In this ongoing column, The Digest, Entrepreneur.com News Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with food entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to get their products into the mouths of customers.
If Nona Lim has learned anything from starting and running her own company, it's that there is such a thing as too much innovation.
In the mid-2000s, Lim and her husband were both management consultants in London, when they decided to move to the Bay Area. After her husband got a new job, ironically, Lim decided she wanted out of tech. But, then she ended up creating one of the first meal kit delivery businesses, Nona Lim, in 2006. It failed.
"It was too ahead of its time. Smartphones didn't even exist," she says. "The whole concept was so alien."
Her eponymous company pivoted in 2009 -- right into another failure. Lim, who earned a certification as a nutrition consultant, launched a food-based detox program. The program proved popular in the Bay Area, but customers told her they didn't want to stick with it forever. Another problem? The prepared meals, which included wild Alaskan salmon with lemon caper dressing and broccoli rabe, had such a short shelf life they couldn't be sold in stores.
Despite all the mistakes, what she did notice was that the program's soups, including a carrot ginger flavor, were popular as snacks and had great shelf life. The company packed and sold them in stores starting in 2011. Whole Foods picked them up within six months.
"We decided to focus just on retail," she says. "We were still innovative, but decided not to be too innovative."
Three years later, Lim would be at the forefront again when her company launched one of the first refrigerated bone broths in the country -- and was in Whole Foods nationally. Bone broth, which had been popular among cultures in Asia and beyond for centuries and involves the boiling of beef and chicken bones over the course of days to extract its collagen, became a full on food trend in America in 2013.
"It's not something that is revolutionary; it's just something that caught on with the American consumer," Lim says. "It became really trendy, but what we wanted to do was to make it more than just a trendy thing."
How? Accessible flavors for one, including tom kha, a Thai flavor Americans are already familiar with, and chicken turmeric. But, what really brought the company to the next level was not a full blown innovation, but something everyone is familiar with: a cup. Nona Lim says the company's breakout success is its Heat &; Sip Cups, which takes the once unusual bone broth and makes it accessible in a form resembling a Starbucks coffee cup.
"We're trying to make it more like a beverage," Lim says about the cups. "All you need to do is peel back [the lining], microwave it and then just sip." It's pretty much designed for modern millennials who always have a smartphone in one hand.
Today, they're sold globally in Whole Foods and also in Costco, fast casual eatery chain Snap Kitchen and in universities including New York University.
The product has pushed the company, whose other products include rice and ramen noodles and bagged soups, to its most successful year. The number of stores where its products are sold doubled this year from last year, revenue growth is expected to be more than 100 percent year over year, and according to data from industry analyzer SPINS, Nona Lim was the fastest growing refrigerated soup brand nationally in the last quarter.
This success didn't go unnoticed by investors. In July, the company announced it raised $3 million in seed round funding to create new products, hire more staff and expand its footprint.
Click through the slideshow to see Nona Lim's ingredients for success -- and what you can learn from them.