they are far more interested. This works in video form too. Since my niche is people who are relatively new to cooking, I understand that spice mixes, without any instructions, can seem daunting. What do I put this on? Exactly how much do I use? My goal is for everyone to feel confident making a meal from scratch. Many, many times I will have complete strangers come up to me and tell me they purchased my products, tried my recipes, and realized it was easier than they thought! My recipes are designed to keep the amount of dishes needing to be washed to a minimum as well as prep work. My repeat customers tell me that my simple recipes are just too convenient to make only once!

4. How do you set yourself apart from others in your industry?

I love this question, because there are so many ways that my products are unique. First and foremost is their quality. I know everyone says that, so let me explain. I purchase all my spices from a source that does laboratory testing on each and every batch in order to ensure that there are no contaminants and that the product truly is what it says it is. My name is all over the products because I can vouch for their integrity. I chose organic because that’s what I buy for myself. I wouldn’t give anyone something I would not eat! That’s why I never, ever add any ‘bonus ingredients’ to my mixes. There are no fillers, colorings, anti-caking agents, preservatives, or any other chemical additives. Because of that, you will find my products to be vibrant, but also vary in color due to changes in the growing season such as droughts. You will also find that sometimes my products cake together, but this does not mean the spices have gone bad. You can simply break them up again, or just toss the cake into whatever you are cooking and it will come apart. Since my spice mixes are geared toward beginner cooks and convenience, I pack them in individual recipe sized bags. I design all my recipes to use either 1 or 2 tablespoons of the spice mix, so that you can simply add one or two bags without having to measure anything. In order to avoid being part of the plastic problem, I use compostable packaging. Each bag is made from plant based resin and the label is made of sugarcane. However, the biggest thing that sets Spice by Rachel Sweet apart is that we purposely have only a few products. Instead of creating many spice mixes that are used to make just one or two dishes, I created versatile mixes that can be used for many meals. We have 11 different mixes and over 225 recipes so far. That’s about 20-25 recipes for each mix! I had 12 jars when I was creating the mixes, but I dropped one, so I never made a twelfth mix. I love that you can try just one mix and instantly have dozens of recipe options to choose from! Another benefit of compostable packaging is that it is much cheaper than glass. That creates a win for my customers because they can purchase high quality organic spices that are affordable.

5. What is the best advice you’ve received when starting out?

When I was starting out I was building a business without really believing that it would amount to anything. I very quietly created my mixes and my recipes until I attended a Mondays for Marketing workshop with Maura Navin. She asked me what I was going to do when I got my first sale and I sort of waved it off as something that would happen in the distant future. “Sometimes you need a little push to realize what you’re capable of”, she said with a smile. When I left the workshop, I noticed I had an email congratulating me on my very first order. That ‘push’ was repeated over and over again as I attended my first market, cold called local stores to get my products into them, and navigated the regulatory system in order to maintain compliance for my food products. Without little pushes along the way, I would never have come as far as I have already! If you can find someone in your life who is willing to give you a ‘little push’, you’ll find that the discomfort they cause in you is well worth the reward.

6. Is there a local business, organization, or person that inspires your work? How do they inspire you?

There are many! Every time I participate in a market or event, I get to meet other entrepreneurs who have found a creative way to share their skills with the local community. I have had the opportunity to meet so many talented people around Massachusetts whose can-do attitudes and dedication to their interests inspires me again and again. I couldn’t possibly name them all for fear of leaving someone out! But you’ll know what I mean if you have ever attended a farmers market or a local maker event. Talk to a vendor about their craft and watch their face light up as they describe it. There is nothing more inspiring than that! For example, I met a local hypnotist at an event and he told me that he had written a book. Wow! But then he told me that I could write a book too. And that’s when I realized that small business owners are not “in it to win it”. In fact, they’re a group of people who truly understand how much of yourself goes into your work and genuinely want to see you succeed. I have currently published two books since that mesmerizing conversation.

7. What do you enjoy most about being located in the Worcester/Central Mass area?

The Central Mass area does an excellent job at fostering an environment where small businesses can support each other. I love that I can walk into my local bank and everyone not only knows my name, but has actually tried my products! I have been featured in their monthly Local Business Spotlight program, as well as an annual fair where bank employees get to support the local businesses that bank with them. Being in local shops and meeting the owners has been a wonderful experience and creates a positive loop where I can purchase directly from the shops that sell my products because I personally know the owners and can support them. There’s nothing like saying ‘thank you’ to the person who made the product you are buying. Worcester is especially rich in creative people and I enjoy finding unique gifts for others as well as for myself that I don’t have the skills to make or that I never thought of or seen before!

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