Americans’ appetite for organic food keeps growing, and Hip Chick Farms is doing its share to whet that appetite. The Sebastopol, Calif.-based startup sells frozen organic poultry—or as its co-founders call it, “artisan, transparently-sourced, chef-inspired frozen chicken and poultry products that are convenient for busy families.”
Its recent debut with QVC has been a smashing success. The home-shopping channel sold out of its out its lot of 1,500 six-packs of all-natural chicken fingers in about four and a half minutes. “They’ve already decided to bring us back, and on some of their most successful shows, so we’ll be getting even better placement,” co-founder Serafina Palandech told brandchannel.
As Hip Chick president, Palendech (far right), manages and directs all elements of sales, marketing and production for Hip Chick Farms. Her partner in business and life, her wife Jennifer Johnson, on the left, is the perfect choice as executive chef, having worked as a sous chef at Chez Panisse under organic-food pioneer Alice Waters.
Together, they have built a cult following for Hip Chick Farms products through gambits like the QVC blitz. Their goal is to double sales this year to about $3.5 million. She talked about the brand and their plans with brandchannel.
bc: How did the QVC deal come about?
Serafina Palandech: Last summer we went to a trade show for the US National Cooperative Grocers Association. And I was standing next to a really nice guy who owned a sausage company. He told me he had gone on to Home Shopping Network when he was getting going. That idea was furthest from my mind. But it builds brand and marketing; it’s like a giant commercial. He went on to sell millions of sausages on HSN.
So we went on QVC, and it adds to some of our other recent tactics which have included cooking in the White House for former President Obama and winning on the reality show West Texas Investors Club on CNBC.
bc: What are your backgrounds and how did you build the company?
Palandech: My partner was a private chef for Annie Gordon Getty, a foodie-type chef. And over the years for her family she would make chicken fingers for the kids and they would love them.
My background is raising money for charities, in completely different industries, putting on celebrity auctions and walkathons. What I learned from working for nonprofits is you have to be scrappy. I was used to bootstrapping everything.
Four or five years ago, we thought, let’s take a very simple recipe. Let’s source them from farmers we know. Let’s have an ethically-based company focused on transparency, focused on compassion and animal welfare. So it’s important to us to understand the circumstances in which animals are raised and processed. They’re all humanely certified.
Our important thing was relationship-building. When we started it I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It’s a very different thing for us even though [Jennifer] is a chef. My philosophy was to ask a lot of people for help. I cold-called; I took classes and said yes to every opportunity that came our way. We served the chicken fingers at events, speaking panels, trade shows.
bc: That was four years ago. How has your marketing evolved since then, besides QVC?
Palandech: We focused on the natural (foods retail) channel, on Whole Foods Markets, Sprouts, little independent grocery stores in the area. We were very focused on demo-ing in the store. Then last year we moved into 3,500 Kroger stores across the country as part of their huge initiative behind organic products.
We are constantly evolving and pivoting. We are looking more at data to guide our decisions. We’re very focused on social media, such as our presence on Facebook. Six months ago we had 2,000 followers; today we have 22,000. We’re focusing on content creation for social that is engaging for folks, such as videos that we do with influencers and mommy bloggers. And we do trade promotions.
We’re also about to start working with Social Nature to utilize technology advancements that engage with folks while driving sales and brand exposure.
bc: What is the current Hip Chick Farms product line?
Palandech: We have seven products right now: organic chicken fingers and meat balls and nuggets. And we’re introducing 14 new products in three new categories: dinner sausages that are refrigerated and breakfast sausages and new flavors for chicken fingers and meatballs. We are sold in the freezer case but we’re branching into refrigeration because we think people want organic poultry in every available section of the store. No one else is doing what we’re doing.
bc: How do you view your competition?
Palandech: Many larger poultry brands have an organic offering, but out of their 50 products, they might just offer one organic thing. By the time we’re done we will be offering 35 different organic products across the entire frozen and refrigerated categories. Another differentiator is that all of our products are certified humane. And we never use any fillers; lots of other folks do. We think it’s important not to add starch or water to extend our yields. It’s pure and clean product that is real poultry.
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