Dan Fruin got an early start in the kitchen. “My mom taught my siblings and me how to follow recipes, and I started cooking when I was about 7 years old.”
But being in the specialty food business was not something he envisioned. “I’ve always been interested in food and have been cooking my entire life, but the road I took was evolutionary and influenced by many life experiences. I saw first hand the health consequences of a diet that had lots of fats and sugars, and that evolved into my philosophy of healthier eating.”
Though Dan studied political science at UCLA, it was when he went to business school that his professional ideas started to coalesce. “Studying strategy, leadership, and entrepreneurship, I started thinking about businesses I could launch on my own, and one of them was a concept restaurant.”
“Short half a million to a million dollars to start a restaurant from scratch, I explored what I could do with the resources I did have. One resource was my recipe for a product like kimchi. I had developed it as a condiment for my restaurant idea. That was the pivot point.”
Fermented foods and spicy foods were trending up, and Dan’s idea would ride both of those trends. So, he had a good idea. The 18 months of experimentation involved figuring out how to get there.
“I looked at traditional kimchi, and I knew that I wanted to make it more mainstream, more appealing to a larger audience, without losing the traditional kimchi customers. I wanted to make it healthier and better. I’m a label reader, and I’m concerned about what’s in our food. I wanted my product to be simple and good, with no ingredients that you wouldn't recognize.”
There were several issues Dan was confronted with in trying to expand the market for a very ethnic product. “For example, the most popular version of kimchi is red – which is a very aggressive color to work with. Second, most kimchis contain a seafood component, which not everyone likes and which also contributes to its pungent, off-putting smell. Third, kimchi generally is laden with salt, sugar, additives and preservatives. So my goal from the outset was to reduce the sodium and eliminate the sugar, the additives and the preservatives.”
“Lastly, I had to address the spice. Spice and heat are very subjective. What’s hot to one person is mild to another and vice-versa. So, I went through many batches until I got to a point where the feedback on the heat was about equal on both sides. That’s when I knew the amount of red pepper I had chosen for my recipe was probably where it needed to be."
After 18 months during which Dan refined the recipe, came up with the brand name, designed the label, “basically I did everything,” he met consultant Merrilee Olson, the Executive Director of PRESERVE Sonoma, a specialty food manufacturer based out of San Rafael. “A fermented product is challenging to make, but Merrilee was interested enough to listen to my idea, and she loved the product, so she gave it a shot.”
Merrilee has been instrumental in getting many specialty food products from concept and initial design to market-ready. “She’s a fantastic advisor and has been very instrumental in the development of Genuine Grub. She saved me months of banging into walls and dead ends, by helping me anticipate issues. Food is not really an exact science. It’s more like alchemy, which makes it both exciting and challenging.”
Once he had the product ready, retailers were anxious to carry it, and Dan has had impressive success. “I couldn’t have gotten to this point without the support of the stores that initially partnered with me. Now, with Whole Foods coming on board, lots more people will be able to enjoy delicious, healthy Genuine Grub Spicy Pickled Cabbage™.”