Burlap & Barrel

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Edited by: Mark Furr
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Burlap & Barrel Shark Tank Update

Burlap & Barrel

Mark Furr

This post contains affiliate links, and we may be compensated if you buy something after clicking on our links.

Burlap & Barrel seeks to provide home cooks with the best heirloom spices from around the world while directly sourcing their products from farmers, paying them a fair price and helping them to achieve sustainable farming practices. Will the Sharks be enticed by this spicy business? Check out our Burlap & Barrel Shark Tank update to find out. 

What is Burlap & Barrel?

Burlap & Barrel is a single-origin spice company which works with farmers around the world to bring the world’s finest spices directly to consumers. The company is based in New York, but it is a remote company, with team members working from across the US and in Japan. 

Burlap & Barrel is a Public Benefit Corporation which is building new international spice supply chains that are equitable, transparent and traceable. The company seeks to work directly with spice farmers to assure that they are paid a fair price for their crops and to encourage sustainable farming practices. 

Who created Burlap & Barrel?

Burlap & Barrel Founders

Burlap & Barrel was co-founded by long-time friends Ethan Frisch and Ori Zohar. Ethan is a native New Yorker, and he attended the City University of New York, where he earned a dual degree in Conflict Studies and Education and Social Change. After his BA degree, Ethan worked as a line cook and pastry chef in a number of kitchens in both New York and London, but he eventually left the kitchens to return to school, and he earned an MA degree in International Development from the University of London. Prior to founding Burlap & Barrel, Ethan worked for a large international aid agency in Afghanistan.

Ori Zohar was born in Israel, but his family moved to Baltimore when he was 5 years old. Ori attended the University of Maryland, where he earned a BA degree in Business Marketing. He started his professional career working in communications management for McCann Erickson, where he worked with international clients such as Intel, Chrysler, Coca-Cola, and Burberry. Prior to co-founding Burlap & Barrel, he co-founded Sindeo, a venture-backed mortgage company that provided home loans in an open and transparent way. Sideo was acquired in 2017. 

How did Burlap & Barrel get started?

The idea behind Burlap and Barrel came to co-founder Ethan Frisch while he was working for an international aid organization in Afghanistan. Ethan told the New York-based Jewish cultural and lifestyle publication, Tablet, that while he was working for the aid organization in Afghanistan, he got a part-time chef job at a Chinese restaurant in Kabul, and he hosted dinner parties in his home, inspired by ingredients he sourced from local markets.

Ethan told Tablet that “There is a variety of wild cumin that grows in the mountains of Afghanistan and is well known there,” but he said that this particular cumin was new to him. Ethan said, “I thought I knew my way around a spice cabinet, but I came across so many things I had never tasted before. It dawned on me that food tastes different in other countries, not just because of cooking methods, but because the ingredients are different.”

On trips back to the US from Afghanistan, Ethan began to carry back some spices in his checked luggage. He shared them with chef friends who, he says, lost their minds over the things they tasted. Ethan admits that these new spices “quickly became an obsession for me.”

When Ethan took a trip to visit his friend Ori in San Francisco, he told him about the chefs’ reactions to the spices he was bringing back to the US, and the friends decided this was their opportunity to start a new business together. Ethan and Ori wanted to model their spice business after the single-origin transparent farm-to-consumer model, which had become popular in the coffee, tea, and chocolate industries, but was still virtually unknown in the spice business. 

What happened to Burlap & Barrel before Shark Tank?

To start their new farm-direct spice business, Ethan had to work on building relationships with farmers, so he started to build relationships with farmers he had met through his contacts with international NGOs. Ethan said, “Many of these farmers were looking for ways to directly export their products;” however, the spice trade had few ways for farmers to directly export these crops. 

In order to seek out spice farmers, Ethan made many visits to spice-growing regions and to spice markets. During the taping of their Shark Tape episode, Ori pointed to Ethan and said to the Sharks, “You’re talking to one of the foremost experts on spices in the world, very few people have been to even a fraction of the spice markets he’s been to.”

How did Burlap & Barrel develop before Shark Tank?

Once Burlap & Barrel brought some farmers online, they began to sell their spice jars in 2017, and they had $100k in revenue in their first year. The second year, 2018, saw growth to $250k, and the following year, they grew a bit faster to $600k in sales. The big jump occurred in 2020, during the Covid pandemic, while so many people were cooking at home. Burlap & Barrel leaped to $3 million in sales. These numbers continued to increase as 2021 sales were at $5.1 million, and when they pitched in the Tank, they were projecting $6-7 million in sales for the current year. 

Around 85% of Burlap & Barrel’s sales have been direct-to-consumer online sales, with just 15% being bulk, wholesale, or restaurant sales. With really strong consumer sales, rapid growth over the last several years, and $12 million in lifetime revenues, one might question why the company felt the need to appear in the Tank looking for a Shark.

What do customers think of Burlap & Barrel?

Burlap & Barrel Product

Most of Burlap & Barrel’s sales come from either the company website or Amazon, so we took a look at customer reviews on Amazon. With a very large number of Burlap & Barrel spices listed on Amazon, we decided to check out their Royal Cinnamon, a rare, heirloom species of cinnamon from Vietnam. This is one of the company’s flagship products.

We found 878 customer ratings for the Royal Cinnamon spice, with an overall rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. 92% of Amazon customers rated the Royal Cinnamon at either 4 or 5 stars, and just 4% gave it a single-star rating. Royal Cinnamon is also an Amazon’s Choice product. 

What are customers saying about Burlap & Barrel?

Burlap & Barrel Product

With an overall rating of nearly 5 stars, we were not surprised to find a very large number of positive reviews. One happy Amazon purchaser called the Royal Cinnamon, “a delicious, professional secret.” This home baker went on to write, “Bakers rejoice, the Burlap and Barrel Royal Cinnamon is worth the hype. This is one of those secret ingredients that make home baked goods taste like your favorite bakery treat. Use it in place of your standard cinnamon for a deliciously subtle boost in overall yumminess.”

Another very satisfied spice buyer wrote, “Open the cap and take a huge sniff of this amazing scent! The depth of the spice is immeasurable. It goes in everything! Even has umami! The after taste has such depth. I will NEVER buy cinnamon from any other than Burlap & Barrel!”

We did not find many negative comments about Burlap & Barrel, but the few we found seemed to be from folks who really wanted to like the products because they loved the brand’s story; however, these customers, though represented by just a few reviews, did not like the product. One verified purchaser wrote:

“I’m a huge fan of Vietnamese cinnamon as a topping vs baking. Unfortunately, I ran out of my usual SPROUTS brand, so I ordered this. It didn’t smell as fresh as my previous brand, and the color was dark brown vs terracotta. The taste was off, bitter and stale smelling, and not sweet. I wanted this brand to be for me – I love all the things the brand stands for.”

With the vast majority of reviews being overwhelmingly positive, it does not appear that the company has any quality control issues. 

When did Burlap & Barrel appear on Shark Tank?

Burlap & Barrel appeared on Shark Tank in Season 14, Episode 19, which aired on April 7th, 2023. This episode featured regular Sharks Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, and Guest Shark Gwyneth Paltrow, actress and founder of lifestyle brand Goop.

Along with Burlap & Barrel, there were a number of interesting food businesses to appear on Shark Tank in Season 14. Check the innovative take on the bakery business in our Eat Your Flowers Shark Tank update.

What happened to Burlap & Barrel on Shark Tank?

Burlap & Barrel co-founders Ethan Frisch and Ori Zohar entered the Tank and asked the Sharks for an investment of $500k for a 5% equity stake in their business. 

Ethan Frisch walked into the Tank wearing a chef’s coat and hat, holding a plastic container of coagulated spice in his hand. He raised up the spice and said, “Hey Sharks, does this look familiar to you? Have you noticed that when you buy spices at the supermarket, they don’t have much flavor?”

Ethan and his partner Ori then got right into the brand and introduced Burlap & Barrel, “a single-origin spice company and social enterprise working directly with the best spice farmers around the world to get you spices that are way better than anything you’ve ever tasted.”

Ethan then described several of their heirloom spices before telling the Sharks that they were “taking on the centuries-old traditions that disconnect spice farmers from home cooks, and by bypassing layers of middlemen,” he said that Burlap & Barrel was bringing spices that are fresher, higher quality, and could be traced to a single origin, straight to the home cook. 

Ori explained that by buying directly, the company was also offering farmers a price that helps support their livelihood and at the same time, offering consumers spices that they have never tasted before. Ori told the Sharks, “Our spices are guaranteed to be your new secret ingredient in the kitchen.”

Next, Ethan invited the Sharks to taste some of the spices in front of them as he walked them through descriptions and origins of the spices. The first spice was a rare heirloom cinnamon from Vietnam, and Lori Greiner and Guest Shark Gwyneth Paltrow both commented how delicious, and distinctive, the spice was. 

After a bit more tasting, Kevin O’Leary wanted to know how many spices the company had in its portfolio, and he learned that they currently had about 75 individual spices. Lori Greiner followed up to ask if they were only selling online, and Ori informed her that they were about 85% direct-to-consumer and 15% bulk, restaurant, and wholesale. 

Lori then wanted to know how they became the spice boys, and Ori told her that they had been good friends, and that since Ethan loved to cook, Ori always hung around because he loved to eat! Ethan then told Lori that he left working in kitchens to attend graduate school to study international development. After he graduated, he then moved to Afghanistan to work for a large international development agency.

Ethan went on to tell the Sharks that he discovered some incredible cumin while in Afghanistan, and he took some back to the US, and when he shared it with some of his friends in the food industry, the response was overwhelming, so eventually, he started to put something together. 

After Ethan moved back to the US, he said that he and Ori began running the business out of his living room in New York City. Mark Cuban jumped in next to ask for a rundown of the numbers: cost, retail price, margins, and total sales. Ori told Mark that their spices typically retailed for $9.99, and their landed cost was $2.50, so they had an average 75% margin, and to date, the company had sales of $12 million over six years in business. 

O’Leary wanted a walkthrough of each year’s sales, and he learned that the company posted sales of $100k in 2017, its first year, and the next year, they increased to $250k in revenues. The third year, during the Covid pandemic, saw a huge jump to $3 million in sales, followed by $5.1 million in 2021. The episode was taped in 2022, and Ori told Mr. Wonderful that they were on track for $6-7 million in sales. 

Kevin O’Leary then wanted to know what they would make on the $6 million for the current year, and Ori said that their net margins were 10%. 

With a fairly long history, and some big numbers on the table, it looked like the Sharks were ready to make a decision. 

Did Burlap & Barrel get a deal on Shark Tank?

Unfortunately Burlap & Barrel was unable to successfullly negotiate a deal in the Tank. 

Mark Cuban showed his hand first, as he congratulated the spice guys for what they had accomplished, but he said, “this is a business I don’t know even a tiny bit about, to me ketchup is the ultimate spice.” Lori followed Cuban saying that she thought their spices were really great, but the space was incredibly crowded, and she liked to be in things that are a little more unique. 

Barbara Corcoran told Ethan and Ori that she wished that they had come in asking for $250k because she believed that their valuation was crazy. Guest Shark Gwyneth Paltrow was very complimentary to the spice team, and it appeared that she might make an offer, but then she said, “I’m a little surprised that I’ve never heard of the brand before because I’m very active in the space, which makes me wonder if you are really going to be able to proliferate in the market,” and with this, quickly, there was only one Shark left swimming. 

Ori asked Mr. Wonderful what he was thinking, and O’Leary said that he was struggling because he didn’t see how he was going to get his money back. Ori replied to him, “We came here with an idea for you.” Ethan then said that they do royalty deals on a regular basis with chefs and artists and influencers, as they see that as a way to lower customer acquisition costs. Ethan told O’Leary that they usually do a 20% royalty on a particular blend, an $11.95 retail product, so the royalty is usually $2.39 per unit sold.

Mr. Wonderful then said that he would offer them $500k for a $2.30 royalty on an order, but before O’Leary could finish his offer, Ethan told him that they wanted to create a Mr. Wonderful set of spices, and the other Sharks were quick to see that this would only pay O’Leary royalties on sales of the spices in his line, so O’Leary piped up to say, “I’m not going to do that deal, are you kidding, I’ll never get my money back.”

Mr. Wonderful then made a revised offer of $500k for 10% equity, along with a 20% royalty on everything sold until he received $1 million, and then the royalty would drop off. Ethan then made one final counteroffer of a 20% Mr. Wonderful-branded line of spices, and a 10% affiliate fee on anything that O’Leary drove to the company, along with 5% equity. 

O’Leary responded, “OK. There’s no way I’m doin’ that deal. I’m out.” 

Burlap & Barrel Shark Tank update, what happened next?

While Burlap & Barrel did not get a deal in the Tank, they still experienced a very strong Shark Tank effect with their online sales. After their episode aired, the trade publication Food Business News reported that Burlap & Barrel founders Ethan and Ori had made serious preparations for the anticipated post-Shark Tank increase in demand. 

Ethan told the publication that to prepare for a Shark Tank-driven surge in orders, the founders created a themed collection, featuring the four spices sampled by the panel of celebrity investors, which included actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow. Ethan said, “We wanted to make sure the spices the Sharks were going to be tasting on air were fully stocked. We picked spices that we knew we had real inventory on.”

The company reported that they were not disappointed with the response following their episode, as the national exposure resulted in back-to-back “record-breaking days for us with thousands of orders each.” Ethan continued, “Our goal was to give our new customers the same excellent experience as usual, with fast responses and quick shipping. Our customer support team worked all weekend to respond to every single email, and our fulfillment partners shipped more than 1,000 orders on Saturday alone, most of the people who placed their orders on Friday night would receive their spices on Monday and Tuesday.”

Finally, nearly a year after the episode aired, Burlap & Barrel continue to market their Shark Tank Collection on the company website, and over on Amazon, a number of their products use the ‘As Seen on Shark Tank’ tagline in their product descriptions. 

With both the $12 million in lifetime sales prior to their Shark Tank pitch, and the meticulous preparations that went into their post-Shark Tank product-fulfillment response, it seems to us, even without a Shark on board, spice boys Ethan and Ori will continue to grow their red-hot business.