NEW YORK — Ground black lime, wild mountain cumin and royal cinnamon are among dozens of single-origin spices sold by Burlap & Barrel, a public benefit corporation building equitable, transparent and traceable supply chains around the world. Ori Zohar and Ethan Frisch, co-founders and co-chief executive officers, discussed the company’s mission and growth during an April 7 appearance on the television show “Shark Tank.”
“Pitching on ‘Shark Tank’ was a thrilling experience, and we’re so excited to share Burlap & Barrel’s social impact approach to sourcing spices with millions of Americans,” said Mr. Zohar, a marketing executive turned entrepreneur, who teamed with longtime friend, former chef and humanitarian aid worker Mr. Frisch to launch the business six years ago.
By partnering directly from smallholder spice farmers and foragers, paying as much as 10 times the commodity price, Burlap & Barrel provides greater financial security to growers globally while introducing Americans to many first-to-market flavorings. The product lineup ranges from premium takes on standard seasonings to culinary blends, including several developed in collaboration with chefs and restaurateurs.
“We’re taking on centuries-old systems that disconnect spice farmers from home cooks, and by bypassing layers of middlemen, our partner farmers make more money, and you get spices that are fresher, higher quality and traceable back to origin,” Mr. Frisch said during the program.
Online sales account for most of Burlap & Barrel’s business, which benefited from the bump in home cooking during the pandemic. To prepare for a “Shark Tank”-driven surge in orders, the founders created a themed collection, featuring the four spices sampled by the panel of celebrity investors, which included actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow.
“We wanted to make sure the spices the Sharks were going to be tasting on air … were fully stocked,” Mr. Frisch said in an interview with Food Entrepreneur. “We picked spices that we knew we had real inventory on.”
The team worked behind the scenes ahead of the episode air date to ensure the brand’s website and online payment system could handle the increased purchases. The pair planned a pitch that would be “memorable,” showcasing “spices in a way that was visual and fun,” Mr. Zohar said, adding, “How do you convey smell and taste and the flavor of the spices across the TV? We knew we had to go over the top to make that happen.”
As expected, the national exposure resulted in back-to-back “record-breaking days for us with thousands of orders each,” Mr. Frisch recounted.
“Our goal was to give our new customers the same excellent experience as usual, with fast responses and quick shipping,” Mr. Frisch said. “Our customer support team worked all weekend to respond to every single email, and our fulfillment partners shipped more than 1,000 orders on Saturday alone — most of the people who placed their orders on Friday night are receiving their spices (Monday and Tuesday).
“We didn't run out of stock on anything, and our ‘Shark Tank’ follow-up message on Sunday has the highest open rate of any email we've ever sent. I had no idea ‘Shark Tank’ had such a wide reach and was so popular, and I've been blown away by the enthusiastic response to our appearance on the show.”
The founders did not close a deal on “Shark Tank,” and the company remains completely self-funded. Looking ahead, Mr. Zohar and Mr. Frisch plan to expand the brand’s product offerings to include additional baking and cooking staples, such as single-origin sugar, whole chiles, dried mushrooms and more.
“There are a lot of other places we can go and still expand the business so we can really represent this single-origin, traceable, equitable supply chain across all kinds of different ingredients and flavorings in your kitchen,” Mr. Zohar said.
Additionally, Burlap & Barrel products will reach more grocery store shelves in the years ahead. Currently, the brand’s limited wholesale presence includes specialty and independent retailers.“There are so many people across America that we know may need to taste our spices first before placing an order online,” Mr. Zohar said. “We see it all working together very nicely, but we knew we had to get our business dialed in before expanding into grocery, where it’s so competitive and such tight margins… We didn’t want to risk the business to pursue that too early.”
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