Andy Berliner Interview
(Amy's Kitchen)

Amy’s Kitchen is a family business named after Andy and Rachel Berliner’s daughter – Amy, who was born in 1987.

The Berliner’s vegetarian, product line has become the nation’s (we’re talking United States) leading natural frozen food brand.

They’ve created over 60 different products including vegetarian pizza, pocket sandwiches, pot pies, entrees, snacks, whole meals, canned soups, chili’s, and bottled pasta sauces.

Andy Berliner spoke to us about his co.

Q – Why do you think vegetarian products are so popular these days?
A – Well, there’s a growing interest in vegetarian products among young people for one. I think that’s partially coming from the educational process where elementary schools are spending a lot more time on environmental issues and nature. Kids are just feeling closer I think to the animal world and therefore would have a leaning to be more vegetarian. Among the population in general, I think there’s more concern for health than there used to be. Vegetarian diets have been applauded as being more helpful or at least eating more vegetarian food, not necessarily a strict vegetarian diet.

Q – Did your involvement with the Magic Mountain Herb Tea Co. (served as President of) prepare you in any way to run Amy’s Kitchen?
A – Definitely.

Q – You say that Amy’s Kitchen was “started on a shoestring”. I’m not asking for an exact figure, but can you at least give me a ballpark figure of what it took to launch the business?
A – Yeah. I think we started with $20,000 in capital which was raised in a variety of ways including taking a loan on my wife’s car and selling a good watch I had. And then we got a $20,000 line of credit from the bank. So, it’s $40,000 altogether.

Q – How did you get your very first product, the pot pie, made?
A – When we started, I didn’t intend to go into the manufacturing business. We went to a local organic bread co. and talked to them about it and they said yeah, we’ll do that. We worked together to get the right equipment and ingredients and they started producing. But, none of us expected it to take off as quickly as it did. Not long after that happened, they gave me 30 days notice that they wouldn’t be able to do it any more.

Q – Why was that?
A – It was just too much. It was too distracting from their core bread bakery business. The moment it was introduced it became very popular. People thought it had been around for a long time when it had been around only a few months. A niche just waiting to be filled sort of thing. I spent 15 days looking for someone else to make it and then realized with the organic complications and the quality issues we had, we’d have to make it ourselves.

Q – Were you overseeing the production of this pot pie?
A – Oh, yeah. We were there everyday.

Q – Did you make this pot pie in your own kitchen first?
A – Yeah. The product had been developed in our own kitchen, at home over the past 8 months before we started actually making it in production.

Q – Were you ever concerned that someone at the bakery would steal your recipe?
A – We were probably too naïve to even think about that.

Q – So, I take it, it never happened.
A – It never happened.

Q – How were you marketing this pot pie?
A – I visited the various health food distributors around the country, some of ‘em who I did know, and that’s where the magic mountain ties in, from prior experience; and some I didn’t. I just sold the idea of having an organic vegetable pot pie. Already they had a market for natural chicken and natural turkey pot pie, but, nothing for vegetarians. The thought was there was a lot of other people out there like ourselves that grew up on eating Swanson’s or something along those lines and had become vegetarian and would appreciate being able to eat something like that again.

Q – So, because there was nothing like it on the market, you thought it had a greater chance of succeeding?
A – Yes.

Q – Why Amy’s Kitchen? Why not Andy’s Kitchen or Rachel’s Kitchen? Although, I have to tell you, Amy’s Kitchen does sound better.
A – (Laughs). Well, that’s good to hear. It never crossed our minds to name it after one of us, but, we were making up all these lists of names most of them being Green this or Natural this, or Organic that, and it all sounded the same. You know, like another health food name. Suddenly Amy’s grandmother, Rachel’s mom said, ‘Why not name it after Amy’? She was just born a few months before. She was born in November. We started it in February. One of our motivations to do a business like this was to provide income for a new child. So, we decided we just liked it right away.

Q – Amy’s Kitchen has branched out in so many different directions. Wouldn’t it have been easier to maintain Quality Control on just one item line?
A – Oh, it probably would’ve been easier, but, I don’t know if we would’ve survived, even though it was successful. The Health Food industry is not real large in size, so as you branch out into more products you’re building volume and also strength with your distributors and stores. Over the years, the name Amy’s has come to mean high quality foods. I just found out recently, actually about a week ago, that Amy’s is the Number One selling brand in Health Food stores, period, outside of a dairy commodity type brand. As far as prepared foods, it’s Number One.

Q – Who’s your competition?
A – We have a lot of smaller competitors in frozen foods. I think I get 8 or 9 times the volume of any of our competitors in frozen. In the soup category, we’re a newcomer. We only entered the business 2 years ago. Eight of our first soups are already in the Top Ten selling soups, but overall, I think we’re Number 3 in the soup business ‘cause we don’t have that many items. But, we did it the same way. We just tried to produce a higher quality product. We don’t come out with something if we feel like someone’s doing a good job with it who’s already in the market. We only step in when we feel we’re making a real high step in the improvement of quality.

Q – You could almost open Amy’s Kitchen restaurants throughout the country stocked with your products couldn’t you?
A – We’ve talked about it. It’s a whole other undertaking, but, yeah it’s certainly a possibility.

Q – So, where would you like to take this co?
A – Well, just wherever it goes. We want to grow at a pace where we can afford to keep it privately held which means not to double it every year, but 15-20 per cent growth a year. A kind of steady organic growth; the kind we’ve had. We enjoy doing new things. We’ll always be innovative, but not to blow the roof off and turn it into a huge co. overnight. We have a great fan club of consumers who tell other people about us.

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