New York Times bestselling cookbook author and Instagram influencer Alex Snodgrass joined me for a conversation about the launch of her first product line, SideDish. With over 700k followers on Instagram, Snodgrass is launching three direct-to-consumer salad dressings that hit everyday staples like Chipotle Ranch, Creamy Sesame, and Honey Dijon. SideDish products are dairy-free, paleo-friendly, preservative-free, and have zero added sugar.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Shayna: First of all, congratulations on launching your new product line – how exciting!
Alex: It is! You know, I don’t know what I’m getting myself into. Everyone is like, ‘oh you are doing CPG?’ I am!
Shayna: You have a career as a cookbook author and a food influencer. So what was the genesis of this product line?
Alex: It’s been something that’s been on my mind. I’ve always liked food products that just make dinner come to the table a little bit more quickly and seamlessly. I’ve seen the way that people like to cook; they love those convenient items in the pantry. They like to turn to staples and to be able to cut some corners and get dinner on the table a little bit more quickly. So I’ve always had my eyes set on that prize.
Shayna: Tell me more about your cooking philosophy.
Alex: When I had my first daughter, I was really struggling with postpartum depression. My sister is a personal trainer and she encouraged me to try Whole 30, just to reset, to cleanse and get sugar out of my system… So long story short, I did a Whole 30 cleanse and it really made a huge impact on my emotional and mental health. And since then, I have focused on it. Not all the time, but I try to stay lightly within the guidelines. Focusing on clean ingredients was obviously a really big intention behind my new product line.
Shayna: What is your advice for entrepreneurs who have built somewhat of an online following like you have – maybe they have a cookbook, maybe it’s a local following their community — and they want to start a product line. What’s your advice for them?
Alex: Oh, man, I feel like where there’s a will there’s a way. It’s kind of like the cookbook world. You could self-publish, or you could find a huge, badass publisher. And if you really want to do it, you can make it happen and you could do it in any capacity. For products, you can start at the farmers market if that’s what’s in your budget, or you can go big and direct into retail. Or somewhere in the middle, which is what we did.
One piece of advice I would share is to start searching for people that you trust to help you. Realize where your weaknesses are. For instance, I know I can develop products all day every day, but I definitely don’t know how to run a startup company, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. And so for me it was really important that I found a partner and a team to work on this with.
Shayna: As you’re thinking through product formulation, what are some of the things that entrepreneurs should think about? What is the difference between formulating a product that you’re going to eat at home that night and something you will buy at the supermarket?
Alex: Honestly, our Creamy Sesame dressing is a good example of this. It took me a good two years to get it the way that I wanted to taste [for SideDish]. Because I’m going the Whole 30 route with these salad dressings, making them shelf stable is more difficult. You have to get the pH a lot higher to make sure that they’re shelf stable. So making sure that balance of flavor comes into play without it being too acidic was was really tricky.
Being on site with the food science team was important [for product development]. For a while we sent items back and forth; we were spending all this money on shipping and wasting so much time. And finally I was like, ‘Can I just come to the kitchen to better understand how this this all works?’ That made all the difference. For instance, in my kitchen I use regular lime juice. Food scientists use lime concentrate. By spending the day in the kitchen with the food scientists I learned so much. I can now develop the products a lot more quickly and efficiently.
Shayna: Where can we find SideDish dressings?
Alex: For now we are launching direct to consumer. We have big dreams for who we would love to launch with in retail. As a Texan, I’m a huge Central Market fan. I also think Whole Foods would be great. And there are grocery stores like Thrive Market that go direct and they have healthy organic products.
Shayna: Any last words of advice or parting thoughts?
Alex: Our logo says, ‘For around the table with the ones you love.’ And that’s been an emphasis in both my books. I grew up in a small town… we were always gathering and eating around the dinner table. It’s just something that I put a lot of value in. I’m hopeful that other people can realize the value of just sitting around the table with your friends, your family, your loved ones. I’m hopeful that these convenient dressings can help people find recipes that are a little bit more approachable and simple for that style of cook. My hope and dream is that people can love to cook again.
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