Arizona is increasingly becoming known for its culinary diversity and quality.

Having lived in Arizona (and started multiple food-related businesses) Laura Briscoe has had a front-row seat to this astounding culinary growth. We get to talk with her about her culinary background, her latest venture – Laura’s Gourmet Granola, and her experiences living and working in our amazing state of Arizona.

Learn more about Laura’s Gourmet Granola over on their website: laurasgourmet.com

Contact: Mike mike@resoundcreative.com or Chris chris@resoundcreative.com

Discuss at https://www.facebook.com/azbrandcast/

The show is recorded at the Resound offices in ever-sunny Tempe, Arizona (the 48th – and best state of them all).

Show Transcript

Mike Jones:
This is the AZ Brandcast, where we explore Arizona’s brand and the brands that make Arizona. I’m Mike Jones.

Mike Jones:
All right, everybody, it’s another episode of AZ Brandcast. I want to thank you all for listening in today. This is the show where we talk about all sorts of awesome people and the power of brand and how to build great brands in our remarkable state of Arizona. I’m your host today, Mike Jones. We’ve got my co-host, standing in for Chris Stadler, we’ve got…

Sam Pagel:
Sam Pagel.

Mike Jones:
Hey, Sam. Thanks for coming on.

Sam Pagel:
Yeah.

Mike Jones:
And our wonderful, amazing guest, Laura Briscoe. I hope I got your last name right.

Laura Briscoe:
You got it perfect.

Mike Jones:
Yes. I forgot to ask before the show. Laura is, amongst many things, she is founder owner and Chief Granola Officer… had to make sure I got that right… of Laura’s Gourmet Granola, which is a fantastic granola band right here in Arizona, based here, putting together some amazing products. I can attest to that because my children would not stop eating her granola when I got some. They love it. They absolutely love it. In fact, they loved it so much, I didn’t get a chance to even try it. So, I’m going to have to remedy that and go get another bag.

Laura Briscoe:
That was my granola gasp.

Mike Jones:
I know. Yes, I love it. So, Laura, tell us a little bit about Laura’s Gourmet Granola, how you got started, tell us a little bit about the story.

Laura Briscoe:
So, Laura’s Gourmet Granola is what I’ve always referred to as a happy accident. I did not have an intention of starting a granola brand or product or anything. I had recently finished culinary school when I changed careers from my tech life, and I had obviously in culinary school, been trained to do things like when you do a recipe and you’re changing things up, document it.

Laura Briscoe:
And one day, I found a recipe in a magazine for granola, and the ingredients looked good, and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to give this a try,” and I made it one time, and I thought, “Okay, this tasted good enough, but it had butter in it,” and I don’t really eat any butter, it doesn’t do well for me. It had some other things like white sugar and stuff, and I’m thought, “Okay, well, maybe I’ll change this around.” I don’t know why.

Mike Jones:
But you did.

Laura Briscoe:
But I did. And every time I change something, I wrote it down. I liked the technique that was used, so that was the only part of the recipe that actually stuck. So, over the course of about four or five months, I literally redid this recipe over and over, and with different oils, different sugars, different spices, you name it. And if you’re familiar with baking and you’ve baked yourself, you know that when you bake a batch of cookies, or you make cupcakes, you have more than you really want to consume for yourself, so you give it away, you give it to your neighbors, you give it to your friends, if didn’t come out well, you give it to your enemies.

Laura Briscoe:
So, in my case, I was doing that, and I would take it to my personal trainer and I’d say, “Here, have some granola,” or to my friends across the street, “Here, I made extra. Or as I shared earlier, my daughters were in sports and they were in peewee type sports, and I would bring it for their halftime, and they were all excited to have something different.

Laura Briscoe:
And then one day as my best friend was handing me my daughter’s brownie badge, now sewn onto her vest, because I don’t sew, she said to me, “You really should think about selling this,” and I thought, “Oh, okay. I have some bandwidth,” because like I said, I’d finished culinary school, and when I finished school, my externship was actually starting my first business which was called Celebrated Cuisine, that I did fine dining in private venues, and I did culinary instruction, and I wasn’t that busy because I had just finished culinary school, and who’s going to bet their dinner party on that?

Laura Briscoe:
So, I decided to figure out how to sell a product in Arizona. And one of my purveyors, he was my fish guy, he sold me on my fish, his name was John, he said, “Well, here’s how you sell to AJ’s if you want to go after AJ’s, and in my world, I was thinking okay, “Go big or go home.” So, I just walked to the aisles of AJ’s, I looked at the shelves, I looked at the products that were on the shelves, how they were packaged, how they were labeled, ended up talking to a few of the AJ’s guys, got some input and didn’t really think twice about what was really going to happen at that point, except that I thought, “Okay, well I need a bag, and then I’m going to need a label.”

Laura Briscoe:
So, I remember I called Paper Mart, which is a company in California, to buy a bag. So, I saw a kraft tin-tie bag that had a big window, I really liked it. So, I called and said, “Can I get a sample?” And they said, “Oh, no, no, we don’t send samples. You need to buy the quantity.” I go, “That’s 100 bags.” And she said, “Oh honey, it’s okay. If you don’t like them, you can return what you don’t use.” And I said, “Okay,” then I bought my first 100 bags, which obviously has become tens of thousands.

Laura Briscoe:
Anyway, so I get the bag, and then I did what every self-made or self home, whatever. I got out my printer, which was inkjet, and I went to OfficeMax and I bought some clear Avery print labels, and I started making up a label. No barcodes, no nutrition, just the name of what it was. And Vanilla Almond, which was our first flavor, was actually called Vanilla Cinnamon back in the day.

Laura Briscoe:
Anyway, so this person, John, had told me how to go after AJ’s and he had said, “You need to get every store to agree to… or get the category manager or the grocery buyer to want to bring you in, and then you get that agreement by bringing them samples, and then you go to the corporate office.” So, I did that.

Laura Briscoe:
I looked like Red Riding Hood, basically, in my chef gear, going store to store, and I met these people, they were super nice, and they were very accepting, but they said, “You need to get corporate to say, ‘Yay.'” So, I was sending letters and samples to corporate, I was getting no response at all, not a bite, as they would say in the culinary world, and I was getting really frustrated, but it also wasn’t going to be my bread and butter, I was being Chef Laura.

Laura Briscoe:
So, one day I was on my way to do a cooking class up in Paradise Valley and I had needed to get one last ingredient to bring with me, and I walked into what was then an [ABCO 00:06:23] on 44th and Camelback. And as I was checking out, I asked the cashier… I noticed a group of men, all men, in suits and ties, and you just don’t see that in Arizona, unless you’re working on Central back in… This was what? 2004. So, I said, “What’s going on over here?” And she said, “Oh, AJ’s has just bought this ABCO and they’re looking at the store, walking in to see how they’re going to make all the transition.” I’m like, “Oh, okay, cool.”

Laura Briscoe:
Well, one of the AJ’s participants was actually Eddie Basha, and I saw him, and of course, he’s an icon, right? And I saw him and I’m like, “Oh, cool.” Well, he was with his pack, so I didn’t bother. So, my sous chef and I left the store, and he had apparently gone outside and I didn’t know, because it wasn’t like I was stalking him, and it was raining, so he was standing under a little covering, whatever, and he was on his cell phone. And as I walked past… remember, this is 2004… I heard the phone close, so I knew he was done talking. So, I turned around, and I don’t know what possessed me, but I just stopped, turned around, and I went up to him and I said, “Hi.” And he looks at me, he’s like, “Hi.” I looked fairly safe.

Laura Briscoe:
And I told him my name and what I was trying to do, and that I had been reaching out to AJ’s corporate and I was trying to get my product in the stores. And he looked at me, and for the first time in my life I heard this expression. He’s like, “Oh,” he goes, “Well, we support local, and I will absolutely put in a word on your behalf. I will let them know that you put the screws to me.” That is a quote. And I looked at him and I said, “Well, when you were first starting, didn’t you put the screws to people?” And he said, “Absolutely.” Well, I gave him my business card, and exactly 10 days later, I received a phone call from a gentleman, Steve LeFevre, who is the category manager to this day for AJ’s, letting me know…

Laura Briscoe:
And it was actually May 2004, that they were going to put us on the shelf, and that it would be a store decision, so it didn’t have to be all stores-

Mike Jones:
Yeah, store by store.

Laura Briscoe:
… but it would be every store could decide, and it would be effective on July 15th.

Laura Briscoe:
So, this July 15th will mark our 17 year anniversary with AJ’s as our retail partner.

Mike Jones:
Awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
And the thing I love most, especially about this particular retailer, is because I was the one doing the store deliveries in the beginning and the store managers, as they move from store to store, we eventually would get more stores, I got to know these people really well. I got to know Steve LeFevre really well, I got to know Jason Mead, who’s one of their senior VPs now for all the Bashas’ banners and everything, really well. And it’s so great, even to this day, because AJ’s is such a great retailer that people don’t leave, they work there for life. And so even today, if I walk into one of the stores and I see… it’s like, “Hey, so-and-so.”

Mike Jones:
They all know you. You know them.

Laura Briscoe:
And they’re like, “Oh.” And if they don’t remember my name, I’ll say, “It’s granola girl.” “Oh, yeah. How are you?” And they’ve treated us extraordinarily well. But that was such an experience, and that was fine. I was good. I’m on the shelf, I’m Chef Laura, I’m building my catering business, I’m building my private fine dining business.

Laura Briscoe:
And then I agreed to do a cooking class for the Alumni Association for University of Pennsylvania, which is where I went to school, and one of the people who received the invitation works for Whole Foods. He’s a store director. So, he’d read my bio right away, he’s like, “Who’s teaching this cooking class?” Because he’s a chef, and he and I lived parallel lives. He went to Penn, obviously, because the alumni thing, I went to Penn, he went to Scottsdale Culinary, I had gone to Scottsdale culinary, and he was actually the store director in the Whole Foods one mile from my facility.

Laura Briscoe:
So, he called me up and he said, “Hey, we are always interested in bringing on local, we’d like to talk to you.” I’m like, “Okay.” And Red Riding Hood came out again, and I filled up my basket of goodies, and I went over to the store and sat down. So, his name is Michael Hardy. So, I showed him our brand, he tried, he’s like, “Oh, this is really good. We’ll bring you in for the local program.” I’m like, “Great.” And that’s how we started with Whole Foods in Arizona. Now he’s the store director at the beautiful Camelback store at Highland and 20th, and we’re still friends and just great support, right? And then that happened.

Laura Briscoe:
And then this happened. We get a phone call one day… actually, it was an email. No, it was a phone call, from the corporate chef for Fox Restaurant Concepts. And this one, actually, to this day, makes me laugh. So, Chris Cristianos, his name, he calls me up and he says, “Hey.” At first I’m like, “Oh, my God, they want me to be a chef at Fox Restaurants.” I’m beyond excited, right? And then he’s like, “I want to talk to you about your granola.” I’m like, “What is wrong with you?” But it was the child I didn’t know I was going to have.

Laura Briscoe:
Anyway, he said, “We’re opening a new concept. We’ve been looking everywhere for granola. I’ve gone through all the stores and yours is by far the best. We’d like to buy it for food service.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “It’s not on the package, it’s just in a big box and then we use it on the menu.” I’m like, “Okay.” So, he described the concept, it was up at [Kierland 00:11:44], and we made an agreement on the price. And it I think back now how the FDA would feel about this, but I would fill up a… what’s called a Lexan, a clear container with a lid on it that we use, I would fill it up with 10 pounds, and I would head down to the restaurant, and then I do it in the back door, it was so exciting, right? And I would dump my Lexan of goods into their Lexan, and then they would hand me a check and I would be gone. And that’s how we started our food service, which has since become more than half of our business.

Laura Briscoe:
I think the thing that I’ve loved the most about Laura’s Gourmet Granola and its initial emergence into the market is that it was so organic. It was, “Oh, have you thought about this?” And then it became, “Hey, would you come in and talk to us?” Or “Hey, we just tried this.” And so, it wasn’t a push, it was a pull, and it was also a great lesson in paying attention to what the universe is talking about, right? Because when you’re listening, then you find the opportunity, but if you’re just oblivious, you won’t. So, that that’s the way it started.

Laura Briscoe:
One of the significant things for me over the last 17 years was in 2018, I think it was. We changed our packaging. We went from this kraft tin-tie bag that we had bought 100 of, which became more, and moved to a custom bag. And when I did that, I felt like our product had grown up. We deserved the slot on the specialty shelf, we earned it. Because the other one was fine.

Laura Briscoe:
That one said this is a house-made product, even though it was never made in a house professionally, but what we have now felt like we earned adult status on the shelf. Because when I look back at our original packaging now, on one hand, I’m like, “Oh my God.” I have two daughters, they’re grown. And I look back at their baby pictures and I still think they’re beautiful, but the baby pictures, especially when they’re first born, not as beautiful as you remember. And I looked at them, I’m like, “How did people buy this? I am so grateful that they did, but how in the world did they say, ‘Oh, this looks good’ when it looked like I had pasted it together in my house.”

Mike Jones:
There’s probably a lesson in there around something about people’s appeal of something that feels homemade and crafted, and sometimes… I don’t know. I’ve had this conversation with a couple other people I know who own businesses that are similar, like homemade, crafted originally, that there’s an appeal that people have to that. And that’s one of those brand decisions. Really, it’s hard. Like, when do you grow up, in essence, and make sure you’re not losing that? I think you’ve done a good job keeping some of that same… I don’t know if homemade is right. I mean, yeah, a little bit of that homemade or-

Laura Briscoe:
Artisan.

Mike Jones:
Artisan.

Laura Briscoe:
That’s the word we like to use.

Mike Jones:
That’s a great word.

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah. So, it is an artisan crafted product. That is a huge differentiator for us in that our products are all batch baked. It’s not this huge assembly line. If you walked into our facility and you saw our equipment as far as what we use to mix and bake, you’d use the same stuff on a smaller scale in your own house. So, I mean, there’s no mystery around that, but it’s not processed, it’s not generic.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. And it’s not this huge always on assembly line processing.

Laura Briscoe:
No.

Mike Jones:
Yeah, there’s something really interesting about that batch production type philosophy, and I think that’s really cool. That was going to be one of my questions actually, was how do you differentiate? I mean, it seems like granola, I mean, it’s a long-standing category.

Laura Briscoe:
Yes. And a very crowded one.

Mike Jones:
And a very crowded one. So, how have you carved out your spot in that category. What’s helped make Laura’s Gourmet Granola stand out?

Laura Briscoe:
So, we’re continuing to carve, right? We by no means own this.

Mike Jones:
Sure. Oh, yeah. It’s never done.

Laura Briscoe:
No. So, in the granola category, there’s a lot of different ways you can go. You can be complete mass produced with very low value ingredients and just get it into a bag so you can get it onto a shelf or whatever. Then there’s the super duper high end where you’re making such a small quantity that it’s really, really expensive. But in the granola category, there’s organic, there’s natural, there’s specialty, and then there’s generic, like we talked about.

Laura Briscoe:
So, the way we differentiate ourselves are, one, we are 100% natural, all of our ingredients are natural. Number two, batch baked, artisan crafted. Number three, and very important is that it’s chef-created. And we definitely lead with that, because what we want people to understand is that, if they sit down for breakfast with a bowl of Laura’s Gourmet Granola, or they choose to bake with it, or they’re sprinkling it on a salad, or whatever the case is, just like any dish you would expect from a fine dining chef, this granola will elevate the culinary experience that you’re about to have.

Laura Briscoe:
So, we’re putting that elevated crunch, which is what our tagline is, into the bag every single time. My production manager is a classically trained chef as well, so it lends all the way through our production process.

Laura Briscoe:
So, when we can tell that story to the retail buyer or the retail consumer, it makes a difference, because what I’ve been told by some of the influencers that are out there who have discovered our product, or whatever, is they can taste the deft hand we have with salt, or with the crunch, the sugar, the texture. We’re being asked now to produce private or custom blends for some very renowned hotels in the country because they understand that we can take their recipe, take it up a notch… and these chefs are amazing… take it up a notch because this is what we do. So, that’s been cool.

Laura Briscoe:
But I think one of the other things that people really grab on to with our products is that the ingredients we use are truly premium. When we say that there’s almonds in our vanilla almond, we’re using blanched slivered almonds, so there’s almonds in every bite, right?

Mike Jones:
Real almonds. They can see them.

Laura Briscoe:
They’re real almonds, but they’re not chopped almonds. Because when you eat… and think about things that you don’t like, food you don’t like, number one reason you probably don’t like that food is because of the texture not because of the taste. The same holds true for granola. The texture has to be right, and not everybody wants chewy granola, and not everybody wants a rock hard granola, not everybody wants a cluster, not everybody wants muesli, so there’s a lot of different ways, and we fit in that gap really, really well.

Laura Briscoe:
So, for our product, when we say cherries, like CherryRific, those are whole dried Montmorency cherries, not dehydrated, but chewy. Cultivated blueberries where you can see the blueberry and they’re chewy. Cinnamon diced apples, or just recently we did a limited edition, Dark Chocolate Crunch, which went really, really well. And I was super excited about it because it was the first time we’ve used hemp protein in a product.

Mike Jones:
How interesting.

Laura Briscoe:
And you don’t taste it and you don’t want to, that’s the thing. The proteins, when you add some of these plant based proteins, it can get overpowering. That’s where the chef thing comes in. It’s like, “How do we integrate this-

Mike Jones:
Balancing everything.

Laura Briscoe:
… and make sure that flavor never comes through, but instead what you taste is chocolate?” And we nailed it, right, and we were pretty excited. So, it’ll be back when it’s cooler out. We don’t produce it in the summertime.

Mike Jones:
No, not here.

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah. So, that’s some of the way we differe- I mean, we differentiate by texture, taste, artisan craft, chef-made or chef-created, all of those things work together to create what is in that bag.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. And obviously, the combination of all of them creates a great product, and it’s one that it seems like people really enjoy. I mean, just the fact that one of your friends said, “You should be selling this,” is probably a good indication that-

Laura Briscoe:
My best friend who is still my best friend, who gets to hear all the good and bad as it goes on. So, yeah, she signed up for that the same time.

Mike Jones:
Yes, that’s great. Obviously, since then, you got lots of customers who have all agreed.

Laura Briscoe:
Yes.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
It used to be I knew every single person who ever ate or product, and then what was funny, as chef Laura doing my private dinner parties, I would walk into a house and I’d open the pantry to look for paper towels or something, and there’s my product on the shelf. And this just happened the other day. I was talking to a woman who really wants me to do a small event for her in July, and I’m like, “I’m really not doing these things anymore, but I can’t help myself.”

Laura Briscoe:
And so, we’re talking, and she’s like, “Oh, no, no, no, my friend Shirley already told me that you’re doing this granola thing or this other thing.” I go, “Yeah, I have a granola business.” She goes, “Oh, I know. It turns out I actually already been buying your product. I love your LocoCoconut.” I go, “What?” She said, “Yeah. When Shirley told me it was granola at AJ’s, and I’m like, ‘In the brown bag?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, it was one of those?'” So, it was fun. It’s fun.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. That’s super fun. That’s a fun place to be at, where you’re starting to discover people are already customers before you know them.

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah, we see that so much now. Yeah. It’s funny.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome. That’s so awesome.

Mike Jones:
Well, I want to shift gears just a little bit and talk a little bit about Arizona. Obviously, you founded the company here, you’ve been obviously, very active and getting your product into people’s hands here in Arizona, which is really cool, I think that local aspect, it’s such an interesting, and even just how with Eddie Basha, right, you meet him and you find that there’s this draw for them and for him to find locally sourced products. How has being in Arizona impacted your business, and just how you’ve thought about the brand, or what benefits have there been to being here?

Laura Briscoe:
There’s so many ways to answer that. I mean, I created it here by default, because I was living here, raising my children, and I think having had the chef education, which I had here in Arizona, was very important because I had a culinary school full of chefs I could go back to ask questions and whatnot. So, that was really good. But for me, when I first started producing it commercially, meaning being in a commercial kitchen, I rented time from a bakery that was over on 24th and Osborn, and within a couple of months… and we used it like once every three weeks for maybe an hour, okay? Such was our business. This is before AJ’s, by the way. So, the bakery actually took it to a farmers market and sold it there.

Laura Briscoe:
But a few months after I was there, it turned out that they couldn’t do their lease anymore, so I acquired their equipment and I found another space in Tempe, which is how I started in Tempe, Arizona. And once I started working in Tempe and doing production there and doing my chef business there and everything, I don’t know, everything about Arizona fell into place, meaning that 2004 this was not a culinary mecca of any kind, and there was not a lot of fine dining unless you went to a hotel, there were very few breakfast restaurants. I mean, the airport still had terminals one, two, three, I think it was. We had to sit outside Southwest, wait and begged to come in.

Laura Briscoe:
So, I bought all my ingredients at Trader Joe’s, pretty much. That was how crazy it was. But I got to see how Arizona all of a sudden became this maker place, where there were other food businesses and other brands that were finding their way in Arizona, and I was watching Arizona being supportive of that, which was really cool. And so, for me in Tempe, what was very, very cool is that pretty much every major supplier for baking was based in Tempe-

Mike Jones:
That’s really interesting.

Laura Briscoe:
… within a mile or two from where we were. It was great. And what I really appreciated… because I moved here from New York City, and you don’t have this experience as much on the east coast. I think if you go to the east coast with this experience, you’ll have it more, but growing up in the east, you learn to be a little more aggressive, a little louder, a little-

Mike Jones:
Yeah, you got to fight for attention a little bit more.

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah, a little bit right to the point, right? I got my hand slapped on that a few times out here.

Laura Briscoe:
So, here though, people want to show you the way, they want to take the time to mentor or to foster a relationship and help you get to the next level, and that was phenomenal. And I still experience that, and I try to pay it forward when I’m approached by a brand that’s trying to make their mark or get in the door somewhere and I’ll give them whatever advice I can. I’m still learning, so I don’t know how valuable it really is, but I think overall, Arizona has been a very local centric state, from local first Arizona, to all the Basha Banners wanting a local program, to Safeway wanting to start a local program, to Fry’s starting a local program, they all understand the value of promoting what is made here and really support the efforts of the smaller brands like mine, because it can be very, very expensive to otherwise try to break in.

Sam Pagel:
What’s cool about that is, I mean you’re on the forefront of cultivating that culture a little bit, because stores like Bashas, AJ’s, Safeway, they probably wouldn’t want to do that if there were no local products. So, because the local products are good, yeah, they want local products. And what’s really cool too about your origin story is just the culture in Arizona, in Tempe, and how that shaped you and your business early on. I mean, two out of the three companies you talked about, AJ’s and… What was the other one? Not Whole Foods, but-

Laura Briscoe:
Bashas?

Mike Jones:
Well, it was the-

Laura Briscoe:
Oh, Fox Restaurants.

Sam Pagel:
Fox Restaurants. Yeah. So, two out of the three are very Arizona centric, Arizona based. I don’t think you can find those outside of Arizona, and so just cool how those [crosstalk 00:27:04]-

Laura Briscoe:
Well, and there’s one more. Queen Creek Olive Mill.

Sam Pagel:
Oh, yeah.

Laura Briscoe:
So, I was teaching a cooking class for Valentine’s Day to couples and for couples at my location, when I was still on baseline, and one of the couples was Perry Rea and his wife who owned the mill. And me being me, every time I would ever do a class, there’s some granola. You should have some snacks while I talk about what we’re going to do. Anyway, he really enjoyed it, and so he talked to his buyer about the person who was responsible for it, and within six months was how we started with Queen Creek Olive Mill.

Laura Briscoe:
And to this day… We just recently got a great email… because I get to play customer service a lot too… from someone who had ordered on Amazon. And because we were in the middle of going from fulfill by merchant to fulfill by Amazon, they take your site down for however long it takes, but she had gone in, she had ordered, and she only ordered one bag, right, which was like, okay, and we had shipped it, but she went on to order more before she’d even gotten it and then-

Sam Pagel:
But they already shut it down.

Laura Briscoe:
… and so she freaked out like-

Sam Pagel:
Oh, no.

Laura Briscoe:
… “Was there fraud here?” So, I responded and let her know what the situation was. And she wrote back, it was the funniest thing. The first thing she’s like, “Oh my God, I’m emailing with the Laura.” And like, “I don’t know who she is, but she sounds wonderful.” And then she said, “I found your product at the Olive Mill when we were there for a visit and I fell in love with it.” And we hear that so much because that’s such a destination for out of towners, and they do great festivals, and they are always doing tastings and whatnot, and every time they’ve done those, we’ve been out there supporting that, where were on the shelf constantly, and they carry like six of our flavors, so it’s great exposure. But again, it goes back to Arizona, right? People come here to visit. We’re at the Grand Canyon. We’re in the airport, but not as a retail product. That yogurt parfait you get-

Mike Jones:
Yeah.

Laura Briscoe:
… it’s our granola.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
That kind of thing. So, it’s funny. Yeah.

Mike Jones:
It’s all those little relationships and partnerships. I mean, we’ve seen that with other people we’ve brought on the show or just talked with in the community about how, in some sense, you still got to work hard, but it’s easier to make those connections, find people, and people are willing, like you said, to say, “Hey, I’m going to help you out,” that maybe you don’t find quite as much on a bigger market or a more saturated community or whatever, like in New York City, or in LA, or something like that.

Laura Briscoe:
Right. I mean, we’re obviously a very rapidly growing city, but it still has so many small town feels about it, which is nice, really nice.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. I have appreciate that.

Laura Briscoe:
I bet.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. I got to ask, what are your flavors? We want to talk a little bit about the product, and just what can people expect if they are looking for Laura’s Gourmet Granola?

Laura Briscoe:
First of all, every single flavor has a story behind it, and if you go to the back of our bag and look toward the bottom… and this used to be front and center on the front label, and then I had a branding conversation with marketing and they changed some things, but there’s a character for each of our flavors, and each of those characters has a voice, which was actually… we had [inaudible 00:30:30] on our website, and they were voiced by the guy who was Mark in the Dark at one point for KUPD. He’s a good friend of mine, Mark [crosstalk 00:30:37]. Shout out, Mark.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah, especially when he was doing the shrill coconut flavor. Anyhow. So, each of our flavors has a character because they have their own personality, but they also have a story for how they started. So, Vanilla Almond I shared with you, and the character has sunglasses because he’s the classic. He is a he, for whatever reason, I don’t know, if we’re going to go into pronouns, but he’s Joe Cool, so classic granola. And then Pumpkin Pecan was our second flavor. So, that was actually because AJ’s came back to me and it’s like, “One skew is great, but you really should have two on the shelf.” And so, I just did a little fiddling with the baseline recipe. Pumpkin Pecan Crunch was born. We do that from October through December. For a while we did it year round, because we were selling it to Texas and they really liked their Pumpkin Pecan for whatever.

Mike Jones:
Oh, interesting. Who knew?

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah, I know, right? Well, pecans grow there.

Mike Jones:
Yeah, I guess. Yeah, the pecans make sense.

Laura Briscoe:
But we’ve kept that now seasonal because it gets overwhelming. And our little character is holding a pumpkin pie kind of thing. It channels the flavors of fall.

Laura Briscoe:
The third flavor was Honey-Roasted Peanut Crunch. So Honey-Roasted Peanut, I always describe it as what happens when peanut butter cookie meets peanut brittle and gets a conscience, because it’s that good. And the reason I made that is because I had a running partner, like we would do the trials together and I’d bring him vanilla almond and he would pick the almonds out, and it would make me crazy.

Mike Jones:
Yeah, I bet.

Laura Briscoe:
I’m like, “Why are you doing that?” “Oh, I don’t like nuts.” And then he’d eat peanut M&M’s like they were going out of style. So, I’m like, “All right, maybe I can do something with peanuts.” So, I found these awesome honey-roasted peanuts, and I made my first batch, and I had him try it, he’s like, “Oh my God.” And it has a cult following. It’s been doing well since 2006 when we introduced it. And so that character actually has peanuts and he’s throwing them up in the air, he’s juggling his peanuts, so whatever, again. So, we have two guys and a girl now.

Laura Briscoe:
My fourth flavor was AppleLicious Crunch. AppleLicious, my youngest daughter, my younger daughter, Madeline, helped me name because she’s like, “Well, Mom, it’s Apple,” and she was maybe eight… “It’s apples and it’s delicious, so we should call it AppleLicious.” I’m like, “Okay, this marketing session is complete.”

Mike Jones:
Of course. Makes total sense.

Laura Briscoe:
Now, AppleLicious was our first flavor that doesn’t have nuts, and also, it used to be honey based, but then when we started playing with agave, I tested it out with agave and I loved the outcome, so we moved it to an agave platform. And some people don’t understand, but honey by a true vegan is not considered vegan because the bees can become part in the process. And I learned that from someone yelling at me at Whole Foods one day. It was a customer.

Mike Jones:
It’s the only way that you really should learn.

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah. She’s like, “As a vegan?” “Well, yeah.” And she said, “No, it’s not. It has honey in it.” I go, “So?” And she said, “Well, the bees could get hurt,” and she was almost about to cry and I’m like, “Okay, we will never do that again.” So, anyway. So, my AppleLicious, and AppleLicious is holding its apple fairly low on its body, so you can understand why because it’s not free. Anyway.

Laura Briscoe:
And then we went to CherryRific. CherryRific, actually, it was the first time we used golden ground flaxseed, and that makes it omega awesome. She’s totally a tart. She’s got high heels and chigger earrings, and she’s a rock star. So, we’ve done a few things with cherry. We listened to consumers when they bring us some feedback, and they said, sometimes it’s like a treasure hunt, when you get the cherry, you got to bite, because they’re so big. So, then we went to some chopped cherries in addition, but I just wasn’t happy with the quality after a certain point, and so we went back just to whole cherries. Well, there was always whole, but then there was some chopped, and that’s how it will remain. Anyway, the feedback has been good about that.

Mike Jones:
I like that idea, though, that it’s a treasure hunt.

Laura Briscoe:
It is. Well, it’s like when Jim Gaffigan talks about putting bacon on a salad.

Mike Jones:
Yeah, exactly.

Laura Briscoe:
But the granola tastes just as good, especially because the flaxseed, it gives it a nutty overtone.

Laura Briscoe:
And then we did LocoCoconut Crunch, which was the flavor that shouldn’t happen. I was told not to make any more flavors by my business advisor at the time. And I was finishing up with a visit to my older daughter in California and we were picking up some snacks and we had some desiccated sliced coconut, I’m like, “Oh, this would be a really good granola.” And like, “Oh no, I’m not supposed to make any more granola.” And I’m really glad I did because it was the first granola that we used coconut oil, and it was the first granola we used a little less salt than we have in our others. And it’s now giving Vanilla Almond Crunch a run for its money in the food service sector.

Mike Jones:
Oh, interesting.

Laura Briscoe:
So, Wow Wow Lemonade, which is based out of Arizona but they’re franchising all over the country, they’ve standardized on LocoCoconut Crunch for all their stores, and we’ve seen that in quite a few places, actually. So, with regard to coconut, it’s just rocking it big time, and it’s really good, it’s really, really good.

Mike Jones:
Awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
So yeah, I’m thinking about that character. Oh, yeah, it was like tropical, so grass skirt, coconut bra… Can I say bra?

Mike Jones:
Sure.

Laura Briscoe:
And you just don’t know. It’s a they, for sure. And then the last two, Sinful Cinnamon. Sinful Cinnamon started because people wanted Vanilla Almond Crunch without the almonds for allergen reasons. So, when we started making that, I thought we should also then use agave and then we can make it vegan also. So, it became our every person granola, and it’s now our second best selling retail flavor.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
It’s also the flavor that’s enjoyed by all the spring training teams when they come to Arizona.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah. That’s supported and supplied through Peddler’s Son but with Cookin’ on Wood, and then the Diamondbacks enjoy that all year round their training table. So, that’s kind of fun.

Mike Jones:
Nice. That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
A little fun fact there. Where am I now? So, Sinful and then oh, BlueBerry Bliss, my pandemic baby.

Mike Jones:
Yeah.

Laura Briscoe:
Yes. We released that in May 2015 because I had a little extra time on my hands with the pandemic and our production was a little slower, so I’m like, “Let’s create a new flavor that you can’t sample to anybody and see what happens.” And it’s actually moved into our top four from a retail standpoint, and it was the second granola we used coconut oil and we have flaxseed in that one also, but we use these cultivated blueberries. And this granola bakes so well. A number of things. We put them all on our website, if anybody wants to make them, but there’s a blueberry banana bread kind of thing, and it’s delicious, and we do scones with it, and blueberry muffins, I mean, you name it. I just made blueberry pancakes this weekend for my husband with it.

Mike Jones:
That’s sounds amazing.

Laura Briscoe:
It’s really, really good.

Mike Jones:
That’s a great idea.

Laura Briscoe:
And it has a little bit of a citrus overtone, which really raises and elevates the level of the blueberries. It’s delicious. And then we did that limited edition Dark Chocolate Crunch, which was a remake of Hot Chocolate Crunch flavor that we used to have, but I wanted to really do something that was vegan, non dairy, because a lot of chocolate has some type of dairy in it and I didn’t want that. And that wasn’t easy to find, but we found it, had the hemp protein like I told you about, and it was really well received. And we have a little bit of a spice factor in there. So, when you look at dark chocolate, you’ll see a little bit of a spicy overtone on our character. But more importantly, I forgot to mention, BlueBerry Bliss has a P sign, and I love my P signs.

Laura Briscoe:
But anyway, BlueBerry Bliss is just meant to help you bliss out in a really rough time. Those are my children.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about last year. How did 2020 impact you and the brand?

Laura Briscoe:
You mean the day the world stopped?

Mike Jones:
The day the world stopped, basically.

Laura Briscoe:
So, going into 2020, more than 65% of our business was food service, but we had just started distributing regionally nationally for retail. So, when March hit and anything food service related shut down, I was relying on our retail. And gratefully, we had moved into the stores in Texas and in the Midwest, and that made a huge difference because everybody was grocery shopping, and we were getting discovered, and also, everybody went online. And only a month before the pandemic started, I had engaged a new person to help us with our website. Talk about timing, because I’m like, “Okay, let’s run a promotion.” Boom, big sell, whatever. But it introduced us. So, our B2C became a little more prevalent.

Laura Briscoe:
So, what 2020 did for me was it did a reset on how to approach our business, because you could have quoted me in January 2020, saying, “If I only did food service, and that was it, I’d be thrilled.” In April 2020, you would have heard me say, “Thank goodness we have multiple prongs for us to do sales, because just like a chair, you have to have multiple legs.”

Laura Briscoe:
The other crazy thing that happened was we were introduced to a company out of Austin that was introducing a smoothie bowl to the freezer section and they were looking for granola for it. And so they were introduced to us, and we made a custom blend for them. They loved it. And so now it is part of their product, which they’re doing really well in getting that product out. It’s pretty much all over Texas now and in the southeast, and they’re growing really rapidly. So, that became another line for us, is like, “How can we do more custom blends? How can we do some private label?” And that fires me up as a chef, because then I’m looking for-

Mike Jones:
Creativity.

Laura Briscoe:
… the creativ- Exactly. So, 2020 was a year of optimistically… Let’s say it this way. I could have just been completely stopped by fear, but I have people who work for me and, A, I didn’t want them to be afraid, and B, I wanted to keep everybody employed. And so you basically start looking for what else is available, new flavor, great way to spark additional custom blend, great way to build. I just wanted to keep people busy, and we had a lot of slow days. And we didn’t really see a change until November, I was going to say.

Laura Briscoe:
And that was when people started coming back to Arizona, and things started opening up again, and we started receiving our orders again for food service from the big distributors that we have. Started to breath. But I don’t breathe well any hour of the day, because back in my old life, when I was in tech, I worked for one company and the saying was, “You’re only as good as your last month,” and that has stuck. So, I always look, “Okay, did we do better this month and the month before? What can we keep doing?” And always looking at the P&L, always looking at cash flow. And when you grow, you need cash.

Mike Jones:
Yep. Yep. Every new endeavor requires-

Laura Briscoe:
Everything.

Mike Jones:
… reinvestment. You got to have cash flow.

Laura Briscoe:
But I will say one thing about the pandemic. Zoom, I love it, and here’s why. You don’t have to travel to have the meeting anymore. I have traveled day trips to Boise, day trips to Grand Rapids to meet with buyers, when that meeting is only 25 minutes long. You mail your samples, and then you get on Zoom, and it’s cost effective, but I’m able to see more faces now, and I love that. It’s rare for me to think about just having a phone conversation, even if it’s one where… I’ll FaceTime.

Laura Briscoe:
This is going to sound like Pollyanna Mary Sunshine, but I think that the pandemic truly made our world more personal.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. I would agree with that and I think realizing that if you can’t be there in person, or it just doesn’t make economic or financial sense, which I am thankful that this path that I think a lot of businesses were already on got accelerated towards, “Hey, why do we need to do it in person when we can just do it over Zoom?” But that’s better, in a lot of cases, than just getting on a call where there’s a faceless voice and it’s really just about the information exchange and not about the relationship as much. And so to be able to have that happy in between of, I get to see you on the other side of the screen. And, yeah, it’s not quite the same as in person, but it’s not as impersonal as a phone call or a big and long email exchange.

Laura Briscoe:
Remember the conference call, where everybody would have their eyes on the phone and not even on each other in the room when there was this one other person that wasn’t there.

Mike Jones:
Oh, those were the worst.

Laura Briscoe:
Yeah. So, I think that day is gone, happily.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. We’ve seen that same benefit of just being able to hop on Zoom calls, and I’ve had so many meetings and just getting to interact with people that it was really easy this last year because everyone was willing to jump on a Zoom, and it wasn’t intimidating anymore because everyone had figured it out. It’s been fun. It’s been really fun. Yeah.

Mike Jones:
What’s next for Laura’s Gourmet Granola? Have you got anything coming up, new products, new events, partnerships, collaborations?

Laura Briscoe:
Yes, yes, and yes.

Mike Jones:
All of the above.

Laura Briscoe:
All the above. So, right now we’re collaborating with another Arizona brand for a brand new product. Our products mesh really well together so we’re looking at a way we can bring them together. And that’s all I can tell you at this point, although I did come up with… I think I came up with a really good name for it. So, we’ll get there. But yeah, they’re a great brand here in Arizona, and I had been thinking about this for a while, and I approached them, because they make the other half of what we would need, and I said, “What do you think about, we can either extend her existing product lines or do a new venture.” So, we meet probably every two to three weeks as we progress.

Laura Briscoe:
This is one instance, though, where we’ll end up co-packing, we won’t manufacture this ourselves because of the format it would be in. It’s way too expensive to try to get all that equipment. I don’t need any more overhead like that. So, that’s one thing.

Laura Briscoe:
I’m working on a new flavor, trying to take the flavor that we’re doing for the acai bowl and tweak it a little bit and make it its own retail flavor. Just because of the attributes of the grains that we’re using, I think people will really enjoy. And we are going to be onboarding with a new distribution partner for food service nationally, which we’re really excited about-

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
… because that’ll give us more opportunity for discovery. And we just got the green light for a specialty chain in Southern California, which will bring us into another national distributor.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
So, what I’m learning is, once you get into a distribution center in a warehouse, then it opens it up for maybe some smaller stores or what have you, so you can really start spreading the love.

Mike Jones:
That’s awesome.

Laura Briscoe:
So, those things are definitely on the docket for this year.

Mike Jones:
That’s super exciting. It’s growing.

Laura Briscoe:
Did I mention it was expensive.

Mike Jones:
Yes, there’s that side of it. Yes.

Laura Briscoe:
Yes. I don’t know if people realize that when they see something on sale at the grocery store, the grocery store is not putting it on sale, the manufacturer is doing it. So, when I take that 50 cents off your whatever-

Mike Jones:
Yeah, that’s coming out of your pocket.

Laura Briscoe:
… that comes out of our pocket. Exactly.

Mike Jones:
Not the retailer.

Laura Briscoe:
But I will do another shout out to AJ’s. That’s one of the things that they’ve been great about. They’ll match us a lot and they’ll say, “Okay, well, let’s get $1, you guys get 50, we’ll do 50.” And then there was one time where we were supposed to have one flavor on sale only and they did a little, “Oh, oh,” and they put all of our flavors on sale, and I got a phone call from the category manager and he’s like, “Well, that one’s on me.” I’m like, “Thank you.” It’s like, “Where’s Laura?” “Well, she’s out of business.” “What happened.” “I became a cautionary tale.”

Sam Pagel:
I’m glad that didn’t happen.

Laura Briscoe:
No, me too.

Sam Pagel:
Yeah. We’re about done, unless there’s… Well, before we do that, where can people find out about Laura’s Gourmet Granola? Where can they find you? Obviously, you’ve mentioned a few stores here locally like AJ’s. Are you still in Whole Foods?

Laura Briscoe:
We’re still in Whole Foods, we’re in all the Scottsdale Safeways, Queen Creek Olive Mill, and then some smaller stores around the state. We have a great distribution partner that does Arizona for us. And in Texas central markets, Sendik’s in Wisconsin, these are all specialty retailers. Rolling, by the end of August, to Gelson’s in Southern California. We’re very excited about that. And then menus, obviously.

Laura Briscoe:
But if you go to our website, which is Laurasgourmet.com, you’ll find a where to buy, and we have it by state and everything, so you can see that, understanding that it’s not all stores of that particular banner. Because one thing we share with the retail buyers, the people who choose to bring us in, is that we’re not made to go on every shelf, we’re made to go on the specialty shelf. So, if the demographic doesn’t support the idea of a $9 bag of granola, probably not a good place to put us.

Mike Jones:
Yeah, it’s not going to be there.

Laura Briscoe:
Right. Exactly. And then, like I said, on the menus of so many great, great chains, great multi-units, great standalone. I am humbled by the chefs that have selected our product. When I look around the country and see… Here in Arizona alone, I mean Chef Ken Arneson over at the Tempe Canopy, Chef Lenard Rubin at Grayhawk Country Club. These are known. Chef Le Hillson at the Royal Palms. Oh my goodness, right? I get chefstruck, not starstruck, and that’s just three, right? There’s so many that have selected our product because they see how it is in their… it’s in their wheelhouse. It’s how they think also, and what they do with it is just phenomenal. Phenomenal.

Mike Jones:
Fantastic.

Laura Briscoe:
They inspire me.

Mike Jones:
Yeah, that’s such a feel good moment.

Laura Briscoe:
It is, it is. That’s that chef side that keeps popping up.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. Well, Laura, thank you so much for coming on. This was a fantastic conversation.

Laura Briscoe:
This was fun. Thank you.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. It was great to hear more, understand the story more, your story of serendipitously… I don’t even know what the word is.

Laura Briscoe:
Serendipitously.

Mike Jones:
Serendipitously.

Laura Briscoe:
One of my favorite words.

Mike Jones:
Falling into… not really falling into, but discovering that you have a business, and a brand, and a product that people really want, and getting that out there, and how you’ve strived very hard to work at each of those steps. And obviously, it’s a combination of your talent and skill as a chef, as well as the team that you have and everything that’s happened and the partnerships that you’ve built over the years to put that together, and that’s really exciting. I’m just thrilled that you’re in our backyard, or we’re in your backyard, one of those two.

Laura Briscoe:
Literally, like across the street pretty much.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. Right here in Tempe, Arizona, and a part of the chamber here, which is fantastic, and just getting to see your face at different events, and obviously, get to actually eat your product, it’s fantastic, the great product, according to my children, again.

Laura Briscoe:
Right?

Mike Jones:
I got to fix this.

Laura Briscoe:
We have to rectify that. Absolutely.

Mike Jones:
I’m going to fix this very quickly, and I’m going to eat some, because if they like it, I know I’m going to like it. I wasn’t really worried about that.

Laura Briscoe:
Well, brand to brand, I mean, when you asked if we would do this, it was a no brainer to support another Arizona based company, right? Especially when you are truly supporting what brands are doing here, and a ton of fun, so thank you for the opportunity.

Mike Jones:
Yeah. Thank you so much for coming on.

Mike Jones:
All right, everyone. Well, that’s another episode of AZ Brandcast, where we delve into the makings of remarkable brands right here in our beautiful state of Arizona. I want to thank all of our listeners for hanging out today, joining us. And if anyone is looking for more episodes of AZ Brandcast, you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pandora, Stitcher, really almost anywhere that you listen to podcasts or find podcasts, you can find us. If you want to find out more about AZ Brandcast, go to azbrandcast.com, sign up for our newsletter. That way, you’ll never miss another episode. And we just want to thank everyone for hanging out today. Thank you so much, Laura, for coming on, and to remind everyone that you are remarkable.

Speaker 4:
The AZ Brandcast is a project of Resound and is recorded in Tempe, Arizona with hosts Mike Jones and Chris Stadler. It’s produced and edited by Sam Pagel. Music is produced and provided by Pabrid, an Arizona based music group. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and at azbrandcast.com. If you’d like more episodes, subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you prefer to get your podcasts. To contact the show, find out more about AZ Brandcast, or to join our newsletter list to make sure you never miss another episode, check out our website at azbrandcast.com. Copyright, Resound Creative Media LLC 2020.