December 2, 2013 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Teaching Nutrition through Educational Solutions for All Ages
About Learning ZoneXpress
Learning ZoneXpress provides
education solutions to teach nutrition for all ages. Our mission is to
design, create, and deliver innovative messages on life skills topics
including nutrition, child development, food preparation, and wellness. We
offer a wide variety of affordable educational DVDs, lesson plans, posters,
handouts, and incentives.
667 E Vine St
PO Box 1022
Owatonna, MN 55060
888-455-7003 or 507-455-9076
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – December 2, 2013
CEOCFO: Ms. Nelson, what is the concept at Learning ZoneXpress?
Ms. Nelson: Nutrition messages and educational resources. Our product line has over 2,000 products that teach people about healthy food choices. I like to say I am Michelle Obama’s best friend. I am her advocate and I have received thank you notes from her. We have taken the USDA MyPlate food guide and enhanced the learning tools to include videos, handouts, posters, and banners featuring visuals with photographs of real foods. With our educational resources, our customers love our visual messages.
CEOCFO: Would you give us an idea of some of your more common products as well as some things you offer that might be surprising?
Ms. Nelson: The things we do very well are the visual 18” x 24” posters. A new poster features a young person with pictures of real food to eat for health for different parts of the body, like your skin and eyes. If someone chooses to be healthier, it shows him or her the kinds of foods they need to be eating rather than junk food. We have over 500 posters. The surprising ones we have, which are great sellers, are in our child development line. I am in family and consumer sciences education, and they are videos on how to be a great father. We have a new one on parenting with Laurence Steinberg from Temple University, who is an expert on ten principles of great parenting. Our child development theorists video features Skinner, Brazelton, and Freud, and have given examples of what their theories are for educators and parenting.
CEOCFO: What is your market?
Ms. Nelson: Schools, public health, and school foodservice. We service about ten different markets. We sell to libraries, physical education, and early childhood. We have a fabulous program called LANA. LANA the iguana only eats fruits and vegetables. The city of Newark, New Jersey is using it for every preschooler in Fall 2013.
CEOCFO: What do you see as your most effective products and what is the proof that they work?
Ms. Nelson: The best evidence based product is our LANA program, which promotes food behavior change for preschoolers and is a public-private partnership with the state of Minnesota. Six years of research shows that kids ask for and eat more fruits and vegetables because they have gone through the LANA program. It is integrated into math, science, art, and literature so they just love hearing about these eight fruits and vegetables. Peer pressure encourages kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
CEOCFO: What is the competitive landscape?
Ms. Nelson: There are a good number of us in this niche market like registered dietitians and promotional product companies. Others are specializing in general health and brochures. Learning ZoneXpress is passionate and devoted to our customers.
CEOCFO: How do you reach the parents as well as the kids?
Ms. Nelson: Parents are really not our market. We really focus on public health buyers, teachers, and directors of school foodservice. Our goal is to reach the think leaders of individual states. We did just have a large Native American reservation order through the federal government, GSA.
CEOCFO: How do your customers find you, and how do you actively reach out to them?
Ms. Nelson: We do about 85 trade shows a year. We have several catalogs and flyers we send to teachers and nutrition professionals. We are also successful on the Internet. We do frequent e-blasts as well as social media: Facebook, Twitter, and our blog. We have a lot of fun!
CEOCFO: Who might be buying proper diapering?
Ms. Nelson: It was a collaboration with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which is a professional organization with over 100,000 members, to include in their store. We work on request from different associations. Schwan’s Foods said their drivers were eating fast food. They wanted the drivers to consider bag lunching it and eating healthier choices. We came up with a handout that they have given to their drivers for packing their own lunches.
CEOCFO: How long has the company been in existence?
Ms. Nelson: This is my third company, and it has been in existence for 16 years now.
CEOCFO: What did you learn from previous experiences that has been helpful?
Ms. Nelson: To never have a partner! Hire people smarter than I am!
CEOCFO: Where have you seen the biggest changes over time in public interest?
Ms. Nelson: I do believe people are taking responsibility for their health. Spencer, Iowa was just certified as a Blue Zones city, which is a total commitment to better health as a community through healthier restaurant foods, bikes trails, and walking clubs.
CEOCFO: You have some Spanish publications as well. Would you tell us about those?
Ms. Nelson: We found that Spanish publications sell. They are not wildly successful, but it does meet the needs of our clients in the US and internationally.
CEOCFO: In what areas are you seeing the most growth today?
Ms. Nelson: School foodservice. We had tremendous growth last year due to a USDA mandate that required school foodservices to have “front of the line” education. We designed a dry erase board for the lunch line that has areas to write menu choices by food group, which would be easily changed every day. In schools, competitive foods, usually junk foods are going to be regulated by new standards starting in July 2014. Vending machines have to have healthier choices, as well as the a la carte, where kids often get to choose which foods they want all will be subject to changes. We are working to develop resources to make that a smooth transition, while helping educate students and other stakeholders on the importance of making healthy choices.
CEOCFO: Do you find that when you are dealing with a school district they will make a large purchase and you may not hear from them for a number of years, or are they usually an ongoing customer?
Ms. Nelson: Our school customers are very loyal and repeatedly purchase from us. We find that schools find the content of our nutrition education products very relevant. At least 50% of all our customers purchase annually. We are relational and track our customers individually. 33% of our customers this year are new customers. Our social marketing is successful!
CEOCFO: Do you see more growth in the non-food-consumption-related areas such as food safety?
Ms. Nelson: Yes, yet with new media delivery options, we branded ourselves nutrition. We offer a whole variety of print materials. We are truly a publisher.
CEOCFO: How often would you update a poster or a booklet?
Ms. Nelson: We update as the government updates the dietary guidelines, which is every 5 years.
CEOCFO: With inventory, what do you need to maintain and how do you manage it?
Ms. Nelson: It is absolutely a nightmare. We develop 150 new products a year and we do not get rid of that many products, in fact, we have customers calling with catalogs from 2005! We have good inventory system software, and our inventory grows every year. Our biggest challenge is that we have these darling Garden Heroes, and they are 35 Beanie Baby-like fruits and vegetables. They are sewn in China and it is a six-figure investment to order them. We do a lot of just in time with printers because we really are publishers.
CEOCFO: Who is designing all of this?
Ms. Nelson: We have an amazing design team. We also hire contract designers.
CEOCFO: Why pay attention to Learning ZoneXpress? What sets the company apart?
Ms. Nelson: We are solutions driven. We have people calling us and suggesting what they need developed, and we have turned around that product in two weeks. We can be a design firm. What makes us unique is that we are so entrepreneurial, flexible, innovative, and creative design-driven. Our examples are when you look at Mayo Clinic, who is our neighbor. Their handouts are a medical model: dry, boring, and content rich. Learning ZoneXpress’ handouts are bright, happy, engaging and content rich. It is really a look and feel of interest.
CEOCFO: Final thoughts?
I have 15 women I work with who are amazing as well as one man. It is a team
approach in order for Learning ZoneXpress to grow. We are working on a
business strategy called “Traction.” We do have a one year and three year
plan. It is a very structured program that defines the rocks, the
opportunities, and then executing the plan! Learning ZoneXpress has the
right people in the right seats! Our staff gets it, wants it, and has the
capacity to get it done!
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