We talked to Andrew Suzuka of Otamot Foods abouts its Organic, Veggie-Filled Tomato Sauces.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Andrew Suzuka: With COVID-19 and our family, the key for us has been keeping a sense of norm for the kids whenever possible. While things are certainly different, sticking to a daily routine has helped. Keeping them busy and maintaining that structure in their lives has been important. Children are resilient, they can put up with more than many of us realize, so while we always do our best to explain what’s happening, that masks are “to help keep the buggies away,” our real focus has been keeping smiles on their faces and turning these times into positive memories. We are spending more time together, cooking more together, and laughing more together, and that has been really special.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Otamot Foods.
Andrew Suzuka: I’m currently the CFO at Bayard Advertising (my 9-5) and the founder of Otamot Foods (my 5-9), and most importantly, a dad of two amazing children and husband to an incredible wife.
Food has always been a passion of mine. Growing up, I would make pasta and pizza dough from scratch and try cooking all types of recipes from my mom’s cookbooks. The first business I ever had was selling homemade cookies to my neighbors.
As a parent, I try and share that love of food with my kids. As my daughter grew up, though, really once she reached 5 or 6, her palate started changing, and she began eating less of a variety of foods. I simply wanted to make her a healthy meal that she would enjoy, so I decided to make a veggie-loaded pizza sauce one night and not tell her what was in it. She loved it, and there was really no turning back since then because the idea began to take on a much larger purpose.
How does Otamot Foods innovate?
Andrew Suzuka: Otamot really draws its innovation from my family, the types of foods they eat, and where I feel there is room for improvement in the marketplace. I often find myself thinking, “I wish there was a better type of (fill-in the blank),” and then my imagination starts to go off and begins connecting the dots on how we could bring that idea to life.
Sauces are the first line of products from Otamot, but in 2021 you can expect to see more everyday staples being disrupted by our brand, ones that first start in our own homes and become extensions of our brand into yours.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Andrew Suzuka: Brand discovery is likely the most challenging aspect of launching a new food product during COVID-19, as you can’t rely on the traditional sampling methods, and consumers are not perusing around the grocery stores for hours anymore. They have their list, buy it, and get out. The focus is on getting our brand on that shopping list because they need to be sold on your product before walking into that store. We have adjusted our marketing strategies to help introduce and educate more people about our products and really focused on developing relationships with brand evangelists to build grassroots support on a national scale.
Retailers discovered us before the pandemic, which really helped us in 2020, and they are continuing to discover us in 2020, which has us really excited about 2021.
So while the pandemic has shifted some of our business tactics, our overarching strategies remain in place.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Andrew Suzuka: Honestly, the hardest choices are how to best market your business, as the options to introduce your brand are seemingly endless. Especially as you begin to gain traction, more and more opportunities, marketplaces, etc. begin to introduce themselves to you, all vying for part of your marketing spend. Filtering those out, while being open to options that might deliver a strong ROI, is really the most challenging element. All brands need to market. The true challenge is doing so effectively without breaking the bank.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Otamot Foods in the future?
Andrew Suzuka: My personal “fix” is to actually cook. Work will always be there, but you need to really keep a clear head so that you are making the best possible decisions on a daily basis. To stay grounded, I really like to get lost in the kitchen and create something new.
Exercise is really important too. If I know, I’m going to have a long day. I try to wake up early so that I can get at least one session in.
Also, while there will always be stressful situations and days, it’s really important to know that your mood directly impacts those around you, both at work and home. Those people help bring your dreams to life, so it’s important to find your zen when things get crazy.
Otamot Foods is going to change the landscape of everyday foods by bringing delicious and convenient nutrition for everyday meals.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Andrew Suzuka: Otamot sauces are different in that we are not looking to take over the sauce aisle. Instead, we want to expand the category by providing retailers (and consumers) with the first nutrition-focused line of veggie-filled sauces. Thinking along those lines, there really are no other competitors on the market.
We love what we do and are constantly inspired by the everyday challenges we face as parents and health-conscious consumers. Those inspirations continually fuel our imagination to think of more and more ways to change the sea of sameness across so many parts of the aisle.
Your final thoughts?
Andrew Suzuka: One jar at a time.