responding to negative comments on social podcast cover image

This one's for you, CPG RETAIL BRANDS -
#16: Surviving to Thriving on Grocery Shelves with Alli Ball, Creator of Retail Ready®

CPG retail brands, of course your product is delicious! But, that’s just the baseline. 😜

It takes so much more work to get your product on to grocery shelves AND into consumers’ pantries. Luckily, we have Alli Ball on our latest episode of the pod – spilling the beans on retail success!

She’s the creator of Retail Ready®, host of the Food Biz Wiz® Podcast, and founder of her own CPG consulting business. And together, we discuss –
🛒 Problems for growing CPG brands to avoid
🛒 How smaller CPG retail brands can stand out on the shelves
🛒 How to form a stronger bond with your grocery buyers + retailers

And, many more juicy tidbits that we know extra-small to small to medium CPG biz owners need to hear.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:45] Introduction.

[1:19] Alli Ball’s career experience as a grocery buyer.

[3:40] How did Alli Ball help decide which products hit or missed retail shelves? Beyond being ‘just’ a delicious product.

[6:25] How’d you pivot into a consulting role? Working with retail stores across the U.S.

[10:10] Alli Ball’s course: Retail Ready. What’s the why behind the course? Lifetime access to a community of over 600 CPG retail brands. Interacting on a daily basis, collaborating on giveaways, and sourcing ingredients from one another.

[13:15] Who’s the best fit for Retail Ready? You can continue to learn at any stage in your business. And, you can learn from others in a group class setting. Connecting with consumers.

[16:40] Repeat problems Alli Ball sees CPG retail brands facing.

[28:20] What can CPG retail brands do to accelerate growth? Building a CPG retail brand, not just a product line.

[31:40] Chrome extension: Clearbit Connect.

[32:40] What should CPG retail brands be talking with their buyers about that they generally aren’t?

[35:40] A word on coupons and/or price reductions. Add urgency.

[40:00] How can smaller CPG retail brands stand out on the shelves?

[45:00] “Of the CPG industry’s $933 billion of total U.S. sales in measured channels in 2020, large manufacturers collectively lost 1.3 share points, or $12.1 billion in sales, to smaller players due to channel shifts, supply constraints and category shifts.” – IRI

[46:00] Alli Ball’s thoughts on CPG retail brands moving forward.

[50:26] What’re your favorite CPG retail brands at this point in time?

[56:15] Closing thoughts and free resources.

Read – #16: Surviving to Thriving on Grocery Shelves with Alli Ball, Creator of Retail Ready®

 

[AUTOMATED TRANSCRIPT MAY BE SUBJECT TO MINOR TYPOGRAPHICAL ERRORS/VARIATIONS]

Karin Samelson:
Calling all consumer goods, business owners and marketing professionals, does planning content ahead of time stress you out? Do you want to run Instagram and Facebook ads but just aren’t sure where to start? If your answer is yes and yes, then our mini course was made for you. It’s 100% free and packed with essential tactics that you can implement as soon as today. To join in, visit our website at umaimarketing.com/minicourse. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

Karin Samelson:
Welcome to UMAI Social Circle where we talk consumer goods, marketing tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison, cofounders of UMAI. And we’re being joined by Allison Ball or Alli for short. She helps CPG retail brands launch products, get on the retail shelf, increase sales, streamline sale systems. She is the food biz wiz. Thank you for joining us, Alli.

Alli Ball:
Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to hang out with you ladies.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Well, let’s get into it. So, we’re going to start a little diving into your background. Can you tell us a little bit more about your time as a grocery buyer, how it all got started?

Alli Ball:
Yeah, absolutely. So, I was a grocery buyer for a long time here in San Francisco at Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street back when it was a single location. It was a 3,000 square foot specialty store. And my role was to figure out what the heck we were going to put on our shelves and how we were going to have high sales once I put them there. And so, I was in charge of a lot of different categories. But typically, within the grocery department. So, things like coffee, chocolate, confections, dairy, refrigerated beverage, bread, snacks.

Alli Ball:
I mean, you name it, I think all the good things of the store. And Bi-Rite was this really… is still is, this really special place that has a unique product assortment. So, oftentimes, the CPG retail brands that I was working with were brand-new to the food and beverage industry. Bi-Rite was their holy grail. And oftentimes, we were the first wholesale account for lots of CPG retail brands. And in that, like you guys can imagine, a lot of CPG retail brands did not know what they were doing.

Alli Ball:
So, my job was to help them figure out how to not only succeed on our shelves but how to succeed in the world of wholesale out in the wild, being on the shelves that Bi-Rite was not going to sustain them in their business. So, we did that for a long time, and I absolutely loved it. It was really, really wonderful to have that almost in-house consulting role for Bi-Rite. They don’t do that anymore. They don’t have the capacity anymore, but it was a really special time. And then, my role shifted.

Alli Ball:
We decided to open Bi-Rite Divisadero, which was across town. And I became focused on being head of grocery and the retail store manager of that location. So, I focused solely on the profit and loss of the grocery department and making sure that we were making money, that we were a profitable department. And so, in that, I was down in spreadsheets all day long. And while it was really, really valuable, I really missed working directly with producers.

Alli Ball:
So, I left Bi-Rite about seven years ago and started my consulting business, focused on helping producers understand how to get on the retail shelf, and how to sell through once they do.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I definitely want to dive more into that consulting. But first of all, I would love to know more like how did you choose the products that you decided to bring into Bi-Rite? Like maybe three things that you look for?

Alli Ball:
Yeah. Oh, that’s such a good question. I feel like no one’s asked me that in a really long time. I think the biggest thing is figuring out, and there are lots of ways to do this, but figuring out, if I take a chance on this product, is it going to help me achieve my category goals as a buyer? So, as a buyer, we’re always looking at our sales numbers. We’re always looking at our profit margins. And we want to make sure that every single product that we put on the retail shelf does its job, right?

Alli Ball:
Which is either to bring higher sales or bring more margin to the category. Sometimes, there are other initiatives within a grocery department. But in general, that’s what it is like, is this product going to help me meet my goals as a buyer? And so, a product might sell through because of a really strong CPG retail brands. They might sell through because of a community connection that they have. Again, that’s in CPG retail branding, but a community place. They might sell through because it’s really, really delicious.

Alli Ball:
Although, that’s not usually why it’s selling. So, yeah. Typically, the number one question is whether or not it’s going to help me as a buyer, hit my category goals.

Alison Smith:
That’s very cool. And I love that you mentioned strong CPG retail branding. I think we see that a lot that that maybe gets overlooked, and without trialing the product, like you said, is it delicious? How do you know until you buy it? The CPG retail brands is what makes someone draws their eye and what makes them pull it off the shelf, a lot of times.

Alli Ball:
Totally. And let me just say this about the deliciousness too, right? That when I was a buyer and I would get these wholesale pitches that would be like, “Oh, Alli, you’ve got to try my cold pressed juice. It’s so delicious.” Over the phone, I’d be rolling my eyes. And I’m like, “Yeah, sure,” like you and every other juice CPG retail brands that pitched to me this week. If you are not in the business of thinking that your product is delicious, then you’re in the wrong business, right?

Alli Ball:
Deliciousness, tasty products are the baseline here. And so, you’ve got to figure out some other reason to attract that buyer’s attention. And so, with my clients, we really focus on this, like what is the reason that the buyer is going to say, yes, that has nothing to do with the taste of your product? Because taste is the baseline, and taste is subjective. So, those are not the ways to pitch to a buyer.

Alison Smith:
I love that. Absolutely.

Karin Samelson:
Can you tell us a little bit more about how that pivoted into the role of consulting?

Alli Ball:
Yeah, sure. So, when I was at Bi-Rite… I’m holding my heart here. I was heartbroken to see these CPG retail brands, these really values-oriented CPG retail brands, or frankly, really delicious CPG retail brands or really thoughtful CPG retail brands, not work on our shelves. And it wasn’t because the founder wasn’t passionate or the founder… I was going to say didn’t know what they’re doing, but that was one of the reasons. And I was like, “I have to, if I want to make an impact in this industry, I have to be the person who pulls the curtain back on what the heck goes on inside the brains of a wholesale buyer and how CPG retail brands can shift their pitches, shift their positioning, to actually stand out in that sea of thousands of pitches that that buyer may receive.”

Alli Ball:
So, that really was the motivation, Karin, but I knew that if I wanted to impact our industry, that was the way to do it, to help on the CPG retail brands side.

Karin Samelson:
That’s such a good opportunity. You were at such a specialty store that it’s your exact demographic. You have to totally experience to have that, like not a lot of people are going to have.

Alli Ball:
Totally, and it’s also two things there. First off, it’s really hard to capture the attention, to hold the attention of a grocery buyer. I say grocery but any buyer, right? Produce buyer, meat buyer, frozen buyer, whatever. Buyers are busy, and they don’t have the time of day to go back and forth and back and forth with CPG retail brands. And so, knowing that, it’s really hard to get the buyer’s ear, and it’s really hard to get the buyers to talk. And so, I was like, “If I can be that buyer who is public-facing, then I can do everyone a favor.”

Alli Ball:
So, that was one thing. And then, two, when I left Bi-Rite, for the first few years of my consulting, I actually worked with retail stores across the United States, helping train their buying teams and helping train with category reviews, and product assortment, and grocery teams, and merchandising and things like that. It was really neat to take my experience at Bi-Rite and apply it to retail stores across the country, and realize that we did some things really well at Bi-Rite.

Alli Ball:
And we did other things that… or we did things where we could have improved based on the learnings that I had from other retail stores. And all in, it really allowed me to feel very confident helping the CPG retail brands clients that I had as I saw these universal patterns in retail stores around the country.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, very cool. I mean, being the buyer to grocery store, one of my fondest memories of going to conventions, like food conventions and Expo West was I would memorize the buyer’s names and their photos. I wanted to prove that I was of worth with these conventions. I would just be on the lookout and just be elbowing people when they came down. So, it is. It’s hard to get in front of these buyers.

Alli Ball:
Totally. I mean, when we used to walk the show, the floor at fancy food… and this is way back when. This is like, I don’t know, 2009. And maybe it was my first fancy food. And I remember [Raph 00:09:32], the head buyer with me, was like, “Oh Alli, everybody wants to get in Bi-Rite. You should hide your badge. Flip it over or scratch out Bi-Rite, or do something to hide your identity.” I was like, “Oh my God.” It seems so extreme. But it’s like, yeah, you meet thousands of people over that weekend.

Alli Ball:
You don’t have the capacity to follow up on all those leads. So, yeah. There is a mystery of the grocery buyer, right?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, there’s just this aura that surrounds you.

Alli Ball:
Yeah, totally. Totally, yeah.

Alison Smith:
Well, that’s awesome. So, next for you after consulting was your course, Retail Ready. So, how did you come up with, okay, was it just like there was not enough of you and you had to put it down to reach more people? How did you come up with the course, I guess?

Alli Ball:
Yeah, that was definitely part of it, but when I had… I was a few years into consulting with CPG retail brands, and I realized two things. One, most CPG retail brands, most young CPG retail brands were getting stuck at the same areas in their growth, right? They were making the same problem, challenges, like having the same challenges early on in their growth. And they all felt like they were alone, and they were the only ones struggling through this thing. I was like, “I am literally helping these CPG retail brands with the same exact things.”

Alli Ball:
I really was developing this process that we followed with each client. So, I realized that, that there were these common struggles for CPG retail brands. And I also realized that emerging CPG retail brands don’t have that much money, right? And so, I’m like, “I’ve got to…” I had my hourly and package consulting rate. I’m like, “A lot of the CPG retail brands just can’t frankly afford one-on-one consulting. So, how can I create a program where I can impact more CPG retail brands at a lower price point and still help them find success in their food business journey?”

Alli Ball:
So, yeah. So, we launched Retail Ready about five years ago. When I first launched it, it was a live course. So, it was a cohort style where everybody started and stopped on the same day. You guys know how this goes, right? It was a six-week program, and I loved it. I would teach it three or four times a year, and that was just the highlight of my year. And even after teaching it the first time, I was like, “Oh, there is something here. I can see…” I wasn’t exactly sure how it would evolve.

Alli Ball:
But I was like, “There is something really, really magical in getting these CPG retail brands together and doing this group education.”

Alison Smith:
I love that, and that’s something that we’ve talked about a lot in the CPG world, is there’s a really great level of community. So, just that community that you’re giving in the course, I’m sure, is just helping people exceed and succeed beyond education.

Alli Ball:
Totally, and it’s wild now. So, when you enroll in Retail Ready, you get lifetime access to everything, including that community. So, we are a group of over 600 CPG retail brands. So, not everybody comes into our private community. Some people just prefer not to, and that’s fine. But we have about 600 people in our private student group who are interacting with each other on posts. They’re doing giveaways. They’re doing collaboration. They’re sourcing ingredients from each other.

Alli Ball:
I mean, it’s very, very cool to see. I did not imagine that when I first started Retail Ready.

Karin Samelson:
That’s awesome, yeah. The community of CPG is so powerful, no matter where you are or who you are, or what you’re selling, or what your background is. So, very cool. So, tell us a little bit more. This podcast is for CPG business owners and marketers. Who should be taking your Retail Ready class?

Alli Ball:
Yeah, thank you for asking. That’s a great question because we are really clear on who is a good fit and who is not a good fit. Because at the end of the day, if folks aren’t a good fit for Retail Ready, I don’t have a business, right? We have to make sure that they’re successful when they come into Retail Ready. So, the number one thing we say is that it is for producers who are already in production of their packaged food or beverage, or supplement product, or taxable grocery, like basically anything that is sold on a grocery shelf.

Alli Ball:
But they have to be in production, because I’m going to tell you, like as a former grocery buyer, I don’t know how to develop a product in a commercial kitchen. I don’t know how to extend your shelf life. I don’t know how to source your items, your packaging that needs to hold out moisture, right? That is not my area of expertise nor do I want it to be. So, once a producer, once a CPG retail brands already knows their production, knows how they are going to produce their product, hopefully you’re already in production.

Alli Ball:
You can come into Retail Ready and find success. And it’s cool because we have some CPG retail brands who literally join Retail Ready right as they’re doing their first production run, and we have other CPG retail brands who have been in business, 15, 20 years, who realize that they need to keep up-to-date with changes in our industry. And they either come in themselves or they send a sales manager or a new sales rep into Retail Ready, so they can be really up-to-date on what’s shifting in our industry.

Alli Ball:
So, it’s neat to see people at all different stages of their growth.

Alison Smith:
That’s so smart, having an avenue where people, seasoned, can come in and get up-to-date, because our industries are always changing. It’s always smart for continued education, which we always preach.

Alli Ball:
Totally. So, I always use Banyan Botanicals as an example here. They have been around for decades, and they have over 200 SKUs, huge product assortment. And they came into Retail Ready about a year ago before COVID hit, and they… you could just see the light bulbs going off in their marketing manager’s head. And she was like, “Oh, shoot. I got to get with it. I got to change some strategy here in order to keep the sales high.” So, it’s really neat how you can continue to learn at any stage of your business, right?

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I imagine the larger guys are learning a lot from the smaller guys on innovation and obviously vice-versa. So, I think that’s really neat.

Alli Ball:
For sure. I think a scholar… sorry to interrupt you. But a smaller CPG retail brands in a way feels like they can take more risk, right? As a smaller producer, you’re like, “Who cares if I’m going to use this weird filter and go live? I’m the founder. I can do whatever I want.” And when was the last time you saw like, I don’t know, the founder of Kraft doing an Instagram, like a Reel, with a weird filter on, right? It doesn’t happen. And so, I think the bigger CPG retail brands can really learn from the smaller ones in terms of seeing how to connect with consumers?

Alli Ball:
How to be an innovative CPG retail brands, how to be more flexible in the industry? Yeah, absolutely.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, that’s cool. And you mentioned, and without giving too much away about what you are teaching people in Retail Ready, but you mentioned you were seeing the same problems over and over where CPG retail brands were getting stuck. So, what are those general problems that CPG retail brands have?

Alli Ball:
Good question. The first one is not understanding your numbers. And I’m sure, you guys see this too, right? Where CPG retail brands come in, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, sales are great. We’re selling out every week. We’re doing great, blah, blah, blah.” And then, they do or don’t look at their numbers. And they realize that they aren’t making money, right? Revenue can be high. Sales can be high, and the profit still doesn’t necessarily follow, right?

Alli Ball:
And so, I think it’s really important to know your numbers from profitability standpoint rather than just focusing on sales, focusing on revenue because that’s not the full picture of what’s going on in your business. So, often, I see CPG retail brands who wake up three years into their lifecycle and realize that they have just created a really expensive hobby, and that they are not making money in their business. So, that’s mistake number one, like not really, really knowing your numbers.

Alli Ball:
Or I’ll give one other example in not knowing your numbers that we see a lot in Retail Ready, is CPG retail brands come in. Maybe they’re in year three or four, and they’re ready to bring on a broker or a distributor. And they go and start shopping around. And they realize, “Oh, my gosh, this broker… or excuse me, this distributor is going to take 20% of my margin. I don’t have that money.” And then, they’re stuck, right? It’s like, what do you do if you simply don’t have the money?

Alli Ball:
I mean, we’ve got some strategies on what you do when it comes to that in inside of Retail Ready, but you’ve got to make a decision on whether or not you move forward in that route. So, I would say like knowing your numbers from the beginning, making sure that you’re adding broker and distributor margin from the beginning. You guys would probably say like making sure you’re adding marketing dollars from the beginning. Yeah, so not knowing your numbers. That’s a really big one.

Alli Ball:
I’ll give four maybe. The second one that we see is not understanding how to pitch to buyers so that they actually say, yes, right? Alison, you asked a question around that in the beginning about what I looked for when I was a buyer. But I really want to emphasize that, that so many CPG retail brands make their pitch all about them and why their product is so amazing, and why we should buy it, and why it’s delicious, and look at our sourcing, and look at our giving back, and all of those things.

Alli Ball:
But at the end of the day, the grocery buyer does not care about them, right? They care about whether or not your product is going to sell on the shelf. So, a big mistake that I see is simply in the way that CPG retail brands are pitching their products to accounts in the first place. So, I’ll say this. If you’re listening to this podcast and buyers aren’t calling you back, you’re dropping off samples, and then they just go missing, or you don’t know if buyers tried them or not, you’re just like, “What’s going on with my samples? Where are they?”

Alli Ball:
If you aren’t sure if buyers are opening your emails or they’re literally never writing you back, or answering your phone calls, like it’s probably because you are pitching incorrectly, that you are not crafting a pitch that is frankly of any interest to that buyer. So, that’s a big one.

Karin Samelson:
That’s such great advice because people love talking about themselves so very much that it’s nice to have a reminder to just step back and give them a reason, a real reason why they should bring you in.

Alli Ball:
Totally. And I think one of the challenges are like I know why this happens, right? It’s because we as CPG retail brands, and myself included, are all about what we can do for the end user, right? How can I help emerging food and beverage CPG retail brands? How can you guys help emerging food and beverage CPG retail brands? It’s all about what we can do for that end user. And so, CPG retail brands in general, as they’re developing all of their marketing materials, as they’re designing their websites, as they’re doing their onboarding email sequences or their abandoned cart series, and all of those things, it’s all about the consumer.

Alli Ball:
It’s all about the person who is going to eat or drink, or use their product. And that is a very different pitch than the pitch that you want to make to the grocery buyer or to that wholesale account, right? Because instead of positioning it with, “We’re so delicious, we’re going to help boost your immunity. We’re going to make you run faster,” the grocery buyer does not care about that. They just want to know if it’s going to sell on their shelf. So, I think it’s just that subtle shift away from what we’ve been classically trained to do, right? Does that make sense?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, totally.

Alli Ball:
So, mistake number three, not having a plan for getting off the shelf. And this is really the challenge that I would see at Bi-Rite, right? Where I would put these really incredible CPG retail brands on our shelf. And then, they would just sit there, right? It’s really hard to change consumer behavior. It’s really hard to get people to try new CPG retail brands and put something in their shopping basket or in their online basket that they’re not already in the habit of consuming.

Alli Ball:
And if you land on wholesale shelves, whether that is an online wholesale shelf or a brick-and-mortar wholesale shelf, you have to sell once you get there, right? We talked about this at the beginning, that your role as a CPG retail brands, it needs to be the high sales or high margin. And if you are not performing, you’re going to get discontinued, right? There’s only so long that that buyer is going to let you use that valuable real estate without performing. And so, one of the challenges that I see is that CPG retail brands put so much effort into getting on the shelf.

Alli Ball:
And then, they don’t have a plan for moving once they do. And so, typically, that’s where a marketing strategy comes into play, right? Like figure out how you are going to get those people to take a chance on your product once you’re actually on the shelf.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I can see that being a big pain point. I mean, it’s very difficult to get to talk to the buyer to get on the shelf. A lot of people are like, “Okay, my work is done, let’s move on.” But it’s just getting started, right?

Alli Ball:
Totally. And I don’t want to say it in a scary way, right? We don’t want to be like, “The work is just beginning.” But it’s like we said earlier, at each stage of business, there’s a different challenge to overcome. And so, challenge number… well, challenge number one is building this CPG retail brands and this product, and understanding your numbers. Challenge number two is getting into the accounts where your dream customers are shopping.

Alli Ball:
And then, challenge number three is actually connecting with those consumers and getting them to whip out their wallets and pay for your products, right? Okay, I’ll give you my last mistake. The last mistake that I see all the time is, especially in COVID actually, this is… I don’t want to say it’s very particular to last year, but so often, I see CPG retail brands expand too quickly. And what I mean by that is a CPG retail brands… they almost feel like an overnight success, right? We’ve seen lots of CPG retail brands like this, especially with the rise of digitally native CPG retail brands where CPG retail brands will launch.

Alli Ball:
All of a sudden, they’re all over your Instagram feed. They’re all over the place. And they feel like an overnight success. And they attract a lot of attention, potentially from wholesale accounts. And sure enough, there’s demand for those CPG retail brands all across the country. And the challenge here again goes back to this idea that it’s hard to sell once you get on the shelf. And so, when you expand too quickly, and usually I see this being too quickly, too far regionally, like outside of your region, or too far like across the country, or shipping and all of those, the pace in which you can figure out your logistics does not match the pace at which your product is in demand.

Alli Ball:
And so, the problem is, then you have out of stocks. You can’t figure out how to ship your product around the country. Or you land on the shelf and it’s not selling, and you don’t have any strategy to fulfill that order that’s in DC when you live in LA, right? So, expanding too quickly is a problem that I see CPG retail brands make over and over again. And then, sure enough, what happens is you get discontinued because you’re either not selling or you’re too high maintenance with all of the problems that you bring in getting your product to their shelves.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, man. You want to say it’s a good problem to have, but it’s not. It’s just a problem that you should not want to have.

Alli Ball:
Yeah. And I think it happens for two reasons. I think first off, it happens because of ego, right? I’ll just use this imaginary CPG retail brands, right? Again, if you’re a CPG retail brands in LA and you’re… actually, let’s flip this. You’re a CPG retail brands in DC. And Air One in LA reaches out to you and is like, “Hey, we love your cold pressed juice. Can we sell it in our locations?” It’s really freaking flattering, right? And you’re like, “Air One loves me. Oh, my gosh. They’re natural foods mecca. Of course, I should say, yes.”

Alli Ball:
And then, you’re like, “Oh, gosh.” I mean, if I could swear on it, I don’t know if I can swear on your show, but if I could swear, I would be swearing right now where you’re like, “Oh, shoot. How are we going to get this product refrigerated across the country and fulfill these seven locations that are moving at a really fast rate?” So, I think it’s ego, right? We’re like, “Oh, it’s so flattering that this account wants me.” And then, I also think it happens because when we’re young CPG retail brands, a sale is a sale, right?

Alli Ball:
And you’re like, “I just need sales. I just need revenue. I will take any order just to up my cashflow,” without really realizing that bigger picture challenge that it brings to your CPG retail brands. So many moving parts, so many moving pieces. I mean, we are specialties in marketing. But when you really zoom out to all of the logistics that go into it, it’s shocking that these people can do this with one-person teams, with even two-person teams. I’m like-

Karin Samelson:
I know. We have a few Retail Ready students who have built literally like multimillion dollar CPG retail brands, solo, like one person.

Alli Ball:
I often recommend a cofounder. I think that can be very helpful, but yeah. I mean, I’m going to say, they’re mostly women, these amazing women who are building these CPG retail brands that are multimillion dollar CPG retail brands who… I mean, I’ll just say maybe it’s their superpower where they already know how to organize and get so much stuff done that they can do it solo until they get to a certain point. And I think, Karin, you’re right. There’s probably a breaking point there where going solo is not sustainable, right?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, absolutely. And you’re not one of those mega human amazing specialty people that I can’t even wrap my head around. So, what are some things that small- to medium-sized CPGs can do to experience that retail growth, to actually get pulled off the shelf?

Alli Ball:
Yeah. So, there’s a few things. And the first one, it sounds so simple but it’s hard to do. And you guys know this, is making sure that you are building a CPG retail brands and not just a product line. And I will say, like I say this every freaking day in Retail Ready, and people still really, really get stuck here, right? They’re like, “But my salsa line is delicious, but my hot sauce is so unique.” And at the end of the day, if you’ve got a salsa line or a hot sauce line, or a CPG beverage line, I don’t care what category you’re in.

Alli Ball:
If you’re not building a CPG retail brands that connects with your consumers at every single touchpoint, it’s really hard to create those loyal consumers who purchase over and over again, right? I’m sure you guys see it with your clients too.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely. Everybody says that we always say it. It’s, “You’re selling your CPG retail brands, you’re not selling your product.”

Alli Ball:
Right, because you think about that retail shelf, right? I mean, anytime I go into a store and I just look at this wall of product, it’s like, how the heck do we make a decision on one nutrition bar over another? It’s almost always because of CPG retail brands. And whether it is because of the physical packaging, because we’re literally there on the shelf and we’re looking, or maybe it is that we’ve been served some really wonderful targeted ads that help us realize that that CPG retail brands, that bar is the bar for us.

Alli Ball:
And then, we go and recognize it on the shelf. That’s CPG retail brands too. It’s got to go back to building that community with your consumers so that you get, again, those repeat purchases over and over again.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, that just triggered something in me. I’m like, “Allison, is there a category for targeting grocery buyers? Are we missing something here?”

Alli Ball:
Actually, I feel like that’s a whole other podcast. Maybe you guys can come on my podcast and talk about this, but yeah. I mean, that would be really interesting. And we have had Retail Ready students who have success securing wholesale accounts, like big, big wholesale accounts through the DMs, through Facebook connections and stuff. There is a whole strategy for that, which is wild, and I don’t… you have to know what you’re doing, right?

Alli Ball:
If I were a grocery buyer and a mediocre CPG retail brands started DM’ing me and asked me to review their products, I might feel a little hesitant. So, again, there’s got to be a strategy here. But we are seeing alternative ways to get on wholesale shelves. So, yeah, running ads to grocery buyers, that’d be interesting.

Alison Smith:
I just love the scrappiness. I love that people are like, “I’m going to get it. I’m going to Google this person, find their Facebook and just get scrappy.”

Alli Ball:
Yeah. Have you guys heard of the Chrome extension that’s called Clearbit Connect?

Alison Smith:
No. I love a good Chrome extension though.

Alli Ball:
Me too. So, this might send some people’s creepy radar off. But essentially what it is, is a Chrome extension that you can put into your Gmail, and you can put in any website. It’s like you could put in alliball.com, and it’ll pull up all of the email addresses associated with that website. You could do it for me, and you could be like, “Oh, here’s clearly like Alli’s customer support one. I don’t know, here’s her Retail Ready one. Here’s her personal one.” It’s really neat. I mean, it’s harder when you’re trying to find, let’s say, your category manager for a regional whole foods, right?

Alli Ball:
That becomes a little more challenging with Clearbit Connect. But if you’re trying to get into the independent that’s down the street, by all means, put in that URL, and see what comes up.

Alison Smith:
What a hot tip. I love that. But beyond marketing to help push products off shelves, what should CPG retail brands be asking or talking with their buyers about that they generally aren’t?

Alli Ball:
Yeah. So, we have something inside of Retail Ready that I love, and it’s called the reorder checklist. And it is essentially these steps that you take with every new wholesale account in order to expedite the reorder. Because when that buyer takes the risk and says, yes, and puts you on their shelf, they are anxious until the reorder happens. Because they’re like, “Oh, did I make a mistake? Is this going to work? Oh, gosh. Are my expectations going to be met?”

Alli Ball:
And so, when they’re able to place that reorder, like less a little bit of weight off their shoulders, where they’re like, “Oh, actually, this was a good idea. This is selling well. I made a good choice.” And so, what you want to do as a CPG retail brands is really do everything in your ability to get that first reorder. And then, obviously, subsequent reorders as fast as possible. One, because it gets the buyer off your back a bit, right? It eases up on that relationship. And two, you want the sale, right?

Alli Ball:
You want sales. So, Alison, back to your question on how you go about doing that and what you need to do with that buyer from the beginning, it’s really connecting with them and realizing that that wholesale relationship is just that. It’s a relationship. It’s a partnership. I think so often, CPG retail brands feel like buyers are gatekeepers to their success. And they’re like, “Oh, if that cranky buyer would just put it on the shelf, I could prove them wrong. They’ll see.”

Alli Ball:
And I think what is much more effective is approaching that buyer and saying, “Hey, I am committed to this partnership. We both want the same things, right? We both want high sales. So, how can we come together to make this partnership happen, to make this partnership a success?” So, that might even be. I mean, I hate that I’m just coming back to marketing, but it might be doing marketing strategy that happens both from the CPG retail brands side and the store side.

Alli Ball:
It might be coming in or sending, in the case of COVID, samples to all of the grocery team who are literally stocking your product so they know how it tastes. It might be not now, but in the future again, like doing demos. It might be having a promotional budget where you can offer 20% off coupon for the first 30 days that you’re on the shelf, whatever it is. But it has to go back to that idea that it is a partnership and that you and that buyer ultimately have the same goals.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And speaking about temporary price reductions and coupons, do you advise or do you think that CPG retail brands should have this a certain amount of times a year or when they’re first thing on the shelf?

Alli Ball:
Yeah, yeah. Yes. Absolutely. So, sometimes, CPG retail brands get mad when I say this, right? They’re like, “Alli, I’m working so hard. I’m making such slim margins. I don’t have the money to just blow on sales all the time.” And that’s not what we’re talking about, right? I don’t advise that you go on promotion all the time. We don’t want to train our shoppers to wait for us to go on sale, right? That’s not what we want to do here. I actually think… let me use this example.

Alli Ball:
The other day, I guess it was… what is time? This was a few weeks ago. I pulled into the parking lot at Bed Bath & Beyond. And I was ready to go in and get my new shower curtain liner. And I realized that I forgot my stupid 20% off coupons at home. And I was like, “I’m not going. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to go buy that shower curtain liner because I don’t have my 20% off coupon,” which was so stupid. But it really highlighted the example of Bed Bath & Beyond has… I’m sure it’s part of their entire strategy.

Alli Ball:
But they’ve created this CPG retail brands where the consumer expects 20% off or those $5 off, or $10 off coupons every single time they shop. So, when we pay full price for an item at Bed Bath & Beyond, we feel like we have been ripped off, right?

Alison Smith:
I feel good, yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. That is such a good example. I’m not going into a BB&B without that 20% off coupon.

Alli Ball:
I texted my mom, and I was like, “I’m just in the parking lot of Bed Bath & Beyond.” “Don’t you know they have digital coupons?” I was like, “Oh, okay. Problem solved. Of course, they have digital coupons. I can get my new shower curtain. The world is fine.” But yeah, it really was such an example to me for like, don’t create a CPG retail brands that is… unless you want, right? And again, like bigger picture strategy. But it’s really hard to create a CPG retail brands that’s constantly on sale.

Alli Ball:
So, what I recommend instead is some quarterly promotion. I think once a quarter is a wonderful way to show your wholesale accounts that you support your CPG retail brands once you get on the shelf. And it varies from CPG retail brands to CPG retail brands how much that promotion needs to be, whether it can be 10% off. Maybe it’s a 50-cent reduction. There’s some strategy there. But then, quarterly, for sure. And then, always, Karin, I’m so glad that you asked this.

Alli Ball:
But I always think the fastest way to get a buyer to say, yes, to putting your product on their shelf, is to offer some temporary price reduction with the first order. So, what we like to do is some strategy. And again, customize it to your own CPG retail brands like how you see fit. But you could do something like, “Okay, if you order by April 1st, we will give you 20% off and free shipping on the first six cases,” or something like that. I mean, you guys know this, right? Put some urgency on that buyer, on that wholesale buyer.

Alli Ball:
And get them to make a move and place that first order. So, I always do some intro offer.

Alison Smith:
I love that. I don’t think it’s widely known that you can be that direct with your buyer.

Alli Ball:
Yeah, and I don’t think people are. It’s not known at all. This is one of the things that I love so much about Retail Ready, right? It’s like, once you hear it… I mean, Alison, I saw you, you’re like, “Oh, great. Duh, that makes so much sense. Let’s just do that.” And I love seeing those light bulbs go off in my students’ brains when we teach them things that aren’t necessarily complicated. It doesn’t have to shift your entire strategy.

Alli Ball:
We’re not asking you to redo your product line and redo your packaging, and redo your case size. We’re just asking you, showing you how to make subtle shifts that can really move the needle in your business. It’s cool.

Alison Smith:
That’s exactly right. I love that. I love how you put that. So, beyond running a promo, how else can these smaller CPG CPG retail brands stand out on the shelves or in general from their bigger competitors?

Alli Ball:
Yeah, that’s the million-dollar question, right? It’s like, “How the heck am I going to compete?”

Alison Smith:
Tell that to Alli Ball.

Alli Ball:
Exactly like, “How am going to do this?” We talked a little bit about this at the beginning, but really figuring out, or using your smallness to your advantage, right? And we saw a lot of this when COVID went down. As a small CPG retail brands, oftentimes, my students were able to react so much faster and be so much more nimble than these big CPG retail brands, right? I just imagine a product development meeting at Kraft where you probably have a dozen people sitting around the table offering opinions on whether or not you should put red or blue on the packaging.

Alli Ball:
And that slows you down immensely. And so, for these smaller CPG retail brands, I think one of the big advantages they had over the past year was just the ability to make decisions so quickly and move along, right? So, one, I think really thinking about your… seeing your smallness as an advantage rather than a disadvantage, both in reacting faster to things and creating this, again, smaller, like more intimate, more authentic connection with your consumers. And again, we talked about that a little bit of beginning.

Alli Ball:
But I love it when CPG retail brands feel like real people. I love it when I know the founders behind the CPG retail brands. I love it when I’m on social media and I see the founders doing lives or collaborations, or just showing their faces. And that doesn’t really happen with bigger CPG retail brands so much. So, really, really connecting with consumers in a more authentic way that the bigger CPG retail brands simply can’t, like being there, being nimble and showing up in ways that bigger CPG retail brands can’t. Does that answer your question?

Alison Smith:
Absolutely, and it’s I think that goes beyond retail. As you’re saying, it goes beyond anything. I don’t know what I’m trying to say here, but that is one of the biggest things that we preach as well with D2C. Your ability to show up and connect with your consumer even more so now that people are on social media all the time because of COVID, you can get on video and talk directly to the person that is your ideal customer, and Kraft is not going to do that. So, I definitely agree.

Alli Ball:
I think one of the silver linings of COVID too is that at least in the online space, it really leveled the playing field, where it was totally appropriate for CPG retail brands to show up online imperfectly or imperfectly online, right? Way back when COVID first hit, Miyoko from Miyoko’s Creamery, a vegan butter and dairy, nondairy CPG retail brands here in the Bay Area, she did… I can’t forget this. She did a series. So, it’s like a big CPG retail brands. She is a very well-put together woman who is always showing up and completely professional videos, and full-on photoshoots, and tours and all of the things, right?

Alli Ball:
And so, right when COVID went down, she did a series of… it was either Facebook Lives or IDTV where she was in her home kitchen in the Bay Area, and she was just cooking with her products. And literally, her cats were walking across the counter. And at this one point, she was like, “Oh, and here’s some cat hair in the dish.” I’m like, “Oh, my God, this is such a great example of something that would never have happened in 2019.” Miyoko’s would have never shown up without a full-on camera crew and the cats at the cat sitter’s house, right?

Alli Ball:
So, I love this idea that the playing field has been leveled in a way, and CPG retail brands are able to show up imperfectly.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely. I mean, we say that we preach a charity to see clients of course, but proof here that this is helping with retail as well, the buyers, they see this. They see your content. They see how you’re showing up. And I think that that’s a really good note to keep pushing it.

Alli Ball:
Totally, totally. Yeah, I don’t know. There have been some silver linings of COVID specifically for the CPG industry, and I pulled up a stat from IRI. They just published a report a couple of weeks ago. I can link it for you guys. But they did a report that said that in 2020, small and extra-small CPG and private label manufacturers gained $12.1 billion in sales, like took away $12.1 billion in sales from big food. Is that crazy? Oh, I just got chills. Is that crazy?

Karin Samelson:
Yes.

Alli Ball:
One year, over $12 billion were taken away from those big commodity CPG retail brands and captured by literally they said… they called it small and extra-small. I was like, “Oh, my people.”

Alison Smith:
I love that.

Alli Ball:
I usually say small and medium. But no, it’s small and extra-small.

Karin Samelson:
Me too. I was like, “Do I need to change my marketing strategy where I talk about small and extra-small? Because it sounds cute.” Well, with COVID and all of the changes that happened in the retail space and in the grocery space, what are your thoughts on CPG in retail moving forward?

Alli Ball:
Yeah, big question. One of the big things to realize is that shoppers are so much more savvy, and CPG retail brands have to be so much more savvy as well, right? You can no longer have a half-baked CPG retail brands on the shelf. And I think that it’s so important to realize that, because previously, one could start a CPG retail brands in their home kitchen and dabble in the industry, and see how it goes. And I think it’s harder and harder to do that. And so, I do say that with a big disclaimer, right?

Alli Ball:
I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing their passion of starting a business, but you have to be savvy, and you have to do your research. So, you’re bringing a CPG retail brands, again, a CPG retail brands to the marketplace and not just a product line, right? Because buyers are so savvy now. Everybody’s online, like looking up reviews, and figuring out where they can order your product, and really digging it deep into your CPG retail brands. It’s no longer easy, yeah. So, that’s one.

Alli Ball:
The other thing, I mean, we haven’t really talked about this, but I think it is really important to acknowledge the rise of online shopping and e-commerce. And one of the things that I really like to emphasize is that most of the growth that we have seen with our Retail Ready CPG retail brands when they think about online sales, is really that rise in wholesale platforms. So, the Thrive Markets of the world or Good Eggs, or any of your many, many online platforms that are now selling groceries, and realizing that that’s still wholesale.

Alli Ball:
So, one of the things that we talk about a lot inside of Retail Ready is whether you’re pitching to a digital platform and pursuing that e-commerce route, or you are pitching to a brick-and-mortar, it’s still a real person on the other end who’s making a decision about your product line. So, you still have to convince that real person to carry your CPG retail brands on their digital or physical shelf. Obviously, direct-to-consumer exploded in 2020 as well. I think people were much more willing to go through a little bit of effort to find the CPG retail brands that they loved.

Alli Ball:
But we didn’t see D2C explode in every single category in Retail Ready. It was very specific categories that were more almost more functional for people than anything else. Did you guys see that too?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, we definitely saw that too. Yeah, the better for you, especially when so many things were out of stock.

Alli Ball:
Yeah, totally. We had one CPG retail brands in Retail Ready, and I’ll just say that they’re a honey CPG retail brands. And they had really high D2C sales in April of 2020. And they were really excited, right? They’re like, “Oh my God, we’ve never had much traffic to our website. This is amazing. We are flying through our honey. This is incredible. We are set for a great 2020.” And this was after COVID hit. And then, sure enough, May came, and June came.

Alli Ball:
And they were like, “Our sales, our online sales, our direct-to-consumer sales are back to normal,” right? “They’ve dried up again.” And of course, it’s because the category, like think about how fast, how quickly you go through a jar of honey, you’re not reordering every two weeks. At the end of the day, honey is not necessarily a product that we need to go individually to that beekeeper’s website to purchase necessarily, depending on where we live maybe. But it really varied category to category.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Awesome. Well, one of our favorite questions to ask is, because we like to be inspired, and because we want to know about innovative new products and CPG retail brands, what are your favorite CPG CPG retail brands at this time and why?

Alli Ball:
This is a really hard question for me.

Alison Smith:
I know. We have to make you choose.

Alli Ball:
I know, like do I only say Retail Ready students? How am I going to narrow this down? But can I give a couple?

Karin Samelson:
Oh, yeah.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Alli Ball:
I’m going to give three CPG retail brands that I really love with the disclaimer that all of them are female founders, and two of them are in Retail Ready. And one is just a friend of mine. So, I love… and they’re all Bay Area. I’ll give that disclaimer too, because I had to narrow it down somehow, right? So, I love Kubé Nice Cream. You guys, this is the most delicious coconut-based ice cream that I have ever had. This is the only raw, cold pressed coconut ice cream without synthetic chemicals.

Alli Ball:
I mean, they are just absolutely incredible. And the reason why I love Kubé Nice Cream over other ice cream CPG retail brands in my orbit, is because they’re… so, it’s a Black woman and man as the cofounders, husband and wife, and they are using Kubé to take a stand against racial injustices. They are completely controlling their supply chain and their production line. And they are hiring BIPOC workers in their… like literally, in their own production facility to help create jobs in their community in Oakland.

Alli Ball:
And really, solving it from the ground up. I also love them because they don’t… I don’t want to say they don’t care about wholesale, but they’re like, “We sell thousands of pints direct-to-consumer, via a frozen product where people are literally preordering and coming to our little pop up to pick up our ice cream every week.” And they don’t need wholesale right now. And that’s okay, right? They just have created a business model where wholesale is not important to them right now.

Alli Ball:
So, they can be really, really selective about which wholesale accounts to go into. So, I love them. They’re amazing, like really, really, really, really smart CPG people. And then, the two other, I love Goldmine Adaptogens. I don’t know if you guys… either of you ladies take Adaptogens daily. But I will swear that that is the reason why I have had a pretty stress-free 2020, is because I’ve taken my daily-

Alison Smith:
My gosh, tell me more.

Alli Ball:
Yeah, stress-free.

Alison Smith:
I’m going to get the ice cream. I’m going to get stress-free with adaptogens.

Alli Ball:
Seriously. And the reason why I like them is because they… again, they’re really controlling their supply chain and understand that most products that have adaptogens in them in the United States are really… again, I was going to swear, like not well-sourced. And they are full of pesticides. They are grown in conditions that you would not want your food to come from or your people to be working in those conditions. And they’re usually imported adaptogens.

Alli Ball:
So, I love that Goldmine is sourcing all of their adaptogens domestically and really, really understanding that their consumer is looking for that, from the product. Really, that transparency throughout the supply chain. And then, finally, is Moonshot Snacks. Do you guys know this CPG retail brands?

Karin Samelson:
No, I’ve never heard of it.

Alli Ball:
Okay. So, I’m going to give you a big disclaimer so you can order these online. It’s like a cracker company. It’s pretty new. But if you order them and eat them, you will become addicted. There is no going back once you eat their version of Cheez-Its. So, the reason why I like them is because they are a carbon-neutral company, and they have put a stake in the ground. Their tagline is that they are climate-friendly snacks, and that is just… I feel like we need more CPG retail brands to be, again, so transparent in their values.

Alli Ball:
Specifically, I mean, it’s a value that I’m aligned with, with fighting climate change. But to have a CPG retail brands that is so, so clear about what you are doing, what you are supporting when you purchase this product, is really cool to me.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, I love that. It’s not like high nutrition or like good for you, sex. It’s climate-friendly snacks. Hey, I’ll try it though.

Alli Ball:
Oh my God, it’s so good. It’s founded by this wonderful woman again, a Black woman named Julia Collins. Again, she is just so brilliant. They’ve got a great marketing strategy and a really, really fun, playful CPG retail brands. You guys would love it. It’s cute.

Karin Samelson:
We’re going to follow all of these CPG retail brands. We’re going to-

Alison Smith:
I know. I’m-

Karin Samelson:
We’re going to purchase from them. I’m like, from the ice cream shipped all the way here.

Alison Smith:
This is my weekend, like-

Alli Ball:
I know. I’m like-

Alison Smith:
… Cheez-Its and ice cream, and just-

Alli Ball:
I know. I’ve painted this picture where I’m just lounging around stress-free, eating Cheez-Its and ice cream, coconut ice cream all day long.

Karin Samelson:
No one’s going to Photoshop that.

Alison Smith:
That’s a life, yeah.

Karin Samelson:
I like that. Awesome. Well, Alli, it’s been such a joy to have you. It’s so sad that our time’s up. We could just keep going for days.

Alli Ball:
Where did it go? I feel like that was so quick.

Karin Samelson:
I know. Well, would you like to leave the audience with a link or a call to action, a final statement?

Alli Ball:
Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to do two. So, first off, I’m most active on Instagram. So, come and send me a DM if you are watching this. I love following new CPG retail brands. So, shoot me a DM. I’m @itsalliball. I’m sure you guys can link it in notes or something. But let me know who you are, and I’ll give you a follow back, and see what you’re up to with your CPG retail brands. So, that’s number one. And then, number two is, I always love to give people my retail roadmap. So, I’ve got a free PDF.

Alli Ball:
It is my nine steps to building a CPG retail brands that flies off the retail shelf. It’ll recap a little bit of what we talked about today, and I’ll talk about getting more of the mistakes that I see people make. But that retail roadmap is key if you are thinking about pursuing wholesale accounts. So, you can find that on my website. It’s at alliball.com/roadmap. And again, thank you guys for having me. This was so fun.

Karin Samelson:
Thank you.

Alison Smith:
Thank you so much, Alli.

Karin Samelson:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders or whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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