Tanya Green, who founded Julia Belles’ Seasonings in 2015, admits that she didn’t follow the usual path of starting a new business.
“I had products and a customer base before I had business and marketing plans or a logo and product packaging,” she said.
Green, who works full-time as a new product development researcher, has always dreamed of owning her own business. While she may have taken an unconventional route in launching Julia Belles’ Seasonings, the resources at Bounce Innovation Hub have helped her pull together all of the essential pieces of business ownership – from establishing her brand identity and marketing her products on social media, to identifying complementary businesses for potential collaborations. She’s a graduate of MORTAR at Bounce, a 15-week accelerator focused on helping minority and female entrepreneurs and small business owners.
The inspiration for Julia Belles’ Seasonings came from the recipes that she discovered after her mother, Julia Belle Burton, passed away. Green kept the box of family recipes in a storage unit, eventually moving them to the trunk of her car as she tried to figure out what to do with them.
“One night at about 3 a.m., I came up with the idea to sell my mom’s cornbread recipe as a pre-packaged mix. My sister thought I was crazy,” she said.
Green, however, was not deterred. Along with cornbread mixes, she prepared a coffee cake mix and chicken seasoning from her mom’s recipes to sell at the Lock 3 farmer’s market in downtown Akron. The mixes were a huge hit and sold out right away. Recognizing that local farmer’s markets could help grow her business, Green became a regular fixture at other markets around the Akron area.
“The farmer’s markets were a great way to establish a rapport with my customers – to get their feedback and ideas for new products,” she said.
Green put her research skills to work as she investigated the regulations and requirements for selling home-produced food items. She purchases the ingredients in bulk, which she then assembles according to her mom’s recipes. She often enlists her five sisters, two brothers, nieces and nephews to help with putting the products together.
“The mixes and seasonings work with ingredients you already have on hand such as eggs and butter, or to season poultry, seafood, meat or vegetables,” she said. “I like to say they are for people who don’t like to cook, but want to eat delicious food at home.”
For the last five years, Green relied on farmer’s markets to sell her products, but even before the COVID-19 pandemic, she was developing a plan to transition away from them. Through MORTAR at Bounce, she received guidance in building her digital presence so she could generate more sales through her website and social media.
“Farmer’s markets are a good starting point for building awareness for your products and communicating with your customers, but working at several markets every week requires a huge time commitment,” she said. “After five years, I feel I’ve paid my dues.”
She’s also been able to scale up her company through collaborations with other businesses. Her products are now available at Northside Marketplace and Leaf Home and Bloom, both in Akron. Her product offerings have expanded to 25 items, including four new rice mixes she introduced in 2019.
“We started out as a seasoning business, but are now a food company,” she said.
She credits Bounce with opening the door to a lot of essential information, as well as new opportunities, mentoring and coaching.
“I came from a time when a lot of these resources didn’t exist,” said Green who in the 1990s tried to start a day spa. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Bounce has helped with everything from legal and tax resources to how to do business forecasting and branding to profiling my ideal customer.”
Green, who was the winner of MORTAR’s pitch night, received a $3,000 prize after pitching her business to potential investors and community partners, which has enabled her to pay someone to consistently post fresh content on her website and social media.
She also uses email marketing to promote her products, and share recipes and special offers with customers. Eventually, she would like to have a traditional print catalog and physical space, much like national retailer, Penzeys Spices, as well as outsource the assembly and packaging of her products.
“The resources from Bounce have been invaluable in getting Julia Belle’s Seasonings to where it is today,” Green said.