In January 2012, Ms. Cara Demu started up her company as Slim-On-Soup, then later changing to Thince Foods. Being a registered dietitian with a master’s in public health nutrition from UNC-Chapel Hill, she decided to start producing a line of “vegan, no salt added, gluten-free soups” to help her nutrition clients reach their health goals. Her idea came about after realizing her clients were not consuming enough vegetables, so she not only wanted her soups to solve this issue, but also to resemble a home-made soup that did not contain unpronounceable, industrial ingredients.
Becoming a huge hit with her clients, the demand for her soups started to overwhelm Ms. Demu. She knew she had to formalize her production so she began cooking at an incubator kitchen located in Durham called The Cookery. The Cookery is a fully equipped, licensed kitchen that she could rent by the hour. After working diligently in the kitchen for nine months, she was finally ready to take her product to market with the end goal of making the soups a popular grocery item.
By the fall of 2012, Thince Foods had developed a large local clientele including Whole Foods and independent grocery stores in the Triangle. Then by 2013, Thince Foods began selling at South Durham, Western Wake and Downtown Raleigh Farmer’s Markets. Starting and owning a business is not easy, Ms. Demu stated. She “kept a grueling seven day work week for over a year”. However, being the chief, cook and bottle washer did not allow her much time to grow and expand her business.
“A business is a living, breathing, growing thing that changes constantly. It is important to find the help you need to get you through each phase of your business.” Cara Demu, Thince Foods
Then by the end of 2013, Ms. Demu realized that her business was still not sustainable. At that point her options were to invest more in the company to get it where it needed to be, or cut her losses. To see what was possible she sought help through the SBTDC. This is when she was introduced to counselor Mr. Pieter Swanepoel, who would help guide Ms. Demu through her finances. Mr. Swanepoel felt the business could be viable, and helped Cara run through the numbers of the company. Even though the company was not yet paying its bills, the numbers showed the progress the company had made and that it was solvent. Through the analysis that Mr. Swanepoel did, Ms. Demu was able to see that she needed to dramatically change the way she did business and could no longer be a small operation if she was to succeed.
After working with a consulting firm that specialized in scaling up small companies, Ms. Demu was able to determine at what level of production the soups would become viable. The next step was to find a production partner who could meet the future demand of the soups. She then returned to the SBTDC’s Mr. Pieter Swanepoel and revised her budget preparing a comprehensive marketing plan that would support the new goals for her business.
Once production was secured Ms. Demu focused on sales. In September she showcased the soups at the industry trade show for health food stores and natural buyers, Natural Products Expo East where Thince Foods got buyers’ attention as one of the top five finalists in the Best New Product category. In addition, the product line was nominated for a Nexty Award, garnering further positive attention from buyers, distributors and the media. This award recognizes “the products and brands they predict will shape the future of the natural products industry.”
Currently, Thince Foods is working on the many leads and contacts made at Expo East and plans to reach sustainability by the end of the year. Ms. Demu comments that “starting a business requires an infinite amount of tenacity and belief in the idea, but must also be accompanied by an insane amount of work to create the momentum necessary for growth and eventual profitability.” Ms. Demu also states “how difficult it can be to create a successful business without adequate funding” and gives much gratitude to the SBTDC and other resources for the support they gave to her and her business. Thince Foods will continue to work with the SBTDC and emphasizes the importance of reaching out for help when it is needed.
Ms. Demu states, “A business is a living, breathing, growing thing that changes constantly. It is important to find the help you need to get you through each phase of your business.”