More chocolate sauce, please, and hold the milk
One taste of Jen's Zen dairy- and gluten-free chocolate sauce indicates that a new business owner in Louisville has developed a way to successfully blend the two.
Jennifer Lane, founder of Jen's Zen LLC, was diagnosed lactose intolerant 16 years ago. When her son was born with a milk allergy, she decided to stop cheating on her own diet and figure out how to keep a promise to her family that they'd always have sweet treats in the house.
After pinning down the recipe for her family, Lane took the next step. She got her original chocolate sauce placed on the shelves of Lucky's Market in Boulder in 2011, met with a Whole Foods Market buyer around the same time and today sells three flavors in about 40 stores.
Lane's biggest challenge along the way has been keeping up with the demand.
"We were warned by colleagues that when you go into Whole Foods, be prepared," she said. "We were making it ourselves with friends over a hot kettle at a commissary at the time."
With a few hundred jars on hand, she unveiled Jen's Zen chocolate sauces at the reopening of the Whole Foods Market on Pearl Street in Boulder.
"Twenty-five to 30 jars easily walked off the shelves during our demos, and we did several a month in the beginning," Lane said. "Most people can't believe it's dairy-free."
The chocolate sauces — original, raspberry and peppermint — now are produced in a commercial kitchen in Denver at the rate of 1,200 jars a day with increased production possible. They're available in six states, in 14 Whole Foods Markets, several Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage and numerous independent retailers and specialty stores.
E-commerce sites that carry the sauces include Abe's Market, America's Best Organics and It's Only Natural Gifts. Soon the products will be available on Amazon.com.
"We're in two frozen yogurt stores right now, and their customers prefer us over dairy," Lane said.
Each 9.6 ounce jar of Jen's Zen chocolate sauce has a suggested retail price of $8.99.
Source Local Foods in Broomfield, a distributor of locally grown and processed food, handles distribution for the products. Source is the trade name for LFS Enterprises LLC.
Lane is growing her company with a lean crew, especially since she continues to work four days a week in environmental public affairs. In 2012 she met Julie Cavalier through Naturally Boulder, and Cavalier now works as chief operating officer of Jen's Zen.
"I oversee the big picture — strategies and product and quality control," Lane said. "Julie focuses on e-commerce, marketing and sales. She's more in the trenches."
Lane's husband, Brian, handles the books for Jen's Zen, and college students help with in-store demonstrations.
"I bootstrapped to get this far with less than $10,000," Lane said. "We're talking to entities about strategic partnerships and entertaining the potential of equity investment to go forward."
Maintaining a presence at events, donating chocolate sauces to fundraisers and continuing to do demos is the basic marketing strategy Lane has planned for increasing the reach of Jen's Zen.
She's also sharing a booth with America's Best Organics at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, California, in mid-March.
"By the end of the year, I want to be everywhere in the Rocky Mountain region," she said. "Then I expect to branch out beyond this region, and in three years to see our products nationwide.
"We would like to see our products explode at the national level, and I believe we're positioned to capture a significant portion of the premium dessert toppings category," she said. "Uses for our products are limitless beyond that category."
Lane said the market for conventional, natural and specialty dessert toppings to be about $60 million a year.
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