We’ve read up a little bit but we want to hear you tell your story. So, Laura, tell us: how did Legally Addictive come about?
Laura Shafferman: I started Legally Addictive during a turning point in my life. I was working in real estate marketing when I got laid off. There was a non-compete clause in my contract preventing me from getting hired by anyone else in the business. My previous boss was so litigious.
It was a messy point in my life and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had been unhappy in that field for a long time. I was this creative person trapped in this corporate hamster wheel without knowing where things were going. My days were spent wondering what I was going to do with my life. Was I actually living it? And that really scared me.
On the turnaround:
Laura Shafferman: After I lost my job, a friend of mine reached out to me “I know you make these cookies, and we’re running this holiday market. Would you be interested in selling your cookies there?” They were going to do it in this great space in Williamsburg. So, I said, “You know what. I’m going to do it and let’s see how it goes.”
I didn’t even have a name—I didn’t have anything but my cookies, and my granola, which I was also making back then. My friend, who was also a graphic designer, helped me put things together. And it was a hit! And I know that many don’t consider meeting people at a holiday market as proof of concept. But we sold out everything and people started following us on Instagram. And that was when I thought, “Well, okay. Maybe I do have something!”
On the nurture of a good thing:
So, I took a couple of part-time jobs while I learned about the food industry and obtained my food handler’s license. It took me another six months until I got things together.
The cracker cookies themselves are a common homemade treat in parts of the South and Midwest. They call them different names and they add different things to it. Even though many people were making these at home, nobody was selling them commercially. So, I knew that I was onto something.
I spent a lot of time working on the product recipe to make it more shelf-stable and at the same time retain the homemade taste that everybody loved. That took a while, because I don’t have a food background. It was a lot of trial and error. And it got very frustrating at times because I wasn’t sure if this product was ever going to come out the way that it needed to be.
Things didn’t happen instantly. It took a long time. We started really selling a year and a half after the holiday market.
On getting that big break:
Eventually, I did come up with the first iteration that could go on to shelf. One of our first customers—who we still work with to this day—was Dylan’s Candy Bar. Being selected for their New York Selection when we were just starting out was unbelievable. I’ve learned a lot from working closely with them. They taught me everything—from accounting to packaging. I was pretty scrappy when I started, so it helped a lot working with them.
And it grew from there. A year later, my business partner joined—Seth Eisman. We moved into a commercial kitchen. And now we’re in our own space that we’ve built and we have our first products.
You didn’t have a background in culinary but the super positive response to the Legally Addictive cookie crackers shows that you clearly have something special on your hands. How did you come up with your recipe?
Laura Shafferman: It was something I used to make a lot for friends and families. My mother made something similar when I was growing up. I started making the recipe for this years ago. It was very, “Well, there it is.” People really liked how it tasted. And they responded really well to the name Legally Addictive, so I went and had it trademarked.
The Churros flavored ones sound really delicious, but which one is your personal favorite and how would you describe the taste and texture?
Laura Shafferman: So, my favorite one is the Everything Cookies. They are based on the New York Everything Bagel, which uses this special seasoning that commonly includes dried garlic, dried onion, sea salt, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. A pastry chef friend of mine was making croissants with cream cheese inside of them and the Everything seasoning on the outside. And that’s where I got the idea.
.I thought to myself, maybe I should put Everything seasoning on top of the cookies. People thought I was crazy. They said the garlic and onion wouldn’t go well with the chocolate. And you know what? They did. It’s such an unusual flavor and it is a little weird that it works. It’s a great combination of something salty and sweet and savory. It fits our brand perfectly. It really connects us to New York City and connects us to another iconic food associated with the city.
It’s really nice that you were able to bring in a flavor that represents your home in a snack category that’s well known in the Midwest and the South.
Exactly! And what we find with the Everything Cookies is it’s very polarizing. Some people don’t like the garlic with the chocolate. They find it really jarring. And there are some people who love it. It’s their favorite and they come back to us because of it. People have never eaten anything like it and it’s very original and people remember us because of it.
I’m curious. Were there skills and strategies from your time working in real estate marketing that really helped you build up Legally Addictive?
Laura Shafferman: Absolutely. Real estate moves quickly, and you have to be very responsive. People expect things to get done yesterday. I can respond and get everything done quickly.
Also, because I worked in sales for a long time, I didn’t have any shyness about pulling stores, or walking tinto places, or just reaching out to people to ask them if they wanted to try something out. That really helped me a lot. I felt like being able to approach people and not having any shyness really helped me.
In a similar vein, were there any surprising skills or secret strengths that you discovered about yourself?
Laura Shafferman: Oh yes. Being an entrepreneur brings out the best and the worst in you. You realize you can’t do everything on your own, and there are some things that you’re just fantastic at.
I feel like I’m in a perfect place right now. I have a partner who can do all the things that I don’t know how to do and vice versa. I’m doing the things now that I always felt like I could do. One thing is I’m really good at is public speaking. And I didn’t have the chance to do it before, but I do a lot of it now.
What was your 2020 story? Was it a year of dramatic changes, a year of surprise opportunities, or a year of doubling down on doing what you do best?
Laura Shafferman: It was a mix of all of that. In the beginning, we were definitely scared. We didn’t know what we were going to do because we’re not a company that has been around for fifteen or a hundred years. The people in those companies just know that they’re going to keep going no matter what. We were still in our growth phase. We didn’t know what was going to happen to our customers.
But things managed to stay on course, and even exceeded the plans that we had for 2020. Our e-commerce grew without us really doing anything. It just grew organically. At the same time, our retail grew, which was completely surprising because we were really fearful for our customers in retail . Not all of them made it through. But a lot of them did and we gained a lot of new customers who sell things in different channels.
Some of them sell through livestream. Live streaming became very popular last year and I think that there’s a big future for that. We had a lot of customers who were hotels who ran away but are now starting to come back little by little. We came out with the Churros product right before the pandemic.
We’re happy with the way things turned out and we’re very grateful to have had so many customers taking a chance on us at the time. And we’re glad that the product was able to adapt to the new ways that people were selling it. We feel very grateful.
Were there any decisions that you made before or during the pandemic that you would say helped you along?
Laura Shafferman: To be honest with you, no. We were so busy that it was almost impossible to carry on with a strategy because we couldn’t even think of one. We were trying to just fill orders. I know that sounds crazy but we really were inundated. And we did not know what we were going to do. It was completely bonkers all the way through the holidays.
Towards the end of the year, we sat down and we wanted to plan around what we were going to do the next year. Any of the strategies or plans we had had before didn’t really work out. We had plans to work with distributors but decided against it. We just decided to control our process and who we sell to as much as possible.
So, you kept it lean and nimble and it worked out for you guys.
Laura Shafferman: Exactly! We went with whatever opportunities came our way. We didn’t know where the future was going to go, so we didn’t want to say no to anything. There was a need to make the sale. But now in 2021, we definitely want to focus more and see where we want to be in the next couple of years.
This reminds me of one of the safety rules in surfing. When the current drags you in, don’t fight it or else it’s only going to drag you further. You have to swim across it or try and stay afloat. Ride it out so to speak.
Laura Shafferman: Yes. Right now, we have a very strong vision of what we want to do in 2021. In 2020, we did have plans but it went in a totally different direction. Everything in 2020 just pulled us along. We were like, “let’s just do it, let’s just do it.” And now we feel like we know how to better manage those waves that are pulling us. So, let’s just chop them down and make them more defined.
For this month’s stories, we’re working on the theme of creativity. I want to know how you would define entrepreneurial creativity?
Laura Shafferman: To be creative, you really have to be solution-oriented. It’s not just about making something. Whether it’s a creative way of dealing with an employee’s problem, or finding solutions for a customer, or handling a shipment of something arriving late—you always have to find ways to manage the problems in a way that’s creative and true to you.
When you approach your problems, do you approach it step by step, do you do it holistically, or do you take a step back and look at the bigger picture?
Laura Shafferman: For me, personally, I like to put some distance and process all the details. When I take the time to sit back, the answers usually come to me. I weigh each possible solution that comes up. Then, I reach out to my business partner, who offers his own insights.
Are there strategic decisions that you’ve made in your career that you think really speaks to your sense of creativity?
Laura Shafferman: Yes. This whole journey has been creative. Starting the business, cooking up the recipe, choosing the name for it, and the manner in which we rolled it out completely. I feel like I’ve always had this gut feeling about the name Legally Addictive.
Your packaging is super vibrant and it stands out really well. Why did you decide suits your snacks the best?
Laura Shafferman: Before the cookies came in their current bright pink packaging, they used to go in these bright green stock bags made out of rice paper. When we decided to switch packaging, there were a lot of muted colors on the shelves. Like millennial pink, whites, and browns, a lot of natural looks.
I guess one philosophy that we had was to do the opposite of what everybody else was doing. We love color and we felt that it would just pop off the shelves and that customers would like it. We wanted to give the customers a reason to pick it off the shelf, apart from the name.
Sure enough, once we moved the cookies into these vibrant, saturated colors, it changed overnight. We had retailers who were kind of “meh” on our products before who were suddenly stocking it a bit more. People were Instagramming it and it would pop out. I had a girlfriend who helped come up with the look. We also did hire a branding company to help us with the bag.
But the way it turned was actually our original idea. We felt that the final product really suits us the best.
I can imagine how well this does on social media, when people hold it up in any lighting, it’s super vibrant and draws attention.
Laura Shafferman: Yes, it does. It’s almost like a toy. Like, when a child goes up to a shelf and sees something and they pick it up and announce, “I want this!” That’s the reaction we were going for. Our packaging is one of our best assets. Somebody asked me the other day if I thought what was outside of the packaging was more important than the inside. And I said, yeah, I do. Nobody picks up something that they think is boring. You are never going to know what ‘s on the inside if they don’t pick it up based on the outside.
Are there any new projects you’re looking forward to this year? Where do you hope to see Legally Addicted by this time next year?
Laura Shafferman: We are coming out with additional products that are not cookies. We are coming out with a chocolate bar and one other product that we haven’t finished yet so I can’t mention it. They’re in a different category. Because our main product doesn’t have a blueprint. Unlike chocolate chip cookies, where you can make a ton of it, ours is specialized.
We’re still changing the process all the time. We’re looking for ways to expand the company, and that was to get in other areas of confectionaries. Hopefully, we will have the new stuff out by spring and the beginning of the holiday season this year. I’m really excited about all of it because they all still circle back to the cookies.
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