Profile of Success: The Fruits of Wild Labor
In-depth product knowledge coupled with symbiotic supplier relationships have kept Justin Rashid at the top of his game.
Background: Justin Rashid grew up in the food business; his father and uncle owned several grocery stores in Detroit. His mother, whom he describes as an Indiana farm girl, loved to garden and pick wild berries. Equally influenced by both, Rashid began foraging for and selling wild foods, such as berries and mushrooms, to upscale restaurants.
A partnership with one chef in a New York-based restaurant led him to develop a unique preserved fruit recipe he began selling in retail stores in 1982. The following year, a chance article in The New York Times mentioning the product led to 4,000 requests for a catalog he didn’t have. So, he started his catalog business by mailing to those requestors.
Biggest initial challenge: Convincing consumers that high-quality specialty foods could be developed in America, namely on Lake Michigan. Most of the market for the kinds of products he sold thought at the time that the only good specialty foods came from Europe. Rashid faced this problem head on, offering free samples in his stores and letting the natural fruit preserves and condiments do the talking.
Biggest present challenge: The high price of ingredients. Although Rashid buys all his fruit locally or regionally, rising energy costs have resulted in higher fruit costs. He deals with this by forming mutually dependent relationships with growers for his highest volume fruits. “Several growers offer us more stable prices in return for a long-term relationship,” he notes.
Key to success: An intimate knowledge of his product. A close relationship with farmers and the knowledge of his regional advantages in obtaining quality ingredients are integral to the catalog’s success, Rashid says. And that knowledge has been rewarded. Earlier this year, American Spoon Foods’ strawberry butter was awarded The Gallo Family Vineyards gold medal award for best condiment.