By Hanna Neier, Senior Content Editor
Could there be a more seductive name for salty and sweet cookie concoctions than Legally Addictive? But as Laura Shafferman, founder of Legally Addictive Foods, knows, there’s more to business than a great moniker. We sat down with Shafferman to find out how she launched her business and why she decided to take on a big name partner.
How did you get into the food business?
After 11 years of selling and marketing residential real estate, I lost my job. I had signed a non-compete, so I wasn’t able to work in the industry. I didn’t want to anyway. It was really competitive and backstabbing. I felt unfulfilled and wanted something more creative and fun and on my own. I made these cookies and a friend needed a food vendor for an upcoming event and asked me to step in. We had to build the brand overnight—she was a graphic designer and helped me create the name and everything. We sold out at the event within hours! Legally Addictive launched in stores in less than a year.
How did your background help you get on the shelves?
My sales background gave me the ability to overcome my natural introvert, to go in anywhere and talk to anyone. If I walked by a store I liked, I’d go inside to see if they had similar products and I’d ask to talk to the buyer or owner. In New York City, people love to work with local food producers—no one wants to be without the new item.
Getting into Dylan’s Candy Store must have been a major breakthrough. How did that happen?
In August, 2015, they were doing their Best of New York program and emailed me for samples. I was so scared I didn’t reply! They emailed me again. I called my attorney and asked if they were trying to copy my product. She said to call them back. It ended up being one of their best selling products in that collection.
When we went for other accounts, the Dylan’s account helped. But I wasn’t able to go after too much because of our limitations in production. I didn’t know what I was doing, I had to learn how to make and ship larger amounts of product. It was just me and my assistant at that time, and we were renting out a bakery in Williamsburg in the off hours. Now we’re in Brooklyn FoodWorks so it’s a whole other story.
Can you talk about your experience working at Brooklyn FoodWorks?
Not having ample room to work out of was really hard—renting the space in Williamsburg helped, but FoodWorks was a total pivot point. They made it easier to get licenses, they provided storage space. They gave us an anchor.
Working with all the other Pfizer building businesses has helped me so much. We turn to each other. If I had a problem with a recipe, or figuring out the tricks of chocolate making, I could turn to someone there. We make introductions for each other, swap leads and products—it’s really great. People in New York City are so supportive. It’s the greatest place to be an entrepreneur.
How did you finance the business?
I just started off really small. I would ask other food entrepreneurs what had to be done first and then I used my own money. The business paid for itself right from the beginning. From there, we just slowly expanded and tried for a steady growth that wouldn’t harm the business. Right now, margins are healthy but we’re not making a ton of money. We had to hire more labor, overhead expenses are increasing, so there’s an ebb and flow.
You recently took on a new business partner—why?
Seth Eisman was a producer of the TV show Chopped. He has a totally different skill set than I have. He’s very organized, he works on our finances, makes sure every penny is accounted for. He takes care of insurance, taxes, payroll, scheduling. One person really can’t do all of that! I didn’t have the funds to hire a manager full time. Taking on a business partner was the best solution. If someone owns a piece of the company, they’re more invested in it. Now I can concentrate on what I do best and the company can grow.
How else has business changed now that you’ve scaled up?
We’re starting to grow a lot—we get frequent wholesale inquiries and are gaining new customers. We were featured on Good Morning America last summer. It prompted hundreds of orders from all over the country. Luckily, when GMA reached out, I knew enough to call them back!
We’re getting into the real marketing aspect of the business so we hired a creative agency to work on our packaging design. We are also hoping to expand to other types of products in the food space. We love our brand—the implication of Legally Addictive is fun and playful. With the help of the creative agency, we’re working on that, mapping out how 2017 is going to look.
What have been some of your greatest challenges?
Everything at one point or another has been a catastrophe! One time our chocolate shipment didn’t come through, and we had to source our chocolate from someone else. It made our product taste very different, so we had to throw out thousands of dollars’ worth of product. Another time, one of our stores called me to say that our product had melted in the bag. That was really upsetting. All of this trial and error is part of the process. I try a few rounds on my own, and then rely on my contacts for help if that doesn’t work.
Advice for other food entrepreneurs?
I’m a bit relentless. I don’t just send an email and wait for a response. I follow up until someone takes out a restraining order. (Just kidding.) But seriously, some people give up really quickly after unreturned phone calls or emails. But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I would tell people to go for it, and not give up.