If you're like many home cooks, parchment paper is for special occasions only. You drag it out for holiday baking and then stash it away in a drawer.
But there was a time when parchment paper was used in everyday cooking, said Scott Miller, CEO of PaperChef. Miller, who purchased the company in 2008 when it posted $2 million in sales, wanted to return consumers to that mindset. He knew it would take more than holiday sales to keep his company afloat. His idea was to revive the "art of cooking with parchment," he said.
"Sales were steady, but I knew we had to re-invent the brand if we wanted to go forward," he said.
Miller identified two key trends that might work in the company’s favor. First, recession-sensitive consumers were cooking more at home.
"People's values were shifting and they were more food-oriented than ever, but focused on cooking at home rather than going to restaurants," he said. The trick was making home cooks aware of the product.
The second trend Miller saw emerge was consumers’ move toward using more sustainable products. Miller said PaperChef's parchment paper (which can be reused several times and is biodegradable) fit the bill and played into the desire of consumers to lessen their impact on the environment.
To figure out how to target the product to these customers, Miller considered the many ways that professional chefs use parchment paper beyond baking — from preparing bacon and eggs to baking fish. While the professionals were adept at making bags out of parchment paper, he knew he needed to translate that for the home cooks.
"Anyone can recognize a trend, but you really have to think long and hard about how you can re-invent your company to mesh with the new ideas of consumers," he said.
So, in 2010, the company launched a line of high-end products, including parchment paper bags, tulip bags, baking cups and lotus cups. In three years, the company went from $2 million to $12 million in sales.
Part of the company’s success was its multi-pronged approach to expanding the business. In addition to creating products for new customers, the company also reached out to its core customers to explain how the company's new direction and products could help them.
To do that, PaperChef regularly posts a videos, articles and recipes on its website showing customers how to cook with parchment paper.
"You can't just say, 'Hey, use this,' without giving them the tools to succeed," he said. "You'll end up with a re-invented company but no one will know how to use the product."
Miller said social media has created a new and inexpensive method for the company to reach its customers, as well.
"This has been a very cost-effective way to reach new consumers who have never thought of cooking with parchment,” he said. “And they share everything, so it is a great way to build buzz."
Involving employees in a company’s evolution is also important, Miller said.
"Keep them informed and motivated," he said. "If they don't buy into the change, things grind to a halt."