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A year in review

Mellis Berry has started as an experiment. I needed some time away from computers and wanted to create a real product, the one you can touch. Food was a natural choice for me given how much I love to cook and experiment, and so it began.
It took me couple of years to actually be ready to release something onto the market. And 2016 marks the first year I was selling honey delights. I’ve been to a few markets where I had a chance to meet customers in person. I sold a test batch in a souvenir shop and through a partner Internet shop. I sold to regular people, and to companies. I have sold all of my stock for this year, all 300 jars I have made.
 
99% of my clients are female. I had only 2 male customers, both of whom bought it for their loved ones. The two markets I’ve participated in weren’t commercial success. Yet they gave me so much feedback and positive emotions that I feel like I’ve got 1000% return on investment.
 
I gave an interview on a local radio which brought me one of the first clients. I had an interview with an online business magazine that still keeps bringing traffic to the website. And I have also found out there is a huge interest for Mellis Berry desserts in USA. Sadly I cannot sell there due to customs.
 
You have ordered honey delights to United Kingdom, Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Latvia, Russia, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, and of course Estonia.
 
Mellis Berry was an experiment to see whether there is any interest in such a product. It was an experiment for myself to try and build a product from scratch. I think this went pretty well. And so I am looking forward to summer 2017 to bring more interesting flavours and new products.
 
Wish you all the best for the coming year!
by Artiom in Progress, Stories

Porridge making and health day

Last week I was lucky enough to get invited to sell Mellis Berry honey desserts in the Social Insurance Board of Estonia which organized a day of healthy activity for its workers.

The whole building from ground floor to the roof was marked with arrows denoting the direction of one or another health trail. Employees were encouraged to go through all of the trails, collect points for fulfilling each one, and in the end participate in the competition to win some nice prizes.

National health trail - terviserada

One of the health trails in Estonia

Throughout the whole morning there were classes of gymnastics, dancing, jumping, lectures, and also a master class on porridge making by Helena.

Helena is also won the national porridge making competition in 2015. The first time I heard about it I thought “Porridge making competition? Are you serious?”. She later explained to me, and talked a lot about different kinds of porridge one could make from seemingly boring oats or any other type of grain. But not until I saw myself the way she makes porridge I understood the magic behind it.

Similar to the way I am trying to turn boring (yet very healthy and sweet) product like honey into something more interesting that people get excited about, this young lady turns dull porridge into an everyday meal that has so many varieties that it is unthinkable of.

Porridge with figs and honey

Porridge with figs and honey

Single grain flakes, multiple grain flakes, porridge with coconut cream, with regular cream, with cottage cheese, honey, frozen berries, eggs. There are literally thousands of combinations that you will never get bored of. And she knows them all. Only after visiting Helena’s short course I realized that I was eating this product incorrectly all my life.

by Artiom in Cooking, Random, Stories

Kaheksa ägedat kingitust pulmakülalistele sel suvel

Juba 16.sajandil sai Inglismaalt alguse traditsioon teha oma pulmakülalistele üks pisike kingitus. See on tänutäheks noorpaari poolt nende tähtsa päeva jagamise eest. Esialgu kingiti paelast tehtud “armastuse sõlme”, mis sümboliseeris tugeva armastuse sidet. Tänapäeval tehtavad kingitused sõltuvad riigist ning traditsioonidest.

Ameerika noorpaarid on meeneid ettevalmistanud vastavalt pulma teemale. Itaalias võivad külalised saada šokolaadi või mandleid. Iirimaal on kombeks kinkida väike kelluke, seevastu Indias hoopiski pisike elevandi kujuke. Kindlasti tunneb iga külaline ennast meelitatult, kui leiab pulmalaualt meene, mis on spetsiaalselt temale mõeldes tehtud.

Kas tahad, et pulmakülalistele jääks peost meeldivad mälestused? Pakume sulle mõned ägedad ideed.

1. Väikesed maiused ja hoidised

Pesto teie lemmiku retsepti järgi? Maitsestatud võid soola, rosmariini, ja datlitega väikeses purgis mida külalised saavad kohe kasutada kui ootavad toitu. Või hoopis midagi magusat? Meie pakume ka Eestis korjatud ja käsitööna valmistatud vahustatud mett marjadega. Iga maitse kohta on võimalik lugeda kus ja millal olid kõik koostisained korjatud, vaadata pilte ja tutvuda inimestega kes seda kasvatas. Kui vahva oleks ka nimelist purki saada ja lugeda just teie pulma kohta?

2. Tervislikud näksid


Pulmapäeval on tavaliselt nii palju toitu, et isegi ei saa kõike maitsta. Ja järgmisel päeval tekib kurbus, et ei proovinud üht või teist magustoitu või suupistet. Selle vältimiseks võite julgelt kinkida tervislikke näkse mida on mõnus süüa, eriti siis kui eelmisel päeval oli natuke rohkem alkoholi. Meie head sõbrad Good Mood Food‘ist teevad seemnebatoone ja küpsetiseid ilma nisujahu, rafineeritud suhkru, ega säilitusaineteta. Pakige neid ilusasse taaskasutatud pakidesse, pange nimeline silt peale ja külalised kiidavad teid hoolitsemise eest!

3. Lillekimbud

Pulmadel on tavaliselt ainult üks lillekimp, pruudi oma. Et seda endale saada peab võitlema teiste vallaliste naistega ja kui sul puudub must vöö, kahjuks sinu šanssid on nõrgad. Kuid see ei pea nii olema ja igal naisel võiks olla ka üks kimp. Väiksem ja mitte nii ilus nagu sul endal.

4. Istikud ja taimed

Iga mees peab maja ehitama, last kasvatama, ja puud istutada. Kuigi Eestis iga inimese kohta istutatakse 150 uut puud aastas, iga uus istutatud puu on alati hea. Taimedega on hea ka see, et neid on väga lihtne leida mis sobiksid väga hästi teie pulmastiiliga. Pange potid koos külaliste nimedega riiulile koos instruktsiooniga ja võib-olla kümme aasta hiljem on teil oma mets millest saata lastele rääkida.

5. Makroonid

See Prantsusmaalt pärit magustoit on tuntud ja armastatud üle maailmaa. Ja on mille eest seda armastada. See on väga õrn dessert mis valmistatud mandlijahust, tuhksuhkrust ja munavalgetest. Neid võib teha erineva värviga ja maitsega: vaarika või maasika, rabarber, šokolaad, pistaatsiamandel, või tutti-frutti. Eestis teevad makroone paljud, nii kohvikud kui ka tavalised inimesed kellelt võib tellida Facebooki kaudu.

6. Päikeseprillid

Ei ole sinu tavaline kingitus külalistele, aga oota hetk ja mõtle kui palju ägedaid pilte võib teha kui kõigil on päikeseprillid. Need ei pea olema sinu trendikas Ray Ban või Porsche Design, AliExpress’ist võib leida igasuguseid lahedaid variante peaaegu tasuta!

7. Postkaart teie aadressiga

Kes praegu saadab kirju või postkaarte? Olgem ausad, millal keegi meist viimast korda pastakaga midagi kirjutas? Tegelikult meie saadame päris palju postkaarte. Ammu aega tagasi üks meie hea sõbranna rääkis, et reisides saadab igast uuest kohast emale postkaardi. See on nii tore traditsioon, et hakkasime ise seda ka tegema. Nüüd arvake kui vahva oleks ise neid saada sõpradelt. Tehke igale külalisele nimeline postkaart kus on teie aadress juba kirjas ja paluge neid kõiki saata. Meie sõbrad Elvistudio‘st aitavad teid hea meelega.

8. Päästekomplekt pohmelli leevendamiseks

Kas teil tuleb suur pidu ja järgmiseks päevaks on veel mitu üritust planeeritud? Siis see komplekt on just teie külalistele. Meil Eestis komplekti peab kindlasti kuuluma hapukurgivedelik, piparmündi näts, hambahari ja pasta, väike pudel whisky’t või viina, ja päikeseprillid.

by Artiom in Random
Dripping honey

Honey harvest 2015

Mõisküla

Our beehives are located spread in several places and far away from the industrial noise of the cars and the city and surrounded by beautiful fields and forests. These are Mõisaküla, Sõmeru and Paekna. Every season, and even every month the taste of honey might change because some flowers grow only in spring, and some fields and meadows blossom in autumn.

Mõisaküla

Honey was harvested in July 2015 and packaged in October 2015. It takes quite a while to make the creamed honey. And it was our first big batch.

by Artiom in Batches, Suppliers
Redcurrants

6-0001: Red- and blackcurrant

Blackcurrant

Blackcurrant

Our grandfather has a small garden outside the city of Sillamäe where he grows everything ranging from potatoes and carrots to strawberries and rhubarb. This is where we got our rhubarb as well. In late summer and early autumn it’s a please to go there and get lost between the beds and just eat greens, berries, apples non-stop until you’re absolutely full and cannot move.

There is a long row of blackcurrant bushes separating our garden from the neighbour’s, and we have spent close to 3 hours inside it gathering total of 4 full buckets of berries. It then took the whole week to process blackcurrants.

sillamae

Redcurrant

Redcurrants

While we do have some redcurrant bushes in our garden it wasn’t enough. We were able to gather just 3 litres of berries which when dried equals to about 500ml. Around the same time one of our friends found out about the production and we started chatting about bees, honey, gardening, and motorbikes (yes, he’s a fan of these vehicles too). Turned out that his father has a farm with lots of redcurrants that nobody needs or has time to process. We couldn’t wish for more!

His farm is also located close to Sillamäe. Apart from having various berries he also produces honey! What a great coincidence.

by Artiom in Batches, Suppliers
sea buckthorn

5-0001: Sea buckthorn

Sea buckthorn

It was like in the James Bond movie: we used encrypted communication to negotiate the price, the place of exchange. In a public place we left the case with money and were then given the location of the truck with berries and keys left in ignition.

In reality it was much simpler. I have found Anne, the owner of Õismäe Talu through the portal where many farmers post their produce. Her farm is located in a wonderful city called Saue:

Sea buckthorn farm location

Honey

Mõisküla

Our beehives are located in Mõisaküla, far away from the industrial noise of the cars and the city and surrounded by beautiful fields and forests. Every season, and even every month the taste of honey might change because some flowers grow only in spring, and some fields and meadows blossom in autumn.

Mõisaküla

Honey was harvested in July 2015 and packaged in October 2015.

by Artiom in Batches, Suppliers
dehydrated strawberry

4-0001: Strawberry and rhubarb

 Strawberry

dehydrated strawberry

We’ve got these strawberries from the local market in Tallinn, and they were brought here from the south of Estonia where they got the most from our northern sun. We didn’t know how many strawberries would fit into our equipment so bought 5 kg for the first run. Turned out that was way too much, almost twice as we could process. And because strawberries were really ripe they couldn’t wait 2 more days until their friends slowly dry so we had to eat 2.5 kg in the evening. That was the best dinner we’ve had!

If we manage to find these farmers again we’ll buy more strawberries! Twice as much so we can have this sweet treat again. By the way you can find their details on Facebook. And here’s the location of the farm:

sepakorsti-farm

Rhubarb

Like black currants we’ve got the rhubarb from our grandfather. He has a small summer house with a big (for him, and actually for us as well) garden that has everything in it, even potatoes! Rhubarb is the worst possible plant that I could have imagine on the kitchen (remember one of us is a software developer, so not much experience with cooking tricks).

Throughout a week every evening I was on the kitchen for 2-3 hours peeling rhubarb and then slicing it into small pieces. Inferno – this is what I felt. We developers improve by iterating. Lessons learned and the next time I need to process rhubarb I will be using some magical slicer instead of a kitchen knife.

Our grandfather’s garden is located near the harbour city of Sillamäe which means the “bridge hill”.

sillamae

by Artiom in Batches, Suppliers
Raspberries

3-0001: Raspberry and Blackberry honey delight

Raspberries

The story with raspberries is rather funny. It happened in February 2015. We found Juhani, the owner of Veskikoni farm through the web. He was the only person selling frozen organic raspberries in the amounts we needed. Where else can you buy 20kg?

veskikoni talu

Juhani is between 70-80 years old, and is almost twice bigger than an average person, both in height and width. We were driving on a highway trying to locate the farm and unfortunately exactly at that day nobody had Internet on the phone. The old man stayed about 10-15 minutes outside waiting for us and all I heard in the phone was cursing. It was around -10C outside. One of us (or probably all) made a note that we shouldn’t buy from him anymore.

Eventually we received the best raspberries we’ve ever seen. Seriously, the smell is fantastic! The taste is superb. Couple of hours later we were happily driving back home. For the next batch we’ll probably buy from him again.

You can also read the full story here.

Blackberries

It’s quite hard to find blackberries in Estonia. In fact the only place selling them is Mesi Talu (or Honey Farm) located in Saku parish. The head of the farm, Aino, is an extremely friendly and lovely person. Recently her children bought few of our honey delights without telling her, and gave it as a present. She then called us in the evening and we talked for 15 minutes about everything.

Aino grows lots of other fruit and vegetables on her far. She also has chicken and alpacas!

Alpacas

We used ripe berries harvested in August 2015 for us. Later in October we combined these berries with raspberries and our creamed honey to make you a wonderful raspberry and blackberry honey delight.

by Artiom in Batches, Suppliers
Wild blueberries

2-0001: Blueberry honey delight

Blueberries

We use only wild blueberries harvested in Estonian forests. These blueberries are significantly smaller than garden berries but the size is compensated by the flavor which is much richer, and you can feel the smell of the berries when opening the jar.

Wild blueberries

Most of the berries were bought at the local markets in Tallinn with few small batches harvested by ourselves in Lahemaa National Park.

Lahemaa national park

Blueberries were harvested in early August 2015 and dried the same month. In October 2015 blueberry honey delights were bottled into jars and left waiting for the labels to be printed.

by Artiom in Batches, Suppliers

Marketing for small business

When you’re bootstrapping a business every penny counts and I must say I have very tight marketing budget. I try to do most of the things myself and for free. And of course it takes lots of time and effort compared to advertising on Facebook or Google. You can see that by the number of followers we have on Instagram: slightly more than 200 in almost 2 years. Even though I don’t have much experience I believe it’s still valuable to share.

Word of mouth

While still doing early prototypes in the kitchen and giving them to friends I started getting more requests from friends and friends of friends. Because I had a lot of jars from my experiments I was giving away lots of them for free or at almost no cost.

Having started selling honey with berries over the Internet I was also asking people (mostly friends) to publicly share the picture of honey in exchange for a free jar. At that moment I didn’t yet know what influencer marketing meant.

Influencer marketing

These days young people (including myself who is not so young anymore) are watching a lot of YouTube, reading lots of blogs, Instagram, and other media platforms before committing to buying something. If it’s some electronics I tend to search YouTube for reviews. For an Internet service I watch blogs. For food I’m subscribed to various Instagram accounts and Pinterest.

Only couple of months ago I’ve discovered the term “influencer marketing” and experimented a bit with it. I contacted few people on Instagram with several thousand followers and asked them to post a picture of my products in exchange for free jar. The result was a massive (compared to normal days) flow of people to my web page and other social channels. I didn’t make many sales but got enough publicity and trust which was the main goal.

Facebook advertising

Having come from the IT/Security background I am a very private person. I started Facebook because of Mellis Berry. By default my browser doesn’t run JavaScript, blocks all banners and social trackers. As a result I see a pretty empty page. And I thought that most of the people out there on the Internet are similar to me.

This changed when I met with a fellow small business owner who makes custom bicycles and furniture. He convinced me to try Facebook ads and Google AdWords saying that it’s much easier to sell a jar of honey dessert for €12 than a custom-built bike for €800. So I did an experiment.

I decided to spend €20 to boost a Facebook post. I made a nice looking photo with flowers and jars and started a competition: two jars to anyone who shares this post publicly and likes Mellis Berry page. The post was there for 6 days and generated almost 400 page likes, 23K views, and a few sales. And it cost me €4 less than initially planned. Given that my goal was to spread the word and get a little bit publicity the results were great.

Facebook allows to target very specific audience. You can select only males who are 40 years old and live in specific area and are also interested in German shepherds and computer games. While this is not exactly the target audience I was looking for the results were great.

One thing to add about Facebook competitions is that 98% of the people who react to such posts are those who spend their entire day participating in such competitions. This means that only the remaining 2% are the valuable potential customers.

Distributing printed ads

A good friend of mine who works for an advertising agency tried to talk me out of this idea saying that it’s useless to market online products offline. Spoiler alert: he was right! Nevertheless I decided to run an experiment.

I printed good quality flyers with juicy picture and offered a free sample jar to anyone who buys more than 2. I made 100 leaflets and distributed them in 3 parts of the city. I used only ares where people with higher income live. As a result I got one order and just few visits to the website.

Mellis Berry: honey with berries

Conclusion

I haven’t tried Google AdWords yet but I am unsure if I want to. After all Facebook allows more precise targeting and influencer marketing returns are the highest. The latter also allows me to make friends with very interesting people. So if you’re just starting a company and your social presence is minuscule, start looking for influencers and try to convince them to review your products.

by Artiom in Gotcha, Progress, Stories