This is the seventh installment in an interview series with the 2021 Target Forward Founders cohort. Participating companies are sharing details about their innovative companies in their own words. All interviews have been conducted by the Target Forward Founders Program Management team.
Meet Mizo Hard Seltzer
Hard Seltzer celebrates Asian-inspired flavors on our everyday shelves within one of the most rapidly growing beverage categories – hard seltzers.
About the founders.
We’re Chris Tran & Holly Paul, the co-founders behind MIZO Hard Seltzer. As first-generation Asian Americans inspired by the fruits we grew up eating at home (thanks mom and dad), we launched Mizo Hard Seltzer June 2021. Differences are embraced now more than ever. We don’t really need another black cherry hard seltzer – we believe it’s time for Asian fruits and flavors to be given a chance to be celebrated on our shelves. Our aspiration for MIZO goes well beyond just creating a great tasting drink. We want to bridge cultures and communities by bringing something different, inspired by our roots, to your shelves. Both born and raised in San Jose, CA – we are excited to be building a business in the city we call home. Before launching MIZO Hard Seltzer, we both spent our time in consulting and Silicon Valley startups.
TT: What makes your product unique compared to your competitors in the marketplace?
Chris & Holly: So you want a hard seltzer? Sure, you got black cherry hard seltzer here, black cherry hard seltzer there, black cherry, black cherry. Don’t get us wrong, we love black cherry. But what makes us unique is exactly this – bringing new and unique flavors to our shelves. When our customers purchase a Mizo Hard Seltzer variety pack, they get three awesome Asian-inspired flavors that you don’t often see on your everyday shelves – lychee, Asian pear, and calamansi.
Chris & Holly: As new founders launching a completely bootstrapped company in the food and beverage space, we acknowledge that there are things we are missing. Some things we know are missing that we believe the Target Forward Founders program can help us with are – creating a persuasive retail pitch, feeling confident in our marketing strategy and roadmap towards mass retail, and building a solid investor deck. At the moment, we have only had the opportunity to stock smaller, local markets and have not yet had the chance to have conversations with larger retailers. We recognize that when positioning a brand to land in large retailers, we will need to craft an effective pitch. We have confidence that Target Forward Founders can help us lean into telling our brand narrative in a persuasive way to position our brand successfully for mass retail. Again, as new founders, we are unfamiliar with the stepping stones needed to succeed in mass retail. How do we leverage different marketing tools to grow our customer base? How do we start building out an effective sales team? These are questions we are hoping the program can help answer. We recognize that access to additional capital will be the difference maker in being successful when it comes to marketing our product and operating our supply chain efficiently to service retailers nationwide. Knowing what’s needed to craft a solid investor deck, particularly for a beverage brand, will help to get us one step closer.
Meet Nemi Native
Crunchy and deliciosos snacks made with cactus and seeds in Mexican-inspired flavors.
About the founder.
Originally from Mexico City and now based in Chicago, Regina Trillo is an attorney who has spent her legal career advocating for human rights in Mexico and the United States, mainly providing legal services to immigrants and implementing programs on a range of global human rights issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2019, Regina launched Nemi, a Chicago-based company making crunchy and deliciosos sticks from cactus (nopales) and seeds in Mexican-inspired flavors using spices straight outta our cocina! Nemi’s mission is to elevate Mexican cultura and diversify the health-conscious consumer’s snacking experience by sharing quality and delicious Mexican snacks! Regina partners with small Mexican farmers, works with woman of color and only uses real and sustainable ingredients.
TT: What was the inspiration behind your brand?
Regina: I grew up in Mexico City and moved to Chicago ten years ago for law school. One of the first things I did after landing in Chicago was go to the grocery store to scout for Mexican food. I was surprised and bummed to find inauthentic products from well-established brands that showed Mexico in a stereotypical and boring way. I went to the produce section and got very excited to see nopales (the prickly pear paddle or cactus) from a distance! As I was about to grab it, I noticed it had spikes and looked intimidating. I thought no one would buy it unless they know how to clean the paddle or cook it and most didn’t. I I did some research and realized that the brands I saw at the store had little room for innovation. None of these brands felt like Mexico and I didn’t feel represented. I’m passionate about Mexican food, its flavors and what food represents to the community. Mexican food is a cultural bridge to celebrate diversity. I had a hard time finding savory snacks that delivered on flavor, crunch and nutrition. So I went back to my Mexican roots and started working on a crunchy formula using Mexican-inspired flavors, real ingredients and no artificial ingredients. I launched Nemi in Spring 2019 to elevate Mexican cultura in the US through deliciosos and crunchy snacks.
Regina: I want to immerse into a the retail world where I will be able to share my struggles and experience with fellow founders, learn from them and interact with retail leaders to learn about distribution, scaling, operations and branding. The most exciting part about this experience is connecting and hopefully partnering with other founders and getting a sneak peek into Target’s brands and decision-making process. I have no doubt I came to this world to share and with a responsibility to respond according to my abilities. I understand the responsibility that comes with this opportunity and I know that the best part of this program will be meeting fellow brands and mentors, learning from them and sharing my experience with manufacturing in Mexico, sustainability, tapping into the Latin consumer, importing food into the U.S., creating an authentic brand and leading with empathy. I also cannot wait to share the best tacos and salsas recipes with all!
Meet Sahtein by Soph
Elevating the flavors of the Middle East in healthy, modern, on the go bites!
About the founder.
Sophie Sabbagh, Founder & CEO of Sahtein by Soph I was raised between the Middle East (Kuwait) and the US (Minnesota) – I know, stark contrast. A self-proclaimed nerd and lover of the sciences, I hold both a bachelor’s and master’s in Industrial Engineering from Northeastern and Columbia University, and spent my early career in finance, namely investment banking and venture capital. As the only woman on the team at my VC, I built strong relationships watching founders turn their visions into reality, whilst connecting them with the right network and assets to allow them to do so. Eventually, I knew it was time to transition roles, into that of founder, to foster the company I had conceived a long time ago, but remain passionate and active in the D2C venture world.
TT: What was the inspiration behind your brand?
Sophie: Growing up in the kitchens of both my mother and grandmother, I developed a natural inclination to the flavors of the Mediterranean. Coupled with a passion for health and wellness, I set out to reset the traditional nutrition standards in the Middle East and Gulf regions, where the prevalence of obesity is at some of the highest in the world. I wanted to create a new snacking experience that transcends the levantine kitchens of my background – to elevate and modernize a feature flavor in each snack product launched. I’ve matured that essence in both the products and name; enter Sahtein, an Arabic word translated literally as double health and is used as an expression meaning bon appétit, or to your health. There is a better way to snack, as the word Sahtein suggests – and I intend on mastering it and standardizing a new, delicious, healthy, norm.
TT: What do you think your company is missing that the program can help with?
Sophie: There is no handbook on how to scale. This, coupled with the lack of transparency in the F&B CPG space, present a few areas I know Forward Founders will be able to guide me through. As we started as a one woman show, I need a formalized R&D process and a true action plan on how to scale up as we continue to grow. This would also be greatly aided by finding a co-packer to handle manufacturing and fulfillment, as well as the food science / lab side of new product R&D. This would allow us to increase our production capacity to meet our growing demand without wasting inventory, as we currently produce a refrigerated product, as well as scale down shipping costs. Currently, my days are spent running everything from production to fulfillment, social media, and every aspect in between; I need to spend my time exercising my prime skillset which lies in building our brand and growing our presence in our consumers’ lives, keeping them fueled with innovative, unique, and delicious snacks.
To learn more about each brand or to shop their products, click on their logos below!