Elevate Your Brand

Elevate Your Brand with VanTrang Manges of Green Mustache

June 16, 2022 Laurel Mintz / VanTrang Manges Season 3 Episode 38
Elevate Your Brand
Elevate Your Brand with VanTrang Manges of Green Mustache
Show Notes Transcript

VanTrang Manges is the founder of Green Mustache, a Brooklyn-based, woman- and minority-owned business focused on creating innovative, delicious plant-based snacks. Everything they do stems from our commitment to plant-based living because they believe the food you eat should both feel good and BE good. To further that goal, Green Mustache also strives to have zero food waste and achieve this by donating imperfect crackers from the production process to local farmers who use their scraps as animal feed.

Laurel Mintz, founder and CEO of award-winning marketing agency Elevate My Brand, explores some of the most exciting new and growing brands in Los Angeles and the US at large. Each week, the Elevate Your Brand podcast features an entrepreneurial special guest to discuss the past, present and future of their brand.

You're listening to the Elevate Your Brand podcast, where we talk to some of the smartest entrepreneurs and fastest growing brands in the market, today. I'm your host, Laurel Mintz, a reformed corporate MAA attorney who founded award winning LA based marketing agency Elevate My Brand. We've elevated some of the world's biggest brands from Facebook, Paw Patrol and Verizon to innovative startups you haven't even heard of yet. Are you ready to elevate your brand? Keep listening.

Hi, everyone. Laurel Mince here with Elevate Your Brand. And I am so excited today to be joined by VanTrang Manges, who is the founder and CEO of Green Mustache. VanTrang Manges, thank you for joining us today. Thank you for having me. It's very exciting. So tell us about Green Mustache. It's such a fun brand. Tell us what it is, what you do, and a little bit about the product. 

Sure. So Green Mustache, we're based in Brooklyn, New York. We're a certified woman owned business focused on creating better for you plant based snacks. There are snacks they're called Mustache munchies, and they're loosely goldfish inspired. But we've been working really hard to update and elevate, if you will, cracker for today's more health conscious consumers. So they're also organic, gluten free, vegan. They're made with clean, plant based ingredients. So really trying to check the box on attributes that consumers today really care about. 

We had someone on last week, I want to say, that had a very similar story. They're focused more in like the prebiotic space, but also in the munchies space. I think that I love your opinion, actually, on whether you think that people are still interested in sitting down for full meals or do you think the munching category is going to continue to grow? 

I definitely do think and I think there's actually data to support that the occurrence of snacking is just kind of increasing. And I think just over the last two years, people working from home also probably kind of just snacking more and it's kind of more readily available and at your fingertips. So I think sitting down and having a meal with your friends and family is super important. And I hope that number goes away. But I do think that the occurrence of snacking throughout the day has increased and hopefully will continue to increase. 

I know it certainly has for me because you sit and you're, like so focused on work and then you realize you haven't had lunch or you haven't had breakfast and you just need to grab something quickly in between meetings or you just need a break. And there's nothing better to take a break than going outside and having a little bite to eat and really taking that break for yourself. Plus the fact that the munchies are so cute. So tell us about the story behind the Green Mustache name and then the shape of the product. 

Sure. So when I first set out to do this. I worked with a small branding and design firm, and our first task was to come up with a name for this business. And they actually presented a number of names, and nothing really jumped out on the paper for me. And there were a few that were okay, but when we did our legal checks, they really weren't available. So I asked them, what are some names that never made it into the presentation that were on the cutting room floor? And when they presented, those green mountains just leaped out at me, and I knew it was kind of what I was looking for. Stepping back a bit, the business started really. I was inspired by my younger daughter, who at the time had a very strong aversion to Greens. And the only way I could get her to eat her Greens was just make them into her smoothies. Not a genius idea. Plenty of moms do that. But at the time, I really wasn't happy with the options I was seeing on the shelf. And I was kind of naked or wallet, but they felt very processed and super sweet. Lots of sugar in those. It's amazing how bad those drinks actually are for you. Absolutely. And there was a time when that was super healthy. It was an alternative to soft drinks. We've come a long way, but at the time. And so I set out to create a solution for other moms and picky eaters out there. So our brand actually started out really focused on kids. And over time, we realized that just through meeting customers and hearing from them that we found that our products are really resonating with a much more diverse group of consumers who wanted a healthy alternative. But they also were looking for something that was more palatable than the green drinks that were beginning to hit the market at the time. So green mustache is kind of a play on a milk mustache since our first product was the smoothie. 

Interesting. Okay, that's so clever. There are two cups of kale and spinach in each bottle. So Greens, because my daughter has a stronger aversion to greens. I feel like that's something that I'd like to carry through through all of our products to incorporate greens in them. So even with our crackers, there's kale in them. 

I love that. I think it's so important. I mean, I'm not a parent myself, but I hear the story over and over again from my friends that have kids how challenging it is to make sure their kids are getting proper nutrients. And then to your point, this is a fun snackable moment for adults as well. So I love that you paid attention, listen to your audience, and recognize there was a greater need there or a greater desire from your core customer and really serve that. I want to go back to the branding conversation because I think it's really important for the startups listening, the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs to go with their gut. So can you talk us through a little bit about that process? Obviously, we're a marketing agency by day, and so we do a lot of this kind of branding work. But how much of that decision was just gut check and how much of it was you questioning, wow, I hired this agency and they're supposed to be experts, and maybe, I don't know, I would love to just hear a little bit more about what that process was like and how you came to that definitive decision about the naming. 

Sure. And I wish it was sort of more scientific and that I did focus groups and stuff, but it was really just a gut check, and it was something that felt right or not. I feel like I'm very much a consumer, and I know sort of what appeals to me. And then thinking about the business and the branding and just I wanted a name. That one was memorable that really could be a platform for us to continue to grow. When I started the business, I knew I didn't want to be like a 20 skew deep beverage company. I wanted this to be a broader platform to build out other sort of healthy, better for you plant based foods. And so the name just at all when I saw it clicked and it made sense to me. But I think I see so many people who start their business and the name of their product is inherently or the name of their company reflects what their product is. And obviously there's a benefit to that. But I feel like it can be limiting because over time as businesses grow and introduce new products or maybe your first product didn't work out and it's kind of your second product that is what goes on and makes the business. As a small business, I think it's a lot more costly and hard to rebrand. 

Yeah, absolutely. As a lawyer as well, I always look to that side to make sure that there isn't a rebrand issue or there isn't an intellectual property issue. I think that was a really smart move, also very important to do. But I did want to just call out the gut check moment, especially as it relates to creative. As the founder, you really are building something that is foundationally about you and your feelings and your emotion. And branding is very much an emotional approach. There is some science kind of components behind it, but in process, of course. But ultimately, as you're building a brand, it's a lot of that gut check moment. So I think the takeaway there for entrepreneurs listening in is listen to your gut. And even if you're working with an agency that's presenting you these beautiful images and looks and feels and names, if it doesn't feel right, it's not right for you. You know what I mean? It's about getting really good feedback to get to that end. Result that you liked. And I think it was so smart for you to say, like, hey, what was on the cutting room floor? Can we revisit that? And maybe that something will resonate for you there. I love that. How did you translate the name into the actual mustache? Was there a moment where you were like, well, this is the name of the product, but we're actually going to create the Munchy category with this shape because for those of you listening in, the munchies are in a little mini mustache shape, and they're so cute. They're just so fun and playful. 

Thank you. I think in building a brand, it's kind of carrying through that brand ethos of wanting to be useful and fun and making healthy eating approachable and not too scary and scientific. I think the shape really helps to convey that as well and just the fact that it also coincides with our name. And so it helps carry through the theme, which our company name is Green Mustache. So it helps to really sort of carry through that branding in a very tangible way. 

Is it hard to produce? I've never personally, it's a pain in the butt. Is it? Tell us about that. 

It is. Oh, boy. It's like so many things going on in my head. So the way that we make our crackers and this actually isn't even the first way that we made it. It's finding at the very beginning we try to do it ourselves. And I quickly realized that these tiny little things like we couldn't possibly make it ourselves in a commercial kitchen in any way possible. And it's just they're so small, so they're super. And I love to Cook, but I'm not much of a Baker. And so this process has taught me much greater appreciation for the science behind baking and how sensitive time and temperature and all these things factors can play so quickly realize they can make it ourselves. And so we had one Copacker. Anyways, they went out of business. So then we were quickly trying to shuffle and look for somebody else and making a product that is organic and certified, Kosher and non GMO and vegan and gluten free. And all these requirements made it very difficult to find a Copacker anyway. So with the person that we're at now, we changed our production methods so that it's sheeted and laminated. So more like how goldfish is made. So imagine, like, sheets and sheets of dough and then there's a roller with mustaches on this big rolling pin, right? And so it's rolling out mustache shapes. And when we first started to get, like a true mustache shape, there's kind of space in between, like webbing space in between the mustaches, which that leads to a lot of waste. And there is just issues sort of pulling that webbing off the conveyor belt to leave just the mustache. And challenge is made exacerbated by the fact that it's gluten free. So the dough, just the gear. Yeah. So ultimately, we went back to the drawing board and played with making the mustache shape, but in a sort of continuous. So all the mustaches are actually next to each other, which at first is like how it was hard for me to wrap my head around it because there's curves. And how can you make contiguous shapes without any wedding? And we worked with some really talented folks who were able to make that happen. So the shape is definitely presented a challenge early on. We appreciate it. I'm glad we did it. I feel like to have a product called Mustache Menchis and have it be square just really wouldn't quite be the same. 

I totally agree. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back. I mean, that's kind of marketing one on one. And I think also one of the reasons you and I get along so very well, we're going to take a really quick break. We'll be right back. Today's episode is brought to you by Mexicraft Tequila Seltzer. It is a top shelf tequila seltzer made with craft tequila from Jalisco, Mexico, real juice and sparkling water. Each can contains a shot and a half of premium Blanco tequila, which you all know is my favorite and no more than 3 grams of sugar. For those of you watching that, you can get it in Whole Foods in Southern California or order it online at www.mexiseltzer.com, follow them on IG @mexiseltzer and use podcast20 for 20% off your first order. Thanks for sticking with us. And if you're just checking in, we are chatting with Man Trading Manchester, who is the founder and CEO of Green Mustache, which is the company that produces Mustache Munchies. So you're telling us a little bit about the production process and how challenging that is. And I think it's important for those listening and who are looking to get into food and beverage. It is a very challenging industry to be in, from production to distribution to packaging to branding. There's a lot of thought that has to go into developing a product line. So give us a little bit of your background. When did you decide or what did you bring to the table prior to this company that made you feel like you could run a food and beverage brand? 

So I think my entrepreneurial journey started pretty young. Like many Asian immigrant families, my parents started a small business in Houston, and I grew up helping them out after school on weekends, holidays, summer, Spanish all the time. And so while I took a more traditional career path after College, I went into finance. In the back of my head, I always knew I wanted to do something on my own. So I worked in finance for many years. And I think that people have sort of ideas and the things they want to do, ideas come to them. I wouldn't be great if this and oftentimes you don't act on them whatever reason. And honestly, I think that I was at a point in my life where I knew I always wanted to do something of my own. And I was at a point where I think I was just ready for it. So that when an idea struck me, I was open to it and ready to sort of entertain it as opposed to kind of just know I'm doing this right now and kind of pushing it off to the side. So, yeah, it just felt right for me at the moment. And it was also, again, something that was super passionate about because it was just about creating something nutritious and healthy as a solution for moms and picky eaters out there. So it felt something very personal that I could relate to. And I felt like I was helping to solve a problem. 

And that's how most great businesses start, right? There's a problem. You feel like you can build a better Mousetrap or better solution and you go for it. So I think that that is how most good entrepreneurs start. Can you share with us some of your lessons along the way? If anyone listening in who's looking to get into the same world, what are some of the big takeaways that you've learned now that you've been how long have you been running the company now? 

So for about eight years. 

Wow. So you're in it to win it. That's exciting. 

So I'd say one of the things is and something that didn't come naturally to me initially, but I think always ask for what you want. Don't hesitate, don't be shy about it. And it could be asking for a pricing concession from a supplier or asking for just kind of anything. I mean, even now, like, I'll walk into the store and I see our products on a lower shelf, I'll go find somebody and ask them to move it someplace else. I think it's always just looking at herself, advocating for yourself, asking for what you want. And I always tell my daughters like to do that. And the worst thing is if you get a no, you right back where you started, right. So there's kind of only upside to asking something else. I think super important is to be persistent, particularly whether it's a cop Packer and maybe they're not calling you back because they think you're too small or whatever it is, or particularly with buyers. I've definitely heard from buyers over the years who they will end up thanking me for following up because I met to call you back, but I was just so busy, they're getting hundreds of emails a day. And so see you repeatedly there. But then reason, right? Don't overstep it, but be persistent. And then also there's also been times when we've presented our snacks to certain buyers, retail chains and have received a no. And it could be months later or a year later. And that no became a yes. So I think just being really persistent and intrude yourself, being nice. 

Right. Because they definitely if they thought you were dark, no matter how great your product is, I don't think they're going to really kind of give you a second chance. I love that. I want to reiterate that I think kindness is key in business, and I think that there's still an evolution generationally happening as it relates to not being that kind of bullet China shop. So I want to just reiterate that I totally agree with you. I think kindness wins 99% of the time. 

Yeah. Something else. And that's the advice that I was given, and I take it to heart and maybe a little too much. But I was always told you have growth low because you will make mistakes. And if you take it slow, those mistakes will be less costly. I think there are definitely examples of times when people may have over promised, under, delivered, gone too big, gone into all these stores and were unable to support it or something went wrong. And it's unexpected. So I've always kind of taken the more conservative approach to kind of walk before you can run, grow slowly, make sure you kind of have all your decks in a row before you move on and try to conquer the next thing. I love that. So what is next for green mustache? I'm excited to hear I know you mentioned a little bit of a teaser, some new flavors coming out, some other things happening, but what's next on the horizon for you? 

Yeah. So we're starting to think about some new flavors that we'd like to introduce and beyond. Just there's a trade show coming up, so we'll launch it there, but not just new flavors, but also trying to maybe incorporate some upcycle flowers into production of the new flavors. And in terms of sustainability, we strive for zero food waste. We donate our imperfect crackers from our production process to local farmers user scraps as animal feed. So that's on the back end, though. But I want to try to find some ways where we can incorporate more sustainable practices on the front end in terms of incorporating some sustainable flowers into our production process. And there's new flowers being introduced every day. 

It's so fascinating. We have a Miller come on the show a few weeks ago. A few months ago, actually, I had no idea that there were different types of flowers upcycled in that way that you could actually take and make really amazing products out of. So I just think it's so fascinating that people are making something from nothing. And I love that you are thinking about the evolution of the brand from a sustainability standpoint. Were you always really sustainability and ecofocused or where did that come from? 

I think in my personal life, I'm constantly recycling this and the other, like, everything and trying to clean out my refrigerator and not order too much and throw whatever's leftover into like a fried rice or something. In my personal life, I've always done it. And I think while individuals obviously can take responsibility and make sustainable choices for themselves. It's such a systemic problem that I think to have food companies, people who are manufacturing food in mass to take more responsible actions. It's kind of the right responsible thing to do. And I think early on, when we first developed the recipes and we're trying to roll out the product, there was just so much else at the time, honestly, that I was concerned with that it wasn't top of mind even just to get this gluten free vegan dough to work and be consistent. Right. Not make one perfect cracker, but bank thousands and millions of perfect crackers. Right. And so now I feel like I have the room to think of those things, like, how can we improve on what we're doing?

I love that. I think it's fantastic that you've hit a stride now and you're not settling for what has happened in the past. The brand. You're really looking to the future and that you own that level of responsibility around sustainability. I think it's fantastic. And I think that we're seeing that with more and more products, not just because the founders, like you, are sustainably an ecofocused, but because it is actually being mandated by your community and your audience, which I also think it's a top down, bottom up model. Right. So consumers are requiring that brands take responsibility and create more sustainable options for them. And then, of course, like, you are also saying, this is my ethos as an individual, and I'm going to breathe that into my company as well. I think that's a fantastic approach. We're going to take another quick break. We'll be right back. Who says you've got to be big to get things done? We know that size matters in some things, but in other things, like marketing a small and scrappy team like Elevate, my brand can really take your brand to the next level. Our job is to create visibility so you can create profitability. Give us a call today and let's smooth. Thanks for sticking with us. Chatting with VanTrang Manges is the CEO and founder of Green Mustache, maker of Mustache Munchies. Where can people find your awesome products? 

So we're in regional chains like Central Market, Fairways, Mom's, Organic, Fox, Trot. So smaller regional chains throughout the US, but also online, like Fresh, Direct or Hungry Route, which is a great, great food meal service. But one thing that we'd always focused on is the food service. Airport markets in The New York Times, state area, LaGuardia, Newark and stuff. In those Chibo Express markets, corporate cafeterias like we're in Facebook, Micro kitchen and some hotels and cafes and coffee shops. So kind of just places that maybe you might find it outside of the home. Sorry, not outside of your regular grocery store. 

Got it. And they travel really well. So it's easy to put in your bag when you're getting on a plane. I think that is a really smart model for you. And then you also have an ecommerce site as well. Correct. So it's getgreenmustache.com. So check them out there. Also check out their Instagram. It's such a fun, playful brand. I just think you guys are doing a great job. So we're really happy to have you on the show today and share your message. Your model, which I think is also really important. I have a couple of questions to wrap things up. We call this your quick fire. So just top of mind answers as you well, first question is if you could wave a magic wand and do anything for the brand, the future of the brand would look like what? 

Wow. We would have expanded to have a few line extensions where we're also creating others or plant based healthy snacks. We are more readily available and maybe even into some international markets that we're exploring. But also doing all of this with, again, sustainability in mind and also giving back to the community and something that's important to me. And we're looking into partnering with a nonprofit organization that helps address food injustice and food deserts and creating opportunities for kids to learn how to make use of vegetables and Cook and make healthier food choices for themselves, which I think is very important. So just hopefully doing right by our employees and our partners and our customers in the community. Right. Sounds like scale, education and community would be the three pillars for that for you, which is what we hear from a lot of brands in this space. But again, I think it's so important that founders like you get the opportunity to grow brands like this to show the world that you don't have to be a huge conglomerate that's damaging our environment to create a great product. 

Right. And I actually think that's one of the amazing things that happened during the pandemic is people have been willing and open to try new things, like a product that's a snackable that maybe you've never had in your pantry before. So I think there's a huge opportunity for brands in your space right now. My next question is, what is the one thing you could not have lived without during the pandemic? You can't obviously sell your own product. 

I say my kitchen. There's a lot of cooking going on and cooking with my daughters, trying new recipes and things and just kind of good family time around the kitchen. Y

eah, I love the kitchen myself. I'm trying to perfect my French omelet right now. It's very challenging. I've made like 20 of them. They have not come out right yet. I don't know what the secret is, but anyways, what is your go to vice of choice? 

Definitely an alcoholic beverage. What's your cocktail of choice? 

I would say a nice, chilled, dry rose. 

Lovely on a summer day. And the last question is, what is your favorite word and wine? This could be something that had real meaning to you over time or something that just pops into your head for today's conversation.

I think maybe less so necessarily the word itself, but kind of what it means and everything around it is resilience, I think, in life and then also obviously as an entrepreneur, you need a lot of that and you're going to have ups and downs. You're taking risks and you shouldn't be afraid to fail because that will inevitably happen at some point. But it's all about, I think, learning from those mistakes and pivoting and moving forward. So I think resilience is pretty important. Yeah. Get back up and miss. 

Let's be honest, running a business ain't easy and you've done it for eight successful years, which is incredible. So that is a credit to you and your resilience and persistence in this very challenging and very competitive field. So we're so grateful to have had some of your time here today. VanTrang, thank you for spending a little bit of time with us in our audience today. Well, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it and thanks to all you tuned in. Stay tuned for more from Elevate. Your brand. Coming up next.