Startups #nofilter had the pleasure of sitting down with D’vash co-founder Brian Finkel, who recently launched a company selling organic date honey with co-founder David Czinn. Their product is described as: “a sweet, delicious, and healthy sweetener and natural honey alternative that’s made entirely from organic California dates”.
In this interview, Brian discusses everything from why D’vash is considered a startup, why people other than vegans and hipsters will consume this product, and the pressing issue of the honey bee population going extinct.
1. When we first sat down I told you that I didn’t think your company qualifies as a startup. You mostly convinced me otherwise. Tell our audience why D’vash Organics qualifies as a startup company.
We’re just a couple of old friends with a vision and a dream: To introduce a product that has the potential to fundamentally change the way Americans eat. But we don’t have a staff, we don’t have an office, and we’ve been running this business on a shoestring budget from the start.
We’ve accomplished a ton since we launched in February, including partnering with the two largest natural food distributors in the US and getting shelf space at several major national retailers, but we’re still at the beginning of our journey and have a pretty long way to go.
2. Let’s get into the product. You’re selling organic date honey. Does this already exist in America? If so, what sets you apart from the competition?
I can’t stress enough how huge this product is in the Middle East and how comparatively small it is in the US. Beyond a handful of small ethnic and kosher shops in a few cities, date nectar is virtually unheard of. And whatever date nectar is available in the US is either imported from the Middle East, contains tons of added sugar, or both.
D’vash Date Nectar is the only date nectar that’s made entirely from US-grown (California, to be specific) dates. D’vash is also vegan, certified organic and non-GMO, gluten-free, fat-free, and contains no added sugar. There’s simply nothing out there right now that comes close to what we’re offering in terms of quality, taste, and nutrition. And D’vash is the only date nectar brand that can be found in major retailers across the country.
3. I feel like your market will include many vegans (true vegans don’t eat honey) and hipsters. What about the rest of America, who have no problem consuming honey. Why should they be compelled to try organic date honey?
A huge chunk of Americans are looking for healthy alternatives to existing sweeteners and D’vash has the potential to be the next big thing. It’s not just about vegans and organic foodies, although they will certainly be loyal customers for us. Take diabetics, for example. Date nectar is comparatively low on the glycemic index and contains 25% less sugar per serving than honey, which makes it a considerably healthier choice for people who are watching their blood sugar.
And then there’s the two-years-old-and-under segment. It’s not safe for babies under the age of two to consume bee honey, and D’vash is the perfect alternative. And we’re all aware of the latest trend to “buy American,” which is being actively encouraged by the current administration. Many US consumers – and we’re not talking about hipsters here – are looking for products made exclusively in America, and D’vash is one of the few alternative sweeteners or honey substitutes out there that passes this test.
4. They say that bees might one day become extinct. Has that played any role in the thought process or business of producing organic date honey?
What’s happening to the bees is devastating for the environment and the entire global ecosystem, not to mention the bees themselves. D’vash Organics is committed to donating a percentage of our future profits to saving the bees. The bottom line, however, is that bee honey as an industry may not be sustainable for much longer, and the way honey prices have skyrocketed in recent years is a reflection of this trend. One thing thing is clear: People are already looking for healthy and sustainable honey alternatives like D’vash.
5. What can you tell us so far in terms of numbers. How many bottles sold, or how many and what stores are you already in and/or plan to get into?
I can’t disclose too much detail, but I can say that last month we fulfilled our first orders to three major retail chains, each of which has a serious presence throughout the US. We’ve already gotten very positive feedback on how the product is selling at these stores, and management has indicated that if we continue to show strong sales, we could see $100,000 in orders from them on a monthly basis.
In addition, we’re also in advanced talks with several other major national and regional retailers, including Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Sprouts. That’s just a small sample of who we’ve been having serious discussions with, and we can get shelf space at many more chains via our distributors. And that doesn’t even include our grand plans for Amazon and online sales…
6. What about investments. Have you gotten any traction/interest among VC’s since your company has a startup-y feel to it, or are you going a more traditional investor route?
We’re really just too small and early-stage for the vast majority of VC funds. In any case, our preference at this stage is to use our personal networks to find angel investors who are excited about what we’re doing and want to get involved. This process has already begun to bear fruit, as we’ve made significant progress with our current funding round.
7. On your website it says that you are both friends and business partners. Is that a tricky relationship to manage?
David and I have been best friends since studying abroad together in Israel 12 years ago. It was during our year together in the Middle East that our love for local cuisine, such as date nectar, developed. Like any business partners, we naturally have occasional disagreements.
But we always go the extra mile to ensure that all disputes are resolved amicably for the sake of our friendship, which we both agree must come before the business.
8. It seems like organic date honey is a versatile sauce, er, honey, as it can be put on salad, chicken, popcorn, and muffins. What is your personal favorite recipe?
Personally, my favorite recipe is our D’vash Date Shake, which is featured on our bottle. It’s simple, healthy, and refreshing, especially on a scorching summer day like today. And it’s vegan!
9. For fun: What website do you go to check when your internet isn’t working?
Other than Startups #nofilter? I love Project NOSH. It’s a great site for keeping up on everything happening in the food industry.
10. For fun: Any advice for Startup #nofilter?