A Chat With Justin Rashid, founder and president, American Spoon Foods
CS: Does a lot of the food still come from the wild?
JR: We still buy wild blackberries, wild elderberries and wild thimbleberries from people, but as the company has grown, it’s a smaller and smaller percentage of the total. It might be something we love to do and we’re proud of it, but it’s a much smaller percentage than it once was. Most of the products we now make are made from the cultivated fruits that Michigan is famous for -- cherries, red haven peaches, early-glow strawberries, blue crop blueberries. All of the things that the western side of Michigan, one of the premier microclimates in the world, is known for. That’s what we feature primarily.
CS: What was your biggest challenge in the first few years?
JR: Probably the biggest challenge in those days was convincing people that Michigan made specialty foods that rivaled the best in the world. Back in those days, specialty foods were imported. If it wasn’t from Paris, Germany, England or Italy, it wasn’t good. So we were one of the first American specialty food companies. People didn’t realize that American-made, locally made specialty foods could be wonderful and were worth the price.
CS: How did you deal with it?
JR: We faced it head-on. We set up a sample table in our stores to show people how good these things were.
CS: What’s the biggest business mistake you ever made, and how did you deal with it?
JR: Oh, there have been so many. Overall I’d say the biggest mistakes you make are when things are good, right? And our company became too dependent on a small number of very large customers. And sometimes you think, well, I shouldn’t be selling too much to any one customer. But you don’t always think, I shouldn’t be selling to too many customers who are all in the same industry or similar industries or in the same geographic area. Because things can happen and they do. We had a situation like that, many years ago, where we were dependent on a small number of very large customers in similar industries and geographic regions. And when they got in trouble, we got in trouble. And we survived by dramatically cutting expenses so we could survive without them and rebuild.