Rebirth Profile: Fran Toves of Common Cider Co.
WHY WE’RE PROFILING HER
Fran Toves owns Common Cider Co., a company she started less than two years ago in Sparks. The young company currently plans to build a new winery/cidery near Auburn, Calif. and may eventually build a facility in the Reno area. Common Cider employs about 15 people.
WHICH CIDERS WILL GO WITH THANKSGIVING DINNER?
Toves: You can brine your turkey in lemon saison with bay leaves, peppercorns and oranges, then roast the turkey. It will be really juicy and sweet. I think the blood orange cider is a good pairing with turkey.
HOW DID YOU GET THIS GREAT JOB?
Toves: It took a year to flesh out the idea (for Common Cider). My son is a home brewer. I always gave him a lot of feedback on flavor profiles. We both have a passion for cooking. And Sierra Nevada was having a homebrew competition. He said, “why don’t you enter a cider?” I went to Costco and got 15 gallons of juice, went to the homebrew shop and got some yeast. I did some research. I made a clementine cardamom cider, a hibiscus and a sweet cherry. All three made it into the top 10.
My background is in taking food products from concept to market, for companies I’ve launched and working for clients mainly in the natural and organic food business. I’ve worked on how to develop products, how to scale them into production, how to source ingredients, whether it’s sustainable from a resource perspective and for long-term viability. I put a team together, break it up into different business functions and find out what it will take to make, market and sell it.
WHY DO BUSINESS IN RENO?
Toves: Reno’s been home for the last 15 years. The projects I’ve worked on have taken me all over the country, and I really didn’t want to travel like that anymore. After looking at the market in California, I realized it really isn’t necessary to launch a product nationwide to be profitable. [Even regionally], there’s an enormous amount of growth possible.
I love Reno because I can get to my key market in a few hours, whether I drive or fly. I went to school in Sacramento, but I really like waking up to the scenery here and life is so livable here.
HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE ANYONE WHO WANTED TO DO THIS?
Toves: Over the years, I’ve been asked that by a number of entrepreneurs that want to market grandma’s cookie recipe. You hear amazing stories like, “I started this company with $500 and just sold it to Nabisco for $60 million.” But that doesn’t happen. I typically gauge their maturity level, because they have to be able to withstand an enormous amount of pressure. If you bring on investors, you have to have the ability to manage their expectations. Investors invest in you and not necessarily your product.
You can start by producing it and getting into farmers markets. That’s a good venue because you still have to deal with food safety regulations but in a more manageable, scalable way. Get a really good finance person who can help you understand your P&L and your balance sheet.
At some point the entrepreneur has to shift into being a businessperson. It takes a while to temper that entrepreneurial spirit and drive.
WHEN YOU COME TO WORK, WHAT DO YOU DO?
Toves: I check in with my entire staff to see if there’s anything I can do for them, on many levels. Maybe they’re not getting responses back from distributors, or working with a supplier. They’re usually out in the field, and it allows me to be here.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART?
Toves: I love what I do, I love the people I work with, and coming up with new product concepts, coming up with flavor profiles. And working with brand developers to help us articulate what our message is. I’m getting more introspective about what is means when we share food.
WHAT HAS BEEN MOST SURPRISING?
Toves: People think cider is beer, but cider is technically a wine. That’s probably because most ciders are in 22-ounce bombers or beer bottles, and it’s usually carbonated.