Thoughts From A Salad Girl

March 7, 2018

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, which means it’s time to celebrate the badass women who surround us. I reached out to Pam Powell, who is the founder and owner of Salad Girl salad dressing. It’s hands down THE best dressing you’ll ever drizzle.

Pam shared some insights on how she built the brand and pushed the grocery industry to think differently.

Q: Where did the name Salad Girl come from?
A: Our company is named after a 1970s resort/restaurant kitchen job title I held when I was 16. As a fresh produce preparation girl, they called me “The Salad Girl.”

Q: How many employees do you have and what is your role in the company?
A: We don’t spend much time on job titles because they are always shifting, but we do try to define some of the boundaries to keep too many cooks out of the kitchen.
My husband, Jim, is the C.O.O. and he spends at least 4 evenings a week taking care of all of daily business, orders, monthly manufacturing needs, shipping & handling and accounting. I am the C.E.O. and I handle all company decisionmaking, which means everyone has to run everything by me before it happens. I am in charge of product development, marketing, artwork, signage, website, publicity, etc. We made a smart decision to keep our business simple by contracting out our brand ambassadors (our demo folk) and our marketing and social media marketing managers.

Q: What made you decide to take the leap and create the brand?
A: The economy. I had worked my way through art school working in the food industry, and finally was able to make a living as a designer and mural artist until 2006, when my industry began to quiet down. I went from being booked out a solid six to eight months to having one job every few months. My last big mural job was with the Kowalski’s family, and I took a chance to enquire about getting a product onto their shelves. Maryanne Kowalski was kind enough to set up a product presentation with their produce buyer and new product manager for me, and the rest is history.

Q: When you decided to build Salad Girl, what were some of the key decisions you had to make and/or learnings you encountered?
A: Was there a market for my fresh organic salad dressings and where was the start-up capital going to come from? We went to farmers’ markets to see if we could sell it, and test the sales of specific flavors, and we used our home equity to bring it to market. Kowalski’s put in their first order a year before we were able to fill it. It took us two years at farmers’ market to learn the industry, meet other makers & meet other resources for ingredients and growth.

Q: When did you know you were ready to take the leap into Salad Girl full-time?
A: I just began to work full time at Salad Girl. Both Jim and I have held onto other jobs. My husband continues his painting contracting business — he is very type A and in great shape — and I still work in the studio as a greeting-card artist, illustrator and also food photographer. So we still juggle our hats, but we live a really fun & full life.

Q: How do you juggle being a small business owner with other things in life?
Juggle is the word, but balance is the answer. Jim and I are super family-oriented. We spend at least two weekends a month with our grandkids, and we spend time together.

Q: What were some of the roadblocks you encountered and how did you overcome them?
A: Growing out of our small commercial kitchen into a larger space, building out our own bottling line and certifying our space organic, or hire an organic co/packer. In 2007, co-packers did not believe that we could create a fresh dressing safely without cooking it and adding water and starch to it to bottle it. We went to 10 different co-packing facilities throughout the Midwest, and none of them would take us on because we refused to cook the fresh ingredients right out of our fresh products. We even had successful refrigerated shelf life testing completed on our products at Land O’ Lakes, but still, no one would help us change the industry standard.

One day we began talking with our local organic honey producer. We told him about the large order from Kowalski’s, and he decided he could make a little extra money for his honey company in the bad economy by taking on a co-packing business with us. In 2007-2008 Mello Honey began helping us set up an organic bottling line at their facility, put in a refrigerated storage area for finished goods and we filled our first order for Kowalski’s on March 7, 2008. Then we had to win over the produce managers in the stores. All men at that time, and most of them could not believe in the fresh dressings for fresh greens approach to making salads, but we created an amazing cross-marketing plan with our Salad Girl demos and we won over the produce managers within four demos! Most of those managers became our best marketing friends in the stores, and we remain in touch with them even after they have retired.

Q: Did you face any scrutiny being a woman in business?
A: The grocery industry in 2007 was predominantly male. Things have really begun to change. I see more and more female buyers (Target especially) as the years go on.

Q: Is there any specific advice you would give a woman thinking of opening a business or launching a brand?
A: Make sure you have a product that no one else has. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There is a plethora of kombucha, granola and salsa out there, and not much shelf space left. Things are changing again. Since 2010, when the food entrepreneur explosion began to fill up the farmers; markets, banks began to loan entrepreneurs start-up funding again, incubator kitchens became a new industry, the grocery store shelves have become jam-packed with local products, the doors have begun to close. The tipping point becomes apparent when grocery buyers put a hold on their category purchasing.

And, make use of the free support systems in our community, like Grow North, food incubators, community gardens and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Folks call or write to me all the time and I try to give them these resources.

Are you eating #healthy this month? #whole30, #vegan or #lowcarb ?  We tend to reset in January and to help you on your way we are going to give you the change to win a six pack of our #saladgirlsaladdressings. #Salad Girl Organic Dressings are free of #gluten, soy, and dairy. Our Pomegranate Pear and Citrus Splash are sweetened only with fruit juice and can be part of a #whole30 lifestyle while our Citrus Splash, Pomegranate Pear, Crisp Apple Maple, and Dark Cocoa & Sea Salt are 100% #vegan. To #enter and qualify to #win, you must do the following. . ➡️Follow us @thesaladgirl . ➡️Like this post . ➡️Tag at least 2 people in the comments of this post who you know would love to win the 6-pack. . You can enter as many times as you like but you need to tag new people each time. That's it!  We will notify the winners this Friday at 12 pm. Oh and don't forget to tag us in your salad inspirations if you want a chance to be reposted on our feed. 🥗🥗🥗#saladgirlsaladsisters We ❤️to see what you are making at home and all the clever ways you are utilizing our Vinaigrettes. GOOD LUCK!

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Q: Salad Girl is continuing to gain popularity and fans, what can we expect to see from the brand/company in near future?
A: New dairy-free creamy delicious dressings: Creamy Cilantro Lime, A Dude Ranch (creamy dilly ranch), Hazel’s Basil Caesar, Southwestern Creamy Ranch, Crème de la Curry…

Q: What is your favorite salad/salad dressing?
A: I eat seasonally, and love variety, so I am eating the Citrus Splash and Lemony Herb with all the seasonal citrus, Toasted Sesame Ginger with my rice bowl salads, Chile Limon with our tacos… Whatever I am photographing for recipes is usually what we are eating!