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Jason Fry
cooking up a brand
by Abram Sauer
October 9, 2009

Effective brands take a product that seems very similar to many other products and renders it unique. Zotes does just that in the sunflower seed category. The brand accomplishes this by focusing on the qualities that make sunflower seeds exceptional, different and dynamic.

The Zotes brand is about more than just different flavors, including Salt & Pepper, Roasted & Salted, Dill Pickle, Beer Baked, Hot Wings, Spicy Nacho, Tequila Lime, Jalapeno, Garlic Roast, and Energy. Zotes endeavors to be a lifestyle brand and not a simple product-category. Even Zote’s website resembles a surf wear brand more than a site for edible seeds.

 
 

The man behind this sunflower madness is CEO and founder Jason Fry. Fry’s website-posted definition of success: “Not knowing the difference between work and play.” Indeed.

We caught up with Fry to talk about sewing the seeds of Zotes’ success.

The Zotes brand is far from what many might think of in a sunflower seeds brand, having more in common with Vice Magazine or Quicksilver than Planters.

I am not sure it is a direction; we are just doing things with the brand that we would want. My definition of success is not knowing the difference between work and play. [See?!] So we better be having fun with our brand. I would rather develop a brand that moves people rather than just feed them.

Team Zotes sponsors a wide range of athletes who "know a thing or two about pain," from snowboarders and snowmobilers to baseball teams, big game hunters and surfers. How does this benefit the brand?

Why create mediocrity when you can copy genius? Over the 15 years of doing this, I get inspired by brands outside of our immediate industry. A few companies have come along and inspired me, but mostly I have seen our industry do what we are doing rather than me following them. The surf, skate, and snow scene is filled with companies, people, and athletes that inspire me and allow me to develop a brand that stands a part from a traditional snack food company.

The brands that inspire me our ones that automatically allow for people to become part of the culture of the brand, and when they discover you or your brand that is the most magical part to watch.

There are a number of competing sunflower seeds brands, such as SunSeeds, BIGS and, to some degree, Spitz. How does Zotes differentiate itself in the market?

I compete at some level with those companies but ultimately there is no competition. They sell sunflower seeds, I sell Zotes! Branding and packaging are the obvious answers.

Before Zotes, you launched the Chipper Beef Jerky brand. What made you interested in branded sunflower seeds?

Being in the salty snack category while doing beef jerky allowed me to see that what we were creating with Chipper Beef Jerky could be perfectly applied to seeds. There has been no innovation, or anything exciting injected into that category in over 50 years, so we felt we could come in and do some pretty exciting things by just being who we are.

What did you learn from creating the Chipper brand that helped with the challenges of branding Zotes?

I learned a great deal about understanding brands, and seeing a common thread that exists within those brands that work. Building a brand from concept to basement to national distribution helps you understand what does and what doesn't work. I love the concept behind Zotes, and without the knowledge gained through Chipper, I feel Zotes would not be working as well as it is.

So just how important to the brand is the Zotes’ packaging? It seems to share a lot I common with the Chipper Beef Jerky packaging.

Spilling your seeds is a big deal. The packaging is better for the seeds than the Jerky. Overall people have identified Zotes with flavors, packaging, and branding. Once you eat seeds out of the bottle you never want to eat them out of a bag again.

Recently, many brands have paid the price of doing part of their business with China. How important is quality control to the central Zotes brand?

We shifted everything to the U.S.A. I feel it is important to start local, regional and then national with those vendors we use. It is impossible to control quality in China, so therefore we brought it home. We all need to make decisions that will help us long term and not short term.

Have you tried to leverage this “made in the USA” appeal?

I have not. We have started to dial in the local Utah product and began leveraging that aspect.

What is the biggest branding challenge for Zotes?

Consumer awareness and having the patience to build it slowly, and correctly. Getting people around me that know where to take the brand and how to develop it the right way. To me a successful brand requires a guy behind it that is insane enough to ram his head against the wall long enough to become an overnight success.

In this patient development, what have you found to be the most efficient and brand-appropriate avenues for getting the word out about Zotes?

Sampling has been are most effective method for gaining brand loyalty. If we can get people to try the product, we feel like we can gain a long-term customer. Having difficulty finding product does not help the bottom line but it sure has built up a frenzy with our consumers who are constantly on the prowl looking for the next spot to feed their addiction.

And, as for finding “people around you” who “know where to take the brand,” how do you find brand championing talent?

The fact that we are not an industry specific product allows us amnesty. Jimi McCagno, our new VP of Marketing, is vital to the roads we want to travel down.

What are your favorite brands or brands you admire?

Muscle Milk, Red Bull, Capita Snowboards, DC Shoe, Holden, Volcom, Nixon, Vice, and Frank, are brands that I admire. This is a hard question as there are so many elements of all brands that I use to shape my likes and dislikes. I gain more inspiration at times from looking at brands that are awful.

I admire brands that stand on their own merits. Too often the industry you sell in becomes the baseline for what is normal or cool. I like brands that circumvent their own industry and become something more for those who buy their products and for those who live their brands.

Any plans for brand extensions into other products

Oh yeah. Flavored seeds are just the beginning.

 
  

Abram D. Sauer has written about brands and branding trends since 2001. Visit www.abesauer.com for more of his work on branding and product placement.

 
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Jason Fry - cooking up a brand
 
 Is this company out of business? They are not answering thier phones? 
- October 21, 2009
 
 I've had the same trouble. And I have an outstanding order with them. 
Paul - October 29, 2009
 
 i have an outstanding order as well. i've emailed them and tried to call. the phone is disconnected. 
missy green - November 3, 2009
 
 I got an email back from the founder Jason Fry and they are going through a major restructuring. He assured me that my order has been reshipped as of yesterday. Stand by Zotes Fans. 
Eric N, Chemist/Emergency Responder - November 3, 2009
 
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