Nikki Seaman is revolutionizing the way you think about olives. As the founder and CEO of Freestyle Snacks, she is making olive snacking easier and more fun with unique flavors, innovative package designs, and more. We recently interviewed Nikki on all things olives, her brand, and where 2023 is taking Freestyle snacks. Learn how Nikki got into the business of olives and how Highlight's platform has helped her product succeed in the market.
Tell me about the company, and how you get started. Why does the world need Freestyle Snacks?
Freestyle Snacks was started in January of this year, and I’ll tell you a little bit about how I came up with the idea for Freestyle. It was during COVID when the olive bars had shut down in grocery stores. As a recent olive convert, I suddenly found myself in the olive aisle for the first time. I'm a very brand-loyal shopper, and none of the options were really jumping off the shelf to me. But I decided to take a few, try them at home, and kind of see what I liked best. When I did have the chance to try these different jarred and canned options, from a taste perspective, it just didn't live up to the olive bar or the type of experience that you would have at a restaurant. It was a bit bland and watery, not marinated or super fresh tasting. From a convenience perspective, it was really messy and a hassle to deal with. The brine was spilling everywhere. The jar is super narrow, so you can't even fit your hand in or your utensils to scoop them out. I found myself mostly eating the olives over my sink versus, you know, at my desk or on the couch, or on a car ride, and so I really wanted to create a product that made olives easier and more enjoyable to eat. That's how Freestyle Snacks came to be. We are an olive snack product. We reimagine olives as we know them to bring together high-quality, marinated delicious olives from Greece with convenient liquid-free packaging.
What was your first product? I know you have multiple different flavors, so what was the process of building that? Do you have any past experience with D2C products or the food industry?
Prior to starting Freestyle Snacks, I was at Whisps, the cheese crisps company. And then prior to that, I was in management consulting at Bain and Company. Those two experiences combined kind of gave me the strategy and CPG-specific expertise to figure out how to commercialize a product. I knew that when launching a new product, especially if the focus is going to be more retail, it is great to launch with a few different SKUs at the same time so that you're not just one product on a shelf that can get lost. You really see the whole branding through multiple items on the shelf.
We initially launched with all 3 flavors that we currently have, which would be a green olive lemon garlic, green olive hot and spicy, and a kalamata olive with extra virgin olive oil. I had done some consumer testing ahead of deciding on those 3 flavors. Testing both through surveys, as well as actual taste testing with family and friends and some outside consumer research on what flavor pairings people really wanted to see with olives.
Was there anything that was really important to you or really unimportant to you when you were developing products that you think is worth noting?
Yes. I would say one important thing is this: what's my taste isn't necessarily everyone else's taste. I really wanted to make sure to get as many diverse opinions as I could on the products from what the taste perspective was going to be to what the branding and packaging design was going to look like. I wanted to make sure that it was a product that not just someone like me or myself would want, but that the masses would be really happy to pick up and purchase.
How did you start product testing with Highlight specifically?
Dana (Highlight’s CEO) is extremely impressive, and an awesome person. I had heard a bit about her story and how she started Highlight and I thought it was an incredible idea to not only do some of the testing that I had been doing answering questions about a concept but to actually get people the product in hand where they can react to it even before opening it. This is so valuable because that's what people are going to see on the shelf and decide if they want to buy or not. Also, getting insights once they taste the product on any feedback that they had; if it was too salty or it had too much garlic or not enough lemon, etc. What did I really need to know to tweak both from an outer packaging standpoint and then the actual product itself? As we were so early on, it was a really great time to work with Highlight to see if I needed to change or pivot anything. It was just such a great experience to be able to test with a really dedicated consumer base to see where we might have been missing the mark both with our packaging design and then the product as well.
Did you notice any differences from when you were first testing with friends and family vs with a larger consumer base?
Yes. I think being able to have a higher number of survey respondents was extremely helpful because it can actually help me get to an average that makes sense. It also helped to get more information on the people who are taking the survey. For example, what their interests were, what other types of brands they like to shop at, and so on. That helped me to really develop that ideal customer profile so I can use that to ask, “Who am I really marketing to, who should I be selling to?”
Is there anything you'd want other emerging brands to know about the importance of product testing before you launch?
It's interesting because a lot of people—and I don't know the number so it might not be a lot—but I know a decent amount of people go the Farmers’ Market route. They test their products really thoroughly that way before launching into a bigger market. With my CPG expertise, I knew that I wanted to kind of go big with a really formalized packaging design that could sit very nicely on a retail shelf. Since I was leaning feet first into this, I wanted to make sure while I was still selling at small enough volumes that this product really was resonating with people and that it it would give me the confidence to go after a few larger retailers and bigger opportunities. Being able to do this testing early on, I knew there might be different things that I have to change on the packaging or maybe change the colors, or tweak the ingredients a little bit. That really helped me to move to the next level once I had that initial product concept check. Then it gave me the ability to go and pursue larger opportunities.
You got a lot of data from Highlight and you said you used it on package design and taste. Are there any other areas you’ve used Highlight data?
Another way that I've used the data is based on the really detailed reviews that people would leave about the product. I would use that in pitch decks to retailers to show how consumers are reacting to the product and what they think in order to give more of an anecdotal lens to the product and the consumer experience. I think that's been really valuable. I've also used the data not only with those quotes in the retail decks but also other data points in the retail decks just to build the story around what flavors people might like best. If we had to prioritize with the retailer to only put in two flavors versus three, then that data was very helpful for kind of guiding what will be most successful.
Another really interesting piece of feedback that we got from the Highlight survey was that a lot of people wanted to see more flavors, which is funny because it's one of the initial questions you asked. I know it’s something that our consumers want to see and so that's something that we're working on.
What was the best part of the Highlight experience?
I would say there are a few really impressive parts. One was the fact that the survey questions were already kind of drafted for me, and it was just me making different tweaks to what the standard set of questions looked like. It just saved me a lot of time and made it super easy for me to then tailor some of the questions more specifically to Freestyle. Next, I would say the speed with which the product was sent out and responses were collected. I got data super quickly; I can imagine for others who might be in a pinch for a retail meeting or an investor meeting and need that data right away, it would be super helpful to have that really quick turnaround time.
What do you see for the future of Freestyle Snacks? Where are you guys headed in 2023?
There are a lot of different directions that we can go with Freestyle, which is super exciting. We have three different innovations that are kind of tangential to olives in the pipeline right now, and we're hoping to launch them sometime next year. We are definitely going to be working with Highlight again as we get into some more testing of those flavors and packaging design. Hopefully, we will be launching some seasonal flavors as well.
Where can people find your products? Is it on through your website or any retailers?
I would say the best place to find our products would be our website or on Amazon as well. Also, on our Shopify site, you can sign up to purchase through our text channel, which will give you an initial discount as well. As far as retailers, in the Northeast, our biggest retailer is Juice Press. We also work with Central Market in Texas. We just launched with Erewhon in California, and then we're in hundreds of independent retailers across the country. So our store locator on our website is another good bet to find where to find us in person.