President and CEO of Kocher Food International, doing business as Around the World Gourmet
Jennifer Kocher owns and operates the food company, Around the World Gourmet, a brand on a mission to make products that are healthier for you and our planet. Her vessel for doing this: gluten-free pizza dough that supports regenerative agriculture. She started by donating 1% of her net sales to a regenerative farmer to support his efforts. When that project ended, she set her sights on making sure her food products have regenerative ingredients in them so they can be considered regenerative. This, among other things, is what Jennifer continues to work on, even as she and her company adapted to the drastic changes brought by a global pandemic.
Jennifer is a 2020 Emerging Leader in Food & Ag Award recipient. Recently, she took the time to update us on this work.
Emerging Leaders in Food & Ag (EL): Tell us a little about what you’ve been up to in the last 6-12 months and how 2020 – with all its unexpected craziness, influence your work?
Jennifer Kocher (JK): In the last 9 months, as the pandemic happened, I’ve been trying to figure out how we can continue what we do and stay in business. We focused on trying to stay open with what we’re doing and finding unique ways to do that while also thinking outside the box and making sure that our company still existed after this pandemic.
We manufacture in the back of our building and our manufacturing did decline somewhat in the spring, especially when the restaurants were shut down, because we are in food service and that’s where our pizza crusts get sold.
In addition, when I purchased the building I am in, it already had a retail front to it. So we decided to use that customer base that was already there, take our gluten-free pizza crusts and sell them out front as finished, topped pizzas. We only sell gluten-free pizza but thankfully ours taste like regular pizza. It’s a thin-crust pizza and basically the process and type of dough we use allows us to mimic a flour-based pizza. So, I do have that going for me.
The retail front was already a sort of mom and pops convenience store, so we were able to stay open as an essential business when the pandemic hit. During that time, we started doing Friday night dinners and we had ribs and chicken… and we can sell alcohol. We have a lot of people come in from the local community and the region and we’ve become pretty well known in the area in the past two years since opening.
We’ve also been able to get some pandemic money, which was nice and we’re still working with the Grounded Growth network, which allowed me to continue to work on one goal we had before the pandemic: to start milling my own rice. I wanted to get regenerative farmer, Adam Chappell’s rice into our pizza crust and so we’ve just continued on that.
EL: What lessons have you learned that you are taking into 2021?
JK: I’m always trying to do things myself. And back in August I realized that if I’m going to push forward with my plans to be regenerative and focus on the manufacturing, I was getting very, very bogged down with the retail front of my store, especially as we were trying to survive during the pandemic. I went ahead and promoted a couple people as managers to help with the retail side and I think that just getting the right help has helped me get more focused and more relaxed. Having a support system, whether it’s internal with the managers I’ve promoted, or outside, with Sarah Harper and the Grounded Growth Network, is very important – I think I learned that this year. You’re not always alone, you can reach out and ask for help.
EL: What’s next for you?
JK: There’s a lot going on and I’m excited for this next year and the next two years actually. I’m getting ready to expand my business by purchasing flour milling equipment, building relationships with more than one regenerative farmer, selling new products, building a new website, building an amazon store – to try to sell direct to consumers, and developing new packaging – there’s a lot that’s going to be going on!
EL: What gives you hope for the next year?
JK: I think what gives me the biggest hope is that there are more and more companies and organizations, and even people in general, that are becoming aware of regenerative. Even in politics – it was discussed in the debates as a means to address global warming and climate change. With the new administration in place that now favors that (kind of agriculture), I think it’s even going to be more helpful pushing this along. Its just a collaborative effort that I see – very hopeful!