For a very-rare sixth time, The Spice Lab has just been named to the 2022 INC5000 fastest growing private companies in America. A woman-owned and family-run business, the company specializes in custom seasoning blends, premium organic spices, salts, peppercorns and gourmet gifts.
Founded in 2009 by Jennifer and Brett Cramer, the enterprising couple has built the business into a $20 million company. Products are processed and packed in the company’s 125,000 square foot SQF certified facility in Pompano Beach, Florida. The company’s high quality brands and private label products can be found in grocery, gourmet, specialty gift shops, foodservice, club, major retailers and online through Amazon and www.spices.com
How do you turn a Christmas gift into a multi-million dollar company? Creativity, flexibility, tenacity and problem solving – lots of problem solving.
For the holidays in 2009, Brett Cramer, a technology entrepreneur, wanted to share his new-found fascination with gourmet sea salts with his family and friends. Enjoying woodworking as well as being an avid gourmet cook, he handcrafted a wooden base out of scrap lumber to hold test tubes filled with exotic sea salts from around the world. When friends asked to buy these Salt Collections to give to others, he listed them on Amazon the night before Thanksgiving. Come Monday morning, all were sold out. No family members received these gifts that year, but that was the start of The Spice Lab.
Jennifer, an interior designer, wanted to start a company and thought Brett’s creation would be an ideal way to enter the gourmet gift business. Throughout 2010, the company’s online business grew as the company added an array of smoked sea salts and salt collections and became a direct importer. Jennifer’s design background influenced the products and packaging that garnered early market acceptance and ignited sales. Selling his dot-com business in January 2010, Brett joined Jennifer along with a growing staff to devote their energies full time to building The Spice Lab and its retail distribution.
By fall of 2013, the company moved into a 15,000 square foot building and in March 2017 expanded into a 75,000 square foot facility to accommodate more packing lines, a research and development lab and a full showroom. In October 2016, they opened their first retail shop and artisan market, now located in the Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In June 2021, the company expanded again adding 50,000 sq ft in the same building. Now with 125,000 sq ft. and additional production lines, the company can produce 100,000 units per day.
With growth come challenges. Like many privately-held businesses, cash flow and funding growth as well as finding labor to staff expanding production capacity are on-going issues. Add a pandemic and business can get very tenuous.
Yet with challenges come opportunities. The company was certified to package organic spices in the Fall of 2019 and has always focused on creating premium, all-natural seasoning blends.
The pandemic brought a huge surge in home cooking and a lasting change in grocery buying habits. Clean label seasonings and organic spices are in strong demand and The Spice Lab well positioned to successfully compete in this expanding market category.
Building long-term partnerships with suppliers and customers has always been of primary importance. When supply chain issues became a global problem, these relationships helped The Spice Lab respond quickly and get finished products flowing again.
Add a focus on innovative design, quality products and customer service and you can thrive in the most uncertain of times. With a chef-in-residence to develop custom blends and a packaging design department to cater to customer needs, The Spice Lab has the flexibility and creativity to quickly launch products.
“We like to consider ourselves the ‘go to’ company to help grocers and other retailers develop or expand their spice and seasoning selection,” says Brett. “The private label products we have created for businesses like Sur la Table and Lowes grocery in the Carolinas have earned awards from Store Brands magazine and significantly increased sales for these customers.”
The private label part of the business has sparked the company’s recent growth, while continuing to have strong sales for The Spice Lab branded products in such major retailers as Costco and Publix Supermarkets. The huge spike during the pandemic in Amazon sales has flattened, though online sales and the company’s own site www.spices.com still generate significant revenue. Having multiple channels for sales contributes to the long-term stability of the business.
The Spice Lab has garnered dozens of company and product awards. They were a finalist for the South Florida Manufacturers Association’s 2022 Manufacturer of the Year and have been recognized as a Top 100 Women-Led Business in Florida for nine consecutive years. Product and packaging awards include two Silver sofi™ Awards from the Specialty Food Association, The Gourmet Retailer, Progressive Grocer and Store Brands Magazine Editors’ Choice Awards and more than a dozen Scovie and Fiery Food Awards.
“We enjoy earning awards and accolades. It validates the progress we are making as a business and the quality of our products,“ says Brett. “And it sure didn’t hurt to be featured in O, The Oprah Magazine.”
Advice for other businesses
Business is really all about relationships — relationships with your suppliers, your customers, your team and your banker. These relationships allow you more opportunities and more understanding if something goes wrong. And things will go wrong. It is how you address and fix the problems that go a long way to establishing trusting, long-term relationships.
Find a niche. Fill a gap.
The Spice Lab offers private label customers low minimums and numerous packaging options, not found with the giant spice companies. They won’t turn on a machine for the small quantities that a start-up would be able to accommodate.
Be flexible and stay nimble.
By their very nature, major corporations can’t move fast or react quickly to market changes. Supply chain issues hit these companies much harder and open opportunities for smaller companies to respond more quickly.
Solving problems and finding solutions is a constant in any growing business. Embrace this and make it your mind set. There will always be problems and the winners are the ones who continually find creative ways to solve them.
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