Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Victoria’s Kitchen Update – What Happened After Shark Tank

Victoria’s Kitchen Before Shark Tank

Victoria’s Kitchen founders, David and Deborah Meliane were childhood sweethearts who emigrated to America after getting married in 2001. The couple would often entertain friends and discovered that one old family recipe was particularly successful and popular amongst them.

David’s grandmother was the original Victoria, and she had produced delicious home-made almond water for him when he was a child. Although the beverage wasn’t that well known in the United States, David and Deborah’s guests always loved it when he mixed up a batch of the drink.

Victoria's Kitchen on Shark TankThe Melianes had always dreamed of running their own business together, and decided that as their almond water was always so popular, it was the ideal product to base their company around. They launched Victoria’s Kitchen in 2011 and invested their life-savings into their first production run.

In 2012 the drink was a big hit at its début at the Winter fancy food show in San Francisco. Gradually sales began to increases for the fledgling start-up and the couple began approaching small independent stores, in the local Los Angeles area, to set up additional retail outlets.

Two years later the business had continued in its steady growth, and the Victoria’s Kitchen almond water was being stocked in a number of small independent businesses. David and Deborah expanded their product line to include another of grandmother Victoria’s recipes, a lemonade drink that contained less than half the amount of sugar of traditional lemonade. They began trying to raise awareness of their brand, but found the incredibly competitive food & drink market to be a potential minefield of problems.

By chance the couple were noticed at a trade show in mid 2014 by a casting agent for Shark Tank. She was impressed by the brand, and the entrepreneurial couple behind it, and asked David and Deborah if they would be interested in applying for the show. The application process was a long, and surprisingly thorough process, but eventually the couple were successful, and they finally appeared in the tank in early 2015.

Victoria’s Kitchen On Shark Tank

When David and Deborah appeared on the show they were hoping to gain a $200,000 investment, in exchange for 20% equity in the Victoria’s Kitchen company.

David began the pitch by telling the sharks all about his grandmother, and her amazing home-made almond water recipe. He explained how guests had not been able to get enough of the drink, and the couples eventual decision to begin the Victoria’s Kitchen business.

Deborah revealed that their beverages were made from all natural ingredients. They were gluten-free, dairy free, vegan, and they contained no artificial flavorings, sweeteners or colors. She assured the sharks that a sip of Victoria’s Kitchen almond water invoked some of the serenity of the South of France, and together the couple finished up the pitch by inviting the sharks to ‘Step into Victoria’s Kitchen’.

The friendly husband and wife team had delivered a solid professional pitch. Mark Cuban was looking thirsty, ‘Can we try it?’ he asked. Deborah handed out samples to the sharks, who eagerly tried the old French recipe for themselves, and they seemed quite impressed by the taste.

‘Wow, that’s very good’ remarked Lori Greiner, ‘It’s fantastic’ agreed Robert Herjavec. The technology mogul asked David to tell him more about Almond water. David explained that it was a popular drink in France, and a common beverage in the warmer parts of Europe, generally seen as suitable for picnics and bark-yard parties.

Kevin O’Leary must have liked the taste of the drink, he would surely have mentioned it otherwise, but the beverage hadn’t sweetened him up at all. He told the entrepreneurs that the biggest challenge in the highly competitive beverage market was distribution, and bargaining for shelf space against huge multi-million dollar businesses. He inquired what sales the business had achieved to date.

David revealed that the business had sold $160,000 in its first year, and $330,000 worth of product in the next, in the current year they had achieved sales of $200,000 so far.

Robert asked where the drink was being sold at the moment. Deborah explained that the drink was available primarily in speciality food-stores and independent grocery stores. Lori asked how many outlets the product was sold in. David told her that there were 800 stores nationwide stocking it, including the Wholefoods chain.

At the mention of Wholefoods the sharks instantly appeared more interested, but David reluctantly explained that due to Wholefoods healthy customer base, the Victoria’s Kitchen brand wasn’t really suited to the retailer. Lori disagreed and thought the brand was perfect for Wholefoods, but Deborah explained that due to the amount of sugar in the drink it was unlikely to do well there. After some more probing from the sharks David tried to explain that their product had less sugar than traditional lemonade, but the sharks were unimpressed, Mark Cuban remarked ‘Better than bad doesn’t make it good’.

The couple revealed that they did produce a low-calorie version of the drink, and David asserted that he was always willing to listen to feedback and amend the company strategy to fit in with partners, but he admitted that there was no likelihood of a version of the drink containing no sugar at all.

Barbara Corcoran had calculated that sales for the current year were actually slightly down on the previous year, and inquired why that was. David disclosed that the business had run a third product the previous year, but unfortunately it had not been a success and had been discontinued shortly afterwards. The added focus on the unsuccessful third SKU had reduced production of the main almond water drink.

Lori gave the couple a sympathetic smile. She told them that the brand packaging was good, and the drink itself was ‘delicious’, but she believed that they had a lot of hard work in front of them, before they could promote their product to a wider demographic. She suggested that a future strategy involving Wholefoods would be most beneficial to the business, but unfortunately, she was out.

Victoria's Kitchen on Shark Tank
Barbara had previous experience of the competitive beverage market

Barbara Corcoran was also unwilling to partner with the pair, she had previously invested in a soda company, and knew that it could be an enormous struggle to win shelf space in larger stores. She believed that $200,000 was nowhere near sufficient to promote the brand successfully, and for that reason she was out too.

Robert Herjavec admired the drive and determination of David and Deborah, but he also had concerns over their willingness to be swayed by others. David had constantly assured the sharks that he and Deborah were prepared to change their strategy based on feedback, but Robert felt such a degree of flexibility wasn’t always a good thing. He told David that you couldn’t always assume that customers knew what they wanted, and unfortunately Robert wasn’t going to invest in the business either.

Kevin O’Leary was back to his usual, slightly bitter, self by now, but the almond water must have sweetened the sometimes sadistic shark up at least a little. He told the couple that he could eviscerate their valuation, but he wasn’t going to, because he was a ‘nice guy’. Kevin asserted that the couple’s valuation was ‘ridiculous’ and that the business wasn’t worth a million dollars. He told them the amount of time he would have to spend, to grow the business, would not be worth it. With that Kevin dropped out too, leaving Mark Cuban as the only shark remaining.

Unfortunately the Texan Shark wasn’t going to throw the pair a lifeline. He shared Robert’s concerns that the couple were too fluid in their strategy and assured them he would have been ‘all over them’ if they had come into the tank with a zero-calorie version of their drink. Mark wished them luck in the future, but he dropped out too.

Victoria’s Kitchen Now in 2018 – The After Shark Tank Update

After their appearance in the tank, David and Deborah were upbeat despite their lack of a deal. They had loved the experience, and found all the feedback and comments from the sharks positive. The couple seemed almost jittery and excited at the time, and in a later interview David admitted the whole experience had been quite overwhelming. He described it as a ‘complete out-of-body experience’ and a ‘huge adrenaline rush’.

David revealed that the sharks are incredibly professional in the tank, it is their own money they are investing, and even though editing takes the vast majority of the discussions away, the sharks are full of questions on every conceivable part of a business. David admitted that both he and his wife completely forgot about the cameras and treated the experience just like any other business negotiations at the time, it was only afterwards that the magnitude of the experience had hit them, when both of them had felt like they were ‘on a cloud’.

Victoria's Kitchen on Shark Tank
David and Deborah in 2016.

And that cloud turned out to have quite a silver lining, in retrospect the couple feel that not getting a deal was a blessing in disguise. They were beginning to get low on operating capital at the time, and were forced to completely rework their budget. Their new focus on financial strategy soon paid off, and the business went from breaking even, to being in the black within a year of their appearance in the tank.

The millions of Shark Tank viewers created an additional rush of orders for Victoria’s Kitchen products immediately after the show. Although David and Deborah had thought they were prepared for the rush, they had no idea how big the tide of interest would be, and they sold out within a few hours of their segment being aired, after selling almost $30,000 worth of products.

The couple have continued with their vision of increasing their product line. In early 2016 the business had expanded its range to seven products, including a new reduced extra-low calorie beverage in 12oz cans. They plan to expand the range still further to include another three products by the end of 2016.

The Victoria’s Kitchen business won a major industry award in 2015, when it was named a Gold Award winner, in the liquid refreshment category of Beverage World’s global packaging design awards. David and Deborah are also in talks with several retailers to increase the locations that their beverages are available in, including Kroger and HEB. And you may have seen Victoria’s Kitchen products in your home without even realizing it, in February 2016 the brand was showcased on the NBC sitcom ‘Superstore’.

Unsurprisingly, the positive optimism of David and Deborah Meliane is as resolute as ever, and they look back on their time in the tank with nothing but good memories. The couple recalled the praise they received for their drive, passion and commitment to making their business a success, and they are keen to assure the sharks that a partnership with Victoria’s kitchen, would have been a very sweet deal indeed.

Steve Dawson
Steve Dawson has been writing online for two years. He has an interest in anything that interests other people and a thirst for knowledge about all subjects. He lives with a grumpy cat called Bubbles and an addiction to chocolate.


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