Life is Hard, Eat a Cookie with Anouck Gotlib

February 16, 2023

(highlights from Episode #19 of the Gutsiest Brands podcast)

Check out the latest lessons from our Gutsiest Brands podcast as GutCheck’s CEO, Rob Wengel, sits down with Anouck Gotlib, CEO of Belgian Boys. They talk about packaging your brand with authenticity, why you shouldn’t be afraid to change after listening to your consumers, and how to increase brand awareness (and get insights!) through giving.

Anouck is the CEO of Belgian Boys, a refrigerated and snack foods company that was born out of nostalgia, and a desire to bring the indulgent, sweet European treats made with quality ingredients they grew up with in Belgium, to the US. It all started with a fated plane ride, where Anouck would meet her future husband. “That plane ride really changed my life because he was on that same plane. That’s really how the entrepreneurial journey started.” Here’s what Anouck has learned so far…

Takeaway #1 Package Your Brand with Authenticity 

Anouck started her professional life with a career in fashion design in NYC. Her use of color in her designs inspired the colors and fresh logo of Belgian Boys. “I think it’s part of who we are, going back to those Belgian roots,” Anouck says. “It starts with our logo. We grew up in Belgium with comics like the Smurfs and Tin Tin. These are Belgian. It was really a part of our DNA. And it was very natural for us to have a character on our logo.” Not only does it pay homage to their past, but it celebrates the product itself. “Listen, life is hard, right? We were creating a food brand that was indulgent, that was sweet, that was really light. You have to keep it fun and easy for the consumer. And that was really our art thesis, which we’ve even made brighter and more vibrant throughout the years from what it started.” Even something as simple as packaging needs to speak volumes about a brand.

Takeaway #2 Play to Strengths and Weaknesses 

When the idea came up that Anouck might work with her husband on Belgian Boys, it became a game of balance. “I think we really quickly realized what each other was good at. Once you realize that these are your strengths and these are your weaknesses, these are my strengths and these are my weaknesses, we actually [started] balancing each other out.” Anouck says Greg is the “product guy. He’s the innovation.” He works with R&D, does supply relationships, and tastes new products. Anouck took better to tackling P&Ls and balance sheets, curating the team, and really opening the networking and development. “That’s an area where we found I more was cutting edge,” Anouck reveals. “And it was really a natural decision for both of us to have me take that CEO seat.”

Takeaway #3 Remove Toxicity from the Workplace

Anouck loved fashion, but the industry quickly wore her down. “The environment in fashion was quite toxic. I loved what I did. I really was doing well at my work, but the environment I was working in… [I was] not feeling fulfilled. And it was really because of what was around me.” In managing the company culture at Belgian Boys, Anouck strives to foster a friendly and happy place to work. “A lot of people talk about work-life balance. It’s been a buzz. My view on work-life balance is that work is a part of our life. It’s actually a really big part of our life. And I love that part of my life. I’m happy to be in that part of my life.” In her team, it’s “about understanding that this is a team that supports each other, that has a common interest, that wants to be successful, that wants to have fun.” She says backstabbing and office politics have no place in a proper workplace. “I don’t have all the answers. I lead with my gut, and I want to create an environment that I personally want to be a part of.”

Takeaway #4 – Branding Insights from Giving 

In the beginning, Anouck and the company tried many different tactics to get their products into the hands of consumers. One path they chose early on was to send treats and thank you notes to hospitals around NYC for all the staff to enjoy during the height of the pandemic. What happened next solidified the brand’s positioning. “We started getting letters, emails, and phone calls back,” Anouck explains. Notes such as “Thank you. I just came out of a 48-hour shift, and this is the best moment I have had all day” were commonplace. Anouck was shocked. “I’m like, wait a minute. You’re thanking me? You are saving lives. I’m sending you a waffle. Why are you thanking me? This is the power that our brand has. Life is hard. It’s a cookie; it doesn’t have to be that hard. And that’s really the message that we want to bring. You don’t need to overthink it; just have fun with it. It’s food. That’s really what our brand is all about.” 

Anouck‘s Best Advice?

“I think surround yourself with smart people, smarter people than you, and ask a lot of questions and learn and take feedback and better yourself. Don’t feel like feedback is an attack on what you’re doing.” 

Keep Learning 

Catch up on Rob and Anouck’s full interview by listening to the Gutsiest Brands podcast. If you are interested in how your brand can uncover the deep customer insights that can enable you to lead with empathy, pioneer new paths, stand behind bold ideas, and lean into ‘the power of AND’, we’d love to help. Drop us a note!

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