Business

On the Job with Marlene Dodelin

Marlene Dodelin knows how to spice things up.

The Columbus business owner heads D&D Foods, which produces and bottles sauces, marinades and salad dressings for 41 business customers across the country. She also offers her own barbecue sauces, Foy’s and Pop’s, and a recently-launched a line of gourmet marinades, dressings and dip.

Dodelin purchased the company in 1990 and has been able to grow the business from two contract packaging customers to 41. At the 3715 4th Ave. location in Columbus, D&D Foods produces 127 different sauces — including barbecue sauces for Country’s Barbecue and Mike & Ed’s.

Now, Dodelin has her eye on further expansion. Last week, Dodelin graduated from FastTrac GrowthVenture, a program put on by the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center that’s aimed at existing business owners looking to grow.

Dodelin sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer to talk about business growth at D&D Foods, best-selling barbecue sauces and recommendations within her gourmet line.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

So recently you graduated from FastTrac GrowthVenture, a program for existing business owners looking to grow.

Right. That’s what we’re wanting to do — take it to the next level. We’ve come a long way, but there are still a lot of directions we need to go in. With (the Small Business Development Center’s) help, I think we’re going to get there.

With their help, I’m now certified as (a woman-owned business.) I’m in the process of the SBA 8(a) certification, and we discovered I’m in a HUBZone. I didn’t know what that was, but apparently this is a dissolving business area of town, where businesses used to thrive. We’re in the process of that. …

I was so consumed with, as they tell me, being involved in the technical part of my business. Now they’re teaching me to get out of that area and into the business side.

You mentioned there are different directions you want the business to go. Can you tell me more about that?

Well, promoting our new sauces — the gourmet line — and getting greater distribution for our Foy’s and Pop’s barbecue sauce. Foy’s has been in existence, this year, for 75 years — since 1934. It has its name in Columbus and we ship that product all over the U.S., mainly because of our military. People come in, move away and they still want the sauce. In fact, we sent some not too long ago to Alaska. A guy got transferred to Alaska. He called and placed his order and I said, “Do you realize how much the shipping alone is going to cost?” And he said, “I don’t care. Send it to me.” I said, “OK.”

We’d like to further our distribution for Foy’s and Pop’s. With all the military that’s fixing to come here, we’re trying to see about getting some military contracts.

What do you think are the biggest challenges when it comes to growth for D&D Foods?

Volume purchasing. Instead of buying one or two palettes from a distributor, it’s buying a full truckload directly from the source. (For example, buying) ketchup directly from the manufacturer of the ketchup or tomato products. If I can buy volume, of course, the price goes down. So we’re working on trying to do that. …

I currently buy most of my glass products directly from the manufacturer. That’s not a problem. It’s the ingredients.

What about growth in the context of this tough economy? Has that been difficult?

Yes, it has been. We see the sales decline for the restaurants, for the retail consumer, we see it all across the board. Of course, when their sales decline, our manufacturing declines. For the sauces we sell retail — barbecue sauces — what I’m seeing is people aren’t buying a lot of extras, and condiments are an extra. …

We still have contract packaging customers calling us every day, though. That’s strange, because there’s a lull in the industry — but we still have those customers calling us. They want to put their sauce on the market. That part of my business has not declined at all. … We probably receive three phone calls a week for customers, whether it’s an independent person or a restaurant.

What are some of your best sellers?

Foy’s. Foy’s is the all-around No. 1 seller … of my sauces.

How about within the new gourmet line you have?

The best sellers are the apricot and raspberry mustard sauces. Those are used for cream cheese and crackers, dips for chicken fingers, you can cook with them. … Our others are all good sellers.

I noticed on your Web site, www.dodelingourmet.com, you have tasty-looking recipes, as well. Any recommendations?

On the Web site, I couldn’t tell you off-hand. … But if I’m at a (food) show and I think, ‘Oh wait a minute, I think this will be good with whatever,’ I’ll fix it. My Sweet Onion Poppyseed … I got to a show and realized I didn’t have everything I needed for that. I thought, ‘How am I going to serve this?’ So I went and bought baked potatoes, cooked them, put the Sweet Onion Poppyseed in with it. Everybody loved it.

You can be very creative with food. The apricot mustard, I just glazed a pork tenderloin with that. My Lime Garlic is wonderful with fish and shrimp. My Marsala (Herb) — I use my marsala now just with my pasta salad because it is so good. … My Sweet Onion Poppyseed is the best onion dressing. Roasted Bell Pepper — you can use that on anything. I have to brag on my sauces (laughs).

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