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#28 The Good Audit Episode 2: Sippin Snax with The Rind PR

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#28: The Good Audit Episode 3: Sippin Snax with The Rind PR

Join Alison and Karin as they audit Sippin Snax with Stef Shapira and Lindsey Leroy of The Rind PR! Learn about everything you need, from product bundling to social posting as they look over this up-and-coming CPG brand. 

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#28 The Good Audit Episode 2: Sippin Snax with The Rind PR 

 [00:16]
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/mini course. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

Alison Smith: [00:43]
Welcome to the Umai Social Circle where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Allison and Karin, co-founders of Umai Marketing, and we are being joined today with Stef and Lindsey from The Rind PR. They are back for our four part series where we’re auditing young CPG brands on PR and digital marketing. So, welcome everyone to episode three. We are diving into Sippin SNAX, which offers gourmet snacks that pair perfectly with your craft beer, your wine, your cocktails.

Alison Smith: [01:22]
So. It’s a really interesting brand who… they seem like they partnered with mostly tap rooms and wineries, but due to COVID, when we all had to pivot, they also pivoted and started getting into the D2C genre, D2C presence, what have you. So, really interesting concept, would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this brand and this concept in general.

Stef Shapira: [01:51]
Yeah. I like to drink alcoholic beverages and I like to have snacks, so I don’t get too drunk and also to just have everything taste better. What could be bad about this really? I think it’s a cool idea, and so many bars and tap rooms and whatnot have food trucks or different things, or sometimes there’ll be a bag of chips or something, but this is definitely taking it to another level to make it a little bit more fun, than just, “Oh, I need to eat something because I’m drinking.”

Alison Smith: [02:29]
Salt makes you want to drink more, so this is in the best interest of the B2B wine rooms and tap rooms.

Stef Shapira: [02:41]
Yeah. So hopefully everyone is selling, making a profit off of this.

Alison Smith: [02:45]
Right.

Stef Shapira: [02:47]
Cool. I think it’s a super interesting idea. Maybe there are some other similar things though I haven’t really seen any products geared specifically to this. So, obviously, great idea. And then we took a look from a PR standpoint, the first thing we look at is messaging. So, we really liked the tagline on the homepage which says “Snack more sip more,” which is basically, I think what you were just saying, Allison, if you are snacking more, it’s salty, you want to drink more and it’s like a cyclical thing until eventually they make you leave. That’s a great tagline. We also noticed, and I think maybe you all noticed this too. The snacks aren’t really pictured on the homepage, which is slightly confusing. The tagline is great, but you don’t really see what it is.

Stef Shapira: [03:50]
There’s a cool, I don’t really know if this is a video. I guess it’s a Gif of someone pouring wine, but still no snacks. I guess, towards the bottom, you see a couple of options, but it shows a t-shirt first, which is cool, but probably shouldn’t be at the forefront of what it is. I think just overall showing people what the product is at the top of the homepage is going to like… Because maybe people won’t scroll down if they don’t see it, if they are not like, “Oh, this looks delicious.” You want to maximize that reach by putting it at the top.

Alison Smith: [04:29]
I feel like it really, sip more, snack more, that’s a great tagline, especially because I feel like they are geared towards B2B, but regardless, I agree. I think it’s really important to show off what it is front and center before anyone has to scroll.

Lindsey Leroy: [04:49]
And I feel like it’s such a fun brand and such a fun concept, that I would want to see people enjoying the product, especially since it’s a pretty straightforward product and the more lifestyle shots I see, the more I’m going to want to buy it, need it.

Stef Shapira: [05:06]
One thing that I was noticing, obviously we’re in a weird place in terms of pandemic. I don’t think anywhere, at least in the United States, there are places where we’re really stuck at home and not going to the taprooms and the bars anymore. So, it becomes a thing where I see why they changed. I’m assuming changed or created this website for people to… like the D2C thing to happen at home. But, I don’t know. Another thing that was confusing to me too, is that there’s a link to Hops and Nuts. I don’t know if you all saw that too. I saw it on their social media.

Lindsey Leroy: [05:53]
Yes, I saw that on Instagram.

Stef Shapira: [05:56]
And I think if I were to guess, that the Hops and Nuts is, if it’s like a bar or a tap room buying it and then the Sippin SNAX is at home, so maybe…

Lindsey Leroy: [06:09]
 I think the Hops and Nuts may have been the original product, and the Sippin SNAX came out of… That was what I was guessing.

Karin Samelson: [06:19]
Yeah. I was thinking the same thing. Hops and Nuts was when they had B2B, but it says on their homepage that after the pandemic hit, 60% of their accounts wouldn’t make it back to be able to reopen. So, that’s why they brought in Sippin SNAX to be their retail grocery D2C offering. But I do, I completely agree. I think it’s really confusing the way it’s laid out there, And if you’re going to want to go on the D2C, go all in, don’t make it confusing to the consumer.

Stef Shapira: [06:49]
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I feel like it took us all a little bit to get to the point where, “Oh, okay, this makes sense.” And it is-

Karin Samelson: [06:58]
[inaudible 00:06:59] have that much time with the consumer that stumbles upon it.

Stef Shapira: [07:01]
Exactly.

Karin Samelson: [07:02]
No one’s going to look as hard as we did, when we were trying to do this audit.

Stef Shapira: [07:06]
Right, exactly. So, I think of course it’s part of your story and it’s totally fine to mention that somewhere. But I think it’s just picking one with your messaging, not having to fully connect it. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t think too much. It’s interesting because I feel like at the beginning of the pandemic, this would’ve been a great media pitch, like a pandemic pivot. But at this point, that’s not necessarily what people are looking for. I think people are just literally wanting to think like, “Oh, I can enjoy these at home, because I’m going to drink at home and I’m going to snack at home.” So I think, yeah, just honing in on that, not spending too much time telling the back story, at least at this point, it makes sense.

Alison Smith: [08:04]
Are you saying there’s too much language surrounding the pandemic still and it should just be about “enjoy this at home and pair it with your favorite craft beer?”

Stef Shapira: [08:14]
Yeah. That’s what I’m thinking.

Alison Smith: [08:17]
I love… what did you say, pandemic pivot. I love that term. That’s a good one.

Stef Shapira: [08:21]
Yeah. I’m sure it’s a hashtag. So many businesses had to do that. I know the most obvious example I think of is a restaurant that, actually, like, Brian is an example. You all started bottling sauces and rubs and things, whereas before it wasn’t even really necessary to sell these products you would use at home, Just one to make money and two to provide some service to your customers. So many restaurants are like, “Okay, yeah. I’m going to bottle this sauce so I can make some money off of this.”

Lindsey Leroy: [09:05]
I feel it’s almost nearly every business had to pivot in some way, in some capacity. So I feel like it’s almost to me like the farm to table movement, where almost every restaurant is pretty much farm to table, so saying it, everybody’s already doing it, so it’s almost unnecessary. It’s expected, I guess. So, I feel like over telling the story. I think it definitely, it should be a part of the story because it explains why the name change or just the idea of how the product is intended to be used and consumed. So, I feel it’s definitely a part of the story, but I guess our advice would be to just hone in on that messaging, and really just zush it as they say.

Lindsey Leroy: [09:54]
And I think less said, more direct is definitely better, especially on a website where people don’t necessarily want to read paragraphs and paragraphs of a story, no matter how interesting. I think as straightforward as you can possibly be while still calling out the most important pieces of information. Which can be really hard. I think having an outside eye sometimes just helps in distilling that down.

Alison Smith: [10:23]
Yeah. It’s so hard to write your own “about us.” I’m pretty sure it’s one of the most-

Stef Shapira: [10:28]
Yes, for sure. Even for us.

Alison Smith: [10:30]
Yeah. You would think it would be like second nature, but it’s really difficult. But the founder looks really cool and fun and spunky. I don’t know her name. I don’t know their name.

Stef Shapira: [10:45]
That’s true.

Alison Smith: [10:26]
I don’t know why they started this business, Why have they been in the beer industry? There’s probably a really cool story, and I love that they’re showing up with their face and everything, but I would love to know more.

Stef Shapira: [11:04]
Yeah. There was a note that we had as well. It’s also interesting because if you go to, like at the topic of the website it mentions two different accolades in a sense. Like the Khe diverse trend selection, and it’s not totally clear what that award was. It’s like golden ticket winners for diversity. It mentions the quote from them. We believe that women, BIPAK, LGBTQIA plus veterans, et cetera, that’s the diversity. But I think playing up that diversity, not just, “Oh, here’s an award we won that is for that.” But more in that “about” section. Like, this is who I am, this is how I’m diverse. We talked about this, I think, I can’t remember which previous episode now, but women founded.

Stef Shapira: [11:58]
People are looking for people with diverse backgrounds to support for that reason, and at least spread the love. So I think whatever a founder is comfortable sharing about themselves, for the most part, I think it’s only going to help them, at least in the world we live in today by proudly saying those things.

Lindsey Leroy: [12:28]
Yeah. I think those keywords too also help when the media are looking at your website, or your Instagram profile and they’re considering coverage, especially if there are a few products in consideration, having some differentiator and keyword called out. Not necessarily as a spotlight on it, like “Look at this,” but it definitely, I think helps in terms of identifying brands to support like Stef said.

Stef Shapira: [12:59]
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then, yeah, Going back to what we were saying before, I think maybe just consolidating somehow the Hops and Nuts and the Sippin SNAX on the same website would make it more cohesive, or just picking one name for both, because I think that if this website can talk about places they have been available, or even specific brands they’ve worked with and specific brand pairings, that will add a level of credibility, and why you want to buy it and enjoy it at home. It says on the package pair us with red wine or various things, but I think honestly this goes into probably a next thought about like-minded brands. Like for social and for influencers and whatnot, but it’s basically like if… I’m trying to think of a good example. Like if there’s a brewery and they sell the product or they pair really well, like a very specific, like a stout pairs well with these, then that other brand can share on their accounts and it just raises the awareness overall.

Stef Shapira: [14:18]
But besides that, it adds a level of credibility like if I was a media person and I went to the website and I saw that this brewery and this distillery that I’ve heard of also sell them or pairs well with them, then you’re more likely to want to cover it, than either something that just doesn’t have those call outs, for lack of for credibility to be like, “Okay, this is more legit. Other people like it, so it’s probably good.”

Lindsey Leroy: [14:47]
Yeah, for sure. That’s something I was thinking about too, just while I was on the Instagram account and just thinking about how would I enjoy these opportunities for getting in front of influencers and using, whether you have connections in the industry that were former retailers or former wholesale accounts, leaning on them to promote on their end is such a great value add. Thinking about lifestyle photography, sending out your product to influencers and having them post, you can use that user generated content on your own account. And it’s just great ways to really showcase how the product is used. It’s such a fun brand, and I feel like I want to see more in action or with… alongside drinking. Because I feel like we see a lot of product shots or just drinking shots, but I want to see them coming together and being enjoyed together.

Lindsey Leroy: [15:59]
So, I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity to do collaborations or partnerships with, whether that is just like local, like starting small with local breweries or local distilleries. And then maybe it’s engaging with more regional partners statewide and then opening that up even more. But based on where you’re selling and where your customers are. I would love to see more drinking and snacking, sorry, sipping and snacking together.

Stef Shapira: [16:40]
Yeah, and we took a look to see if there was any influencer shares. You don’t really just look at the tagged part on an Instagram account, and there really wasn’t anything there. So, I think it’s just like adding influencers as part of a PR campaign. In a similar sense it could be starting local. Again, thinking about where your brand is available, and then trying to build awareness there that way. Obviously, if it’s a D2C thing, you can get it anywhere, but if you are tying in the tap rooms and other actual places to go, then focusing on those parts of the country or parts of the state makes sense. And maybe people want to go try it at the brewery before they buy a bunch for their house too. And yeah, that’s I think where some of those influencer packages that Lindsey was mentioning, can play in and you could potentially, if there’s a local brewery that your snacks are sold at, then you put together a cool package with your whatever product, whatever snack pairs with a beer from there, and then maybe also, I don’t know, like a pint glass that’s branded either with the… It could be a Sippin SNAX pint glass.

Stef Shapira: [18:21]
It doesn’t even have to be the brewery’s pint glass. or there’s probably some other front things, that’s the obvious one. It could be a wine glass, it could be a cocktail recipe that pairs really well with it. And, there is some amount that you have to spend when you’re giving influencers product for free, exchange for them sharing and then buying some of these additional glasses and merch and stuff. But overall, of course we’re biased, but we have found based on our experience of course, that those are the things that do build the awareness that brands need. Some more people are continuing to know about the product and actually buy it. So, you don’t have to go crazy. You can start locally with a few influencers and then once you’re like, “Oh, okay. I saw how this worked,” then you can expand.

Alison Smith: [19:18]
Yeah. So, a question on that because I do feel the same when you said start locally, that this brand really should put a lot of effort in like North Carolina, California, where they already have relationships that seem to be going well. So, how do they go about finding local influencers to work with?

Lindsey Leroy: [19:43]
I feel like my approach, and I don’t know if Stef, if she does this as well, first of all, I think about who the customer is, who’s actually buying these? Do they love craft beer? Where would they go? What would they do? Then I make a mental list or actual list of other brands and businesses that these target customers would actually go to or would follow, and potentially post about. Because obviously you want people who are posting about these brands. So, then I would go to those accounts and work back and see who has posted there and looking at their tagged photos on Instagram, and work back that way, if you are completely unfamiliar with influencers in that region.

Lindsey Leroy: [20:38]
But I think having an idea of who your competitors or who your like-minded brands are, is one of the biggest assets to how to approach influencers and media too, because with media, you want to know where your competitors are being covered and how they’re being covered and how they’re being talked about. And then other types of brands in that space or other types of businesses in that same space. So then you’re going to a local publication or newspaper, and then seeing the types of stories that these competitors or like-minded brands are being written about in, and seeing who’s writing these stories. So, you’re reverse engineering the story or the opportunity essentially. So, I think that’s probably the most direct yet somewhat tedious way to-

Alison Smith: [21:37]
The free version. Yeah, exactly. And what you said about competitors, that’s something you need to know for every piece of your business.

Stef Shapira: [21:48]
Yeah. That’s exactly what I was going to say.

Alison Smith: [21:51]
Yeah. It’s so important, and not only keeping a tab on what other people are doing and how they’re innovating and what the big brands are doing, so you can get some insights there, but also just staying inspired. We’re big on Inspo, we even have a Facebook group where we pull Inspo from the big brands for email, paid social and organic social, because creating content is hard. It’s a hard job and you really got to stay on top of it in order to create quality content. So, definitely follow your competitors on Instagram or sign up for their newsletter. You can do it from your private account, but definitely follow them around. And just to reiterate what Lindsey was saying, so basically you’re just going into Instagram, going to either influencers or local retailers in your space and then looking at the tags to find, is that how you were saying it works?

Lindsey Leroy: [23:02]
Yeah. Yeah. Looking at the tags and obviously if you’re going to… For Sippin SNAX for example, if there was a local brewery that was a craft brewery that has a good following, that’s pretty on brand, I would go into the tagged photos and take a look through the top. I think if you do it on maybe like a desktop, I don’t know if it does it on your phone, but a lot of times you can see the top photos and then you can sort it by recent. So, I would take a look at what the top photos are, which are going to have higher engagement, or looking at influencer posts that have a similar aesthetic to your brand. So, that’s another thing too, is you could find some really great influencers, but they may not necessarily be a fit aesthetic wise, or exactly like what you’re looking for.

Lindsey Leroy: [24:00]
So, if you found an influencer that has 100,000 followers and posted about craft beer, but is more of a fashion influencer or something, it may not necessarily be as much of a fit as an influencer that is more into food, beverage, hospitality space, but has 20,000 followers. So, I’d also take into consideration, not just the engagement or follower count, but also what type of content they’re posting. I think that’s really important too. So, there’s a lot of factors I think that go into considering an influencer campaign. And I feel like I could talk about this for hours. I think the easiest way to find influencers in your region that may potentially be a fit, and then you can narrow it down from there.

Alison Smith: [24:59]
Yeah. Definitely work with influencers who look like your ideal customer. There’s no need to go beyond that. It’s not going to make sense. I don’t know if you guys heard that groan.

Stef Shapira: [25:13]
I did.

Alison Smith: [25:14]
Man. He just groans every time he lays down, like he’s had the hardest life and the hardest day.

Stef Shapira: [25:21]
I thought he was just disagreeing with everything we were saying. “That’s not right.”

Alison Smith: [25:26]
Awesome. Okay. So anything else on the PR side, before we hop on over to the digital side, digital marketing?

Stef Shapira: [25:39]
I feel that’s it. We probably have some other related things to what you’re about to say, but I think we pretty much hit all our main talking points that we found.

Alison Smith: [25:49]
Yeah, that was awesome.

Karin Samelson: [25:51]
I think we’re going to have a little bit of overlap too, because it’s a lot of the things obviously that we are seeing, so let’s dive into the marketing side, the digital marketing side, and specifically Instagram first. So, going back to what you guys were talking about in not knowing what Sippin SNAX is versus Hops and Nuts, and how they’re both… Sippin SNAX tags Hops and Nuts, but Hops and Nuts doesn’t tag Sippin SNAX. I think the clarity can be done. Obviously there’s a lot to be done on the website, and I think for a brand to invest in new branding and packaging, they understand the importance of investing in their brand. So, I hope that they want to go forward with Sippin SNAX and make it the real deal product that they want it to be. The website needs a lot of updates, but for now, when we’re talking on Instagram, I think a lot of that differentiation can happen in the bio just for clarity’s sake.

Karin Samelson: [26:46]
So, Sippin SNAX, gourmet bar snacks, I like the name. That’s completely fine. You have your snack more sip more headline, tagline. Then it says from tap and tasting room approved Hops and Nuts. But then when I go to Hops and Nuts, it’s not very clear what that is. So, I would make it really, really clear if Hops and Nuts is your brand, that’s B2B and that’s the product that’s in the wineries and tap rooms, be more specific here so it’s less confusing. And I would put that at the end. Unless Hops and Nuts is this really established, reputable source, it doesn’t really need to be there in my opinion, because people don’t know what that is anyways. So just for clarity’s sake, just cleaning that bio up can make that really helpful. But what really excites me is how awesome the branding is.

Karin Samelson: [27:42]
And I love the naming. It’s like logger and lime. Okay. I definitely need to eat these craft peanuts with a logger. It’s so straightforward and fun. I think the content can match it for sure. So, a big rule that we like to stick by, rule, it’s hard and fast with the rules. It’s all gray, but we want people to stick to 80/20. 80% entertaining content, 20% sales focused. And when I look at the feed now, while I’m excited about the fun, the animations, the gifts, the videos, it all says the same thing. So, I’m looking at the top 12 posts, 10 of them say, “Snack more, sit more,” graphically somewhere. Not 10 of them, seven of them, maybe eight, maybe nine. Let’s count them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 out of 12. Nine out of 12 say snack more, sip more.

Karin Samelson: [28:48]
I love that you’re trying to get the point across, but it’s so sales heavy, there’s no reason for someone to follow you because they can guess what you’re going to post next. What we want to do is really establish those messaging buckets that we’ve talked about in the past episodes. Think education, recipes, community focused stuff, behind the scenes. I love that the one real is the founder showing face, but there can be so much more of that. And I want you to jump into reels and think of really fun series that you can do. For example, someone doing a drink and a snack pairing, talking about the flavors and just having it be a running series. If it’s a founder, even better, you can also do a cocktail making series where you make cocktails, and it’s just a really beautiful, real recipe style video, and you’re snacking at the same time while you’re making the cocktail.

Karin Samelson: [29:43]
There’s so many fun things that you can do. And if you don’t have somebody on your team doing it, you can find one of these micro influencers that are super interested in the product that want to maybe make affiliate commission for promoting the product and making content for you. So, lots of great opportunity there. And then making the snacks look really delicious. Right now I think that you guys do a really great job of featuring the actual product. I think you can pull back on that a little bit. Because when we talk about 80/20, just a little bit less salesy to give people a reason to follow. Why are they following you? You want to build community, you want to give them something. So give them recipes, give them education, give them something fun to scroll past and really get excited about.

Karin Samelson: [30:28]
And then one other thing that I was thinking, you guys already mentioned it, but the amount of collaborations that can be done with this brand, they’re endless. There’s so many different alcohol companies, alcohol accessory companies. There’s so many different brands that would be so fun to do giveaways and collaborations with, which will help boost your social proof, your followers, your engagement, all of that good stuff, your brand awareness. So, collaborating with as many people as you can. And what we recommend is wherever you guys are creating your content or storing your content calendar, or if you’re not doing that yet, just simply creating a Google sheet and making a long list of people that would be your dream partners. So people that really make sense to collaborate with your brand, and then reach out to them. And we always tell people to shoot their shot, no matter how big a brand is.

Karin Samelson: [31:24]
If they look at yours and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, that branding’s awesome. The product is so amazing. I haven’t seen something like this before and I want to try it myself,” they just might partner with you. So, that is definitely what I think you guys should be doing. And we recommend doing these partnerships like two times a month when you’re in that high growth phase. So, try that out. And then the last note I’m going to say on Instagram, because I’m pumbling you with a lot of stuff, even though I think you’re doing an amazing job with getting content out at the rate that you are, is go beyond that constant call to action to snack more, sip more that I just mentioned, and tell the reader why they should. When I’m reading the caption or when I’m looking at the creative, why should I? There’s so many different reasons to want to do it, tell me why I can’t live without your product. Why I need it in my bar cart at all times. I just went hard y’all. Do you guys have any thoughts about Instagram?

Lindsey Leroy: [32:22]
That’s so true. And I was thinking too, like incorporating photos or reels in I guess different scenarios of how to enjoy. The first thing I was thinking about after having checks mix at a bar, which I love, this is like an actual elevated version of that, was having this at home for a party or game night. That for me, I don’t necessarily like to cook or put together amazing charcuterie boards or anything like that, while I would love to, I would love to have something that’s easy that I know people are going to like, that is a little bit different than just pouring out a container of pretzels or whatever it is. So, showcasing fun scenarios where this could and should be enjoyed, and like you said, why people need it. But yeah, I was thinking, man, if I saw this, if I saw a game night, I’d be like, “Oh, I do need to host a game night and I should buy a couple of these bags and maybe I’m going to get a couple different kinds.” Having that inspo so readily accessible for people to view it, whether that’s on the website or on Instagram, I think is like light bulb moment.

Karin Samelson: [33:49]
Yeah. I completely agree. And I think that there’s a lot of power in UGC style content. We all know this, and a lot of this looks to be stock photography or just more produced images. And it’s like give this to so many micro influencers, see what you can get from it. Find ones that are true advocates of it that are like, “I’m obsessed with this. I have to have this chocolate porter every time I’m having a porter now,” and you’re going to get a lot better content. And I love what you’re saying. It’s like, if you have wine night with your girlfriends once a week and you see these ladies having wine and whatever, vineyard red craft peanuts at the same time, it’s like, “Oh, I need to have that with our wine next time.” I think the opportunity is here because it’s so specific. They have really honed in on who their customer is, it seems like.

Karin Samelson: [34:41]
So, I think that’s a really fun opportunity. There’s so much that can happen. It’s exciting. When I see a brand like this and I’m like, “If our team could just get our hands on it,” that’s always a good thing because I feel like there’s a lot of legs. It’s beautiful branding, lots of colors to work with, lots of different types of products that will lend itself to different types of content. I think it’s a fun brand for sure. So with the website, Alison, what were you seeing?

Alison Smith: [35:16]
Yeah, I just want to reiterate because Stef and Lindsey brought up a lot of good website points. So, about the hero image, just showing off more product, showing off more lifestyle images, And then again with the shop section, in your collection section where all of your products are laid out, always feature the best sellers first. I don’t think that’s your t-shirt, your t-shirt is showing up first. If it is, then my bad. But generally you want your best sellers to be front and center so that it’s easy for people to just click and shop. Again, there’s also a collection on me on the front page too. So, just make sure that the right products are being shown on the homepage. And then they’re in the right order on the collections page. Another thing that we were thinking, if you are going to continue pursuing D2C, it would be a great move to bundle your products.

Alison Smith: [36:27]
So, bundle your two to three best sellers or bundle a salty pack and bundle a sweet pack. And that’s just going to help get your average order of value higher. Right now I think it’s at $7. Obviously people can buy multiples, but you really need product bundles that are at least over $20. That’s just going to help if you ever decide to run ads, it’s just going to help you make a return a lot faster. And you have a lot of that data in your backend. If you’re using Shopify or whatever platform you’re using, you can generally see customer bot always buys this and this. So you can start to understand the patterns there. So, use that knowledge to create those bundles. And then I am not going to lie. I’m still a little confused about Sippin SNAX versus the, what is it? Hops and Nuts. Because there’s wholesale on Sippin SNAX.

Alison Smith: [37:37]
So, if you don’t want to link that wholesale page from Sippin SNAX over to Hops and Nuts, then consider adding the where to buy or where we’re located on that wholesale page. Consider building it out to look like a true wholesale page, and showing off a map and showing people we’re at your bar five miles down the road, because otherwise it’s just confusing, and it just feels like it’s a missed opportunity at this point. But I will say like Karin and everyone else has said, it’s gorgeous branding. And the website is, it’s nice looking. You’ve done a great job. It’s just cleaning some things up and getting a little organized. And earlier I said, I didn’t know your name. I do. It’s Melissa, but I just meant adding that to the about us. It seems like you have a cool story and sharing and relating to your consumers, your customers in the about us section of your website, I think could really go a long way. Any other web thoughts y’all?

Lindsey Leroy: [38:50]
No, I think, yeah, you’ve definitely hit some of the things I was thinking about just in terms of wholesale, how to distinguish. And I think Stef brought this up earlier, but as you’re signing on retailers, having a list of where it’s available to purchase, even though somebody who visits your website may not be able to purchase it from that retailer’s website, gives credibility. So, if writers or influencers or anybody or customers are going to your website and they’re scrolling through and they’re trying to decide if they want to buy, and they see that it’s actually available at a couple of their favorite breweries or distilleries or wineries, it gives it a certain level of credibility, and I think it also opens up the doors for more collaborations. There’s just so many possibilities when you make that information known.

Stef Shapira: [39:56]
Yeah. And I was thinking, I love the idea of the bundles for many reasons, but it’s also a really good way to collaborate. Granted they might end up having to make some new product, so I don’t know obviously how challenging that is, but if it’s a limited edition thing. If there is a brewery and you’re doing a bundle that is co-branded with them, you could have one paired with each of their beers, and then it would be a more equal partnership where everyone’s promoting it, so it’s like a limited edition thing where you could pitch that to media and to influencers. The pattern with customer behavior is that if something is limited edition, you’re going to act to buy it, versus being like, “I can buy this anytime.”

Stef Shapira: [40:53]
Versus the, “Oh, it’s only limited edition. There’s only so many. If I don’t get this now, then I might not get it at all.” And obviously a good way to get in front of the brewery or the wineries audience. So yeah, I think just like the bundles in general are good, but I think we just keep being like, “So many cross promotional opportunities here.”

Alison Smith: [41:21]
Yeah, no, I love that. And, that’s something that I think you should really just keep in your back pocket that if you’re eCommerce brand, instead of always running sales or things like that, there’s other ways to produce scarcity through these limited edition products or collaborations. What is the [inaudible 00:41:44] does an amazing job at doing those types of collaborations and they’re limited. You can only get until they sell out.

Stef Shapira: [41:51]
I love those.

Alison Smith: [41:53]
They do a really good job. Yeah. I think they did one with Disney recently.

Stef Shapira: [41:58]
Yeah. Was it for the turning red movie? I feel like the Fishwife, it’s the canned fish, which doesn’t sound sexy, but it is. They did something with Fly By Jing, which also does a lot of collabs, and yeah, I think that’s already back ordered. There’s a lot of examples out there.

Alison Smith: [42:25]
Yeah. You don’t have to go to Disney. 

Stef Shapira: [42:28]
Yeah, you don’t have to start there.

Alison Smith: [42:30]
You can go local. Just make sure that the input is worth the output. It can be a lot on brands to produce those limited quantity, limited edition things, but always something to test and keep in your back pocket. I think that’s really interesting. So yeah, that’s web. That’s a wrap on web. I think we all touch on it.

Karin Samelson: [42:55]
I have one thing for web.

Alison Smith: [42:57]
Karin’s got one thing for web.

Karin Samelson: [42:59]
Just because when I’m on the homepage, I can’t get over this. And I think that the product is too good to just completely ignore like this. So, when I’m on the homepage, all I see is a big sign that says snack more, sip more, and I have no idea what that means in this moment. And I know that we’re talking about it’s a good tagline and it’s part, that’s great, but what I’m hearing is, “Okay, if I eat more stuff, I can drink more stuff.” That’s the message I get. But when I scroll down, I see another tagline that I think I like more. It’s craft a great pairing with Sippin SNAX. It’s actually telling me that there’s a pairing element, that there’s like a drink this and this.

Karin Samelson: [43:47]
So, in my mind, I’m like craft a great pairing and then have the actual pairing as a visual, would be so strong. I’d be like, “Oh, that’s what this is. That’s what I’m doing.” There’s a lot to be said with crafting a great website, but that homepage, that header image is so important that I would play with testing that, to see if you get more clicks. Do you guys-

Alison Smith: [44:17]
I think we all agree that we need some product or some lifestyle sip and snack as the hero. But what Karin’s saying is, testing the snack more sip more versus what was it Karin? Craft a great pairing

Karin Samelson: [44:33]
Craft a great pairing.

Alison Smith: [44:35]
So that could be something that you just ask your friends and family or run a survey. You can also run a website AB test. It’s really difficult to get results on AB test when you’re a young brand however, so it might be something that you would need to reach out to friends to really solidify that. Unless you’re sold on what it currently is. But I think that’s really interesting that that’s what stood out to you, Karin.

Karin Samelson: [45:06]
Yeah. And, there’s so much space in between that header and the next section, and that home-taining, I don’t know what that means.

Alison Smith: [45:14]
It just clicked for me. What is entertaining?

Stef Shapira: [45:19]
Yeah. That’s one thing that I was calling out earlier. It’s so in your face that this is like only for at home, but then it gets confusing because they’re wholesale. I’m assuming you don’t wholesale to your house, I don’t know. You really want a lot of product.

Alison Smith: [45:39]
And that’s okay. This is the pandemic pivot.

Stef Shapira: [45:45]
Yeah. 100%. It’s clear that’s what it was.

Alison Smith: [45:48]
Yeah. We’re all trying to figure it out and understand what the best avenue is, and maybe that’s what’s happening here. So hopefully there is enough time that’s passed that you can understand which direction you can take, and then just get very literal on your website about that direction. Okay. Any other web thoughts?

Karin Samelson: [46:09]
No. My last thought after being like the website needs a lot of work, which I’m sure you already know, that’s why you’re asking for input on it, is that this is a product. I look at a lot of snacks all day. That’s all I do. I look at snacks, food and bev, and this is a product where I’m like, “Oh, dang, this is a good idea and this looks delicious, and I know that people would want this.” So I just keep that in your mind, as you hear us talking about all the things that can be improved, because we think the product is awesome. It’s a really nice idea. It’s cool, and I think it worked so good B2B and direct to consumer. So, it’s great work. It’s great work.

Alison Smith: [46:52]
Yeah. Great work. And definitely want to get some and try it. The flavors look really fun too, so, okay. So moving on to paid social. So, it’s very difficult to do a paid audit when there’s no Ads running. I don’t know if you’ve ever run Ads. So, just bear with me, my overall first thoughts were B2B, honestly. That’s where I would think that your brand was heading. Now that we’re talking about pandemic pivot, there could be room to run B2B retailer driven ads and D2C ads. For D2C Ads though, you got to get that AOB up. You got to bundle some things because you’re not going to make a return if you’re selling a $7 product. It really needs to be closer to the $40 range. I know I said minimum 20, but really we want it closer to 40.

Alison Smith: [47:50]
You can always do like upsells and cross sells or get them on your email list to continue that selling pattern. But with D2C, just like everyone was saying, we want to see more lifestyle, more UGC, User Generated Content. It doesn’t have to mean that you need to pay influencers to create that content for you. You look like you probably have a lot of friends, so host a party, give your snacks away to your friends and family and just be like, take five iPhone shots for me. And hopefully you can use some of those. Just people using the product and sipping on the correct alcohol with the product is really what we would want here. And that’s what makes great Ads. If you ever do an influencer campaign, getting any of those influencer posts or stories and running those as Ads, pushing them to your website, asking for sales, also recipes could be a thing here.

Alison Smith: [48:58]
A lot of the nut brands that we’ve worked with in the past, we grind up the nuts and add them to a salad and just have all these. There’s a lot of different messaging buckets that you could fall into. So, that’s another thing that could potentially work well for an ad for D2C. But in terms of B2B, where I think that there’s a lot of potential for growth, It looks like you already have a really long list of people that, retailers that you work with, businesses that you work with. So, there’s some things that you could do to increase that reach. Increase the amount of stores that you get into, and then also allow the consumers that live around those stores to be aware that they can find you at X, Y, Z tap room.

Alison Smith: [49:50]
So, we call those geo targeted campaigns. And geo targeting just basically means you’re targeting people who live within a certain radius of a zip code or a specific address. So, for B2B, if you want to expand your B2B presence, you could pull in an address, like say you really want to get into this new winery across town. So you can actually pull that address and target people within five miles of that address, and also target people who own wineries and hopefully get in front of the person that owns that winery. It’s a really interesting way to increase your touch points before you actually call the person on the phone and say, “Hey, I have this product.” They’ve likely seen your ads a couple of times. So, it’s a really interesting way to get those touchpoints in before you actually make contact with someone. And these types of ads are really inexpensive too.

Alison Smith: [50:53]
So, generally for geo targeting campaigns, we spend $5 a day and our objectives are the cheaper objectives like reach. And you can reach a thousand people for two to $3 on Meta or TikTok. So, something interesting you could try, and that’s for getting into new businesses. For targeting consumers, so say you’re in this specific winery and you need to push product. You need people to be asking for Sippin SNAX when they go to this winery. So, you can target people who live within a 10 mile radius of this winery and show off your UGC style AD, show off your product with the wine and just let them know that you’re there so that they know. They’re already familiar with your brand. They know to go there if they want your product, all those things. And like I said, those types of Ads are generally very inexpensive, so that could be a very, very small budget if that’s something you’d want to test out. We got thoughts?

Karin Samelson: [52:07]
That’s a lot less expensive, right? It’s just not even like a little bit less expensive, it’s a lot less expensive to do those to your budget.

Alison Smith: [52:16]
It is so much less expensive, yes. So, we label it as high cost and lower cost in terms of the objectives you can choose on Meta and TikTok and all those platforms. So, the high cost ones, it’s going to cost a lot of money to ask someone to buy from you. That’s going to be probably the highest cost thing that you can ask for. So, that’s like your D2C Ads. After that, it’s most likely going to be asking for an email address or something like that. Like a registration, an add to cart. Anything in the checkout flow is going to be expensive, and that costs per mill for those costs to reach a thousand people for those more expensive events, is around $10. For the cheaper events, like reaching people, having someone engage with an Ad or simple brand awareness, or even traffic campaigns where you could send these people to your store, if you have a store locator on your website, which I think you should do. That costs for [inaudible 00:53:25] cost to reach a thousand people is generally around two to $3. So you can reach a thousand people for two bucks, which is pretty cool. So, we’re recommending the cheaper events for geo targeted campaigns.

Karin Samelson: [53:41]
At this point, when the website still needs a lot of optimizations, it’s like, you’re not ready to send people to go purchase from your page right now, because there’s a lot of things that need to be worked out before you start spending your money in that way.

Alison Smith: [53:56]
Yeah. So, that’s a really good point. You can’t just throw money at a problem. Not that this is at all. There’s a lot of things you have to check off and do before you can be profitable with D2C eCommerce like conversion campaigns. One of them, making sure your website is converting at 4% pre-advertising spend. That’s not a lot of sites convert at that. So you need to make sure you’re converting there. You need to make sure you’ve really nailed down your organic social. Hopefully get some influencer in UGC going for you. You need to make sure that your email funnels are all set up so that people are getting indoctrinated and educated and sold through email too. So, there’s a lot of things that have to happen before you should start spending on eCommerce campaigns.

Lindsey Leroy: [54:53]
In terms of organic content, do you all usually recommend cross platform sharing? Like using the same content on TikTok, Instagram? What do you usually recommend in terms of getting the most engagement, or I guess getting the most bang for your buck when creating content?

Karin Samelson: [55:18]
Yeah. So, with Facebook and Instagram, the platforms are really different, but with Facebook, it’s so hard to get engagement now. It’s because you’re not reaching anybody. It’s not that people don’t like what you’re saying, it’s you can’t reach anybody. You have to pay for it on Facebook. So, that’s why we don’t want anybody to spend very much time at all, crafting an actual strategy for Facebook because of that. So, a lot of the times we’ll take what we’re doing on Instagram and we’ll share it on Facebook too. We’ll take out hashtags, we’ll tag appropriately. We’ll link appropriately because you can link on Facebook and you can’t on Instagram, and all that good stuff. But when it comes to TikTok, it’s a completely different strategy. And when it comes to Pinterest, it’s a completely different strategy. So, you can still use the same messaging bucket and theme of the post, but the creative and the copy, it has to be different.

Karin Samelson: [56:17]
So, let’s take an example, for Pinterest, you want it to be a certain dimension. You want it to be a certain vertical dimension. You want to be able to send people to a link to your site. For Instagram, you have so many dimensions to work with and you are really wanting engagement. You’re wanting people to share it. You’re wanting people to save it. You’re wanting people to like it and comment. And then with TikTok, it’s only video content. Sure you can make slide shows with photos, and that’s all well and good, but it’s such a completely different content strategy because there, you’re not really selling as much. You’re mostly connecting and entertaining. So, very different strategy between Meta and TikTok. So, I wouldn’t recommend. If you’re already creating reels for Instagram, sure. If you want to share it to TikTok and see what happens, that’s completely fine. Why not? But don’t expect for that to be the way you grow.

Alison Smith: [57:17]
Okay. Cool. Any final thoughts about Sippin SNAX?

Karin Samelson: [57:23]
No, but I need that Peppa snacks mix.

Alison Smith: [57:26]
Yeah, for sure. 

Stef Shapira: [57:28]
We should have a party, and do my nails.

Karin Samelson: [57:32]
We can have a party…

Lindsey Leroy: [57:34]
Yes. This is the perfect reminder, perfect excuse. We should get a variety pack, one of everything, test it out.

Alison Smith: [57:42]
Yeah, that reminded me. I wanted to talk about that for, this could work with organic or paid, but this is a great product to match with events. So, anytime there’s a big football game in a local one, like a, I don’t know who plays for what, North Carolina university.

Karin Samelson: [58:03]
That sounds great.

Alison Smith: [58:05]
Run an Ad two weeks before and just be like, “Hey, this is the perfect snack for the North Carolina football team.”

Karin Samelson: [58:14]
I love that idea.

Stef Shapira: [58:17]
Yeah. I think that’s really smart. And also you can use that for influencers because they’re planning their parties and they can stage a cool photo and share it and be like, “I’m getting ready for the game. I bought this. Here’s a discount code or direct link that goes back to,” that’s somehow connected to that influencer, so you can track how many people actually like tapping on their link to buy these snacks. I was going to say also for media opportunities, it might just be like Super Bowl. That’s one that happens. I think people around the country celebrate that. I love how we’re like, “We’re sports people.” I’m not, but anyway, for Super Bowl it could be local. A lot of times it’s like where to get wings for Super Bowl, but it could just be like snacks to buy or ways to make your party platter for the Super Bowl or whatever. Could be for the Oscar party.

Lindsey Leroy: [59:25]
I feel like there’s always entertaining stories on types of products to amp up your home entertaining game. So, always think about like seasonality or events to give a reason for people to care about your product at that moment. Because I think Karin or Alison, one of you guys had said “Why would you care now?” Give people a reason to. So, thinking about events and seasonality, whenever you’re planning your social media posts, your influencer engagement, if you’re doing media outreach obviously with ads, it all ties together. So yeah, definitely look at a calendar and take a few steps back, and plan out your quarter or your year, just like that.

Alison Smith: [1:00:16]
Definitely. Well, thank you The Rind PR team for another great episode and a great audit.

Stef Shapira: [1:00:24]
Thanks for having us back.

Alison Smith: [1:00:27]
Of course. Yeah. We got one more to do, and then you’re done with us for a little bit.

Lindsey Leroy: [1:00:33]
You’re never fully done with us.

Alison Smith: [1:00:34]
No, but anything you want to leave the audience before we sign off?

Stef Shapira: [1:00:40]
Yeah. I think that hopefully this is super helpful for these brands and other brands that some of these things might be able to apply to them as well, or even just for anyone looking at social media and media and understanding a little bit more. But besides that, if you are in the place where you’re interested in thinking about PR in addition to our regular larger scale campaigns, we do offer consulting services and we can do audits. Basically just like this, more tailored. If anyone is interested in that and you can get a peer toolkit and it’s the best practices for those who are really wanting to learn more and apply it to their brand.

Alison Smith: [1:01:30]
Awesome. Definitely do that, and we will link how you can get in touch with [inaudible 01:01:37] in the show notes. And then also Umai offers a free five day mini course. So, if you are a young brand or a marketer, just looking to refresh your skills, definitely sign up for our mini course. It’s lots of actual tips that cover organic social, paid social and email marketing for CPG. All right, guys, that is a wrap. Thank you so much.

[1:02:02]
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 and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram at Umai marketing or check out our website Umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

				
					
				
			
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#27 The Good Audit Episode 2: Lost River Apothecary with The Rind PR

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#27: The Good Audit Episode 2: Lost River Apothecary with The Rind PR

Join Alison and Karin as they audit Lost River Apothecary with Stef Shapira and Lindsey Leroy of The Rind PR! Learn about everything you need, from sending product to influencers to product linking as they look over this up-and-coming CPG brand. 

 

 

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The Rind PR

Lost River Apothecary

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#27: The Good Audit Episode 2: Lost River Apothecary with The Rind PR 

[00:16]
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: [00:44]
Welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison, co-founders of Umai Marketing, and we’re being joined by Stef and Lindsey from the Rind PR for our four part series where we’re auditing young CPG brands on PR and digital marketing. Welcome to episode two, where we’re diving into Lost River Apothecary and herbal remedies brand offering all natural teas and salves. Stef, I want to thank you for joining us again. How are you today?
 
Stef Shapira: [01:20]
Pretty good. Thanks for having us.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [01:21]
Yeah, thanks for having us, you all.
 
Karin Samelson: [01:23]
Yeah, we had such a fun time with Willow Street snacks on our last one, on our last good audit. So it’s fun to go into a beauty brand. And we actually worked on the same beauty brand, a different one, so we’re really excited to talk about something similar.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [01:40]
Well, it’s fun to have a variety of different types of products too because it helps get your brain going in different ways and also gives me ideas of things that I need to pick up at the store.
 
Stef Shapira: [01:50]
I know.
 
Karin Samelson: [01:51]
Any new beauty product, I’m like, “Okay, I’ll try it.” You got me. Awesome. Well, do you guys want to jump in on your PR recommendations?
 
Stef Shapira: [01:59]
So I think one thing that’s good to start off by saying is that, for PR we have three areas that we specialize in and that we are going to be looking at in the audit. So the first one is messaging. How the story is told online and is there consistency? Are the words… Do they make sense? Is there missing information? That sort of thing. So we took a look at the Lost River Apothecary website for part of this audit, and one thing that was really great is that it clearly says at the top what the product is. It says, “Herbal remedies that restore balance and allow inner creativity to flow.” Granted, that might be a little flowery of language, but I think for the most part, you get what it is and then you can scroll down and see more about the specific products.
 
Stef Shapira: [03:01]
And also another thing that was great is it calls out their ethos, right on the homepage there, locally sourced, sustainably grown, and ethically foraged. So they understood the assignment of having a mission statement and trying to have it, like, be an overarching thing with what they do. Let’s see. Some things that seem like they might be missing from the website is more about… There isn’t an about page, but it tells more of a background story. And I would say this is also nice, but flowery language, but I get that it is a fit for this sort of brand and the people behind it, but there’s not really much about who is making it.
 
Stef Shapira: [03:53]
It doesn’t say anywhere who the person behind it is, which I think is an important part of being able to tell a story. Their social media says that they’re woman-owned, but that’s not included on the site. And I think especially, these days in the world we’re living in, people are making decisions based on different values like that. And I mean, the sustainability element is one value that drives people to purchase, so that’s great. But I think adding women-owned to that would help a lot as well.
 
Alison Smith: [04:32]
And that’s something that we talk about a lot. If you are a younger brand and you’re willing to step up and be the face of your brand, if that’s just through stories or ads or on your email list and also through your website, that really helps the customer just establish that no I can trust for that founder. And it’s scary and you don’t always have to do it forever. Once you hit the big time, then you can fade out a little if you want, but we always see the founder showing up, really help push the mission, the product. I mean, you’re the person that knows the most, you’re the person that created the product. So, totally agree with you on that one.
 
Stef Shapira: [05:27]
Yeah. And even for basically, I was just going to say, even for PR pitching to try to secure media stories, two things we always look at are business stories, which is like the founder story, how they got there, what their inspiration was for starting the brand and that sort of stuff where you have to be able to talk and talk. Your name is out there, your face is out there, that sort of thing. Or expert type stories, which are the founder talking about foraging or different herbs that are good for acne or for a rash or various things. So if you’re not really wanting to put yourself out there and do that, you’re potentially missing some media opportunities. Granted, we want everyone to be comfortable doing these things and we’re not going to ever set up an interview with a client if they really are resistant. But it’s just you want to make sure you’re doing as much as possible and thinking of those different angles and just proudly saying who you are and why you founded the business, and telling your story is a big part of it.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [06:37]
I think there could be, also, some opportunities in terms of media and pitching, that writers may see on your bio that inspire an idea. If that’s a trend piece that they’re working on, how to utilize yarrow in different ways. They may be working on something like that and they see that you have a herbalism background or whatever it is, may just inspire an idea. And it’s also great for creating content, whether that’s a personal blog or just working on social media posts that really show the behind the scenes and really give a face to the brand.
 
Stef Shapira: [07:16]
Yeah. I agree with all of that. Other things that we are looking at, it’s not totally clear to me from the site, if there are other places like retail places that this can be purchased, or even just where you can “find us” page could be helpful. With PR generally it’s good to… Well, one, if you want people to buy your product, you want to tell them where. That’s a basic, in terms of selling product, but besides that, the more places you are… And well, it adds credibility and if a writer or even an influencer is looking at your page and they’re like, “Oh, I know that store,” then it just adds another layer for people to connect with. I mean, this is definitely a smaller brand that honestly might not really be in many retail locations, but especially when a brand is getting into… It’s easy when you think of grocery if they’re getting into a Sprouts or a Whole Foods or something like that.
 
Stef Shapira: [08:20]
You definitely want to be putting that all over your website, in your social media, because again that adds credibility and it’s the thing that we can pitch to media as news as well. So then the next section that we looked at, was media and influencer tactics. This was definitely an area where there wasn’t a ton that looked like had happened yet with this brand. We didn’t see any media coverage. I think reaching out to media can be a really daunting thing for anyone who hasn’t really done it, for founders and really anyone. But I think that if you’re a little intimidated by it, the easiest place to start is maybe finding someone local, they’re going to be more likely to want to share a local story. So it could be just picking up your local magazine or looking at the website and finding someone’s name and normally their emails are on the website or it’s searchable. Or honestly you can even send it to the general email for the publication and just send a little bit about your story.
 
Stef Shapira: [9:37]
You’re not always going to get a response, but there’s definitely… It’s a lot less scary. There’s a lower barrier to entry, if that’s the phrase, than if you’re pitching a big national publication like, I don’t know, geez, all the ones that I was going to list are not doing print anymore. I was going to say InStyle. But obviously for any publication for online like Allure for a BD brand or something like that, that’s going to feel a little scarier, but if it’s someone who might be like, “Oh, I’m really interested in this local story,” or, “I want to support a local brand,” you’re likely to get a response.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [10:18]
And it looks like they have really great photography already on the website which is, I think, maybe half the battle when thinking about media relations and pitching is having really good high quality photos. Editors are way more likely to run coverage of your brand or your product if you have really good photos. So, making sure that you have that in one place, almost like a little, not necessarily a press kit, but a little media or PR package. So you have your labeled high-res photos, a little about the brand and maybe even some ideas on potential stories, whether that’s skincare tips for winter or how to use herbs on sunburn in the summer, things like that, that might help you break through the noise when you’re reaching out to media.
 
Alison Smith: [11:20]
So you’re saying have that type of content on the site, like blog content on the site?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [11:26]
Not necessarily on the website, but have it ready to go. And if you’ve already got your messaging really dialed in and you’ve got your photography gathered, it’s really just one more step to put that together on your end.
 
Stef Shapira: [11:43]
That’s the stuff that, before media’s going to cover, they’re going to need that anyway. That’s what we put in a pitch or what they’ll say, “Can you send us photos?” And then you’re not like, “Oh no, I’m not going to be in the story because I didn’t have my photos in this Dropbox in time,” or whatever. Just a little bit of increasing your chances and saving yourself some time by having that stuff ready.
 
Alison Smith: [12:07]
Get organized now, that’s y’all’s motto. I like it. For brands who can’t hire you guys, how do you generally advise them to get on those hits? Are they simply reaching out via email or how should they go about that process?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [12:31]
I think I would first take a look at where your competitors have been covered. Also think about your target market and what types of publications they’re reading, whether that’s print or digital or even newsletters, where they’re getting their information. And then make a list of who your ideal targets are. Let’s use Lost River, for example, their target market may be really focused on wellness, maybe more so than beauty. So a publication like Self or Women’s Health and I’m just talking about in the national sphere. Those publications may be a better target while they’re lofty goals, really honing in and going after those as opposed to making a blanket statement to everybody, I would see what types of stories your competitors are being included in and then work your way backwards. But I think seeing who’s writing the stories and then tracking down their contact info, whether that is… Honestly, a lot of freelance writers include their email address in their Twitter bio these days. You can get so much valuable information from Twitter.
 
Alison Smith: [14:04]
Twitter. Oh, okay. I like the hot tip. Love it. So find them on the publication and then stalk them on Twitter.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [14:16]
Stalk them on Twitter, not obsessively. And I would say-
 
Alison Smith: [14:19]
Just find their email on Twitter.
 
Stef Shapira: [14:21]
A lot of times their emails are on Instagram too.
 
Alison Smith: [14:25]
Okay, awesome.
 
Stef Shapira: [14:27]
I feel it’s easier to find, not everyone’s email, but it’s a lot easier to find people’s emails than you would think.
 
Alison Smith: [14:35]
Yeah. We actually have a scraping tool that we use. It’s just a free Chrome plugin. I just search scrape or something and-
 
Stef Shapira: [14:46]
That’s such a weird word.
 
Karin Samelson: [14:47]
It doesn’t always pull the good.
 
Alison Smith: [14:51]
Yeah. It only pulls emails that are already on the page, just so you don’t have to search through the whole website. But it is helpful if you’re like, “Who do I need to contact?” And then you just run the scrape tool and then you’re like, “Okay.”
 
Lindsey Leroy: [15:05]
And I would say in terms of best practices, if you are reaching out, I will say reach out and keep it really succinct. So make sure that you have your… Get your point across in three sentences, if you can, introduce your brand. You don’t need to go over the top. You don’t necessarily need to send an entire press release. But I would make sure that you can get it out in a few sentences and then ask if they would like more information. Offer up pertinent info, like if you’re available on Amazon, if you have an affiliate program. And if you have high quality photos, don’t ever attach photos, but the shorter, the better as an initial interaction is more likely to get a response. And then-
 
Karin Samelson: [15:50]
Why don’t you want people attaching photos?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [15:53]
If you attach photos, I guarantee you an editor or writer will delete it almost immediately. They get so many emails with attachments. And I had this problem when I worked at fashion PR in New York that you’d get so many attachments that your inbox will crash. So anytime [crosstalk 00:16:12] Yes.
 
Stef Shapira: [16:13]
Put it in a Dropbox or Google drive. Basically link it, don’t literally attach the file.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [16:19]
Link it, don’t provide a photo.
 
Karin Samelson: [16:20]
Great tips, you all. I had a question really quick before we get too far away from it. But you were saying don’t annoy them, how many times is too many times to reach out pitching to the same writer or editor?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [16:39]
I think it depends on what you’re following. If you’re just following up to say like, “Hey, did you get my email?” Or just wanted to check in to see if this was of interest, I would say maybe no more than two or three times. If you have something new and if you can, wait a little bit and then gauge interest and also provide maybe something new, whether that is like, “I just wanted to follow up to see if this was of interest. We also just got picked up by Whole Foods. I just wanted to put that on your radar.” Or if there is some timely event or seasonal hook, to include that in your follow up as well. So it’s not just like, “Hey, did you get my email below?”
 
Stef Shapira: [17:23]
Yeah. I think a lot of it is sometimes, if it’s the wording, over and over again. Imagine if-
 
Alison Smith: [17:30]
Did you get my email? Hey, did you get my email?
 
Stef Shapira: [17:33]
Yeah. Every day for like three weeks, that would 100% be annoying to everyone, I think. So it’s, spacing it out and then coming up with a new angle for the follow-up email.
 
Alison Smith: [17:44]
Yeah. I’m just curious too, is it ever good to be in a follow up like, “Hey, so and so wrote us up and it’s a competitor,” or would that turn them off you think?
 
Stef Shapira: [17:57]
I feel that one’s tough. It depends on what the story is. I feel maybe don’t do it for the most part. I would say, maybe if you’re going to have some press that you are excited about, just add it to your website or put it on your social media, but I don’t know if that’s a strong pitch point.
 
Alison Smith: [18:17]
Don’t lead with it, okay.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [18:19]
And you always want to make sure that you’re providing value to that publication. So you want to make sure that your product is a fit for the readers first of all. And that it’s providing value in some way. So if you are able to offer an exclusive discount to that publication, sometimes that’s really valuable. Or if it’s just something that their readers would find of interest and at that time too. Why is it timely? Why do they need to cover your brand now? Is it new or is there something, again, tied to seasonality or an event. So really make sure you’re considering all of those things. It’s a lot.
 
Alison Smith: [19:03]
Very cool. You’re seasoned and have a lot of little nuances that are I think really helpful.
 
Stef Shapira: [19:12]
Yeah, for sure. I mean, we’ve been doing this for a while separately. I don’t even know, I think it’s over 20 or 25 years combined experience. So I feel we definitely even learned things from our early days of doing PR, where they’re like, “Oh, Never doing that again.”
 
Lindsey Leroy: [19:32]
Still learning, still growing.
 
Stef Shapira: [19:37]
Things are changing frequently, obviously with more of a digital push, fewer print magazines, affiliates, all kinds of other things. So either way, I think the core of PR pitching to media and just really in general, honestly, even in terms of marketing, it’s all about, how are you telling your story and how are you coming up with creative ways to do that as well. And keeping things fresh. I mean, that’s been the same as long as PR has existed.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [20:09]
Well, and with the rise of influencers, it also opens the door for a lot more opportunities that are a little bit of a lower barrier to entry. So sending product to influencers in exchange for posts or in exchange for a mention on their social media, is so much easier as there are so many more influencers, so many more types of influencers, a varying degrees of quality I would say, but I think there’s a lot of value in reaching micro influencers. And I think that’s something that Lost River can definitely take advantage of. And taking a look at who’s in the area, who’s in the region, who has posted about… This is also working backwards like you would with media, take a look at like-minded brands or locations, whether that’s a spa that’s really similar to your ethos. Or even if it’s a wellness food product, taking a look at whether or not any influencers have posted about that brand, having the idea that they may like yours as well and make a list of who those potential targets might be.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [21:35]
But I think working with micro influencers, so like under 10,000 followers, is a great place to start. And I think, in terms of reaching out, I think DMing on Instagram is completely acceptable. Again, most influencers will include their email in their bio or you can click their email and find their contact info. But really think about and consider what the package looks like, that you’re putting together to potentially send these influencers. You’ll see a lot of unboxing videos that the influencers posts on their social channels. So the more interesting or fun or memorable the package actually is, and that’s the physical package, so not just putting a bunch of bubble wrap in there, the more interesting that is, the more likely they’ll post more content. I think that’s the direction that a lot of brands are going.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [22:38]
So you can send the same thing to everyone. You can switch it up and make it a little bit more custom. I always recommend including a handwritten note and something that’s really personalized. It takes 30 seconds to do, but it makes such a big difference and it really helps establish a more of a partnership feel and relationship between yourself and the influencer. They’re also way more likely to post about you down the road, or want to work with you again.
 
Alison Smith: [23:10]
The handwritten note, I mean, it is scalable. There are companies, I think we have a friend who has a company, she has many employees who write these beautiful handwritten notes. But it’s just, I mean, getting a handwritten note from a brand that’s just going to establish so much likeness. It’s just so powerful. If you have any numbers on conversion versus, with handwritten notes, without handwritten notes, I would love to hear them, but I know that’s probably a really hard thing to track.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [23:50]
I have two shout outs for local brands that have done that really well. Siete always includes really great personalized handwritten notes in their mailers. I know that they work with a lot of influencers and I just over the moon adore that brand, but they also do a lot of tastemaker outreach to wellness people, influencers, chefs, bartenders, et cetera. It makes a world of difference. It creates this brand ambassador in a way that’s not a traditional liquor brand ambassador or whatever it is. You become an arbiter of the brand and I’m talking about it now. And I always tell my friends when they ask for recommendations for those types of products. And then Made In also is another great one that includes really awesome handwritten notes. And it gives you all the feels.
 
Stef Shapira: [24:52]
Yeah. And it’s clear that there are handwritten notes because the influencers or the tastemakers love them so much that they’re sharing them on their social. So I have not received a package from either brand, so I cannot attest to.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [25:06]
It’s only because my husband’s a chef. I personally do not receive-
 
Alison Smith: [25:10]
Oh, you get the perks. So do you have-
 
Stef Shapira: [25:13]
Does anybody want to send me anything?
 
Alison Smith: [25:15]
Please include a handwritten note as well. So do you guys have any hard numbers or vague numbers even about the conversion when you work with brands, sending influencer packages, handwritten, non-handwritten notes?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [25:31]
I don’t, but I am going to get that. And on our next podcast, I will have a chart for you.
 
Alison Smith: [25:37]
Want the data.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [25:39]
Going to make you a pie chart, get ready.
 
Alison Smith: [25:42]
Sweet. Love a good pie chart.
 
Karin Samelson: [25:44]
All right y’all, is there anything else PR related that you saw that Lost River could implement?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [25:50]
I think the last bucket that we’ll just mention is, the community building or community engagement. That’s something that we love to do because it’s fun and creative, but also really helps reach your target market in a unique and fun way. That’s anything from participating at an event or doing a popup at a spa, something like that. We saw a few examples, but not too many, just looking on Instagram. It looks like they’re available at a hotel spa, which is a great opportunity to engage with the hotel and spa guests on social media. Leveraging your wholesale partners or any other partners to create an opportunity, whether that is a giveaway on social or hosting, offering to host a popup or a sampling opportunity or inclusion in some gift bag if they have an event going on. But really leaning on your existing partners and then looking for potential new partners.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [27:11]
Again, really digging in and seeing what your competitors are doing in the space or what some of your deal like-minded brands and partners in the area are doing and reaching out and just gauging interest. They may already have an existing event that they may want you to participate in, whether that is an earth day, shopping event or something and they’re looking for a holistic or all natural brand to come in and do some sampling, just for example. But I think there’s a lot of opportunities to engage with potential partners that I haven’t really seen too much just on the Instagram. I think that they’re a really new brand, so there’s definitely an opportunity just to introduce yourself as a brand and say, like, “Hey, we’re new to the community. We’d love to partner up on whatever you have going on.”
 
Karin Samelson: [28:18]
Cool. All great points. And I think something I’m going to bring up as we dive into the more marketing and digital side is, and I’d love to hear your PR thoughts on this too, especially with partnerships, but let’s just jump into the marketing side, if that’s okay with you all. So first we’re going to go through Instagram right away. So I don’t know exactly when product was available, but they launched on Instagram. Oh, maybe I do know when product’s available. I do know, I should know. It was on January 31st. So February 1st was when they first launched their first batch, but in January they started posting a little bit, on Instagram, about the brand. And so it’s a very new brand. It’s been three and a half months since they started doing that, and only a couple months since they launched the actual product.
 
Karin Samelson: [29:17]
So there’s so much good stuff here already. I’m assuming the founder’s doing this, because it’s such a new brand, but you can tell that the person’s an artist and that really reflects in the content that’s being shared. I don’t think everybody needs to be an artist to be able to do this. I don’t think it has to be so aesthetically pleasing. It’s just a bonus that this is a talent that this person is right brained, maybe left brained too, I don’t know, but it’s really obviously beautiful content. And in both the creative and the copy, I’m just super impressed with what’s going out. They’re super social savvy and the content is quality, but they’re still keeping up and maintaining the consistency. So I love it. I love the content. I love the variation. I love that they’re talking about a lot of different messaging buckets. There’s great engagement.
 
Karin Samelson: [30:12]
But something that differentiated it to me with the different products in the same space, is the emphasis throughout the content and in the bio, of it being indigenous, inspired on native land. I believe she says it’s Yakima and Siletz Land and that she’s in Lyle. And it’s just a really beautiful way that she weaves in that storytelling throughout the content too. And I believe 5% of her proceeds go to indigenous communities, organizations and I think that’s a really amazing thing to stress because she is living off the land.
 
Karin Samelson: [31:01]
And I also really like how she has tagged herself in the bio so that we can go into her personal profile and see how she’s living and what she’s doing. And you can learn so much about, like she just bought this huge acreage property where she’s going to be planting a lot of different things on the property and growing her own herbal remedies. And I think that’s incredible. And I’d love to see more of that too. I know that she’s doing a little bit, but bring some of that stuff that you’re open to sharing on your personal page onto your business one as well, if it reflects on your business. I think that could be a really fun thing to do. And it will also get more of your friends and family over there as well, which is vital in this early stage.
 
Alison Smith: [31:47]
I did not see that initially, so Jenna, I want your life. First of all, this is so cool. I mean, I also love that you’re willing to connect your business with your personal life and it’s also great that your personal feed is well curated, for lack of a better term. Any way you could show up more on your website, so people who maybe didn’t pop over to your profile, they could learn more about you. You seem to have this great aesthetic and really like beautiful life and imagery. And I love your Husky puppy as well.
 
Karin Samelson: [32:33]
Real cute Husky. It’s a whole lifestyle and bringing, I can see half of your content that you share on your personal, on your business one too, because what we find is that these brands that are open… I mean, you talked about Siete earlier, what’s more founder and community and brand, the people that are behind the brand focus than that brand. And being open to that, invites a lot of people to come in and be able to connect with you better. And that is all what social media is about. Of course, it’s about entertainment, but it’s also about, mostly about community and connection. I hope, and I hope that continues to be that way. So, a lot of compliments, but I think a lot can be done in terms of, just like Alison said, a little bit more behind the scenes, a little bit more sharing of your every day and not worrying too much about the aesthetic in fear that it might make things look wonky. It won’t.
 
Karin Samelson: [33:37]
It all looks really great. And I will say it time and time again, I will say it to as many people as I can, your feed doesn’t have to look perfect. That is a very old way of thinking, so you’re doing great there. And another obvious thing, and I think it pertains to a lot of early stage brands, is focusing on your social proof. So focusing on growth strategies to make sure that you look more established, like if I saw this brand and it had a few thousand followers, it would make me feel more comfortable purchasing. That’s what that social proof is all about. It’s saying, seeing, “Oh, that person. All of these people like this brand and follow this brand and trust this brand, maybe I need to figure out what the fuss is about.” So focusing on growth strategies, so things that your brand can do and all other brands can do is partnering or collaborating with like-minded brands.
 
Karin Samelson: [34:39]
So any other brand that shares a very similar customer persona avatar as yours, partner with them, do giveaways, have fun. And when you do engage in those giveaways, we always recommend boosting a little bit. So we have a course and one of our students did a, Alison, make sure I’m saying this right, but he did a giveaway over the course of two days or three days for $25 and what was his… It was an outrageous follow. And it was just such a small amount of money, but it hit. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn’t, you always want to test what the prize is, who you’re partnering with, all that kind of stuff. But sometimes when it hits, it really hits. And when you boost, our recommendation, our rule of thumb is we’re trying to get less… equal to, or less than $1 per follow.
 
Karin Samelson: [35:41]
So if you boosted $25, I want you to get 25 followers that are super engaged, actually interested in your product. You’re going to see a 10% fall off, so actually make that more than 25 followers. But I think he was making, I don’t know, it was like 20 cents per follower, something like that, where it was just like, “Oh. Good, good boost.” So giveaways, boost him a little bit and then more reels content. And I do not doubt that this lady can make beautiful video content because the two reels that she has are so nice. Did you all see that tea reel she had? I was like, “Who is this lady? Who made this? So beautiful.” She’s outside, she’s using natural light. She laid a sheet down and she’s just making tea. She’s making her tea and it’s just this really beautiful aesthetic.
 
Karin Samelson: [36:41]
And to be quite honest, 841 views, post it again. Put a different song on it, post it again, and see if you can raise your views because it’s always really poopy to spend a lot of time on something, post it and not get a lot of views on it. And that’s not your fault, that’s just Instagram. So post it again, put a different song on it. If that one does better, feel free to archive this one so you don’t have two of the same videos so close to each other, but I would encourage it again. And then this process one where you’re using that funnel, more, more of it, people want to see behind the scenes and that you’re literally just setting up your camera and showing the production line, which people are so fascinated by. It’s like our fascination with pimple popping videos. Is anybody else? Is that just me? No, I know it’s not just me.
 
Alison Smith: [37:38]
I made my search build into all pimple popping videos.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [37:36]
Oh my God.
 
Karin Samelson: [37:48]
Yeah. It was one of our employees. They were like, “Who’s been engaging with pimple popping videos? It’s all in our search.” And Alison was like, “That was definitely me.”
 
Alison Smith: [37:57]
One thing that you’ve started, you just can’t stop. Same thing with behind the scenes.
 
Karin Samelson: [38:02]
Same thing.
 
Stef Shapira: [38:04]
Same thing.
 
Karin Samelson: [38:05]
Same thing with your process videos. It’s like, there’s something about it that’s just super relaxing. It’s like ASMR.
 
Alison Smith: [38:11]
I was just going to say, just like the ASMR.
 
Karin Samelson: [38:13]
Yeah. More of that. I would try and do it as much as possible. I love the variation. You’re doing carousel posts. You’re doing videos. You’re doing static images. Keep it up. But if you can, and you have the time, up that video content on your land. She posted this. Did she post this? I got a little lost in this feed, y’all, because it’s so beautiful. But she posted, I think it was on her personal. See it was on her… Maybe it was, you guys, I don’t remember, but it was her planting different… It was so cool. It was like, “I’m planting this Sequoia, this little Sequoia transplant. And hopefully it’s going to become this big tree later.” And it was just so cool. And it’s just like, I want to see that on your feed too, because it’s that part of the storytelling that people love. So more of that.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [39:08]
Quick question. For brands, I guess, for smaller brands that don’t have a huge breadth of products, what do you recommend in terms of frequency of posting on Instagram specifically?
 
Karin Samelson: [39:23]
I love that question. The same amount. The same amount that I would tell anybody. So even if you have one product, think of all of the different benefits of it, think of all of the different ways that you can talk about it and talk about it just as often as anybody else would talk about their products. Alison always says this, but when we are talking to a new brand, there’s always one or two hero products. It’s got to make up like 80% of your sales. So that’s normal anyways, for there to be these hero products that you talk about all the time. So I would say very, very similar if not the same strategy and you’re going to want to post about it as much as you can. You want to track your analytics to see what’s working and then do more of what’s working, do less of what’s not.
 
Karin Samelson: [40:14]
Let’s move a little over to the website, now that we’ve talked about Instagram. So going to the website, I love that you guys called out the banner, that hero banner on the website, herbal remedies that restore balance and allow inner creativity to flow. I like it. I would like to see probably more of product focus at first because I’m like, “Is this a course? Do I learn about how to make it? What is it? What can I get here?” So I would love that with the call to action. But first and foremost, implementing a popup and a first time order discount is something that we really want brands, especially ones that don’t have a lot of proof yet because they just launched, to do because you want to drive trial, you want to get people to try it. So having that popup, getting as many emails as you can, setting up all your email flows after that, we want to see that done.
 
Karin Samelson: [41:08]
We’ll always talk about email and we talked about on the last audit. I really recommend to do that. And then the second one on the website, just really quickly, would be to make that free shipping over $100 automatic. Don’t make them use that promo code free ship 100, it’s awesome that you have a free ship option, but just make it automatic so that you can utilize that first order discount and the free shipping just to entice more people to purchase. It just makes it a little bit easier on everyone in the long run.
 
Alison Smith: [41:42]
And that might be, the offer that you can do at this time, but maybe you are able to get more efficient and things like that, consider testing if dropping that free shipping to like 50 or 75 for a bit, is going to help you convert users better. In terms of that automatic discount, if you’re using Shopify, which, I don’t think I checked if you are or not, that’s something that you can easily set up in the backend to just automatically apply that discount, so there’s just less friction during the entire checkout process.
 
Karin Samelson: [42:20]
He’s on the Squarespace.
 
Alison Smith: [42:23]
Oh, Squarespace. Okay. I don’t know too much about Squarespace, but hopefully there’s an automatic app that you could use to help with that. Certainly it’s been years since I’ve used Squarespace.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [42:42]
They just see an email about, and maybe they already offered this, but linking up your Instagram and Squarespace to make it easier to shop on your Instagram account through your Squarespace site. If it wasn’t already an option, it is now, or it is now easier to do.
 
Alison Smith: [43:04]
So beyond Instagram shopping, it’s-
 
Lindsey Leroy: [43:08]
Beyond that. So you would, I guess you would link up on the backend so that it would-
 
Alison Smith: [43:14]
Like your catalog. Got you. That’s how Shopify interacts with Instagram, is it’s your catalog shows up, you can tag on your Instagram and then you can go shop on your site. So I’m guessing Squarespace implemented something like that. I mean, social shopping is huge, it’s the future. Don’t quote me on that. But we really do think, I mean, it’s less clicking, less people getting off of their endless scrolling on TikTok and Instagram. It keeps them right inside the platform, which Meta’s obviously going to love you to stay on their platform. So, highly recommend setting up IG and Facebook shops. Salves, I just learned it’s salves and not Selves. Salves or general supplement herbal space can get denied for IG shops, unfortunately, so I’m not sure Lost River, if you’ll be able to, but definitely check it out. You’ve got such a beautiful shopping space already on your Instagram, it would be great to allow that.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [44:32]
I’m [crosstalk 00:44:33]
 
Karin Samelson: [44:34]
Yeah, they’re lumping salves into that… They’re making that as hard to sell as supplements?
 
Alison Smith: [44:40]
I would say anything in the herbal space is flagged as supplements. Even if you’re all natural, all those things. They, a lot of times lump them in, and it’s really hard to get out of that category and get into the health and beauty category.
 
Stef Shapira: [44:56]
Yeah. That’s confusing. Well also because some of her products are tea, obviously you ingest. Then something that’s topical is more like beauty. I could see how with something you’re putting inside your body, that would make more sense to me, but it’s how-
 
Lindsey Leroy: [45:16]
Opposite in this case.
 
Alison Smith: [45:18]
Well it looks like her catalog is approved, so she’s all good. It’s just sending over to website so check out IG shopping. See if that is something that could work for you. Beyond that with the website, Karin signed up to see if you have a welcome email, because that’s the kind of person she is and she did not see a welcome email. So that’s one of our first and favorite emails that we’ll ever set up. It goes along with that popup, once you enter your email address, you get that first introduction welcome, here’s a discount. And then that user goes through your full indoctrination flow. So it’s just that first send and it’s really important. So look into that, if you set up a popup. And then again, beautiful content, beautiful packaging, would love to see some more people and people with product, some more lifestyle shots across all assets.
 
Alison Smith: [46:24]
We talked about this on the last episode. How consumers just want to see themselves in that piece of photography or video. And so those type of shoots can be super helpful. They don’t have to be produced shoots even. Can be like, hey, I’m having a party and I’m going to invite all my friends and I’m just going to happen to be going around with my products and taking as many photos and videos as possible. So there’s different ways to do that, on a budget, if you will. So paid social. I saw some ads creep in and then now they’re gone. So I don’t know if I’m not looking in the right spot again, but I did see some really great ads. So congrats on doing that. If you’re doing it yourself, that’s amazing. Being a business owner and running ads and doing social and PR and everything is really impressive. But I don’t see them anymore, so I’m going to speak on what I remember.
 
Alison Smith: [47:32]
I remember seeing mostly product photography, just like the photos that are on your website. Just remember, like we just said, native photos are your friends. So when we say native photos, photos and videos that look like the photos and videos on your Instagram feed. So I would say pull in your IG posts. You don’t have to make brand new structured ad creatives and videos. It’s really about utilizing everything you have and not making yourself work more. So you can simply go in, if you’re launching ads and just pull existing posts, pull in a really great reel or even stories you can pull in as ads just to make sure they make sense to run as evergreen ads. And those we see performing better than even our designed creative. So definitely look into that. Work smarter, not harder.
 
Karin Samelson: [48:38]
And I want to stress that when Alison’s saying pull in, she’s not saying screenshot and copy and paste the copy. She’s talking about there are buttons to press inside ads manager where you can literally be like, “I want to do this Instagram post of mine.”
 
Alison Smith:[48:56]
And we’re also not saying boost. We’re not talking about boost and boosting is a whole other thing. We’re talking about, create a campaign and ads manager. Once you’re at the ad level, it will say, create an ad or use existing post and you’ll go in and you’ll use an existing post. That’s also where your branded content will show up where the existing posts are. That’s a whole other ballgame. That’s if an influencer posts about you and allows you to run that post as an ad, that’s where that’s going to be. Those are powerful as well. And hit us up if you need help, we’re happy to help. And then the copy. So the one thing I saw with a copy, it was good copy. I think it had some storytelling. It talked about some value props, but we could break it up a bit.
 
Alison Smith: [49:46]
It was large paragraph text. People scrolling through their feed, especially Instagram ads, you’re seeing maybe a sentence, a sentence and a half. So try a shorter copy as well as long form copy. Both work really well. But I think the main point I wanted to get across here is use emojis. Emojis just help catch the reader’s eye. It helps them get through the blocks of text. You don’t have to use silly, dumb emojis. You can use the sparkle emoji or something cute like that. But try pulling some emojis in if you’re doing longer copy.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [50:27]
I feel like emojis also help me when I’m scrolling through. It makes me think that it’s like a friend of mine or something. I feel like it gives it more personality and creates more of a… Just creates more of a personality for a brand. You feel a little bit more, I don’t know, comfortable to stop and peruse.
 
Alison Smith: [50:51]
Absolutely. When you’re writing and I… So I’ve been advertising for 10 years or something. When I first started, I used, what is it? Caps case, everything was like U capitalize, R capitalize, like-
 
Karin Samelson: [51:06]
Camel case.
 
Alison Smith: [51:07]
Camel case. Where every single word was capitalized, because I was like, this is an ad. This is a professional ad. I quickly realized that was silly. So the big rule of thumb when you’re writing copy is speak like you’re speaking to a friend. Don’t misspell words. Don’t use slang or things like that. But it should be pretty. What’s the word I’m looking for? Native. Should be pretty like-
 
Lindsey Leroy: [51:36]
Colloquial.
 
Alison Smith: [51:37]
Just casual. Beyond the emojis, we love emojis. We use Emojipedia if you’re looking for an emoji dictionary. Also in the copy, think about some value propositions to have. A great way to start off a piece of copy is calling out the user. So any way you can call out the user without getting flagged. So you can’t say, “Do you have eczema question mark?” You can’t say that. You can massage that, but use that in a way to call out the user. That’s a great starting line for your copy. But think of more problems that your product’s solving. I saw that you talk about eczema a lot on your salve and that is a huge differentiator between any other products out there. So definitely relate to that. I don’t think you can say that outright, but talk about dry skin, cracked skin, things like that. And what your product can do, that’s a huge differentiator. And then, I’m just rolling guys. So feel free to stop me.
 
Alison Smith: [52:49]
But video, just like Karin said, so you can pull in those reels, those beautiful reels that you’re making. You can pull those in as ads, but you can also make more video. So anytime you’re out on your property, anytime you’re doing those, making the salves or processing the teas or making yourself a tea, film it. Film it with beautiful light in the morning, film it in the evening. Get 15, 30 and 60 second quick videos that you can smash together or add testimonials on top. Or just a simple video of your property with value propositions on it, could really work as an ad. So just always have this guy on you and always filming. It’s not always going to be the best, but the more you have, definitely the better.
 
Alison Smith: [53:40]
And then my final ad piece of advice is never ever, ever send an ad to your homepage. So when you launch an ad, send it as far into the checkout process as you can possibly get. So if you’re running an ad for tea, send them to the URL for, let’s see, slash essential teas, so that they have less places to click through. They’re already on the product page and they can purchase straight from there. If you’re selling your duo, send them to slash essential duo. Just that extra click can really drive down conversion, so just remember that if or when you want to run ads.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [54:32]
So if they were running an ad for something that was a little bit more general, or maybe it was for the holiday season, but wanted to push a bunch of their products, what would you recommend sending them to?
 
Alison Smith: [54:44]
Yeah. And we are talking about e-commerce so there could be a little if and wins, but if it’s a holiday collection, most likely you’re going to make a collection on Shopify, Squarespace for that. So you would send them to collection slash holiday or whatever that is. So you’re at least getting them past the homepage where they have to find where they need to go. You’re getting them as far into it as possible. If you made a bundle for them, you’re sending them directly to that product bundle page. So generally the list for this place will ever send for e-commerce would be slash collections where they can shop all products.
 
Karin Samelson: [55:24]
Lots of tips that you can implement ASAP. Really cool. Is there anything else that you guys want to leave Lost River with?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [55:36]
Keep doing what you’re doing. I feel like they have such a beautiful basis. It has an interesting story. The website makes me feel very calm. So I already feel very good about the product. And I was just looking on the Instagram page and I love the carousel posts that talk about each ingredient. I think that’s so clever. I think it’s just helpful to educate consumers if they don’t necessarily know what a specific ingredient is, but I’d say, keep doing what you’re doing just more of it.
 
Karin Samelson: [56:12]
Awesome guys. Okay. Well the Rind, is there anything that you want to leave the audience with?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [56:19]
Well, if you ever have any questions about PR, whether or not you are ready for it, if you need it, what to do, anything like that, feel free to reach out to us or DM us on Instagram. In addition to offering our PR services, we also do consulting, where we’ll do a brand audit like this, but it’ll be a little bit more tailored and you’ll get a PR toolkit which will help, hopefully answer all of your questions. But feel free to reach out anytime. We’re here.
 
Karin Samelson: [56:55]
Awesome. And on our end, on the marketing end, we have the Umai Mini Course and it’s a great place to start for smaller brands or medium size brands looking to up their digital marketing game. It’s a free five day course and gives a lot of juicy tips and things that you may not be implementing already. Well, all right guys, thanks again for joining us. We’ll be back with episode three very soon.
 
Stef Shapira: [57:26]
Yeah. Thanks for having us. This was fun.
 
[57:27]
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 and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram at Umai Marketing or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.
 
				
					
				
			
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#26 The Good Audit Episode 1: Willow Street Snacks with The Rind PR

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#26: The Good Audit Episode 1: Willow Street Snacks with The Rind PR

Join Alison and Karin as they audit Willow St. Snacks with Stef Shapira and Lindsey Leroy of The Rind PR! Learn about everything you need, from influencer affiliates to product photography, as they look over this up-and-coming CPG brand. 

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The Rind PR

Willow St. Snacks 

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#26: The Good Audit Episode 1: Willow Street Snacks with The Rind PR 

[00:17]
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.
 
Alison Smith: [00:44]
Hey, welcome to the UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Alison and Karin, co-founders of UMAI Marketing. And we are being joined today, by Stef and Lindsey from The Rind PR for our special four part series, where we’re auditing young CPG brands on PR and digital marketing. So welcome everyone to episode one. We’re diving into Willow St. Snacks, which is a grass fed biltong, I hope I’m saying that right, who offers flavors like cherry habanero, buffalo mushroom, and sweet and sour pear. Really cool and fun flavors. So let’s kick off this audit with The Rind. They’re going to take the lead on their PR suggestions and tips for Willow St. So ladies, take it away.
 
Stef Shapira: [01:40]
Okay. I guess, I will kind of kick this off then. So yeah, for PR, we want to look at a lot of different things. But really, what we focus on is storytelling and brand awareness. So the first thing we looked at when we were doing this audit, was the website. Looking at the messaging on the site itself and kind of digging into different parts. Obviously, there’s the different products and about those. And then ideally, our brand is going to have a bit about their story and a bit about what sets them apart. So we were looking at that on the Willow St. Snacks page and the product section where they kind of talk about what they do differently is good and clear about how the jerky’s made. And there’s a lot of focus on the quality of the beef and the handmade approach. But one thing that we saw that was clearly missing here, is that it doesn’t really say anywhere on the website that they make biltong.
 
Stef Shapira: [02:48]
If you look at the product, you see it says biltong on the packaging but it doesn’t really say anywhere that they make biltong, which is different from jerky and how it’s different. So yeah, definitely if you’re doing something different from the norm, it’s a good idea to call it out in your messaging. And the messaging could be on your website, but also it’s one of those things where overall, when we’re, as peer professional sharing a story with the media, we want to be able to easily find those things and call them out. And then when people are going back to the website, it should connect there as well with those kind of key differentiators.
 
Alison Smith: [03:32]
We made that note as well. Karin and I were lucky enough to work with a biltong, I don’t know why I struggle with that word, brand back in the day. But that was the first time I’ve ever heard of it. And so I’m assuming the average consumer, that’s probably something new, the average consumer who’s very familiar or eating beef jerky, would come here and not fully understand right off the bat. So I think that education on the website and then through all the other marketing materials, would be really crucial for them.
 
Stef Shapira: [04:13]
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So it’s something that I think we can agree, that is an obvious differentiator that should really be called out across all marketing platforms, really. So, yeah. And then other things that we are looking at, there’s the, our story page on their website and you can tell they wrote it themselves. It’s really casual and fun, but I think adding information about who the founders or the makers are, is always really important as well. It’s a big part of the story and a lot of times, it’s like, “Why did you decide to make it? Are you solving a problem that you saw and you are trying to solve that with your product? Or is there nothing else like what you’re doing on the market or nothing else that is the right quality?” Or things like that. I think that is something that they could call out a bit more and even just like, “What are the qualifications of the founders or the people that are making them?” That can be another part of the story of the brand and why people want to buy it.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [05:28]
So I think something else that we noticed just on a first initial pass, is understanding really clearly where the product is available beyond the website and beyond direct to consumer. And I think obviously, you want to maximize D2C sales and your website is kind of how you’re going to do it. But also, giving additional points of sale options like walmart.com and Kroger. Even if they’re not necessarily available at that time, having a “coming soon” on the website, just so you’re consistent from social media to your website. You want to make sure that how you’re telling your story is consistent across all platforms. And Alison, you mentioned that, making sure that you’re telling your story from all of your marketing materials to your website and then to the media and that it’s consistent but also easy to understand.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [06:30]
And then when we’re looking at how to reach the media, it really starts with how to tell a story and taking a step back in understanding the story. And so really making sure that all of your talking points on the website are pretty easy to understand and I think Stef kind of hit the nail on the head with maybe not everybody knows the difference between jerky and biltong. And really calling that out on the website, I think, would go a long way. Because as publicists, we can explain that to our media contacts, but having somebody have to search through the website, you may lose that customer.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [07:16]
We also kind of dove into the website and did a kind of a quick Google search to see what media coverage there may have been and found a couple links and I think it’s awesome to be able to leverage that press and it’s great that they’ve gotten that media coverage already, but maybe having a separate section on the website, whether that’s another tab or landing page where people can go to view where it’s been covered and just making sure that all of the links are clickable. Because I think that there were a few links that may have either been dead links or went to, not necessarily the right website.
 
Alison Smith: [08:02]
Yeah. I didn’t even see any press when I was looking through. So if they have some press hits, let’s see them. That’s such good clout, right?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [08:13]
Exactly.
 
Karin Samelson: [08:14]
Right. And yeah, when we’re pitching to media… Before you’re going to buy something, before you’re going to cover something, if you’re a media person, you’re going to do some Googling yourself to see what’s already been covered. And having a little bit of clout is good, or even knowing what’s already been covered and figuring out what is still left, what hasn’t been covered, is also helpful for media. So it’s all kind of part of how you’re presenting yourself to them, just on the internet, essentially.
 
Alison Smith: [08:50]
Yeah. And you all are talking about the two links on their website, on the homepage at the bottom that are dead links?
 
Karin Samelson: [08:55]
Yeah.
 
Alison Smith: [08:56]
It’s such a good reminder to us all, to just audit our website a little bit more often than we’re used to. Because that’s amazing to have those hits and to get picked up like that but if it’s not leading to anything, what’s the use, right?
 
Stef Shapira: [09:12]
Yeah, exactly.
 
Alison Smith: [09:13]
Is that something you all see a lot with different news or media sites changing links and then you’ve lost your back link? You’ve lost the link as the customer or the client?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [09:28]
It sometimes happens and I always recommend making sure that you’re capturing all of your press hits and keeping them either in a press report or even just creating something on Canva is great, because then you can use that as a template to share on social. You can include it in a newsletter like, “Hey, have you seen us in Fox News?” And being able to leverage that ongoing, even if for example, if a website does a total overhaul or God forbid, with media publications kind of closing, you run the risk of having a great press hit on a publication that is no longer in service, that’s kind of defunct now. So you want to make sure that you’re keeping everything in a master press report. Those can also be used for pitching decks for investors or you’re sending it out to potential retailers. Those are great ways to just kind of show how you’re seen in the market and give you kind of that credibility that a lot of people are looking for.
 
Alison Smith: [10:45]
Yeah. I love that idea of keeping a Canva template. Is that what you meant by a Canva? Yeah, because I mean, that is huge proof for if you ever want to run ads, if your target market, if you want to run geo targeted ads in Boston or retail ads in Boston and in that ad, it’s a quote from the Boston Herald and their logo or what have you, that’s going to be a lot more influential than not having that. So definitely keeping track of that and just remembering to utilize it across all of your channels.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [11:27]
Yeah, exactly. And another big thing that we do at The Rind in addition to media relations is influencer relation, and I know there’s a lot of crossover in those types of services with the rise of social media and marketing and PR agencies, just because it’s such a great tool. There’s such a low barrier to entry for a lot of brands that may not necessarily have a huge budget for campaigns. So when we were looking through the Instagram account, didn’t really see any influencer campaigns. And a lot of times, just taking a quick look through a tagged post and seeing if there was anything that was UGC reposted on the Instagram account, but didn’t really see much of that. And I think that’s definitely a great area of opportunity to dive in and really gain some visibility.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [12:31]
And I think there’s a ton of opportunity with CPG brands and influencer campaigns these days, because a lot of influencers, while they are looking for paid opportunities, a lot will still support some of these smaller brands, especially if it’s more of a micro influencer and it’s a niche product. I mean, something like this I think… Biltong is something that’s still kind of unique and I think people would be… Influencers specifically would be really interested in. Especially if there’s kind of a paleo health angle.
 
Karin Samelson: [13:03]
Something that’s like… I don’t know if we were completely clear on this because it’s not really clear in their marketing, you get what I mean? I know we can see their offerings, but they have vegan options. They have mushroom jerky on top of their grass fed beef jerky or biltong, my bad. And it’s just like, “Wow, this is…” I feel like the opportunities are a little bit a lot more open with being able to partner with micro influencers because you can go for anybody. Anybody can either have vegan mushroom jerky or beef biltong, right?
 
Stef Shapira: [13:49]
Yeah. I mean, I will admit, I didn’t even notice they had mushroom jerky because there’s a video of a cow on the homepage. They’re really leaning into the beef component of it, which is great. It’s part of the story but it seems like that got lost and is a big part of the story as well. And yeah, there’s definitely vegan vegetarian influencers out there that would make sense to have them share it. And then you can have your keto, CrossFit, et cetera, type people with the beef. That’s just one type of influencers, there’s obviously foodie influencers and things like that that you can kind of tap into. So, yeah.
 
Alison Smith: [14:40]
I mean, even if it’s beyond just going straight vegan for that product, that there’s such a huge push for just educated, smart consumers to be more plant based. And that could really be more of the value prop behind that product, these products are from cows and are made and really well. But if you’re trying to include more plants into your diet, there’s an awesome… I mean, vegan buffalo mushroom jerky sounds so good. I really want to try it too.
 
Alison Smith: [15:22]
Yeah, it got lost on me too though. I didn’t notice it.
 
Karin Samelson: [15:24]
When it comes to those, stuff, when you just said that, it kind of peaked my interest because we have opinions. But when you’re looking at the keto, paleo influencer versus the foodie influencer, is there influencer that you think moves the needle more? Like lifestyle? There’s so many different groups.
 
Stef Shapira: [15:46]
I mean, I feel like it really depends on the brand. I don’t think really across the board, there’s a certain kind and we can fit people into these, or influencers into these different buckets and verticals of lifestyle or vegan or whatever. But a lot of times, there’s other things in their accounts that aren’t only that as well, and there could be overlap, it could be vegan and lifestyle or there’s just different things that you kind of realize when you’re researching influencers. But I mean, I think it ultimately comes down to what the brand is and what their goal is and then trying to hit as many of the different influencers as possible. Of course, with budget and time that goes into outreach, you can’t always hit up all of them at the same time.
 
Stef Shapira: [16:40]
But also one thing to think about too, is coming up with custom influencer packages for the different types of influencers, finding like-minded brands, finding other vegan brands, right? And then sending those to the vegan influencers or something that’s like all keto snacks. Or even if it’s a wellness influencer, there’s maybe some other, I don’t know, just some other wellness brand that makes sense. Whether it’s like, I don’t know, water bottle or… I’m blanking on other good ideas right now, but…
 
Karin Samelson: [17:22]
That’s really interesting. So are you kind of suggesting these PR boxes to influencers, it is a good idea to include an array of products? That’s a new concept to me, at least.
 
Stef Shapira: [17:35]
Honestly, influencers, the way you approach influencers has really changed. I mean, at the core, it’s still kind of the same, you’re sending them something and asking them to post or share in some way. But the actual packages, if you’re thinking about how many packages any given influencer or for this matter, the same thing actually applies to media samples too. The amount of packages these people get every day is crazy, right? So you really have to get creative and think, “What is going to make my brand’s package stand out?” Whether it’s something that’s just going to look better on social media, or if… I think we found that there the most impactful packages in terms of ROI or ones that have things that are items they could also use during their regular day or if it’s a whole package with all the components of a recipe. So they can actually make it, not just like, “Here’s a shirt and some biltong.”
 
Karin Samelson: [18:39]
Oh, good idea.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [18:41]
For something, I think that is attached to a seasonality or an event. So if you’re sending something out in the beginning of summer, maybe it’s like “ultimate road trip pack,” or if it’s in August, it’s like a back to school survival guide, something like that. And so you’re potentially wrangling other like-minded brands but also items that kind of make sense or that really showcase how to use that product. I think those are the ones that kind of make the most impact. And then to kind of tag onto that with influencers, I think the most effective campaigns, and you probably see this in your world a lot with newsletters, is that having some sort of call to action is the best way to really measure the effectiveness of that campaign.
 
Alison Smith: [19:38]
Yeah. Can you expand on call to action? What that would look like?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [19:43]
So I think a great call to action for an influencer campaign specifically, can range anywhere from a special discount code that is exclusive to that influencer. So anytime you see somebody post like, “Use my code, GEN20 for 20% off your first purchase,” that’s a great incentive for their followers. You’ll also be able to track that.
 
Alison Smith: [20:13]
And you can track it, right.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [20:14]
You want to kind of see what types of… I mean, effectively, you want to have influencers be your partners and you want to be able to work with them again. And so creating this partnership that is beneficial for them and you, is the best use of everybody’s time. And so if they’re seeing a lot of their followers find this really beneficial, they’re going to want to work with you again, or if they’re set up as an affiliate and they’re getting a commission on the back end. We’ve worked with brands that have done that, where the influencers receive a certain percentage commission on any sales that they push to the website. So yeah, I think doing some sort of promo code or special offer, anything that feels exclusive or feels special, whether or not it actually is, you could be working with a couple different influencers if it is like a sneak peek at a flavor that you’re releasing that is special just to them, something that just really kind of feels a little bit unique.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [21:27]
You can also… If you don’t feel comfortable doing a discount code, if you’re pushing something that is a new product where it’s limited release, that’s another call to action where there’s this kind of finite amount of product and people are going to want to scoop it up immediately, things like that. So there’s a lot of different roads you can kind of take and yeah, I think it’s a great way to be able to track ROI as well.
 
Alison Smith: [21:58]
Yeah. For us, that’s the most important part, is being able to track it. Awesome. Well, hot tips coming from the PR ladies. What else do we got?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [22:07]
So in our dive onto Instagram, took a look at what are some of the community engagement or relationships that Willow St. Snacks has, whether that is retail or wholesale partners, or what are some of these giveaways with other brands and also really taking a look at what some of the competitors are doing and doing really well. And I think finding like-minded brands and opportunities to collaborate, whether that is a giveaway. And so that’s kind of like a group giveaway, where you have five products and you have to follow all of the brands in order to win or comment, it’s a great way to build your social media following and to gain visibility on some of these other brands’ platforms. It’s also a great way to potentially create other newsworthy PR moments, if you’re doing some sort of like a collaboration or partnership.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [23:19]
So a couple of opportunities that I think they did really well with, the CLEAN.FIT box is a great way to leverage other brands and really kind of create those connections on social media and really just kind of showcasing your products alongside the CPG community. And seeing what other like-minded brands are doing on social, and maybe it’s teaming up with another brand to co-host a hike, or including a bag of product in a swag bag at an event that is like a wellness event or something like that.
 
Stef Shapira: [24:05]
Those are basically like community building and partnership type things, which is in a sense, we have three pillars of what we do, which is media relations, influencers and then community building and partnerships. And those are the three ways that we pretty much suggest a brand is utilizing with PR to create brand awareness in different ways. So if someone sees a media story and then they also notice this brand is sponsoring a hike they’re going on, it’s just building that brand identity a bit more. So yeah, we’re always trying to think of, what are the ways in these three areas that brands can get in front of more people? Or even just build a stronger relationship with the same people.
 
Alison Smith: [24:56]
So do you guys have a set amount of giveaways or collaborations that you try to produce and run for clients? Is there a number that people should try to be hitting?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [25:13]
Not necessarily, I think it kind of just goes back to what your goals are and if your goals are to increase your social media following by X amount of follower in six months or something like that, that’s just one of the tactics and just kind of measuring how successful some of those partnerships or giveaways are, and then reassessing as needed. But I think for us, in this community building area, a lot of times, clients are really looking to increase visibility but also create partnerships that give them authenticity in that community and allow them to connect with people in a really different way. I mean, it’s a lifeline to consumers that doesn’t feel like they’re being advertised to. And so we’re always trying to find, as the landscape changes, we’re always trying to find creative ways to reach a target market. And this is just one of those different avenues that we find really effective and can be really fun.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [26:34]
Any sort of collaborations, whether that is a CBD brand coming up with a custom ice cream, it’s one way to get in front of the community and talk about the brand. And it also creates a newsworthy PR moment that we can then use to pitch to media. Plus, it allows great social media content. We can send it to influencers, which then creates UGC content. It offers up opportunities for marketing in newsletter content. And I think also connecting with like-minded brands, provides opportunities to lend yourself as an expert, whether that is giving tips on types of vegan snacks to bring on a picnic or entrepreneurial stories and tips for other brands, whether they’re using it on a guest blog or a newsletter and then vice versa.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [27:51]
So I think it just goes back to, long story short, figuring out what your goals are and what you’re hoping to achieve through that, and then kind of creating a strategy. But I think when you’re looking at I guess, Willow St. Snacks specifically, in terms of what some of the other opportunities and areas of opportunities are, we noticed that they are available in a couple retailers and leaning on them to help leverage their availability there, like Foragers in New York for example, opens them up to their network and using them as a resource for tips as well. So kind of using the same tactics with a different type of partner.
 
Karin Samelson: [28:43]
So many partnership opportunities. I love that. It’s like, why not? We talk about it on digital so much too. If there is an audience overlap, not overlap, but likeness, you got to partner. That’s how to find… I mean, it is one of the best ways to be able to grow your audience. So-
 
Lindsey Leroy: [29:02]
Yeah, for sure.
 
Karin Samelson: [29:04]
… great tips. Cool. Is there anything else PR related that you guys saw that you want to go over before we jump into the marketing and digital side?
 
Stef Shapira: [29:11]
I feel like that pretty much covers it.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [29:14]
I think there’s a lot of opportunity and I think it seems like a really interesting product. And I think there’s a great base with photography and with the story to kind of build on that, to create a lot of opportunities.
 
Karin Samelson: [29:29]
I love that. Opportunity. Good. And excuse me for the gentleman across the street revving his motorcycle engine. If you guys hear that, that’s what’s happening. So hopefully, that doesn’t bother you too much. But okay, so we’ve covered PR. Let’s get into a little bit of a marketing dive audit if you will, and we’re going to start with Instagram. So that’s always the first place that I look generally. I know I should go to a website, but I generally do look at the Instagram. Because I’m like, “What are they doing? How are they active? What kind of social proof do they have? What are they posting?”
 
Karin Samelson: [30:06]
So as I look through it, the main thing that catches my attention right away, is that it’s just product, product, product, product, product. And what we generally like to do, not generally, we always like to do this. We want to establish what we call messaging buckets. People call them content pillars. You can call them whatever you want, but there’s just these themed pieces of content that you can establish and create subtopics beneath it. So that the content that you’re putting out on social is super varied, it’s engaging. People are entertained and they want to keep following you. There’s no reason to follow anybody on social if you’re not being entertained in some way. So establishing those messaging buckets is going to be key. I don’t know if they’ve done it yet. It just seems like super product heavy, so I don’t feel like they have. But if you have, maybe just add a few more things. And one of the things that I think you guys can touch on so much more, is that when I look at your bio, I love your headline, biltong, jerky and vegan snacks. Super searchable, anybody can go in your search and find that, and it might bring you to their page.
 
Karin Samelson: [31:21]
But the first two words in their bio, outside of their headline says, “Responsible beefing.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, I love that. Yes, let’s talk about sustainability. Let’s talk about regenerative agriculture.” Let’s talk about whatever you guys think of when you want to say, call out responsible beefing. But when I’m looking through the content, I see nothing about responsible beefing. There’s very little to none. Actually, when I look at the past couple months, when it comes to that phrase, responsible beefing, responsible farming. So I would love to see that education messaging bucket super uplifted. And I think that ties into what you guys were talking about on PR and on the website it’s like we’re building a story. When we’re marketing, we’re storytelling, we’re trying to build the brand in that way. And that comes from touching on different aspects of the business, stressing the things that are really important to you and your mission. And that is really helpful in the content that you share. You guys are on the same page about that, right?
 
Stef Shapira: [32:29]
Yeah. And also, media and influencers like you, like most people, are also going to go to the Instagram page. Even if sometimes we send them the website first, everyone’s still going to look at Instagram to further see, visually see how they can flash out their story or if there’s more there. So yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense, to be using their social media account to really share that story too.
 
Karin Samelson: [32:56]
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And another happy suggestion would be, if you guys don’t have a Canva account, get Canva. I want every brand to have Canva because it’s so dang easy and you don’t need a graphic designer and there’s so many templates and you guys have fun branding. So get a Canva account, upload your branded guidelines or brand colors and typography and all that good stuff. So that you can create a lot of fun educational content that way too. A lot of imagery, a lot of infographics and things like that generally perform really well in this space, because there’s a lot of information. A lot of education is shared. And I don’t know, some article posted, it’s just like 90 something, it’s a high number percent of consumers. Especially, the younger generation are talking about how they want to only purchase from mission based sustainable brands. So it’s like, “Let’s stress this as much as possible.” I love that you’re putting it in the bio but give it to me elsewhere.
 
Karin Samelson: [34:00]
Okay, another thing I saw. So link and bio. When we are on Instagram, you can’t add links anywhere else on your post. You have one place to put your link, give it to us, tell us where we need to go to immediately perform an action, a purchase. Giving you my email. Something that you want from me and generally, that’s not just the homepage of your website, unless you have a popup that comes up or something that’s going to get me right when I get to your website. So if there are multiple places that you want to send people, you have a little bit of recipe and blog content stuff. I know that you guys were featuring it lower in the feed. I don’t know if you’re doing it so much anymore. Use a link tree, use something that can insert a lot of different links and just make sure that those top ones are your most important ones.
 
Karin Samelson: [34:57]
So if you’re offering a percent off or you’re offering free shipping for first time, or a percent off for first time purchasers or free shipping on all orders or whatever it is, have that at the very top to entice people to click through. And then the last thing I want to talk about on Instagram, is variation in actual content. So what I love to see is that this brand is doing a little bit of behind the scenes, trying to talk about some of their employees, giving a little look at them. It’s a good idea to edit those a little bit more, I would say. So whether that’s to just knock off the first few seconds or so of you establishing the set, getting the person comfortable in front of the camera and things like that, you can edit that out. I’m not going to be nitpicky on this though, because I’m just glad you’re doing it. But with reels content, there’s so much opportunity here.
 
Karin Samelson: [35:53]
So just play with video content, keep playing with different types of content. But I would challenge this brand to keep it short and sweet, making some under 10 seconds. A lot of people are talking about the seven second thing right now, and try using trending audio. So a few ideas could be short farm clips. If you’re talking about responsible beefing, show it to me. Show me the responsible beefing. Pouring jerky into a bowl using slo-mo with some trending audio or the process of making biltong. You guys have the production facility. People love those process videos. Give us some of those, make them quick. And yeah, I think those are just some quick ideas that came to mind.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [36:35]
Do you guys have recommendations for brands on, I guess, the percentage of video to static posts and how much-
 
Stef Shapira: [36:46]
I was literally going to ask that same question.
 
Karin Samelson: [36:48]
Oh, well, both of y’all are asking.
 
Stef Shapira: [36:51]
So curious. We have to know.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [36:53]
Video performs really well. And I know that most people enjoy watching videos, but they can be a little bit more time consuming to make. But yeah, what would be your recommendation for that?
 
Karin Samelson: [37:06]
I would say, and it kind of plays into exactly what you said, establishing your goals, but in the same vein. I want to say whatever you are capable, because we’re talking to people, founders who are doing this themselves still. Whatever you are capable of doing with the time that you have allotted for your marketing, and I need you to allot some time for marketing. So if that means that you can only get one video out a month, then get that video out a month. If it means that you are able to get one a week, make it a goal to get that one out a week. So generally, the more video content, the better. You can always utilize trending things online that you see, as long as you ask permissions to reshare and things like that. But there’s so many little pieces of video content that you don’t need to try really hard on. Like I said, pouring jerky into a bowl and slo-mo. And then when you’re scrolling Instagram, they’re like, “Put this audio onto your last camera video and it’s romantic.” So little things like that, just play into it and try and see what hits because you never know.
 
Karin Samelson: [38:17]
But I think outside of just video, because that seems a little bit more intimidating for some people, I would stress the importance of varied content, whether it comes to carousel posts and static posts and video posts. And I think later, which is some social media software, just put out something that out of all of these millions of things that they’ve researched or pulled analytics from, carousel posts are some of the highest engaged, above static posts and above video posts, not reals. So it’s just like, “I want to see some carousel posts here too.” And that’s where Canva can come in, to make it really easy to do that. So there’s not a hard and fast answer to how many video posts I want a brand to do, but as much as you can is always a good answer.
 
Stef Shapira: [39:06]
Yeah. That makes sense. What else did you see in terms of tips, looking at their social?
 
Karin Samelson: [39:14]
Yeah. Honestly, that was… To not overwhelm, I think that’s the starting point that I want to share with them. Just keeping it varied, leaning into the short form video content, refining your actual content buckets or pillars or messaging buckets. And really talking about the responsible beefing part of it. Because if you’re going to put it up front and center like that, I want to see as much of that as possible. Yeah. And then some of this ties into website stuff. When I come to a website, no matter what website it is, I want you to get me with either a banner at the top or a popup that’s telling me that you’re going to give me something if I make a purchase. I want to feel that way, especially with these smaller brands. So a popup that says, “I need something from you, aka an email address, and I’m going to give you 10% off your first order.”
 
Karin Samelson: [40:12]
Because email always, always, always, no matter how big or small your brand is, should be one of your biggest marketing lovers because you own that data. It’s not on the whim of any other big social media corporation, you have these emails that they have given you and you can send them, responsibly, what you want to send them. So I want to see a popup for lead gen or I want to see a banner that tells me that you’re going to give me something in exchange for either an email or a purchase. So I want to see that first. And then, I’m glad that y’all said this earlier, when you were talking about PR, but coming to the website and seeing a picture of a cow and it’s just being grass fed beef. It’s like, “Okay, I get it. That’s cool, I like it.”
 
Karin Samelson: [41:02]
But let’s try and refine what that headline looks like, what that hero image looks like and the call to action. We want a button, we want to be able to click through and purchase. I want you to tell me where I need to go, I don’t want to have to search for it. So even if you want to have a picture of a beautiful… I wish I knew what kind of cow this was. It’s on the tip of my tongue, if anybody knows. But if you want to have that, overlay some of your packaging too. And have a call to action button that’s like, “Shop now,” or something that will get me to your collections page, to your shop page to potentially purchase.
 
Alison Smith: [41:40]
Yeah, I would love to see product or a product in use, something like that on this hero image. The cow photo is gorgeous though. Definitely you can utilize it in so many ways, but I completely agree with you there. Beyond just that hero image, investing, it’s such a thing. Investing in product photography is just so important for CPG brands. And I think having a shoot, it can be a small shoot with a local photographer, just trying to get some more package photos. And if you have any friends or family, or if you want to hire models to get their hands in the bags or their face in your bag, just getting some lifestyle photography as well as that studio or package photography, I think could really just elevate your entire marketing assets. So I highly recommend doing that.
 
Alison Smith: [42:46]
I would look at EPIC Provisions. I mean, love them. But their product photo is their packaging. And again, with CPG, packaging is so important. It’s what makes people stop when they’re shopping in retail. People want to see what they’re going to get and they like opening boxes and it’s really fun. So I think replacing your current product photos, which your branding is beautiful, to your actual package and then maybe some additional lifestyle photos, could really help conversions there. We had the same note, we already talked about what is biltong. So we know but not everyone else may know. So just-
 
Lindsey Leroy: [43:35]
[inaudible 00:43:35] we know. I had to look it up, but now that I know what it is-
 
Alison Smith: [43:41]
Oh, Lindsay did not know.
 
Stef Shapira: [43:43]
I have had other brands of biltong before, and it is delicious. So everyone should try it. If you eat-
 
Karin Samelson: [43:51]
Endorsed by Stef.
 
Stef Shapira: [43:54]
Even if you don’t eat meat, there is mushroom biltong, apparently.
 
Karin Samelson: [43:57]
She’s a saleswoman.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [44:00]
Sorry, when I started just kind of like Googling to do some more research on what biltong actually is. And I came across a couple competitors and seeing how they were explaining it. I think, Stryve is, I think might be how you say it. A really good job on their website and on their social and getting to the point on what biltong is and why you should love it. So that was something that I noticed. And back to what you were talking about, Alison with photography on the website. Having the lifestyle pictures, just how you enjoy the product, how you’re… Whether that’s like the hand in the bag or-
 
Stef Shapira: [44:41]
A hike.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [44:44]
… bag in your bag while you’re on the go. Just showing how you would use it, eat it and enjoy it. I think is so useful, not just for the website but also for us, for pitching, to be able to have great high res imagery, is such a value add. And it’s a great way to increase your odds of getting meat coverage.
 
Alison Smith: [45:08]
Yeah. I like how you put that, how the user is going to use it. Because when you’re buying a product, you’re really kind of thinking about yourself and how it’s going to change your life or improve your life. So I think that would be huge. And then on the educational piece, again, if you need to, I would do your own research and definitely look up Stryve. It’s S-T-R-Y-V-E, I believe. But try to relate it to the beef jerky eaters of the world. Why should they switch from beef jerky that they’ve eaten their whole life into biltong? And how is it different? How’s the taste better? Why is it better? All of those things are super important and they should be highlighted, as soon as you get to your website or really anywhere else.
 
Alison Smith: [46:03]
And then let’s move to paid social. So there’s no paid ads running but that’s okay. Not everyone needs to start off running ads, but we’d like to talk about some things that you could do, if you decide to run ads in the future. So this is kind of a website note as well, that Karin and I put together. So getting product bundles on your site. So we generally like to see the average order value on your site, at least at the $20 range. So 20 to 40 at least, I would say. So try bundling some of your best sellers and make a best seller pack. Do a three pack of your vegan jerky, do certain combinations based on the data that you’re seeing from customers and create more bundles. Also, I don’t think that you guys are using subscription at this time. This is a product that I think could make an awesome subscription for anyone that wants to come on your site and automatically get these to their door on a bi-monthly basis. So definitely try to get that AOV up just by doing those simple things like bundling and subscription.
 
Alison Smith: [47:22]
Again, the product photos. I think we need some lifestyle photos and show off the packaging again, that’s going to help with ad conversions as well, if you ever want to run ads. And then back to the educational side. So with ads, we’ve worked with a biltong brand before and there is going to be an initial educational piece to these ads, just because not everyone is aware yet of what it is. So I would really look into targeting the big beef jerky brands or people who love beef jerky as your audience is. And then just like everyone has been saying, layout why biltong is better than beef jerky, why you should make the switch. Targeting keto people, targeting people who are into paleo or other health. Anything that your products value propositions touch on, definitely look into targeting those people. And then of course, you can target the vegans with your mushroom jerky. So those are some audiences that you could look at.
 
Alison Smith: [48:32]
And then just looking at your actual product value props. So 17 grams of protein, thinly sliced and tender, no nitrates, no preservatives. Those would be awesome pieces of copy on your ads. Those are also things that you can include in your messaging on your organic social, or through your email marketing as well. So those are some really great value props on your product that you can definitely highlight. It’s also a low calorie, it’s a low calorie snack. So there’s so much stuff to talk about here, which is really exciting. And then talking back to those press hits that you’ve received. So again, those can make some really awesome ads because it gives you an extra dose of clout and social proof just starting off. So say you’re trying to expand in the Boston market or say, you even have a retailer in Boston and you’re wanting people to go and shop in store. You can run targeted ads in that area and use those press hits, those local press hits and really hit that audience hard with all that social proof. So definitely use all those assets that you already have if you decide to run ads in the future.
 
Alison Smith: [49:53]
We also are huge fans of UGC styled ads. So UGC means user generated content. Basically, it’s content that other people have created for you, or you can just DIY it and create it yourself. It looks just like really native looking content that your friend or family would post on their Instagram or on their Facebook. And it’s them taking the product on a hike, making a recipe or just simply eating it. And those types of ads with people in it, that look super native like they were shot on an iPhone, are generally the most highly converting ads that you can run. And the awesome part is, you don’t have to hire a photographer, a videographer to create them. You can send some to your friends and family, ask them to take photos, or if you’re running one of those influencer campaigns, make sure to ask them if you can use these types of content in your ads as well. And then I think someone brought up recipes as well, and I think it’s on your website. So using biltong in different recipes or as like a salad topper.
 
Alison Smith: [51:07]
Showing people how to actually use the product beyond just snacking, could be really interesting for content. We also love any behind the scenes. Like if you are visiting a farm where your cows are raised, or if you want to talk about your story and your mission and why you came to create this product, those types of ads are also really, really powerful. And then highlight definitely that you have free shipping. So free shipping increases conversions, I would say 90% of the time. So highlighting that you have free shipping on your site for all domestic orders through your ad creatives, is really going to help people go and check out. And if you do decide to use one of those lead generation popups on your site, and offer like 10% off if someone signs up for your email, you can also use that 10% off in your ads to help those first time buyers actually initiate a checkout. It’s going to help them push them over the edge. So I just ran through that y’all. Those are my little paid social ad tips. I also think that this brand could kill it on Amazon. I don’t know if you guys are running Amazon ads. We’re not an Amazon ads agency, but I think this brand really suits itself for Amazon as well.
 
Stef Shapira: [52:28]
I was going to say it’s just helpful for us. I think we both kind of know what the other company… What are counterparts in this do, but to hear how it all ties together, like for a press hit, we get the press hit and then it can be maximized on a paid ad. Or we work with an influencer and they create user generated content, which then can be used on the actual account or obviously, a paid ad and other things like that. So it’s like really ideally, a brand is doing all of these things, but I know it’s a lot. So even just taking pieces of this and figuring out how to maximize it from the PR into the marketing or vice versa, I guess.
 
Alison Smith: [53:22]
Definitely, it’s like an ecosystem that you don’t want to work harder. Just really think about how you can use those assets across all of your marketing channels.
 
Lindsey Leroy: [53:33]
And support each other [inaudible 00:53:35] essentially, for the same goal.
 
Alison Smith: [53:38]
Yeah. Yeah. We have the same goal, exactly. Make some sales. All right, PR team, The Rind, anything else you want to leave our listeners with?
 
Lindsey Leroy: [53:52]
I would just say that if you ever have any questions about whether or not you’re ready for PR or how to get started, just contact us. We also, in addition to offering monthly PR services and launch campaigns, we also offer consulting. So we do brand audits just like this one with kind of a tailored toolkit to your brand. So we’ll dive into what you guys are doing and what you can be doing.
 
Alison Smith: [54:26]
That is awesome. I think that’s super duper valuable. And also UMAI Marketing has a free five day mini course. So if you are a young brand or if you’re a marketer who wants to brush up on your digital marketing, you can sign up for our mini course and The Rind PR’s audits. And we’ll link both of those in the show notes.
 
[54:48]
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 and 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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#25: Early Stage Essentials for CPG Brands with Sari Kimbell

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#25: Early Stage Essentials for CPG Brands with Sari Kimbell

Join Alison and Karin, Co-Founders of UMAI Marketing, as they talk CPG business tips that brands need to know before marketing with Sari Kimbell, founder of Sari Kimbell Coaching. Learn all about what you could be forgetting, and what you need to be keeping in mind, with running your CPG business.

 

 

Mentions from this episode: 

Contact Sari –
contact@sarikimbell.com

Mentions –

Food Business Success Podcast 
Sari Kimbell Coaching 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#25: Early Stage Essentials for CPG Brands with Sari Kimbell 

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

Karin Samelson: [00:15]

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 minicourse 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 umimarketing.com/minicourse. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

 

Alison Smith: [00:45]

Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle, where we taught consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Allison and Karin, co-founders of UMAI Marketing, and we’re being joined with Sari Kimbell, coach and founder of Food Business Success. Welcome, Sari. How are you?

 

Sari Kimbell: [01:04]

I’m amazing. Thanks for having me today. I’m really excited to be here.

 

Alison Smith: [01:08]

We’re excited as well. So let’s just jump right into your background. I’d love to hear how you got into coaching in the food business in general.

 

Sari Kimbell: [01:18]

Yeah, I will try to keep that short, but I like to say I’ve had every position, just about, in the CPG industry. I started this career a long time ago as a server and worked in restaurants, front and back of house, but I started working for a farm in 2009 and I was selling wholesale into retail and restaurants and Whole Foods. And so I was on that side. And then I went over to the other side and started working for Whole Foods Market. I started out as a buyer, went to the regional office and I was helping local brands onboard and finding local brands to bring into the store, and really helping them be more successful because they were so excited to be on the shelves. But then it’s like, I always say you just started when you got on the shelf, now we got to get you off the shelf. So that’s a whole journey in that area.

 

Sari Kimbell: [02:19]

And then I was a marketing director for the third largest grossing store in the Rocky Mountain region at Whole Foods. Local food was really my focus and my passion, again, helping those small brands get off the shelf into people’s carts. So when I left Whole Foods, I started my own thing. Well, as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do after leaving Whole Foods, I started managing a commissary kitchen that a friend ran. I was meeting with all these want-to-be entrepreneurs. They were bright-eyed and idealistic and excited, and they just wanted me to sign this piece of paper that said, yes, you can work in this kitchen.

 

Sari Kimbell: [03:03]

I would start asking them all these questions about their business and just the foundation pieces. They would look at me like, can you just sign this piece of paper. But I realized that this was my niche, these were the people I really wanted to serve. I was like, “How do I go about doing that?” Because when you’re a very early stage entrepreneur, I get it, you’re bootstrapping and you’re just trying to get this thing launched. So Creative Food Business Success, which is an online program meant to really help those early entrepreneurs. And then I also have Sari Kimbell Coaching where I really work with people who have a product, they’re ready to grow. Most of my people have never been in the industry before, so it’s a whole new area for them. So that’s kind of hopefully the quick and dirty of how I got into this space six years later.

 

Alison Smith: [04:05]

I love it. I mean, I love your track record. You’ve literally done it all from the beginning to where you are now. I just feel like that experience is just so valuable and you’re probably able to relate so well with anyone that wants to work with you. So I really like that.

 

Karin Samelson: [04:28]

Yeah. We have such a tight bond. I feel like we relate so much to anybody who is in small CPG because it is such a different world than big business, big CPG. It’s just like, these founders are grinding, they are ready to work and they have huge dreams. And so it’s amazing that you’re in this space as well. So how does your expertise translate and help people in the food industry now?

 

Sari Kimbell: [05:01]

I mean, I love it. I have such a passion for these early stages. I always tell people, just try to enjoy this journey because I know you’re trying to get so far ahead and you’re like, “I just want to be over there.” It’s like, slow down and actually enjoy this journey because you’re going to look back someday and be like, “Oh, that was so sweet. I was so cute back then. Remember when I worried about X, Y, Z and how cute that was.” So try to enjoy this part of the journey as you’re in the early stages.

 

Sari Kimbell: [05:37]

The first thing is just so important that people understand the foundations of their business when they’re setting it up. But legally and profitability, with profit in mind, I think a lot of times people skip ahead to the fun, sexy parts, like branding and marketing and social media and content. A lot of people are drawn to that and they’re like, “Yeah, let’s get that going.” But unfortunately there are times when I start working with people who already have a product and it’s like, we got to dial it back and go back to the beginning, like your cost of goods sold. Did you trademark? Are you legally set up? Are you invoicing or are you doing 1099-S there?

 

Sari Kimbell: [06:24]

Some of the QuickBooks and just are you set up for profitability? I think those are the less fun parts of starting a business. So definitely starting there. That’s what a lot of Food Business Success is about, it is branding and marketing, but it’s also, how do we scale up a recipe? What is our cost of goods sold? What’s our path to profitability? Otherwise, we’re just running an expensive hobby.

 

Karin Samelson: [06:53]

Oh, that’s awesome. Path to profitability, that’s gotta be one of your taglines, right?

 

Sari Kimbell: [06:58]

Yeah. I use that a lot because-

 

Karin Samelson: [07:01]

I was going to say that just rolls off the tongue.

 

Sari Kimbell: [07:03]

Yeah. Well, what I find is that when I start to do COGS work, cost of goods sold, so we’re looking at our inputs and what does it cost to actually physically create this product. First of all, people rarely put in their own labor. So they’re like, “Yeah, I have great margins.” But they’re actually not paying themselves or potentially paying somebody else to make their product. But I always say when you start out, you’re going to be at your worst case scenario. You’re not going to be buying in large quantities, you might be buying in retail, your ingredients. You’re not going to be as efficient. But like I said, a path, is there a way for, like can we look at what are the steps that need to happen over the next year or two to create profitability?

 

Alison Smith: [07:53]

Yeah. I’m sure there’s so many conversations, whereas people come to you and they’re like, “We’re ready to scale and grow and do all this marketing.” I’m sure you’re just like, “Hold on, let’s come back “

 

Sari Kimbell: [08:06]

Back to the basics.

 

Alison Smith: [08:09]

Yeah. Let’s go back to the basics, make sure we got it right because we’re marketers and you can’t scale if your COGS aren’t there. I also like that you help them understand how much are they putting in their pocket, is this going to be rewarding and fun five years later, or they’re still going to be grinding. So that’s really great to hear. So what are the biggest mistakes you see these early stage food entrepreneurs make? Is it those basics that you usually have to go fix or what else are you seeing?

 

Sari Kimbell: [08:48]

I mean, it kind of falls into a couple of camps. It’s definitely the basics. I look at it like the foundation of a house, if you put layering, marketing and fancy content on top of an unstable structure, you can add all the great content and marketing and all those things on top. But ultimately if you’re losing money over three years or breaking even, that’s not a very solid foundation.

 

Sari Kimbell: [09:21]

And your point about the grind and the hustle, it’s going to feel terrible and you’re not going to really want to keep going. It’s like, I want to help people create a business that they love. I’m sorry, but you’re a business. So that means that you need to be making money. And if every month you’re just grinding it out and there’s no profit, there’s no like, I can support my life and my family or switch out, I work with a lot of people. This is a side hustle. They want to grow it into their full-time job, but they’re working another job right now. And so it’s like, we got to build those foundations first so that you can create a business that’s fun and gives you the freedom.

 

Sari Kimbell: [10:09]

I think so many people go into entrepreneurship and I love it. I love that people have the call of entrepreneurship. I know the three of us have talked about being entrepreneurs ourselves and it’s the hardest thing, in my opinion, you will ever do. You want to bring up all your crap to the service, then all your baggage and all your limiting beliefs, go become an entrepreneur. And so I’m going about this roundabout, but I think the foundation of your business needs to be really strong. All the setup pieces, the legal, the financial, all of that.

 

Sari Kimbell: [10:52]

But then I think one of the other mistakes I really see is the entrepreneur mindset and just thinking that it should be so easy, and why isn’t this happening faster or not working through your own personal growth. Because I think entrepreneurship is an opportunity for us to become better humans and to grow ourselves and have fun in this business as well.

 

Alison Smith: [11:20]

Yeah. It’s not always fun, but that should be a goal, for sure. That reminded me of something that you say on your site that I really loved and I would like to hear you say more about it. You said creating a business you love requires more than a great recipe. It takes industry knowledge, strategies to achieve your goals, discipline, confidence, and massive action. Then you say most people aren’t willing to do this for their dreams. Can you tell us more about that thought?

 

Sari Kimbell: [11:50]

I’m like, “Oh, that’s good.”

 

Alison Smith: [11:52]

Yeah. You’re like, “I’m good at copywriting.”

 

Sari Kimbell: [11:55]

Right. So I heard a great quote of, if you want to be in the 5% that achieve their dreams and become a great successful entrepreneur, you have to be willing to do what 95% of people won’t do. And so you can start a great cookie business or kombucha, or have a great product. But if you’re not willing to become a CEO and step into doing really hard things, putting yourself out there taking action, you’re going to fail more times than you’re going to succeed if you’re doing it right. And so just do you have the discipline to show up even when it’s hard and even when bad things happen?

 

Sari Kimbell: [12:46]

Because the only problem people have in their businesses is that they think that they shouldn’t have any problems, when you’re just in that place of like, why is this always happening to me? I shouldn’t be dealing with this. This shouldn’t be happening. Why are there so many problems? I’m like, “Every business has 10 problems in their business all the time. You just get way better at solving problems and being like, okay, there’s another problem. This is totally supposed to be happening because I’m a human and I’m an entrepreneur.”

 

Karin Samelson: [13:18]

I love that so much. I think that that is so important for us to remind ourselves because sometimes it looks like everything is going smoothly for everyone else, but you just don’t see it. I mean, it’s very much like social media and just having this beautiful feat of amazing things that happen, but you don’t know what’s happening in the background. So, I love that

 

Alison Smith: [13:40]

People don’t post their failures on social media.

 

Sari Kimbell: [13:43]

Very rarely.

 

Alison Smith: [13:47]

Very rarely. There should be more of it.

 

Sari Kimbell: [13:49]

It’s the compare and despair. Yeah. Compare and despair is really tough. I mean, I was just telling you guys before we started recording, I took a group of clients to Fancy Food and before we walked in, I said, “Okay, I want you guys to set an intention ahead of time.” Because everybody that I was with, all my clients had never been to a trade show before. Some have a product and are a little farther along, but some of them don’t have a product yet. I said, “It can be really easy. You’re going to walk in here and think all these people have got it figured out. They’re all unicorns. Who am I to be in this room? I’ll never be there. Look, they have it all together.”

 

Sari Kimbell: [14:31]

I’m like, “You got to set an intention ahead of time and say, I’m here to just learn and I’m here to get inspired. This isn’t about me. I can’t compare myself to where they’re at.” I mean, some of those brands have been in business for 10 years or longer, and it’s really easy to project wherever somebody is at so far along and you’re like, “I’m never going to get there. There’s so much farther along than me.” It’s like, yeah. You can use that against yourself or you can use that for yourself and say, “Well, that’s really aspirational. I see pieces that I want to do that’ll like, oh, I really like that and I like that, or I never want to do that. That’s terrible.” So we can use that for us or against us, but it’s really tough when you become an entrepreneur, not to compare yourself to others.

 

Karin Samelson: [15:26]

That’s such great advice to set an intention to combat those thoughts in your head. I think that’s something all of us can do no matter what industry you’re in as an entrepreneur. So you did mention a little bit ago about it taking time, and you are working with some wannabe entrepreneurs that don’t yet have a product. So what would be your advice to those people who either haven’t launched yet or have just launched and it’s just feeling like a slog taking a little bit longer than they expected. What would be your advice?

 

Sari Kimbell: [16:10]

Oh, I love that. Time is our worst enemy sometimes because we compare ourselves, we think it should be happening faster. Other people are doing it faster, why aren’t I farther along? Stop shitting on yourself for one. It’s taking the right amount of time. To me, it goes back to just your thoughts. First of all, I was like, “It’s taking the right amount of time. It’s taking the exact amount of time that it should.” Some products are just way more challenging than others. Everybody’s going to have problems, like I said, but we have to recognize that some products are just going to take longer and that’s okay.

 

Sari Kimbell: [16:52]

So I think just resetting our time. We always overestimate what we can do in a short amount of time, and we underestimate what’s possible in a year or five years. We can actually get way more done, but we often want to be like, “Well, in the next three months, I’m going to launch this and do this.” And then we beat ourselves up when that three months come and life gets in the way, things happen, pandemics, family. I mean, those things are going to get in the way, that’s life. And so how can we be a little bit, maybe more realistic with the timeframe and not set ourselves up for failure?

 

Sari Kimbell: [17:30]

I heard a great quote today that something like time does not equal your results. And so if we can like, it’s great, I love goals. Set a goal, in six months I want to be launched, because I think goals help give us structure and it’s like, okay, I’m going to take this action, this action, this action. We start to develop a plan, but also who cares if it takes you nine months or a year? It’s just going to take the time it takes. We can release ourselves from, “I’m going to go after it with everything I got to do this in six months.” But then I’m also like, “So what if it takes me nine months to do it?” The end of the day you’re going to be like, “I did it. I launched my business.” You’re going to be so happy. You’re not going to be like, “Well, but it should have been in six months and not nine.”

 

Karin Samelson: [18:28]

Yeah. A lot of practicing forgiveness, for sure, in that.

 

Sari Kimbell: [18:33]

Yeah. A lot of self compassion. Again, I think it’s that we overestimate. So we just have a bad relationship. I mean, there’s all these studies and things of what we think we can accomplish in one day, or one week, and we set ourselves up to fail so much in that realm. But then if we just stay consistent, we just keep taking small actions, you can actually accomplish so much in a year or longer. But oftentimes we do that start, where we’re like, “I’m going all in. I’m going to do this crazy thing.” All these things in one week and then we don’t do it, and then we give up and then we take all this time to recover, and then we start again that way. It’s like the New Year’s resolution effect versus how can we just do small things and keep going?

 

Karin Samelson: [19:26]

That’s exactly what I was thinking. I was like, “Yeah, at the beginning of the year I’m working out five times a week, I’m doing this and that. And then by week three I’m a piece of garbage.” And it just start small and have realistic expectations. So [crosstalk 00:19:42] totally fine.

 

Sari Kimbell: [19:43]

I mean, I know you guys talk a lot about just having content that is quality, not necessarily in production quality, but just quality content. It’s like, I look at it like a body of work. If you post it every day, even if it wasn’t the best post, or you posted five times a week and you were consistent and you just kept doing it, over time your body of work is out there in the world and people can find you. There’s just something about consistency, which goes back to what was on my website. It’s like, consistent, small action is going to trump giant leaps of like, I’m going to get it all done in one day, and then giving up for two weeks and not doing anything.

 

Alison Smith: [20:31]

Well, you talk about three buckets that you hit on with your clients, with your members about launching an idea. And let me know if I’m getting this right. First one, product and business. Second one, branding marketing, and then your go-to market strategy. Is that right?

 

Sari Kimbell: [20:52]

Yeah. So those are …

 

Alison Smith: [20:54]

Yeah. Talk us through them. How do you walk everyone through those three buckets?

 

Sari Kimbell: [20:59]

Yeah. So whether it’s Food Business Success or my coaching, one-on-one, it’s like, we always start with just what we talked about at the beginning, like the fundamentals, the foundation, we’re going to make sure we’re on solid foundation that we’re building our business. I find food safety is another area where people gloss right over, like what? FDA recall, record keeping. So like I said, your financials, your product, your cost of goods sold, food safety is a big one. All of your legal pieces, just getting all of that set up.

 

Sari Kimbell: [21:42]

And so I look at that as your product too, like your business and product, like your product, your FDA compliant with your labels, you’re not making health claims that you shouldn’t, your nutrition fax panels are the right size, all that stuff. And are we maximizing your cost of goods sold as best we can with wherever you’re at right now? So all of those business foundation, super important. Branding, marketing, we go through the exercises and the work of knowing who our target customer is, that we get out of the thinking of, but everybody loves my product and it’s meant for everyone.

 

Sari Kimbell: [22:27]

There’s so much resistance to that of, but I don’t want to just choose one customer. I always say, “Listen, other people can buy your product. It’s fine.” Other people can love your product and be a customer, but when we’re talking all of our marketing and when we design our branding, we need to have a customer in mind. I don’t know if you guys have told this story before on your podcast, but Lululemon, they have Ocean. And then I think the guy’s name is Duke, which I think are just like Lululemon names, but in all of their marketing, they only speak to Ocean. There’s lots of other people who buy Lululemon, but that’s who they’re … She’s like, yoga, pilates. She has two kids and they’re these ages and this is what she eats and this is what she does and her hopes and fears and family and all of that. So important.

 

Alison Smith:[23:36]

Yeah. I completely get brands or entrepreneur sentiment of being like, everyone would love this product, completely get that, but it is so difficult to speak to everyone. So you have to niche that down or otherwise marketing your assets, your voice is going to be so hodgepodge and it’s going to be a lot more difficult on you. It’s going to put a lot more work on you in the end to try to speak to everyone.

 

Sari Kimbell: [24:06]

Yeah. Absolutely. It muddles your message. I mean, and I always think about, there are brands that I love that are like, but they’re talking to me. That’s why I love them. And the brands that are trying to be everything to everyone, you don’t connect with anybody. So pick a path, be willing. So I work on that with people one-on-one or in the groups. We just really try to dial that in and get over our fears of, but if I choose one person, nobody else will buy, which is not true. And then getting the branding all aligned, your voice, your messaging, your keywords and of course, visuals are super important, do they align with that brand identity? Like if I met your brand on the street at a cocktail party, who would I meet? What are their human qualities and personification?

 

Sari Kimbell: [25:10]

So just getting all of that dialed in all of your assets, all the things you’re going to need to go out. And then you have a product and you’re legal and you have a great foundation and you have great branding and marketing. I know I work with a lot of early stage entrepreneurs and I know you can’t always afford some amazing graphic designer out of the gate. It’s an iterative process and you’re always just trying to be a little bit better and get just a little above, keep evolving it. And so start wherever you’re at. I think it’s such an important investment to work with a graphic designer at some level.

 

Sari Kimbell: [25:54]

I was just talking with a gal, one of my clients at Fancy Food and we were looking back on her old brand, and she had created it. She had some design skills, but she had created it. Now she invested in a design firm and we look back and she’s like, “I cannot believe that I had that. It looked so elementary.” I’m like, “Yeah, but it served you at that time.”

 

Alison Smith: [26:21]

Yes, he did it.

 

Sari Kimbell: [26:24]

He did it. He got it out there. Just get it out there in the world with the best that you can, and then get it out. So I put together a program called CPG VIP where I just said, “If I was going to create a brand, if I was going to become a CPG food entrepreneur, what would I want?” And so it’s my graphic designer or a copywriter brand strategist, and myself for compliance and legal. So just if you can hire a package like that or hire somebody, but just start wherever you’re at, get something out in the world. Especially if you’re starting at farmer’s markets or whatever, I’m like, “Fine. Start with Avery labels and some craft bags. Just get it out into the world.

 

Alison Smith: [27:11]

Just start.

 

Sari Kimbell: [27:12]

Just start. So all of that leads to a go-to market strategy. That’s where, we’re just talking about farmer’s markets or what are your sales channels? Where are you going to go with this? Markets, online, direct to consumer? Are you going to go wholesale strategy? Amazon? There’s lots of … Food service is another one. I usually say, pick one or two, but don’t pick wholesale on Amazon at the same time because they’re such big elephants, you got to pick one of those.

 

Sari Kimbell: [27:50]

But at that point just start and have a social media strategy. You need to start posting and creating content, creating that body of work. But if you’re going to go wholesale, then you need a sell sheet and you need to understand the questions that a buyer’s going to ask, how do I work with stores and be a great partner versus how do I go to a farmer’s market and be really successful there? Or how do I launch a website? All the other sales channels. So having a strategy of depending on where you’re going is really important.

 

Alison Smith: [28:26]

Curious, do most of your brands start with retail wholesale or are you seeing more trend towards starting e-commerce first?

 

Sari Kimbell: [28:39]

I think generally I have people who really want to start a farmer’s market and, or small retail, like online, their own website. I love it when people will start that way, when it’s a brand-new product. If they can, I realize farmers markets aren’t for everyone and it doesn’t fit into everybody’s lifestyle. But the more you can start small, even if it’s Avery labels, just get the product out there, get feedback. I mean, it’s basically like a focus group, you’re going to get feedback pretty quickly in a farmer’s market. E-commerce, I love. It’s a little bit product-dependent. If you have a frozen product or refrigerated product, there’s a little more challenge there, but get it out into the world.

 

Sari Kimbell: [29:32]

Again, a strategy is important. And this is where thinking like a scientist is so important because I find people are like, “I got my website up.” Then they’re like, “Friends and family.” And everybody orders. So they get this like, woo. And then they’re like, “Wait, I built the website, where are all the people”

 

Alison Smith: [27:56]

If you built it, they don’t just come.

 

Sari Kimbell: [29:59]

They don’t just come. So then it becomes like, it’s really about content, social media, but also playing around, like what else can I do? I have a client who, he launched his hot sauce and it’s been pretty consistent, but a lot of friends and family, and then you level out and you’re like, “Okay, so everybody has their hot sauce. They’re really good.” And then he dropped off hot sauce at a radio show where a friend of his works. It’s like, how can I get the DJs talking about this hot sauce?. It’s like playing around with different influencers. I always say start in your small circle first, who do you know?

 

Sari Kimbell: [30:45]

I have another client who has a friend who writes books about health and wellness. He makes this great energy bar that’s super clean and plant-based and all of that. He’s like, “I reached out, and he’s going to try the bars.” You just have no idea what’s going to click. Anyway, that’s about building your website, and that’s really important. So I have people that started that way. And then I definitely have people who are like, “No, I just want to go wholesale and the traditional route that way.” Which is a totally different strategy. I mean, you still need content online and on social media, but it’s a really different strategy.

 

Karin Samelson: [31:27]

Yeah. I want to touch on, so you were just mentioning the power of just influence and word of mouth recommendations. I think that smaller CPG founders don’t realize the leverage they have and the opportunity really, because we’ve managed profiles with millions of followers on them and you see the DMs. Of course there’s some famous people who have managers managing it, like mega famous people that aren’t seeing all of the DMs, but somebody with 50,000 followers is seeing their DMs. It’s silly to think they’re not.

 

Karin Samelson: [32:06]

So reaching out as a founder is so powerful to these people, especially if you think they would have some interest in your brand, like that hot sauce brand of yours. Do they follow somebody who’s always eating hot sauce or really loves spicy food and they’re posting spicy recipes and things like that? It’s like, reach out to those people, ask if they want to try some stuff. Obviously we’re not asking for free work or anything like that, but when there are true advocates of your brand that can offer some influence and awesome word of mouth recommendations, you never know what’s going to hit. I think that that’s something we constantly have to remind people.

 

Sari Kimbell: [32:45]

Yeah. Because people really, they’re like, “[inaudible 00:32:49], I got to …” I don’t know. They think their growth and their business is going to come from these people way out there. I’m like, “No, we have to start with …” I look at circles of influence, you kind of start with that first, second degree of influence. Most likely what’s going to happen is, it’s really more of the fourth, fifth, sixth degree of separation. It’s like, loose ties, where you’re going to tell all of your friends, your family, you’re going to be like, “Who else do you know that would love this? Or who do you know?” And then somebody’s going to be like, “Oh, well, I know so and so who works at such and such. That’s where you start getting the really interesting ideas and those circles of influence.

 

Sari Kimbell: [33:37]

So I think people, they’re hesitant to put themselves out there. My most successful clients when they launch are the ones that utilize their entire network and they tell everybody and they ask for help and they think outside the box and they go to think about influencers and keto, like who’s doing keto out there? Let me send them some examples. And then the ones that struggle the most are like, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to bug people. I feel weird or I don’t want to tell anybody at work I’m doing this.” I’m like, “No, this is the only way you succeed at entrepreneurship, in my opinion.” Unless you have big, deep pockets. If you have deep pockets and you can pay for content and you can pay for ads. But the people I work with, they’re not in those shoes.

 

Alison Smith: [34:28]

People love food and beverages.

 

Sari Kimbell: [34:31]

Right.

 

Alison Smith: [34:33]

Most people are so excited to try your hot sauce or your new tea drink. That’s exciting for people. I don’t know anyone who would be like, “No, I don’t want to eat delicious food.” That’s like right in my category.

 

Sari Kimbell: [34:49]

Yeah. It’s interesting, but that goes back to the entrepreneur mindset of you’re going to put yourself out there and some people are going to judge you and be like, who are they to start a business? What are they thinking? Yeah, people are going to judge you. So are you going to still do the thing or are you just going to try to manage the judgment of people? I say, go do the thing. Go live your best life and start your business. Most likely, often the people who criticize you the most are the ones that wish they were doing it too. So you’re just doing the thing. What 95% of people won’t do, you’re doing it.

 

Alison Smith: [35:32]

That’s really cool. I feel like that’s why it’s so important because it’s so easy to get trapped in your head and just get into this cycle of am I going to be judged? Are people going to think I’m weird for just telling people about my life and what I like to do and things like that? Yeah, there’s probably people who are going to judge you, but that’s why it’s so important to have someone like you or have a support network in general that you can bounce ideas off of and see other people who are putting themselves out there.

 

Alison Smith: [36:08]

I don’t know where I would be personally if Karin wasn’t my other person to talk through everything, it’s so important to have that network. And like we spoke about before, entrepreneurship is hard. No one gets it in your friend group or family, unless they are entrepreneurs for the most part, because there’s a lot of different things that you go through.

 

Sari Kimbell: [36:36]

So I think community is so important to people’s success, I think, especially solopreneurs, and if they’ve never been an entrepreneur before. If you don’t, you’ve got to get out of your little bubble, and your friend group and your family group who don’t get it anyway. That’s why I created a community group and we do group coaching in Food Business Success, but also just go find other networking groups, whether it’s in the CPG space, like Naturally Boulder or Naturally Chicago, or I’m president of Colorado food works where I’m at in Colorado. But there are other organizations out there in CPG, but then also business and the entrepreneurship groups too, because they’re going to get what you’re going through, even if they’re not in the same industry.

 

Sari Kimbell: [37:26]

I mentioned, I took some clients out to Fancy Food and there was 12 of us total, and we all sat in a group each day and just had a couple hours of pow wow and the conversations and the connection and the energy that came out of it was just like, my heart was exploding. It was so fun. Now we have this group that’s even tighter and they’re all supporting each other and cheering each other on and have ideas for each other. It’s just, you cannot do this alone. I don’t recommend it at all.

 

Karin Samelson: [38:05]

Yeah. It’s a good reminder that you don’t have to, you absolutely don’t have to. That’s not just meaning like having a partner in the business, there’s just endless communities that you can be a part of where people are super inviting.

 

Karin Samelson: [38:19]

Yeah. So talking about scaling a brand from inception to profitability, and you mentioned an obstacle being, like when you launch you have a bunch of friends and family, you have a lot of traction. You’re like, “Oh my gosh, my sales are so good. I’m amazing.” And then the next few months you’re like, “Uh-oh, what happened?” So what are some other obstacles that you see the entrepreneurs you’re working with facing when they start to try and scale?

 

Sari Kimbell: [38:53]

Yeah, that’s a huge one, it’s just like, okay, I got to keep putting myself out there. I always say, you think it’s really hard to create a business and get the product launched, but actually the real work starts when we launch and we get it out there because now we got to go hustle. Now we got to go create content, we got to talk to people, all of our circle of influence or, we need to start reaching out to buyers and going and visiting stores. I have clients that are scared to death about approaching a buyer, so how do we create more confidence there? Part of it’s like understanding the terminology, the industry, so that you feel more confident to answer questions, but then also practice.

 

Sari Kimbell: [39:41]

Sometimes it’s just like, I just need to practice with other people first before putting myself out there. But other obstacles, I think there’s an investment mindset that needs to happen. It’s kind of a turning point where people are like, “Okay, I’m really doing this. I’m in a real business. I need to be a CEO. I need to step into this role of my business. It’s not just a hobby anymore. It’s not just this idea and my kitchen, wouldn’t it be nice. Now I got to do the real work of being a business owner, and it does require investment. It requires time, of course, and then money.”

 

Sari Kimbell: [40:26]

I think one of the big obstacles, people will fund themselves up to launch, but then they are like, “I don’t know.” They get really scared about that next level of investment. That could be investment in capital, like equipment and efficiency. It could be investment in people, like okay, I got to this point with my social media, but this is not an area of zone of genius for me so I’m going to hand that off, or a bookkeeper. There’s other roles that you might want a co-packer. You launch it, you’re making yourself, but then you’re going to look ahead to manufacturing.

 

Sari Kimbell: [41:07]

But that investment, it’s a total ass-kicker for some people. It’s just like, they have a mindset of now that I have a product, the business should be funding itself and I should be profitable. And if you’re really going to grow and you’re going to scale from let’s say, a lot of times people are like, “Oh, I’m making 20K a year in my business or 50K.” It’s like, if you want to grow to 250K or 500K, which is really like, I always say the magic number is that 250 where you’re paying yourself. This is a full-time job and you are really running as the business, which some people listening might be like, “What? I’m doing 1,000 every month in my business. That’s really far.” But it takes the level of investment to get there. You’re going to have to keep putting money into your business and investing in it, and probably more than you’re making at first. So, just get used to it, accept it, go in.

 

Alison Smith: [42:17]

How did you get to that, why 250K? Is that just where you see most of your members be able to pay themselves and things just start compounding past that point?

 

Sari Kimbell: [42:30]

Yeah. I always describe things as a stair step. So in entrepreneurship we have a startup world. We have what’s called the valley of death. So, sounds terrible. But it’s that time in your business where you’re starting up and you have not started selling, you’re making zero money. You launch, and then hopefully the curve starts going up where you’re actually making money. You start figuring it out at whatever level you’re at. And then, like Uber or something as a startup is going to keep that trajectory going.

 

Sari Kimbell: [43:05]

But as a food business, I describe it as a stair step. So you’re going to have multiple values of death where you’re going through peer growth periods, where maybe you start out at the farmer’s market and you self-fund, or a little bit of friends and family. But every time you scale and grow, there’s going to be a new level of investment, a new level of pre-funding, where you’re going to dip back down and be like, “Oh, man, I’m not making any money again.” Unfortunately you have a product business. The way that game works is that you have to fund everything ahead of time, and then you get the money. You’re not a service where you can pre-sell and then deliver on that service. So you got to put the money into having a product. It’s got to be packaged, all the marketing, all the things, and then you can go out and start making money.

 

Sari Kimbell: [44:03]

So I studied under Tara Johnson for a lot of my financial background, and she always talked about 250 being that magic number, where your cost of good sold can come down enough because you’re more efficient, because you have the sales to support it so that your margins are a lot better, and you’re able to be more efficient with your manufacturing and your time and you’re probably starting to pay some people, you’re not wearing all the hats from janitor to marketer, to manufacturer and on and on and on.

 

Sari Kimbell: [44:41]

So you’re starting to pay some other people. You’re able to put the money you need in the marketing to keep growing the business and keep the awareness going. So there’s just that sweet spot where you’re like, “Oh, I’m paying myself a salary. I’m able to hire some of the services or even an employee that I need. My manufacturing can come down to help create better margins for me.” So it’s a really scary number for some people. I mean, in this industry I have colleagues that are like, “Oh, yeah. They’re one million, five million.” I mean, they throw these numbers around like, yeah. No big deal. I’m like, “My clients are like, 250 is a giant number.”

 

Karin Samelson: [45:28]

It is a giant number. I mean, that’s amazing, running over 20K months, people are buying your product that you built because you were solving whatever pain point of yours, because it wasn’t out there already. That’s a huge deal. I think that’s such a big milestone that should not be overlooked. It’s that comparison thing again. It’s like, that brand is at $9 million years, but how much funding do they have? How much support do they have? They have a lot of things that you may not have already.

 

Sari Kimbell: [46:00]

Absolutely.

 

Karin Samelson: [46:02]

And so talking about-

 

Sari Kimbell: [46:03]

There’s no overnight success. It’s like a nine year overnight success.

 

Karin Samelson: [46:08]

Yes. Unless you have deep pockets. It’s just like, so many people don’t. Well, and talking about profitability, scaling a brand, you also talk about scaling a brand to profitability and fun. You say that often, and that’s part of your process. Can you talk a little bit more about the fun side?

 

Sari Kimbell: [46:32]

Right, because everybody gets into this thinking they’re going to have so much fun. Like, wouldn’t it be fun if I just made salsa and everybody ate my salsa? It’d be so fun. And then we let all of the fears and the judgment and all of our limiting beliefs come in. And so for me that is the value of a coach. As I’ve grown my business, I think we always go and we help people with the things often that we struggled with ourselves. So I was not a natural born entrepreneur. There were no entrepreneurs around me and I was like, “This is the hardest, scariest thing I have ever done, putting myself out there in this world.”

 

Sari Kimbell: [47:16]

So when I got a coach and I had made that investment. I was able to really start learning tools to manage my thoughts and create more fun and have more fun in my business. And so that’s really where I want to give back as a coach in that area. Because listen, fun is just a frame of mind. It’s a thought. I’m having fun. I could be doing something I don’t love, but you could still be like, “This is fun.” It’s getting me to an end goal, doing my weekly cash flow.

 

Sari Kimbell: [47:50]

There’s lots of tools and tricks out there that can make less fun tasks, like cash flow, more fun. So I talk with people a lot about that, but I think so much of it, it’s a mindset. And so we can be doing all the things we should be doing, doing the how, but then we could be hating it. You’re not going to stick with something you hate, like amount of diet or a workout or anything like that, you got to find ways to make it fun. That’s where I think coaching is just the key. It’s been the key for me, and I’m having a lot of fun in my business. Not that I love every single thing I do, but I have a lot of fun generally in my business.

 

Alison Smith: [48:34]

Yeah. Once you learn how to filter out all the negativity, then it’s a lot easier to have some fun. So thank you, Sari, for everything. We’ve learned so much. I love your process. I love how you work with clients. Absolutely amazing. So do you want to leave the audience with any call-to-action or how can people get in contact with you?

 

Sari Kimbell: [49:02]

Yeah. So I have my two brands, Food Business Success. You can find everything @foodbizsuccess, so the website. Social media, BBIZ, foodbizsuccess. And then I have Sari Kimbell Coaching as well. So I just started on Instagram in 2022. I’m a little fiery over there. I kind of have two personas a little bit. Food Business Success is very like, come on in. We’re very nurturing. We love you. Just get started. And then coaching’s very like, we’re going to get to work. We’re bad asses over here. So you’re going to get a little more fire over there and sarikimbellcoaching.com or sarikimbell.com. So I also have a podcast and a YouTube channel, all under foodbizsuccess. So you can find me in a lot of places.

 

Alison Smith: [49:56]

Awesome. We’ll link all those links in the show notes. So you can easily find Sari across all of her many platforms and channels.

 

Sari Kimbell: [50:05]

Yeah. It’s been so fun working with you guys and bringing your expertise into Food Business Success and working with some of my clients. So thank you guys for doing what you’re doing.

 

Alison Smith: [50:15]

Oh, so sweet. Thank you. We’ve enjoyed it.

 

Karin Samelson: [50:19]

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, and 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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#24: Get to Know the Ins and Outs of Food and Beverage CPG with Consultant Trish W.

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#24: Get to Know the Ins and Outs of Food and Beverage CPG with Consultant Trish W.

Capital Kitchens founder Trish Wesevich joins Alison and Karin to discuss her experience navigating the world of food and beverage CPG, offers advice on whether to co-pack or go in-house, and shares her business philosophy. 

Trish started as a food writer and personal chef, and forged her path into CPG by founding Capital Kitchens, an incubator for food and beverage startups. Through Capital Kitchens, Trish was able to work with many different people and companies in different aspects of food and beverage. Now she is a consultant with LaunchPoint Culinary Services, and she shares her expertise with us.

Check out LaunchPoint Culinary Services here:

launchpointculinary.com 

#24: Get to Know the Ins and Outs of Food and Beverage CPG with Consultant Trish W.

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

Alison Smith: (00:17)

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: (00:45)

Welcome to the Umai Social Circle where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison, co-founders of Umai Marketing, and we’re being joined by Trish Wesevich, Food and Beverage Consultant and founder of Capital Kitchens and LaunchPoint Culinary Services. Thanks for joining us, Trish.


Trish Wesevich: (01:06)

Thank you for inviting me.


Karin Samelson: (01:10)

Absolutely. All right. Well, let’s jump into it. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in CPG in the first place?


Trish Wesevich: (01:17)

Okay. Well, I started in Austin, really as a food writer, a long, long time ago, as a personal chef and as a caterer. And eventually, that led me to launching an incubator called Capital Kitchens, and it was for food and beverage startups. And it supported all aspects of the industry. I owned and operated that facility for eight years and sold it in 2019, still going strong and is an affordable and nurturing community of other food entrepreneurs and a great spot to launch a business from. During that time frame, I had the pleasure of working with all sorts of food businesses and beverage concepts from artisan food and beverage companies, private chefs, restaurateurs, corporations doing R&D and farmers markets brands and CPG startups. And so back then, we weren’t even using the word CPG really, I guess some industry experts who were from Austin were, but in general, not so much.


Trish Wesevich: (02:30)

So it just kind of happened organically when I had originally launched Capital Kitchens with a business partner, and we knew that there was a demand for commercial kitchen space in Austin. And we weren’t exactly sure who all would need it. And the first two clients we had basically were CPG brands, and so that’s kind of how it all started. And the first CPG brand that launched at Capital Kitchens is still going strong, and they have an almost national brand now, and it’s called Good Seed Burger. And I still think it’s the best burger on the market, vegan, plant-based burger on the market.


Karin Samelson: (03:16)

I got to try that.


Alison Smith: (03:18)

I’ve had it. It’s great. That’s wild that they were your first person.


Trish Wesevich: (03:25)

They had started in the back part of Daily Juice, which was a little juice shop in Hyde park. And I mean, this is a typical trajectory for these CPG startups back in the day and even still today. They started in that little space in the corner, and they had very limited ability to use the kitchen. And they used it off hours, and then they couldn’t really scale in there. And then when we opened Capital Kitchens, we had this big, huge facility. Well, it’s not that huge, but 3,600 square feet. But to them, it was huge and it allowed them to scale.


Alison Smith: (04:06)

Absolutely. So you were saying that when you started Capital Kitchens, you weren’t really sure if there was a big need for CPG brands or you thought more…who was going to be your Capital Kitchens members.


Trish Wesevich: (04:23)

We knew that there was a need for shared commercial kitchen space. I had just finished being a part of a startup to-go space, which doesn’t exist anymore. In fact, it’s probably about 10 years ahead of its time because, today, we all know to-go food is very popular and necessary. But back then no one had really quite adjusted to the concept yet. So I had just finished going through the process of helping to build out that space. So, when I realized that, I had been approached just really literally out of the blue by someone who said, “I want to open a shared kitchen.” And I knew what that meant. I knew there was one already in Austin, and I’m just so in love with food entrepreneurs. I was like, “Yeah, I want to be a part of that. Let’s do it.” And that’s all it took, just we agreed. And then we started pursuing. We were very naive about what we were getting into, but I would say that maybe that helps me actually be able to relate to some of the food brands who launch because they’re also usually very naive. And so I understand what that means.


Alison Smith: (05:44)

But it was so necessary. I mean, it was very much needed.


Trish Wesevich: (05:50)

Yes.


Alison Smith: (05:51)

So that’s awesome. You had a great hunch, I guess. But tell us more about your consulting business. Who do you work with? What are the pain points and issues that you’re working with your brands on?


Trish Wesevich: (06:07)

So during the time that I got to work with such a myriad of food and beverage types of businesses, CPG and beyond, I learned a lot and we learned a lot together. So sometimes my value to someone wanting to enter the industry is that I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve seen what paths others have taken. I had at least 60 CPG brands that I worked with and one way or another at Capital Kitchens and probably a couple of hundred other concepts, as well as food trucks. We had a huge food truck business as well. So I’ve seen a little bit of everything. And then my background as a personal chef and caterer, I also was already what I call a product geek on my own. I spent every day at Central Market for 10 years, pretty much, and so I knew who all the distributors were, I knew who all the employees were. And so I just learned a lot about the industry, and all of that now kind of is what I utilize when I’m working with clients.


Alison Smith: (07:32)

When you say you spent 10 years at Central Market, do you mean as a consumer, you just would go every day?


Trish Wesevich: (07:39)

So I was a personal chef.


Alison Smith: (07:41)

Okay, okay.


Trish Wesevich: (07:42)

I would go every morning and shop for my clients, and then I’d go to their home and I would prepare food. And I was a caterer. So yeah, I learned a lot about the grocery industry.


Alison Smith: (07:56)

[inaudible 00:07:57] I would love to be in Central Market every day, that’s a dream.


Trish Wesevich: (08:01)

It was great. It was a dream really. Yeah.


Alison Smith: (08:05)

Amazing.


Karin Samelson: (08:06)

So you’ve worked with dozens and dozens and dozens of CPG brands, so you must know, what are some key things that you think set successful CPG brands apart from ones that just don’t grow as fast?


Trish Wesevich: (08:22)

Well, I think if they can set realistic expectations for themselves, that is key. Of course, commitment is key. You almost have to want to see your product on the shelf above and beyond everything else, but you have to be smart along the way and you have to be coachable. That’s also, I would say, very key. Most people don’t know what those expectations really are or even should be. But by going out and talking to others and then, like I said, being coachable and understanding, okay, this is how hard it really is going to be, I’m going to move forward. Those are the people that are truly committed.


Karin Samelson: (09:18)

Yeah. That is so in line with a lot of idea behind just like what makes a good client and what makes a bad client? I mean, no, no bad clients, right? But the good clients that we have worked with are just super open to testing, to learning, to trying new things. And I think that’s really important to be open-minded in this field because the moment you think you know everything, I think you kind of show that you don’t know a lot. So that’s a really, really good note. And we’ve talked before about the importance of connecting within the CPG community, so can you talk a little bit about that and what you would recommend, places that CPG folks can connect?


Trish Wesevich: (10:08)

Sure. So a lot of times people come to me and they want to launch a product and they have maybe come from a tech background and they’re thinking food beverage is easier. They’ve quickly learned that it is not or they’ve been maybe a stay-at-home parent or a school teacher even or have a full-time career on the side and don’t know anything about food and beverage. They don’t know that there is a very strong network CPG community here in Austin. And it makes sense because it’s like being a musician. Musicians like to congregate with each other and talk to each other and compare where they played or what songs they’re working on or music, and it’s the same with food and beverage. So that community definitely exists in Austin, and there’s so much to learn from what others have done.


Trish Wesevich: (11:12)

And I find that people in Austin who’ve been here a long time doing this are open, will sit down with you and tell you everything they know. And then the new people coming into town are learning very quickly that that’s how it is here, and they either adjust and become that way as well and become open, even if they came from a community that wasn’t that way that they’re not used to it. I’m seeing that they’re going, “Oh, this is a much better way to operate and function, like let’s be supportive to each other. And that community continues to grow. So there’s so many resources out there that are available, so that you don’t really have to reinvent the wheel necessarily, but it depends how much someone has available time so that they can go out and make those connections, right? So was your question like exactly where they can go?


Karin Samelson: (12:16)

I mean that’s super helpful. I think that that advice to reach out to experts, reach out to people that you really admire, reach out to people that have something to teach you, and you’d be surprised at how many of those people are going to be super generous with their time. Obviously, I don’t take advantage of it, but I think that’s something we have personally been really surprised about too. It’s just like a very open community, and I know that a lot of people aren’t from Austin, but even if you’re not, you can still reach out to us.


Trish Wesevich: (12:49)

Exactly, exactly. And I have a client right now I’ve been working with, and she’s been self-producing her product for a while now, and that’s getting harder, and she’s growing very rapidly and realizes, okay, I need, I need production options. And so the first thing we did was call someone who makes the same product in another state, not the same product, but a similar. I guess you would normally think that’s a competitor, right? But they really aren’t going to be competing very much. We contacted them, and now they’re going to be co-packing their products. So they were super supportive, and then they were like, “Well, we could do this for you and we can tell you how to do that.” So you just never know. You have to be willing to really go out and start asking questions, and if people close the door, fine. Don’t let it discourage you, that someone else will open the door.


Alison Smith: (13:40)

I really love that and I love that about the community aspect. Everyone is so helpful. CPG can be very confusing. It’s like, where do I start? There’s not this clear roadmap. There’s so many different channels you can go into, you don’t have to go into. It’s confusing. So wanted to ask you, what are the manufacturing options that these food and bevs brands have? Is it straight-to- commercial kitchen or are there other options? Can you tell us about that?


Trish Wesevich: (14:20)

Well, before the shared kitchens, there were as many as there are now and there are more coming online, which we’ll talk about, it was really these brands. And I mean, I’m thinking legacy brands in Austin. People have been here 20, 25 years with a product at Whole Foods or Central Market. They literally would go and knock on the door of maybe a bakery or a commercial space that was dedicated to one company or a restaurant, and they would just ask, do you have any space for rent? And so many brands launched that way. It’s incredible. I actually kind of have an idea one day, I would like to bring those legacy brands together with the new people on the block, just to kind of compare stories and see how things have changed so much. So there are still brands that have launched in the corners, like Good Seed Burger did in the back of Daily Juice. There are still some of those.


Trish Wesevich: (15:28)

And finding those can be kind of a gem because then you end up, if the space is big enough and you can scale to a certain point in there, the rent can be pretty reasonable and you have your own space with only maybe a couple of other businesses in there. If you don’t have that opportunity, if you don’t find that kind of space, then going into a shared kitchen is ideal because it’s not such a big commitment. You can rent by the hour or most of the kitchens have minimums. You can get started and you can go a long way or you can even live there and make your product. Well, the idea would be you start in a shared space or sharing or in the corner of another kitchen and then you grow to the point where you either need a co-packer or you need your own facility.


Trish Wesevich: (16:33)

And so back in the day, everyone would always say, well, you just go to a co-packer. But nowadays, a lot of food companies, even those who are with co-packers, are kind of bringing it more in-house again and realizing, no I’m going to do my own production. There’s pros and cons to both. It was so hard to find available space five years ago, six years ago. Really, really hard. It’s still really hard, but now that the industry has boomed and Austin has become really a Mecca, there’s more opportunities. There are plenty of spaces. It’s almost even better to just choose a space that is close to where you live, that’s more practical. And it takes time to find the right space, and a lot of people don’t always take all the time that is really needed to find the right space for them, but it’s important.


Alison Smith: (17:44)

Yeah, I’ve noticed driving home. There’s two new kitchens right next to me that just popped up out of nowhere. So that’s great that they’re solving that issue. But can you tell us more about the pros and cons about co-packing versus using a commercial kitchen or a shared kitchen?


Trish Wesevich: (18:09)

So when you’re in a shared kitchen or using your own facility, you’re doing all the labor, a large part of your week is spent in production. And so people often have other full-time jobs. And then at night, they’re in the kitchen, and they’re producing product. And after a while, that can get pretty hard to maintain. And going to a co-packer is hard to find, it’s a long process. It’s usually about a year. It could be longer to find the right co-packer, and you’re not going to find someone to make small batches for you. So you have to be pretty far along in your business to engage a co-packer.


Trish Wesevich: (19:02)

There are exceptions, and that’s the thing. That’s why there’s no rule book or guidebook for launching a food business. There are exceptions to everything. There’s so many variables. There isn’t just one path. But here in Austin, we don’t really have any small batch co-packers. So you pretty much have to be pretty far long to approach a co-packer. Having your own facility, taking your production in-house means you’re responsible for a lot; you’re responsible for the lease, you’re responsible for the electricity and the maintenance, and all of those expenses add up very quickly. And then you have the labor, you have to create a team and you have employees. And so that’s a big business to manage all of a sudden. So those are the challenges.


Karin Samelson: (20:01)

Yeah. And so a lot of people that are going to be listening aren’t to that co-packer stage, so when does a brand know when they are ready for that next step? Are there minimums that they should be thinking, like I should be selling at least blank to get to that co-packer step?


Trish Wesevich: (20:26)

It really, really varies. So I have a client now who is launching, like she’s not out on the shelves yet, but she’s starting with a co-packer. And so the minimums are somewhat small, and we’re having to kind of invent the process for her product, but it’s expensive for that co-packer to make each one, so the price is already pretty high. Could she make it for less money? Probably in a shared base, yes. So there isn’t like one number. There’s not like 10 or 20,000 units. It’s not really standardized. That’s typical. You kind of have to weigh all your options. I mean, if you’re someone who really doesn’t have time or does not see yourself doing production, then you’re not even going to consider that in the beginning, you’re going to launch a product, finding a co-packer right from the start.


Karin Samelson: (21:37)

So what do you think the food industry can improve upon to make manufacturing easier for small and extra small brands?


Trish Wesevich: (21:47)

So co-manufacturers and distributors, which are going to be usually a part of your business at some point as you scale, but they’re elusive. They’re hard to find. So I guess there are many food manufacturers who want to be elusive. They’re not looking to add new products necessarily. And then there are others, they’re constantly manufacturing. They don’t have marketing people. They don’t have someone who could answer the phone and answer questions. There’s a company in Round Rock who manufactures ingredients that a lot of food businesses utilize. And I had a conversation with them recently, they get maybe 60 inquiries a week. And so, they can’t even handle that kind of volume. So, what can food manufacturers do? I don’t really know if there’s a solution. If there’s a solution, I don’t know what it is.


Karin Samelson: (23:08)

Have better marketing and have more employees to be able to handle all of that, yeah.


Trish Wesevich: (23:15)

Yeah. Ideally, that’d be great, but they’re already usually challenged with their own labor challenges. The key employees are on the floor doing the manufacturing, right? So it’s why they are elusive, it’s because it’s just not a piece. The customer service piece is not, I guess, that valuable to them because the demand is there. I mean, I guess, if everyone really started bringing their production in-house and the co-packers started losing business, then maybe that would turn around.


Alison Smith: (24:01)

Gosh. I mean, this whole, the manufacturing piece is something that a lot of people struggle with, at least the conversations we have, and it’s wild. But we’ve hit that on the head a lot. So I’m curious, what are some of the other challenges that the brands you consult with, are dealing with, and if you have any solutions, by all means.


Trish Wesevich: (24:32)

Some of them are really not prepared financially for the amount of capital it really takes to grow and to maintain. So that’s a challenge, especially right now when ingredient prices are higher than ever and packaging is hard to find. So hopefully, we’ll get past this pandemic, supply chain shortage and challenges. And then we’ll be back to normal, which is still challenging. But everything is in flux right now, so it’s really even hard for me to advise my clients who are launching products and just jars are not only hard to find, but really expensive. And it doesn’t really always make sense to launch this time. But someone who wants to launch a product is going to launch their product. They’re pretty committed to that concept. And then the other piece is everyone wants to use sustainable packaging. But again, that’s pretty hard to find and it’s pretty hard to find affordable packaging. But it’s really what we have to do it all together. We all have to do it together. The entrepreneurs are the ones who can go out, some of them and really dig around until they find the right solution.


Alison Smith: (26:16)

I mean, the supply chain issues that we’re having, I can’t imagine being in logistics for that right now. What do you foresee happening? Do you think it’s going to get better? Do you think there’s going to be new innovation because of it?


Trish Wesevich: (26:34)

I think there’s new innovation now, absolutely. I try to stay as engaged as I am available to on several LinkedIn groups who are discussing intently and discussing packaging solutions. So there are people out there really trying to solve that and connect dots for everybody else. And that’s just one example. There are people you can find, like that goes back to that networking, being really savvy and realizing that there are communities you can tap into, and really should be tapping into, to bounce ideas off of and find solutions for that are on LinkedIn, Facebook groups, et cetera. But I don’t have the solutions for all of this.


Karin Samelson: (27:33)

We’d be really, really successful women if we had the solution to this problem.


Trish Wesevich: (27:41)

Exactly.


Karin Samelson: (27:42)

Not that we aren’t successful women, let’s be real.


Trish Wesevich: (27:44)

Right.


Karin Samelson: (27:45)

So you talked a little bit about how you spent really 10 years, every single day, going to a place like Central Market. And we get on the grocery lost in, not lost on. We’ll go to the grocery store, and that’s one of our favorite past times to just go and look at all of the products and see what innovation there is, what new products there are. And it’s all really, really exciting and fluffy and beautiful. Then we go to their social pages, we go to their websites, and it looks insane, but we know that on the back end, nothing’s perfect. There’s a lot of comparison and shiny object syndrome that happens. But on the back end behind the scenes, are you seeing some issues pass that glamor of being on shelves and having this amazing brand?


Trish Wesevich: (28:38)

You mean challenges or positive pieces that-


Karin Samelson: (28:41)

Challenges. I would say challenges. Yeah, because there’s a lot of positives that are really apparent. But what do you think are some struggles the founders have behind the scenes?


Trish Wesevich: (28:53)

Okay. First of all, just the grittiness of having a food company and being in the kitchen is hard work, and you’re physically tired. And so I remember seeing brands in my kitchen who maybe even had been in the SKU accelerator program or other programs, opportunities that they had been offered and they would spend their days in those programs and then come into the kitchen and just be so exhausted mentally, but then they have to start the physical part of it. So that’s one piece of it.


Trish Wesevich: (29:38)

When you have a product and you have to get the product to the store after you’ve spent all those hours in the kitchen making the product, then you have to get in your car and drive it to the retailer. And sometimes usually retailers, if you’re self-distributing, need you to come in the back door. And the times that you can do that is from 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM before the customers are really… So again, that’s not really a lot of fun. Just the stresses of getting a purchase order and being able to fulfill that purchase order and then having to wait to be paid for that purchase order and all the delays and that games that can be involved in that are really, really stressful.


Trish Wesevich: (30:20)

Sometimes it’s just the simple thing, like just knowing that you have just created a product and you spent all this time getting to that point, and then you know which retailer is right for your product. You’ve already figured that out, but you can’t get them to return a call, answer an email. You can’t get it in the door. But there’s a lot of “no”s. It used to be a little easier to approach a retailer, certain retailers than it is now. And then on the other side, there’s a lot more local grocery stores now than we ever had before. So that’s always evolving, and you can go outside of Austin and find more retailers to carry your product. But again, you have to make the product, put it in your car and drive it there or hire someone to do that for you. It just can be exhausting.


Alison Smith: (31:21)

Yeah. So do you see a lot of burnout with the brands that you work with?


Trish Wesevich: (31:26)

Definitely.


Alison Smith: (31:27)

Yeah. I mean, I can imagine. And I mean, what’s your piece of advice when they just can’t do it anymore?


Trish Wesevich: (31:36)

Hindsight’s 2020. I definitely recommend to brands that before they even launch to sort of have in their mind that concept of having an exit strategy, because, I mean, do you see yourself doing this for five or 10 years? I mean, let’s say you haven’t progressed out of doing your own production. That’s what you’re doing, and you’re physically so tired, but what are your options? If you want to change careers, do you just shut the business and walk away, which I’ve seen happen. Can I sell my company? Yes. But realizing that also takes a while. Sometimes people hit the wall before, and then they’re impatient. Like no, I want to just call someone and offer. They want to buy my business, I’m sure. It’s like, no, that’s going to take you at least another year to potentially find someone who may be interested in purchasing your business.


Trish Wesevich: (32:42)

And then there’s going to be a negotiating process, and that’s going to be very stressful too. Or finding someone on your team already, I see this happen who is really engaged. And then they’re interested in actually taking over the company. That can happen as well. And if you nurture your relationships with some of your own key employees, then that’s also a possibility, but it is something that a founder should think of when they’re launching, like, okay, how am I going to get out of this? Because sometimes getting out of a business you started, I’ve done it before, it was really hard.


Alison Smith: (33:25)

Are most of the brands that you work with, is their endgame selling? Is that generally people’s goals?


Trish Wesevich: (33:35)

So many people now are on the… they have this idea that I’m going to launch this brand that no one ever thought of before, and then some big food company’s going to acquire it and I’m going to get rich. Just isn’t the way it works.


Alison Smith: (33:51)

I wonder what the percentage of that is, I would love to know.


Trish Wesevich: (33:55)

I don’t know what the percentage is, but it isn’t very much. Although, it’s perfectly fine to admire and learn from those who have had that experience. And as we all know in Austin, that has happened multiple times, and it is inspiring, for sure, and there’s a lot to learn from those people. But it is not norm. So often, founders launch alone and then finding a consultant to help them is helpful. Finding people, other like-minded businesses to collaborate with is helpful. But it is also helpful to start with a business partner. And then again that can be challenging because maybe they haven’t found the right business partner in the beginning. And then after a while, if they realize that that isn’t going to work out, then it’s hard to separate from that business partner.


Alison Smith: (34:55)

Yeah. I mean, running a CPG brand isn’t exactly a lifestyle business, unless you’re able to hand it off and have someone else run it because you got to grind in this industry. So I was just curious what the goal was for most of your brands.


Trish Wesevich: (35:17)

I would say I think people have more short-term goals than they have long-term goals. Maybe that’s just our human nature, right?


Alison Smith: (35:28)

Yeah. And it’s a beautiful industry. I mean, you get to make food and beverages for people to enjoy. So yeah, I mean that in itself is wonderful.


Trish Wesevich: (35:43)

Yes, it is. It is. And it’s very rewarding. And there’s value in…you learn so much. I would say at Capital Kitchens, I would look around and I’d see everybody really working hard and I’d say everyone’s kind of pretending to be running a food company, but really what everyone really is doing underneath is they’re becoming better humans because they’re learning to work with each other and to collaborate and to be considerate. And they’re learning about business, and they’re learning about sales and they’re learning about food safety. And there’s so much to gain really. And whether their food business is successful in the end, I mean, of course, we want that to happen, but if it doesn’t, then there was definitely value in the experience.


Karin Samelson: (36:26)

Yeah, absolutely. And we obviously want to encourage anybody who has the dream to build something that they’re passionate about to do it, to try because you have one life to live. And if this is something that you want to be passionate about, do your best. And like we said, you got to grind. But as long as you know that and you don’t expect it to be like an easy ride, especially these people that are coming from different industries and coming into CPG and have no experience and have no idea how robust it actually is, I think they should go for it. But I really love that. So we were talking about a little bit of the negatives of like if you do decide to bail, but what they can gain personally and what they can learn about themselves is super powerful. So thanks for reminding us.


Trish Wesevich: (37:35)

Yes. Yes.


Karin Samelson: (37:37)

Awesome. Well, Trish, it was such a joy to get to talk to you. We really enjoyed learning more about how you got started and what you’re seeing in the industry now, but would you like to leave the audience with a link or call to action or a final statement?


Trish Wesevich: (37:52)

Sure. So I do consulting, and I’m kind of the person that will kind of hold your hand along the way and kind of be the business partner that you don’t have to break up with eventually. I’ll just help you, take as many steps, thoughtful steps forward as possible. So my company’s called LaunchPoint Culinary Services. My website is launchpointculinary.com. I put some resources up there. I have a blog I’ve just kind of started to get more serious about, and I’ll start putting more practical resources up there. And I run a little Instagram product review page. That’s kind of more for fun called CPG Find. And you can see me around town at various networking CPG events and accelerators and incubators. So I kind of make the scene, make the rounds. And I love to chat with people about their concept. And so I’m pretty much just an email, phone call away.


Alison Smith: (39:08)

Awesome. Thank you so much, Trish. And we’ll be sure and link all of those in the show notes as well. So you can contact Trish, and you all can talk food and bev.


Trish Wesevich: (39:19)

Well, thank you guys so much for reaching out and interviewing me today.


Alison Smith: (39:22)

Thank you.


Alison Smith: (39:25)

Umai Social Circle is a CPG agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind-the-scenes insights, chats with industry leaders and 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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#23: Navigating In-Person Brand Activations with Dragon Spirits Marketing

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#23: Navigating In-Person Brand Activations with Dragon Spirits Marketing

Dragon Spirits founder Lamar Romero joins Alison and Karin to discuss his brand activation strategy in a post-pandemic world, offers hope in the form of humanity’s need to congregate, and shares his business philosophy. 

Romero revolutionized the brand ambassador marketplace by creating a more inclusive workplace. He does not believe in the need to hire models to sell products, instead focusing on personality and work ethic. The result is a flourishing business specializing in the marketing of wineries, distilleries, breweries, and consumer products. Romero is always thinking ahead. In a world filled with uncertainties, he’s prepared Dragon Spirits to be a certainty within the marketing industry.

Invest in Dragon Spirits here: https://wefunder.com/dragon.spirits.marketing/

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#23: Navigating In-Person Brand Activations with Dragon Spirits Marketing

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

Alison Smith:

Welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Alison and Karin, co-founders of Umai Marketing, and we’re being joined today by Lamar Romero. He’s CEO, executive dragon from Dragon Spirits Marketing. Dragon Spirits is the number one brand ambassador gig marketplace, that helps match growing brands with passionate brand ambassadors for activations across the US. Welcome, Lamar.

Lamar Romero:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Alison Smith:

We’re glad to have you. So, let’s get right into it. We’re curious, how did Dragon Spirits… First of all, we love the name and we love the background. We like how you just own it, so tell us more how Dragon Spirits came to be.

Lamar Romero:

Sure. Yeah, my wife and I actually started in the tequila industry. I came out of high tech, and one day my wife came to me and she said, “Hey, think about helping this tequilero. He needs help with his tequila, and we should do this.” And I was like, “Great. I’ve got some 401k left to sacrifice. Let’s go and do that.” And so we helped push a tequila in Texas for a whole year, back in 2012, and figured out we really like the industry and there was a lot of things we wanted to change. So, Dragon Spirits became a thing because while we were doing that, I’d see a lot of promotion going on that was typically by model types that are in their early twenties, and unfortunately didn’t know a lot about the brands that they were pushing.

Lamar Romero:

And so, I mistakenly or unmistakenly looked at my wife one day and I said, “If I work in this industry, I’m going to change everything. I’m going to teach these people how to sell. I’m going to train them, and educate them, and make sure they can go out there and do a great job.” And for better or for worse, that’s what we did. And we chose the name Dragon Spirits because we wanted to be different. We didn’t want to be model company this, or model company that. We wanted to basically… We were the first in 2013, to my knowledge, to change the paradigm. We didn’t hire people based on looks at all, we’re one of the only companies at the time that didn’t have body measurements on their website application. We just said, “Hey, if you have a great personality and you want to promote, you can come be a dragon.” And that’s how it took off.

Karin Samelson:

What an old school crazy approach, that happened for so long, even in CPG, at trade shows and things like that. And you just never really… Have you ever stopped to actually think about what’s happening, models being hired because they look good?

Lamar Romero:

It’s still a thing. And I’ll tell you, when I was just beginning, we had businesses that literally wouldn’t hire us because they’re like, “No, we’ve seen your people in the field.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but that person I just hired who’s not a model looking gal, just sold 20 units of that thing, while that other gal who was right next to her sold two.” And so, that just became our thing. And then now you fast forward to 2021, now look, models are still a big part of the industry. And I have nothing personal with a model or somebody who’s attractive, if you can be attractive and go out and sell great, then you’re a triple threat, and you’ve got a great personality. And so, we welcome folks from all walks of life. Some of my best dragons have been retired 70 year old people, that go out and just do a great job. So yeah, but I’m with you there. It is an old school industry, and it still is, but it is shifting just because everything’s shifting. We all have to, we all have to change.

Alison Smith:

I’m really glad you noticed that, and decided to make a change with the brand that you started. And just thinking about that, it’s like, I am much more likely to approach a 70 year old woman or man who wants to give snacks or liquor, than like a super hot person. That is much more relatable.

Lamar Romero:

It is, and that approachability is important. I had a small liquor owner tell me that at a trade show. He was like, “You know what I like about your folks? Is that I feel comfortable, because the mom who’s shopping with her kid can be approached and have a conversation, and not feel like,” like exactly what you just said.

Karin Samelson:

Awesome. Well, so let’s just talk about the current state of brand activations in person, especially with how crazy the past couple years have been, and how it kind of looks like it’s going to be shaping out to be in the future. So tell us more about this, and what you see happening in 2022 with this shift.

Lamar Romero:

Yeah, absolutely. First, let’s define brand activation. Brand activation is a tasting, or a trade show, or festival or a street team. It’s basically activating your brand where crowds get together. And regardless of what’s going on with COVID, or any other social shifts that we’re seeing with technology, people still like to get together. So, we feel like this type of brand activation is going to continue, and now it’s going to be offset or added with other strategies, such as social media marketing and advertising as well.

Lamar Romero:

But the brand activation industry is definitely going to a place where, especially for small and medium businesses, it needs to be affordable, and it needs to be available. And I’m seeing a lot of small businesses really like what we’re doing. In other words, being out there, even if you can only afford a couple of activations a month. To be at that clutch store, or that clutch festival, and have some help have, some hands there that know your brand, can do the heavy lifting while maybe you’re off meeting with the store owner who might be present at that particular festival or activation, is absolutely critical. And so, part of what we’re trying to do is set up a system to where small businesses can utilize our technology without having to spend a lot of money every month.

Alison Smith:

That’s cool. And you mentioned how brands, this goes beyond just having an in person activation, what data are you collecting and using, that brands can use across all platforms, and digital marketing and everything else?

Lamar Romero:

Yeah. When we go back and talk about what an old school industry, I can remember one of my competitors back in 2016, was literally having their brand ambassadors fill out a piece of paper, take a picture of it, and submit the at as a report. Like, what are you going to be able to do with that data? While we were exporting everything to a spreadsheet, and giving nice rows, and columns and tables, that was considered, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you actually do that.” Now, as we go forward in 2021, it’s all about data visualization. And so, we’re doing a WeFund right now, we’re raising a million dollars so that we can take our homegrown software application, the Dragon Engagement Network, or the dragons’ den, where the dragons live, and we’re trying to reshape it to where we can give true data visualization to our customers. So that if you had 10 reports done in the state of Texas, and they were at all different cities, you could be able to say, “What was my spend in Houston, versus Austin? How many units did I sell SKU, versus that SKU?”

Lamar Romero:

If you’re a national company, you’re a big company, that’s doing hundreds of activations a month, what is it looking like per region? What is it looking like per store? What is it looking like when I went to that festival? Where did my follow through come after that festival? And so, that kind of data is what we’re providing, I would say, in a light way, and hoping we’re going to be providing that in a heavy way as we go forward in 2022 and 2023, when we add some of these features to our software solution.

Alison Smith:

That’s pretty cool. And I imagine just collecting a ton of in person, real qualitative data along the way, helps people define their core customer and all that.

Lamar Romero:

Absolutely. Capturing maybe some demographics that you’re seeing, capturing how many people you saw, how many units you moved, those are the basic metrics that we’re looking at. But also, even when we get to the nitty gritty details, like what were some of the comments about my product? I remember one time we had a client that we simply, after reading all the reports we’re like, “I don’t think I can help you. I don’t think this is working.” And a lot of the comments would come back that it just didn’t taste right, didn’t have the right feel. And I tried to communicate that as honestly as I could, because I never want to be in a place where we’re not providing value. We agreed to walk away, but those were good comments. That is what you want brand activation, whether it’s good or bad, you want to hear whatever data that’s being provided, so that you can go out and do a better job. And so for better or for worse, that’s the kind of data that we collect when we do these brand activations.

Alison Smith:

Yeah. It’s easy to forget, but it’s does need to appeal in some way to some sort of people. So that is extremely important, and just on the digital marketing side, we need that sort of data as well. We’re looking through Amazon comments and social media comments, to try to really understand the customer, and their pain points, and what they are like, and what they’re interested in. So, it’s really cool that you’re collecting that kind of data.

Lamar Romero:

Thank you.

Karin Samelson:

Yeah. A big question I have, and I think that some people that are listening may have is, wait, how do you set these folks up for success? What does training look like for your dragons?

Lamar Romero:

Yeah. We got to remember that we’re part of the gig economy. And so, this was the gig economy before it was cool. When models were doing this in the eighties and nineties, nobody called it that. They’re like, “Yeah, I got a modeling gig.” But this is a core part of the gig economy. So one, we’re trying to get gig workers out there to realize that they could do this. If you have a personality, and you want to make 25 to $30 an hour being in one place for three to four hours, not putting wear and tear on your car, and telling the story of a brand and exciting people, then this is the job for you. But now when we find those folks, that’s the secret sauce around how at least we do it.

Lamar Romero:

We actually have a culture test that a dragon must pass in order to even be interviewed in the system. So, half the dragons that apply don’t even take it. Of that half, about 70% of them pass it with an 85 or greater. Once we get that core brand ambassador, and they do the interview, the interview process is more like, “Wow, you’re going to educate me? You’re going to teach me these brands? The other seven firms I worked for didn’t. They didn’t give a damn, they just gave me a sheet.” And so, they get a quick expectation that man, you’re going to be taking a lot of tests here. Because we can’t train gig workers, but we can educate them. And so, then we have over a hundred courses set in our own learning management system within our software. So for instance, there’s a beer course. How do I be deadly just knowing what beer is, and how it’s made, wine, scotch, bourbon?

Lamar Romero:

But then it goes to brand-centric, now you got to pass this achievement, and get this badge on your profile for, like 50 Cent for his Branson brand that we represent. I personally made that achievement for 50’s team, because 50 Cent wasn’t going to make a branding video for nine or 10 minutes to do this. But we wanted to make sure that we went out and represented him well, to really hit the core things that he wanted to talk about. Like, “This is a luxury brand. This is a brand for people who are celebrating life.” And so, to get those essences to a brand ambassador, you have to have a good, repeatable, scalable solution to do so, and that’s what we do with our Dragon Achievement System, to basically educate these dragons so they can go out, and they can promote and really tell the story, and not just say, “Hey, I’ve got a sample of this thing.”

Karin Samelson:

That’s so cool. I mean, at 25 to $30 an hour, take some tests, and get your expertise up and go kill it. If you’re an extrovert, you’re good at talking to people, you can absolutely do this. So, do you only do this for spirits brands? Or have you ever done it for just like food and beverage?

Lamar Romero:

Oh, absolutely. We do this for beer, wine, liquor and food CPG brands. We’ve had some good success with selling cassava flour pretzels. Once the COVID relinquishes itself a little bit and grocery opens up more, we’re going to be doing tastings around a pickle salsa. So, CPG is something that I’m really wanting to attack more. Even though there’s spirits in the brand, and that’s how we started, we’re Dragon Spirits, but we’re the spirit of a dragon. And so, we want to go out and really promote any type of small and medium sized business that’s growing, to do this all across America. And right now we’re in… We went from three states in 2020, to a little over 30 this year. And that’s how we’ve expanded our footprint so quickly. And I’d say we have our toes in a lot of these other states, but we do have like five or six states that we’re core in right here in the United States so far, while we’re still bootstrapping.

Alison Smith:

Fast growth. Well, unfortunately I have to ask it: You’d brought up COVID, and I am so interested to hear what happened when COVID happened? It’s still happening, obviously. How did that change the trajectory of your business, and people who rely on activations?

Lamar Romero:

Yeah. Well when 2019 ended, I can remember doing a champagne toast to my wife and having a tear in my eye. Because we had been building our business for seven years, and we finally felt like we were going to make it, like 2020 was going to be our year. In March of 2020, we canceled every activation in the system, we waived all fees, and we sat on our hands for six months as we waited to see what was going to happen. I have to say that government assistance was hugely important to us. I furloughed everybody except for myself and my financial person, and they all got paid well enough to be furloughed, and to take care of their families during this time.

Lamar Romero:

But I found that coming out of COVID, was a lot of pent up demand. So at the end of 2020 Q4, we went from no revenue to instantly profitable in Q4 2020. Because when the floodgates started opening, brand activation was huge. And then finally karma happened for our company, in terms of our achievement system, because I had made an achievement based on the COVID, that you had to wear your mask, and you had to pass our test, and you had to watch our video and understand you need to go out there with gloves and a mask, and you weren’t going to argue with nobody, and you were going to go do it, and you’re going to be good at it, and you’re going to get an extra $5 in pay for doing it. And that really worked, because then all of a sudden we had stores going, “Hey, go hire those dragon guys. They know what they’re doing. They’re the only ones showing up completely COVID ready.” And so, we got a lot of business coming into Q4 2020.

Lamar Romero:

So when I look back at it, [crosstalk 00:17:14] yeah, and then government money too, with PPP loans that were forgivable. So when I look back at it, I think I actually might look back at COVID and go, well, that might have been a real turning point for our business for the better. We’re not out of the weed yet, so I can’t go back and look at it like that yet. But we learned to adapt. And just I’ll always keep saying, digital’s extremely important, but people aren’t going to stop congregating in groups, we’re human beings. So this type of brand activation’s always going to be important. It’s going to change, and it’s going to alter itself. But getting in front of a group of people and going, “I’ve got this wonderful thing, and you need to try it,” is still going to appeal to folks as we continue in this post COVID world.

Alison Smith:

That’s really cool to hear, that you guys were prepared and keeping it safe, and it sounds like you did it right. I am curious though, do you talk to your brands openly about this? And what’s the backup plan that brands should have in their back pocket, if things are to shut down, if or when things are to shut down again?

Lamar Romero:

Yeah. I always tell my brands that brand activation strategy is just one part of your marketing strategy. When I see a brand’s just doing that, I actually try to have a talk with them of like, I can have an honest conversation, say, “Hey, you might need to back up some of these efforts with some social media.” Maybe drive people to our brand activations, whether it’s a festival or a trade show, or a tasting or a demo. Because you have to have a full, round strategy, and we can only control what we can control. So, as Omicron is the new scare, and we’ve already seen our Northern markets start to shut down, New York is shutting down right now. What we do, is because we already have a very friendly business way of doing things, we don’t have any contracts. We’re of the only companies that I know that do this, that don’t have contracts, so you can come and go as you please.

Lamar Romero:

So, if somebody’s got 20 activations in the system, that are going to be fulfilled for the rest of the month, and COVID shuts it down, usually there’s cancellation fees if you pull something out. But we’re like, “Hey, we’ll waive all cancellation fees. It’s not in your control.” And so, we just try to do the right thing, and hopefully that brand’s got some other marketing strategy, because now that brand activation part of it is being shut down. And that can really hurt a growing brand, especially if you’ve just got an A to B, and you’re like, “Man, I’ve got to really show some movement in my product,” and they killed one of your main marketing engines, which is, “I have to get this liquid to lips, or this food to mouth, because everybody’s going to be amazed by it, and now I can’t do that.” Find some other great folks that you can consult with, that can help you in your or other marketing. I know two other individuals I could think of on this line, that could help with doing that type of marketing. Because for right now, brand activation ain’t part of it.

Karin Samelson:

Wow. We love that omnichannel approach, you got to be hitting people from all sides.

Lamar Romero:

Absolutely.

Karin Samelson:

For brands that aren’t in retail yet, what are some amazing other places that they can have brand activations?

Lamar Romero:

Yeah. We just did a great brand activation for a client of ours, at Startup CPG, which was basically out in front of about a hundred to 150 folks in Austin, right at Ellis Bar. Brand activation can happen anywhere, and we actually encourage brand owners, especially just starting out, you need to go do it yourself. First of all, you’re the founder, or you’re the founding group of people, and you’re going to sell better than even a trained brand ambassador could. For the most part, we do have some brand ambassadors that can run circles around everybody including me. But for the most part, a founder’s going to do better. And then go and feel that pain, and then when you start getting to a place where you can’t be at five places at once, that’s when you’re going to call us.

Lamar Romero:

But you have to be at house parties, or farmer’s markets, or anywhere you can, where you can get in front of a group to start showing off that brand. Because you never know what’s who’s going to be at that party. I actually remember doing a brand activation, I used to do event parties. And so, I did a brand activation at some wealthy folks’ house, and one of the folks in there was a person that worked at HEB. Came up to me and said, “Hey, what do you know about this? I’m in love with this.” And I said, “Hey, I can put you in touch with the person who makes this.” And then a few months later, that product made it into HEB. So you just never know, so you got to go out there and you got to get in front of groups, however and whenever you can.

Karin Samelson:

The power of networking. It’s super intimidating to be an introverted person, somebody who really is uncomfortable talking to others, and getting out there and doing it. So, what would be some of your best advice for founders who are nervous to really sing their own praises, and to really sell?

Lamar Romero:

Wow, that’s a good one. We all have our talents and our strengths. I’ve actually seen introverted dragons over the years do very well. You don’t always have to be the loud, boisterous one to have a good conversation, or to attract attention. But in some of those cases it might help, if an introvert founder really had a hard time being out in front of a crowd and doing that, then you’ve got to hire help. That needs to be a part of your team strategy, you need that cheerleader on your team. Unless your product’s just that damn good, and it gets in the right mouth, and the whole world’s buying it. Whether they’re buying it on a D to C strategy, or for a retail store.

Lamar Romero:

But for the most part, every brand needs a lot of promotion in order for folks to know. I even know that from my own business. We’ve grown from word of mouth the last seven years, but one of the first things brands say when they find my company, they go, “Where the heck have you guys been hiding? And why haven’t I heard about you before now?” And I’m like, “I know, I’m a marketing company, and I suck at marketing my company. Because I’m marketing 200 other clients.” And that’s something I’m aiming to fix. I had to hear that 15 times before I was like, all right, I’m going to go to WeFund and raise a million dollars so I could stop bootstrapping.

Lamar Romero:

Because it’s all about getting out there and having good presence, and especially right now having a great digital presence. And having a good digital strategy, it really, really does help. And I’m talking to a lot of entrepreneurs that are taking a more D to C approach, and that’s really interesting to me. Because it can work and it can’t work, and it just really depends on how you’re going to do that, and do you have the right people or the right talent to do it? But it’s something that I’m definitely seeing more and more.

Alison Smith:

Yeah. So before this call, you said something really interesting. You told us that there’s trends in activations, and you were telling us that in the beginning of the year, you see health brands who run activations have the best results. Which at first we were like, hmm, and it makes perfect sense. Everyone’s got their body goals, their health goals, all those things. So what other interesting trends do you see throughout the year, in terms of activations with brands?

Lamar Romero:

Yeah. Well, I would say that you need to be activating, especially brand activation, if you’re a seasonal business, pick that season and go and do it. If you have to spend 50% of your marketing budget on the three months, or that quarter that’s good for you, then go and do it. For spirits, that’s OND, that’s what they call it. OND, October, November, December, Q4. 50% of all the beer, wine and liquor that’s bought in America is bought in OND. And so, that’s a great time to go out and promote.

Lamar Romero:

But in January when everybody’s got a hangover, if you’ve got a health brand and you’re not promoting, what the heck’s the matter with you? I don’t care if you need to be on the street yelling at the top of your lungs, if you’ve got something that’s non-alcohol or it’s healthy, January and February is your time. Because that’s when minds are open. And they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m hungover from the last three months, man. I really need to make a change.” Whether that’s a protein product, or a healthy energy drink or whatever the case be, I don’t see a lot of brand activation from health brands in Q1, and I always wonder why. So, you really need to understand that trend and follow that. And I hope that answers that question.

Alison Smith:

Yeah, it does. It’s very interesting, and just to be clear, I was just thinking about the last thing you said about brands only going D2C. That’s like you said, it’s totally fine if that’s the route you want to take, but activations aren’t just for pushing retail traffic, activations are for brand awareness, like Karin was saying, word of mouth. They’re extremely important, whichever avenue that you’re working towards.

Lamar Romero:

If I was D to C, I’d be at a trade show festival with my, with my QR code on my paper going, “If you scan this and you go to my website, you get 25% off today.” That’s how you would drive that D to C behavior, but you still need the brand activation to do that. And so, but you’re absolutely right. It doesn’t have to just be retail, though that’s typically what we think about that.

Alison Smith:

Yeah. And I would love to hear more. So, when I think activations, I think in groceries or festivals. What other places are you seeing good results come through? Can you get really niched down, I guess, depending on your brand?

Lamar Romero:

Yeah, you can. It really just depends on what you’re promoting, and what your strategy is, and have you identified your audience? So if you haven’t identified your target audience yet, that might take some time or some consultation, but find with that is and stick your brand activation strategy around that. For instance, I had a really great client called BeatBox Beverages. And in the beginning, they had this five gallon bag of wine. And they hired us for brand activation at HEB stores, and that was tough. You’re in the fine wine section going, “You want to try my five gallon flavored bag of wine?” And even at the HEB store, people were like, “This is crazy. What are you people in here for?”

Lamar Romero:

But that worked. We had a lot of orders, we did a lot of it. And then they went to Shark Tank, got a million dollars from Mark Cuban. And Mark Cuban was like, “We’re not doing that anymore,” which sucked for me, but it was great for the brand. Because they were like, “We’re going to go to college campuses. And I’m going to get you on planes, you’re going to fly to different fraternity, sorority houses.” And that was the right strategy for them, at that time of their life where they were. And so, sure, that wasn’t good for me, but it was great for the brand. And so, you have to understand that audience, and make sure you’re doing those brand activations the right way.

Lamar Romero:

But it doesn’t have to be… First of all, I’ll say this, I’ll give you all some free advice: don’t ever give your product away for free without sending a representative. So when somebody says, “Hey man, give me three cases of your stuff for my party, I’ll talk about you.” You say, “Yeah, but I’m going to send either myself, or my co-founder, or somebody from my company, or a dragon, or whatever, who’s going to go and talk about that product for at least five or 10 minutes.” Because that’s the cost of the free. And where can I buy it, where can I get it? I see that happen all the time, where products are just given away for free without any strategy alongside of it to do it.

Lamar Romero:

So, it can be a party, it can be a festival, it can be a trade show, it can be a street team. It can be just about anything you can imagine, and put some organization into, but it’s an important part of, especially any kind of retail brand, CPG brand, because there’s a lot out there. If you haven’t noticed, there’s a new product being developed in America every two minutes, that’s an actual fact. So, now that you made it to of the shelves of HEB or Spec’s, you’re like, “Great, I made it here.” But yeah, there’s a hundred other vodkas now. So, are you going to differentiate your vodka from the other hundred? So you have to be cognizant of that, and know that half the battle’s getting on the shelf, the other half of the battle is depleting it, and putting it in the hands of consumers, and their minds, souls, so they’ll go out and tell their friends and family. And that’s the basics of a just good marketing strategy.

Karin Samelson:

I love that advice, to never give away free product without having someone there to talk about the product. Because we see that a lot, it’s like somebody reaches out, you can afford it, you want to get your product into all these people’s hands, but what happens, what comes from it? And usually not much. So, I love that piece of advice to send someone there, because the optimization of that is probably like tenfold. That’s super exciting. In terms of timelines, like if somebody wanted to work with a dragon, what does that look like?

Lamar Romero:

Yeah. We generally make sure that, one, we have a consultation call to go over what fee structures look like, how much they cost, all that type of deal. But the most basic thing that it still behooves me today, is that I say, “Well, I need a product marketing presentation.” We internally call it a PMP. And they’re like, “What’s that?” I’m like, “Well, it’s about a two to six page document that we can have at the brand activation, so we can show pictures, maybe show where it’s made, or the founder’s picture.” That can either be in a flip-board, or it can be on a tablet that I scroll. But it, instead of having handouts that are very expensive, point of sale is so expensive. You can have it, but it’s expensive.

Lamar Romero:

But instead of having that, we require our dragons to have a PMP. And that’s the thing that usually slows us down the most, I’m like, “Hey, I need your PMP,” and it will take the company a week or two to get it to us. But that’s it. Other than that, if we’re activating at a location, we need a week’s notice, sign a CLA, put a credit card on file. But basically make sure that we understand how we’re going to communicate that story, so that we can go on and do that great job for you.

Lamar Romero:

Because we called it the dragon engagement model, but there’s a hook, there’s a story, and there’s a close to everything. So the hook might be, “I want you to try 50 Cent’s cognac. He had every hand in making this. It’s delicious, it’s way better than Remy. Give it a try.” That’s the hook. Then I’ll tell you the story about how, “50 Cent made it. Here’s his picture. Yeah, he was a rapper from the nineties, it’s really cool.” And then the emotional close might look something like, “I’m so glad you like it. I’d be honored if you take a bottle home, share it with your friends and family, this is how we get our word out.” So, those three need to be a part of your brand activation strategy. Whether you’re doing that yourself, or you’re hiring us to do it, but make sure you’re putting that in there. Because it’s all about putting that product in the heart and mind of people, so they’ll take it home.

Karin Samelson:

Yeah. I mean, step one, two, three, closing deals. I like that. When it comes to training the dragons to know who the customer is, to really understand the customer avatar of the brand, is that part of the process? Is that something that the brand owner should really, really understand and be able to communicate to you?

Lamar Romero:

That depends on the type of brand activation. Because at a retail store for a tasting or a demo, we don’t want to discriminate against anybody. But it is good to know in the back of your mind that this is a product for 25 to 39 year olds. And so if you see somebody that fits that demographic coming, you’re probably a little bit more amped to go, “Hey, hey, hey, you need to come try this.” That education is definitely communicated towards our dragons. But that is something that when it comes to general brand activation, you never know. A lot of times, I’ve done over probably 700, 800 tastings at this point, myself personally. And I’m still surprised when I give a sample to that one person. I’m like, this person ain’t buying nothing, and they’re like, “Oh, I’ll take a case of that.” I’m like, “What?” You just never know. And so, when you’re doing a brand activation, try to not exclude anyone. But obviously if you know what your demographic is, you try to go after them a little bit harder too.

Karin Samelson:

Oh, that’s great advice. Yeah, because in digital marketing, there are so many people to speak to, we have to narrow it down. That’s so true, in person you have no idea. And if they can taste it, if they can walk away with it right then and there, anybody’s fair game.

Lamar Romero:

And I’m glad you said that, Karin, because that is the time to dial in your marketing, with digital marketing. And when you want to attack your demographic, that’s when you should do it, is in your digital marketing strategy. But don’t do it in your brand activation strategy, because you never know. And BeatBox actually had a great following with folks that was way out of their demographic, I’m talking about old people like me, because of the activations we were doing at HEB. And for a while there, they had a social media following which was surprising. Now they’re a grown up company and they’re in little Tetra packs, they’re not sold in five gallon bags anymore, I am their audience. And so, it’s just things like that evolve as the company evolves. Sometimes you start out with a 25 demographic, and now you’re at the 35… I know I’m only using age here, but it’s important to understand that. And digital marketing-wise, go after your demographic, but in brand activation don’t exclude anyone.

Alison Smith:

Yeah. That was apparent, I had a little chuckle about you, imagining someone explaining who 50 Cent is to just some older person who just has no idea. But if you can get that story across, then it’s pretty cool.

Lamar Romero:

Sometimes they’re just like, “He’s a what?” “Never mind, sir, this is a great cognac, you want to try it?”

Alison Smith:

He makes Cognac.

Lamar Romero:

It’s just sometimes you have to find that little thing right then and there, that works. So yeah, definitely.

Alison Smith:

It’s all about pivoting. That’s cool.

Lamar Romero:

Yes, ma’am

Alison Smith:

All right. Well, you gave a couple of tips. If any, you talked about smaller brands getting the founders out there. What are some other tips for those small brands who aren’t maybe ready to hire Dragon Spirits, who want to get out there and run some activations themselves? What are maybe three tips?

Lamar Romero:

If you’re just getting started, one, get with as many friends and family as you can, do parties with AB testing, and make your friends fill out your survey, or they don’t get the free product. And what I mean by that is, maybe you have a new coffee drink. Invite 50 people over and tell them, “This is the reason for it, I’m going to do mine in one cup, and another. And you’re going to fill out a survey at the end, and that’s the cost of the party.” That way you can start knowing right away. Tito changed his vodka formula like 50 times or something, before he found the right formula back in the late nineties. So, that would be one.

Lamar Romero:

Another one would be, do the brand activation yourself, and I think we kind of covered that. And three, start your social media presence early. If you don’t know how to do that, get with folks that do, and experts. Don’t spend a lot of money at first, don’t be running ads in the beginning, just get it set up right. Your website, how it looks, and how your Facebook feels, and do some organic posts until you kind of have it dialed in, before you can start really spending that money and spending that social. Because all of it is a part of the overall strategy, because it’s a loud world out there. I always think of Twitter, and when I think of Twitter, I think of people just yelling at the top of their lungs. And that one million follower guy, he’s louder than everybody else, right? But you’ve got to navigate that noise with a joint marketing strategy, and find your fans, find your lovers, and build that relationship.

Lamar Romero:

And then I’d say, if you want to raise money, once you have that audience, do a WeFunder, man, because now you turn your customers into investors, and it’s ching, ching, ching all the way. Because once they put money into your company, then they’re going to push you even farther. And now they’re not going to have 50 beers at their next party, they’re only going to have your beer. Because they’re an owner, dammit, and they want to show all their friends. And so, you build brand evangelists. But that’s the next stage, that’s for part two.

Karin Samelson:

That’s awesome, Lamar. Well on that note, great advice. Is there anything you would like to leave the audience with? A link, final statement?

Lamar Romero:

Sure. I will take this moment to say we are doing our own WeFunder. If you like our strategy and how we think, check it out. Wefunder.com/dragonspiritsmarketing. We are at current, at this time, 220 K into a one million dollar raise. And then I’d also say, I don’t mind offering my time, 10 minute calls for a free consultation, just to ask a quick question. So if somebody heard something here today they liked, feel free to find me, I’m easy to find online. Write me through any of my social channels, and you mention this podcast and I will definitely give you a 10, 15 minute call to help you out.

Karin Samelson:

Awesome, Lamar. Thank you so much. We’ll provide all the links to how to get in touch with Lamar in the show notes. So, thank you again for joining us. We really enjoyed it.

Lamar Romero:

Karin and Alison, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate being here today. Thank you.

Alison Smith:

Thank you, appreciate it.

Alison Smith:

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, and 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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#22 Formulating Authentic Better-For-You Products With Marissa Epstein

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#22: Formulating Authentic Better-For-You Products With Marissa Epstein

You’re at the grocery store, heading down the chip aisle. 💭 There’s a bag of fairtrade plantain crisps to your right and a box of sustainably packaged pretzels to your left. As a mindful consumer with an equal appetite for both flavors, you’re torn. So… as a CPG brand or marketer, how can we ease the burden of choice for our customers?

We’ve invited Marissa Epstein of Springdale Ventures onto the pod to address exactly that! Y’all, this is a big deal. 👏  Marissa has worked with emerging brands to build innovative products, technology, and services for 10+ years. And, she led nutrition initiatives at The White House alongside Michelle Obama!!!

Let us break it down for you…

[0:40] Introduction.

[0:55] Meet Marissa Epstein of Springdale Ventures! What inspired you to study nutrition?

[3:20] Finding health + controlling food choices as a freshman in college at the University of Texas.

[8:05] Alison Smith + the Guatemalan food experience! Fruit-and-veggie prioritization outside of the states.

[11:30] Consumer confusion + terminology.

[14:50] How do you feel about today’s buzz-worthy product claims, like natural and organic? “What is really in the food that I’m eating?!”

[18:50] How may a brand ease that burden on their consumers? Focus on supply chain as well as formulation.

[25:00] As a consumer, which labeled attributes are the biggest red flags for consumers?

[36:00] Consumer trends as well as a push for environmental packaging.

[38:00] Brands that inspire Marissa Epstein!

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#22: Formulating Authentic Better-For-You Products With Marissa Epstein

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

Alison Smith:
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 the UMAI Social Circle where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison, co-founders of UMAI Marketing and we’re being joined by Marissa Epstein, a registered dietician and Truman scholar recognized to her commitment to health education, lecturer at the University of Texas McCombs Graduate School of Business where she teaches nutrition entrepreneurship, and a general partner at Springdale Ventures, Austin’s very own 70% women owned VC firm on a mission to grow transformative consumer brands. Awesome. Thanks for being here, Marissa.

Marissa Epstein:
Thank you so much for having me.

Karin Samelson:
Great. Well, let’s get a little bit of a background. So, can you tell us a little bit of what inspired you to inspire nutrition and become a registered pediatric dietician?

Marissa Epstein:
Nutrition was on my radar growing up. I am from small-town Texas and food was such a part of our family and community as a cultural component. My mom actually immigrated from Mexico and so the dominant food culture in our home was traditional Mexican. And it was really beautiful, but over time, I found that we were becoming statistics. My senior year of high school, I was looking at photos of myself at my high school graduation party. And my mom had assembled all these pictures from Marissa from kindergarten, every year through high school, as moms do. And I was kind of horrified when I looked at a picture of me when I was graduating compared to going into high school. I had just gained so much weight and I was also pre-diabetic. I had sleep apnea. I had acid reflux. All these symptomatic issues that are born from not maintaining a healthy body weight.

Marissa Epstein:
And I see how it just shocked me and also gave me this ability and to have this beautiful thing, food, that brought us all together as a family had also evolved over time, away from the simple ingredients that is Mexican cooking into what’s more American, as my mom assimilated and became more Americanized over time. And of course, the standard American diet is pretty unhealthy. So, I went to college and my first, my primary goal was to really get myself back on track and take care of myself. And I just had this fundamental thought that, this was the time to get healthy. I went to Texas, UT Austin, I was on this amazing campus, I was in a dorm room, food was kind of taken care of for students with dining halls and stuff. I just like, “Wow, this is probably the easiest it’s ever going to get for me to control the choices of my food environment.”

Marissa Epstein:
And so I did and so I spent my entire freshman year getting fit and exploring food choices and learning about what I was eating, what was in the food I was eating. I kept a food journal for nine months and just started connecting food to what food I was eating and how it made me feel. I didn’t have a scale. I didn’t check my weight. There was none of that. I literally just slept, stopped drinking coffee, and ate according to how food made my body feel. And over time, as I started pattern matching, I started seeing that the foods that made me feel the best were all plants. They were vegetables, they were fruits, they were those lean proteins and fish.

Marissa Epstein:
And I didn’t really cut anything out ever, I just started to pay attention to the meals that made me feel great and the meals that didn’t make me feel great. And over time, spent more time eating foods that made me feel great. And those are the really hydrating food groups that we know and love today as plants. So, nuts and seeds and beans and every type of vegetable and every type of fruit and just nicer, cleaner meat and seafood selections.

Marissa Epstein:
So, as this diet transformation was happening, I was also starting to exercise again. And by the time that year was over, I had lost like 25, 30 pounds. And not in an unhealthy way, in fact, like I said, I didn’t even have a scale. I found out in my annual physical. And I didn’t have a mirror, a full-length mirror in my dorm room, so I tell this story and I just want to emphasize. I was very much separated from the aesthetic obsession of losing weight. It was really a special experience and from that, it just opened the Pandora’s Box for me. Like, “Wow, how hard it is to eat healthy.” And this was back in 2005, a long time ago. How hard it is to eat healthy, how counter-cultural it is, how much sleuthing you have to do, and planning you have to do. The environment is not encouraging you to pick fruits and vegetables as your meals and as your snacks on a daily basis, right? We’re flooded with processed foods wherever we turn.

Marissa Epstein:
And I thought, “Gosh, of course my family is in the situation we’re in. We’re subject to the environment. How can I change this?” And so it just really lit a fire under me to learn more about nutrition and to learn about what was in the food that we’re eating. So I took my first nutrition class at UT. It became a passion and an obsession, the science of it was so exciting to me at the mechanistic level, how these nutrients behave in the body and how our physiology interacts with the science of food. And the more and more I got into it, the more I loved it. So I decided to pick up a second degree in nutrition while I was at UT and worked my butt off to graduate on time.

Marissa Epstein:
And then went into my dietetics training in pediatrics and maternal health, and just fell in love with this moment that you have with children to introduce them to how things grow, introduce them to how to cook and prepare foods. It’s just a really special moment when women are pregnant and when families are being started and when kids are getting off to their first fights to excite them about plant foods, basically. And try to influence that palette early to obviously prepare them for a lifelong positive and sustainable relationship with food. So yeah, that’s how I got started.

Alison Smith:
I love that story and I love that you’re focusing on getting the kids set up for success. I grew up with meat and potatoes and vegetables usually were green beans that came from a can. And that’s just how we grew up, and totally fine, but I just wanted to share this anecdote. I just got from Guatemala for my 30th birthday and off this lake, everyone is basically vegan or vegetarian and I’ve never eaten so many delicious fruit and veggies in my whole life. And I had that same moment like, “Holy crap. I feel so good.” And it’s really not that difficult, you just have to go to the store more often I’ve learned. But just realizing how they make you feel, how veggies make you feel, I’m kind of just on my journey now, but I think that’s super cool story that you shared.

Marissa Epstein:
Yeah. I grew up the same, vegetables came out of a can for me growing up too, and we didn’t have a lot growing up. I wouldn’t have known that there was another way to experience vegetables but my mom would tell us stories about her childhood in Mexico and I was just enchanted. My mom in my mind, she lived this… She lived in like the Garden of Eden or something. They just have fruit trees growing everywhere and they all have gardens and she just spoke about that with so much nostalgia and grew plants in our… We had lots of fruit trees growing up in our house. And there was, I don’t know, the values that came around how she talked about that were just so clear to me.

Marissa Epstein:
We grew a lemon tree because lemons were expensive and she didn’t want to buy them from the grocery store. And we grew pomegranates because pomegranates were this very coveted fruit in our family. They only happen in season, they’re very expensive, we would only get one when we got to the grocery store. There would be no seed left unturned in a pomegranate once we opened it. We planted a pomegranate tree 10 years, at one point whenever we, like 10 years after planting it we finally had robust pomegranate fruit, really good grocery store quality fruit. And I just remember this appreciation for how hard it is to grow food, how resource intense it is, how when you connect how much is required to create food, you don’t want to eat a lot of it. You can’t eat a lot of it. You know how precious it is.

Marissa Epstein:
And that always struck me as so different than American culture where we have as much food as we want, it’s beautiful, no zucchini is unlike any other zucchini, it’s all identical. And once you unpack all of that and start to understand the supply chain and why that’s the case, turns out that something like 40% of our food all goes to waste. But it’s so counter to this land of plenty, it’s so counter to that values-based resource-constrained attitude towards food that made me, at least, appreciate it so deeply. And instead, consumers, we know now, are deeply confused by how many choices there are. You go to the grocery store and north of four out of five consumers report today that they are so confused that they actually walk away from the decision. Instead of-

Alison Smith:
Vision fatigue.

Marissa Epstein:
Exactly. Right?

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marissa Epstein:
And so, we have this, I think it is false, the economics of it aren’t exactly capitalist with all the different subsidies and tax economics that go into how we grow our food, but it’s a false pricing in that you have so many foods that are so cheap and those prices don’t really capture all of the work that has to go into them, and they certainly don’t capture the resources that we’re losing and are wasting as a result. And so, I’ve always, I mean on a daily basis and I think what I’ve been obsessed with is like, how can I help people make these healthier choices that are unnatural in our food environment? It would be easy if we were living in my mom’s home town in Mexico, right? Just the way things were.

Marissa Epstein:
Yeah, here it’s not the norm. You really have to go out of your way or pay more to build that healthy diet. And can you imagine, Alison, if we lived the way you were living and it was just at your fingertips [crosstalk 00:13:07] and everybody did it and you didn’t have to think about and talk about or obsess about it. It’s just normal, like all-

Alison Smith:
It was just grown. And like you said, we are growing an avocado tree, a peach tree, and a lemon tree. The avocado tree is not doing so well, but the others maybe in a couple years will get there, but-

Marissa Epstein:
Yes, [crosstalk 00:13:28] personalities.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I think he might’ve given up on us actually, but we haven’t given up on him. But I like that, I’ve started to try to envision, and I’m sorry, we’re off a tangent here, but starting to envision, when you eat your fruits and vegetables, where they came from I think is really helpful. Thinking about all the background to how you got this banana in your hand is kind of, gets you nostalgic about food but… I could talk about that forever, veggies for life.

Marissa Epstein:
I like the idea of teaching kids this and helping connect them what their food is [crosstalk 00:14:11].

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marissa Epstein:
It’s really fun. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
That’s cool. Very cool.

Karin Samelson:
I think something that really struck me with that was you mentioning people going to the store and not really understanding a lot of things and I had that experience when I worked at an egg company where we were coining the term pasturaised and it was pasturaised, it was free ranged, it was cage free, it was conventional and there were so many terms, so much terminology at the grocery store on the shelf. So with all of these product and packaging nutrition claims in particular, non-GMO project verified, certified, organic, gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, all of these claims, while some are really vital to the health of the consumer, like gluten free if you have celiac, this is very helpful. How do you feel about the buzz worthy claims? Like natural and organic that just flood the shelves, and I feel like, personally, they can confuse the consumer.

Marissa Epstein:
They do confuse the consumer. Take organic as a great example. Before we had to create the organic certification program, we didn’t know that there were pesticides used in conventional farming, right? The consumer didn’t. And so what the labels do, first and foremost, is draw a distinction between what you didn’t know you didn’t know about your food. And so this, I think, has inspired an extraordinary amount of fear across the consumer population about, what is really in the food I’m eating? And how is it really grown? And what am I really putting in my body? And the more has been revealed via the front of package labels, the more fearful we all are.

Marissa Epstein:
I mean, you just look at the GMO debate over the last 20 years, and at a fundamental level, there’s this concept that our food is being grown in a way that’s harmful to me, one, why don’t I know about it? And two, why is this happening? There’s a baseline trust in the system and then a label shows up and you realize, “Whoa, I can’t just assume everything that is conventional is okay for me.” And I’m not saying that it is or it isn’t, what I am saying is that that’s the characteristic, the emotional underpinning of the labeling conversations.

Marissa Epstein:
So then you start to pinpoint, okay, well all these different aspects about food, they need to be understood and then they need to be communicated to the consumer, and there are an infinite number of characteristics to choose from, right? Whether it’s growing methods like the USDA certification, organic certification covers, whether it’s the Clean Label Project and measuring the number of toxins in the food. Or whether it’s leached from the soil or if it’s used in manufacturing. It’s extraordinary.

Marissa Epstein:
So yeah, does that confusing? Yes. And does it end up putting a huge burden on the consumer to have to, I used the word sleuthing earlier, and that’s the only word I can describe, what investigative reporting requirement is incumbent on the every-day shopper. I mean, I’m a dietician, this is my profession, and I get confused at the grocery store. You should not have to have a nutrition degree to go grocery shopping. And so, yeah, it’s confusing but I think what you’re really asking about is like, what’s the fairness of that? And is that okay? And how do we feel about it being confusing? And I feel very strongly that the baseline should be safety and that it should be safe until proven… It shouldn’t be incumbent on the consumer to have to distinguish whether these choices are safe or good for us, right? Wouldn’t it be great if the baseline were good and that we could trust that and that we could not have this extraordinary cognitive burden every time we go grocery shopping?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Absolutely. And do you have any recommendations on how the brand can help with that burden on the consumer? So, is it through messaging? What can they do?

Marissa Epstein:
The brands need to tell… Well, let’s start at what the brands need to do behind the scenes before they talk to the consumer. They need to know their supply chain. They need to know their manufacturers. And they need to know their producers. That’s a lot of work, and right now, there are very few barriers to entry in the food business and you can really just build a food brand and launch it with pretty low burdens. That being said, your consumer will end up finding out what you’re about and what your product is. And you may cross that first point of meeting at point of purchase and with your packaging, but if you’re looking for repeat customers, we know the educated household shopper, primarily moms, they’re going to get under the hood and I always tell brands like, “You will be found out.”

Marissa Epstein:
So first and foremost, the best way to bring authenticity and transparency to your consumer is actually to know your product better than anybody. So you need to know, where are your ingredients coming from? What do they go through to get to your manufacturing site? What manufacturing practices are happening on site? What implication does your packaging have on your product? That formulation, people are always so quick to brag about the grams of protein or the amount of calcium, a very nutrient focused, but the formulation itself, is it legit? Or are you just reassembling synthetic nutrient inputs and putting together the new version of a cracker that’s supposed to be better for you? And so they really need to believe in that formulation and be working with a nutrition professional who can help really interpret the product in a way that has meaningful health benefits for the end user.

Marissa Epstein:
So my first piece of advice is, you need to know your product better than anybody else. And then the second is, okay, now how do you communicate this? Well you need to tell the truth, period. Anything that is an implication or that is trying to create a health aura about a product, and you can do that just with the colors of the packaging that you choose, right? Or I work with so many entrepreneurs who are so quick to want to make all of these outrageous claims about what their product can do. And I know that there is a market opportunity for that. We are aware that people buy based on whether they think a product is healthier than its side by side competitor. But in the long term, that will not win because when you claim to have all of these benefits that the consumer doesn’t end up experiencing, they’re going to drop you. And your product will win or lose based on the function of whether it “worked”, instead of whether it tasted great and made someone feel really good.

Marissa Epstein:
So, I always ask entrepreneurs to go through an exercise of all the things you want to say about your product. Which ones are unquestionably true? Which ones do you know are illegal? You’ve already gone through the FDA checklist and are sure that you’d like to, but you can’t put on your packaging? And then which ones are maybes? And basically if something’s a maybe, it’s not true. You need to stay really tight and buttoned up and clean about this and instead of trying to put everything in front of your consumer on the outset and over communicate and oversell, think of your product like an onion. And you’ve got the first layer that people see and you need to prioritize what goes on that first interaction, but invite your target customer to peel back the onion and get to know you better. And then ask yourself, as they get to know you, your founding team, your brand values, your vision, your product, your formulation, the ingredients, the nutrient panel, the nutrition panel, are they more delighted when they learn more? Are they happier with what they see? Are they more excited that they selected you as a pancake mix versus any other pancake mix on shelf?

Marissa Epstein:
And the fact is, if you take that approach, you will engender longer term loyalty. That’s what all the data shows. When people feel like they look on back of package and they see, “Oh, the front of package said this has 20 grams of protein, but that’s actually from some soy isolate that I don’t understand that got put in here that I don’t even know what the… When they see unfamiliar ingredients, they’re like, “What? Why did you do this to me?” They get upset. None of us want the wool pulled over our eyes. Or if they see a highly-functional beverage that is promising energy all day long because it’s plant based, and then they look on the back of pack and they see, “Oh, there’s just caffeine added to this,” there’s dissonance there.

Marissa Epstein:
And so I’m always trying to encourage entrepreneurs, “You’ve got to think about your product like you think about people.” Good people with strong values have great long-term relationships with their friends. They’re consistent. They do what they say they’re going to do. They deliver on promises. They’re there for you when you need them. And so really, great products are like great people.

Alison Smith:
I mean, as marketers, our whole job is to improve someone’s life but you can get in a lot of trouble with just making those direct claims. There’s a lot of different ways to do that. But I wanted to ask you, as a consumer, what are some red flags in terms of claims that are on packaging or elsewhere that a consumer should be worried about?

Marissa Epstein:
Yeah. There’s a totally new generation of front-of-package attributes that are coming out that many of which are, we’ve never even seen before. And so really, it unfortunately is incumbent on the consumer to try to figure out what they mean. My first response to that is, well, front of package isn’t the only place to look for information on the real story. You need to look at the side panel or the back panel. Sometimes you have to even go online, I do all the time, to try to figure out what the actual product is. I think the ingredient list is the most telling piece of information about a product. And that’s always going to be on the nutrition panel, right under the nutrition facts.

Marissa Epstein:
So, reading that ingredient list and really trying to identify, are these ingredients familiar? Do you know what these words means? Are you comfortable with this? And if not, don’t hesitate to just put it back on the shelf. We market products based on the nutrients that they have, but your body is actually receiving foods in the food matrix. So, we can extract protein from soy, or we can feed people whole soy where that protein is accompanied by fiber and antioxidants and all these other benefits that exist in the matrix of the actual food. So when you deconstruct these food items and just extract one component, it doesn’t behave the same way in the body as it otherwise would accompanied by the rest of the substance that the food contains in nature.

Marissa Epstein:
So, the further we get from the way that whole foods exist on the planet, the more likely it is that these nutrients in isolation, these nutrients are being formulated in isolation and that front of package is marketing something that’s just nutrient focused and not food focused. So, my first advice, look at the ingredients label. When I go grocery shopping, I ignore so much of what’s on the front of package, and look at the nutrient label. So things that-

Alison Smith:
It’s pretty, but just turn it over.

Marissa Epstein:
Turn it over. And then what you’ll find is that that is so exhausting that I try to spend as little time as possible in aisles where I have to be looking at nutrient labels. And I’ll tell you the areas that do not require labels in the grocery store are probably the best areas to be spending time in. So, labels, I would say front-of-package attributes I’m excited about, I do think that the USDA-certified organic program is extraordinary. It’s stellar. It’s strong. I spent time at the Department of Agriculture and I know there’s plenty to critique, but it is truly one of the most well-run programs that we have in the country to certify organic agriculture practices and so I’m always looking for that label.

Marissa Epstein:
You mentioned natural, there’s no technical definition for that. So it’s just another nice word, like plant based, to put on the front of the package. But I’m always looking among packaged foods, foods that are made with fruits and veggies, you can put that on the front of the package and so I’m always excited to see that there’s different vegetables and different fruit components being used in packaged food. Whole Foods, I think, does a really great job of manufacturing its own 365 brand for example, with whole food based ingredients. So, if I’m looking at snack bars for example, I get more excited about labels that say, “Made with whole almonds,” than I do about almond extract on that ingredient list. And that shows up front of package.

Marissa Epstein:
There are technical definitions for the source of claims, so the nutritional claims, made with or good source of vitamin A, great source of vitamin A, [inaudible 00:29:22] vitamin A. And so those definitely call my attention and then I’ll look at back of pack to find out, “Okay, is this vitamin A because there’s butternut squash in this? Or is it vitamin A because it’s been fortified?” Always thinking through the bang for my buck on ingredients versus nutrients. But I would say those are some of the call outs that I’m excited about.

Marissa Epstein:
On the manufacturing side, there’s all kinds of cool stuff coming up. Obviously in the coffee space, fair trade has been around for a really long time, but now there are labels that are even showing up that are more, I think, fair and exciting and demonstrative of what good supply chain practices look like. I mentioned the Clean Label Project, I love what they’re doing to really bring transparency to the leaching of heavy metals and other toxins that are showing up in food, especially categories like baby foods. GMOs are really interesting, because the GMO-Verified Project… Well GMOs are covered under the USDA Organic Certification, so I know that there’s a lot of confusion about that, so for I always go back on the GMO issue. What you can, if you can buy organic, and if companies can use organic ingredients, then you can even speak to a degree about your product being able to be made with organic ingredients or made with organic X, Y, Z input.

Marissa Epstein:
So yeah, I think in the spirit of looking for the most nutrient-dense and the most wholesomely grown products on the market, as many of us are, and as I’m sure many of your listeners are trying to create, you want to put the most legit claims on the front of package. And then be aware that people are going to flip that package over and when they try to interpret what’s on the front, you want to have legit information on the back. It builds a whole narrative, your packaging and then how your packaging then relates back to your own media online and how they discover your brand in social. And you just want consistency through that whole thing, like I said, an onion. If I see USDA, if I see made with organic fruits and veggies on the front, I’m going to flip to the back and say, “Okay, well what vegetables are in here? Which ones are organic?” Double click on that and explore it and if I’m happier with more I found out, the more loyal of a customer I’m going to be.

Marissa Epstein:
So for those brands who are coming out with some of these new labels, or new attributes and claims, I just look for opportunities to tell the story about what those attributes mean. I was looking at a company the other day that was claiming it was wild harvested, and I’d never heard that before, and so we got under the hood. What does that label mean? Why are you using that term? Describe it. To me, how can we describe that to the customer better? And I think it’s very, very cool. They want it to mean that the main ingredient that they use is grown without really being touched by any sort of industrialized, agriculture process. It’s just wildly grown and it’s wildly harvested. And in a natural state, actually in honor of indigenous practices hundreds of years since. So, very cool story and you would want to unpack that attribute for the consumer to really help them appreciate the thoughtfulness that you’re bringing and trying to describe the brand to the customer.

Alison Smith:
I was just going to say, I like that whoever you’re speaking of didn’t follow just the hot claims list and kind of went with storytelling and was really, like you were saying, true to their brand.

Karin Samelson:
Totally. And it’s one thing to put things on your packaging and it’s another thing to tell that story just like y’all said through your marketing, through everything on your website, through everything you’re pushing out on social.

Alison Smith:
But we talked about basically what consumer goods brands should portray on their packaging, but we’re curious, are there some new consumer behavior changes that you’re noticing that people are looking for? I mean, we talked more about basically that the average consumer is just more curious and educated. So, what are those and how can CPG brands just get ahead of these changes?

Marissa Epstein:
Yes. The average consumer today is much more educated about nutrition than they were five, 10 years ago. I think the trends that I’m seeing are the need for, with that increase of understanding of what nutritious foods are, is also coming a frustration with how difficult it is to eat that way. And therefore, a real lean into convenience. So, I think frozen foods have really just exploded over the past year or two. What a great way to get freshly-picked, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables that have a long shelf life because they’re frozen and can be packed with great benefits that you would get from fresh food that you would otherwise be worried about wasting in the fridge. So, there’s lots of innovation happening in frozen that I get excited about. And I think people have moved down that aisle more frequently over the last couple years, especially with the pandemic.

Marissa Epstein:
Another trend in the convenience space is what I’m going to call like whole food packaging. So, everything from snackable miniature English cucumbers to [inaudible 00:35:19] which is a portfolio company of ours rolling out prepped vegetables. The smoothie blends obviously. Easy to make or easy to throw in your blender. We all watched that happen with Daily Harvest, but it’s a format that really works. And I’m seeing it across categories, baby foods to adult snacks and breakfast. So I think these semi-prepared grocery ready items that with just a few steps, people can have ready to go is an exciting trend.

Marissa Epstein:
The other consumer trend that I’m following is really this extraordinary aware of plastics and how… It used to be the case that we all said we really cared about the environment, but it wasn’t a lead in our purchasing behavior. But now, if you stack up two very similar products next to each other and one has more sustainable packaging than the other, people are choosing the more sustainable packaging. It’s a great way to differentiate and it’s also, as we’re all thinking through and corporations are thinking through what their footprints look like, how to reduce these non-renewable materials in the supply chain is showing up in consumer interest.

Marissa Epstein:
So, I get to excited about that. The technology isn’t there yet to really, especially for early-stage brands, to be able to afford to bring about that level of transformation, but it really feels like we’re moving in that direction where one day it would be pretty standard, to have renewable, recyclable materials and eliminate plastics from the supply chain.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And it’s really something that small brands can truly aspire to. One of our clients, Serenity Kids baby food, if you’re familiar, they partner with TerraCycle to recycle their pouches, but it’s so very expensive, so getting there eventually I think is really admirable, but understanding that shipping glass is really heavy, and it breaks, and things like that. So knowing that you can eventually get there is something that you can aspire to.

Marissa Epstein:
Yeah, definitely. And I think that all those steps that you make along the way as you move from small marginal changes at every packaging refresh is an opportunity to tell your customers that you’re progressing towards that aspirational goal.

Karin Samelson:
Can you share some of your favorite consumer goods brands right now? Any brands that you can see are really innovating or making a difference? A brand that other founders can look up to and get inspired by?

Marissa Epstein:
Well, I love all the brands in our portfolio, obviously. One of the brands that I am just so excited about Caraway, they do just an extraordinary job on product and experience in building out cleaner cookware. This is just an area, again, where that same feeling of toxicity in our food translates to the toxicity in the equipment that we use to cook. And so using cleaner cookware and providing a solution for everyday people that’s still stick free is just, it’s beautiful and it’s inspiring and they’ve thought through everything from not just product but all the way to how it arrives in your kitchen by providing sleeves for the lids to the pots and pans, because all of us know how messy our drawers get. And then even organizers for inside of your drawers or your pantry for you to keep your pots pristine and unscratched. So I think the thoughtfulness that I’ve seen in that brand and how they’re conveying their values to their customer with little touches like that has been really cool.

Marissa Epstein:
I’m also really exited about our company, one of our portfolio companies, Atlas Coffee Club. They are a subscription coffee company and they, I mentioned fair trade earlier, they’re going above and beyond fair trade standards, and communicating these story lines to the customer of how coffee is actually grown all over the world and that there is more to explore and I think that that adventuresome invitation to get to know and explore coffee is a relationship they’ve been able to build with their consumer that’s really exciting to me. I think it’s so differentiated.

Marissa Epstein:
And then the other brand I’ve mentioned is In Good Taste, another portfolio company. They did… The genesis, born out of the pandemic to start a company that sends tasting size bottles of wine to your house for you to experience a wine tasting at home. So clever and also really changing the way we think about exploring wine, going from having to take ourselves to Napa or Italy is certainly not feasible for me right now. And I think bringing that experience into your home is just another way that a brand has really thought through the consumer and their experience and how they can activate that experience in house.

Marissa Epstein:
So, I really get excited about brands that obviously know their end user really well and are putting themselves in the shoes of the end user and trying to not just solve their pain points and then go above and beyond to also surprise and delight them.

Alison Smith:
Those are three very cool brands. Thank you so much for sharing. I felt like you were speaking directly to me about having an organized drawer, so I’m going to go check out Caraway for sure.

Marissa Epstein:
Yes.

Alison Smith:
And also, yeah, I mean the wine too, that’s cool. But Marissa, thank you so much. I feel like this, we just learned so much. Sorry for going on a tangent in the beginning, but it’s just so interesting and I think what you’re doing is really cool. With that being said is, how can someone reach you? Is there any way for someone to send you an email or chat with you?

Marissa Epstein:
Totally. Yeah. I’m just marissa@springdaleventures.com. Feel free to send me a note, and I’d be delighted to meet any entrepreneurs in your audience and hear more about what they’re building.

Alison Smith:
Thank you so much.

Karin Samelson:
Thanks so much Marissa.

Marissa Epstein:
Thanks guys.

Alison Smith:
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, and 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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#21 Joi Chevalier on Thoughtful, Repeatable Management Systems

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#21: Joi Chevalier on Thoughtful, Repeatable Management Systems

If you wanna work smarter, not harder, you’ve got to MoSCoW it! And, we’re not talking about the mule variety. 🍸 It’s an acronym for… M – Must have, S – Should have, C – Could have, W – Won’t have. Or, creating priority-based systems that truly move the needle.

Joi Chevalier is the Founder and CEO of The Cook’s Nook – a culinary incubator at the intersection of food and tech made for CPG entrepreneurs as well as the plethora of professionals needed to develop consumer products. Many more thoughtful nuggets of wisdom await on this episode of UMAI Social Circle.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:44] Introduction

[1:23] Joi Chevalier’s background in big tech. Personalization and customization of consumer experiences online. Attended culinary school at night – from 5 AM to midnight!

[9:00] Voluntary separation with Dell.

[10:20] Planning for Joi Chevalier’s newest product – a place for entrepreneurs to host events and discuss challenges when launching their own product.

[13:00] The value of systems/processes – repeatable = successful. And, how this applies to consumer packaged goods entrepreneurs.

[17:00] Where does Joi Chevalier’s passion for food come from? Issues in food and tech. Lean into what’s most important – even if it’s uncomfortable! MoSCoW it.

[28:00] Did you lean on your community during these busy developmental times? Entrepreneurship as a mindset – and a scary one at that.

[31:00] Registering for Tech Ranch Austin, because: “You can’t build your product in a vacuum.”

[34:30] What can the tech world learn from the consumer packaged goods industry?

[51:00] Food is medicine.

[52:45] Modern-day entrepreneurs need to think of themselves as the product, but what exactly does that mean?

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#21: Joi Chevalier on Thoughtful, Repeatable Management Systems

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

Narrator:
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 the UMAI Social Circle where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison, co-founders of UMAI Marketing, and we’re being joined by Joi Chevalier, founder and CEO of the Cook’s Nook, a truly mission-driven food and tech culinary incubator cultivating community here in Austin, Texas. The Cook’s Nook provides commercial kitchen space to its members, as well as business and entrepreneurship development consulting. Thank you so much for joining us, Joi.

Joi Chevalier:
Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it and like being with you guys.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Awesome. Well, let’s dive a little bit into your background. You have an extensive background in product management and strategy in big tech. Can you tell us how the Cook’s Nook even came to be?

Joi Chevalier:
Well, sure. I make light of it. I was working on my PhD and literature in technology, and talking about this thing called a product manager, and where we turning our instructors, teachers, into product managers in early days of developing online pedagogies and tools and systems and network-based classrooms. I was one. I was building an entire classroom to teach British literature, 16th century, 17th century, British literature, in fact, in network classrooms.

Joi Chevalier:
I was actually in building asynchronous chat systems, tied to them, and all kinds of things. Companies saw all the stuff I was working on and writing and doing talks and papers on. You could still find them all online, probably in the way back internet way back card type somewhere. I ended up working for technology companies, director of marketing and products. Eventually, after startups here in town and acquisitions on some products, my focus was really around community personalization and customization of technology and data and platforms and experiences.

Joi Chevalier:
I wound up at a very large Fortune 50 here in the area in Round Rock, and basically eventually owned all of their authentication systems as the senior product manager and strategist global. Got to be the in-house… Product management, I’ve always believed, since you have a number on your back is the owner for a strategy and a revenue. It is the inbound marketing owner. It is the one who determines what needs to be in the market, how to get to market, what is the product market fit, the customer market fit? What is the thing that is supposed to make money? What is the thing that is supposed to drive the business?

Joi Chevalier:
I mean, the idea of getting a product to market means you have to have a process and a means and a vision on how to get products to market, and what is the product. And you have a clear notion of your relationship to a customer. There is nothing but them. Then the rest is, how do you organize the business and how do you speak clearly to a development and operations process, in a form of a series of requirements that are clear, unequivocal, and represent a set of features that you know speak to a persona or personas that have real utility to them in the market that will help them solve a problem and get something done? And give development a real set of criteria that are acceptable and you know the cost of those things.

Joi Chevalier:
But the cost of those things, if they’re done well, will be far less than the revenue you know that you can make with that audience at the end of the day. And you have a pretty high confidence that you can do that in that feature set. I just define product management. And to get that product to a launch effectively, knowing what that market needs and expects, and to go out and talk to a whole bunch of folks and a whole bunch of analysts and get my product marketing teams, and then eventually PR teams and others to do the work, to speak to those folks, doing their outbound work, to get that out there.

Joi Chevalier:
You get good at doing this process over and over and over and over and over again. And so, after doing it so much, and you start to get to a point where it’s all you think about, and it’s what you know how to do. That’s great, and it does lead to success and it does lead to… I mean, I had a very successful career doing that. But after a while, you know that that can be put to good utility in other places and for other benefit.

Joi Chevalier:
For me, that other benefit was how do I see other people being successful in this way? Can I show this to someone else? Are there women? Are there Black and Brown entrepreneurs who need to know this? I see so many products and people trying to make products. And to me, it is by that time is now natural. It was learned, but it now comes naturally. And so, I decided to go to culinary school at night while I was running those kinds of things. I would run a program that runs stuff during the day, and about four o’clock, I would jump the car, come back down I35, put my little Cami hat on, put my little jacket on, and run into school here at Escoffier, right across from a Highland Mall, jump out.

Joi Chevalier:
Nobody noticed I wore chef pants during the day. Black is black. Black is black. They didn’t notice, and would do that from 5:00 to midnight. I would just show up at work with a lot of food during the day. “Would you like some brioche?” They were like, “What are you doing? Brioche?”

Karin Samelson:
Made it last night.

Joi Chevalier:
“Made it last night.” Exactly. Most of my team knew. “Got focaccia.” It was funny. They just started coming around to my desk. “What did you make?” “That was rice last night. You don’t want that.” They knew. They knew because it wasn’t a secret. Had a great circle. I had great vice presidents and I had great others. “Joi is always doing something, because she could do products all day long. She’s been doing them for a long time.”

Joi Chevalier:
And so, it just happened to be that one year in 2014, Dell stuck something out. It said, “Put your name on this list for a voluntary separation.” What the hell is that? It was like a lottery. It was like secret Santa or something. You’ve got to pay to play and stick your name on it, and find out what it’s about. You’re like, “Okay. The hell.” Well, a lot of people put their names on it. Let’s just be honest. There was a lot of names, and my name was on it.

Joi Chevalier:
Vice-president, actually CTO of the company, saw my name on the list and said, “Your name can’t be on this list.” I mean, what’s the list? We don’t even know.

Karin Samelson:
I just want to find out what the [crosstalk 00:08:31] is.

Joi Chevalier:
I want to [inaudible 00:08:31] what it is.

Narrator:
I want to win.

Joi Chevalier:
I want to win. I know, exactly. Is this [inaudible 00:08:39]? What is this, seriously? I mean, I had an idea, but what is it? He said, “Your name needs to come off the list.” I was like, “Okay, well, make me an offer. I’ll take my name off the list.”

Narrator:
Does that basically mean they over-hired or were having a year that they didn’t expect, and that’s how-

Joi Chevalier:
No, that typically means they’re trying to get rid of an entire sort of thing they’re [crosstalk 00:09:04]-

Narrator:
Program? Oh, okay.

Joi Chevalier:
It’s a band of folks. They were looking to get rid of everybody between seven and 15 years. They were just trying to cut dollars.

Narrator:
Wow.

Karin Samelson:
Corporate world. We’re not a part of it.

Joi Chevalier:
That’s just corporate. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Joi Chevalier:
That’s exactly what they did. They got rid of directors, all of us who were at director level.

Narrator:
Wow.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. They were-

Karin Samelson:
Well, they gave you the opportunity to do a passion project that’s turning to a career.

Joi Chevalier:
I saw it as an opportunity, and that’s why I was okay with my name being on the list. I mean, I wasn’t crazy. Come on, I was corporate.

Karin Samelson:
I’ve been here.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. I knew I was putting my name in a hopper.

Karin Samelson:
Okay. That happened. Then the Cook’s Nook. Was that always in the back of your mind or did it-

Joi Chevalier:
It was. It was.

Karin Samelson:
… take you a while?

Joi Chevalier:
No, it was actually my project while I was in culinary school.

Karin Samelson:
Okay.

Joi Chevalier:
When that happened, if I was going to go, I was okay with it. If I was going to stay, I was okay with it. That’s why I suggested for them to make me an offer. You had to make me an offer to stay.

Karin Samelson:
Love it.

Joi Chevalier:
They did, actually. They made me an offer to stay. It was a good offer too, actually. But I ended up leaving. And so, it gave me the opportunity to execute upon the project that I product managed, which was this thing I had written out while I was in culinary school. I had drawn the pictures for, had done the SWAT analysis, and the feature lists, and written up the requirements for. I did exactly the same work. I had gone around, gone around town, done the zip code work, done the demographic work, and then the same exact work I would have done for any new product.

Joi Chevalier:
Determined that there was a gap in the market that was not here, which was how do we have a space in a place that spoke directly to entrepreneurs, that gave me centralized place to rally around, to talk about entrepreneur issues and functions was a turnkey solution for entrepreneurs to come in, to use the space, have a co-working space, a smaller event space, the production facilities space, and the business services around them to try to help them launch their products and least get first initial traction into the market. That was the definition. And then it had a set of requirements, what needed to be there. Sounds like a product?

Karin Samelson:
Sounds like a product.

Narrator:
Yeah. I love how you somehow simplified it. I mean, it seems like this abstract idea about the way, I guess, your brain works is you’re able to simplify it and make it something that makes sense, and as consumable, really…

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. That was it.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Joi Chevalier:
It needed to have these features. I wrote out all the features. I Moscowed the features, just like you do, must have, could have, should have, would have. I gave each feature an approximate cost. I started to prioritize them and an approximate cost for those features. Right. And then I had to go to a development team, aka general contractor, and an architect to tell me how much it would cost to get those features.

Narrator:
You’re solo, besides your devs? Is this just you? Awesome.

Joi Chevalier:
It was.

Karin Samelson:
Wow.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. Me and my devs, and I went and got a marketing team, aka Flywheel Creative. That Karen Barry and her company. Yeah. That was pretty much it.

Karin Samelson:
I think the one thing that’s really sticking with me as you’re talking about the product management and how it has translated into the Cook’s Nook is the huge importance of processes. Once you have them down, they can be repeatable and they can be successful. How important is it for CPG business owners to have these established processes in place before they really start doing the work?

Joi Chevalier:
They can be, but they don’t have to be. But once you realize that you have a process, you should commit to it, write it down, and know when you do it again, that you have to edit it, which means you had to write it down and put it someplace. So you can’t come back to it and say, “Here’s how I just changed it. Was it better or did I make it worse?” If you’re not willing to commit to the mental work of process management, or process change, then you’ve captured nothing about what you’ve done. You’ve captured absolutely nothing.

Joi Chevalier:
You can’t even examine what you’ve done. You can’t even learn from what you’ve done. You can’t take any benefit from what you’ve done. And so, you’re learning it every time you step in it, and that’s slow. It’s slow and costly. Let alone take benefit of looking over and seeing what somebody else has done. You’re not even looking at what you’ve done. Some people get that and it just pains me, because you can hear it in my voice when I can’t get that across to somebody, to look at what you’ve done for yourself.

Joi Chevalier:
I get that it’s overwhelming for some people sometimes, and maybe that’s just I’ve got to find a way to not make it so overwhelming. The idea is to get that under control over time, but it’s still not pretty at first. It is not. It is not. Your days are long and heinous until that process improvement starts to kick in and you start to realize the benefit of it, because you’re not stepping in it as much. But you’ve got to commit to writing down when you do learn things so that it benefits you later, so that you get control of your time, your SOPs, your processes to benefit you later.

Joi Chevalier:
You’re going to invest the time upfront, so you get it back in droves later. You can share it with others because you’re going to have to give it away. You will not just be you by yourself hopefully soon enough.

Karin Samelson:
Such [crosstalk 00:15:42].

Narrator:
Right. That’s so [crosstalk 00:15:43]. That’s a good lesson all in itself. I mean, you have to get your process that may be so apparent to you, and the explanation about your product, that’s so apparent to you… I mean, we see it a lot in the marketing world where you’re not communicating it properly to your team or your consumers really. But thank you for that.

Joi Chevalier:
I will tell you. That’s the reason why I was struggling today is because I was doing the transition with someone, and felt that things were not written. It was somebody transitioning for another role, somebody else in my company was transitioning. And because it wasn’t written, I was having to go back and do that for somebody else.

Narrator:
Right. Yeah. Just, I mean, systems should be in place with any business, because, I mean, it’s not just a tech thing or what have you. It really is important for every business. So I love how you explain that. I can’t wait to learn more about how you think about entrepreneurs as how entrepreneurs should think of themselves as product really. You talked about that earlier, but I really want some more background first on-

Joi Chevalier:
Sure.

Narrator:
… big tech to food. I’m assuming you have a passion for food. If that’s correct, where does that come from? What does food mean to you?

Joi Chevalier:
Great question. I would say it’s in my own family. The week of Juneteenth, I did three food demos. It’s so funny because we’ll talk about this and CPG and food and tech don’t actually ever see me actually do foodways work. Foodways folks, who I do, lots of talks with, don’t ever see me do this stuff. It’s really funny how these are really completely split. But yeah, I do a lot of talking on foodways and African-American foodways and food history. One day I’ll write a cookbook. We’ll eventually get there.

Karin Samelson:
Ooh, cookbook.

Narrator:
[crosstalk 00:17:51] for that.’

Joi Chevalier:
On coastal Texas cuisine. I’ll get there. My family’s from Houston, and East Texas, and Southwest Louisiana. My family was one of the first early families in old French town in Houston, which is in Kashmere Gardens, 5th ward, in Settegast, and started a couple of the Black Catholic churches in the area. That’s just a tradition I grew up in, fish fries and [inaudible 00:18:21], and bazaars. Went to Catholic school all of my life until I came to UT.

Joi Chevalier:
And so, grew up around food, and cooking food, and making food, and especially the food on special occasions. Just real food made… I don’t say real food, but just that very earthy food. In particular, the East Texas, that was very vegetable forward, through my grandmother and her family, and still the food that I work a lot with and celebrate. I still cook. I cook a lot. I’m notorious for food and my friends love coming to eat when I cook.

Joi Chevalier:
And so, the idea that when I was sitting there at days wondering, “Adele,” What my next act was going to look like.” It was, “Wow. I could be yet another technology company, but I don’t think that’s what it is. What is that thing?” I think it’s in food and, God, it is not a food corporate. Geez. Can you imagine me at a brand company? I think I would look at those folks even crazier than I was looking at tech corporate.

Joi Chevalier:
I have a tendency to look at my own uplines like, “Really?” It’s a terrible habit of mine, because I was notorious for that too. They’re like, “You can’t even hide your face in a corporate meeting.” No, I can’t.

Karin Samelson:
Zoom camera off now.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. I’ve done that. I mean, I wish. If he would just go, “You’ve got something to say, boy?” “Oh, no, keep going.” But again, it just ended up being it was in food. And then what is that? And before for Dell, I had been at startups. I mean, I was in startups more than I was at Dell. Going into a fortune 50 was… I mean, to this day, my friends who I was in startups with for the longest time here in the Austin area, are they still laugh? Because they were like, “Really?”

Joi Chevalier:
When I said I was going to go to Dell, they were like, “Really? They still crack up at that. That was a shocker for me to go someplace so big. They all stayed in startups, very successfully so. But that’s all they ever did. And that’s what my crowd always did. And so, it was going back to something small. If it was entrepreneurs, food entrepreneurs, all right, then. So what does that look like, and who is that, and does that make sense, and what are they missing?

Joi Chevalier:
Then that’s how I got into that product process. What is this? And let me go figure out what that is and what that looks like. Yeah. Yeah. And so, it’s afforded me a platform to be able to talk about these issues in food and tech, label it in food and tech. I mean, we were some of the first to talk about that five, six years ago. And first started talking about it, “This food and tech, what is it?” It’s not big ag. It’s not corporate food. It is this marriage of food and entrepreneurs.

Joi Chevalier:
I’ll yank that back all the time when I’m in corporate food conversations or national calls because big ag tried to yank it. Nope, not you all. This is entrepreneurship in tech is about entrepreneurs. It’s about new food and it’s about innovative food. It’s not brand food stop and it’s not big ag. Well, big ag is a source of new technology. I understand what you’re saying about technology. And a lot of new tech is coming out of ag. But when we say food plus tech with the little plus, food plus tech, we’re talking entrepreneurs, kids. In specific one of those categories, and that is CPG, let’s be clear. But they did try to yank that.

Joi Chevalier:
And so, what does food in tech. Food in tech is this ability to try to take what we’ve learned in technology about these iterative processes, getting to launch as quickly and getting through iterations quickly and bringing that into a culinary space, to the benefit of entrepreneurs, the food entrepreneurs, and teaching them these same methods and methods of thinking, in order to get them there fastest because they need to get there fastest.

Joi Chevalier:
It’s not restaurant work. It’s something else. Even at the Cook’s Nook, we have a minimum of… A lot of times, people, when they go into a space, they have a year’s lease. Our minimum has been four months. Why? Because the idea is that you should be able to get into a process quickly enough, fast enough, get launched and get some early traction. And if we’re good, it should take you four months.

Narrator:
Wow. Are you saying on average, generally… I know a lease is usually a year, but because of that year lease, does it take others on average a year to get up and running and you’re able to cut that down to four months?

Joi Chevalier:
No. What we’re saying is we ask them for a minimum of four months. And then folks can just go month to month after that.

Narrator:
Do a lot of them get there that quickly?

Joi Chevalier:
Many of them do.

Narrator:
Nice.

Joi Chevalier:
Yes. If they get at least something out into the market and get themselves and trying to get others to talk about it. Yeah. Some people don’t, but most of them do. I’d say more than 50%, 60%, they get something in there and out the door that they’re comfortable with, and start to try to talk about it, try to get a sales process going. Get into a store, get into some early events, try to co-brand, a little thing with someone else, do pop ups. Whatever the events might be, they start to do some things. Yeah. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
That’s so interesting because so many CPG founders, they have full-time jobs. They’re doing what you did after their corporate job, 5:00 to midnight or later, grinding for this mission-based product that they believe in. That’s who we honestly love to work with as well because when they have a product they believe in, they work hard.

Joi Chevalier:
They work hard. The question is, do they know the right things to work on, and say no to not work on the stuff that’s easy, that comes easiest to them. Even I had to. It was, “Hey, let’s go build a website, Joi.” Yes. Of course, Joi wants to go build a website and make some brochures. No Joi. You’re not going to go build the website and make some brochures. What are you going to go do, Joi? You’re going to go do the horrible hard thing.

Joi Chevalier:
Well, not horrible, hard. It’s just the one you don’t enjoy. Go Moscow this stuff. Go and stand down there in the development office, and try to get this building done, that you don’t know how to get done, that you can’t get these people to move on and go do the horrible parts. Or what is your process for getting entrepreneurs in here? Go figure out how you’re going to go find and meet entrepreneurs and tell them about this place. It’s easy for me to sit in the background because I do products.

Joi Chevalier:
The day I woke up and said, “I need to go find somebody else to build me a website and an e-commerce process,” that was a revelation for me. I had to give it away. That’s not mine anymore. It’s not me. Wow.

Narrator:
That’s hard. That’s hard as an entrepreneur.

Joi Chevalier:
I can’t do that. I’m not allowed to do that. Okay, then what do I do? Well, but I’d save money if I did it. But, God, it would take me weeks.

Karin Samelson:
And somebody can do it better.

Joi Chevalier:
And they’ll do a way better job than I would. Way better job. Okay.

Karin Samelson:
Leaning into the hard stuff, even if it’s not the things you want to do. I think that’s a good lesson for anybody who’s wanting to build something with their own two hands.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. Joi, go stare at your spreadsheet and figure out where your holes are and make equations in an Excel table and spreadsheet. I could do high level. Sure. But having to really dig into Excel, that was painful. I mean, [crosstalk 00:26:46]-

Karin Samelson:
I hear that.

Joi Chevalier:
… I can always get that back from the finance group. I had somebody else to do it for me if I really had to. Nope. Not anymore. God, I hate that. I had to have a Come-to-Jesus about them, I mean, literally in the middle of the night, “There’s nobody else coming for you, Joi. There is nobody, and you have to know these numbers. You have to make at least an attempt to figure out how to make these sums, because if you don’t know this math, you are going to screw yourself and your husband, and it’s your money. It’s not Michael’s money. It’s your money. And it’s your retirement money. And there’s no more money coming because you’re not making six figures anymore. So suck it up and figure it out.”

Karin Samelson:
Yep. I’ve got to grind.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah.

Narrator:
That’s such a leap of faith. It’s really cool to hear.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. Can you do this or not? Are you good enough to do this or not? You have done this and you know how to do this. Can you do this or not? Then shut up and do it.” Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. When you were in this process of the shut up and do it, how much did you have to lean on your community to support you?

Joi Chevalier:
That’s an interesting question. This is one of the areas I will say, “Do as I say, not as I do,” because I’m unusual in this regard because I did do this professionally for a long time. It was my job to build the spreadsheets, build a business case, build plans, demonstrate this to somebody else, get the funding, and do this work. So I could sit at my desk and build this because I’ve been doing it for 20 years.

Joi Chevalier:
As an entrepreneur, I think you will find it very difficult. I’ll be honest, I don’t think people understand entrepreneurs. I think sing and think, “Wow, entrepreneur is great,” but I don’t think people really understand it. I think it’s a mindset that people don’t get because it’s a level of risk in faith, in leaping, and risk that most people will never, ever, ever consider. Not do, just not even think about. There’s something wrong with you at the end of the day underneath it. There’s something not there’s something not right.

Karin Samelson:
You’re putting yourself in just a huge non-safe place.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. It’s the ultimate non-safe thing, and you made some other people non-safe around you.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Joi Chevalier:
No, I’m serious. There are some that [inaudible 00:29:28] safe.

Narrator:
That’s absolutely right.

Karin Samelson:
There’s a true vulnerability. Absolutely.

Joi Chevalier:
There’s an exposed thing about you, that people go, “Oh.” I mean, you could feel it. There’s a slight thing, “Okay. Wow. That’s amazing. You’re entrepreneur…” I just look at them. And so, I think it’s really hard for entrepreneurs to find a community of non entrepreneurs, family, friends, and others who will commit to them in their endeavors. I think that’s tough. If we keep knocking on that door, I think it’s really hurtful because they’re not going to be that vulnerable, exposed with you in that way. I think that is a very tiny universe that will.

Joi Chevalier:
Spouse, partner, maybe, and maybe to an extent. They’re going to commit the dollars or the relationship or be there, but not be with you in it all the time, every day. But they’re in it with you because they want you to be successful. They’re going to commit their home, their household, their dollars. But they’re not going to be standing next to you in the business, doing what you do every day.

Karin Samelson:
They’re just not going to fully get it.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. They’re not totally get it, but they’re [crosstalk 00:30:47].

Narrator:
I like what you said. It’s not fair to pull them into our crazy world sometimes.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. And I’m okay with that. My husband’s down. He’s been down. He knows it’s his money. This is his household. It’s his business, X, Y, and Z. Call him for anything, he’s down. But I’m not asking him to be right here every day. He doesn’t understand what’s happening in here all the time, and I don’t ask him to. He’s got a corporate job. And so, there’s always a little bit of distance about this topic, and that’s okay. That’s okay. I think we need to understand that and be okay with that.

Joi Chevalier:
Where do we find that that community you ask? I think that’s why it’s important to find other entrepreneurs. I think you’re going to have to. Here’s what I eventually did. A 20-year seasoned product manager, I went and registered in Tech Ranch’s Venture Forth class. Can you believe that? Kevin Koym looked at me like, “Well, don’t mind me. I’m going to sit right here in this class.” It wasn’t a negative to hear all this stuff again. But it was to go and meet people. I’m an introvert anyway. And to look at people and listen and see what’s being done and be okay with my own vulnerability in this.

Joi Chevalier:
“You’ll do a pitch at the end.: “No, I’m not.” “Yes, you will.” “I don’t need to do a pitch. I’m not looking for money. I don’t need to pitch anything.

Karin Samelson:
I’m just here to meet people. Don’t get me.

Joi Chevalier:
I’m just here to see people. Oh, I don’t need to do that exercise.” But I did. Then they brought the mentors in and I talked my company and it got better each time I talked about. I went, “Oh, I’m getting better at this.” My pitch got better, and my definition got better, and my four-piece got better. E Even my requirements got better. Then my pitch got better. Then I did do the pitch on the last pitch night. I did have an ask where I didn’t use to have an ask. Okay, I get it. An entrepreneur has to have social capital because you can’t build your product in a vacuum. That became the-

Narrator:
That is a great statement. I just have to point that out.

Joi Chevalier:
That became the brand new definition of the Cook’s Nook. None of us build a product in a vacuum. I could in a corporate, but you can’t out here.

Karin Samelson:
We don’t have Michael’s money out here.

Joi Chevalier:
We don’t have free money out here. That’s exactly right. Even in there, you weren’t supposed to either. That’s an artificial thing where we can’t go out and talk to every customer and jet on jets everywhere and go do what we need to go do. That became a defining statement in the Cook’s Nook. We still said that you can’t build a company in a vacuum. We are the first line at the Cook’s Nook for you to meet other entrepreneurs and start to get into places and events and activities, so you can meet others who help make you and your company better and your product better.

Narrator:
I love the tie to community, and that leads me to the next question we wanted to ask, is previously you were talking a lot about how [inaudible 00:34:30] should influence the CPG world, the changes that the CPG world needs to do based on what tech is doing. But what can the tech world learn from CPG?

Joi Chevalier:
Oh my gosh, remember that bit I just said about not making products in a vacuum.

Narrator:
It’s what I was hoping you would tie in here.

Joi Chevalier:
[crosstalk 00:34:52]. Oh my God. One of the things that we still do in our corporate section, if you stand aside, is we still engage with corporates in a lot of arenas. Some of that is still on product innovation. If I could tell you what some corporates are doing, you would just… I mean, there’s a reason why that some of them just are not growing in food spaces. They’re just not, and why they are desperate to do acquisitions, because they don’t know how to grow new products.

Joi Chevalier:
They don’t have a process from within to grow entrepreneurs. They are driven by R and D because we made some stuff and we should do something with it, or better yet file it. A brand group that says, “You know we don’t have anything in the CBD gummies sector. Did you all make something and put it on file?” That’s what happens. “Well, this is going to be a $300 million space. We don’t have anything in it. Let’s make up something.” Then they go build an AB tester package. A package, not a product. A package.

Joi Chevalier:
Then they dump $30 million in the hopes that they’re going to make a two, $300 million product. Then it doesn’t work and then they look confused, and it takes them two or three years to do it because it comes out over here in R and D and they have to test the heck out of it. They can’t make any claims about it. They have protocols about it. It takes these guys two years. These guys are testing a package on Facebook, seriously, on Facebook, and do some intercepts. Then they get somebody in China who’s going to do a scaling operations. That is how products come together. That does not work.

Karin Samelson:
What’s the first thing you would say to someone who took that route?

Joi Chevalier:
First thing I said was, “That’s not going to work.”

Karin Samelson:
What’s the second thing?

Joi Chevalier:
Second was, “Who’s actually making a product? Who owns product management? Who’s making a product? Who actually asked anybody, did they want a product, and what’s the product they want, and what’s the product they want to eat?” They didn’t have an answer for that. Those roles did not exist. They have brand marketers and then they have R and D. So who owns product? Who has a target on their back with a number? Maybe brand marketing. Yeah, but who owns the thing that somebody has to consume and ingest?

Joi Chevalier:
And so, we actually worked with a company to actually build a rather detailed product innovation process to try to get them there. Extremely dealt with deliverables at every step. “Here’s the documents deliverables that should come out of that and here’s a map of the process. And then during the process, here are the deliverables at each of these points. Yeah. And then here are the roles that are still missing for you.”

Joi Chevalier:
I mean, they were about ready to start having a entrepreneurial process, and out the gate, at the AB testing of a package, they were going to give them a quarter of a million dollars. But they didn’t show anything. They didn’t have any deliverables. Well, they AB tested a package. That gets you a quarter of a million dollars? Shoot. I need to come over here. You do something else and you got another 500,000. They were trying to create a portfolio that was somehow going to return in three years, $300 million portfolio.

Joi Chevalier:
I was like, “[inaudible 00:38:43].” I come back to your point, what can they learn is what does it take to really do innovation inside a corporate environment? What does that really look like? How do you carve that out? What are the roles? What are the timeframes and targets, or the expectations? We talked about what do those months look like for us? And what does that time look like? What does that time look like for them? What does it mean not to be in a vacuum?

Joi Chevalier:
What does that mean giving the leeway and the ability to actually allow people to go back out into the field? What are the real dollars around that? What are real expectations around products? What does that start to look like? And put that back in. What are real processes to get to the shelf, that are reasonable? It’s reasonable for those kinds of companies to believe they can get a good, solid product to the shelf in six to eight months.

Joi Chevalier:
If you told that to a large brand company, they would laugh at you. They would laugh. They don’t know how to do that anymore. They don’t know how to do that. But I bet you guys do. You guys know how to do that? They can’t. Okay, a year. They would still laugh. But you guys know how to do that, and on less than $250,000.

Karin Samelson:
Benefits of being small and nimble.

Joi Chevalier:
How do you be small and nimble and really need it and let them pull out a quality product with processes?

Karin Samelson:
Can’t bring up the processes.

Joi Chevalier:
With processes that they can see, because they’re going to want them, and that’s understandable. They don’t want people to be sick. Totally get it. Nobody wants people to be sick. Nobody. Entrepreneurs don’t either. They’re traceable. They still have SKUs and UPCs, and has some distribution, and affect an audience. You could still do that. They wouldn’t know how to do that. But you guys will, and that’s the thing that we can give back to them. They don’t have to buy it. They can learn it.

Joi Chevalier:
They don’t have to buy it and mess up another company or just leave it alone in isolation. But have it become part of their culture. That’s what they still haven’t figured out how to do.

Narrator:
So interesting.

Joi Chevalier:
That was a bit long.

Narrator:
No, no-

Karin Samelson:
No, I love it.

Narrator:
I just love that, speaking from someone who has 20 years of experience, knows that the food, CPG in specific, can show tech something, give them a little run for their money.

Joi Chevalier:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Narrator:
Good to hear. Good to hear.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t matter. It could be food corporate or it could be just pure tech. I mean, if I walked in certain Fortune 50s today and said I was going to do that, “You couldn’t do that.” I was notorious for getting large products done on no money. No money. The year I made 10 billion, I probably spent two million. One year, I was supposed to make two billion. I asked for three million. There were companies were around that were valued at 30 million who were doing the same work, and I think I got 750,000. I mean, it’s crazy. I mean, it’s crazy. You get nothing and expect to make big dollars.

Joi Chevalier:
But you don’t get the opportunity to be innovative and you can’t get quickly to market. And those things may or may not be persistent product to use. [crosstalk 00:42:37]-

Narrator:
That’s, I mean, something-

Joi Chevalier:
End up being throw away.

Narrator:
Right. That’s something that we tell the small, extra small, even medium-size CPG companies, is that you have the ability to pivot where these big brands can’t. It’s going to take them a long time if they need to. That is what can set you apart and make you successful, is you can pivot and you can listen to your audience and quickly change your offering or your communication, your messaging.

Joi Chevalier:
You absolutely can. But that means you had to already be thinking about it, and it’s okay to think about it.

Narrator:
But just listening really.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. Or just listening or spending the time, what’s next and what else could we be doing? And putting it in your back pocket. It’s not a betrayal of your current audiences and your current work to always think about, what else can I be doing and how can we be doing it better, or what’s next for us? You’ve got to have it on the side, and exactly last year showed that. That’s exactly those who in our space survived. That’s exactly what they did.

Narrator:
Right.

Joi Chevalier:
Because they already had a sense of what they could be doing or thoughts that they had had in the past, that they had set aside, that they came back to, or whatever it was.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Speaking of innovations, are there some innovations that you can think of right now that you’re seeing in the CPG space that are exciting?

Joi Chevalier:
Innovations in the space that are exciting? I think delivery… I don’t mean delivery mechanisms, but how things get to audiences, in that I like that somehow we’ve been forced to say we really need to meet people where they are. So we need to find ways to get food to where people are. If that is really finding solutions around vending mechanisms, then folks are going to do that.

Joi Chevalier:
I am thinking, “Well, I mean, I guess it’s not that far away.” You’ve seen people with lockers, but I’m thinking about getting beyond lockers. Remember, I come from a place where it is all about individualized, customized, personalized experiences. So how do I have a vending system that is ultimately customized, but it is your food customization? In that, here’s the example. Let me be very specific. You remember Alpaca Market? You guys remember?

Karin Samelson:
I don’t.

Joi Chevalier:
Okay. There has been food vending, cold food vending systems, or prepared meal vending systems that have been in markets and stores in places for a while. But they’ve not gone over horribly well because it can be high touch to supply to them. And if the prepared food does not sell very quickly, then you’ve got a lot of turnover in those spaces. They can be high cost to do that. But how do you have fresh food for salads, for smoothies, or things like that? And some sort of co-branding mechanism.

Joi Chevalier:
Even more so, how do you have something like prepared meals in them? Even more so, how do you have groups of prepared meals in them, especially if you’re doing food in secure places. And so, finding ways to solve those kinds of challenges and issues I think is the next great thing that still has to get solved because I’ve got to not only have it be able to be indoor-outdoor, I’ve got to be able to have it locked. But I’ve got to have it know you.

Joi Chevalier:
I’ve come back to this authentication question and how much it knows, not just the storage of it. But I’ve got to be able to manage it remotely. It’s easier for it to know you than for me to have to check it, if that makes sense.

Narrator:
That makes total sense. It’s hard to think on how that’s possible now since we’re leaning into this more era of privacy, I guess, is the way I would put it.

Joi Chevalier:
Oh, this is the ultimate in privacy. It’s easier for the system to know you, than for me to have to check on it. I only want to check to make sure that it’s gone. I don’t want to have to handle or manage it knowing you. And so, whether that’s fingering, knowing this is the Smith family, or somebody from the Smith family who’s coming to get all of their food out of one of the slots, and all of the meals.

Joi Chevalier:
It could be anybody from the Smith family, I don’t care, to come by and pick all the meals up. It’s only the things on that one slot, not opening the whole thing. It’s by slot. So I can put 15 meals for the Smiths in there, six meals for the Samuelsons in here, whatever that is. That can control that level of individual personalization and customization.

Narrator:
I see. Okay.

Joi Chevalier:
But manage the system.

Karin Samelson:
I feel like we need to put this in a time capsule, come back to it in five years and be like, “Wait. You’re talking-

Joi Chevalier:
I’m waiting for somebody to come and talk to me, the product manager.

Karin Samelson:
I look forward to this. It sounds so spacey right now, but-

Joi Chevalier:
Oh, it’s not that spacey. I mean, if you can have an individual small robotic vehicle drive up to your address with your hot pizzas inside, that costs way more and has way more technology in it than a standing multi-door locker that has individual coding on each of those-

Narrator:
How has-

Joi Chevalier:
[crosstalk 00:48:54] the recognition.

Narrator:
And face recognition. How are you thinking the food is produced? Is there…

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. Somebody would have to produce that, but yet.

Narrator:
Okay. Okay. I wasn’t-

Joi Chevalier:
[crosstalk 00:49:06] those items in there. That’s fine. That’s actually pretty standard transport. It is about the mechanism itself and making that viable and affordable. And having to write [crosstalk 00:49:21]-

Narrator:
You can partner with Amazon.

Joi Chevalier:
I’m sure Amazon already has. I used to talk to them. I need them to call me back. [inaudible 00:49:27]. The real issue is, yeah, but that one slot, the Smiths don’t use it anymore. Now it belongs to the Chevaliers. I don’t need anybody ever to touch it. I just need that to be reprogrammed. And then tomorrow it’s the Smiths again?

Narrator:
Pretty neat.

Karin Samelson:
Food and tech.

Joi Chevalier:
That is pure food and tech. I want that. I want to make that. I want to be the product manager who does that. I need somebody to call me.

Karin Samelson:
Call her.

Narrator:
Hold your line, please.

Karin Samelson:
We’re going to have your information in the show notes. If anybody hears that-

Joi Chevalier:
I need to own that. I want the IP for that.

Narrator:
Yep.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. You heard it here. I mean, [inaudible 00:50:13] down.

Joi Chevalier:
That, to me, is huge. Then the other part is I still think we haven’t gotten there yet in CPG. I think CPG can get there, but I’m still not sure how. I don’t think it will take a huge investment. I think it’s just a commitment in the teams and that really is the move to food is medicine. I’m not sure we have the right tech for that yet. It’s not something like a food lab determined the pH of your food it is. I’m not quite sure we have the technical support for that yet. And it’s not just a nutritionist on staff. It’s something else.

Narrator:
That is a tough one with lobbyist and big pharma working maybe against food is medicine.

Joi Chevalier:
No, I don’t think so. I think that’s going to be driven by the insurance companies. I think the insurers want it as part of their benefits packages, because it’s risk management and it’s quality.

Narrator:
That’s correct.

Joi Chevalier:
They’re driven by quality scores, like NPS scores, except there are benefits and insurer scores. They see more dollars by higher NPS scores. What drives NPS scores? It’s those benefits packages they call you about in saying, “Hey, do you know we also have a gym membership that you can get and we have food that you can get? And we have these other things that you can get. Your diabetes strips and your glucose monitor is also free in our programs. Those additional what they call those, the support programs or benefit packages programs, that’s all about quality and risk management.

Narrator:
So that’s saving them money in the long term. I mean, I wish my insurance company would call me twice a week and tell me to go work out and eat a salad. I mean, I would-

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, some programs you can, and having CPG realize that they’re looking for you. What do you need to have in your company to have your food be eligible to be in these programs? What does that look like? And what does that start to look like?

Narrator:
Very cool. The big question I wanted to ask, and you had mentioned it before the call, and just really want to wrap my head around this, from a products expert, you have said that the entrepreneur needs to think of themselves as a product. What do you mean?

Joi Chevalier:
That at the beginning of your company’s life, the thing that most often is being sold and thought is you, that you are the brand of the company that people will… What people and what investors often look for, you know this, they will take an 18 and a B product, right?

Narrator:
Yep. That’s so right.

Joi Chevalier:
And many entrepreneurs don’t realize that. I had to have one of my own friends and mentors remind me all the time. They tell me, and I know people don’t believe it, I am an introvert. He says, “You will never get away from it, Joi. You are the face of the Cook’s Nook. No matter what you do, no matter how you try, no matter how many people you elevate, no matter how much of a website you stick out there, it will always be about you.”

Joi Chevalier:
He saw me do this in the chair. No matter how many good ideas, it will always be about you, and I just have to say, “Okay.” And it’s true. People are going to invest in you or me, and that’s okay. I tell my other fellow introverts, “That’s okay.” For the extroverts, they’re like, “Okay.”

Narrator:
I’m ready. Been born ready.

Joi Chevalier:
[inaudible 00:54:39].

Narrator:
So CPG founders, think of yourself as a product.

Joi Chevalier:
As your product.

Narrator:
As your product.

Joi Chevalier:
As the first product. What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? What are your best features? What are the ones you have to work on? Where do you need to make those investments? Where are the cells that you have to work on, on that spreadsheet? Those same questions you have to ask about you and the business because you and the business are the same. No, that didn’t say product, but you and the business are the same. And you have to sell you in that business.

Joi Chevalier:
That’s where those processes and all those other things become really important. Have you done those things to make sure that they see that there’s a healthy company around you, that you come as a healthy package and it’s something they could do business with. They can do business with you.

Narrator:
That’s not only going to help you attract the actual consumers, that’s going to help you attract that rock star team that everyone wants.

Joi Chevalier:
That team you need and the investors you need. Exactly, exactly.

Narrator:
Very interesting.

Joi Chevalier:
And we haven’t even talked about the product yet.

Narrator:
Right.

Joi Chevalier:
The other product, the one you actually eat.

Narrator:
The other.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. The other product.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. We talk about that so much in marketing, how people buy your brand story and how important that is. Really believing in it is the first step solving that pain point for yourself or for others.

Joi Chevalier:
Exactly. It is. You know what’s so hard, is feeling like you’re always delivering on the brand promise, and delivering on it every day as best you can, delivering on it every day, and having your team deliver on it every day too. We can always get so caught up in the weeds, and reminding your team about it too. Here’s our brand promise, and how are we delivering and shaping and delivering on it every day. God knows, some days you feel like you didn’t.

Karin Samelson:
A lot of days.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. You’re just like, “Ooh.” You’re sticking at it every day. Every day.

Karin Samelson:
Well, Joy, it’s been such a pleasure. This has been such a nice conversation. We’re so excited that we got to meet you and learn from you. I can’t wait for our next conversation, hopefully in person.

Joi Chevalier:
I know. You guys actually had real questions and stuff. I had to actually think and talk. I can’t believe you got me to talk about Venture Forth. I haven’t talked about that in a while. Kevin’s going to go, “Oh my God.” [inaudible 00:57:33] tell you was that, I mean, that affected me enough where I had to put him on my little board of advisors.

Narrator:
Wooh, Kevin. Okay.

Joi Chevalier:
I know. I know. I learned a lot in Venture Forth and a lot of it was about myself.

Karin Samelson:
Hey, that’s good learning.

Narrator:
That is really cool. Yeah. Thank you so much. You’ve shared so much wisdom and just the marriage of tech and CPG, I just love it. So thank you, Joi. If people are listening to this and they want to reach out or check you out, how can they find you?

Joi Chevalier:
Oh my gosh. You can find me, I am Cook’s Nook Austin on Facebook, and on Instagram, and I think on LinkedIn. But you can just find me as Joi Chevalier on LinkedIn. You’ll find all my professional stuff there. But definitely Cook’s Nook Austin. And on Twitter, Cook’s Nook Austin, on Facebook, Instagram-

Narrator:
Okay. Ooh, on Twitter. Okay.

Joi Chevalier:
And on Twitter, yeah. Sometimes we’re on Twitter. Actually, everything from Instagram goes to Twitter too. Yep. And then I think that’s it. Then on the website, cooksnook.net. Then we have workshops on different topics with folks in the community. I think there’s one on Saturday with Brian Marshall of BCL, Business of Community Lenders of Texas. He’s talking about getting new channels and new partners.

Joi Chevalier:
You guys remember Ben Ponder and the guys in [inaudible 00:59:07]? Well, we’re supposed to have a talk with Ben, though he’s gone to Dallas and they’re running their co-packing facility up there. We convinced Ben to have a talk and hopefully he will be on one of our talks in a few weeks. So it’ll be good to talk to Ben again.

Narrator:
Awesome. Check out the events page at cooksnook.net.

Joi Chevalier:
[crosstalk 00:59:29]. Yeah, cooksnook.net, but we’ll also post it up elsewhere too.

Narrator:
Okay. Great. Joi, Thank you again. This was really great, and great to meet you as well.

Joi Chevalier:
Oh, thank you guys for coming. You guys [inaudible 00:59:41]-

Karin Samelson:
Thanks so much, Joi.

Joi Chevalier:
And thanks for all the stuff that you all are doing.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:59:45].

Narrator:
We try to show up every day, just like you said [crosstalk 00:59:48]-

Joi Chevalier:
I know. Every day. All right. I’ll talk to you guys later.

Karin Samelson:
Thanks, Joi. Good luck today with everything, all the systems.

Joi Chevalier:
I know, right? Exactly. All right. Talk to you later.

Karin Samelson:
Bye.

Narrator:
Bye. 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, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram at UMAI Marketing or check out our website umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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#20 Financial Planning Success with The Good Food CFO

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#20 Financial Planning Success with The Good Food CFO

Sarah Delevan joins the UMAI Social Circle podcast to dive into the financial side of business and talk about strategies to create a proven financial model that will meet your business and life needs while avoiding burnout.

Sarah, founder of Sarah Develan Consulting and host of The Good Food CFO, has helped over 50 good food businesses improve their financial performance from sourcing to product and pricing, and is now sharing how to build proven financial methods that will help scale and achieve a profitable and sustainable business.

Let us break it down for you…

[00:45] Introducing Sarah Delevan.

[01:31] Hear Sarah’s wild journey and find out how the universe was on her side.

[07:10] Sarah immerses herself in the farmer’s market, rancher and fishermen environment to understand the full spectrum of being a buyer.

[08:54] Why terms such as “organic” aren’t as important as mission driven good food. 

[10:58] Going in depth into the three tips for growing a profitable business.

[16:33] Accessing different pathways to cater different brands.

[18:37] Data is the driving factor for decision making.

[19:30] Evaluating what brands should consider when pricing their product.

[22:58] How to evaluate when to increase pricing to the consumer.

[26:20] Taking data and metrics and turning them into actionable goals.

[32:36] The approach to implementing discounts from a financial lens.

[35:01] Breaking down pricing across different channels.

[39:27] Leading with data gives you the power to make smarter decisions.

[40:46] The factors that contribute to the struggle in growth.

[42:27] Build a business that is also right for you and your needs.

[44:25] “Right-sizing” a business.

[46:44] Sorting out your business to avoid burnout.

[49:46] Financial tactics and trends that are working for CPG brands.

[53:42] What it means to be the only food business consultant in the world that is certified in the profit first method.

[56:50] Connect and learn more with Sarah!

[44:10] How and where to find Buttermilk Creative.

Mentions from this episode: 

Follow Sarah Delevan –
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Website 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#20 Financial Planning Success with The Good Food CFO

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

Narrator:
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, that 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 @umaimarketing.com/minicourse. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

Alison Smith:
Welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Alison and Karin co-founders of Umai Marketing, and we’re being joined here today with Sarah Delevan. The Good Food CFO, she’s helping CPG business owners understand their finances and build profitable food businesses with confidence. Welcome, Sarah. We’re so excited to have you.

Sarah Delevan:
Thank you so much. I’m super excited to be here.

Alison Smith:
Awesome. Well, you have a really unique background and perspective to the food biz because you’ve been in the food business starting all the way back in 2012. So can you tell us a little more about that journey and how you got to where you are today?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. This is a great question. And I often joke, “how much time do you have?” when I get asked that question, so I’ll try to keep it concise for the listeners, but I do want to mention that my journey into the food industry in general started through my skin and the health of my skin and the health of my body as well. I struggled with acne for years as a teenager, that only seemed to get worse as I got older, really painful and really uncomfortable. I’ve seen dermatologists for a really long time. When I moved out to Los Angeles from the East Coast, I met a doctor who for the first time really looked at my skin and asked me questions like “How many green vegetables do you eat? How much water do you drink and how much soya are you consuming?” Which turns out for me soy is not good.

Sarah Delevan:
Soy might be great for other people, but I had to, for the first time really think about what was I putting in my body and how was it affecting me? And so we cut out certain things like soy and cows milk cheese and things that she thought maybe were not so great for me. And that combined with the fact that Michael Pollan’s book Omnivore’s Dilemma came out at the exact same time. And I read that I was like, “Oh my God,” food is medicine. Everybody needs to read this book. I’m only going to shop at farmer’s markets. I mean, I went all in. It was like very, very intense. I wanted to quit my job and start working at farmer’s markets except no one would hire me because I had an MBA. And I worked in an office for eight years or whatever it was.

Sarah Delevan:
And people were like, “You’re going to lift boxes and get dirty. That’s not going to happen.” So I weaseled my way into a marketing role. I was a strategic marketing person, numbers based marketing strategy in my previous life. And I weaseled my way into a volunteer role at a farmer’s market by doing some analysis for them, and then quickly jumped into a marketing manager role. And it was in that role that I saw how meaningful local sustainable food was for so many people, regardless of what their income level and demographic was. And that for me created my first vision for what my life might be like. And that was, I wanted to own a store that sold all of this amazing food that was grown and raised and caught locally.

Sarah Delevan:
And fast forward. I met a woman we were introduced to one another, the City of Santa Monica, or the mall in Santa Monica wanted to open a store, very aligned with what I just described to you. And we were introduced to each other to open this store together. It didn’t work out in terms of the lease and all of that was sort of crazy, long story, a little bit shorter. We ended up starting a pop-up at Handsome Coffee Roasters, which is just like new coffee shop in Downtown LA. And that was our food business. That was our entryway. And we still had our eye on the prize of opening a store. We built our business according to what I would consider industry standards, right? How we priced, how we attempted to grow our business. It was all based on what we saw on Google and what other business owners were telling us. It didn’t work.

Sarah Delevan:
We were working our tails off literally from 4:00 in the morning, till 10:00, 11:00 at night. We had amazing customers. Our sales were growing, but the expenses were growing along with it. And we ultimately just reached a point of exhaustion where it was like, we can’t do this anymore. If we do do this, the whole model has to change. We have to become a delivery business and that’s not what we got into it for. So we made the really difficult decision of closing down the business. And that was pivotal because we saw firsthand what the closure of a business like ours, how it affected the community and how it affected their connection to their food and to the farmers. And all of that. And then I became so keenly aware of all of the other good food businesses that were making amazing products, had amazing clients, regularly selling. They were very busy, but they were still having to close their doors because the numbers just weren’t working out.

Sarah Delevan:
So that’s the path to the point where I became a buyer. And in that role merged my buying experience from my own business, with the financial stuff that I had just learned and that I wanted to contribute to that business in an effort to make them more financially sustainable. And the work we did there was super exciting. And when I left, I was able to do that same kind of work for three more businesses. And then I had a really great job opportunity at a startup and quit my job, gave notice, was going to start that business. And they called me three days before my start and they were like, “So we lost our funding and we’re going to be closing. And so you don’t have a job.” And I was like, “Okay, great. Okay.” I was like, sat on the ground. I was like, “I do not know what I’m going to do.”

Sarah Delevan:
And I’m not kidding you that day. An email came through from a chef that I had worked with before, who was asking me to consult for April Bloomfield at the restaurant that she was opening in LA. And I was like, “Okay, universe, let’s do this.” And so that was the start of my consulting journey. And it’s just kind of been evolving from there.

Alison Smith:
Wow, what a ride.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, that’s so amazing. Yeah, I do love how the universe just answers a call when you need it. Very cool. So you said that you were a buyer primarily for that grocery business. Right? So that’s incredibly interesting how you have that perspective as well. I mean, this is really all encompassing for CPG brands.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. I do. Yeah. You guys are so right. That my experience is extremely unique because number one, I don’t have buyer experience at a corporate level. My buyer experience is at farmer’s markets. We traveled to farms. We traveled to ranches. We would meet the fishermen at the dock and some cases, I’ve been up at 3:00 in the morning to do that and buy fish right when it came out of the water, it’s a unique perspective and a unique experience I would buy from behind the tables at farmer’s markets. So I did that. And then I was also understanding how a food business, because I worked for a catering company after my business closed. And I could see how cost does matter and how important pricing is and just how to put together a recipe and all of these really interesting things. It’s like so crazy that I can look back and see how every single part of what I’ve done led and allows me to do what I do today. I don’t know that anyone would have the same kind of perspective as I do. It’s pretty wild.

Karin Samelson:
And a passion for good food. I mean, that’s so important to us as well, to work with mission-based brands and that’s where you’re rooted. I think that’s super incredible. And what a great place in California to be able to have so many farms around you.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I especially love that aspect that you made those relationships. You went and you talked to the fishermen and the ranchers and met them on their grounds. I think that’s helps you understand how the full spectrum of things actually works. Really.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. It’s interesting too. One of the big things that I learned through the process is that greenwashing is a thing and it can be harmful to farmers sometimes. Right? So organic certification is great, but it also costs a lot of money. And there are a lot of farmers doing really great work that is beyond organic standards. And because they don’t have that certification and it can turn people away from buying from them. So that has always been part of our mission too. And especially at the catering company that I worked at, it was like, people would call and say, “Is everything that you sell organic?” And we had a script. “No, it’s not, but here’s why. And here are the standards that we buy from adhere to.” And so that’s really important for me too. And that’s why I don’t just talk about organic or use buzzwords and just stick with good food or mission driven, because it’s just such a variety of ways that food can be grown and raised. That is good for people and for the planet. And it’s just exciting to be a tiny part of that universe.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. We definitely see terms get misused by the bigger brands. And I think that’s something that consumers should definitely be aware of, for sure.

Karin Samelson:
I have lots of experience with being on the customer service side of a CPG brand, where you were getting all of these questions that were like, “Do you really know what that means?” But going back to, you’re the Good Food CFO. So that is a beautiful explanation of how you got to where you are now. So moving into the financial part and how to build profitable food business with confidence. You’re super active on social, which we love always any brand owners, any brands that are active on social, of course. And you had this video that’s reel on three tips for growing a profitable business. So can you dive a little deeper into those tips because we all need to know these three tips?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah, for sure. Thank you for complimenting me on one of my very first reels. So I’m still getting used to that whole thing, but yeah, I think that these are three really important tips for especially new or budding food business owners to think about and to implement. So number one was create a financial model and people get a little bit nervous about this because financial model sounds technical, but at the end of the day, it’s just a spreadsheet. And it’s purpose is huge though, right? So this simple spreadsheet allows you to see the future of your business. It allows you to see what are my expenses? What do my sales goals need to be right to cover these expenses? To be able to pay myself? I love to share this example of a cookie business.

Sarah Delevan:
The business owner reached out to me, it’s early on in my consulting business. And she was like, “I had this great idea, everyone loves my chocolate chip cookies and I’m going to open as a cottage food business. And I just want to make sure that I’m charging the right price.” And so we did the work of building a super simple financial model. And what she realized in the process was that the number of cookies that she was going to have to churn out to make any money was basically going to provide her with maybe three hours of sleep, no free time. And she was never going to want to make another cookie or even see another cookie after a couple of months. Right? So that’s kind of the power that starting with a financial model has it eliminates burnout, right? It helps you see what is the reality of my business?

Sarah Delevan:
What does it look like if I don’t like what it looks like I can put it on pause and I can think about how can I build this business from day one in a way that aligns with the life that I want and the financial life that I want and also be the business that I want. So my tips for making a financial model would be just start with your expenses. The things that you know are going to cost you money. If you’re looking at renting a kitchen or having the production space, you might not know exactly what that amount is, but just put in your best estimate, plugin an amount of money that you either want or need to pay yourself from the business in order to really commit yourself and work in it full time. And then from there build the sales goals.

Sarah Delevan:
And that helps you to see that cookie business owner. What is the reality? What is the production need to be? How much do I have to sell? What are these goals look like? And how do I feel about that? And then number two is identify your most profitable sales channel. And this is important because primarily I work with businesses that are zero to five years old, right? And probably all three of us know that this is a critical time for businesses of any kind, but particularly food businesses. Right? Getting to two years is a big achievement. Getting to five years is like, “Okay, I’m secure.” My job is to get food businesses to succeed. And primarily we need to focus on zero to two. And then we can look ahead after that. So CPG brands, a lot of them think I got to get into retail. I got to get a distributor agreement, right? I’ve got to grow my business this particular way.

Sarah Delevan:
And I want to share the message that you don’t have to do it that way. You don’t have to grow your business, just like everybody else. You have the power, you have the opportunity to say, “What’s my most profitable channel? Through which channel can I best sustain my business and meet my financial goals?” And so I support this idea of identifying that channel and then going there first and building that. And it’s all with the idea of, we want to change our food industry in order to do that. We have to be successful. Let’s get past year two, let’s make sure we’re making enough money to get there. And then we can look to the future after that.

Sarah Delevan:
And then the third tip there was to track your results over time and to take action based on the data. And I’m sure that both of you can relate to this, right? When you’re doing marketing campaigns or marketing strategies, you’ve got to say, “Okay, well, what did I do? What was the return? And then either, do we keep doing that? Do we need to tweak something? What do we need to tweak?” It’s the same for food businesses when we’re looking at the inside and the operations. So let’s take someone who’s producing their product internally. We want our labor cost, for example, to be a consistent percentage of revenue. Because what that means is that we’ve got consistent productivity and that we can count on what our profit margins are going to be month to month and week to week.

Sarah Delevan:
So we want to track that, what are our labor cost as a percentage of revenue over time, right? What are my ingredient costs over time? And we track this information and if something is unstable or something is kind of hopping around over time. We can look into that and say, “What can I do as the business owner, as the leader to change this, to get some more consistency inside my business, to be more financially sustainable.” So I think those are three super important things for all food business owners to do. So I’m glad that it resonated with you as a real.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. And I love that you talked about not every channel is for every brand. So for example, we’ve worked with brands that don’t initially get into retail. We know retail is so important, but they don’t do it initially. So I’m curious to know how you identify that, is that brands preference, or are you testing and then tracking profit and making decisions based off hard numbers?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So it’s a little bit of both. Whenever I start working with a new client or someone joins the group coaching program, the very first thing we do is talk about what are your big business goals. So what do you want for your brand? And then what do you want for yourself? Or in other words what do you want your money to do for you? Because we start businesses both with a mission, but also to earn a living, right? Most of the time from that business. So we start with what do you want to be? And if you want to be a national brand, then you’re going to have to go retail. Like, that’s part of that big goal. If you want to be the best regional, let’s just say sauerkraut, right. Or fermented foods brand in your region.

Sarah Delevan:
Well, that maybe could involve retail, but it might not have to involve a distributor. You might be able to distribute regionally direct to the retailer. So first getting real clear on what do you want to be as a business? And then looking at the options for how to get there from where you are is one of the big steps. A lot of folks are in multiple channels when they meet me. So they’ve got their e-commerce, maybe they’re on Amazon, maybe they’re thinking about working with distributors. And at that point we do go through the process of analyzing what each channel look like now, are there areas for improving the profitability there? And or which one is most profitable and how do we feel about growing in that channel? Sometimes the most profitable channel also isn’t someone’s favorite, or it doesn’t have a huge opportunity for growth. So in that case, we’re like, we identify, okay, we’ve maxed out that most profitable sales channel. What’s the next one? And then let’s tackle that.

Alison Smith:
That’s so interesting.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. I love how you take it step by step and first looking at goals, because you never know, not everybody’s goal is to be the number one brand in their category across the nation, so I think that’s so smart. And then looking at hard numbers data first, I love that.

Sarah Delevan:
You can’t have a conversation with me without data coming up of people will ask me hypothetical questions from time to time. And my answer is always, I got to see the data. There’s no instinctual of responses for me. It’s like, what numbers do you have? Let me analyze the numbers and we’ll make a decision from there. So everything – data drives everything for us.

Karin Samelson:
Cool. Well, we have more questions based on that and forecasting and whatnot, but next we want to talk about how should, especially with super small CPG brands, maybe they’ve just at the farmer’s market. They haven’t really got into retailers yet, or they haven’t put their product online. How should they even go about pricing their products? And when, if ever, should they reassess how much their products cost? Because things changed so much over time.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah, I love this question. It’s probably the number one most common question that I get asked, “How should I price my product?” And I’m going to take it back to the financial model. There’s a reason that that’s one, the number one tip on the three tips for building a profitable food business. Because when it comes to pricing, I take totally take a holistic approach. And that means looking at your business as a whole. And in addition to that, you’ve also got to really understand the cost to produce your product. So if it costs a dollar, let’s say to produce your product, that’s really important information. If in your financial model, you’ve identified that you need to hit, let’s just say a cost of goods sold target of 30% of revenue. You’d now have all the information that you need to price your product.

Sarah Delevan:
It costs you a dollar. Then what is your price point need to be to hit that 30% cost of goods target? And I’ve got that formula somewhere on my blog, I always forget it despite the fact that I talk about it all of the time, it’s cost times one minus or one divided by the cost of goods sold percentage, but literally you just need those two pieces of information and you’ve got your suggested retail price and you understand, “Okay, this is what I need to do to have a gross profit margin. That’s healthy enough to support my operations and paying myself.” So that’s how you do it. And then I recommend that you assess your costs as often as possible. So this is going to look different. So for CPG brands, I’ll use a popsicle company that I work with for example, they buy their ingredients twice a year, some ingredients they’re only going to buy once a year and they buy it by the pallet, right?

Sarah Delevan:
They’re going to analyze their costs every time they buy that pallet of product, they’re going to say, “Okay, what is it going to cost to be this year? And how does that cost increase or decrease affect the cost of my product? And then the profit margin of my product. Do I need to shop around for another resource to get this ingredient?” So they’re looking at their costs and then how it affects their pricing. Whenever they’re making these really big purchases. Someone who’s buying let’s say seasonal strawberries or figs, or one of my clients makes dandelion jam. And I don’t know if she’s buying the dandelion or if she’s foraging it, but let’s just presume she’s buying it from someone.

Sarah Delevan:
She’s going to analyze her cost when every time she purchases her ingredients, it’s just a good practice to know, especially for a seasonal business. When does the price drop for the seasonal product? When is the optimal time for me to buy this ingredient? All of those things just provide a ton of impact, power, knowledge, in your business and for you as a business owner.

Alison Smith:
That’s interesting because I feel like the first steps when you start to realize as a brand maybe you’re just up on you come to market, you don’t work with anyone like you when you first get out there really the first steps would be looking internally to try to make efficiencies, but that last ditch effort to increase your profit margin of actually increasing your cost to consumers. When does that happen and how do you go about that?

Sarah Delevan:
You mean raising your price to the consumer?

Alison Smith:
Right.

Sarah Delevan:
When it’s happened? That’s also a really good question and I’ll preface it by saying it’s different for everybody, right? It depends on the goals of your business. So let’s say for example, you’re at the farmer’s market, you’ve done all of the efficiencies that you can and you know what your sales limit or sales capacity is there, if that sales limit and that price or that profit margin on your product is not going to get you the bottom line results that you need to stay in business long-term, that’s when you know you’ve got to raise that price. There’s a really, I love the episode. I think it’s episode number six of the Good Food CFO Podcast. And we talked about a goat farmer who sells goat milk. And he was having a conversation with another consultant and saying “I just I’m closing my business because I just can’t imagine selling my goat milk for $12 a jar.”

Sarah Delevan:
And she was like, “So you’re going to take the reality of not being in business? I’m sure that there are people out there who will pay $12 for your goat milk, because it’s so beneficial to them and to their health and to their family.” So it’s interesting – if it comes to the point where your business isn’t going to work, absolutely raise your price. You might find that there’s other points in time before that, that you might also want to raise your price. Maybe you’re not paying yourself right. Or maybe you want to invest in a team member and you just need those finances internally, the dandelion jam, she was a group coaching member. She just shared with me the other day that she used to sell her jams for $5 a jar at the farmer’s market. She now sells them for $12 a jar.

Sarah Delevan:
And it takes a lot of mental work to be able to get there. But she reached the point that you just described, where it was like, I’ve done everything internally. It’s not going to work if I continue to sell at $5, but can I really raise the price to what it needs to be? And she did it, she had the courage to do it. And now she’s growing her brand, which is really exciting.

Alison Smith:
Her customers are willing to pay and stuff is there.

Sarah Delevan:
Absolutely.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. I mean, it’s dandelion jam. Hello. For other jam is like chocolate pear. I’ll have to share the name of you if-

Karin Samelson:
Please do.

Sarah Delevan:
… I don’t know it’s in the show notes maybe-

Karin Samelson:
We want the show notes.

Sarah Delevan:
… I just linked to her because it’s like…

Karin Samelson:
That is incredible. And I feel for that goat farmer, but it has been proven that people are, and you’re the Good Food CFO, right? People pay more for good food. One that is raised with purpose. And I think that that’s just really important to note because that fear of pricing too much when people would never pay that much for X, Y, and Z is so real for so many.


Alison Smith:
Yeah. Very scary. So we wanted to ask you about more about setting sales and revenue goals for small to extra small of CPG brands especially the ones that are newer to market. So you’ve been talking a lot about different, key metrics. So can you just explain more about the best way to pull those metrics, best form of action to actually understand and set these goals?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. So if you’re a business that’s operational and that’s already selling, you want to be tracking your data, your financial data on a monthly basis. Right? And I highly recommend that everyone invest in a bookkeeper. It’s one of the best investments that you can make in your business particularly if you can find one who has food industry or CPG specific experience, we’ve got a great list of bookkeeping resources and companies that we refer people to inside our community. So if you’re looking for someone we can help you out there, but these bookkeepers range in price from 250 a month to $500 a month. So we can find someone that meets your budget, but it’s so important because number one, time is your most valuable resource, right? And you don’t want to be spending your time as the CPG brand, founder and probably key employee also doing the bookkeeping.

Sarah Delevan:
And it’s potentially not your strong suit. You may not know how to utilize QuickBooks right. So if you can budget for a bookkeeper. Number two, if you can’t budget for a bookkeeper, get an Excel sheet and just start to track your expenses. We have something called the know your numbers template inside the group coaching program, which is a really simple way to categorize all of your expenses. So the data entry is really easy, the categorization is really easy and it spits your monthly numbers out into this, what we call a profit assessment. And you can see high level, the key metrics that you’re talking about. So what’s our revenue, what are our costs of goods sold by both ingredient and packaging, labor and then our other cost of goods sold, but just like shipping and merchant fees and all of that kind of stuff.

Sarah Delevan:
So it breaks that down for you. So you can see what are those numbers look like in my business? What are my operating expenses, right? All of these high level things that you need to be keeping your eye on so that you know where to focus your attention if you see what I call an orange flag, like Hmm. My ingredient costs are creeping, creeping up. That’s an orange flag. Let me look into that. So it just starts with seeing this high level analysis of your numbers. So that’s my recommendation on how to get access to that information. Hire a bookkeeper if you can afford it, or just make a simple spreadsheet or utilize one of our tools to get that information down.

Sarah Delevan:
And then I think there’s five. I haven’t gotten them in a while, but you want to track your revenue month to month. And literally have it side by side. So you can see how it’s trending, track your cost of goods sold as a percentage of revenue, do that monthly side-by-side so that you can see how that’s trending, do the same with your operating costs and then break out your ingredients, your packaging, and your labor costs, and look at those as a percentage of revenue as well. And because that information alone is going to provide you with a ton of insight into your business.

Alison Smith:
Totally. And you’re saying once a month, really-

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
… is all that you need to look back at these numbers?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Good decision.

Sarah Delevan:
Absolutely. If you get into it, if you’re trying to look at these numbers once a week, it’s like things aren’t hitting like your rent you might pay your rent on the first, and then you look at your numbers at the end of week one. Well, you’re probably not going to be profitable for the month or for the week because you just paid a big bill. So you want to give yourself a little bit of time for the numbers to fall into place and then analyze them on a monthly basis. And it takes, depending on how many receipts you have, and depending on if you have a bookkeeper or not, the process of reviewing your numbers is like a 15 minute situation. 15 minutes to 60 minutes and you’re done once a month.

Alison Smith:
Totally doable.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
And I like how you said what to look for. So you’re looking for orange flags, which basically is just like creep, anything that’s creeping up. And that’s where you know where to focus your energy for the next month and try to reduce costs.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. I mean, we know this as business owners as well. There’s never an end to your to-do list. It’s like an endless amount of things that you think you should be focusing on or feel like you need to focus on when you’re looking at your numbers on a monthly basis, they’re telling you “These areas of our business are good. Keep on doing what you’re doing.” These area is a creep area where things are maybe inconsistent or looking a little, like “I might need to investigate it.” Great. That’s where you’re going to focus your attention. So it also helps to streamline your mind and how you’re spending your time. And I think there’s a lot of benefit in that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, because otherwise you’re just kind of guessing, right?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
The data.

Sarah Delevan:
The gut instinct is great to have in life, not so great when it comes to your numbers. Emotional decisions are also not super great when we’re reactive, we can make decisions that aren’t necessarily warranted. People raised their prices a lot when they don’t need to, which I think is a really interesting thing because they feel like, “Oh, no, I don’t have enough money on the profit line. I must need to sell more or I must need to raise my prices.” And it doesn’t always have the effect that they want it to. And it’s like, if you took your emotion out of it and you had the numbers there, you could see really what was going on.

Alison Smith:
Right. And just to reiterate, that would be final step, right?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Okay.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And that’s so interesting. I mean, we see the same thing on the marketing side with the emotion that you have as a brand owner where some decision-making can be a little bit rocky, just because of how invested you are in the brand and the product. So yeah, looking at data to be able to control that a little bit more, and I think that’s a really good note across the board as a founder. So this is a question I was really looking forward to hearing from you is we talk with business owners all the time, obviously about offering steady promotions, steady discounts throughout the year to drive traffic, to drive sales. And a lot actually are nervous about being seen as a discount brand. But promos are so essential to digital marketing efforts. So how should business owners approach implementing discounts?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. I love this question so much and I do want to put a little disclaimer on this one’s like, I’m not a sales strategist, I’m not a marketing strategist. So this is from my purely financial lens and I’m going to take it right back to that financial model again. If you are going to be offering a discount or a promotion, you need to know how much of a discount you can offer, right? So if your business is operating with a 20% gross profit margin, that means 20% of all the revenue you’re bringing in is available for you to cover the operating and other expenses in your business. If you offer a 20% discount. And this example is like, if you discounted 100% of your sales for a month, at 20% off, you would have no gross profit. You would have no money in your business to cover those expenses. Right?

Sarah Delevan:
So it’s kind of an extreme example, but it’s just to illustrate what the effects are. So you need to know how much can I give and still be operating in a financially sustainable way. And once you understand that, I think I heard a CPG consultant give this tip in regard to retail discounts, do a little bit of trial. And see, for example, if you get the same results from a 15% off discount, as you do from a 20% off discount, and if you do then just stick with the 15. Because you’re getting the same result, the customer feels like they’re getting a great benefit and you’re maintaining that 5% difference. So I think those are my primary tips for approaching that, know how much you can give and then see what the least amount you can give is while still making it a good deal for your customers.

Alison Smith:
Right. I like that you said basically AB test it. AB test, like go with the least amount. But again, through just your purely financial lens, we wanted to ask you about how brands should think about pricing on different channels. So do you break out your channels? For example, your e-commerce if you’re on Shopify, your Amazon retail into those monthly financials so that you can understand, okay. We price it here on Amazon, we price it here on retail or is it across the board?

Sarah Delevan:
You’re spot on. So one of the big things that I do talk about it but I surprisingly have not mentioned here yet, is that your financials, if you are working with a bookkeeper, they should be as detailed as possible in terms of the sales channels that you have. So exactly what you just said. If you’re selling on, let’s say your own Shopify website, you’re selling on Amazon, and let’s just say you’re selling direct to retail, just to keep it simple. You want to have your revenue broken down by each of those channels that you can see very clearly what’s coming in from each and then your expenses are going to be detailed as well. So with Shopify, we’ve got Shopify merchant fees, we’ve got our Shopify monthly fee for just being on the website. Then if you’re shipping through Shopify, you’ve got your shipping costs through there.

Sarah Delevan:
If you’re using any apps, you’ve got that there. You want to collect all of that information and see what are those costs for Shopify? Because that’s how you see how profitable that channel is for you. So, same as what we’ve been talking about before, just sticking with the Shopify example. If your profit margins are lower on Shopify, maybe it’s because you’ve been offering free shipping and the actual shipping costs are eating in at your profits. You might decide to charge for shipping. You might decide to do what one of my clients does, who I don’t want to give too many details about her business. So it’s a ingredient will say she sources and sells and ingredient. The ingredient is fresh. So it has to be shipped frozen. The shipping costs are astronomical. For her to offer her product on her Shopify site, with shipping as its own line item, people would say, no, they would abandon cart over and over and over again.

Sarah Delevan:
So for her, the strategy is to increase the price of her product to build in the cost of shipping. And as people buy more and the shipping cost per unit reduces, she passes on that savings to the customer. So that’s all to say, when you record that information separately, you have, again, just so much knowledge and information to make really informed decisions about your price. And about which sales channel to grow on. And Amazon is another great example because I had, and maybe you guys agree with this, I’m not sure, but people often say that if you’re going to be on Amazon, you want to be available via Prime because people go to Amazon and they want stuff fast. So if you’re in the Prime program, it’s going to cost you a little bit more as a business. And so people who shop on Amazon, they’re like, “Okay, I want it tomorrow. Or I want it this afternoon. And so I’m willing to pay a little bit more for it.”

Alison Smith:
They’re not price shopping, yeah.

Sarah Delevan:
No. So crank up your price on Amazon to whatever it needs to be for you to maintain your margins on the channel. And you’ll know what that is. If you’re looking at your revenue and all the costs associated with that channel, and then just to hit on the final example, retail. We don’t have total control over what the retailer sells our product for. We have control over what we’re selling our product to the retailer at. And of course that influences the shelf price. But I try to tell people, don’t get too hung up on what the final retail price of your product is. If for example, I’m trying to think whole food. They want to sell your product for a dollar or $2 more than what you ideally want it to be. You have the power there to offer an everyday low price situation for them and bring your shelf price down. But just remember that that affects your costs, that affects your margin. And so make that decision really wisely with all the information that you have at your fingertips.

Karin Samelson:
Trusting that the retailer, they want to sell your product. They want people to buy it. So they’re going to make it competitive, hopefully. But I think that advice is so incredible where a lot of people are like, “Oh, I can’t be a couple dollars more on my website than I am on Amazon.” It’s like, “Wait, why not?” You want to be able to make money from this. And we’ve had clients that are refrigerated and glass and it’s just like, ooh, and people still purchase. It’s the convenience and it’s the loyalty to the brand. So building that community is so important and then pricing.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah, and I think this is an area where I’m all about collaboration. So I’ve got a range me expert that I worked with for some of my clients, I’ve got a co-packing expert that I work with some of my clients, I’ve got a branding person that I work with with some of my clients and the same would go right like when someone is thinking about what is the price point and what is the discount that I want to offer? What is the promotion that makes sense? Having the financial information and also the customer insights and the market research and all of that, it comes together. My belief is that we can’t do anything in our business, in a vacuum. And that goes for financial decisions as well. I might say to you, “Oh my gosh, your product absolutely needs to be $15.”

Sarah Delevan:
And that part you might say, “But I’ve done the research and it’s not going to sell, the max that I can do for my consumer is 13.” It’s like, “Okay, well then let’s work with that.” But it’s just, again, going back to the information that you have, gives you power to make really smart decisions.

Karin Samelson:
Leading with data. You say it again. Awesome. Well, so what is a common denominator that you see with working with smaller CPG businesses that are just struggling to grow at the rate that they want to be growing at?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. This is an interesting question. What’s floating through my mind right now is the definition of the word grow. What does growth mean? I actually think it’s a little bit different for every business. Do they want to grow units sold? Do they want to grow profits? I think number one let’s get clear on that. I think that’s big. And I think that that’s something that a lot of people don’t think about. But I will say with that said, typically when someone says, “We want to be growing,” we’re talking about sales, right? We’re talking about top line growth. And I actually think that a common denominator is that people focus on that instead of efficiency and bottom line growth. And that the case for me when I owned my food business, we thought in order to be successful, in order to pay ourselves more, in order to stay in business for a long time, we have to sell more.

Sarah Delevan:
And so that’s what we did. That was our approach. And that’s, as we sold more, our costs went up. And the reason that that happened was because we had not done the work yet to get efficient inside our business. How could we add another location? What were those costs going to be? And then how much would we need to bring in from that location to make this worth our while? And we just weren’t thinking that way, we were solely focused on that top line growth and it was eating away our profits. So that’s a huge, common denominator that I see. And I want to change the language tip to be a bit closer to the question that I pose, which is like, what is growth, right? What is it that you want to accomplish with growth? And I think if we start thinking about it like that, there’s going to be a lot more clarity, there’s going to be a lot less burnout and there’s going to be a lot more successful food businesses out there.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And that is not just food that is every single business where, yeah, you’re thinking of all what you’re saying. You’re thinking about more sales, more sales, more sales, but you’re not looking internally.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah, how many-

Alison Smith:
It’s so easy. I mean, I’m not faulting anyone because everyone does it as a business owner, you’re just in it and so you don’t really always consider those things.

Sarah Delevan:
I think we’re also inundated and I fall prey to this in my business as well. There are people out there who are like, “I make five figures a month and I’m a six figure business annually or and I get to do it from a hammock somewhere.” And it’s just like, that’s not, you just need to shut that out and go, what are my goals? What are my goals for me? What are my goals for my day-to-day life? What are my goals for my client and how can I best serve them? And it’s so funny this morning, I had an exchange on Instagram from another real that I posted. We’re talking about right-sizing, build the company that is right for you.

Sarah Delevan:
I had a conversation recently with a business owner who said to me, “I kind of liked being at home with my girls.” He’s a dad, he’s been working like crazy. He would love to be home to make dinner for his wife who has a great career. And to his girls who I think are both under the age of like 10 or 12, then if that’s what you want, you can create a business that achieves that goal for you. And your financial goals. So just, what do you want?

Alison Smith:
What do you want?

Sarah Delevan:
Build that business?

Alison Smith:
Love that

Karin Samelson:
Did you call it right sizing?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Never heard that before.

Sarah Delevan:
Which I can’t take credit for creating that word. I first heard it on second life when the host was talking to, I can’t remember her name. Oh Joy. She was talking to Oh Joy and Oh Joy was talking about how she was on this rapid growth in her business. And at some point she was just like, “Wait, why are we doing this? We’re growing for the sake of growing. I have this huge team now there’s this pressure to continue to sell and to continue to increase that top line. But I don’t feel the joy that I used to in my business.” And so she had at the time gone through the process of rightsizing and I didn’t think much about it at that point in time, but it’s one of those things that just sits with you. And I think about that conversation often, and I think about what’s the right size for my business.

Sarah Delevan:
And when I have a client coming to me and they are stressed out and they’re burnt out and they need a break, it’s like, “Do you want to close up shop? Or do you want to take a vacation and come back and rightsize and build the business that’s right for you and stop chasing what you think you should be chasing?” I think it’s something that every one of us, I think as one of you just mentioned, every one of us has to work through this.

Alison Smith:
Really. I love that term.

Karin Samelson:
Me too.

Sarah Delevan:
It’s cool, right?

Alison Smith:
Love it. Yeah. I mean, we talk about marketing FOMO all the time, where businesses look at other businesses and they’re experiencing what looks like just like overnight success. And it just makes them feel down in the dumps and that they’re not doing enough. And it’s really like, the food business is so fun, but if you allow it to, it can take over your life. And I liked that. You’re asking people to really think about what is that work-life balance? What do they want out of this? Instead of just saying, how do we make more?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. The answer is not always more revenue or more sales. It’s kind of.

Alison Smith:
It’s interesting. You don’t usually hear that, but I couldn’t agree more, I think, that’s such a logical and effective way of doing it because man burnout is real and no one wants to get to that place.

Sarah Delevan:
Okay. I’ll share a little burnout story just to relate. At the end of our food business back in 2012 is when it ended. Right? Or no ended in 2014. I think that’s like a blur. I had a stress rash on my left hand that literally took up my whole hand and it was embarrassing, I was having a drink with a friend and we were talking about “What am I going to do?” And talking about the business. And every time I would talk about it, my hand, it would itch. And she was like, “Are you noticing that every time you talk about the business, you’re itching your hand?” And I was like, “Oh no, I didn’t.” I didn’t even notice that. And it was like the burnout, the stress, the anxiety had gotten so real for me that not only were my so tired and so puffy, but I had a physical rash on my hand that took time to go away.

Sarah Delevan:
And I think just like when I talked about acne at the beginning. And for me putting food into my body made a big impact on the outward appearance, like stress and anxiety affect us. And I didn’t realize it until it was on the outside. And I could only imagine what it was doing to me, on the inside. And that is with me. I don’t forget that. I don’t forget the discomfort and the pain of making the difficult decision to close the business. And I think it’s important that I carry that with me when I have conversations with food business owners or conversations like this with you, it’s like, I get it. I understand how real that is. And I know that it might sound crazy because not a lot of people are saying “Don’t sell more.”

Sarah Delevan:
But there’s a reason, there’s a reason that I say that and I want you to sell a ton, but I first want you to sort out the inside of your business so that when you start selling a ton, you’re not going to get burned out, your profits aren’t going to disappear. And you’re going to like, again, I said it already, but you’re going to be able to create the life and the business that you want for yourself.

Alison Smith:
That’s amazing. It’s a way to think about things that I’d like to continue with because yeah. I mean, the stress is real. And it’s so crazy that your body was trying to tell you that in so many ways, but you’re so wrapped up and doing the grind every day that you don’t don’t even notice, so.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. People were telling me like, “Oh, it’s like, don’t eat this kind of fat or stop eating potato chips.” That doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Alison Smith:
It’s not the potato chips.

Sarah Delevan:
No.

Alison Smith:
Oh, we’re going to switch gears a little bit. But this is a question we really wanted to ask you just because we think that you are someone who is changing the financial space in the CPG world. So what are some CPG financial innovations that you’re seeing or some new tactics maybe that CPGers are using?

Sarah Delevan:
I’m going to be a little bit brazen and say that what we’re doing is a trend. And what we’re doing is what I hope more CPG founders and business owners will connect with if it’s right for them. But when I set out at Sarah Delevan Consulting, the mission is to change our food system and to do that one profitable food business at a time. But it has evolved since then to what we’ve been talking about doing it right. Still achieving that mission, but on our own terms, by creating the type of business that we want to. And that’s what I want the trend to be. That’s the innovation that I want to see. I don’t want finances to be overwhelming to people. I want them to be easy to understand. I want people to feel confident about it.

Sarah Delevan:
And have help when they need it, but to own some of it themselves with confidence. And I’ll share this with you too, inside the coaching program. There’s a particular founder that I have in mind. It’s very important to her that her team is well educated and walks the walk of diversity equity. All of that, that she has an education fund for them, that she is supporting them both as humans and as teammates and that she wants to keep them around for a really long time. And I think, I might be speaking out of turn here, but I think most financial advisors would say, “Well, you don’t have the money for that. That could be a goal in the future when you’ve got XYZ, number of sales or when your profit margin is a certain percentage.” The approach that we want to take is if that’s what you want, if that’s meaningful to you, and if that’s core to you and your business, let’s figure out a way to make it happen.

Sarah Delevan:
Let’s figure out how much you need to be allocating or putting aside for that fund to make that happen. And that is what I want to see in the CPG space and in the food industry as a whole, because I don’t know a single mission driven food business owner who doesn’t have some other goal for their business, whether it’s like that person and her and her team and wanting to be an active participant in changing the way that people act right in her business and in the world, or if it’s donating to environmental causes or political causes or whatever it is. I want people to be able to do that and for their vehicles and their business income to be a source for that. So I want us to be the trend. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
I think you’re doing it.

Sarah Delevan:
I hope so, yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. I think that’s inspiring and important to say, because I feel like all of these smaller brands that do have these really tight budgets and there’s all these wishes to be this or that, or all these conversations about becoming a big corporation and things like that. It’s just like maybe later, maybe later. It’s like, if something means a lot to you, figure out a way to get it done. I think that’s really awesome that you’re helping to do that.

Sarah Delevan:
Thank you.

Alison Smith:
And even from a marketing perspective, that’s such a powerful way for those extra small brands to stand out is to have those types of platforms where consumers can relate. And like these people going beyond just liking their product.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Okay. You’re benefiting the marketing too.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, thank you.

Sarah Delevan:
My pleasure.

Alison Smith:
So closing it out a little bit, we understand that you’re the only food business consultant in the world certified in the profit first method. We have to hear more about this.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. Thank you for bringing that up. It’s kind of wild. To think that you could be the only person in the world of something it was a little bit mind blowing, but yeah. I’ll give a little bit of a backstory in the beginning of this year. So January, 2021, I read the Profit First book after hearing about it from so many people for two years. And I recently did a podcast episode about my journey to discovering Profit First and implementing it in my own business to see how does this really work? Is it practical? I was immediately hooked on the process. I think every business of every kind should be utilizing this strategy because it is so powerful. But despite that, when I read the book at first, I was like, “Could this be helpful for food businesses, particularly mission driven, food and beverage businesses?”

Sarah Delevan:
And so I went to the certification team and I was like, “Hey, I want to learn more about this.” And I mean, to be honest, I wanted to challenge them and be a little bit tough on them. And I think I was, and they were equally tough on me, which I totally respected. Because they have a philosophy that they believe in and that they believe can work in any industry. And I wanted to prove that it could work for food and it does. And so it’s really exciting. We are the only financial consulting agency for food businesses. I’m the only food business financial consultant that has this certification. And we worked with them to make customized tools. So if someone has read the Profit First book and they’re like, “Well, I’m not sure how to implement this in my own business.” We’ve created tools that speak directly to mission-driven food and beverage businesses to help them identify what we call the financial success formula. And to roll that out, according to the Profit First philosophy. So super exciting.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, that is super exciting. I mean, it’s a book that we have on our list to read now. So encouraging everybody else to pick it up and learn something new.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah. I think the other thing that’s super exciting about it to me is that all the things we just talked about, building a business on your own terms and doing what matters and putting money towards the things that matter Profit First has proven to be a tool to make that a possibility. So the founder that I was just talking about, we’re in the process of implementing Profit First in her business. And it’s given her the strategy is basically, okay, let’s take a percentage of your income every month and put it into this bucket for education so that you can support your team in the exact way that you want to, and you don’t have to wait until you’re making a million dollars a year. You can start to do it right now. And that’s, oh, so exciting.

Karin Samelson:
Giving them their financial freedom. I love it. Awesome. Well, Sarah, it’s been such a pleasure to have you and to learn from you and grow with you. So would you want to leave the audience with a link or call to action?

Sarah Delevan:
For sure. So I’d love connecting with food business owners on Instagram. So you can find me @sarah.delevan.consulting. See all of my reels that I have been creating these days. And check out the website sarahdelevan.com or the goodfoodcfo.com. We’ve got brand new programs if you’re interested in Profit First, there’s a bunch of information there about that as well. And so just check it out and connect with me. I’m here to support you and to support our joint mission of changing our food industry.

Alison Smith:
Amazing. Thank you so much, Sarah.

Sarah Delevan:
Thank you guys for having me.

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

 

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#19: Andy Kurtts Unwraps the Mysteries of Branding and Packaging Design

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#19: Andy Kurtts Unwraps the Mysteries of Branding and Packaging Design

Founder and Creative Director of Buttermilk Creative, Andy Kurtts, joins UMAI Social Circle podcast to chat about what goes into branding and packaging design to get it on the shelves and into consumers’ hands.

Andy, who led in-house design at specialty grocery store, The Fresh Market, and has worked on branding and packaging design for for brands such as meltemi greek yogurt, Creative Snacks, Publix and Wegmans, is sharing what makes or breaks your packaging, how to create stand-out packaging to attract your audience, and so much more.

Let us break it down for you…

[00:47] Introducing Andy Kurtts, Founder and Creative Director of Buttermilk Creative.

[1:24] Get to know Andy and his journey from being a kid in art class to being the founder of his very own creative agency.

[6:29] The ins and outs of designing packaging while working with parameters.

[7:50] How having a grocery design background translates into designing for his own clients.

[9:49] From the big picture to the small details; the things that can qualify and disqualify packaging no matter how good the product is.

[12:33] What your packaging needs to help your brand stand out to buyers.

[16:39] Understanding and targeting what consumers look for on the shelf.

[20:41] Channeling different personas to design packaging that fits the audience.

[22:40] Portraying the brand’s story in a small space.

[24:07] Embodying the customer avatar to translate feedback in order to create a design.

[26:53] Aligning on the ambiguity and interpretation of mood boards.

[29:27] How it started vs. How it’s going: Rebranding edition.

[32:57] The outlook on sustainable packaging. 

[35:43] Exciting packaging innovations to explore!

[38:44] Brands that will help with your packaging and branding inspo!

[40:23] How Andy gets inspired to design stand-out packaging.

[43:01] Presenting and designing strong options that you’ll be proud of.

[44:10] How and where to find Buttermilk Creative.

Mentions from this episode: 

Follow Buttermilk Creative –
Instagram 
Website 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

Read – #19: Andy Kurtts Unwraps the Mysteries of Branding and Packaging Design

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

Narrator:
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 the central 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.

Alison Smith:
I’m Alison, Co-Founder of Umai and we’re being joined by Andy Kurtts, Creative Director and Founder of Buttermilk Creative, a full service design studio that’s done the branding and packaging for The Fresh Market, Fire Cider, Publix grocer and Wegmans and that’s just to name a few. Welcome, Andy.

Andy Kurtts:
Thank you so much for having me, Allison.

Alison Smith:
Thanks for being here. I’m excited because to me, branding and packaging is just a difficult mystery, so I’m hoping that you can demystify some things for me today.

Andy Kurtts:
I’ll try.

Alison Smith:
Good. Well, let’s start with your background. How did you get into design?

Andy Kurtts:
Sure. I always knew when I was little that I wanted to be in some creative field. I was lucky enough, through sixth grade on, I have some art class in every single semester, whatever. As it got closer in high school, I got closer to figuring out what I was going to study in college, I started being very intentional about the classes I could take. We had a vocational high school here that you could travel to, and so I filled up my courses, junior and senior year with computer arts and photography and commercial art and all that kind of stuff. Digital illustration.

Andy Kurtts:
When it came time to going out for college, I knew I wanted to do something creative. Initially I went to study fine art painting and realized very quickly that that’s basically one in a million kind of thing. That’s like training to be a star athlete or star actor. The thought that a gallery is going to pick you up is crazy. I quickly retooled and recalibrated and ended up going to the Ringling School of Art and Design. Now it’s called College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, to study illustration and design there.

Andy Kurtts:
That’s really where that it all jelled with me of this intersection of fine art and business. Studied there for four years and then worked at a print shop right out of school, doing everything that they needed. That was eye opening because in school they don’t teach you about separation, print plates, all the kind of limited color printing, offset, all that kind of stuff. And so I got a bit of a trial by fire because the woman who ran the press was just, she didn’t take anything from anybody. If I mess something up, she was right there.

Alison Smith:
Were you printing shirts or just anything that-

Andy Kurtts:
Anything. Business cards, brochures, they did digital printing an offset and letterpress printing. It was everything, as a full service print shop. That was really neat, because I got to literally design something and then see it be made into a plate, and then go on the press and then get printed like 5,000 copies or whatever.

Andy Kurtts:
Then my wife and I moved up to North Carolina and I started working at the fresh market and running their in-house design team. It was really there that I really found a love for packaging design and especially food and beverage, which is what we now focus on. During that time there, we did a ton of stuff, that I think when we started tracking our projects, we had 500 projects a year or something.

Andy Kurtts:
A lot of that was the packaging design and that was really interesting to work on it there because there was no line work. Which when you think about a private brand design, look at a grocery store, it’s normally, put the logo at the top, product photography, item name, it’s sent. For them, everything was a blank slate. What we did was we would look at the maker and the manufacturer for inspiration, the product, if there were any history there, and really just dug into that to inspire the look of the packaging.

Andy Kurtts:
While it was maddening having to restart every time, we wish we had some plug and play options for some of this stuff. It really helped me refine how to design packaging for a wide variety of people. I was there for seven years, and then six years ago started Buttermilk Creative, just basically doing what I had a lot of experience doing with the fresh market, but just with our end clients. It’s really neat, the specialty food and beverage industry is very, actually pretty small. A lot of the folks that I worked with at the fresh market went on to work at other places or for other brands and just the network really grows itself.

Alison Smith:
So cool you get to do your passion every day. That’s awesome. But with the fresh market, when you’re saying you’re doing packaging design, is that their self-produced products or is it other brands got help from y’all, or how does that work?

Andy Kurtts:
It’s like any kind of private label program.

Alison Smith:
Okay. Cool.

Andy Kurtts:
They would go out source manufacturers that are offering white label service or whatever. That was interesting too, because we would have to design with them whatever parameters. For instance, there was this company that made croutons, and their box was very distinct. We had that on the shelf at the first market, and then the fresh market started working with them on making fresh market brand crouton, but it came in the same shape of box. We had to be very clear in our design, because already the form tied them together, and so we had to be very clear on how we designed that crouton packaging so it didn’t look anything like the people who made it. Unless it’s some kind of exclusivity thing, like grocery stores don’t really want you to know who’s making their products.

Alison Smith:
Interesting. I just love that you have that background in grocery. I’m really curious, now that you’re working with other clients, how does that affect your overall design?

Andy Kurtts:
I reference it all the time, daily. It really has built this great foundation and education for designing for brands. Because even if you’re trying to get on to a mass market conventional grocery store or a super-duper specialty grocery store, the rules of the shelf are pretty much the same. Even before you get on the shelf, you have to get on a grocery buyer’s radar.

Andy Kurtts:
Then even before that, there’s a category review schedule. I got exposed to all this really inner workings of grocery stores that help my clients navigate all that. Now, by no means am I a broker or anything like that? I have no idea. That is not our specialty, but if a client calls me up and is like, “Hey, I need quick samples or mock-ups because I’m going to a category review meeting or I’m sending stuff in for category review meeting with our broker in two weeks.” I know exactly what they need and I could just crank it out for them. No more, no less.

Andy Kurtts:
Just being able to see that, and then also being able to see when there were samplings and cuttings. That’s where they get a ton of samples and they lay it all out in the test kitchen and just go around and rate and eat everything, and sample everything. There’d be a whole-

Alison Smith:
That sounds awesome.

Andy Kurtts:
Oh man. But if you were invited to, let’s say the ice cream cutting, you also had to go to the olive oil cutting. Something that’s, or the vinegar tasting or whatever. They were like, “You guys can’t just cherry pick. If you want to be involved in this process, then you have to take the good with the bad.” But no, it was really neat because we could really see from the VP level to the coordinator level, to a specialist level.

Andy Kurtts:
What resonated with them packaging wise, outside of all the other stuff, ingredient quality, margins, distribution, all that kind of stuff, all that business stuff but then we also could hear what aesthetically stuck out to them, but then also, what disqualified a maker. If their nutrition facts panel wasn’t formatted properly, or they didn’t have a UPC code on their packaging, it could be the most amazing, best story, the greatest product ever. But if it wasn’t compliant, wasn’t shelf-ready, then it was too much work to go back to that maker and say, “Hey, you need to do this. You need to do that.”

Alison Smith:
But they’d get cut just because of those?

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
What do you mean exactly by the nutritional facts not being formatted? It’s oblong or what?

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. It’s crazy what people do to… The FDA provides lots of different formats for your packaging. Most people just think of that traditional just table version. But there’s a version where it’s just words. That would go on a really small package. But a lot of folks just take… Because you get a JPEG image of your nutrition facts and from whoever, the lab or whatever. Then you’re like, “Okay, well I need to take this format and then just slap it on this label or whatever.”

Andy Kurtts:
They just shrink it or they squeeze it or they compress it. While technically you have a nutrition facts panel, well for one, it’s not doing the consumer any good because they can’t read it. And then there is a potential that it’ll get flagged by the FDA, and then you have to fix it and there might be fines associated with that, so just that awareness of all the different formats in which one can go with which size of label. The size of label really drives everything.

Alison Smith:
Wow. That’s something so small I feel like a lot of people could easily overlook but… So those are the no nos. Are there any, you talked about grocery buyers resonating with certain types of packaging. Is there anything that stands out that people should look to add to their design?

Andy Kurtts:
I think it’s always having, if you don’t clutter the packaging but having good call-outs that are relevant to your customer and the category that you’re in. If it’s like, this is a very generic example, but if you’re making an energy bar, then make sure you mentioned keto and paleo or whatever. Really being able to… Then any relevant certifications or logos, like USDA Organic or Non-GMO, that kind of stuff. That really resonates with grocery buyers because they know that all of those certifications to use those logos costs money.

Andy Kurtts:
Well, first of all, you have to get your product approved and your facility approved and all that kind of stuff. Then you have to keep it up and you pay for that every year, so obviously you’re invested in whatever-

Alison Smith:
The standards.

Andy Kurtts:
Exactly. I think that means a lot. Beyond that, it’s very… They’re really looking for stuff that is going to stand out on the shelf, it’s going to be different than what they currently have. If you have the ability, then you go to whatever store you’re going to try to get into and really look at the set and really understand, okay but everything’s dark or everything’s brown here. Let’s say like the granola set. Everything’s either really light or really brown, so maybe we do a bright bag four ours or whatever.

Andy Kurtts:
They’re also, this is nothing I have control over, but they’re also looking for what the format is and how many they can get on the shelf and all that kind of stuff. If you have some funky shape or something and your competitor can get four bags on a shelf, and because you’re a crazy shape, you can only do two, that’s going to hindering you. And aesthetically, it’s all very subjective, I think from from the… Everybody has their own tastes.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Like fresh market’s going to be different than Walmart.

Andy Kurtts:
Even within those organizations, we had super conservative people that were grocery veterans that were like, “No, you got to have the Starburst in the corner. Then there were other folks who were really in touch with cutting edge trendy design, and they would push us to be more out of the box and be more subtle and whatever. It just ran the gamut there too. You’ll find the same wherever it is.

Andy Kurtts:
That’s why we work with a lot of other grocery stores, is that we have worked in-house at a grocery stores, so there’s already a bit of a learning curve that we’ve already gotten over. Because it’s a quirky world and to take a designer who maybe has been working in an agency environment and then say, “Okay, now you’re going to freelance with this in-house department at a grocery store.” It’s a totally different animal. That’s a value add that we bring, is that we can just get plugged into the team right away.

Alison Smith:
Very cool. Huge value. I love that tip, just go to the store. When you’re starting your branding journey, go to the store and just be different. It’s so obvious but. We talked about grocery buyers, what they’re looking for. Like you said, it’s going to vary. But anything specific that consumers are looking for? How can brands know what their consumers are going to look for on the shelf, I guess?

Andy Kurtts:
Well, that just goes back to knowing who your target customer is, and speaking to them. And really having a laser focus on who that is, and being as specific as you can. Way too many, I think, brands out there skip over that process. We talked to one of our clients early on, and we were like, “Okay well, who’s your target customer?” And they said, “Anyone with a mouth.” And then we say-

Alison Smith:
Oh gosh. I’ve heard that so many times. I’m like, “That’s not right.”

Andy Kurtts:
That’s not right. It’s understanding exactly who that is, and then that’s creating your messaging and your packaging all around that, detaching yourself from it and really focusing on who that… Because you could be a 30 something year old dude like me, who wants to make something that’s targeted for older women or something. I’m going to need to really research, which we’re actually doing right now. We’re making a packaging for powdered supplements that is going to target gen x women. I had to take a step back and say, “Well, what’s going to resonate with that?”

Alison Smith:
How do you figure that out? Or you’re just on tic-tac?

Andy Kurtts:
Well, not tic-tac. Did I say gen x? What was the ’90s? Who was the ’90s and early 2000s? Was that gen x?

Alison Smith:
Millennials.

Andy Kurtts:
Before millennials. Whatever that generation was before millennials.

Alison Smith:
Gosh, I don’t know.

Andy Kurtts:
It would be people like women who grew up in the ’80s, late ’70s, early ’80s into the ’90s come of age in the ’90s. It turns out that that demographic is not spoken to, really. Our client, we worked with a person who does marketing research. When you think about powdered supplements, you’re going to automatically think, it’s a younger crowd. It’s possibly skews female, health-focused exercise, and you do all that and you’ve basically just described every core customer for every powdered supplement brand out there.

Andy Kurtts:
She uncovered this untapped demographic for this type of product. I think those folks are… That demographic’s just as interested in eating good food and being healthy and active and all that kind of stuff, as the younger crowd. We didn’t make the packaging look like a Nirvana album cover.

Alison Smith:
But you’ll be sick.

Andy Kurtts:
[inaudible 00:19:51] to me. But we knew that that, again, that wasn’t really… That while they might’ve listened that music, it’s visually probably wouldn’t have… it would have been weird. We just worked on how do we get just really try to put on our target customer hat? Because it doesn’t look like a design that I would necessarily be attracted to. But-

Alison Smith:
I think that must be really difficult to… Like you said, you’re 30 something year old man, constantly having to design for other people, which makes a great designer. But tell us more how you get into that, like you said, the customer avatars. Are you listening to Nirvana every night and drawing like you do or what?

Andy Kurtts:
I just try to immerse myself in the research and just really try to check all the assumptions at the door. I also have great help from my wife who isn’t in the creative work on a day-to-day basis. She’s a studio director so she is invoicing and sending emails out and doing that kind of stuff, and managing other things. She really can look over my shoulder and say, what are you doing? Who’s who is that? Who are you designing for? And really helps ground me. Because I will get fall back into some just things that I like visually that do not fit. And so that’s a super help as well, having someone with fresh eyes look at it.

Andy Kurtts:
But it’s just leaning into it and by now I think I don’t really… My goal is not to make something cool. It’s to make something that the client is going to be happy with and is hopefully going to make them a lot of money. Whether I think it’s cool or not, or aesthetically pleasing or whatever is… It’s part of it and I’d like to think that what I’m making is going to look good on the shelf, but would I put pink at the top of a box or whatever? Maybe not, but if that’s what the client wants and feels that it’s going to resonate with their customer and it’s going to fly off the shelf, then I’m beak up there.

Alison Smith:
I like that. We just talked about the customer avatar, how you get in that zone. But how do you tell the story of a brand in such a small space? How has that done?

Andy Kurtts:
Oh man.

Alison Smith:
Sounds like a challenge.

Andy Kurtts:
It totally is. It’s even more challenging. I worked on these gourmet butters, and the cup is about an inch and a half tall. That design space was about an inch and a half tall, so then the cup is slightly taller. I had to sum up this whole story of this amazing butter that is developed by this the maker is from France and he’s got this whole culinary background and his grandma made this type of table-flavored table butter or whatever, all into this little tiny thing.

Andy Kurtts:
It really, you’re just looking for anything that you can pull from the history or from the story and integrate. If it’s a color, if it’s a little symbol, if it’s a… I don’t know. Then you have to also accept that you’re not going to be able to get everything across on that packaging too. There’s other opportunities with the website and other places to further tell the story. It’s a balance.

Alison Smith:
Finding that customer, that target customer, if you’re a part of process in any way-

Andy Kurtts:
Yes, that’s right.

Alison Smith:
… how can branding people help with that process?

Andy Kurtts:
Yes, we are part of that process. There are plenty of specialty studio or firms that help with that specifically, but we can help embody that avatar. Once you nail down who that persona is, then that is really when we can start humming along with… Because that’s going to inform objectively the work that a founder might… This goes back to what I was earlier saying. You as the founder might hate the color orange. But when I present something orange to you and you bring up, “You know I hate the color orange.” It’s like, “Well, but your target customer, prove to me that your target customer hates the color orange.” It just gives you as the designer a leg to stand on when… Because that’s the worst thing, poison pill for a design project, is the subjective feelings that come into play.

Andy Kurtts:
When people give criticism or try to give criticism who aren’t used to giving criticism, like art school, we were so used to being torn apart at a critique that that really doesn’t… none of that bothers me. Also giving constructive criticism. But a lot of the founders that we work with, they’re not used to that, and it’s uncomfortable to talk about design. You can either accept that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

Andy Kurtts:
Because I can’t tell you how to run a snack company. I don’t know the first thing about how to set up a line to fill bags of chips. I’m not going to tell you anything about that. I think a lot of people assume that, “Design is easy. I can get feedback.” And it’s not. The sooner you can accept that and just say, “I’m out of my element, but I can help you walk through what you’re feeling.” And then translate it into actual feedback that will help the design.

Alison Smith:
Design is difficult to talk about. Because I don’t know how you communicate design. There’s Pinterest and I think that’s a bridge to help people communicate their feelings.

Andy Kurtts:
Exactly.

Alison Smith:
But it’s hard.

Andy Kurtts:
Anywhere along the way… A good way to do it is through a mood board, which is basically just creating a Pinterest board and aligning on what a client means when they say clean and modern. It’s like my interpretation of clean and modern is going to be different than your interpretation of clean and modern, so let’s align on that. Then if that’s what you want your packaging to be and it aligns with your target customer, then we have a baseline.

Andy Kurtts:
But sometimes a mood board is too conceptual for a client, and they’re like, “What am I looking at?” So you’re going to actually use that font. It doesn’t say our name or whatever. Because you can also put font choices on mood boards, along with color and along with just overall look and feel. We do a case-by-case basis because we’ve presented mood boards where people just got way too literal with them and just couldn’t get away from them. And they thought that literally that’s what their packaging was going to look like. And it was like, “No, we’re just trying to capture a mood here. Mood board.”

Andy Kurtts:
Then trying to help your client. I know that it’s hard to give feedback, and so I’m not going to overwhelm them with a bunch of design terms. Because I know if a client doesn’t like a font, they can’t reference and say what it is. They’re not going to say, “Well, I just want the surf to be more humanist.” Or whatever. I know what that means, but-

Alison Smith:
I did not.

Andy Kurtts:
When they say like, I don’t know, just that font feels too cold. If it’s like a sans serif, then I’d probably need to explore some serif more warm, friendly fonts that’s more human looking. Versus something that looks more computer looking.

Alison Smith:
That’s so interesting. It really is. I love that you have to dissect what someone’s trying to say on a constant basis to get it right. It’s very cool. But you did talk about the evolution of brands, so I just wanted to ask, should a brand design their packaging knowing that in the future they’ll most likely want to do a refresh, or should they design something that’s withstanding time?

Andy Kurtts:
Sure. Especially for a startup brand, you can almost guarantee that whatever packaging you launch with, no matter if you invest $500 or a million dollars, you’re going to redo it very quickly. A lot of the startup brands, we try to steer away from. They should look at more economical options because… Then come to us afterwards when they’re out there for a year or so.

Alison Smith:
Because I can see that getting someone really stuck on launching, is the branding has to be right and it’s just like just put it out. Okay, cool.

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. I just, an article that I wrote for the Startup CPG Spotlight blog. It was whatever, published last Friday. It’s going to be a series where I talk to founders about what kind of packaging they started with and launched with, and what the packaging looks like now.

Alison Smith:
That’s the social media trend that’s happening right now. I love it.

Andy Kurtts:
Exactly. That’s what it’s called. It’s called, what is it? The, this is how it started, this is how it’s going.

Alison Smith:
And this is how it’s going. That’s so cool.

Andy Kurtts:
Thank you. The one that just published is with the folks who started Bare Bones Broth and it’s Kate and Ryan Harvey. I talked to Kate about it. When you look at how they started, looks nothing like what it looks like now. Some of that was due to just the challenges of a small brand. They had to do a label on a stock bag. Versus now, they can get bags printed, and it’s beautiful, full color bags.

Andy Kurtts:
But then it also was, you can tell the design aesthetic wasn’t as obviously polished. But they just needed to get out there and just learn along the way, versus getting hung up because you can almost guarantee it’s going to get redesigned. Then for more established brands, then obviously I’m trying to create something that’s going to be somewhat timeless so it doesn’t look like… you can tell something was designed in 2020 or whatever.

Andy Kurtts:
But you can pretty much guarantee, just based on a lot of different factors that you’re going to get a redesign, or you should start exploring a redesign around five years. That’s really… But then the shelf life of most designs, if the company sticks around, is around 10 years. But if you really want to keep things fresh and keep on top of revisiting call-outs or revisiting small tweaks that might improve your packaging and visibility, then five years is a good rule of thumb.

Alison Smith:
Great. I love having those hard numbers. I know it’s not a hard number, but I think that’s really helpful to wrap your head around. I would love to get your input on sustainability where sustainable packaging, what things you’re excited about in that realm or where we’re moving towards for that.

Andy Kurtts:
I’m really excited, but then also frustrated because the options are super limited. And it’s really going to take someone like a Coca-Cola or one of these large CPG companies to really lean into sustainable packaging, then that will help everyone else be able to-

Alison Smith:
As it’s got to go down the chain.

Andy Kurtts:
And it’s just so expensive right now. But it’s critical. Now, I did hear something interesting the other day, that we focus a lot on compostability and making something that you can throw away. They were basically like, “No, no, no, whether you’re throwing it into a landfill or doing some compostable thing, you’re still generating trash and waste. And really what we should really be focusing on is reusability.” That’s one thing that I’ve been really inspired by seeing how folks are doing the reusable thing.

Andy Kurtts:
There’s this soap company that sends out a little dissolvable pods. Your kit that you buy has the pump in it or the whole thing. Then you do a subscription and then in a month or whatever, they just send you a little pod, pop in there and shake it up with water. That’s really neat to think about how you can apply that reasonable, re-fillable to other industries.

Andy Kurtts:
Every client we work with, we try to help them navigate sustainable packaging or explore sustainable packaging, or just lesser impact packaging, just because it’s hard. Sometimes just that the investment just isn’t there and the budget isn’t there. Our business is on the line and so we can’t push them too much, but we do try to have a conversation when it comes to format and substrate. We try to bring that up.

Alison Smith:
You give the options. I completely agree. It’s got to start from the top because it’s just, it’s probably way too expensive. I know a lot of brands start with glass and things like that, but as they grow, they just can’t keep up with that, so… Any other packaging innovations that excite you?

Andy Kurtts:
Let’s see. There was this really interesting company that I talked to, that they do this neat thing, I think it’s called Phantom Graphics maybe. Basically what they do is it’s only with clear pressure sensitive labels right now, but they’re exploring other materials. But basically, they through printing on top of the label and behind the label, a certain pattern, it looks like the image that you’ve printed is moving. It’s hard to describe but it’s really cool.

Alison Smith:
Like a 3D thing?

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. When you were a kid, did you ever have books that had overlapping black and white images and when you moved them over, they look like they’re moving?

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I think I know what you’re talking about.

Andy Kurtts:
It’s not a hologram, it’s not a lenticular printing, which is like when you have something that you move back and forth and it’s like texture. This is something totally different. I don’t know, it was just fascinating to me that they have been able to… Pressure-sensitive, printing on clear pressure-sensitive labels, it’s not the oldest type of packaging printing, but it’s not particularly new. But they’ve been able to make something that’s old new and interesting.

Andy Kurtts:
You can think about the implications for… You could put a clear label on a beer can, and that would be really neat. Because it’s already a funky category and always looking for ways to innovate. We are actually potentially going to work with them on one of our clients who she makes, called True North Beauty. She makes skincare with chaga mushrooms, and she’s got this beautiful Malakai pattern as part of her packaging. To just think about how, if that Malakai looked like it was moving, almost like water moving around.

Alison Smith:
Cool.

Andy Kurtts:
I don’t know. That would be appropriate for a category. Because you just expect to have really beautiful rich packaging experiences with health and beauty.

Alison Smith:
Well, if that project goes through, definitely ping us. I need to see that.

Andy Kurtts:
For sure.

Alison Smith:
Cool. Well, that’s exciting. My final question is something that we like to ask everyone. It’s a difficult one though, so what are some of your favorite brands or packaging designs right now that we can all look at and get inspired by? It’s hard to choose favorites. We know.

Andy Kurtts:
I know, I know. Let’s see. Who are some of the… Okay, here. I’m going to name some studios that I am constantly amazed with what they’re putting out. Just because I followed them, and then you get to look at their work. Is that okay?

Alison Smith:
Yeah, that’s great.

Andy Kurtts:
There’s this one that’s basically who I consider just about the leader in this natural products packaging design world, is Interact in Boulder. Think of any like when you’ve gone to Expo West or one of the trade shows and there’s a really cool brand and packaging, that they probably had a hand in it. I’ll always look into them on a daily basis like, who are they working with or who did they launch, or I try to guess if I see a cool new, natural product out there. I’m like, “I bet Interact had something to do with them.”

Andy Kurtts:
Another really neat one is Miller, I think it’s Miller Creative in New Jersey. They do a lot of super great work. Look on their Instagrams. That’s where the best place I think to see things. But it’s funny. I do packaging on a daily basis, but it has become noise to me as well. I look for inspiration outside of packaging.

Alison Smith:
That’s cool.

Andy Kurtts:
Because if you just look at packaging, then you’re just going to [crosstalk 00:40:10] forever-

Alison Smith:
They all merges together maybe.

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah, what everybody else is making.

Alison Smith:
How do you get inspired? Let me ask you that.

Andy Kurtts:
Oh man. By art and just trying to expose myself to as much things outside of the design world as I can. You have to on one hand, be in tune with it so that you’re creating things that are within the same visual trend or vocabulary, so that customers, what you’re designing is going to resonate with customers. But on the other hand, you can’t. You have to infuse different new inspiration so that you don’t look like everyone else.

Andy Kurtts:
Just because of my background, I love art and I love painting, and so I’ll pull out… I’ve got a whole bunch of art books and that’s where I’ll look for… A few years ago, there was a California olive oil that I was designing, and one of my favorite movements is painting was the Bay Area, figurative movement. There’s this one particular painter named Richard Diebenkorn, and he did these really neat geometric paintings.

Andy Kurtts:
They were basically looked like landscapes, but they were geometric. They’re amazing and they have a lot of texture and everything. I basically designed the… Because it’s California olive oil, this was a California art movement. I tied those two together and made the label look like that. One of the ideas.

Andy Kurtts:
The other idea was a cliff with the ocean, would look very quintessential, like Highway 1, you pull off the side of the road. That’s the option they went with. But I still had that other option which had a ton of all this art history associated with it. I’ll do that a lot.

Alison Smith:
Were you like she’s so [inaudible 00:42:25]?

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. I was like, “It’s a slam dunk.” And they were just like, “I don’t know. I just really liked the seaside one. It just really sums it up.” And I was like, “Okay.”

Alison Smith:
Oh man, that must be hard. You need to frame all your favorites too and just be like, this should have won.

Andy Kurtts:
Oh man, I long ago have stopped to pick and favorites with my designs and just… You just can’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t be proud being associated with. That was the rule of thumb when I first started was… One of the techniques we used was always included a really bad one so that the other two look really good. And-

Alison Smith:
You actually do that?

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah, we would.

Alison Smith:
Also behavior 101 is like, “Don’t really give them choices. Give them a bad choice and a good choice.”

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. Now we just limit the options and we only present just a couple options that we feel really strongly about, and they could pick either one and we would be happy. But my favorite designs, my hard drive is filled with so many of those that just never see the light of day.

Alison Smith:
Sad. You should have a second website of Andy’s graveyard or something.

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
That’d be cool.

Andy Kurtts:
I’ll try that.

Alison Smith:
Well Andy, this was really fun and I learned a lot. Thank you for talking to us about branding and packaging.

Andy Kurtts:
You bet.

Alison Smith:
Everyone needs to go check out Buttermilk Creative. Can you tell people where they can find you or reach you?

Andy Kurtts:
You bet. Yeah. Buttermilkcreative.com is where you can see us. Then on Instagram we’re Buttermilk Creative. Then we are on Clubhouse and I love Clubhouse. I host a show every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern with my friend, Kirk, who’s also another… Kirk Fizzola, who is another packaging designer on the West Coast, and we just have a blast. We talk for an hour just about anything packaging related.

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

 

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