January 23, 2023
We’re excited to announce the $10,000 December Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Michelle Dudash, Owner of Spicekick. She is the first qualifier for the 2023 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Michelle for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Hi everyone. Welcome to a conversation with our Amber Grant winner for December, 2022. Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Michelle Dudash, who’s the founder of Spicekick, and she is last month’s winner.
I’m Marcia Layton Turner, and I am one of several WomensNet Advisory Board members. I always get the pleasure of talking to our winners. So Michelle, thank you so much for your time today. I’m really excited to dig into some interesting information about your business.
Michelle: Marcia, thank you so much for having me. I am absolutely thrilled to be here.
WomensNet: So let’s start at the beginning. Tell everybody about Spicekick…what you do and where the idea came from.
Michelle: So I started the company, or the brand, three years ago. I’m a registered dietician, a cordon bleu certified chef and a cookbook author.
I’ve been in the food business since I was 14 years old. I started in restaurants and I always knew I wanted to start a food company, but it was coming up with the right product, coming up with something that hasn’t been done before. And of course the financial side is, yeah, we can’t forget about that. After being in the cookbook world and media world and restaurant world for most of my career, I finally came up with the idea. And I happened to be cooking over the stovetop making my family’s dinner. And I used this taco packet that probably many of our viewers have used before.
But I thought to myself, ‘gosh, my family loves this.’ It took me 15 minutes; I made it in one pan. But what I didn’t feel great about were a lot of the ingredients inside the packet. So that is literally when the idea hit me. I thought ‘I can create my Michelle Dudash recipes. I can create clean eating recipes made with real food ingredients, ingredients that I feel good about. And I think that a lot of other people feel good about feeding their family.’ So I started with a taco packet. I brought it to my friends… they loved it. They said “I would buy that.” So that was literally what spurred me. And of course, three years later now I have eight flavors of seasoning mixes that are in grocery stores. It’s amazing.
WomensNet: What are some of the flavors?
Michelle: I have some eye candy here to show you today. So I will say this was not the original packaging. My original brand name by the way was Dash Dinners, which I loved. A lot of people loved it, but guess what? I couldn’t trademark it. And that is a really big tip for people. You really wanna talk to somebody and make sure your name isn’t too similar. It was Dash. Think of brands that might have the word dash….[it] didn’t occur to me. So we have a chili packet, we have a tuna salad. This is actually my number one seller.
Then I rebranded as Spicekick and have the trademark. So excited. It is a registered trademark. And this designer that I hired was amazing. She’s a local designer and I’m so happy with how it turned out.
Sloppy Joe is another big seller. So it’s kind of a mix of nostalgia foods, things that are staples that you wanna eat all the time for lunch. But there’s also some interesting ones. Like we have Tikka Masala. So it’s kinda like recreating the restaurant experience, but you have control over the ingredients. You are probably saving a ton of money, by the way, cooking this for yourself. I was ordering way too much takeout by the way. And so I thought, ‘I want flavors like ramen that I can just whip up with staple ingredients.’ So you add your protein, like chicken breasts, chicken thigh, if your vegetarian, maybe a can of chickpeas. You add your veg and you just follow the recipe on the back. And usually you’re just adding that protein, veg, and a little water. And that’s it. Super easy.
I’m not a huge meal planner, I will admit. And these do the meal planning for you. You just keep these in your pantry and you have dinner.
WomensNet: Love it. And so what are some of the stores that you’re currently in?
Michelle: So I live in Indiana. I’m in Market Wagon, which is an online farmer’s market across the Midwest. I’m in Needler’s Market, which is a really nice grocery store in Indiana. I’m in three of them right now. As soon as I get my next big batch of production, I’m planning on getting into more. But that’s a logistic thing, right?
Then nice butcher shops. In my area there’s a number of great butcher shops that have local meats, so I’m in a number of those as well.
WomensNet: That’s so smart. I wouldn’t have thought of that.
Michelle: Yes. And of course we’re on Amazon, by the way, so it’s crazy. Sometimes I’ll see orders come through to Hawaii… it has gone all over the place through Amazon. So that is the gift of Amazon. I’m able to help people get dinners on the table all over the place. So it’s pretty cool.
WomensNet: Fantastic. You really have accomplished a lot in just three years. What do you think has been the secret to your success thus far?
Michelle: Well, I picked a product that I knew, and that is food. And of course it’s a better-for-you food product. And of course, as a dietician, that was huge. I didn’t try to start in a whole new industry. I’m sticking to what I know, but of course there are still a lot of things to learn. I knew nothing about getting into retail, about wholesale, about any of that. I knew the food in the kitchen and the nutrition side.
Another thing [that] is so important… Just start. I started really scrappy. I didn’t start out with a hundred thousand dollar budgets. I literally ordered some bulk ingredients in from a spice vendor, a spice warehouse. I ordered craft pouches from a pouch company. I ordered labels from a label company. I designed it myself, and it took time for me. And you wanna test your product, you wanna test, test, test before, and of course some food companies can come out with this from the get-go. They have piles of money. But if you don’t, don’t let that be a barrier.
I started on my farmer’s market. It’s an amazing way to test. I highly recommend that. Don’t overlook your local farmer’s market. Find the one that is right for you. Of course, mine just happens to be 10 minutes from my house, which is amazing. I’m building that community. So starting scrappy… just getting started. And then you have to be willing to do everything.
I’m the delivery driver. I’m production. I’m about to hand that off, thankfully… fulfilling orders. You just have to be willing to do all those things. Design was not my forte. I hired somebody eventually. So the things that you really don’t know how to do, hire for those, but the things that you can at least get done and get it done decently, do. Because all these people and services cost money. And so once you’re creating larger batches, you’re gonna need even more money. It’s really prioritizing how you spend your money. And we can’t forget: know your costs and your margins and how much you need to sell it for.
It’s harder to raise your prices later. And it’s easy to think, ‘oh, well, once I’m making this much product, my costs will come down.’ But guess what, then you’re gonna have to hire designers, then you’re gonna have to buy display boxes. There’s always new costs involved. So really get your pricing based on what your costs are and then just go from there.
WomensNet: Great advice. Thank you. So now that you’ve won the $10,000 Amber Grant, how do you intend to use that money to grow Spicekick?
Michelle: Yes, this is a major game changer. I have been stressing the last few months. I’ve been making it myself for the last three years. But this year, because it’s growing, the brand is growing, I’m getting into more retailers. I want to get into more chains. But to do that, you need to give them confidence that you can supply the product, that much product. So I am doing much larger batches, which requires cash. I have eight flavors, so if there’s any left, I’ll of course be able to do some updated display boxes, but it’s mostly going to the actual product, because I’m buying in such large batches now.
WomensNet: I love to hear that because that means you’re anticipating more sales; it’s going to start this whole sort of engine growth, to get more product out, to be able to sell more. So way to go.
Michelle: Thank you.
WomensNet: You touched on your future plans. Can you tell us a little bit about where you see the company in three to five years? What does that look like?
Michelle: Definitely in more stores. This year I’m focusing on distribution. Currently I self-distribute, which means I literally deliver the product myself, which is actually great starting out. You learn so much when you deliver your product; you’re talking to those buyers, those store managers. But you really have to focus on sales and that’s another tip — focusing on those sales.
So my goal is to get larger chains. I’m about to get into one. It’s not a done deal yet, but I’ll be sharing that soon. Great. And that’s 50 stores, for example. So it’s growing into those larger chains. And then that’s a regional chain. But then of course the end goal, getting into national chains, getting into national distribution, which will happen before the three year mark. But it’s gonna be a build, it’s gonna be a gradual build. One distributor told me you gotta walk before you run. And that is so true.
WomensNet: What’s some advice that you would give some of the women who are watching this video? They’re thinking about starting a business, or maybe they’re newer to starting a business. What would you recommend that they do at this stage?
Michelle: One thing I really recommend is apply to accelerators. I’ve actually applied a few. One I’ve gotten into. You just have to keep trying. Maybe you haven’t launched your product yet. I found one in Indiana, for example. That was a focus on small business, digital marketing, access to mentors. Instead of paying these consultants. Try to find mentors; meet new people. An accelerator will definitely help you with that. Okay. Even if you don’t get into accelerator, when you’re out talking to people, if somebody shows [interest], maybe you kind of hit it off a little bit… grab a little coffee or a Zoom or an email or whatever they’re willing to share with you. But that can really help you from making costly mistakes.
Focusing on sales is another big tip. There are literally a thousand things I could be working on at any given time. But one of the best tips I got actually through the accelerator that I did is focus on sales. Because if you don’t have sales, your business is not gonna survive. And you have to be able to cover that overhead. And then of course, once you’re covering that, that’s when you can finally get to a profit, assuming your costs of goods sold are in line.
So that is a big thing. And that’s really what I focused on last year once I had my grocery store packaging. It’s just walking into grocery stores, markets and just pitching. I still do it. Pitch buyers, the grocery store managers right then and there.
You just have to sell yourself. So have that confidence, be fearless and be kind. Be persistent. This one store I’m about to get into…we’re on three months right now. Not to sound negative, but they don’t really care about you. I’m just a little spice company. I am passionate. No one’s gonna be more passionate than you [the business owner]. So you just have to be consistent, persistent, and just not give up. You have a depressing day and you didn’t get any orders? Well, okay, tomorrow’s a new day. You just have to keep at it. Keep networking, stay out there, and the rewards will come.
WomensNet: Fantastic. Thank you so much for spending some time with me sharing your story, Michelle. And congratulations again on being our December Amber Grant winner.
Michelle: Thank you so much.