By Melanie Davis, PQ Monthly
The Shark Tank is a critically-acclaimed reality show that has reinvigorated entrepreneurship in America, has also become a culturally defining series. The recipient of the 2015 and 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Structured Reality Program. The Sharks — tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons — continue their search to invest in the best businesses and products that America has to offer. The Sharks give people from all walks of life the chance to chase the American dream and potentially secure business deals that could make them millionaires.
The hit unscripted series, which will reach its milestone 100th episode in November 2014, continues to be a ratings force. Which brings us to Heidi Ho Organics.
On the 100the episode of the Shark Tank in 2014 Portland-based Heidi Ho Organics appeared on national TV to seek investment for its line of vegan cheeses. Company founder Heidi Lovig made her pitch to investors on the ABC hit program (https://youtu.be/fAwhKJusgOs ), hoping for a $125,000 capital infusion. “Shark” Lori Greiner jumped on board within a Shark Tank record of a few minutes with an offer of $125k in exchange for 30 percent of the company, saying, “I love it. … I seriously think it is so delicious, so amazing.” Lovig accepted the deal to help grow her three-year-old business with her partner in business and life Lyssa Story. Heidi Ho Organics produces cheeses like Creamy Chia Cheeze, Smoky Chia Cheese, and Black Lava Ne Chèvre (my personal favorite).
I had the opportunity to sit down with Heidi Lovig and Lyssa Story to see how this last year has been for them post-Shark Tank.
PQ Monthly: So let’s start at the beginning, what inspired the both of you to open a vegan cheese company?
Heidi Lovig: Shortly after culinary school in Portland and traveling to remote areas of our world like Cambodia I began to see how well people lived without consuming large quantities of meat in their diet. In fact, they seem to have less overall health issues than most Americans on a typical western diet. So I started to eat a more plant base diet and while I was in Hawaii, I started adding vegan options to the menus. However, I was literally repulsed by the non-dairy options and when I say that I mean, I was repulsed that they were made from starch and fat emulsified together with weird flavors added, and had no nutritional value. So I immediately thought there was room for innovation. Like how about using real food to make a cheese alternative. So I said if no one else is going to do it, then I am going to do it.
Lyssa Story: (chuckling) I remember I would come home from bartending to our townhouse with the tiniest kitchen and there would be cheese everywhere along with all of our pots, and bowls, the food processor going. I would have nowhere to put food in our fridge because she (Heidi) would have cultures growing, different experiments at different phases in there. But we decided to do it and started selling at some local farmers markets.
HL: Then we decided to try this “VegFest” in Portland at the Oregon Convention Center and we had a line out the door. Everyone kept telling us that we had to turn it into a company. So I asked Lyssa if she would support me for a year while we build this and she agreed. So I started putting everything we needed for the business together and somehow found the time to send a video to ABC’s Shark Tank. We got a response right away. However, it was not the one we were hoping for. They said we were too small.
We had already been working with Whole Foods and they liked what we were doing and offered us a loan to help grow our business. Lyssa and I talked about it and decided to take a small amount and bought a couple of important things we needed to grow our capacity at our commercial kitchen. We were then able to produce enough product to take care of all of the Whole Foods in the Northwest and northern California. Whole Foods again realized our growth potential and offered us another loan. Around the same time Shark Tanks producers called us again to see how we were doing. After telling them about our growth, they asked us to send another video.
Five days later they called and said you’re coming down to shoot on Shark Tank in ten days. It was so fast! So we worked with our CFO Advisor Steve Elliot, who I love and admire, and Bruce Silverman, who is a retail genius from Whole Foods. The two of them and Lyssa would pretend to be sharks and grill me with every type of questions to prepare me for the show.
PQ: So you “seal a deal” with Lori Greiner in record time then what happens after the show. I mean do they have a contract ready for you, what’s the process?
LS: Well first they take you right from the studio to the airport right after the show. So we get home and three days later we get a call from Lori Greiner assistant, and five days later we are on the phone with Lori working out the details of the investment.
PQ: So with the $125,000 capital investment how have you grown your business Heidi Ho Organics?
HL: Well when we went in the Shark Tank Heidi Ho Organics was evaluated at $500,000. We have already hit $1.1 million in sales this year and will finish the year at $1.4 million, making our company worth close to $5 million. We also received a second loan from Whole Foods and you can now find our products in their stores nationwide.
PQ: So what does the future hold for Heidi Ho Organics?
HL: I can’t say what we have in store for you for 2016. However, we will say that we are going to be a heritage brand and want to be found down every grocery aisle, not just in the specialty food section. We have some big surprises coming in 2016 and are currently entertaining potential local investors to grow with us.
Heidi Ho Organics, as Whole Food describes has created a range of plant-based vegan cheese alternatives that are made from sustainably sourced ingredients, without any additives, fillers, or unnatural preservatives. Made from ingredients like cashews, hazelnuts and chia seeds, Heidi Ho products are dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and paleo friendly. Even more exciting – their products have similar characteristics of dairy cheese; meltable like real cheese! Their line includes vegetable based Creamy Chia Cheeze, Spicy! Chia Cheeze, Smoky Chia Cheeze, and cultured cashew based Ne Chevre Pure, and Ne Chevre Black Lava. For Investment Opportunities in this food revolution please contact Heidi Ho Organics at firstname.lastname@example.org