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Business Q&A: River Wave Foods

Posted by CLIMB Center on June 22, 2016


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Rebecca Kawanami is the creator of River Wave Foods, a local ethnic sauce company. Rebecca’s products are now sold at New Seasons Market thanks to her at the Food Innovation Center at the SBDC.

After taking the program what was your journey and timeline like? I believe you had this preconceived idea about what you wanted to do coming into this program, is that what happened for you, and who did you sell to first? 

When I went through the class New Seasons assessed our products and at the time it was in an 8-ounce deli tub, and they said that they thought the product was warranted a nicer container. So that then shifted the whole concept of a simple deli tub to a more expensive but much longer lasting shelf life. But out first costumer was Food Front, which is very interesting. We're no longer in Food Front, we got into Whole Foods, and then recently got into New Seasons. From there we got into Market of Choice, and we're up in Seattle and down in Eugene, and Thriftway. So slowly it's taken hold, but my concept from the very beginning was that I did not have a lot of marketing dollars and it was more important for me to go deep and local. I think it's so critical that you have the support with marketing and people on the ground presenting your products. We’re also still in local farmer's markets that drive people to the grocery stores from the farmer's markets.


What are some of your top five lessons learned that you'd like to pass on to this group; things that you think are really important as you're just starting out on this journey?

Even thought it was a mom and pop, I really wish I had either five family members or five friends that were equally committed to the development and growth of our product line- that it wasn't just me running around doing a million things. If you have a little army of people equally vested, you do that many more demos, farmer's markets, etc. and it will grow exponentially. If you can partner with the right people, they might even bring different strengths to the table. I think that's been my hardest thing, finding either I have to hire people but they're not part of the core development group.


So I know that coming through the program you were encouraged by your business advisor at the SBDC to chose your best product to take through the program, or best product or two, but you now have new products perhaps that you brought into the market place. How did you know when it was time to innovate? What kinds of things did you look at in the market place to know that it was time to bring a new product in?

We started off with three sauces, and then by developing recipes with each of these products, we created two more products based on the demand. So I haven't developed a peanut sauce yet and I think it's very costly to develop new product in terms of scaling it up, containers, doing all the testing. I started off with four products, I started off with the three sauces, and an organic fig and olive tapenade, and then these developed these over time. So it does take on a life of its own, and somehow things that you never thought you would be developing suddenly seem at the forefront of your plans. That's the thing about being in the farmers market and doing in store demos, you really get a sense of what the people want.

Watch the full symposium with River Wave Foods and Jude's Foods here:

The Oregon Small Business Development Center Portland Community College has  helped thousands of businesses over the past 30 years. We combine one-on-one  advising with programs taught by business experts, giving our clients the  resources they need to grow their businesses. We’ve celebrated many successes  with our clients. We'd love to celebrate your success. Subscribe_PCC_CLIMBpcc-climb-sbdc-orientation 

Topics: Small Business, Business Profiles, Food

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