SōRSE Employee Spotlight: Michelle Sundquist

Meet our Director of Product Development, Michelle Sundquist, who brings over 20 years of product development experience in the food and beverage industry to our team. If you have ever wondered who was behind Starbucks cold brew coffee product launch, that was Michelle. Her dedication to creating quality products is evident in the work she does with our customers; she listens carefully to their ideas and helps them clarify and actualize their product vision. Outside of SōRSE, she is an active outdoors-person who loves skiing and scuba-diving and a dedicated Packers fan.

Michelle Sundquist SoRSE Spotlight

What have been some of the significant moments in your time working at SōRSE?

For the Mad Tasty project, we were able to put together a number of beverages quickly. I think having Ryan Tedder be able to choose something, go into production and move to market so fast is impressive. What I enjoy the most is building the infrastructure for R & D — how projects come in and get approved, and how we approach timelines. As long as you are confident and good at what you do, it’s pretty easy to turn something around quickly and efficiently. I like creating the processes for getting projects done.

In the very beginning when we were creating the emulsion, we had a good product — people liked it, but they didn’t know why they liked it. Once you try it, you become a strong believer in how controllable the experience is. Because we understand the science of the emulsion and have gathered documentation on it, our customers feel confident in our products. It makes me really proud that as a food ingredient company, we have gotten to that place quickly. Having all of the different departments represented that you would typically see in a bigger company also makes me proud — it shows that we are thinking about the big picture.

What is it like working with customers who are trying to figure out how to create and then launch a product? How do you coach them through the process?

It’s really exciting working with customers. When they talk about their products, there is so much passion. There is a big difference between hearing someone talk about something they are excited about and reading about it somewhere. In person, you get pulled into the passion.

When I start talking to someone about a new development project, I like to have them tell me what they want to do in their own words. My goal is to get to know them and their personality through talking to them. From there, I look at the words they are using to describe their product, and think about if those are words they would use in their life in general. After that, you can get a better idea of who the customer is. At the same time, you have to know what the current trends are and what the competition is doing.

Once you get a sense of how the person communicates their ideas and an understanding of the product they are looking to launch, then you can get into the specifics, coaching them through the nitty-gritty, like calorie count, organic, low sugar…. People are very focused on calorie count, but the more calories you allow, the more ingredients you can use. You need to really explore the customer’s reasoning for the decisions they are making for their beverage.

At Starbucks, we were constantly training, particularly in problem-solving, dialing in on the development process and delivering what the customer wants and needs. A lot of this comes down to conversation and communication. We need to think about how we can make the customers’ ideas work while constantly remembering what their goal is. It’s important to explore the “why” — because there could be multiple ways to get to a solution that may work a little better.

When you think about someone who has been a mentor to you or influenced your career positively, who is that person and how did they help you along the way?

There are a number of people who have influenced my career and who I look up to. There are two people in particular I turn to for advice, and each has a unique skillset I gravitate towards.

One is Lani, a Global VP for Beverage at Starbucks. She has the ability to stay incredibly Zen through any situation, which I think is really impressive. A lot of the classes she had us take were around mindfulness, self awareness and understanding how others may work differently, which was something I really appreciated. Mindfulness helps you get in the moment, step back, stay in the moment and reset. The class made me realize that everyone gets stressed and that we have to own it.

Jill is the other mentor I rely on; she is very creative and a very strong food scientist. In my creativity, I am methodical — whereas her creativity comes from all directions, which makes it messy and chaotic. I love to learn from her because it challenges me to think about things in a different way. I’m constantly curious as to which way is a faster or more successful process.

What advice would you give to someone entering this industry?

I would remind them to focus on all of the attributes that make people who work at start-ups valuable to other companies. If you join a company because you enjoy the culture, you have to know that culture can change quickly with the turnover of a few people. If you join a company because of the product they sell, the industry is so new that the products they sell can also change.

I think it is better to not have expectations. What you can expect is to work hard and know that you won’t get a lot of direction, but you’ll have your name on the plane when you get done building it. You also need to have a lot of self-confidence in the work you are doing and be able to figure out if you are being successful or not — you have to be able to assess and evaluate yourself.

You also have to know that there can be chaos anywhere, in any business. At the end of the day, businesses are made up of people, and people can be messes — you have emotions, frustration, newness to the business, and disagreement. Because of that, every business has their struggles.

If you could, what product would you create for consumer use?

If I had the know-how, I would come up with more reusable, compostable packaging. If there is a compostable solution to packaging, companies should be forced to use it.

Can you share a fun fact that not a lot of people know about you?

I met Kurt Cobain once at the Health Department in highschool where I used to volunteer as a Peer Educator. He came by with his daughter Frances and signed a bunch of swag — so I won a pair of hot pink, glow in the dark boxer shorts that he signed.

My husband and I also got married at the top of Whistler and skied down in our outfits together — peak to creek!

5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

Jacob Schweppe. Dr. John Pemberton. Caleb Bradham. Perhaps only one of these names sounds familiar to you — Jacob Schweppe — because you can find his last name in every grocery store on bottles and cans of ginger ale, club soda, and tonic water. Schweppe first began selling seltzer in Geneva 237 years ago in 1783, 30 years after carbonation techniques were developed. The other men created two of the most famous beverages in the world: Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886, and Bradham developed Pepsi-Cola in 1898. 

Beyond being the founders of three iconic beverage brands, these gentlemen had something else in common, something they share with people who are creating beverages today — their drinks started with an idea and inspiration. Perhaps you, like them, want to make an infused beverage, perhaps inspired by a drink you loved as a kid, a drink that you had on vacation, or a drink that you concocted in your kitchen for fun. How do you take that idea and turn it into a viable product that you might find on a store shelf?  Here are the Top 5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage from three SōRSE producers themselves. 

1. IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET CONSUMER —  GET TO KNOW THEM INSIDE AND OUT 

The first thing you need to know is that a product is more successful when you are passionate about an idea. There are a lot of really good ideas out there, but good ideas are only successful when they happen at the right time and the right place. Ask  yourself why you want to do it and what you can bring to the table. What is your niche, and how are you going to differentiate yourself and excel?  

In the idea generation phase, you need to identify your audience — who is going to buy your beverage and where that person would buy it. The profile of your target consumer should be as specific as possible. You should be able to picture what that person looks like in your head; you should know what kind of clothes they shop for, what kind of cereal they would buy, and where they would buy it. You have to get in their head and see the world through their eyes. You need to know what is important to them.  

When you do market and consumer research, do a deep dive on all the different things your consumer is attracted to, all the while focusing on how your product is going to appeal to them AND be different. When you market to a consumer, you can talk about all the positives of your product, but you have to talk about what makes yours unique. One of those positives has to be something that no other producer can talk about. 

Product development is like any other sort of idea generation — you need to do tons of research to really know your audience.  When you are creating an infused beverage with CBD or another cannabinoid, the narrower you can make your consumer, the more successful you will be. You want to create a beverage that someone will stop to buy in the middle of the day somewhere; you want that repeat customer. Your drink being delicious isn’t enough — you need to create a need in your customer so that they will keep coming back.  

It’s also important to visualize what your consumer is doing when they are drinking your beverage. This will help you create a marketing focus which will then tie into the format you choose, your packaging, the color palette for your branding, and the words you use to draw attention to your product. When someone sees your product in a store, you want them to wonder what it is. Once you hook them in with the look of your product, your flavor will keep them there.   

2. DETERMINE WHAT FORMAT YOU WANT YOUR PRODUCT TO COME IN — GLASS, CAN, POWDER, RIP AND SIP, CONCENTRATE OR DROPS  

When looking for where your product will fit in in the marketplace, it’s best to examine other products your consumer might purchase and what the packaging looks like. Packaging and labeling are the first visual and tactile interactions a customer has with your product, so that first level of engagement is important. Is your consumer drawn to natural products? Do they buy glass over plastic because they are concerned about their environmental footprint? Do they buy products with fruits and vegetables on their labels? Your label and packaging should reflect your company ethos and what makes your product different.  You should also consider how your consumer takes in information about products and how they digest it. Where the products they are buying are being advertised — on social media? In print? Is the product being handed out at events?   

3. CREATING A FLAVOR PROFILE AND DETERMINING DOSING  

Adding CBD to a beverage formula that already exists is relatively easy, but if you are starting the process from scratch and creating something new, you can begin by looking at food trends. Those tend to start at boutique, culinary restaurants. Eventually they can trickle down and show up in other places and then be transferred into color palettes, clothing, ice cream flavors, all the way down to the fast food level — the highly accessible level.  Microtrends are ones that are just emerging, mainstream trends are ones that appeal to a lot of people, and then there are trends that are on their way out.  

Today, national and global travel is relatively easy — so people are exposed to new flavors and are generally open to trying other cultures’ flavors. That said, it helps to use a base flavor that is transferable and versatile in almost any recipe. The secondary flavors are the ones that might be more out there — one that you wouldn’t expect to see paired with the base flavor. For example, citrus is a common base flavor, and it pairs well with other secondary flavors like mint or berry.  
 

When it comes to choosing the type of CBD you want to infuse in your drink, you have a few options. If you want a beverage with a clean, specific flavor profile, use an isolate. If you know that your customer will prefer the flavor of cannabis and will appreciate the nuances of the botanical flavors, then you would choose a broad spectrum. Broad spectrum adds another layer of complexity which some see as a perk and premium.  

You will also need to determine how many milligrams per serving of your cannabinoid will be in your beverage. If you are making a recovery drink, then you might offer 25 mg to the consumer; if you are creating an herbal tea for the evening, then you might choose 10-15 mg per serving.   

4. FIND A TRUSTED CBD SUPPLIER  

When making an infused beverage, consumer safety should be your #1 concern. That means that your label claims need to be accurate, that your beverage is shelf stable, that the product quality has been tested, and that the consumer experience is a positive one. Take the time to find a CBD supplier who has extremely high standards, who are offering the best product on the market.  

The company supplying your CBD should be following regulatory protocols, supplying documents that verify product quality, offering the appropriate solution for your beverage, and offering implementation support. Look carefully at the types of CBD the supplier offers — water-soluble solutions, oil-based solutions, and emulsions — and work with them to find the best solution for your product. You will also want to work with a lab that can independently test your product and that is open to communication with your CBD supplier. 

If you are working with a company that offers an emulsion, make sure that the emulsion is their priority and not simply an add-on offering. Look for an emulsion that is stable in its raw form and in the letdown, as well as one that has been tested for shelf life.  If the company cannot supply documentation on their product like a Certificate of Analysis, Product Data Sheets and Safety Data Sheets, it’s time to find a different supplier! 

5. BASED ON YOUR TARGET CONSUMER, IDENTIFY WHERE YOU ARE GOING TO PRODUCE YOUR BEVERAGE AND WHO IS GOING TO PRODUCE IT FOR YOU 

Figuring out who your consumer is is also tied to where you are going to produce your product. If you want to sell to an audience in a specific state and there is a manufacturing center in that state, you’ll save a lot of money by producing it as close as possible to your market area. Also, if there is a facility producing a product similar to yours and it’s considered a turnkey process for them, you will be more successful commercializing your product because they already have experience making something similar.   

When you are ready to produce your beverage, look for a co-manufacturer who has produced other infused beverages. A company that understands CBD as an ingredient and has produced other CBD beverages will understand how to work with it. Doing test batches is key because it will allow you to tweak your formula if you need to. 

Creating a product for consumer use is an exercise in creativity, analysis, problem-solving, flexibility and collaboration. You might hit bumps in the road along the way of getting your CBD beverage to a grocery store shelf, but if you work with a CBD supplier and co-manufacturer who has experience working with cannabinoids, they will be able to collaborate and work with you throughout the process. At SōRSE, our R&D team is well-versed in beverage production from concept to final product and welcomes the opportunity to help bring your dream to life and your product to market. Schedule an exploratory call today with SōRSE to get started on your infused CBD beverage journey! 

CBD-Infused Guacamole

Shot Clock Guac

 

Shot Clock GuacIt’s almost time to gather around the big screen for March Madness, college basketball’s tournament of champions. Planning a viewing party? Going over to a friend’s house for a full day of game-watching? Grab a few bags of chips at the store and whip up some CBD-infused Guacamole using Chef Stacy’s recipe!

YIELD: 2 servings

CBD: 20 mg per serving

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 Haas avocados
  • 1 lime, squeezed
  • 1.667 grams SōRSE liquid
  • 2 T fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 T red onion, chopped fine
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • Dash of Kosher salt

DIRECTIONS:

Split the avocados in half, remove the pits, peel, and then cut into 1/2” cubes. In a large bowl, gently fold the avocados, lime juice, SōRSE liquid, cilantro, jalapeños, garlic, onion, and cumin together. Season with salt. Dash of cumin on top.

SōRSE Employee Spotlight: John Kueber

John Kueber CRO

John Kueber

Meet our Chief Revenue Officer, John Kueber, who brings over twenty years of experience as a business executive building companies and developing brands to the team. John loves the challenge of building out new processes, educating new customers, and finding people to manage new projects. When he is not at work, you can find John spending time with his wife and twin daughters who love sports as much as he does or putting miles in on his bike. An accomplished athlete, John has completed an Ironman, summited Mount Rainier two times as well as ten other Cascade peaks, and has ridden over the major cycling passes for the Tour De France and Giro D’Italia.   

What have been some significant moments or some highlights in your year at SōRSE?   

I’m most proud of what I accomplished in Canada; I was able to find about half a dozen marquee accounts for SōRSE and Valens, and I felt this validated that we can take what we have to another country. It also validated Valens’ initial investment in licensing the technology, and I’d like to think it played a big part in them increasing their investment on the second license. They saw it was working in Canada and hopefully that was a factor in them seeing the opportunity for the other countries where they have licenses. I’m really proud of jumping in feet first, going out and finding those accounts without a ton of direction and helping get that business set up, from messaging to pricing to process, to helping the Valens team build their sales team. It’s all been super rewarding and fun. People were genuinely excited about SōRSE in Canada, and it’s cool when you have a product that people are interested in. Currently I am happy with the changes and the progress that we’re making in the sales team. I feel like we’ve gone from having limited structure to a more solid structure, and we are forming a team with powerful personalities to build up our business.     

What do you enjoy about your role and what do you find particularly challenging about it?   

In comparison to last year when I was managing my accounts and answering to one person, my new role as CRO has shifted me towards management. The fun thing right now is that we are an early stage company with a startup atmosphere that is trying to reach a national and global market. There is no end of productive work to be done, whether it’s bringing on new customers, building out new processes, or finding people to manage new projects – and all of that is fun. The downside is that every day you’re questioning your priorities and you’re questioning if you’re moving fast enough, using the right amount of capital to go fast… what do you with complete regard to speed, and what do you do a little more slowly and carefully and make sure it’s done right? Every day I’m defining priorities, which is true for most leaders in businesses, but it’s a little more true for this business. I think the cool thing is, unlike a lot of startups, our strong capital base allows us to execute in the right way.     

 

What is your philosophy on sales, and what qualities makes a salesperson successful?   

Salespeople have to have their own internal engine. It’s an overused cliché, but they absolutely have to have grit — the ability to stay persistent and tough even when a deal is taking a long time or a period of some lost deals.  The most important qualities for me, and two of the hardest ones to hire for, are the ability to be both empathetic and the ability to create a narrative.   

 

To be empathetic, you need to be able to listen to your customer, and be able to repeat back (in different words!) what you hear them saying, and understand what they are going through. That is a skill you have to develop, and a lot of people don’t ever develop it.   

 

Combined with that, you’ve got to be able to create a narrative for the customer: “Here is what you are going through, here is what SōRSE does, and here the way those two things can be woven together.” You have to build a story on how our product can provide a solution for the customer. Humans tend to think in terms of stories, they think in terms of what works well for others; what we are working on is taking data and figuring out how it fits in to the narrative.   
 

Good salespeople also understand when a project is not a good fit. They value the customer’s time, and if a project is not worth doing, they’re not afraid to say so and move on, because they know that if they work hard, they will find better opportunities.    

 

Can you describe your first sales job, and how you learned how to build relationships with customers?   

 My first sales job was selling programs for the University of Washington crew team. As a freshman you had to sell 100 programs on Saturdays before you could move on with your day. Many of my teammates dreaded this, but one friend and I had a ton of fun with it and would sell 500 programs each, really just by going the extra mile to have fun with the Husky fans walking into the game. If you love your product and love connecting with people, I found you could have a great career with sales.  After college, I sold internet advertising for the New York Yankees. That was a lot of fun because it was very early days of the internet, so I was learning a lot about technology while also getting to sell.    

Having said that, I did decide early on that while I love to sell, I didn’t want to purely be a professional salesperson. Back in the 90s, if you were 25, a lot of people weren’t comfortable handing you $500,000 to start a company. Once I left my ad sales job, I raised $200,000 from friends and family, and started my first company which I sold for just under $5,000,000 after two years. That was a confidence builder and an experience that made me realize that I had some good entrepreneurial qualities.   

More importantly, I also learned an important lesson about conviction from that experience; that first business I built was an early internet commerce store, and I probably had 200 people tell me it was a dumb idea and that it wouldn’t work, and they were proven wrong. Most people really have no clue what’s going to work and what isn’t. If you think your idea is going to work, if you have conviction and passion for your idea, don’t let the haters keep you down.    

That experience parlayed into a voice technology business which merged with one of Howard’s companies; then it happened with a media business that was bought by a larger media company. In situations like these, you have to do the selling, you have to do the work, but you also have to have conviction, believe that you’re smart, that you’re doing the right things, and building the right business.   

Bringing this back to SōRSE, early when I heard about this opportunity from Howard, I started looking at the CBD and cannabis market – and the conventional, common wisdom out there is that cannabis is weird business for a variety of reasons. Yet once I dug in and looked closely at the marketplace, particularly around CBD, I saw that is was a compelling, good-for-society business. I’m passionate about it, I have convictions around it, I knew I could sell it, and there is room for growth, so it sounded like the right opportunity.    

 

If you were to give a piece of advice just entering the cannabis business as well as someone who has just started at SōRSE, what would it be?   

That one is easy: Find a specific problem to solve or a specific solution to create and work hard to meet it. Don’t jump into the cannabis business just for the sake of it. Right now, don’t JUST launch a CBD sparkling drink; it’s been done. Launch a CBD drink that is targeted towards a specific market or provides a certain function. Fill a specific need.  

At SōRSE, I think it’s important that we stay lean and stay hungry. We need to work each month with the same hunger that we did in the beginning. Let’s keep up the intensity and enjoy it.    

 

We are at the beginning of a new decade. What was your life like in 2010? What were you doing for fun?   

Ten years ago, we were living in Seattle, and my twin daughters were three years old. My wife and I were knee-deep in parenting them. I was COO of a media company, raising my twin girls, and not having much time for anything else. I wouldn’t trade having kids for anything, but it was definitely all encompassing for a few years!  Having two little girls waking up at all hours for a few years definitely took it out of me and my wife, Katarina.  

SōRSE Employee Spotlight: Zahra Marin

headshot of Zahra

Meet our Manager of Quality Assurance and the Analytics Lab, Zahra Marin, who brings over five years of experience in quality management in FDA-regulated industries. Zahra’s background in Chemistry and Business Administration allows her to bridge different industry experiences with the goal of implementing thorough quality programs. After years of living in frigid North Dakota and the Midwest, she is happy to have settled on the West Coast and is now adjusting to life as a mother, having given birth to her first child at the end of December. She and her husband also love to travel – and their goal is to visit every state!

How did you end up working at SōRSE?

Coming from the ChicagoLand area and passing by Kansas, my husband and I have always wanted to live on the West Coast (the Best Coast). When he had a job opportunity in Tacoma, I followed and started working for Amazon. I thought working for a big corporation in a liberal state would be a dream.

After just a few weeks, I realized that working for such a big company wasn’t for me. It felt way too impersonal, and there was too much structure. Everything is tracked in multiple programs, no one knows anyone, and people just walk by without saying “Hello.” There are cameras everywhere, a lot of security, facial recognition devices, controlled access everywhere, you name it.

After deciding to remove myself from that environment, I found out about SōRSE and thought how cool it would be to work in this industry in the state of Washington. I liked that it was a startup; it seemed like a place where I could make a difference. There weren’t a lot of people here at first, but you could really see how everyone came together. I thought the building itself was pretty quirky and in an odd neighborhood, but I liked that it had personality.

Cannabis was not legal in states I lived in before, so I didn’t know much about it. CBD definitely interested me, and I wanted to learn about the fast-growing industry and see SōRSE grow with it. Working Quality in a company that uses CBD means that you get to do a lot of detective work and figure things out on your own, which is very satisfying.

There aren’t a lot of places where you are on the cusp of discovery, and here at SōRSE It feels like we are modern day cowboys during the Green Rush.

What have been some of the significant moments in your time here? What are you proud of?

The renovation of the lab has been an important project in the last few months, and it is coming along nicely. A huge project we have been working on is restructuring and revising our safety plan and making sure it is aligned with the company’s goals. When we have had quality issues, we have worked well as a team to find out the problem, gathered documentation, and investigated, and then were able to make decisions on how to proceed.

I find a lot of satisfaction putting systems in place – it’s important to get information out of people’s heads and into a place where others can access it. I am also very happy about working with other departments to organize information flow, how the team tackles major challenges and is committed to finding reliable information when they have to solve a problem.

What do you love most about what you do?

What I really love most is that I get to use so much of what I have learned in my educational and work background in QA/QC—Business, Microbiology, and Analytical Chemistry. I feel like everything I have done in the past has prepared me for this role. And I love that I have great people to turn to who are so committed to the success of SōRSE and are not hesitant to offer their expertise.

What can be challenging about your work?

With this industry being so new, sometimes there just isn’t any information out there that you can go by. This is especially difficult when working in QA/QC where the goal is standardization. This means that we need to put our detective hats on to find resources, solutions and answers to our questions; this kind of work is challenging but intellectually stimulating. Sometimes we have to create the answers we need and show the work behind why we think it is a valid answer.

Where do you see yourself in this role moving forward?

I foresee making our food safety program even more robust. This means fine-tuning the foundation work we are doing right now. For me personally, I want to continue to grow the quality side and take on aspects of the regulatory systems, to keep the customers safe and the quality of our products high.

Can you share a fun fact that not a lot of people know about you?

I am originally from Morocco – I lived there until I finished high school. Then I went to Fargo, North Dakota for my undergrad studies. NDSU had a low cost of living (I wonder why?) and good quality programs. The transition to Fargo was difficult; between the harsh weather, strong accents and me looking so different from everyone else, I felt like I was living on Mars…except Mars was warmer on some days. Living there makes me appreciate the beauty of Seattle, the people, and the mild climate.