Monica Watrous 2019KANSAS CITY — The recent Food Entrepreneur Experience virtual event tapped into the expertise and perspectives of industry experts and early-stage brand founders. From discussions spanning a range of topics emerged a powerful theme — the importance of innovating with an open mind.

Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, a professor at Drexel University and director of the Drexel Food Lab, said he encourages experimentation and culinary improvisation in his teachings. Replicating a recipe or achieving an expected result does not lead to innovation, he said.

“One of the things that I think is key to our approach is letting students take risks, make mistakes, fail,” he said. “When I was in culinary school and studying food science, the goal of almost every instruction that I received was to be perfect…

“As we know in a messy business like food, you learn a lot from making mistakes and from trying things out and being creative.”

A case in point is husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Emily and Cole Williams, who shared how they serendipitously stumbled into creating a disruptive new format in condiments. Their brand, Slice of Sauce, transforms ketchup, sriracha and more into mess-free slices for sandwiches, burgers and wraps.

Several years ago, Ms. Williams planned to bottle and sell a family recipe for barbecue sauce at the local farmer’s market. The endeavor resulted in a load of leftover vegetables.

“I thought I could repurpose these if I grind them up and turn them into a spice rub,” she recalled. “So I put them in the dehydrator, and lo and behold what actually came out was a sheet of barbecue sauce and not a spice rub at all.

“I took one look at it and thought my experiment had failed, but Cole here used to be a chef, and he took one look at it and said, ‘No, that looks like a slice of cheese; you should put it on a burger.’ And we did, and it transformed the burger immediately. It was big, bold flavor. It was delicious. It was the perfect bite every time because you have just the right amount of flavor in every bite.”

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the couple began developing the concept and initiated “some interesting partnerships and cobranding opportunities to transform other brands and incumbent brands and their familiar flavors into slices as well,” Ms. Williams said, citing a relationship with McCormick & Co.

The founders appeared on an episode of “Shark Tank” that aired this past January. Alex Rodriguez, a guest investor on the program and former professional baseball player, offered to buy a stake in the business.

While some products like Slice of Sauce may begin with an accidental outcome, a key to success for any entrepreneur is to retain an open mind throughout the process. In his session, James F. Richardson, PhD, founder of Premium Growth Solutions, urged early-stage business owners to “listen to fans and iterate.”

“You’ve got to be open to the fact that you may think you have an anti-inflammatory nutrition bar but your fans are telling you, no, it’s about something else, and that something else will scale better than anti-inflammatory,” he said. “That openness and that willingness to be objective in those early years is critical to folks being able to iterate and finetune what they have to create a product line that will generate its own word of mouth, will generate velocity growth at same stores, and velocity growth at same stores is the not-so-secret sauce to exponential growth.”