Tahini Is the Hottest New Food Trend. This Founder's Israel-Made Tahini and Sugar-Free Halva, the Only Sold in the U.S., Saw Rapid Success Despite the Pandemic.
How a full-time mom was inspired to launch a business to encourage people to eat more vegetables.
Sally Schimko, founder of The Tahini Goddess, says, "If you told me 10 years ago that I was going to be launching a company in the food industry, I would have laughed." But now, Schimko laughs at herself because she cannot believe how many people, including kids, she has hooked onto eating more vegetables. That was Schimko's primary goal when she first launched a blog and Instagram page named "My Sexy Veggies." Her vision was to make all vegetables "sexy and appealing" by dipping or preparing them with her homemade sugar-free tahini products and to teach others not to fear "the good fat."
Born and raised in Israel, where she served in the military for two years as the office manager for the base commander, Schimko moved to Miami, Florida in 2010 for her husband's business. Up until then, she enjoyed traveling and learning about culture, and her family was her priority. During her first year living in Miami, Schimko had her first child, Ethan, who from the day he was born, was the pickiest eater. From breastmilk to jarred food, her infant son was fussy about everything.
"Ethan inspired me to step into the kitchen and make homemade food because it's what I was given as a child even though I never learned how to prepare it," Schimko says. "This is how I got started." Schimko had grown up on tahini and halva as a child. She explains, "Tahini in Israel is like the peanut butter of America, and halva is the Mediterranean cookie dough!"
"Schimko sourced the most buttery and sweet 100% Humera sesame seeds"
On her blog, Schimko shared recipes and photos of how she got her son (and husband!) to eat so many vegetables, and her audience would ask how she did it. Schimko told them very few people like to eat broccoli or cauliflower steamed or roasted, or even with olive oil and salt, but if you put tahini on it, it's delicious! Her friends agreed, but the problem was that current tahini on the market did not taste that good because it was not made in Israel — it was machine made in the U.S.
Through her social platforms, Schimko loved showing people how there could be so much variety and flavors in good food and vegetables. This is specifically why she developed the different flavors: People could dip their vegetables in many different flavors, drizzle it on their salads and bowls and make eating fun!
So how did The Tahini Goddess products stand out from what was already on the market and what helped Schimko rapidly grow her business despite launching one month prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in February of 2020? Quality, transparency, taste and sourcing.
Schimko sourced the most buttery and sweet 100% Humera sesame seeds from the rich soils of Ethiopia and prioritized hand-made mill-stone ground production in Israel. In the U.S., most tahinis are made with modern machinery, which makes sesame seeds and tahini harder to digest because the sesame seeds and peels end up in the finished product.
From a business perspective, if companies keep the sesame skin, they are filling the container faster and don't use as much of the quality ingredients (sesame seeds). As a result, many of the jars and bottles have a chunk of paste in the bottom and a lot of oil on top. Schimko explains how oil separation can happen, but tahini is not supposed to be pasty, and it won't be if it doesn't contain the sesame skin.
"Schimko dedicated much of her time to sharing easy and delicious recipes"
Tahini also has so many health benefits — from anti-inflammatory properties to calcium to essential vitamins and minerals that support your health across the board, but only if the seeds are roasted at low temperatures. Otherwise, much of the nutrition of this delicious "good fat" dip, spread and dressing is lost. "My customers really notice the difference and they have helped spread the word through testimonials and word of mouth," Schimko says.
In spreading the word, Schimko dedicated much of her time to sharing easy and delicious recipes that even a working and homeschooling mom in the midst of a pandemic would have time to prepare. She focused on five ingredients or less, and everything could be made my hand. In what she calls her "simple kitchen," she explains that there is no need for a food processor. She grew her social engagement quickly and organically by sticking to the following tips:
- Prioritize the customer and be responsive. Schimko received so many questions, DMs and comments, and even though it would take her all night, she made it a priority to respond to each and every one — and still does! Whether it was a question about preparation or a concern about a product, she engaged with her customers, reposted their recipes and even shared her personal lifestyle tips for beauty, fitness and wellness as a working mom.
- Utilize appealing photos and video. As much as one can use words or write out a recipe, food is best expressed in photography and simple demonstration. Schimko shares multiple "How to" reels on her IG page that span from "The Secret to the Best Hummus" to "Vegan and Gluten Free Double Chocolate Tahini Cookies."
- Be yourself and don't just post the social-media "highlight reel." There's a reason for the numerous photo, special effects and editing apps on social media, and Schimko tried to avoid excessive "filtering." As much as she posted about the happiness and delightful recipes, she also shared when she was sad about not seeing family, overwhelmed as a working mom during the pandemic or how she used food to pacify her emotions. "I try to be as realistic as I can and share real-life tips, such as my morning routines or how walking on the beach is my stress reliever," Schimko says.
- Support others, especially women entrepreneurs. Schimko understands that launching a business for anyone, especially a working mother during a pandemic, is difficult, so anywhere she was able to, she would share other female-founded companies, which included her favorite beauty products and foods that complemented her tahini and sugar-free halva and clothing. For example, @eatroyo flaxseed bread and @eatonhemp hemp seeds are two of Schimko's favorite products. The cross promotion among female founders with authentic companies and messages helped grow a loyal following.
"I feel so fortunate to have launched and grown so quickly"
Now, well into 2021,The Tahini Goddess has commitment from two major national retailers for fall distribution for both her line of tahini that features nine sweet and savory flavors ranging from Pesto to Za'atar to Tzatziki to Spicy Chili and even Chocolate and Peanut Butter to six sugar-free halva flavors with Coffee Halva, Chocolate Chip Halva and Cinnamon Halva being top sellers.
"I feel so fortunate to have launched and grown so quickly, and now the challenge will be to scale the growth and keep up with manufacturing," Schimko says. "Most important, I want to keep inspiring others to eat their veggies and demonstrate that living healthy lifestyles and eating well can be delicious." After all, if she can make Mediterranean cookie dough a healthy and guilt-free indulgence with anti-inflammatory benefits, almost anything is possible.
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