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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: 

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Stay in touch:

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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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#18: Food Styling and Product Photography Tips with Ashleigh Amoroso

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#18: Food Styling and Product Photography Tips with Ashleigh Amoroso

Photographer, Food Stylist, and Educator Ashleigh Amoroso joins the podcast to discuss what CPG brand owners should know leading up to that big day.

She’s worked with such household names as Magnolia Home (Chip and Joanna Gaines, how cool?!), Patron, and Tillamook – now, she’s sharing some of those lessons learned with YOU. Ya better listen.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:41] Introduction.

[1:05] Meet Ashleigh Amoroso! How she has entered the world of product photography.

[5:20] Go-to tools and props – especially for aspiring food photographers or small-to-medium business owners doing it all. Start by defining your style – hone in on what you really love.

[8:55] Favorite campaigns that Ashleigh Amoroso has worked on so far. Cookbook development. Delta + a big Tokyo trip! Camille Styles Target partnership in L.A. Joanna Gaines + Magnolia Table – can you believe!?

[12:00] How does Ashleigh Amoroso view their personal, slightly darker style.

[15:00] Additional tips for small-to-medium CPG brands! Define your mission, perspective, and colors. Get a mood board together.

[19:00] Setting a scene. Is more alway better? Make sure what’s included is relevant!

[20:00] Courses! Ashleigh Amoroso’s plan for upcoming education.

[21:30] What can small-to-medium CPG brands expect when working with a content creator like Ashleigh Amoroso?

[25:00] The importance of setting expectations with clients while also challenging oneself to be a chameleon. AND, on the flip-side for business owners – bring an openness to those shoots.

[27:00] Who is Ashleigh Amoroso’s dream client?

[29:50] Networking for your craft via Instagram.

[31:30] Ashleigh Amoroso’s new downtown Austin studio space.

[34:10] Social handles + where to find Ashleigh Amoroso.

Mentions from this episode: 

Follow Ashleigh Amoroso –
Instagram 
LinkedIn 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

Read – #18: Food Styling and Product Photography Tips with Ashleigh Amoroso

 

[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@umaimarketing.com/mini-course. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

Alison Smith:
Welcome to the UMAI social circle, where we talk consumer goods, marketing tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Alison and Karin co-founders of UMAI, and we are being joined by photographer, stylist and educator, Ashleigh Amoroso. So she’s led and worked on beautiful campaigns for Target, Patron, Vitamix, Tillamook, Noosa and that’s just to name a few. So Ashley, welcome.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Hi, thanks for having me.

Alison Smith:
Of course. Well, we’d love to just dive right in and learn how you got into the world of photography.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah, so it was kind of in a roundabout way to be honest, which is kind of how I feel like everyone lands in some creative field. But I did not go to school for it or anything. I never really considered it to be a possibility as like a full-time job. So I just kind of learned photography alongside, I apprenticed for a wedding photographer when I was in college and really just learned the technical stuff.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Then I knew I wanted to do that, but I didn’t know what that looked like. I knew I didn’t want to do weddings. So after I moved to Austin, I had a friend who was here, she has a food blog and she’s very well connected in the industry. She was like, “Hey, you do photography. Can you do this ebook that I want to do? And take pictures of the food for the blog.” I was like, “Sure.” So I tried it, I was horrible at it, but I really loved it. So that was in 2008 and I’ve been really interested in growing and doing it ever since.

Karin Samelson:
I love that.

Alison Smith:
What do you mean horrible at it?

Karin Samelson:
I was going to say…

Ashleigh Amoroso:
So horrible. When Instagram first came out and everyone takes pictures of their food and like puts filters on them and their like, “It’s so good.” Yeah, it was like that. I go back and look and the photos are kind of green. They had an Instagram filter on them. It’s like, “Is that macaroni and cheese? I don’t really know.” It’s just, it wasn’t good.

Karin Samelson:
Oh my gosh. The shame of scrolling to the very beginning of Instagram, seeing the Valencia pics and just all of the photos that we thought were like, “Oh yeah, this is art.”

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Totally, yeah. Very, very abstract, avant-garde start to my food photography journey.

Karin Samelson:
That’s awesome. So how did you, I know that you also have super established Instagram feeds like Instagram profiles. Did that come after you really got started in food photography or is that like right alongside?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah, that actually came much later. That was kind of just a weird little kickstart blessing, to be honest. When I started doing the food photography with my friend, who I was telling you about for the e-books earlier, I realized that I love taking the pictures, but I just didn’t have a good grasp of the business side that I needed to understand. I didn’t know how to do my taxes. I didn’t know how to, you know what I mean? I just really, client communication, setting expectations, all of those things, I just really did not understand very well. So that part took the fun out of it for me. So I actually went and worked for Apple at their corporate offices for a few years. I was with their executive relations team. I had an amazing boss, an amazing team I worked with and I learned so much. Because essentially my job there was communicating with internal business partners and doing all of those things that I didn’t know how to do before.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
So that helped me tremendously. My boss was just so super supportive. So when I told them I was considering doing this full time, my husband was very supportive and said, “Okay, let’s let’s make it work.” Then my boss said the same thing. So I then left Apple and started doing this full-time. So I had kind of a weird roundabout way of getting here, but I’m so thankful that it went that way because I needed to learn the stuff I needed to learn from the corporate setting.

Alison Smith:
You were just doing photography on the side as when you were at Apple? Yeah?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
What a big leap of faith and it worked out. Well, I think this is the hottest question we would love to know. What’s your go to tools, props, et cetera? What does every photographer, aspiring photographer need?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Let’s see, I guess in regards to like an aspiring food photographer, I would say really the best place to start for props is just a defined style. The best way to really kind of do that, if you’re not really sure where to start is to just spend some time on Pinterest. Pin the images that you love, that kind of speak to you, and you’ll start to see kind of a style come together and then without copying, but practice those styles, practice finding out what are they doing in their lighting in those situations? What colors are they using? Are they using hard light, which is probably a flash, are they using soft muted diffused light. Those kinds of things will point you in a direction to give you the kind of props that you’re going to want. So for that, I would say a diffuser, you need a sheer window curtain. You really don’t need a ton to be honest. A seamless is always a good thing to have whatever color. I mean, white is kind of a go-to, but…

Karin Samelson:
So a seamless would be like a backdrop that goes into…

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah, it’s almost like a waterfall kind of effect.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Seamless are always super helpful. One other thing I would say would be just a really great textured, either table or backdrop that you make, which could be out of plywood or contact paper or something like that. Then depending on what you’re trying to take a picture of, you can use that as your background, typically texture can be missing from a lot of photos. So, that’s something I like to incorporate in my backdrops.

Karin Samelson:
I like that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I feel like anything can be used as a surface. I know our in-house photographer. She’ll just go to the tile shops and get leftovers. I think that’s, I mean, it looks gorgeous in the photos. That’s cool.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah and you have no idea what you’re looking at. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Zoomed in, probably looks like a mess. Yeah.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
It’s so great. When I first started, I used to use this… First of all, money was tight. So I was trying to get really crafty with these surfaces because you can spend tons of money on this stuff.

Alison Smith:
They’re expensive.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
So, I went to Ikea and I bought the desk tops and I would paint them or I would sand them and rough them up. Then the one that I still have that I use all the time is this matte blackout shade in black. I use it as just a backdrop in a scene so many times, because it’s just this perfect matte. There’s no reflection. It was $30. It’s like my favorite thing I have.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, I love it. Yeah. I really liked the note to first and foremost, define your style. Because I feel like so many times we’ll be talking to a business owner who’s like, “Oh, I really like this. I really like this.” One is just a major studio shot with a really strong flash. One is just that outside, ethereal like shadows. Sometimes it’s really hard to put those two together. So finding your style, I love it. Cool. So what are some of your favorite campaigns that you’ve worked on so far and what made them your favorite?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Oh my gosh. That’s such a nice question. A couple years ago, I worked on a cookbook for about three months in Los Cabos at the one and only Ponia Resort, which was ridiculous. Everyday I was like, “What am I doing here?” I worked with this brilliant chef and this amazing team and, oh my gosh, we were just right on the beach. It was wonderful. That one was a favorite. I worked on a campaign with Delta where we went to Tokyo.

Karin Samelson:
What?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
That was crazy. They were launching this and you know what I don’t even think they do it anymore because of COVID. But they launched a direct flight from Detroit to Tokyo. So they brought me on the inaugural flight to capture the food and the drinks. They had this fancy new first class. So, and then I got to hang out in Tokyo for a week. It was crazy.

Karin Samelson:
Those don’t seem like jobs.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah I think that’s so wild. I was like, “Any minute somebody is going to figure out that they asked the wrong person to come.”

Ashleigh Amoroso:
What else? Let’s see. Oh, when Camille Styles, who’s a local blogger here. Actually, I shouldn’t even call her a blogger. She’s an author, an entertainment guru. She’s totally brilliant. When she signed her campaign with Target, so she’s one of their partners. She brought me with her to LA, which was so fun. I shot that partnership and I’ve done several campaigns with them since, and Camille is just so fun to work with because she completely has a very defined brand. Her team runs like a well-oiled wheel. Everyone has a direction and everybody knows what they’re doing. So I love working with them. I guess, lastly I haven’t really told this one yet because I haven’t been able to. But most recently I’ve been working with Joanna Gaines for her show Magnolia Table and photographing the food and her for that. So I’m really excited to see that.

Alison Smith:
Wow.

Karin Samelson:
That is so exciting. We named a few brands and campaigns and had no idea that those were the peanuts.

Alison Smith:
I know, I’m in the wrong profession. That is amazing. Very cool. I’m from Waco, so Joanna Gaines is my hero.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Shut up, you are? Oh my gosh. Waco is so cute.

Alison Smith:
It’s popping. It was not popping when I lived there. It’s because of Joanna Gaines. It’s totally different, totally transformed.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
They own that town, it is amazing.

Alison Smith:
They literally do. Yeah. Wow. Thank you for sharing all that. That’s amazing. So, one thing we wanted to ask you is, because I do think that, like you were saying, your style is really defined and you come with the dark textures and a lot of shadows that we see a lot and compared to everyone else who’s light and bright constantly. I think it’s really cool to see. So we wanted to ask you, are you trying to evoke emotions or how do you think about what you’re trying to portray when you’re shooting?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
So, those images that you’re talking about are really probably, either they’re jobs that I’ve been given complete creative freedom or their personal shoots.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
I just love those because I like to think of when I’m just creating stuff for myself. I like to just make up an entire story in my mind about where the scene is taking place, probably somewhere in the French countryside. There’s this smell, I make up an entire story in my mind.

Alison Smith:
That’s so cool.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
It’s so easy for me to style the scene and to let everything unfold, because I have a really clear snapshot in time of where this is all taking place. So yeah. I want it to be calming, but I also want it to be undefined. I love capturing a moment where it’s easier for you to look at the photo, like someone pouring or moving or whatever, so that it’s easy for you to look at the photo and just be able to envision what’s happening next.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, that’s really awesome. When you say you’re really telling the story of it, and when you said the French countryside. I love Jamie Beck as well, if you knew who that is. It’s all a story. It’s all the French countryside. I feel that way. I’ve always been drawn to your photography as well, where it’s so put together and it’s well thought out and it looks different than the massly produced things we see. So if somebody was trying to do an at home photo shoot, is that kind of the advice you would give them, set the scene, know what’s taken place at the beginning to the end.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Totally. Yeah, totally. I mean, I haven’t really been teaching the workshops as much since COVID, but when I was doing those more frequently, that’s exactly how I would tell my students to set up a scene. I would have them go on Pinterest, create a mood board, essentially walk them through like a client interaction. What is the story you’re trying to tell? Where are you? What does it smell like? What do you see? What do you feel? Clearly define all those things and then everything else just comes in really easily,

Karin Samelson:
Such good advice. That’s awesome. That’s something I’ve never done. It’s just a hobby of photography, so I think really honing in on, what am I trying to do here? Not just, what’s pleasing to my eyeballs. I think that’s awesome.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
That works too.

Karin Samelson:
A little bit more strategy, I can dig it.

Alison Smith:
What are some more, I mean, give us more tips and advice that these small or extra small CPG brands can create better content.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah. So, oh my gosh. I was so scrappy in the beginning. I’ve got lots of these and I actually still use a lot of them because now that I’ve figured out a way to do things in a hack way. Which I don’t know, it’s not always great, but sometimes it’s great. Well, for CPG brands, if they’re wanting to create their own content in the beginning for budget reasons, the best thing they could do, I mean, they’re going to hate me. I’m driving it home, define your style, do some brand colors, find a color palette, create a mission, define your perspective, create a mood board.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Because a lot of people, it’s easier for them to speak visually than it is to explain verbally. I’m sure you guys encounter this all the time too. But when a client comes to me, the first thing we do is work together to create a mood board so that I understand what they want. Because sometimes it’s very different than what they tell me they want. So for the CPG brands, create a mood board based upon what you’re trying to capture and then invest in a few small things. Like the surfaces I would recommend looking at, I mean, Facebook Marketplace is a treasure trove. Don’t be too good for Goodwill. I still find really cool stuff there. Contact paper on Amazon. Seriously, it’s so cheap and you can get stuff that looks very textural and it’s really, really cheap. Let me see, oh and you know what else is a good thing is, I mean, depending on what you’re trying to share. But for food for me, and I still do this, I contact local ceramicist. We work out trades, let me borrow your ceramics for the shoot.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
I’ll provide you imagery that you can use for your social media.

Alison Smith:
What a great idea.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah and work local where you can, build those relationships because those people are in your industry too. So, somebody’s going to come to them. I mean, whoever’s buying from them is in food or looking at food or loves food because they’re spending that kind of money. So then, they’re going to have your name. So, anything in that realm, I would look out for making connections with people who are in that industry, even distantly in the industry and everything is negotiable. Everything can be traded. You don’t have to spend $400 on a surface and then be stuck to that forever. There’s literally the driveway is sometimes really good.

Alison Smith:
Right. That’s such a good tip. The making connections, how cool is that? Then you’re sharing assets and tagging each other and just getting the word out. But I have to ask how important is the camera? Can it be an iPhone?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Totally. Oh my God, for sure. Yeah, absolutely. Iphones are freaking amazing now. Honestly, the video capabilities are bananas too, but 100% it could be an iPhone. First of all, no one would ever even have to know, especially now that there’s COVID because you can work with clients without ever meeting them. You can take a really good, high-quality image on an iPhone and make it really beautiful. It’s funny. When I was doing the workshops, I used to show, my students, the photo I would take it on the iPhone. Just so that they knew it’s really not about the camera. It’s everything else.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. That’s great to know.

Karin Samelson:
So when you say everything else, when you’re talking about the composition, is more always better, or how would you advise people setting a scene for the first time?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
I would say, I think people’s biggest mistakes with setting a scene is incorporating things that don’t make sense in the scene. So I’m hesitant to answer about more or less and really just say, make sure it’s relevant to what’s happening in the picture. Don’t have a spatula next to a cupcake or… Well, no, that would make sense, but don’t have olive oil sitting in the picture with your cupcakes. It’s like, “Doesn’t make sense at all.” But it looks pretty so you think… So I see a lot of people making that mistake. So as long as it tells the story or it works for the scene. Yeah, more or less, do it.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah so you started offering courses. So what’s going on with that? Are you still doing it?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Oh my gosh. So yeah, I have a lot of big lofty ideas. I have a friend who is actually going to help me bring these back out this year and we’re going to do them in videos. So now that I have the studio, we’re probably going to start filming that in a couple of months. So, I’ve been doing the in-person or virtual workshops, which is really either one-on-one or in a group setting for a few years. I love doing them, but I was doing them in a way, where they were very tailored to the individual who was attending the workshop. I started to see that that was really just taking up too much time to do it that way. So I needed a general format that could reach a lot more people. So we’re kind of transitioning now into something where it’ll be like an a la carte kind of thing. They can buy whatever, if they want to know about the technical stuff, if they want to know about the business side, if they want to know about styling.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
That way people can come for what they need. Because I’m such a perfectionist and I would want to spend so much time, I’m not spinning my wheels, creating this very specialized course for each person.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
When are those set to launch?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
I would love to know. Let me know.

Alison Smith:
We’ll follow up with that question. That’s a great call. I mean shoot, I would love to learn more about that and take your course.

Karin Samelson:
I know, can I take the course? When we’re talking about the business side too, what can brands, who do have the budget, opening up to hire somebody like you. What can they expect when they hire you on?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
That’s a great question. I would say they should maybe enter with trust.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Good for anybody working with a creative in general. I love that.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
You know what, this is very specific to a brand, who is for the first time able to allocate a budget for something like this, which is going to be expensive. It’s going to feel like a lot of pressure. It’s a big deal. I go into those situations with a very good understanding of that, this is a big deal. Their expectations are huge. So it’s hard for them to enter into the kind of partnership with me, a stranger, not want to micromanage that situation. So what we did was, a lot of people don’t come to me, like I said and to you guys too I’m sure, with like a clear vision. So we essentially speak visually.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
We have them create a mood board if they don’t already have a really clear, defined brand, which I want to clarify, you don’t have to come to me with that. We can get you there. We walk through a process together, where before the day of the shoot, there is zero ambiguity. You know everything that we’re doing, you know what you’re going to get. Everything is very clear and you can kind of sit back and relax. Then what I end up trying to do is over deliver in those situations, because I have a very clear definition of what they’re looking for. So, I know it’s hard, but come in with trust.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. That’s great. Great advice. But when it comes to even the smaller stuff, like if it’s food and beverage brand. Do they need to come in with the supplies and do they need to have a chef with you cooking? How does that look?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
So it kind of depends. I have a really awesome team with me now that I’ve worked on several shoots. I’ve got a food stylist. I have a videographer. I have a wonderful chef. Myself and my assistant do a lot of the prop styling just because we enjoy it. But I also have a prop styling partner. So when they come to me, that’s one of the initial questions that we’ll ask without trying to overwhelm them really. But like, “Have you identified a prop situation? Do you have samples? If you’re a new company, are you able to get them? Can you ensure shipping?” We kind of make sure that we run through all of that stuff first. Then if they say no, I send them over information for all of my people and offer to do a full production for them and just take care of everything. So they can be as involved as they want or not, and they can really just sit behind their computer and say, “Yes, no, yes, no.”

Karin Samelson:
One stop shop. That makes it so much easier for brands around the nation to work with you. Especially when they can just fill out that mood board, show you what they are inspired by, what they’re aspiring to be like.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Totally.

Karin Samelson:
It’s great.

Alison Smith:
How difficult is it as a photographer to blend your aesthetic with the client’s aesthetic expectation, et cetera.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
So I like this question because a lot of the work that I share is work, that either is emotionally or personally me. However, a lot of the work that I do, I don’t bring that vision in. I have a very defined technical skill. While I do appreciate a certain style of things myself, I only bring them in when they’re necessary. A lot of places, brands contact me for things that are different than what you see on my page. They want the bright. They want the white, they want the cut-out, they want the hard light, they want something totally different. So I want to be a chameleon to be able to do those things because I want to work. So when appropriate, I am make suggestions that I think would work. But sometimes my personal aesthetic doesn’t work for the brand I’m working with. I like the challenge of trying to evoke the message that they’re trying to say.

Alison Smith:
Sure I liked that you said, I mean, you just have to be a chameleon and be a blank slate coming in.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah I think that’s such a good note for business owners. Because a lot of times things that we see with creatives is that they do bring their look and feel and aesthetic, a little bit too much. Where it kind of all looks the same, and you can’t really tell what brand that is because it looks like that brand. So super respectable. So when you think of a consumer packaged good brand, that you would have a dream collaboration with, a dream client who would they be.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Oh my God. Okay. This one is tough because I mean, to be honest, every client that comes to me as a dream client, because it’s another day that I’m working. Every email makes me excited, small company, big company, every single one. So I mean, I feel like I’ve worked with my dream clients. I feel like I am working with my dream clients. Every day I get an email with a new client. It is my dream client.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, that’s amazing. Even if they can’t fly you to Tokyo or Cabo, still a cool client.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Those were exceptional, that’s not realistic.

Karin Samelson:
All I think is you’re photographing on a plane and I’m such a novice. But man, the pressure of it.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Oh my gosh. It was so weird for the people flying. Because they’re like, “What’s this girl doing?” I’m like, “Hi, can you hold your champagne into the light?” They’re like, “Who are you?” I’m like, “I’m going to Tokyo, just come on.”

Karin Samelson:
I want to see these photos. That’s awesome.

Alison Smith:
I know, me too.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
We actually, so they had a whole team that was doing a social media kind of campaign and they ended up creating a whole video. I’ll send it to you guys. So it was really cool.

Karin Samelson:
That’s awesome. I also love how you’ve worked with super and are working with really powerful women in Texas, too. It’s just like, “Wow.”

Ashleigh Amoroso:
That’s your dream come true too. Also commercial photography is only 9% women, which is garbage. I mean, I feel really fortunate to be somehow a part of that. But I mean that industry, those people hiring, those agents, those people with the ability to make those hires really need to be paying attention to the women photographers. There’s just so much talent. It’s crazy. It’s crazy that there are not more women. So whenever I am hired, in specifically a women owned business or women of power position, I’m beside myself. Because that’s what I want to be doing, that’s where I want to be.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. How are you making these connections to these people?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
I don’t know. Okay. So you asked me this earlier and I probably just didn’t answer it, but kind of Instagram. Whenever I left Apple, I started really focusing on the Instagram and this was back in 2015, because it was, at that time and even kind of still now, Instagram is the best way to connect with people about your craft. I mean, before that you had Facebook, but Facebook was more of a personal platform and food photographers before that had books that agents would take around to other agencies and pitch you. So unless you were in New York or LA, who’s going to see your food photography, hence the rise of Instagram.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
So then what happened was people realized that they could find talent in other places other than New York and LA. They could find new talent, talent that didn’t have to operate on a $30,000 budget. So that just kind of opened a ton of doors. I think what happened was I got put on a bunch of agency rosters and if I’m not with the agency, they’ll recommend me either for local reasons or because someone has worked with me before. I think that’s how a lot of stuff comes to me to be honest.

Karin Samelson:
That’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, that’s how I was led to you. I have been, fan girl moment. I’ve been following you for a very, very long time. I end up unfollowing a ton of people. I don’t do a lot of personal social because my job is social. I want to be on it as little as possible. So I would absolutely follow Ashleigh. She has two really amazing accounts and I think it does tell a story, the way you post, the way you do everything on social.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Oh thanks.

Karin Samelson:
So I think that’s wonderful. Yeah and speaking of that, you just bought, you just started renting a studio space downtown, tell us about it.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah so I just leased a studio space downtown, it’s on Eighth and Congress, which is even weird to say. This was a dream that I just, I don’t know. I never really saw coming to fruition because I just didn’t see it as feasible. But the stars aligned and it worked out and with Claire Brody Designs, she’s like a vintage dealer. She’s an interior designer, moved to vintage dealer. She’s on the bottom floor and then in another room is Jenna McElroy, Who’s also a photographer, but she does more personal branding and family’s portraits, that kind of thing. And then me. So we’re all in the building together. We’ve literally only had the keys for two weeks and we’re all renovating the place. So it’s my goal to put in a modular kitchen, because I try to rent food photography studios all the time.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
There’s always just a missing element or it’s an Airbnb that wants this crazy permit or there’s just some complicated element. It’s difficult to find a fully functional food photography kitchen that has the offerings of a photography studio. So, I’m going to make everything that I’m missing. I have lots of grand lofty ideas here, but the ultimate goal is for me to start doing all of my shoots out of there. Then to also rent it out to other kitchen creatives, to either do shoots or film or whatever they want to do in that space as well.

Alison Smith:
How freaking cool. Is there a name for it or is it Ashleigh Amoroso?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yeah, it’s just Ashleigh Amoroso Studios right now.

Karin Samelson:
But yeah, I love it. So cool. I mean, we hope to rent it out from you one day because that really is such a pain point. I feel like, it’s finding the space, finding a really beautiful space where you can do everything. So Austin Brands, someday, rent this spot out for your photo shoots.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Yay and then we’ll work together.

Alison Smith:
Well, this was really fun. Ashleigh, do you want to leave our listeners with how they can find you? Is it your Instagram or any anywhere else?

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Sure yeah. My Instagram, I have two there’s my personal one, which is Ashleigh Amoroso, which is spelled A S H L E I G H. I know, but I like it. That’s my food one and then my personal one is Ashamor, A S H A M O R. Then all the stuff is linked in those places. Instagram’s fun. That’s where I’m probably the most active.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome and you’re available for hire. So hit her up, if you need a photographer.

Ashleigh Amoroso:
Come get me.

Narrator:
Ooh, my 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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Umai Social Circle Homepage

UMAI social circle cpg podcast
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

A Podcast for Food, Bev, and Wellness Biz Owners and Foodies Alike

UMAI Marketing Co-Founders Alison and Karin just launched a podcast!

Every other Thursday, they’ll share irresistibly inspiring food, bev, and wellness brands as well as interviews with CPG industry leaders.

You better believe these two are gonna peel back some layers to reveal the why behind work – what makes this modern world of social media marketing + advertising so special? Let’s find out together.

Pick an episode, any episode – 

#1: Our Founder Story, How Karin & Alison Met

#2: Creating a product that’s *actually* different with Natural Stacks

#3: Siete Foods Mukbang, How They Nurture a +300k Community of Engaged Followers

#4: Shaking up the Market with Vital Farms Pasture-Raised Eggs and Exo Cricket Protein

#5: Kettle & Fire Mukbang, Their Unique Approach to Increasing Average Order Value

#6: How the 1st Ever Coconut Milk Ice Cream, NadaMoo!, Earned Its Way Into the Freezer Aisle

#7: Pabst Brewing Brand Director on Climbing The CPG Ladder

#8: Culina Yogurt Mukbang, the Blueprint for Founder-Forward + Eco-Minded Content

#9: Behind an Accelerator Program, Mentorship, & 2020 Trends with Alyssa Padron of The Ronin Society

#10: Uplifting Female Founders, Pitch Deck Pitfalls, and Getting Funded With Springdale Ventures Principal Caroline Fabacher

#11: The Best Biz Owners Stay Humble & Scrappy, Words of Wisdom From SKU’s Chief Operating Officer

#12: Marc Nathan on Mindfully Scaling Your Biz & Building Community

#13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley’s VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey

#14: Poppi Mukbang, This Insta-Worthy Rebrand & Influencer Network Is Poppin’ Off

#15: Should You Clap Back?? Responding to Negative Comments on Social

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

#17: Amplify Snack Brands’ Sr. Supply Chain Planner Explains Big-Picture Inventory Strategy

#18: Food Styling and Product Photography Tips with Ashleigh Amoroso

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

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#17: Amplify Snack Brands’ Sr. Supply Chain Planner Explains Big-Picture Inventory Strategy

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#17: Amplify Snack Brands’ Sr. Supply Chain Planner Explains Big-Picture Inventory Strategy

We spoke with Amplify Snack Brands’ very own Senior Supply Chain Planner! How MUCH of your product should you STOCK? Whether it’s your first product run or your 100th – it’s a question you’re continuously asking yourself!

While it’s tempting to consult your nearest fortune teller on this matter, it’s 100% not recommended. 🙅 Instead, check out this interview with Ellen Wilson! Answering the above question for clean snack brands is her expertise…

Let us break it down for you…

[0:50] Introduction.

[1:25] Ellen’s background + career journey which led to Amplify Snack Brands! A start in customer service.

[3:28] What traits would someone need to excel in your current role as a Supply Chain Planner at Amplify Snack Brands. It’s a giant puzzle! Organization is huge.

[6:00] Amplify Snack Brands is an umbrella company for a lot of CPG brands! What are those?

[7:00] What’s your day-to-day schedule at Amplify Snack Brands look like? Production planning. Coordinating across teams.

[9:50] How does a small brand create a forecast or projections without baseline data? Be in constant communication with your sales team. Watch out for consumer trends in your sector. Safety stock = your buffer in case there’s a bump in the road.

[12:00] More on safety stock at Amplify Snack Brands.

[15:25] Let’s talk about Amplify Snack Brands being acquired by Hershey! An increase in resources as well as an overall feeling of stability. And, there’s lots of chocolate!!!

[19:30] What are some tools (or tips) that small-to-medium business owners and/or teams should work out of?

[21:00] What’re the most common issues that small-to-medium businesses are most often facing? An important note about big box stores. Put your brand in the right place!

[24:50] What should a business do with waste (distressed products)? From TJ Max to charity channels.

[27:27] More trends happening across operations right now. Multi-packs are huge! But, they can be a pain for manufacturers. Buying habits + time of year.

[30:00] Where do your forecasters at Amplify Snack Brands track consumer trends?

[32:00] Final thoughts!

Mentions from this episode: 

Follow Ellen Wilson –

LinkedIn 
Instagram 

Learn more about Amplify Snack Brands

Ellen’s worked with some amazing (and delicious) brands! Check ‘em out –

Oatmega
SkinnyPop Popcorn
Pirate’s Booty
Paqui Tortillas Chips

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

Read – #17: Amplify Snack Brands’ Sr. Supply Chain Planner Explains Big-Picture Inventory Strategy

 

[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. So join in, visit our website at 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 Karin and Alison co-founders of UMAI and we’re being joined by Ellen Wilson, Senior Supply Planner at Amplify Snack Brands. Thanks for joining us, Ellen.

Ellen Wilson:
Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Alison Smith:
Yes. And Ellen is a dear, dear friend. She’s not just a really amazing supply planner for CPG at Amplify Snack Brands, she is a dear friend, so we’re really lucky to have you and we’re excited.

So let’s start with just your background, did you always have an interest in working in operations or in CPG? How’d you get here, working for Amplify Snack Brands?

Ellen Wilson:
Really randomly to be honest. I was working at a marketing studio I went to school for marketing and we just had a friend Charlotte Taylor, who was doing recruiting, at the time was working at a recruiting firm and she had a random job for a customer service role at a growing CPG company. And, I was ready for a change from my current job and so I took a chance and five years later here I am at Amplify Snack Brands.

Alison Smith:
I completely forgot that you were hired as a customer service person.

Ellen Wilson:
Yes. So it was just a random customer service representative and it turned out to be better than I thought because the customer service, it wasn’t like consumer-facing, it was like Target and Kroger and those were my customers so it was almost like a fulfillment logistics role more than it was customer service.

So, it ended up being even better than I thought it would be going into it.

Karin Samelson:
And, then it naturally progressed into planning or did you end up that job and you’re like that’s me right there?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So, it was super random. I had just gotten over being in customer service, I just wanted to do something more and what was so great about Amplify Snack Brands at the time, it was still such a small company that if you wanted to try something else, it was just really easy to do so.

So, the role for the supply planner at Amplify Snack Brands opened up and I just was either going to leave Amplify Snack Brands or wanted to do something else.

So, I got the chance to try it and it really just clicked for me and it’s been such a good fit for me and it’s something I would’ve never even thought to try before being at Amplify Snack Brands.

So, it’s really just fun how that was so random, but it’s been such a wonderful fit for me and how my brain works.

Alison Smith:
So, how your brain works? What traits would you say that people should have if they want to have a career in this?

Ellen Wilson:
Very logistical? So, I think of it as a giant puzzle that I’m putting together every single week at Amplify Snack Brands.

So, I just take all of our Amplify Snack Brands products, all of our commands, I’m scheduling six different commands every single week and there’s just tons of different inputs that I’m taking every single week and having to say what I need them to make in their specifications of what I can run each week.

Ellen Wilson:
So, it’s just a giant puzzle that you’re always having to figure out and that’s fun for me, I don’t think that’s fun for everyone, but for me that is really gratifying and when I can get it there it feels really good. I would say it keeps you on your toes every single week, especially with such a growing company.

What I planned last week isn’t necessarily what’s needed this week, so that I’m having to go back and say, “Okay, I said 5,000 this week, but now I need 10,000 because it’s much bigger than I thought.”

Ellen Wilson:
So, definitely thinking logistically, willing to… I’m looking at my planner right now, it’s always on my brain. Just willing to pivot quickly to figure something out, find creative solutions for something that might not be going well is really a lot of my job.

Karin Samelson:
Like, an organized problem solver.

Ellen Wilson:
Exactly. Yeah. Something like that.

Karin Samelson:
I think organization skills. I think that might be a must based on that explanation.

Alison Smith:
And, someone who loves spreadsheets as well.

Ellen Wilson:
In my arms, like my baby.

Karin Samelson:
You must love Excel. Oh, Gosh. Okay.

Ellen Wilson:
Absolutely. And, that’s what’s also been so fun.

It was like, I didn’t have a ton of Excel skills before I came into this role at Amplify Snack Brands and it was just something where I got pushed into it and would have to be like on Google every day being like, “How to do this and how to do that.”

But, I have learned so much and this is such a nerdy thing to say, but Excel is amazing and you can do so much and I feel like I’ve just even scratched the surface of what you can do.

So, for anybody starting out, it’s doing any kind of inventory, planning, forecasting, anything like Excel is where it’s at 100%.

Karin Samelson:
Wow. That’s the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard you Ellen.

Ellen Wilson:
I was embarrassed to admit that for a while, but I’ve gotten to the point where like, I am who I am and I love it so.

Karin Samelson:
I love it. I really do. Well, let’s backtrack a little bit and tell us more about Amplify Snack Brands. So it’s the umbrella company for a lot of CPG brands. So, what are those?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah, so SkinnyPop is like Numero Uno that’s what it started with and then now we have Pirate’s Booty, which is puff for children. Yeah. For children. It’s for everybody.

Alison Smith:
It’s for children [crosstalk 00:06:24]?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, I didn’t know that.

Ellen Wilson:
It’s a children’s brand, but-

Alison Smith:
I did not know that.

Ellen Wilson:
Is it? I don’t think so. Yeah. It’s for everyone. And, then we have Paqui Tortilla Chips which is kind of a better for you Dorito lime and Oatmega Protein Bars.

Karin Samelson:
Wow. So, you’re working on planning at Amplify Snack Brands for all of those brands? Are you-

Ellen Wilson:
No, right now I’m just doing SkinnyPop for Amplify Snack Brands.

I have worked on all of them in my years at Amplify Snack Brands, which has been interesting because they’re all so different with such different requirements and planning cycles and everything but right now I’m doing the big dogs SkinnyPop.

Alison Smith:
Big dog.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
So, walk us through your day to day. I have never been in operations. It’s kind of confusing to the people that are doing it right now for their own businesses. On daily basis, what do you do as a senior supply planner at Amplify Snack Brands?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So, I’ll go through my weekly buckets, because its like the same process every week. So every week I’m taking a new set of our open sales orders, open work orders, open transfer orders, forecast, inventory at all of our warehouses.

And, I’m putting that into a model that we’ve built. Everything’s in Excel which is wild for doing this when you’re big planning manufacturers.

So, I put all of that into a model for each manufacture that I’m planning for and I’m basically finding what I need to make in my next open production slot.

Ellen Wilson:
So, that’s the main core of my job is making those production plans for all of our commands, but also anytime I see something that’s off on an item or inventory or something, I have to go figure that out.

And, I’m talking to demand planning all week long, I’m talking to our transportation team all week long to figure out where my inventory is, I’m talking to our deployment team to say like, “Hey, your rush order on this.

You need to get it to this place.” I’m talking to our customer service team, they’re asking, “Where’s this product? Can we get sooner? Can we get it and this too instead of this?”

Ellen Wilson:
So, I’m talking to everyone in operations because everything changes so quickly all the time especially with such a growth-based company. If we get an opportunity to do something, it’s not like, that’s not in the four week block window of forecast. You need to push that out. It’s like, what can we do to make it happen?

Ellen Wilson:
So, there’s just fires, there’s opportunities, there’s just situations, shut down the manufacturers, everything like that I’m just having to deal with every single week. That sounds negative, but you have to do it.

And, then there’s just lots of weekly meetings about everything going on. So my main job really is to make those production plans, but I would say 50/50 making the production plans from a base set of data and then going and tweaking for exceptions and fires and situations that come about.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So, that’s so interesting. And the projection part rattles my brain in a lot of different ways. And so you’re talking about base data. So, you’re more established company now, but how does a small brand go about figuring out those projections without that base data?

Ellen Wilson:
It’s still hard without base data. So, a forecast for us is like, Bible for us. Without a forecast, I can’t do anything. I can react to what’s in our open sales orders but other than that, I have no idea what to make in the future.

Alison Smith:
And, that’s like if you were only focusing on that, you’d be a step behind all the time.

Ellen Wilson:
I’d be late. Nothing would get anywhere on time. So, especially being a more established brand, I’m having to lock things out weeks in advance. So, I’m having to predict the future based on the forecast, which is a production of that nature.

So, I would say someone who is just starting out that doesn’t have a robust forecasting system, anything like that, having a really close relationship with whoever is doing your sales is so key because they’re going to be the only people that can help you with that.

Yet, they’re going to be able to tell you what they’re trying to sell, what they are selling, what’s expected. So that is just like, I would say the most important thing is to just have that really close relationship and constant communication with them.

Ellen Wilson:
Another thing is just to really watch consumer trends in your sector. So like for popcorn, we’re always watching our competitors, we’re watching just the buying habits, but it really is just trying to predict the future more than anything. And, a lot of it relies on us building safety stock.

So, I’m building the amount that we’re saying we need in two weeks, but I’m also building a couple of weeks buffer so if that doesn’t happen, I’ve got something to play with.

Ellen Wilson:
So, finding that amount of safety stock that is going to cover bumps in the road, but not be too much that you’re just like holding products you don’t need, or like is going to go expired before you can sell it or whatnot.

That’s that sweet spot of being prepared for the bumps in the road, being prepared for what’s going to happen, but not just building inventory you don’t need all this.

Karin Samelson:
Let’s talk about safety stock. I really liked that. Is there a certain percentage that a brand should keep in the back?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So for me, I base it off of… So there’s the full shelf life of your product. That’s from production to when you shouldn’t eat it anymore. And, then pretty much, I wouldn’t say probably all, I don’t know for sure, but I’m assuming all brands with an expiration also have a sellable shelf life.

So, we have a portion of our full shelf life that we can still ship to customers so that they can guarantee they get the product with enough time to sell it on their shelves.

For me, I take that sellable product window and I do enough that like, so for instance, if it’s eight weeks, I won’t produce more than four to five weeks of stock at a time.

Ellen Wilson:
If I produce anything close to eight weeks, there’s the opportunity that we won’t get the forecast and then it’s just, we’re throwing it away or selling it in distress where we don’t get the margin.

And, I’m trying to build four to five at the most so that I can have enough to cover a few weeks if something comes in double the forecast that week, I’ve got it, but it’s not so much that we’re paying storage fees for it. We’re potentially just throwing it away because I’ve made too much.

So, it’s just that sweet spot where you feel comfortable with the weeks of supply. That’s how I judge everything, it’s like weeks of supply. And, finding that weeks of supply that makes you feel comfortable that you have a buffer, but that you can also get through it before it goes short dated.

Karin Samelson:
Gosh, I-

Ellen Wilson:
[crosstalk 00:13:40].

Karin Samelson:
It seems pretty stressful to handle all this. It’s a lot.

Ellen Wilson:
Operations is not for the lighthearted.

Karin Samelson:
Right. Yes.

Ellen Wilson:
It’s a very stressful job. I like it and it’s busy all the time and I always have something to do but there are there’s some days-

Karin Samelson:
Like throwing away product, that would be so difficult. Yeah.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. And, it’s funny because two of my biggest schools are Caseyville, which is making sure our orders get fulfilled a certain percent and then waste, they’re making sure about waste, but it is small.

So, I’m truly having to find that middle ground where I can build enough to service everything, but not throw it away.

Alison Smith:
So interesting and so for a big company, like SkinnyPop, you’re doing like 50% in that anticipation and maintaining your supply levels?

Ellen Wilson:
Yes. Four weeks is really like, I would say the sweet spot for us but another thing you have to think about is with a huge company, always having four weeks of supply is a lot of storage and just tons of pallets.

I think it’s like 50,000 pallets if I were to get up to four weeks of supply.

So, you have to also understand your budget for warehousing and make sure that you found a warehouse that you can hold all of that and then if I am getting up to four and we’re just busting at the scene, then that throws everything off where I can’t produce what I need to produce in a month of trying to fix that and trickle that down and like fix it. So it’s a giant puzzle.

Alison Smith:
Puzzling, every day.

Ellen Wilson:
Every day.

Alison Smith:
Cool. So, let’s talk a little bit about the acquisition. So, hot topic. So in late 2017, Hershey acquired Amplify Snack Brands, you were there you’ve been there for so long for a whopping $1.6 billion. $1.6 billion.

That is nuts and you were there and you are there now. How has your job changed from working for this small company where you were thinking, I was just going to be customer service, to now with this being owned by Hershey?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. The company itself has changed dramatically. I would say my job of planning is not that different because we’re still doing it in Excel and we still, for the most part, have the same manufacturers that we were using before.

So as far as my day to day, it hasn’t changed dramatically but our company as a whole has changed so much.

Ellen Wilson:
Before the acquisition, during the acquisition, right after the acquisition, we went through a ton of like ELT leaders. It was just like in and out, in and out, in and out and part of that comes with-

Karin Samelson:
What is ELT, Ellen?

Ellen Wilson:
Executive leadership team. So like the C-level people.

Karin Samelson:
Got you.

Ellen Wilson:
And, really like VPs and directors as well. So a lot of that is to be expected when you’re at first going public you just get a bunch of money and you move on.

That’s just what some people do and then with the acquisition that also happen. A lot of people had stock, they got paid out, they’re just like, “Okay, that’s all I needed from it.”

Ellen Wilson:
So, since Hershey has acquired us and we’ve really gotten into being with Hershey, it has been much more stable in that sense, which has been such a good thing for us.

We got some people that worked at Hershey for 15 to 20 years to come over and be in that team and it’s just provided us a lot of stability that things aren’t just drastically changing and our strategy year to year, isn’t just a fully different strategy because we have a new CEO or a new president or a new CFO.

Ellen Wilson:
So, I think that has been extremely helpful for us to just get that stability that we needed to go to the next level and we also just have a lot more resources to do things with, which is helpful.

We’ve got Hershey backing us for procurement and contracts and we can use that Hershey muscle to really help us get to that next level.

Alison Smith:
And you have chocolate in your office now?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Three chocolate bars for life.

Ellen Wilson:
There was constant candy bowls which was a lot of fun.

Karin Samelson:
But you still maintain the small brand feel and all of the outward facing is the same?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. We definitely are part of Hershey, but we’re also still very much Amplify Snack Brands, so we do our own thing, we’re tied to them, we report to them and we use them when we need to, but it’s not something where everything we do is the same thing as Hershey. It’s nice to keep that.

Ellen Wilson:
We can do little parties with ourselves and we can do decision-making on our own, we don’t have to always call Hershey and be like, “Hey, can I do this?”

So, I think it’s been the best of both worlds where we get what we need from a big company, but it’s not… We’re not just like this big corporation now.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Wow. That sounds like a great acquisitions.

Ellen Wilson:
And Hershey, it’s a really good company. They do a ton of philanthropy, they’re really great people who award, really caring about the people, like when we were acquired Michelle Buck, our CEO came and had lunch with a group of us.

It’s one of those where it’s a large corporation, but it doesn’t feel like I’m just this little minion and a huge corporation. They’re good at people which is surprising sometimes.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Very cool. Well, so what are some maybe tools or some tips from you that smaller CPG brands who don’t have this full operations team, how can they get better at planning and supply chain?

Ellen Wilson:
I think I talked about it earlier, but Excel, Excel, Excel.

Karin Samelson:
Know Excel, okay.

Ellen Wilson:
Know Excel. There’s tons of resources to like take classes, learn more, dive deeper into it until… We’re still doing all of our planning out of Excel, that’s four brands, 15 commands just doing all of that in Excel and like fairly accurate.

There can be things that are helpful with the system, but for the most part it’s worked just fine and until last summer we were doing all of our forecasting out of Excel.

Ellen Wilson:
So, where a company that doesn’t want to invest in some kind of system early on you can do everything in Excel. So, just diving into that. As far as like other resources, I don’t know as much because I was lucky to come into an already established system.

So, we just had resources, fellow employees and coworkers and stuff so I don’t know of other resources but Excel.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, know Excel.

Karin Samelson:
And know your numbers and put them in Excel.

Ellen Wilson:
Exactly.

Alison Smith:
So, what’s common, since you see what’s happening with SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty and Oatmega and Paqui, what are some common issues that you see all of these brands running into and how can you avoid that in the operations?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So, one of them that even we have struggled with is being prepared for growth. Any small CPG, that’s your goal. You want to grow, you want to get bigger, you want to maybe be acquired someday or go public.

So, being able to hit go when you need to and have that plan already prepared, I think is something that we aren’t necessarily always ready for and it’s probably something that happens to a lot of companies faster than they think.

Ellen Wilson:
So, I would say having that plan when you don’t need it is so critical, it takes a really long time to set up manufacturers. It takes a really long time to set up a new warehouse.

Things take a lot of time so if you are starting that process, when you’re starting to see that bubble burst, you’re going to be screwed for a long time. So, just being prepared for that and being able to jump into it, I think is something that a lot of brands don’t do soon enough.

Ellen Wilson:
Another one is being strategic about who you are selling into. It’s so tempting to say like, “Oh, Walmart, Target, Club that’s where I want to be.” And, you do want to be there when you’re ready. Club is huge.

If you get into Costco and BJ’s or Sam’s your inventory and your demand is going to skyrocket and again, if you’re not prepared for that, you could ruin your relationship with those brands and not have another chance for a while.

Ellen Wilson:
Or Walmart and Target if you are a very high end unique niche product being in Target and Walmart might not be a good idea for you, at least in the beginning, because they’re going to get in there and no one’s going to buy your product and then it’s going to be like, fail.

Maybe you need to start with the natural channel and really focus on that versus just the allure of being in a big-box store. I think those two are probably the biggest that I’ve personally experienced.

Alison Smith:
That’s such a good note about the big-box store. We’ve heard the same from our friend Mark Nathan having the same sentiment.

Ellen Wilson:
We had a Kettle Chips brand that we scored a big deal with Walmart and that was like, it was going to be Walmart exclusive for a little bit and it just did not sell. And for me that makes sense.

You go to Walmart, you’re not going to try the new hot thing, you’re going for your staples and you’re going for good prices. So seeing a luxury potato chip brand for sometimes triple the price of another bag, I wouldn’t buy it, that’s not what I’m there for and we don’t have that brand anymore.

Ellen Wilson:
So, it really is a testament to you have to put it in, in the right places especially when you’re starting off.

And, once you have customers and you have people that know who you are, that’s when you can go in and you’re prepared for that but starting out at those big-box stores just can be a tough load sometimes.

And, they’re high maintenance. You have to be ready to pivot to what they want from you versus you being like, “This is what I want to sell.”

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. That’s so interesting because it’s just the allure of it is just like, “Yes, I want to be in Walmart.” [crosstalk 00:24:49] Everyone’s there, but it’s really interesting.

Ellen Wilson:
Whole new ball game once you’re there.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Earlier you talked about having waste from product, is there anything that you’re seeing that brands are able to do with that waste or any other new trends in your industry?

Ellen Wilson:
So, what we do is, every month we go through a distressed sales process so we take all of our inventory, we take the lock codes and the expiration dates, anything that we know is past that shippable window to customers, we sell it to the distress channel.

So, we have a few customers that just purely buy distressed product from us. So they’re fine with taking it a little short dated because it’s still good.

And things like, the stuff that you see at TJ Maxx, Grocery Outlet is our main on, I think they have actual stores and I don’t think they have them in Texas, but there’s like actual stories that just sell our distressed product, which [crosstalk 00:25:49] it’s not bad. It’s just not to be long shelf life that a Target, Kroger Tom Thumb would require in order to put on their shelves.

Ellen Wilson:
So, that’s what we do with a lot of it and then once it goes past, even the shelf life that a distressed customer will take it out, we will try to donate it to different companies that will take it, like Feed the Children is one that we send a lot of products to and then we’ve even donated to like pig farmers, they’ll take popcorn and some of our brands and just put it in their pig food.

Alison Smith:
That’s exactly what we did at vital farms.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So, for the most part, we get through a lot of it. We do end up just destroying some of it. Stuff like our spicy chips, those aren’t going to go to children and those aren’t going to go to pigs.

So, sometimes we just don’t have a home for them, but we try like multiple steps to just get it to someone that will use it before we can trash it.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. I always wondered like shopping at Marshall’s and TJ Max, like all the foods, they’re always like really delicious, I’m like, why are you here?

Ellen Wilson:
I know, that was such an eye opener for me because I thought the same thing. I was like, “Well, I’m not going to buy it, it’s bad.” But then I realized it’s not bad. It’s just like slightly shorter than-

Alison Smith:
[crosstalk 00:27:15]. Its’ distressed.

Ellen Wilson:
Perfectly good stuff.

Karin Samelson:
Any other trends happening with Amplify Snack Brands or just in operations?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. Just with like SkinnyPop, well I guess SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty probably for the most part in the last couple of years, multi-packs have blown up. So the smaller 100 carrier, just smaller bags within a pouch or a box, those have blown up in the last few years.

And it makes sense, you have kids, you’re going to work, you just grab a bag instead of having to use your own plastic bag. But that is actually a lot harder functionally to make in a manufacturing plant versus just a big bag.

Because with a big bag, you’re sealing less often, you’re using less films, you’re just making one bag versus a ton, it’s less people because you’re not having to put a bag inside a bag and then seal that bag.

Ellen Wilson:
So, that has been something that we have had to adjust so dramatically because we have to figure out, how do we get our manufacturers to be able to make more?

How do we get it out faster? How do we get it out in 15 different packouts, 15 different flavors? Whereas before a lot of our manufacturing plants were set up for big bags, mainly big bags with a little small bags.

So, that’s been a trend that we are still to be honest, struggling to keep up with it because it’s new flavor, new variety, new packout, we have a 16 count, now we want a 30 count, so it’s just like constantly, that’s what everybody wants.

Ellen Wilson:
But what’s actually funny with COVID, the last year when everything started to shut down and everyone was rushing to the grocery stores and even news outlets were saying, “These are the items to buy.”

SkinnyPop was luckily one of them, but it was this giant flip back to big bags. So we were like, “We got it. All the small bags multi-packs got it, got it, got it.” And all of a sudden it was like, “Nope, nobody wants that anymore.

No one’s going to school, no buying of that. I want big bags again.”

Ellen Wilson:
So, there’s one item that we sell on Club stores that I make every single week no matter what. Always being produced at multiple facilities and I had to actually shut that down for like a month because just no one was buying them.

So, it’s just funny how life really does affect the market and you have to pay such close attention to buying habits and time of year, like summers are so hard for us because everyone’s purchasing back to school stuff and there’s back to school sales and all this stuff. Just watching the trends over the year, what’s happening and life really affects what’s happening in manufacturing.

Alison Smith:
Do you even know where your forecasters track those consumer trends other than just your sales?

Ellen Wilson:
So we have a whole department, it’s like five people, it’s not 50, but we have a department that…

Can’t think of what their titles are, they’re part of the sales team but they track consumer trends and they are giving that influence to our actual sales team just on what’s happening in competitors in the world.

Just the trends that are happening. So, there’s that piece and then we do have a pretty robust forecasting system now, so it reads seasonality, it reads our years of passive data and then that plus having weekly, sometimes biweekly conversations with our sales team, that’s where that information comes together for our forecast.

Karin Samelson:
Was anyone on your team able to foresee that? People are hunkered down or that was a total-

Ellen Wilson:
It caught us all by surprise. We were having literally daily meetings in the beginning at 5:00 PM to discuss what was happening and what we were going to do tomorrow.

And, especially with COVID, some of our plants just shut down because people got COVID and once someone in the plant is, they all had to be out because they’re working close to each other.

So, it took us all by surprise. And I think last March was the most sales we had ever had in the history of Amplify Snack Brands because everyone was just running to the grocery store to get stuff. So it was a wild couple of weeks there.

Alison Smith:
What a trip.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
What a trip.

Alison Smith:
Okay. Ellen, well nuggets. So pretty much, if you want to really, really dig into supply chain operations, you got to be organized, you got to be good at communicating with a whole lot of people, you got to be flexible, right? It’s just like-

Ellen Wilson:
Absolutely.

Alison Smith:
Nothing is set in stone.

Ellen Wilson:
Nothing. And it’s funny because we’ll have calls about promos coming up, like with Costco, they have what they call MDMs. You get in the mailers once a month and when you are part of one of those mailers you have a coupon, your volume skyrocket.

So, it’s a huge deal to be a part of that but it’s also like you’re watching that like your little baby, just making sure the MDM goes well.

Ellen Wilson:
And so we’ll have meetings every week on how it’s going and I’ll just be like, “At this very moment in time it’s okay.” And people laugh at us at work because that’s a lot of what operations says is like, you’re asking me at 11:52 on a Tuesday. Yes, it’s okay. If you ask me in an hour, it might not be okay.

Alison Smith:
Oh my gosh.

Ellen Wilson:
It’s just one of those things that it changes minute to minute because if something happened and there’s like a fire at a plant and that goes down, you can be screwed for weeks on your inventory because it’s just gone so wild.

Alison Smith:
Wow. Sounds like a great time but for real, you’re making it happen. You are literally getting this product on the shelf for us purchase.

Ellen Wilson:
It was fun when my family or friends send me a photo of a bag or something I’m like, I made that for you.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I made it.

Ellen Wilson:
It is very gratifying and especially we track our case file every single week. So if I get like a good case file the week prior, that is again very nerdy, very gratifying for me because I did that and I got it there and I succeeded at that puzzle I was trying to figure out.

Alison Smith:
Puzzle. I love it. Awesome, Ellen. Well, thanks for coming on and talking with us. Would you like to leave the audience with like a link or call to action or a final statement? Go but SkinnyPop.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah, go buy a SkinnyPop, go buy a Pirate’s Booty, go buy Paqui. Paqui is like very underrated I would say.

Karin Samelson:
I love Paqui.

Ellen Wilson:
It’s better for you. Dorito has all real clean ingredients. I think those people sleep on a lot, but they’re delicious.

Karin Samelson:
Go buy them, take a photo, send it to us, we’ll send it to Ellen, she’ll feel great about that week of operation.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. Exactly.

Alison Smith:
We did it. Awesome. Thanks Ellen.

Ellen Wilson:
Thanks.

Karin Samelson:
Thank you, Ellen.

Narrator:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas.

We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders or whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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Marketing Email Best Practices 2021

Marketing Email Best Practices in 2021

So you wanna send some emails, huh? Well, you’re gonna need these marketing email best practices in hand! Don’t go blasting your audience the first chance you get without a plan of action.

Apply these marketing email best practices to execute a more intentional strategy and win over your audience AKA your potential purchasers.

CAN-SPAM Act

Contrary to the name, you can NOT spam your email subscribers – and, that’s what this law intends to prevent!

It’s an acronym: The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003.

This law sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.

Each of these separate email violations is subject to penalties of up to $43,280.

  • Don’t use false or misleading header information
  • Don’t use deceptive subject lines
  • Tell recipients where you’re located
  • Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails from you
  • Honor opt-out requests promptly
  • Monitor what others are doing on your behalf

Do you have +40K stowed away in a shoebox somewhere? No?? Us either.

So, proceed with caution. However, email hosts like MailChimp will send you a warning if a recent campaign resulted in a spike in unsubscribes or bounces.

marketing email best practices abuse rate example

Generally speaking, this can be prevented by cleaning your email list regularly – removing and not sending to email addresses that have hard-bounced, soft-bounced multiple times, or have unsubscribed.

And, experimenting with audience segmentation – so, you’re sending the right emails to the right people at the right time. Right!

Subject & Preview Lines

It’s your first (and sometimes only) chance to make an impression – say something bold, fun, and always direct.

And, mention a deal if there is one!

marketing email best practices subject line

3 Irresistible Subject Lines:

  • Promote a deal
    Example: Take 50% Off

  • Use customer call-out
    Example: Hey ##name##, check this out now

  • Insight intrigue
    Example: Have you ever wanted to start your own business, ##name##?

Frequency

Every brand is different, but we generally recommend sending ~4 e-blasts per month!

You have to consider how many other automated emails your audience will be receiving (the last thing you want to do is blow up a new subscriber or recent purchaser’s inbox).

And, you’ll want to remain agile about that frequently. Make adjustments as needed depending on your open and unsubscribe rates.

Timing

This is totally dependent on your brand and audience.

You have to test different send times to get a real understanding of your audience’s behaviors.

With that being said, we have a few favorite times: Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday before work.

This is when you’ll be able to catch those early birds who scroll through their email when they wake up, during their morning commute, or first thing at work.

Most email clients now offer a “send at the best time” option – that’s a great place to start!

Design V. Copy Template

Designed emails (a single or series of PNG, JPG, or GIF images) quickly captivate audiences.

Copy-heavy emails (consisting of plain text copy and/or sparingly used PNG, JPG, or GIF images) often have a longer story to tell.

You can always combine these types of email or commit to one style over the other.

marketing email best practices design or copy

Google Postmaster

If you really want to understand what Gmail thinks of your emails – which you should – you can use the free tool: Google Postmaster.

Google will tell you exactly what Gmail thinks of your domain reputation – that’s a Good, Medium, Low, or Bad rating.

Then, you can make more informed email decisions based on your score.

Essential Email Automations

These are our MUST-HAVE automations! We recommend that you get at least 2-3 of these running ASAP.

1. Welcome Series

Introduce your brand to your newest leads and email sign-ups! This is your first impression, so you want to make it right.

Answer the following questions –

  • Who are you as a brand?
  • Why did you create your product (or service)?
  • What are the benefits associated with your product (or service)?
  • What problems does your product (or service) solve for?

2. Customer Win-Back

Depending on your product’s shelf-life or the time it takes a customer to consume your product, you can (and should!) set up a reminder automation to ping the customers when it’s time to order again.

It’s much easier to get someone to purchase a 2nd time, so these win-back automations can be great money makers!

3. Abandoned Cart

It’s best to assume that something blocked a user from buying, not that they intentionally exited your site – who knows, they could’ve been late to pick up their kiddos from school!

Remind them that their cart is waiting for them by creating automated email reminders. In most cases, this will reduce your customer drop-off rate and increase purchase conversions on your site.

4. Post-Purchase

Finally, nurture your relationship with those who’ve purchased your product or service! Create a series chalk-full of resources, a testimonial or two, as well as a call to follow your brand on social.

Anddd, send message!

The folks on your email list are hot leads. Take advantage of their interest in your brand and deliver content that serves them, and sells product, direct to their inbox. Apply these top marketing email best practices to do exactly that!

Those are just a few of our marketing email best practices that we’re sharing with y’all for now! Head to our CPG CORE 3 Facebook Group for additional email inspiration.

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

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

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

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

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

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

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

Let us break it down for you…

[0:45] Introduction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[31:40] Chrome extension: Clearbit Connect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[56:15] Closing thoughts and free resources.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
I love that. Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alli Ball:
Yeah, totally. Totally, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, totally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
I feel good, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
Tell that to Alli Ball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Yes.

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

Alison Smith:
I love that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Oh, yeah.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
My gosh, tell me more.

Alli Ball:
Yeah, stress-free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
I know. I’m-

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

Alison Smith:
This is my weekend, like-

Alli Ball:
I know. I’m like-

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
That’s a life, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Thank you.

Alison Smith:
Thank you so much, Alli.

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

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#15: Should You Clap Back?? How Brands Should Respond to Negative Comments on Social

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#15: Should You Clap Back?? Responding to Negative Comments on Social

Responding to negative comments. Really, do the haters even deserve a response?? 💬 Consumers just aren’t emailing customer support like they used to. 😅

Instead, it’s commonplace for customers to comment on your most recent social posts or ads. Meaning, convos once handled in private have now become a public affair.

So, short answer: it depends. Slightly longer answer: listen to this latest episode of UMAI Social Circle. We’ve got all the tips, tricks, and examples you need for when the trolls attack. 👺

Let us break it down for you…

[0:45] Introduction. Responding to negative comments on social media

[1:22] Responding in general – impact and importance.

[2:50] More than a simple response – you’re building relationships.

[3:55] How much does responding to negative comments take?

[4:50] Who should be responding to negative comments?

[5:30] Let’s talk about responding to negative comments – rather than positive comments – specifically. The nuanced differences.

[8:30] What’s our procedure for responding to negative comments? You have to ask yourself one major question…

[11:30] Your responses matter – to more than just the person you’re responding to.

[11:55] Here’s a real world example of the value of responding to negative comments.

[14:00] Do you track or record comments anywhere?

[15:30] We play a game! To respond or not to respond… Several examples to apply to your own consumer goods brand.

[25:00] Finally, key takeaways.

Mentions from this episode: 

Want to build a strong community on social? Listen to this episode next

Learn more about daily Instagram engagement 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

Read – #15: Should You Clap Back?? Responding to Negative Comments on Social

 

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.

Alison Smith:
Hey, everyone. Welcome to UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers grow.

I’m Alison and that’s Karin, and we are co-founders of UMAI Marketing.

And in this minisode, we’re covering some tips on responding to negative comments you receive on social media. But before we hop in, if you like what you hear, please feel free to leave us a rating, a follow, or subscribe to our podcast wherever you are listening in from. Thanks so much and here we go.

Alison Smith:
So first of all, let’s talk about responding in general. I feel like it’s an easy thing to forget to respond to each and every comment on your social media. So Karin, how big of an impact or how important is it really?

Karin Samelson:
It’s extremely important. So, customer service is going to be one of the number one reasons that somebody that is following you decides to unfollow you on social. Or worse, stop buying your product or stop supporting you.

So, customer service is key for social.

More and more and more over the years we’re seeing people just completely forego going to your customer service at, or your hello at or your questions at email and just going straight to social. Dropping into your DMS, commenting on your posts, to try and get an answer to any of their customer service related questions.

Karin Samelson:
And, so especially if you have social handles on all sorts of platforms like Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, make sure that you’re at least checking those every once in a while, because even if you’re not active on a platform, one of your customers can be.

And, if they ask you a question on that platform and you don’t get back to them for a month, either they’ll think you could be out of business or you’re avoiding it, and you never want that to be the case. So really, really focus on good customer service for all of the platforms that your pages are on and not just responding with really vague robotic answers are straight from your FAQ.

Put some life and energy and personality behind it because you’re also cultivating those relationships. And, relationships are what is going to help drive sales in the future as well.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So, interesting to think of social channels as customer service channels. And, we really are seeing that trend, that people are less and less reaching out via email and more and more are just… They’re already on the platform so why not ask there? And, it’s a lot more personable, I would say.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. It’s a little ridiculous because it turns your social media manager and your content manager, community manager, into your customer service folks too. But, all in all whoever’s posting on your page, whoever’s managing the page, should be well-versed in your frequently asked questions and how to respond.

Alison Smith:
So, how much time would someone need to take on checking that and responding?

Karin Samelson:
It depends on your brand and how active your community is and how many customers you have and how many followers you have and all that good stuff.

So, if you’re a small to medium sized brand, which are the brands that we personally work with, I would say you can get that done in 15 minutes a day across all platforms, just making sure that everybody is responded to.

And again, I would recommend to do that every day at least 15 minutes. If you want to do it as the first thing that you do when you wake up right in the morning, that’s totally fine. But, try and figure out a consistent time each day where you can go in and manage all of those comments.

Alison Smith:
Hm. 15 minutes a day. I think that’s totally doable thinking about the time we already spent on social media.

Karin Samelson:
Exactly.

Alison Smith:
So, cool. Okay. And, should the founder be doing that to be more personable? Who can do that on a team?

Karin Samelson:
It depends how big your team is too. All of this is going to depend. So, I know plenty of founders that are running all of their social platforms.

So yeah, if that is you and you’re running your platforms and you’re the person that answers questions, then that’s going to be the founder doing it. If you have the budget to have a social media coordinator, they’re doing it.

If you have a tiny budget but not big enough for a social media coordinator, then hire a virtual assistant and just make sure that somebody is doing it.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So, let’s hop into the theme of today, negative feedback.

So, it’s not fun to log into your social profiles and see those comments that are a little harsh. But again, the internet is a wild world. There’s going to be those people out there. So why is it so important, responding to negative comments?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. You never want people to see that. You never want your other customers to see that and wonder why you haven’t responded. It’s like, “Are they hiding something? Should I be concerned?”

And, negative feedback has no place on certain avenues. So on your advertisement, you are spending money to get your brand out there.

Negative comments that aren’t treated are just not going to be helpful, conducive to you driving sales with those ads. People are reading the comments more and more. How many times do you purchase something from Amazon and not read the reviews? Never. And, the comment section is pretty much a review section.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And, that’s a great point because with ads you want that social proof. You want all those comments, likes, shares, what have you, on the ads because it builds trust. So truly with ads you’re paying for that.

I think that brings out a lot of trolls and people who just like to make those negative comments. So my MO there, and I want to see if you agree, is just deleting those. Because like you said, you’re spending money on those ads, on those campaigns.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And, especially if it’s not somebody… If it’s a prospecting ad and it’s not a customer, it’s not somebody who even knows your brand… And, that’s usually who they are on those ads. Delete and ban. They don’t need to be getting served those ads. And, you do not want to waste your dollars serving them those ads.

Alison Smith:
It could drive down your conversion rate significantly.

I would say the only time that you would need to interact with that person is with a retargeting ad or if they happen to see a prospecting ad and it’s an existing customer. And, I’ve seen this before, where they’re simply like, “I emailed customer service and no one responded,” and then they get served an ad.

And, then obviously that can be very frustrating. So, then they comment there. So, that’s the only case I could think of.

Karin Samelson:
That’s so true. We’ll get some of those. And, obviously some things slip through the cracks in your email.

So, I never really thought about that until you just said it, how frustrating that could be, if you have been trying to contact a brand and you get served one of their ads because you visited their website or whatever. That would be so frustrating.

So, it’s to be expected that these things would show up in your comment section.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. What is your procedure to respond? How do you look at these comments and decide how to react?

Karin Samelson:
So every single time that a negative comment, a piece of feedback, shows up on one of our pages, you have to ask yourself one major question.

That question is, “Is this going to serve another person in any way if I respond? Is this going to serve any person in any way if I respond?”

Alison Smith:
So, you’re not thinking about that person.

Karin Samelson:
No.

Alison Smith:
You’re thinking about everyone else. Okay? Cool.

Karin Samelson:
Yes. If somebody comes with negative feedback, yes, of course I want to treat them and I want to provide good customer service.

And, I want to answer their question or solve their problem. But, when it comes to responding, the first thing I ask myself, “Is it going to serve another person in any way?” I can’t say that enough.

Karin Samelson:
So if the answer is no, you’re going to do one of two things. You’re going to take it offline as soon as possible.

You’re going to tell them to DM you, email you at customer service. Or two, the other option is to delete the person, delete the comment, ban them from your page, get them off of your page. Because out of those two options, the first one is going to be, okay.

They’re probably one of your customers, they’re upset about something, and they need a response. But it doesn’t belong on your social platform because your social platform is not where all of your customer service should live.

So one, you can take that offline. But the other one, the deleting, if it’s not going to serve another person, delete it. They’re just a troll. And it’s up to you to decide if you think the person is a troll or not. And, there’s nothing you can do to change that person’s mind, you just delete it and you ban them.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I love that. You’re just straight to the point. Just ban them. But, I would say… Okay, so trolls would be someone who’s like, “This product’s stupid.” It’s just like, “Cool. Okay.”

Karin Samelson:
A classic one that always happens… It even happens on organic stuff. Is, “Why am I getting this? Why am I being served this?” It’s like, “I don’t know, man. I don’t know. It happens. So, you don’t need to be here. I’m going to get rid of you.”

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And, you’re doing them a favor too. It’s like, “You obviously don’t enjoy this. So we’ll cut ties.” Okay. So, that’s the no. That’s when it doesn’t serve anyone else. What’s the yes?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. So, if you ask the question, “Is this going to serve another person in any other way?” If you respond, if the answer is yes, it will serve someone, you will answer to the best of your ability.

Just remember that your response will serve as a reference point to a lot of people, to whoever sees that comment, not just the person you’re responding to. So, if you are able to educate and cultivate community with your response, absolutely do it. And, just be really mindful of what you’re saying.

Alison Smith:
Can you give a real world example of this?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Yeah. A person comes up and they’re like, “How on earth is this supposed to be good for my baby? How on earth can feeding X, Y, and Z be good for my baby?”

In essence, it’s a negative comment. It’s not positive. They’re questioning your product, they’re questioning the efficacy and the nutrition. It is important to respond here because while they might be a little troll-y, they might not be a customer, people…

They want to see how you respond. Especially if that comment was made hours before you even got to see it. We can’t all be on social media 24 hours a day.

Karin Samelson:
So especially if it’s been living there for a little while, you need to be like, “Okay.” I calm down. Maybe take a few moments to collect yourself.

But, remind yourself why they’re wrong. Write it down. Give bulleted points on your nutrition and how it actually is better for babies or whoever and offer that comment.

It doesn’t matter if they still respond negatively, because if somebody else that’s of more sound mind comes and they’re like, “This is fact based. These aren’t opinions.” It gives the opportunity for that person to be like, “Oh yeah, that person’s wrong. And they’re responding respectfully.”

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that speaks a lot, when you are able to respond and keep your cool. And, I guess what you’re saying here is you’re not responding to change that specific person’s mind. They probably already made up their mind. You’re doing it for goodwill upon your fans or people on the fence, something like that.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, absolutely. And, of course if you can change that person’s mind… Which happens all the time, more far and few between than not. But, it’s a win-win in that situation.

Alison Smith:
Cool. So, do you keep track of all of these comments and responses? Is there a document that teams need to have? How does that work?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. So, all CPG owners and brands should have your standard FAQ’s where… You’re frequently asked questions, you answer them.

Obviously, I don’t want you to copy and pasting these answers to respond to people on social because that’s super robotic. Just put a little bit more life and personality behind it. But, have your FAQ’s, have your standard answers. But, then also have those hard ones, especially if somebody is helping you like a VA or your social media coordinator.

Work with them to figure out the best responses for those harder questions, especially those negative ones.

Alison Smith:
So, are you saying it’d be a good idea to post in your Slack channel and get some feedback on how to respond?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, definitely. If you have a team and you’re like, “I don’t know what to do with this person.” But honestly, if you’re a founder managing your own social and you know your product like the back of your hand and you know your customers and you know that this person can be responded to in a certain way, do it. And, then write it down later.

Write it in your FAQ somewhere so that you can just reference it and not have to come up with a witty repartee on the side.

Alison Smith:
And, just quickly cut the 15 minutes to five maybe. Okay, cool. I want to play a little game.

So we’re going to play to respond or not to respond, that is the question. So, I’m going to volley up some scenarios for Karin and she’s just going to tell us how she would respond.

Karin Samelson:
I like the sound of this game. Let’s do it.

Alison Smith:
Scenario number one, you’re a biltong… Biltong.

You’re a biltong brand, which is a jerky from South Africa if anyone doesn’t know. And, you offer pasture-raised products.

You have an ad running that promotes your brand’s sourcing, your excellent sourcing, and it speaks to the increased nutritional value of your product. And, then here comes Dick Richards. Dick Richards comes along and he comments, “Higher nutrition? Yeah, right. In your dreams.” What do you do? Do you respond or you don’t respond?

Karin Samelson:
A classic Dick Richards comment. So just to say it again, this is a brand that has great sourcing and we like working with [inaudible 00:16:39] brands of course.

So, all of you are doing the best you can with all of your sourcing and all of your ingredients and all that good stuff. Good sourcing and higher nutrient content. And this guy’s coming along saying, “Higher nutrition? Yeah, right. In your dreams.” Okay.

Karin Samelson:
To respond or not to respond, I say absolutely respond. Because whether or not Dick wants to hear you lay down education on how your product is actually better is completely beside the point like we were talking about before.

You’re giving everyone else the opportunity to receive more education through your comment on why your brand is better, why it’s higher nutrition, why the sourcing of premium ingredients leads to higher nutrition, through your well-thought-out and fact-based response.

Karin Samelson:
So, that’s really important too. It’s got to be fact-based. You can’t just be putting out your food babe opinions out there. It has to be truly fact-based. And better yet, source. If you can find some… Not if you.

You should have already done this, especially if your brand’s established and you’re in production and you have sourcing on that information, whether it’s nutrition or whatever it is, source it. Send them that link and shut them up.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Lay down the facts. I love it. And that reminds me, I feel like I have seen for brands that you’ve worked on, that you’ve built out your comments and you do it consistently… Basically, created super fans. I’ve seen the super fans jump on people like Dick Richards before and do your work for you and maybe be a little less friendly.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Less customer service-y. Such a good point.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Which is always fun.

Karin Samelson:
We will do that sometimes. If it’s a negative comment that comes in… And you have to have an avid, engaged following. If nobody ever comments on your posts then nobody’s probably going to jump to your defense.

But if you have advocates of your brand that are really active in your comments section, let it sit for a second. Let it sit for a while and see what happens. Because, usually people will jump on it in your defense. And ,it’s pretty effective.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Fun to watch.

Karin Samelson:
Fun to watch.

Alison Smith:
Okay. Your next scenario. You’re a whiskey brand and you share a lot of male-centric imagery in your ads. So of course, Shirley Rogers is going to come along and she’s going to comment, “That guy is so ugly.” So, what do you do?

Karin Samelson:
Oh, Shirley!

Alison Smith:
Respond or not respond?

Karin Samelson:
So rude, Shirley. Not respond. How can you respond to that? There’s nothing-

Alison Smith:
It’s mean.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. It’s so mean. And that happens all the time, especially if you have humans in it.

And, that’s not okay. Bullying… And, I feel like it’s a lot of older people bullying on Facebook and then both younger and older people bullying on Instagram. I’m like, “Just get out of here.” So, I say don’t respond and delete it completely. There’s no reason that should sit there. And, what do you-

Alison Smith:
There’s no value.

Karin Samelson:
No value. Yeah. Is someone else going to get anything out of your comment? No. So don’t respond.

Alison Smith:
And, is Shirley troll worthy? Is she bannable?

Karin Samelson:
Oh, Shirley’s a troll. Ban her.

Alison Smith:
Ban, bye!

Karin Samelson:
Check to see if she’s following you, but chances are she’s not if it’s an ad.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Okay. And she’s not… Like the ad said, the scenario said it’s male-centric whiskey brand. Shirley’s maybe not in your core demographic. So, that’s something else that you can look at too to help you understand.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely.

Alison Smith:
Okay. So, your final scenario of respond or not to respond is you’re a prebiotic beverage and you share something on your feed about how the product is good for your gut and helps you poop regularly. So, Tracy what’s-her-name comes on and she comments on your post. And she says, “I had diarrhea for 24 hours straight from this product. I do not recommend.” What do you do?

Karin Samelson:
Oh, Tracy. This is very, very real life.

Alison Smith:
That’s vulnerability right there.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. She doesn’t care who sees this. I respect Tracy. And, honestly usually that deserves to be in customer service.

But, a lot of times the reason why people come to your social platforms to complain is because they want immediate satisfaction from you. And they know by making it public, they’re going to get a response from you very quickly.

Oftentimes, I’d say 99% of the time faster than they would if they did reach out to customer service. So, that’s obviously another reason why it’s coming in hot on social.

Alison Smith:
That’s a good point.

Karin Samelson:
Mine is that doesn’t need to be there because it’s just not the greatest comment to live on your content.

So, what I would do is respond but in private. So, if it was an ad I would recommend deleting the comment and reaching out to them via DM, of course requesting she email customer service to continue the conversation.

Karin Samelson:
Since this scenario was in the feed, organic, we’re not putting any money behind it, I would probably leave it there and just say, “DM us for more information…” Or, “DM us, we need to take care of you. We’re interested in continuing this conversation.” And leave a quick response as to why it could have happened.

Like in this scenario, “You need to give your body some time to adjust because of X, Y, and Z. These are really powerful especially if you’re not regular.” Things like that. I don’t know, just your normal response so that future purchasers can potentially see that response and act accordingly. But, keep that comment super, super short. Respond super short and get them to your customer service.

Get them in private so that they have a reason to go through with the back and forth with you but not talking online like that. Take it offline.

Alison Smith:
Gosh, it seems like a cry for help, honestly. Poor Tracy. But, that is a big thing when you’re in the supplement world or the health world. You got to be really careful with claims and things like that. So, maybe expand on that.

Do you say, “Talk to your doctor?” Do you add those types of… I don’t know what that… Acclaims or what have you?

Karin Samelson:
That is so smart. Yeah. So, functional foods, just like you were talking about supplements, you don’t always have to say it. It depends what topic you’re talking about. It depends what you’re referring to in that moment.

So, in this situation I wouldn’t say, “Go to your doctor,” because we all know… Prebiotics, probiotics, if you have a bunch, that could happen to you. So, I wouldn’t want to scare people in being like, “Everybody who drinks this needs to talk to a doctor.”

Karin Samelson:
But when you’re going to refer things, for instance you have these brands that you really, really like and you’re saying, “It’s flu and cold season coming up. And, these are the supplements I like to take.” That’s probably when she should leave that disclaimer that says, “Discuss with your doctor before trying it.”

Karin Samelson:
But when it comes to your product, as long as you’re abiding by all FDA regulations and all that stuff, then I don’t see a reason to say discuss with your doctor. In private, in your private conversation with them and they’re like, “This isn’t right. I don’t know what happened.

I want to keep trying it, but this is not blah, blah, blah.” In that moment, it’s like, “Okay, well then, you can talk to your doctor about it if you’re worried,” but I would keep that private.

Alison Smith:
Okay, cool. Well, I had fun. That was a fun little game. Let’s wrap it up though. Just to give everyone some top takeaways for responding to negative comments.

Karin Samelson:
Cool. Yeah. So, responding to negative comments on social.

Key takeaway number one, ask yourself, “Is this going to serve another person in any way?”

And, then step two you’re going to respond either in app or offline or you’re not going to respond. You’re going to delete it. And if it’s a troll you ban them, you never see them again. So, those are our key takeaways. Ask yourself, “Is it going to serve anybody if I respond?” If not, get rid of them.

Alison Smith:
I love it. It’s very clear. Because, a lot of times it’s not so clear when you get those comments.

But, I love that question, asking yourselves that. But, if you guys have any additional comments or questions for Karin about community engagement or responding to negative comments in general, please feel free to shoot us a DM on our Instagram. It’s @UMAImarketing.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And better yet, screenshot your next one that you really don’t know how to deal with and send it to us because these… They bring us some kind of sick joy.

Alison Smith:
Oh, man. We should start a blog about-

Karin Samelson:
A Tumblr?

Alison Smith:
Yeah, a Tumblr.

Karin Samelson:
All right. Well, thanks to you guys for joining us. And hopefully you got a little bit out of this minisode and we’ll see you next time.

Narrator:
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 @UMAImarketing or check out our website, UMAImarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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#14: Poppi Mukbang, This Insta-Worthy Rebrand & Influencer Network Is Poppin’ Off

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#14: Poppi Mukbang, This Insta-Worthy Rebrand & Influencer Network Is Poppin’ Off

Ever heard of Mother Beverage? Okay, how about Poppi?? 😛 We’re willing to bet that 2nd one rings a bell, especially if you’ve spent some time on the ‘gram.

After they snagged a partnership with entrepreneur Rohan Oza in the Shark Tank, they got a seriously awesome rebrand and quickly became the bubbly prebiotic product that we love today.

Learn how their new look has fueled an equally epic influencer network as well as tips to launch your own program while on a small-biz budget.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:50] Introducing Poppi! Initial thoughts. We tried the following Poppi flavors: Peach Tea, Ginger Lime, and Raspberry Rose.

[2:50] Ingredients list. The common theme = apple cider vinegar. “It tastes like it’s not good for you.” A treat!

[5:00] This brand went through a big rebrand, honing in on prebiotics + gut health. They used to be known as Mother Beverage before their Shark Tank debut and win! Turning away from the apple cider vinegar (ACV) language to appeal to a wider market.

[7:40] The look of this can is Instagram-worthy, for sure!

[8:00] Comparing language presented on cans as it varies.

[10:20] Poppi’s origin story. Our history working with this brand + who they were before Shark Tank. 

[15:00] National retailer launch during COVID. Check out the Forbes article below! Naturally, they’ve had to pivot to direct-to-consumer sales.

[18:20] Poppi’s social growth. A note on Founder Alison showing up on the ‘gram!

[22:00] Saw issues with the original name – Mother. As well as the ACV angle. So, this pivot to a different name and prebiotic focus is just huge – it can’t be emphasized enough!

[23:00] They come in SO many flavors. Karin lists them out.

[24:30] Diving into their macro-influencer program. A fleet of seemingly ‘true’ advocates. Includes an affiliate program – we love this.

[26:00] A note on micro-influencers – great for those on a budget! Macro-influencers can be a gamble.

[28:00] This one time that we worked with a macro-influencer…

[29:50] How to start your own micro-influencer program! The importance of warming leads.

[33:20] A huge benefit of these influencer programs is growing your brand’s bank of user-generated content (UGC) for organic and paid use. But, you must always ask permission to share this content. This is especially important for ads.

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

Read – #14: Poppi Mukbang, This Insta-Worthy Rebrand & Influencer Network Is Poppin’ Off

 

Narrator:
Calling all consumer goods, business overs, 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.

Narrator:
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.

Karin Samelson:
Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison, co-founders of UMAI Marketing, and we’re diving into the functional prebiotic soda brand Poppi, and their explosive growth after their Shark Tank debut.

Karin Samelson:
Before we hop in, if you like what you hear please feel free to leave us a rating, a follow, or subscribe to our pod wherever you’re listening from. Thanks so much, so let’s get into this.

Karin Samelson:
All right. Poppi.

Alison Smith:
Poppi.

Karin Samelson:
A bubbly prebiotic soda.

Alison Smith:
They’re so cute.

Karin Samelson:
So cute, so cheerful, so colorful.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, so I have the peach tea flavor, and the raspberry rose.

Karin Samelson:
Okay, I got peach tea as well, and I have ginger lime. Really, I am a sucker for anything ginger limey, ginger lemony.

Alison Smith:
Same, they were sold out of all the other flavors at my local Whole Foods.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:01:42]. That’s a great sign.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
Okay, so let’s crack one of these guys. I’m going to crack them open, try them.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, whoo. Cheers.

Karin Samelson:
Yes, cheers.

Alison Smith:
Okay, I’m having the raspberry rose.

Karin Samelson:
Peach tea, over here.

Alison Smith:
Oh, wow. I like that.

Karin Samelson:
What does it taste like? Can you taste the raspberry and the rose?

Alison Smith:
I have Poppi dripping down my computer right now. Okay, hold on. It’s so good. It’s raspberry. I’ve never tastes rose. I don’t know what rose tastes like, but [inaudible 00:02:28] the raspberry and it’s reminding me of something nostalgic, and I don’t know what it is.

Karin Samelson:
Dang it. I wish I had that one too, so I could tune in on it.

Alison Smith:
It’s good.

Karin Samelson:
Alright, well I got the peach tea and you have it too. It is delicious. It is very peach tea, so I’m looking at the ingredients list and it’s green tea. They use sparkling green tea with apple cider vinegar, so all of these have apple cider vinegar. That’s the kicker. Peach juice, apple juice, of course I like it. Apple juice. Cane sugar, natural flavors, and Stevia.

Karin Samelson:
This one has five grams total sugar.

Alison Smith:
Wow, that’s real apple juice.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alison Smith:
I like that. Yeah, I really like the peach tea too. It tastes like it’s not good for you.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, yeah. For sure. But I mean, especially when they put soda in the product name.

Alison Smith:
I have something to say, I feel like this is my drink. This is my drink.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, shoot.

Alison Smith:
I’m feeling it. It feels like it’s bad for you. It feels like it’s really bad for you, but it’s not.

Karin Samelson:
A treat, yeah.

Alison Smith:
This is the thing for me. I’m in.

Karin Samelson:
Yes, I like that. So, another, I’m not going to name names, because we’re on Poppi right now, but another brand similar, but different, they sent this questionnaire to all of their purchasers for like, I don’t know they were like, ” 30% off if you fill it out.”

Karin Samelson:
And, it was so long, and it was a great brand questionnaire, not brand questionnaire, but like a feedback. And one of the questions was, “Why do you drink it?” And my answer was, “Because it’s a treat.” It’s not even that it’s healthy, it’s that I crave something sweet and it’s a treat to drink it, it satisfies the craving, and I feel like that’s the same for this.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, this is good. I really did not think it would be this good.

Karin Samelson:
Ooh. Okay, I’m cracking open the ginger lime. Oh, gosh. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
I love ginger.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
I’m jealous of your ginger lime.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, the peach tea is good. It tastes like peach tea, but the ginger, I just love ginger drinks.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yummy. Okay. Yay.

Karin Samelson:
Very good. Very tasty.

Alison Smith:
Okay, let’s talk about the package. The can.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
And, we’ll cover this in a bit, because they went through a big rebrand. They used to be known as Mother Beverage and they were in glass bottles, so now they’re aluminum cans and now they’re marketing themselves as a prebiotic soda. So, really honing in on that gut health. “Be gut happy, be gut healthy.”

Karin Samelson:
Yep. And, those three points here right on the can, “Prebiotics for a healthy gut, infused with apple cider vinegar, immunity sidekick.”

Alison Smith:
Wait. Okay. Are you talking about the three bullets?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Okay, so I have a different one on the peach tea, “20 calories per can.” So, that’s their, I guess they’re testing different value props. “Prebiotics to support healthy digestion, one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.” So, a little different.

Karin Samelson:
A little different, and we’re seeing slight differences on the cans. I wonder if that’s moving forward or if it just varies can to can, but just slight. But, the recurring of course, is the apple cider vinegar. That’s it. That’s the selling point here.

Alison Smith:
Well, I actually read that they are moving away from apple cider vinegar.

Karin Samelson:
What?

Alison Smith:
Because, it was turning people off. I think people were, maybe they got some feedback that people weren’t trying it, because they thought it would be sour or gross.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, really, so it’s just going to be prebiotics?

Alison Smith:
So, they’re focusing more on the prebiotic, which is so interesting because for me, I see these so trendy.

Karin Samelson:
So hot, right now.

Alison Smith:
Yes, trendy.

Karin Samelson:
And, prebiotics. I feel like packaging them at the same time, but I mean I don’t know.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, but I guess, yeah a prebiotic is more easy to swallow than thinking about a vinegary drink. So, yeah that’s interesting.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep. So, both of them, if not all of them, I only have two, five grams of sugar or less. It’s a friendly reminder, which I needed the reminder, “You got to cut off the label to recycle.” Don’t forget it. And, it says it right there. Okay. I dig it. Very colorful.

Karin Samelson:
I mean, what did you read? That it was like a fashion statement.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. It’s basically like a photo opportunity to drink a Poppi, especially if you’re a millennial.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. It’s Instagram fodder.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Exactly. Which is, god that’s … I mean, what brand doesn’t want that major UGC?

Karin Samelson:
Yep. Yep.

Alison Smith:
And, photography. Okay, so I think we might have little variations on, I guess their story. So, my peach tea says, “Pop, cultured. Facts, no one wants a basic drink.” I feel like, leaning into basic again. Hitting on millennials.

Karin Samelson:
Well, it’s a non basic drink for basic people.

Alison Smith:
Or, gen-z.

Karin Samelson:
Sorry, but it’s true.

Alison Smith:
Sorry. I’m apparently one of them, because I am into it.

Karin Samelson:
Me, too. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
So, “Make every hour happy with this bubbly, better for you prebiotic soda that keeps your gut happy and gives your bod a boost.” So, they’re kind of saying, I feel like they’re inferring that this is your bod of boost. Like, inferring that this is … I don’t know if it’s exactly weight loss or what they’re trying to infer.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, just something positive.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:08:53], positive.

Alison Smith:
“Downright delicious with barely there sugar these bubbles with benefits will be your new BFF.” Wow, alliteration. That was a lot of alliteration.

Karin Samelson:
I dig it though.

Alison Smith:
Okay, cool.

Karin Samelson:
Yep. Yeah, and their Instagram handles, and their website, everything you need on your cans, they got it.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And, just like we were saying, this just freaking pops off the shelf. Nothing else was this bright, and this colorful.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, pops. Like, who was part of that? Who did that?

Alison Smith:
Who did that.

Karin Samelson:
And I’m, just side note, a little interested to see what’s going to happen after I consume two full prebiotic.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I never have taken apple cider vinegar. I’ve only used it for salad dressing. Is it going to move?

Karin Samelson:
Your bod is going to get a boost. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Bod boost. Okay. Yeah. We’ll follow up if anything weird happens after having two of these babies.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, we’ll put it in the show notes. All right. Okay, now that we have tasted it, we’ve dissected the packaging as best we can. Again, full disclosure we are not branding experts, this is just, we are judging this based on being consumers and marketers.

Karin Samelson:
So, now let’s look at their background. So, this product was founded by a husband and wife team. Alison and Stephen. They’re from Dallas, Texas, so right up the road. And what she did was, they were combining fresh fruit juice with the prebiotic powerhouse we’ve been mentioning, apple cider vinegar, to create a soda that tasted really good and provided actual health benefits.

Karin Samelson:
She struggled with some health related issues, I can’t quite remember what they were, and this was something that helped with that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I couldn’t find anything that was exactly what she was struggling with, and I was really curious to know, just because I wanted to know if I could relate at all. So, I don’t think she ever said, unless, if anyone knows feel free to tip us in.

Alison Smith:
But, it’s just the perfect story of the founder had a need that she couldn’t find in the market, so created the product for her own needs, and then turns out a lot of people had similar needs and wants.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And, it looks like they were selling at their local farmers market, and then it led into their big Shark Tank debut. They’re Shark Tankers. Yeah, so they came onto Shark Tank in 2018 as Mother Beverage.

Karin Samelson:
So, that’s something that we absolutely have to note. They were, again, they were Mother Beverage, they had a really simple label. I think it was like a off white label with colored font, so it was just Mother.

Alison Smith:
In a glass bottle.

Karin Samelson:
A nice, glass bottle, and we actually, Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi was a long time client of ours and we did like a mother themed giveaway with them, and so they sent us the product, we tried it then, delicious, and so that’s what the brand was when they got onto Shark Tank.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I’m curious, I remember that giveaway. When they were Mother Beverage were they talking about ACV as the ingredient, or were they talking about prebiotics as the main selling point?

Karin Samelson:
That’s such a good question. I don’t want to say the wrong answer, but my gut, it was ACV. It was an apple cider vinegar drink.

Alison Smith:
Interesting.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, sorry if I’m wrong, but that’s what my gut says from that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Because, I remember Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi, the Kimchi, the, “It’s alive with probiotics.” And it was just that kind of themed giveaway, especially with the name Mother.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think you’re right. That’s what I remember too, is that they were really focused on an apple cider vinegar, so that’s really interesting. Whoever did their rebranding must have done a lot of looking at some data to understand that prebiotic was the right change.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And speaking of, I mean, the investor from Shark Tank that signed it on, Rohan Oza, just the king, of beverage who was at Coca-Cola for forever, the companies that he was at sold to Coca-Cola for just like what? Billions.

Alison Smith:
Rohan. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
So, literal kind of beverage was the person that signed on for their investment for, I believe they were asking $400,000 for 10%, and he got them for 400,000 for 25%. And, obviously we don’t know the backend of Shark Tank and how those actually play out, but it’s very clear that, that one played out and CAVU Ventures, which he’s the co-founder of, they are investors in Poppi now.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, and they’ve got a stacked portfolio, so one of my favorite snacks, Skinny Dipped, they have them. Hims and Hers, Health Aid, Bulletproof, Waterloo.

Karin Samelson:
Vital Proteins.

Alison Smith:
Waterloo Sparkling Water, another Austin brand. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
The list goes on.

Alison Smith:
A great, great move I would say, for Poppi.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. I mean, they know what they’re doing and Poppi, how lucky is that to get under the wing of someone so powerful in this space. A true expert in this space, so obviously I’m sure he had a huge hand in that rebrand, and what it looks like now.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Definitely. Yeah, so Poppi went to launch nationally in grocery stores, in retail stores, I think they got on with Whole Foods pretty early on, but it was during COVID. It was March that they were set to launch, so I know they had a, write up in Forbes talking about that struggle of them trying to launch during a pandemic, where people weren’t going into stores and what they were ordering, and things were just, like rice and things like that.

Alison Smith:
But, do you remember what it said? I mean how they did with that launch, regardless of full on pandemic?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, and I mean, I think the story is very similar to a lot of brands that launched last year. It was kind of, with a little bit of worry, but I remember some of our clients had the biggest sales they’ve ever had and they weren’t those pantry staple brands. They were just better for you, healthy products that they could get their hands on, and that could last.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, so it looks like the timeline of it was, 2018, December at the very end of 2018 they were on Shark Tank, they got the investment and then January, of 2020 is when that rebrand officially happened, they launched it, and then, yeah, March they went to launch nationally in grocery and lo and behold the pandemic.

Karin Samelson:
And I believe what was said, was that the already had their production runs, they already had this product so what could they do other than launch? So, they did and luckily this is a better for you, healthy option, so I think the rest is history here.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
They’re killing it.

Alison Smith:
Well, I think they also pivoted a bit and got onto Amazon and things like that to help push sales, but yeah like Karen said, “We only work for better for you brands.” And, luckily they were okay during pandemic times.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And so, now I really do wonder now with that national launch in retail and then Amazon, and then they have [inaudible 00:17:14] on their website now, which I can assume, but I wish I could see how much of those sales are coming from each platform.

Karin Samelson:
Because it’s so interesting, before the pandemic you never would have thought to buy something like this, these ready to drink canned beverages online, but I bet that they’re raking in those sales online.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Yes.

Karin Samelson:
Especially because of their influencer program, which we will talk about in a moment.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. And I mean, beyond Amazon and just your own site, there’s the grocery delivery and all that jazz. But yeah, I totally agree. I never was the consumer that would go and buy something that’s like a treat or like a snack online, but now I do.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. We all do. Well, a lot of us.

Alison Smith:
But yeah, so it’s really interesting, I mean we’re only giving you what we can find online, and we do have a small pass with them since we did a giveaway once upon a time before they rebranded, but also it’s interesting to look at how the growth happens with social.

Alison Smith:
So, we tell a lot of our smaller brands that it’s really important for the founders to get on and get on stories, and just tell their story on the feeds, and what have you, and it’s hard to do, but Alison, the founder here had, I don’t know if she still does it, but she was getting on every Friday to answer questions on Instagram. They called it Founder Friday’s.

Alison Smith:
Just answering questions, communicating with their audience, and I don’t know if she still does it, but it’s cool to see that work you put in, that early stage work is so important, and it makes people become super fans of your brand.

Alison Smith:
Now you don’t really see her as much on their Instagram, because they’re experience massive growth and they’re pulling in others to be featured.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Totally. And exactly what Alison just said, there are so many benefits of having founder focus, putting a face to a name, connecting in a way that just a product can’t. Because again, you’re not selling your products, you’re selling your brand.

Karin Samelson:
And so, these Founder Friday’s that she did, they look really prevalent, early, early within their launch, their rebrand launch of early last year and then you see them a lot few and far between her being featured, because it’s a certified brand now. It is far beyond what I personally thought.

Alison Smith:
It’s like a beast in its own.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Yeah, very cool. I love that and then I also really love how they’re mission based. They’re giving back, and especially we’re seeing a lot of brands do this, especially during the pandemic and PR or no PR, brands are doing it, because they can and it’s the right thing to do. So, love that they’re doing that. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I read that they were giving back by sending this to hospitals, which is really interesting. I mean, it is a … I mean, I don’t know how many studies they done, I don’t think there’s a lot. It’s more of a home remedy, I guess, to take apple cider vinegar, that they are bringing to the masses.

Alison Smith:
But, apparently they’re sending it to hospitals. I mean, no matter what, if it’s going to help or not, it’s a delicious treat.

Karin Samelson:
I wonder if it’s just for the employees there, or if they’re offering it to … I don’t know.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
I have no idea.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Part of the lunch, I mean.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, the offerings. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know either.

Karin Samelson:
Tell us, Poppi.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. That’s pretty interesting.

Karin Samelson:
Cool. So, yeah rebrand happened, they exploded, it seriously pops off the shelf now, like Alison said earlier, a fashion statement for millennials to take photos with. It really is. Just go to their tagged photos and their influencer program is crazy robust, but it’s trendy stuff y’all.

Karin Samelson:
And, I say trendy not in a fleeting way. I think it’s going to be here to last and it’s just an exciting and really visually appealing thing to look at.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, and I know we kind of touched on this, and obviously I would love to look at why they made this decision, but what we’re seeing is, like we said, they saw issues with the name Mother, their original name, because it was, I believe it was too vague to copyright, which makes sense.

Alison Smith:
And, then they were also honing in on the apple cider vinegar aspect, but somehow they found out that it was actually turning people off, so now you can see they’re rebranded to a prebiotic soda.

Alison Smith:
I think the only time apple cider vinegar is mentioned, other than the ingredients, obviously, is, “Infused with apple cider vinegar.” So, it talks more about prebiotics than anything, I would say on the packaging and on the site.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). And, even on their Instagram bio, “Join the prebiotic party. 20 calories, five grams of sugar or less, be gut healthy, be gut healthy. Seen on Shark Tank. Prebiotic soda for all.” It is a certified prebiotic soda and apple cider vinegar is just the, it’s just a little hidden gem.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And I also saw on the site they kind of touched on the benefits of apple cider vinegar. It wasn’t backed up by any studies, it was, “May help this. Could provide this.”

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Which is what you need to do to protect yourself, but it did touch on like, “May improve skin quality.” Which is like, “Whoa, a beauty soda. That’s so interesting.” Like what a new category.

Karin Samelson:
I know.

Alison Smith:
And, I know there’s the hyped collagen drinks, but this is kind of the first time I’ve ever seen it in a soda.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, and I mean it’s a good note. We totally forgot to say what the other flavors were. We’re only trying three of their many flavors. So, they have watermelon, strawberry lemon, ginger lime, raspberry rose, blueberry, orange, pineapple mango, which sounds so good, and then peach tea. So, they have quite a few flavors right now.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm, (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
All right. So, I do want to touch on the influencer portion of this, because while there’s lots of things going for them, the one thing that stands out to me, other than the rebrand of course, is influence marketing.

Karin Samelson:
And, we don’t want to come on here and just assume things, and speculate, but this is a fact that they’re doing this. I have no idea how much they’re spending on it. I can safely assume that it’s a pretty penny.

Alison Smith:
Because, you’re seeing macro-influencers, right?

Karin Samelson:
Oh, yeah. Macro and mega. These are big influencers that don’t do things for free, and especially don’t let you re share their stuff for free, if they do like the brand. Right?

Karin Samelson:
And, it seems like a lot of them are advocates of it. They’re true drinkers of the soda, and it’s pretty dang easy too, because I mean, I have only two here, but they’re delicious.

Alison Smith:
They’re delicious and who is not your … I mean, they obviously hone in on a target market, but who doesn’t want a delicious drink. You know?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
[crosstalk 00:25:10].

Karin Samelson:
And I mean, their demographic, I mean it’s the millennial woman, and they really focus in hard on that. So, pretty cool and it looks like what they have going on is, also, I don’t know, again I’m just talking, that the influencer program, a lot of them are affiliates so they have their own promo codes, I think it’s for 10% off or something like that.

Karin Samelson:
Obviously driving sales on E-com, onto their website, getting a lot of traffic there, and then definitely retargeting these folks. I can hope and assume. And it’s just, this is well and good, especially for a brand that’s funded like a big venture firm, like CAVU, but what you can do as a small to medium sized CPG brand, is probably, I don’t know if this is in your wheelhouse, if you are funded enough, if you do have your own money to put behind this, good for you and that’s great.

Karin Samelson:
But what you can do, is really focus in on the micro-influencer route, so look what they’re doing though. Take them as inspiration. Look at what they’re offering them, how they hone in on their customer avatar, what kind of vibe they’re sending out, how it connects with the actual brand, because like you sell the brand, you don’t sell the product.

Karin Samelson:
So, with the smaller budget, with the smaller brand you can really hone in on those micro-influencer programs.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, and we’ve been having a lot of talks about influencer programs, and someone said recently just picking a macro, like a huge influencer with a million plus followers and betting, like working with them, it’s literally a bet. You might see zero sales.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
You never know. So, we really prefer to work with these micro-influencers, get in with them early, you never know what’s going to happen. And then also, we usually give discount codes, so that we can track sales easily.

Alison Smith:
So, we kind of make them more affiliates, like Karen was saying, because that also incentivizes them to continue to post, because they directly receive that commission.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Absolutely. And, unless you have the money, again, it really depends on how much money you have. Unless you have the money to invest, and not put all your eggs in one basket, I’m going to give you a slight situation.

Karin Samelson:
So, we had a client in the past who, we were running a micro-influencer program for them, it’s super successful, in terms of their turn on investment, and a mega influencer came around, huge reach, huge engagement, real engagement, not bots, and we were like, “Okay, let’s see what happens. Let’s try and work with them.”

Karin Samelson:
The investment was very high. Very, very, very high and we should have known better. Right? We should have made sure that they were a true, true, true advocate of the brand. Especially if you don’t have enough money, and we ran that program and not one sale.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
Not one sale. And that is such a huge blow. Not only to your finances, but to your idea of what these influencer programs can do. So, unless you’re able to invest your money into so many of these mega influencers, start small and be smart with it.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
So, what I love that Poppi is doing, even though they’re mega, is their packaging. So, their influencer kits, their media kits or whatever you want to call them, they are just as colorful as the cans, they’re all different. That’s a little bit expensive, if you’re smaller you can have one box that really houses your products beautifully.

Karin Samelson:
If you want to invest more money, I would say that, that’s a great place to start. It sends a different message than if you just have your product strewn in a brown cardboard box.

Karin Samelson:
So, that’s something I really like that Poppi does, and I think smaller businesses with a little bit of a budget can do, but yeah. With those micro-influencers here’s what I would suggest that you do directly.

Karin Samelson:
So, create your list. Create a list of micro-influencers within your niche that look like your customer avatar, that are probably around, I don’t want to say be specific on a range, because it really has to do with your engagement rates too, but anywhere from 5,000 followers to, I don’t know, 25,000.

Karin Samelson:
You can be flexible. Certain people will work with you if they are a true advocate of your brand, they like your product, and create a long, long list. So, we’re looking at kind of, 25% conversion rates now, so if you want to work with 25 micro-influencers, make a list of 100 at the very least, and you’re going to nurture the relationship.

Karin Samelson:
We have a complete guide on how to do that, and what that looks like. If you subscribe to our email list you’ll get that sooner or later, and that’s just the nurturing of the relationships and the cultivating of that community, and then sending free product and seeing how it goes step by step.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I mean, I can’t hit on the nurturing more. It’s so important. Think how turned off you would be if a brand was just like … Just cold DM’d you and was like, “Hey, you want to post a picture of my product?” No.

Alison Smith:
It’s like, you need to become friendly, and like and comment on their posts, and let them know that you’re on their team as well, and that you care about them before ever asking for anything. So, it does take a little more effort and a little more time, but I mean, a conversion rate, our last round I think the conversion rate was over 30%, and that’s big. That’s pretty large saying that 30% of the people we reach out to are like, “Yeah. Let’s do it.” So, definitely put in a little bit more effort, if you’re going to run one of these programs.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely, and it seems so simple on the outside, just to get, “Oh, this person posted about you. That’s so nice.” The amount of work that goes behind it, it’s a lot of work and you got to be ready to do it.

Karin Samelson:
And, Alison just slammed her peach tea. One down.

Alison Smith:
I’m done.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, but I mean, these micro-influencer programs, and you’re seeing it more and more, they really are the way to do what they’re doing, but on a very much smaller scale with people that have the opportunity to grow, just like Alison said. It’s like, these people might have 5,000 followers and 300 people engaging with them per post, and Instagram’s crazy. Social media is nuts.

Karin Samelson:
They can go viral and in a month they have triple that, quadruple that. So, the relationships are key. And something that I really like that we talked to a founder recently was, he said that even though he has social media help, he goes in and he has those communications with those influencers. I realize how busy all of you are.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
I completely get it. And of course, having somebody else do it is great, but if you do have the time and you do enjoy it, jump on, get in there.

Alison Smith:
It’s going to speak volumes too.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Sign off as yourself.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Anything else you wanted to talk about with influencer?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Well, just touching on the fact that it’s not just them introducing your product to their followers, you’re also able to utilize their content. As long as you ask. That’s key. You got to ask.

Karin Samelson:
So, with these micro-influencer programs that I suggest all be small to medium size businesses do, is offer the free product after you enter into the relationship, offer free product, get it to them, follow up with them after they receive it and make sure they liked it, and then you offer affiliate commissions.

Karin Samelson:
You say, “Hey, I would love to offer you this discount if you want to push it to your followers you’ll get a 10% commission or a 15% commission,” whatever you can afford.

Karin Samelson:
And then utilizing the content that they created, as long as it’s approved by them, to run ads, to post on social. You know?

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And, that’s what I was going to say. All we do is DM and ask, again, “Can we use this in a advertisement?” And, it’s a different level that you do need to ask for. Actually, I don’t think we’ve ever been told … We’ve been told no, like once. So, usually very high in that message a lot of times, depending on the client, we’ll say, “We’ll send you more free product.” Or something like that, which, I mean if they’re smaller influencers that’s amazing. Who doesn’t want free things.

Alison Smith:
So, we do that a lot, and those types of UGC ads, they look very native on the feed and they perform really, really well. They build social proof and trust for your brand, so yeah. I mean, there’s so many ways to repurpose these types of programs to work better for you and grow your brand.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And, these influencers are so creative. They can bring ideas to the table that you would have never thought of creatively, which I really love.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
And I hope, if any influencer is listening now and rolling their eyes and they’re like, “We don’t just want free product.” It’s like, “Yeah. I understand that.” I completely get the amount of work that goes into it and I respect it completely, but it’s really important as a brand to understand who these people are and make sure that they’re true advocates.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
And once you do know that they’re true advocates, and you know that you’re giving some affiliate commissions, they are selling your product, absolutely get into paid partnerships with them.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Pay them for more of their time and more of their effort, and you’ll have even more results from that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And again, asking for use of an ad isn’t going to work every time, but when you understand who the right person to ask, and that’s probably after they’ve made some money of being an affiliate for you, so that might take a little bit of trial and error, but those types of ads perform amazingly.

Alison Smith:
And I’m actually looking at Poppi’s ads library, and that’s what they’re using as well. So, something else to take note of.

Karin Samelson:
Ooh. Are they using like a lot of UGC for ads?

Alison Smith:
They don’t run a ton of ads, so they’re promoting a giveaway, they have some studio shots, and then the rest are UGC.

Karin Samelson:
Cool.

Alison Smith:
So, definitely take a look.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Peak at their ads library.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, that micro-influencer program that we’re talking about, perfect for these smaller stage businesses that are just getting their feet wet with influencers that don’t have that much funding.

Karin Samelson:
Once you get funded, once you have more, really reward the people that have been by your side. These influencers that have worked their tail off for you for content, for commissions, for just true supports of your brand, really reward them. Get into some paid partnerships, collaborations, have them take over on your page. Just nurture that relationship from start to, I don’t want to say finish, because you never know how long these last.

Alison Smith:
To start for forever.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. To forever.

Alison Smith:
Well, cheers y’all.

Karin Samelson:
Cheers.

Alison Smith:
That was fun. That wraps up our Poppi mukbang and deep dive into the brand. Thanks everyone for listening. We are fans.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Obviously. Feel free to DM us, at UMAI Marketing on Instagram, if you have any specific Poppi questions or comments, and we’ll talk to you guys soon.

Narrator:
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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#13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley’s VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey

Podcast cover image for episode on CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas

#13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley's VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey

Austin’s food, bev, and better-for-you packaged goods community is growing at an ever-more rapid pace. But, industry leaders like Emily Kealey, Naturally Austin, and Notley say it’s an atmosphere of collaboration over competition. 🙌

With such online events as HEB Combo Loco and Women in CPG Summit (coming March 8), entrepreneurs can look to Naturally Austin and like-minded organizations for endless education and invaluable networking opportunities.

Learn how Emily Kealey went from spreading the good word on mangos (it’s true!) all the way to the CPG expert she is today.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:45] To start off, Emily Kealey’s background – began in PR. 

Interestingly, she’s always had a passion for CPG. In fact, she worked at a global-level agency called Manning Selvage and Lee – and, gained experience representing such name brands as Red Bull and Friskies Cat Food.

[3:35] Then, Karin also shares a background in pet food marketing – specifically, with Nulo! 

[4:28] Soon, she moved to Austin. In no time at all, she started working with whole foods. At that moment, she backed the National Mango Board and National Lamb Board. 

[5:33] Before too long, she left to start her own pie business! Wild. Of course, this put her on the other side of CPG. 

[7:40] Transitioned to their current position at Naturally Austin – SO helpful for CPG owners, giving them the resources they need. You don’t have to go it alone!

[8:40] So, she dropped the pie biz when she became a parent. Even so, she never gave up on the entrepreneurial spirit – the same spirit she feels from the Naturally Austin family.

[10:30] Then, she started her own agency. Basically, a haven for women to be themselves and do great work.

[12:00] We bet you’re wondering, how’d you set the tone for work-life balance? Asked employees, what do you need to reach your long-term business goals? Really, you can never require people to show up 100% day in and day out – we’re only human!

[14:00] The value to have that CPG experience prior to mentoring is truly awesome!

If possible, ask your clients if you can observe what they’re doing IRL to better understand their biz. Really, it’s so important to find empathy.

[16:00] How’d you find your way to Naturally Austin?

Obviously, COVID has made things more challenging. But, she’s already felt connected to the board.

[17:40] Okay, what does your day-to-day schedule look like at Naturally Austin? Calls, event management, and driving initiatives. In partnership with SKU.

[20:30] Gotta know, is the Naturally Austin team growing? 

[21:30] Favorite aspect of working with CPG brands at Naturally Austin and beyond? Austin is primed to be one of the biggest CPG cities.

[23:00] How important is having a community like Naturally Austin? It’s what you make of it! Collaboration over competition.

[26:50] Which Naturally Austin events have you had to pivot from IRL to online due to COVID?

What’s that like? In a word: interesting!

[30:00] The life cycle of CPG brands in Austin, from Naturally Austin to SKU and so forth.

[30:40] What’s your best piece of advice for CPG brands? Branding. Target audience.

[33:40] How to hone in on your customer persona – also known as an avatar.

[36:30] And, what are your ‘favorite’ CPG brands as of late, in the Naturally Austin family and beyond??

[39:15] So, what challenges do you most frequently see Naturally Austin brands facing? Local to Austin, our production facilities need to be expanded.

[43:00] Finally, what should CPG brands focus on to accelerate their growth? Know your numbers and competitors! Plot out where you want to be.

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

[Disclaimer: At the time of recording this podcast, Kealey was positioned at Naturally Austin. She’s since transitioned to a new role as VP of Marketing at Notley!]

Read – #13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley’s VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey

 

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.

Welcome to UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers alike grow.

We are Karin and Alison co-founders of UMAI, and we’re being joined by Emily Kealey, executive director of Naturally Austin, the leaders in crafting a community around CPG here in Austin. How are you, Emily?

Emily Kealey:
I’m good, guys. Thanks for having me on. Really, I appreciate it.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, thanks for joining. Well, let’s start off with your background. I know that you have a PR background. So, did you always have an interest in this? How did you get your start?

Emily Kealey:
I did always have an interest in PR right out of the gate. I’m actually from East Texas originally. And, I got to attend a all girls high school in Dallas called Hockaday, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.

Then, I went to SMU and knew immediately that I wanted to get into corporate communications and public affairs. And, I gravitated naturally towards CPG.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs and so CPG and food was always my passion. And, after SMU, I moved to Los Angeles and got into cell phones, doing cell phones back in the day when there was other cell phones besides the Apple’s iPhone.

This was like the clamshells and like the Motorola Razr, stuff like that.

While I love that I really missed doing food, so I had the opportunity to move over to a larger global agency called Manning, Selvage & Lee.

From there, I got to do Red Bull, I got to do Friskies Cat Food, and I think that was probably one of my most interesting ones that I’ve ever done client-wise was I traveled the country to like 18 cities with the Friskies Cat team.

And, we had cats that could dunk basketballs, we had cats that would roll over and it was really about getting… And, it was a large house you guys with the cats and they’d put on a show.

So, this was like my job. I got to go do this. And, so my job was to go pitch to local media. And, what was so fascinating was as I was pitching local media, we’d have media fight over who got the cats first. I was like, “This is like a PR person’s dream.”

But, it was really where I fell in love with doing CPG across the board.

It was Nestle Crunch bars, Sonicare toothbrushes, all sorts of stuff that really helps people live a better life. And, I think there’s a stat that I read the other day that on average Americans use 44% CPG products a day.

So, it’s a really interesting stat there. And, I think about… If you think about all the things people touch and use daily, that’s why I love this because I feel like it serves a purpose, right?

And, it can bring you joy, it can give you function, it can help you out in your day. So, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed doing CPG and that’s why I’m here now.

Karin Samelson:
Friskies. So, I have a background in pet food marketing at Nulo-

Emily Kealey:
Oh, you were in pet foods?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Nulo, here in Austin.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, that’s very… Oh, awesome.

Karin Samelson:
We did not have cats dunking stuff, but we did have this woman who was on America’s Got Talent with her Border Collies. And, so she came one time and it was like a trick day, but if I could have done that every day, like that was my job, I might still be there.

Emily Kealey:
It was really… I mean, we had people wearing sweatshirts. Everything’s better with cat hair on it.

Like we go to cat shows… I’m an animal person. I have a cat right now. And, I’m a cat person, but I was like, “These are serious cat people, like really…” I am not a cat person like these.

I mean, it was just fascinating to watch and it was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. And, then I moved here to Austin and really worked on food, so having food.

It was like, National Mango Board, National Land Board, California Table Grape association. So, Mango Board was our biggest client. So, it was actually promoting mangoes in the US. And, if you think about, well, it’s a lot longer than I care to admit now about probably 12 years ago, mangoes were not prevalent in the United States.

And, so we were doing things like mango salsa, which people also didn’t know about.

So, it’s really fun to get to bring mangoes to the center of the plate, lamb, things that people eat. And, it was all healthy, delicious foods. And, I got to do really cool stuff with chefs and go to New York all the time and set these big dinners and… It was just really, really fun. So, I really kind of run the gamut of fresh foods to CPG and everything in between including cat food.

Karin Samelson:
That, is so interesting. What a great background in CPG and food in general! So, how did you like working at those big agencies?

Emily Kealey:
I said I come from a family of entrepreneurs and while I like agency work, it was a lot, it can be definitely a lot. And, I actually I got to… I was here at FleishmanHillard running the overall mango program and I decided to do something totally different, and I left and started a pie business.

So, I owned a pie company for three years. And, it was this idea that I really liked pie. I come from Southern roots. So, I grew up-

Alison Smith:
Who doesn’t like pie?

Emily Kealey:
Huh?

Alison Smith:
Who doesn’t like pie?

Emily Kealey:
If you don’t like pie you need-

Alison Smith:
That’s weird. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
I love pie so much, and I love making pie. And, I had this idea because every time I get in front of a case of pies, I’m like, “I want all the slices.”

But, that’s not really great for caloric intake. And, so I was like… I had this idea for a bite of pie that the crust is on the outside and the filling is in the middle. So, we actually made it, we made this product and we called it Crimps, and we had all sorts of flavors.

We had strawberry basil, we had chocolate cream. So, it was really, really fun. And, what I appreciated about that experience was it put me on the other side of CPG, it made me realize all of the things from supply chain to cooking in the kitchen, marketing, P&Ls.

I mean, you had to… As a CPG owner, you have to wear so many hats all the time and it’s can be crushing, right?

And, I actually was just telling somebody earlier, that’s why I love Naturally Austin.

I think if I had Naturally Austin and the resources and networking and getting to great people like you guys to help me out with social and all of that, it’s just a really powerful organization because it helps, to me, provide that education and networking and resources there.

That just weren’t here when I had a pie company. Oh, my gosh. Like, nine years. Oh no, my gosh, like 12 years ago. It was like so long ago. I forget how old I am. But, that was a really great experience that I had.

I’m so grateful for it. Because, as I took over the job at Naturally Austin, I was able to take a look at it from, obviously the marketing and PR side of all of it and scheduling events and all of the stuff that comes with it, but I also was able to relate to the, I think the CPG members who own companies and I listened to them and hear like, “I really need help here.” And like, “I understand.”

I remember being up until two o’clock in the morning, looking at my P&L like, “What?” And, margins and all of these things that you’re…

You have this dream for owning a CPG company, you’ve got this wonderful idea. It’s all the other things that come with it to build the house. It can be very overwhelming, and that’s why I’m grateful that we’re here and we get to do this and work with you guys. So, it’s a wonderful experience overall.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I mean, CPG is such a robust industry. There’s so many moving pieces and parts. So, I’m curious though, what happened to your pie company? Did you sell it and that’s when you got in to your PR agency?

Emily Kealey:
I had kids.

Alison Smith:
That’ll do it.

Emily Kealey:
We had kids and I think it was… After that you… Waking up at four o’clock in the morning to go to the kitchen to bake pies is not really realistic.

I was very, very pregnant. Thanksgiving, the last year we had the company. I was like eight months pregnant and I’m walking around the kitchen so huge and I’m standing so far back trying to roll dough, and I was like, “This isn’t going to work. This is not going to work.”

Alison Smith:
Like, not physically possible.

Emily Kealey:
It was impossible. I didn’t know. And once again, I’m so grateful for that time of my life and it’s when you think about those things of starting a company and ending a company and the lessons you learned from that, it can be really heartbreaking too, right?

And, I think a lot of people in CPG experience that. It’s a very real experience that you have, but you never give up on the entrepreneurial spirit that you have, and I’ve never ever given up on that and that’s why I think I’ll always have that.

And, I’m grateful for that. My husband’s like what is known as a corporate athlete, and I don’t know how he does it you guys, like he is a machine and he’s so great at what he does and I was like, “I would just die on the vine if I was in corporate…” Because, it’s just not my spirit.

So, I think that’s why I love working with the members at Naturally Austin, because there is that spirit, right? And, you’re going to have peaks and valleys.

You’re going to go through all of this. You’re going to have what’s… what I don’t even like to call failures.

It’s not even a failure. It’s just it’s always a learning lesson and you’ll learn something from it.

I learned so many great things from that, owning that pie company.

But, I really wanted to get back into marketing and PR, because I actually really missed it, but I wanted to kind of do it my own way. Because once again, entrepreneurs are like my way or the highway.

So, I started my own agency and the reason why I started my own agency was I really wanted to champion everybody. But, the PR industry is heavily women… full of women, right? It’s more women focused.

And, so I wanted to help create a place and a haven for women to come and be themselves, do great work and have a work-life balance. That was the most important thing to me because I think public relations people and you guys, as you know, it’s a lot.

And, I know that women also carry the burden and of a lot of other things. We carry that weight too.

So, I wanted to provide a place that you could come in and do great work. And, I think what was most interesting when I had the agency was I didn’t require… This is back when we had offices and you could go into them, but it was like, I never required that you come into the office.

I was like, “You can work from… I don’t care what you do. You can get work from anywhere. You can go work from Paris. I don’t care. Just figure it out and do your job.”

But, every day everyone showed up to the office and every day, that’s because we love being together. Because, there wasn’t that expectation. It wasn’t this kind of like drill sergeant which it can feel like sometimes. And, it never felt like that.

So, I’m really proud of that aspect because we really worked together as a family and everyone showed up every day. And, that was just so great to see.

But, we really did focus on CPG as well and helping CPG brands get off the ground. Then, I took that knowledge from owning the pie company and from working at the larger agencies and apply that to these brands who are trying to get their start.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. How else did you set the tone for work-life balance? I mean, I think that’s so important, like you said, for not only agency owners, but business owners and CPG and whoever.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. It was really one of those things that… Like in our handbook that I have it was, welcome to the team.

You may not be here. We love to have you for the rest of your life. We also know that you’re probably not going to, so let’s get you the things that you need to get, the experience you need to get to move on.

If you want to go work at ESPN, let’s find a way to make that happen for you. Very realistic about people and how people work. And, our core values were really based off that idea, that ethos that we have this work-life balance and that we are one team, one dream.

And, I believe in doing great work, but I also believe in turning work off, very French about it, I guess. Like, you kind of… What is it? You don’t work to live… Or, you don’t live to work, you work to live kind of thing. And so, I really want to embrace that.

And, I think once you set that tone in your handbook when you’re onboarding and every day you set that tone and if you’re having a bad day, take the day off, take the day off and go to the park or go wherever you need to go.

But, I don’t expect you to show for me a hundred percent every day because you’re a human and that’s what we’re supposed to embrace.

So, I was really proud of that and I’m still… I saw them, all of my old employees a few weeks ago, and it still felt like just family, like you just… They’ll always be family to us together. So, it’s great to see.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, such a great point. We aren’t machines and if we work ourselves out hard, I mean, we’re going to get burnt out. So I think-

Emily Kealey:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
It’s a good point.

Emily Kealey:
And, I don’t want burnt out. I’m like a very utopia. I want just happy workers.

Karin Samelson:
I love it. That’s such good advice for everybody, not just agency owners or… But, I love most of all with that story about you, how important it is as an agency owner, as a consultant to CPG businesses to have that experience, you had the… You did it, right?

So many consultants I find are just consulting based on what they know through research, but firsthand experience is so different. So, I think that’s super powerful and so helpful for the people that you’re working with.

Emily Kealey:
And, I would say my recommendation is to view our consultant. You’ve never been inside a kitchen, ask your clients if you can go into the kitchen and just observe. I was at Wunderkeks yesterday, the cookie company.

Oh my, god! They’re killing it first of all. But, they’re like seas of boxes and people are just churning out these delicious… It was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in there, even watching that experience and us watching Luis and Hans do the magic that they do, getting to see the background like how…

the behind the scenes is really vital. You don’t have to go work in a kitchen. You don’t have to, but going in and learning more about your clients and their day to day and the struggles that they have with production and everything else is really important for you to, I think provide empathy.

I think emotional, the EQ there is really important for your clients. They are doing a lot.

And, you have to be able to understand where they’re coming from of, “Hey, we didn’t get the garlic powder we needed and now we’re on delay for two weeks and I can’t get products to retail.”

You should be asking those questions of how they’re doing in their whole 360 life, not just what applies to marketing and PR or social or wherever it is, you really have to look at the whole ecosystem and understand that.

And, that’s your job to understand like production delays, supply chain. Like, “Oh my gosh, HR is doing…” All these things that happen, that’s really your job and being a trusted advisor to your client.

That’s how I’ve always seen it, which is why also I love to shop at Naturally Austin because I get to go talk about all those things with members and try to… If I can’t help, someone in our ecosystem can.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. And, that brings us to our next point. How did you get led to Naturally Austin? How did that come to be?

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. So, I was with my agency and I was kind of just… I was just me kind of there doing my own thing, helping out CPG companies and the opportunity came up. I know Genevieve Gilbreath over at Springdale Ventures and she’s like, “Hey, there is an opportunity here, would you like to explore it and learn more?”

And she was like, you know it’s an executive director position and I was like, “I don’t think I’m ready for that.” I was like, “That feels really big.”

And she was like, “I think that you’re going to be okay.” And, I’m so thankful that I did. So, interviewed and was able to take on the position in February of this year.

Then COVID hit and that was… I was brand new to the job in February and then I had COVID and I was really sick and then… But, that’s how I kind of got my start was just-

Alison Smith:
In the middle of a pandemic.

Emily Kealey:
Middle of the pandemic. Got through it, but I was thankful because I had known Gen for quite some time and I’d actually known people inside, like Albert Swantner, Felipe Vega, just because if you are in the CPG space here in Austin it’s very incestuous, correct?

And, overall it may feel like a big industry, but it’s actually quite small. And so I was able to… I knew a bunch of people that were already there on the board and so I was really grateful for this opportunity because it’s led to this. We’ve gotten through 2020, but it has been a challenging year for sure.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So tell us, like what is your day to day look like as executive director? Just a breakdown.

Emily Kealey:
It’s a wide array, but you know what I like about it too, is that it kind of feels like a PR firm to be honest. It’s like when you have multiple clients, it’s like, I’m going to do this for mangoes, this for [Lam 00:18:04], this for Friskies, this for TurboTax, this for…

And, you’ve got all these items that you have to do. Same concept though, is that you just have different stakeholders, you have different clients, right?

So, it may be having a sponsorship call, a fundraising call, a member call, setting up programming, setting up an event virtually by this point and then kicking off major initiatives like we’re doing with minority owned initiative which is a big thing that we’re actually about to unveil here next week, so get ready.

But, we’re really fortunate that we’ve had sponsors come on and already, and they’re supporting this initiative that supports minority owned companies and CPG because we really, really want to, as I look around the room and on Zooms, it doesn’t feel very good.

And, we know that there’s companies out there that need the support and that we want to support, provide these resources and education and networking for them.

We just need to go find them and hopefully get them into the system. And, then what’s really exciting is that it’s in partnership with SKU and this accelerator is going to be a little bit different. SKU actually usually takes equity out of the companies.

What we’re actually going to be doing is providing funding for these companies, which is wonderful because as we kind of approached this, we knew that networking and resources was one facet and then funding was the second. So, we flipped…

We’re hopefully answering a lot of… are helping a lot of those issues that minority owned companies are finding.

So, I’m really excited about where Naturally Austin is heading. We were working in a women in CPG in March. We’re working on sustainability for the whole year.

We’re working on minority owned and then we’re doing a youth in CPG and I have two children, two beautiful girls who are also… One has an entrepreneurial spirit that’s like, “I’m just going to go make all these products.”

And I’m like, “Great. You can be a part of this program that we’re doing.” But it’s in partnership with Boss Club and it’s going to be supporting youth who want to do things in CPG. And, I cannot wait to kick that one off. I’m so excited to see all these little kids do stuff.

Just like, “This is going to be so fun.” So, that’s what we’re working on and I think that’s really… I’m really excited to see where Naturally Austin is headed because it’s heading in a really, really cool direction and the growth there is just, I think can be… is just unstoppable if we do it right. So, I’m excited.

Alison Smith:
You are one busy lady. I’ll just say that.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Is your team growing right now?

Emily Kealey:
It’s growing and we’re actually [inaudible 00:20:33] an announcement. Yes, it is growing. Thank goodness.

Yeah, because it’s been me and an intern and thankfully we have a really wonderful board who steps in and helps lot because otherwise…

Well, I’m already gray anyway, but I’d be very gray guys. But we have a really great board that does a lot and steps in like Aimy Steadman, Genevieve Gilbreath, Philippe Vega, Albert Swantner. They really step in and do…

And, Jennifer Cobb Moynihan is another one who’s just… They all step in and do great work. So, very lucky to have a board that works with us and with the staff.

But, our staff will be getting a little bit more robust. We’re actually making an announcement by next week in our newsletter.

Alison Smith:
Exciting.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah, I know. That’s fun. I know.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. Sorry, I’m on mute a lot right now because my dogs are going crazy and we’ll cut this out.

Emily Kealey:
No worries.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:21:27]. So, what is your favorite aspect of getting to work with so many CPG brands right now?

Emily Kealey:
I’ve always loved helping people. That’s why I chose PR because I like being really creative and I like thinking outside the box and I feel that that kind of marries those two together.

So, I’ve always just really liked helping people and I love watching other people succeed, especially in an industry like CPG, which is just so challenging from the get-go.

So, that’s why I love this job because when I get a phone call and be like, “Hey, I need help doing this.” I’m like, “I got it. I got it for you.” And, they’re like, “Thank you. This actually helped saved my bacon.”

I think that’s my favorite part and getting to really help entrepreneurs and just watching people grow, like I was saying about Wunderkeks yesterday. I walked in there and I was like, “You got to be kidding me. This is insane, the growth that they’re going through.”

And, you think about Golden Ratio Clark over there, like watching them grow the way they are is just so fun to watch because it’s success. So, I think that’s great.

But, I think the more success we have in Austin… I do believe that Austin is really primed to be one of the top CPG cities in the country. I think that we are getting there really quickly and I think it’s really cool to watch how our industry is really growing up. It’s pretty cool to watch. So, that’s my favorite part, helping people.

Alison Smith:
In your opinion I mean, how important is community? So, Naturally Austin is the Austin community for CPG business owners. Like, how important is that for people to join into the Naturally Austin community or otherwise?

Emily Kealey:
Like I said, I mean, like I mentioned with like I owned or co-owned the pie society, I wish I would’ve had this resource when I owned the company.

I wish I would’ve had a place to go to and I view… Thinking about joining it’s $65 a year, which is pretty cool. I think it feels pretty affordable, but what you get out of it. And, I will say it’s really what you make of it too.

I mean, come to the webinars and when we have in-person events again, which is soon, hopefully.

When we have those again, come make those networking and… Make those networking opportunities. We are launching out a new networking webinars series in 2021, but I think that just come on and come check it out, come to the webinars, come meet us.

And, then I think getting to meet other CPGs, like what we did with Combo Loco in October, where we asked our members to pair up with each other and tell us why they [inaudible 00:24:11] Combo Loco with them. Frankly, it’s like a week a nod to H-E-B’s Combo Loco.

What we do with that I thought was really cool because we saw them be creative and work together, and they made these connections that I don’t think could have been made before. And, they’re still doing things together.

Like, now they might have a retail play that they can go to H-E-B with. Like, they wouldn’t have thought of before. So, that’s really our job is to make those connections and provide that education. This has been a challenging year to do so, but watching the numbers come together and then I think make magic happen has been just wonderful to see.

So, they’ve all been in good spirits about it, and I’m really thankful for that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, that was a great event by the way, Combo Loco. And, it was really nice to see it instead of thinking that you’re in competition with each other.

I mean, connecting and helping each other grow is maybe the more successful way to go about things. So, I really love what y’all did there.

Emily Kealey:
Thank you. And, I think that my biggest thing is that CPG is a blood sport everywhere else, because it is, as we know, it can be highly competitive, but Naturally Austin it’s about collaboration.

We are all about that. It’s not meant to be a blood sport under our tent. You can go do that outside of our tent, but inside of tent we need all of you guys to really kind of play along together and get to know each other because we’re stronger together if we can collaborate and be as like one unit.

I think that that’s going to be really powerful for not just yourselves, individually, but as overall as the CPG industry and really putting ourselves as a bright spot in the CPG map across the US.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely yes. Yeah. It’s so important, I mean, your struggles as a CBG owner are probably very similar to other people’s struggles as a CBG owner. So that community is so important.

I feel like really Naturally Austin is so supportive. It’s kind of nuts. And, especially with that Combo Loco, it was like direct competition, but everybody was rooting each other on. I thought that was so nice.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah, it’s pretty cute. It was really cute. I got a little teary. I was like the heart of this event and this mission that we set for us to do really came out in that video and I was super happy about how it turned out. We got a lot of great response.

I think H-E-B was really happy about it too because it really had a good heart to it. And, that was the point of it was that we show the heart of our members. So, that was the goal.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. Well, obviously events have shifted so much. You guys used to do so many amazing in-person events. Hopefully it’s on the horizon, soon enough we’ll get back to it. But like the Combo Loco, have there been any events that you’ve had to pivot to online that you really found to be successful?

Emily Kealey:
Every single one of them. I just remember like in March when everything started shutting down and then I got sick and I was like, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” We were sitting on his couch like, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t even know that organization yet.” I was like, “I don’t even know how all of this works yet and”-

Karin Samelson:
Right. Because, when did you start with them?

Emily Kealey:
February.

Karin Samelson:
That is so nuts.

Emily Kealey:
I know. I was-

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Thrown in.

Emily Kealey:
I just remember telling my husband, I was like, “This is going to be really interesting.” Because, it was kind of-

Alison Smith:
I love that you say interesting instead of difficult.

Emily Kealey:
I knew that we-

Alison Smith:
Good mind shift.

Emily Kealey:
I think we knew that we would work it out, and I think it’s from 20 years of doing this that you know it’s not going to be difficult, you know it’s going to be interesting. And I think if you position it as it’s not… nothing is difficult.

Things are just really interesting, correct? And, sometimes the best things come out of adversity and this was obviously a big mountain to climb of how do you organize these things when people so heavily rely on in-person events and really cherish them.

And so, I think through virtual happy hours, the joint when we did with SKU, that one was, I think also hilarious because there was booze involved and watching people have so much fun in these breakout rooms was hilarious to me. I have not laughed that hard.

And, I think everyone also really needed a release. You get on these webinars and you have to feel really polished and you’re wearing jogging pants below and-

Alison Smith:
Right.

Emily Kealey:
[crosstalk 00:28:36] like, I’m literally doing right now you guys.

Alison Smith:
It’s fine.

Emily Kealey:
You guys, like sick. Like, it’s fine. This is like a maternity shirt actually, but I still love it. But, I think that being able to provide safe spaces to relax and network was still really important and that’s why with the virtual happy hour and then the Combo Locos was really important.

We’ve got a lot of key learnings from this year and so that’s why programming has been a shift. It still will be virtually obviously. I also don’t see… We will be moving to in-person events in the fall. We have a big fall event.

That’s going to be massive, but our three-year anniversary is going to be a virtual happy hour. Because our three years is coming up in March and we know that March is still not going to be set, but I also don’t ever see events not being hybrid anymore.

I think we are continuously going to have in-person and virtual events together now. We don’t think it’s ever going to go away. I think it’s going to be the new norm, especially in 2021.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. So, sign up for Nationally Austin y’all. It’s fun.

Emily Kealey:
It is fun. [crosstalk 00:29:36]

Alison Smith:
Yeah. No long story. Sign up.

Emily Kealey:
It’s super fun. I think that the way we looked at it there some… [inaudible 00:29:41] Duswalt Epstein over at UT and she runs the CPG program there and she is amazing.

The way we’ve always put it as like, I think… UT is obviously a university, but UT is maybe like high school and actually Austin is college and SKU’s like PhD.

We’re lucky to have this ecosystem of the lifecycle of an entrepreneur where it starts with where you are in college, moves you into here at Naturally Austin or this like larger tent that’s meant to be like a really familial fun place to be and then SKU’s where you go get your PhD and you come out as like a doctorate of CPG.

So, I think that’s how we like to position it as like this three legged table.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Well-

Karin Samelson:
Well, and affordable for the most part-

Alison Smith:
I know.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:30:29].

Emily Kealey:
Exactly. Right. You’re welcome.

Alison Smith:
Austin’s CPGers are lucky. Yeah. So, big question. What would be your best piece of advice for a small CPG business owner?

Emily Kealey:
Oh, dear.

Alison Smith:
If you had to give them one thing.

Emily Kealey:
One thing. So, the thing I always told our CPG brands whenever they first joined on in the agency was you need to get your messaging and your branding down.

Your messaging has to be solid and I should be able to point at everyone on your team, even if it’s two people and ask exactly who you are and you both should be able to say the same thing pretty much. You really need to make…

And, by branding, I do mean personas, your target audience. You really need to know that and I think a sharp brand, and that’s where I would start. If you don’t have that, and you can have a great product and everything else, but if you don’t have…

The way I see it is like you have a really pretty framework of a house, but if you choose really crappy looking brick, it’s not going to work. So, everything has to be like that Curb Appeal, right? And, you have to be able to…

So, you have to know your audience, your audiences and what they do, where they go, who they talk to.
And, thankfully with you guys and the knowledge you have on social media, that’s very easy to find.

But, I think that setting those personas is really, really, really, really, really key. That’s the first thing I pushed was, you know your personas, because if you don’t know those…

You guys know what personas are. Sorry. I should try to explain what personas are.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, explain. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
The personas are me. So, think about me like I’m a… When people target moms.

Like a mom’s age, 35 to 45, 2.5 kids, household income of X amount, she reads the New York Times, Buzzfeed. She watches The Right Stuff and The Undoing on HBO. I know, right?

Alison Smith:
It’s so good.

Emily Kealey:
That was intense. But, she loves Chris Evans and Marvel, but whatever it is, you’ve got to find your people and how your product helps those people. And, you can have multiple personas, like my husband’s a big tech dork and he uses tech terms that I don’t understand any of them, but he gets targeted with these things and he buys these things and like, “What did we buy today?”

And he said, “Well, I bought Cat 6 cable.” I’m like, “Don’t know what that is. That’s cool.” But he’s super excited, right? Because he’s like, “I got Cat 6 cable.” And I’m like, “Fabulous.”

So, thinking of those personas where David shops versus where I shop and what is important to him versus me, it’s really important and that your product specifically supports them and helps them either enhance their lives, helps their lives, anything it does to better that persona is really, really important to set down.

Because, then everything you do around it, from like your brand personality exercise to your messaging fits in with that person and it really has to resonate with them because otherwise you are not set up for success.

Alison Smith:
So, what are some of your tips for brands to really define and hone in on their customer personas?

Emily Kealey:
Well, yeah when you think about like… I think about, like there’s a brand here in Austin called Chinook Seedery, and sunflower seeds are a fascinating subculture, I will.

Like, there’s an affinity for sunflower seeds. And, I remember my mom actually used to eat sunflower seeds. I’ll never forget she had David’s sunflower seeds and she would eat them.

And, if you have an affinity for it, there’s a passion for it. And so as we’re looking at the people that gravitated towards Chinook, because they’ve done such a great job building up their audience, I was like, this is the most fascinating group of people I’ve ever seen.

Because, there is this [inaudible 00:34:24] for it.

So, really looking at… And, you guys know this, looking at like Instagram, who’s following you and who’s tagging you and who’s all this other stuff, looking at the ecosystem that surrounds it.

And, I think looking at what’s adjacent to your brand, that they will latch onto as well. So this culture was Yeti tumblers, Yeti… like fishing, hunting, outdoors, really… Like sports, outdoor sports, baseball is one.

Baseball was obviously the given, right? Because, sunflower seeds and baseball are best friends, but when you start to expand out into the ecosystem, we started to see there’s a huge culture that was actually really had an affinity for sunflower seeds outside of baseball.

And, we thought it was a cold audience, but actually was a hot audience. We got to it. Like this hunting culture was also… I was like, “This is fascinating to me.”

That we found it and then once you start talking to them and you start doing influencer campaigns and all the stuff you guys do, it was a remarkable Hubble that took off.

So, I think that that’s what you really, really got to think about is finding those people and finding who is going to resonate with your product and making sure you really hit them and hit them hard.

I’m just trying to think of things like in my life that I have… Like, a main state that I have, but I’ll never get rid of. There’s some things I’m never going to not do as a mom.

Like, I’m just always going to have these certain products in my house that I will never get rid of because I’m a mom and it’s been a dependable product. So there’s just things you got to think about and how it really enhances your target audiences’ lives.

Karin Samelson:
I love the advice to not only just look at your direct…

what makes sense, what’s the obvious, but look at things that are adjacent to your brand and make multiple personas. There are so many people, so many different kinds of people that are going to buy your product, so you shouldn’t only have one, we call them customer avatars, personas, all the same thing.

That’s so smart. So, without playing favorites here, what are some really amazing CPG brands in Austin and beyond that you think are just like killing it right now and who we could be inspired by at the moment?

Emily Kealey:
Yes. So definitely not favorites. I have no favorites.

I really make that super clear that there’s absolutely no favorites here, but I do think, like I said, Wunderkeks, I said Golden Ratio. There is YaYa Tea, which has gotten across like sprouts everywhere and [Rachel’s 00:36:49] there is killing it.

There’s obviously any seven from Beatbox Beverages and Future Proof. I’m so impressed with what they’re doing over there and the success that they’ve had and there’s… What was the other one I was thinking of? Oh, Stroop Club waffles, who I just love.

I think they’re doing a really amazing job. Meli’s Monster Cookies. If you haven’t had those.

Karin Samelson:
Ooh, I’ve never heard of that.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, my gosh. They’re so good. And, I love the team over there. I hope she’s listening because I just love them so much. I love everyone equally, but I just [crosstalk 00:37:20].

Alison Smith:
No favorites.

Emily Kealey:
There’s no favorites. But, thinking of overall growth and just out there, Disco is another one, the brand here. Preppy products is another one that’s just killing it with their teenage focused line. There’s a new line here that I had known for quite some time.

They used to be Primal Pit Paste, and now they’re Pretty Frank and it’s called hey Pretty Frank. And they’re a great brand and I really… I actually use a lot of their hand sanitizers and stuff. They’re doing a great job. We just have such a really diverse ecosystem.

Oh, there’s another one called Gratsi Wine. It’s a brand new red table wine and I’m really digging that wine over there. It’s really great.

So there’s just so much, I mean, I could probably go on for like 85 years about all of our members that are just… Boozy Bites is another one. Like she’s also like… I just think about her growth and it’s just nuts to watch her and they’re also really fun, the Boozy Bites are really fun.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I’m definitely going to check out the Gratsi Wines. I’ve had Boozy Bites.

Emily Kealey:
They are at Tom’s Market right now. Tom’s Market on Barton Springs, but they’re also one of my favorite-

Alison Smith:
Nice. It’s almost a weekend.

Emily Kealey:
[crosstalk 00:38:33]. Gratsi Wine.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I mean, we just think it’s so important to look at these brands that are killing it and dissect as a smaller brand or even a bigger brand and dissect and learn from that. So, thank you for sharing.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, there’s another one, [Afia 00:38:50] Foods is the other one. She’s-

Alison Smith:
What is it?

Emily Kealey:
Afia Foods. Oh, my gosh. Yeah. She’s also over there. They got into Walmart, I think just now-

Alison Smith:
Oh, nice.

Emily Kealey:
It’s like something crazy. Yeah. Our little… Not little, our big little CPG members are just out there slinging and banging so I’m so proud of them.

Alison Smith:
So, what are some of the biggest challenges though that you’re seeing with your Naturally Austin CPG brands? Two part question, how can they overcome these challenges?

Emily Kealey:
I think the biggest thing that we’re seeing and that’s where… If you look at the Boulder ecosystem can take something from their playbook is production and storage and all of that.

We need more production. And I remember even with my pie company, trying to find a commercial kitchen to make something in, thankfully we got Joy Chevallier’s cook snuck over there. We have a lot of commercial kitchens. There’s Max with Wingman Kitchens that does stuff.

But, I think that it can be more. Like I remember one time I was talking to somebody, I forget who it was. This is a long time ago. And, she’s like, “I need an enrober.”

And, I was like, “A what now girl? What’d you need?” She said an enrober. So, it was the thing that covers… it takes chocolate and covers that thing that you need covered in chocolate, but it does it in a consistent manner. But, she’s like, “I’m flying to Orlando tomorrow to go purchase a $15,000 enrober.”

I was like, no CPG company is going to be able to do anything if they have to go buy a $15,000 one piece of machine to make your product work. That is where I highly, heavily and one of the things I’m championing across the board is production… places to produce, places to store, cold storage, just overall storage overall production needs. We need to have more of it.

I think Michael [Brandon 00:40:47] from Michelangelo’s just built one of the ground rock, which is a huge coal storage space. We need like 24 more of those and I think we need was more of that. So, I think the production side is where I just don’t want to see our members…

Like, if you need an enrober for two days a week, you know what I mean? But, you’re having to go by this or you’re having to go send it outside of Austin.

I do know some that produce outside of Austin too. I think that that would also help our local economy if we could help keep the jobs here or have opportunities for growth there and create those jobs here with the production piece of it. So, that’s the part I think we’re missing and that’s really hard to overcome.

It’s like someone needed a bottler the other day because their bottler was… Oh, someone needed another aluminum can maker because aluminum is short right now because of COVID and it’s like, “I don’t have anybody, who do I go to?”

So, that gets really complicated and that can hurt your business. So, I think just more of that is going to be really valuable for the industry as a whole, for us to grow and continue to thrive.

Alison Smith:
Well, if there’s any entrepreneurs listening, we need production, probably a profitable business in Austin.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. Can you please go make this happen? And, that’s really what I want to try to champion. And, I think there are some people who are heavily thinking about this right now of what the ecosystem needs to continue to grow.

Karin Samelson:
And, that’s so good to know. And, I loved your advice earlier and I’m taking it into account, if you are a consultant, if you are helping CPG businesses grow to know all facets of the business. I did not know that that would be a top challenge right now, but it makes so much sense. Nobody can afford a $15,000 piece of machinery and… Where can we find that? Where can we share that? Yeah, so that’s interesting.

Emily Kealey:
And, do you set up success and how do you make the… how do these people make those investments that ensures there’s an ROI there? Of course, there’s a business there, but I think it’s doable because once again, I am like this utopia. I think that we can figure it out. So, that’s my dream.

Karin Samelson:
I love it. I can’t wait to see you figure it out.

Emily Kealey:
I will.

Karin Samelson:
No doubts.

Emily Kealey:
Somehow, some way.

Karin Samelson:
Well, we talked about your best advice and I love that you were focusing on messaging and branding and knowing your customer personas, but what are some other things that you think CPG brands should focus on to really experience some of this growth that we’re seeing with the brands getting into Walmart and… Yeah. What should they focus on?

Emily Kealey:
Finances. You should know your P&L like the back of your hand. At all times, you should know your numbers. When someone asks you anything about your P&L like that, it should literally roll off.

I mean, that’s the best thing to me. That was the thing I learned with the pie society and my husband is a finance guy and he was like, “You have to know your…”

He owned the flight school here in Austin. So, he owned like eight airplanes or something crazy, and like flew people and taught people how to fly.

So, he was used to owning a business too. And, watching my father who works in the gas business, that was… I mean, he got a P&L daily report every day. And, he would look at his numbers every morning was the first thing he did.

The second thing is look at your competitors. I think you need to know who’s a competition in your space. If you don’t think you have competition, you’re wrong, you do.

And, I think you need to take a look at that and you need to be reading… I also highly encouraged my clients to… I would always send our clients articles like every day and I be like, “Look, who’s coming up on the horizon. Look who just got $175 million in funding. Just, look who just did this…

Really, need be paying attention to who’s out there and what newspapers are really getting the coverage out there. Here’s a trend piece for you. Here’s how this relates to your business.”

You really have to stay on top of that as well.

Karin Samelson:
Really quick on that. So, how are you finding all of that news? Like, what’s the best way to find that kind of news?

Emily Kealey:
Definitely Google, just Google Alerts. I think it’s also… I don’t know if you guys subscribe to the [Eros 00:44:57] [inaudible 00:44:57] reporter out. It’s free.

I take a look at Eros because that’s always a good, I think crystal ball to see what people are starting to talk about.

And, I’m like, “Oh, it looks like there’s a lot of topics coming up about X.” Definitely we are in a year COVID so that’s changed, but typically I would look at those and be like, “Hey, there’s a lot of people talking about at home testing.” If we think about Everlywell.

“There’s a lot of people talking about at home testing right now.” Obviously right now, they’re really talking about it. But, back in the day, it was also like, this is really becoming a thing, like this is really something we should think about.

And, how do you relate to that if you happen to fit in with the conversations happening amongst media? So, I highly recommend doing that.

And, I think that’s kind of the two biggest thing is finances and keeping a part of trends and making sure that you really are on top of both those things. And, if you can’t have somebody… Set Google Alerts.

You can set up Google Alerts to your competitors and your industry and anything that’s adjacent to your industry and you can just scan it.

Or, if you can’t scan it, get like your niece to do it or something like do a summary just as so you know what’s going on. Because, it’s really important that you keep your ear to the ground as well.

Karin Samelson:
And, it’s free.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. It’s free.

Karin Samelson:
It’s free. You just set it up. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
It’s free. And, I would say really determine if you are going to be D-to-C or if you’re going to be brick and mortar.

Obviously that has changed right now too, but retail is still going strong. Make a decision on where you want to go and plot that out, don’t just put it up there. And, this goes back to having a good brand and brand experience.

Once you’ve got that settled, once you’ve got your finances in order and you know where you stand then create that online experience. What does that look like to you? And, if you’re going to do retail, how is that different?

If you’re going to do Amazon, it’s a large, large lift to go into Amazon. You can’t just put something out there and you should not do that. Don’t do that. So, I think there’s a lot of things to consider and carving out those paths.

If you can’t hire someone, go find a mentor, come to Naturally Austin, go find somebody. There’s a lot of people who will help you and give you good advice and that’s really what that’s for.

Like, I can’t hire a PR person. That’s cool. You can find a lot of people who will definitely help you out, including me. I’ll tell you how to write a press release. I’ll take a look at your press release for you, but there’s plenty of people who are here to help.

And, if you feel alone, you’re not alone. And, I think that’s the thing to remember. There are a lot of people who are willing to help you out and provide guidance and find those mentors, find those people, find the people that have not only been successful.

Find the people who have admitted to failure. I like learning from them more than I learn… like learning from these. And, I really try to shy away from entrepreneur porn.

I think that gets really dangerous for people. While I think success is really great and we can put these people on a pedestal, they did a lot of work to get there.

And, I think the thing to remember too is like, “Gosh, this brand just like happened overnight.” I’m like, “No, it didn’t. Y’all that brand’s been around for 10 years.” Yeah, you know what I mean? Really, don’t even start with the-

Karin Samelson:
And, they had two other successful brands before that.

Emily Kealey:
And, they got billions behind them.

Alison Smith:
Right.

Emily Kealey:
So, I think that this entrepreneur porn gets very, very, very dangerous. I try to really shy people away from that. This is blood, sweat, tears, duct tape. And, it’s not for those who don’t want to really hit it and get it.

So, I really think find people who you look up to and not only ask them for their successes, ask them where they failed, ask them where they failed over and over and over and over again, because that’s where you’re going to learn too, because you are going to fail. It’s going to happen.

And, I don’t like to call it failures, but you’re going to have valleys. But, how do you get through those valleys and how do you overcome it? So, that’s really important to remember. Then, find people that can help you out.

Karin Samelson:
Such great advice, Emily. It’s inspiring. It’s so autonomous.

I feel the same way. People get stuck in like wanting to talk to the big, big success stories and it’s just like, I don’t know how much they’re going to offer you.

Emily Kealey:
They’re not.

Karin Samelson:
Your path is nowhere near theirs, right?

Emily Kealey:
And, you’re not even the same human being. I mean, that’s the thing. And, I think that people want to replicate what people’s success looks like and that’s a very deadly thing to do because then you negate who you are as a person for your own success, because then you’re starting to take…

You’re like leaning on a crutch. Like, “Oh my gosh, well, this guy did it this way. So, I have to go do it this way.” He did that 10 years ago. You know what I mean?

And, he’s a different person. You go be your own person, take that knowledge and then take the pieces out of it and throw the rest away because you are your own person with your own brilliant brain and you can do this too.

So, I think that just gets dangerous. I try to really get people out from, I think, doing… from thinking that that’s what they have to do in this entrepreneur porn really or speed.

Karin Samelson:
I got to Google that term. I’ve never heard it before.

Emily Kealey:
It’s like the… You guys were talking about with the Barbies on Instagram. Like, this doesn’t drive me… Just pop it. And this idea that you have to, but you do have to be up all night working and like, I only get four hours of sleep and like…

And I’m like, “Shut up.” You know what I mean? I’m like-

Alison Smith:
Yeah. That’s not cool.

Emily Kealey:
That’s not cool that you get four hours. I mean, if you do that’s new, but like, “Yeah, I haven’t slept in like two weeks in a global…”

And, I’m like, “Shut…” If that works for you, that’s really cool, but don’t make it a thing that other entrepreneurs feel that they have to go do.

Like, if you need 10 hours of sleep a night, girl, go get 10 hours of sleep a night. You do you and you make what’s best for you, but don’t put people on this pedestal and try to follow what they do and make it where it’s like this… It doesn’t make any sense. You know what I mean?

It really kind of drives me nuts. My husband does this. He’s probably over here laughing at me. Because, I get off my little soapbox and I’m like, “I’m just so tired of all these people.” I just want people to really respect who they are and find the best path for them and that’s what I’ve always believed in and that’s what I always try to champion.

That’s why I’m so thankful at Naturally Austin I get to do that because it’s really important that you respect who you are and your dreams and taking those lessons from others and then applying it to yourself and going out and being your best self and what you think is best.

Alison Smith:
That’s a great message to leave everyone with. Really, Emily from Naturally Austin this has been such a pleasure to talk to you.

Emily Kealey:
You too, guys.

Alison Smith:
If you guys don’t know about Naturally Austin, go check it out and join ASAP. It is one of Karin’s and I’s top favorite communities to be a part of. So, go check Naturally Austin out. And Emily, are there any links or anything that you want to leave anyone with?

Emily Kealey:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
How can they contact you?

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. So, it’s naturallyaustin.org is the website and you can always email me directly. I’m Emily, E-M-I-L-Y @naturallyaustin.org.

I’m always happy to take calls. I think you guys know I’ll talk to anybody and I’ll talk to a brick wall. But yeah, I’ll talk to anybody. You guys let me know and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

Alison Smith:
Thank you again.

Emily Kealey:
Awesome. Thank you, guys.

Karin Samelson:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders 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.

Sign up below to subscribe to our newsletter and get free marketing guides + how-tos!

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#12: Marc Nathan on Mindfully Scaling Your Biz & Building Community

Podcast cover image with Springdale Venture Principal
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#12: Marc Nathan on Mindfully Scaling Your Biz & Building Community

☎️ What if Walmart called you today…*ringgg*

Them: Hello, it’s us. Wallyworld!
You: Wow! I mean, one can dream – but, I didn’t realize this big day for my humble biz would come so soon…
Them: I’d like 1 thousand barrels of your finest pickles. 🥒🥒🥒 And, could we have them by EOD tomorrow?
No one: –
Literally no one, ever: –
You: I’ll have those pickles on your desk by dawn!

Us after interviewing Marc Nathan: NoOoOo! 🥵

When a huge retailer wants your product, it’s a good sign – sure! But, Nathan points out how the pressures of these kinds of partnerships can hurt your biz more than they help it. Plus, how monthly coffee shop hangs are keeping Austin’s CPG network (and beyond) connected in a time when we need it more than ever.

Let us break it down for you…

[1:00] Introducing, Marc Nathan! From university to the venture capital biz. At 21 yo, in the thick of building presentations and meeting investors. Formed his own marketing company to support + problem solve for startups.

[5:40] Now, are you working in tech as well as CPG these days? Yes! A word on people in the chocolate biz.

[10:29] Now, a cautionary tale about the pickles that couldn’t grow fast enough for Walmart. Downward pressure on suppliers.

[12:48] The partnerships you establish should mirror one another in size – agencies, businesses, and retailers. Know when to say no and check your contracts.

[16:24] Unlike tech entrepreneurs, CPG entrepreneurs overall – as well as CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas – are lacking the resources they need – the right education. From ingredient sourcing to co-packaging, every brand has been doing it on their own.

[21:00] So, what does the community of CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas mean to you? Lava hot market. Sophistication. Money!!!

[28:30] And, what’s a common pain point for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas?

Bootstrap. Know your customers. Then, get the money you need to move forward.

[31:00] Alright, what can CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas and across the U.S. do to better understand their buyers? Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok deep dives. What’s the vibe?

[33:05] Finally, tell us more about your firm! Egan Nelson. Law firm serving early-stage startups.

[36:50] And, when should a CPG brand seek legal assistance?

[40:30] Next, tell us about T-Squared!

[46:28] Okay, what makes a good or bad pitch? It comes from the head and the heart! Is the squeeze worth the juice?

[51:00] How about, what would be your best advice for a small, emerging business owner trying to figure all of this out?

[57:00] Last but not least, what’re some of your favorite CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas (brands)?

Read – #12: Marc Nathan on Mindfully Scaling Your Biz & Building Community 

 

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 marketing tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karen and Alison, co-founders of UMAI. And, we’re being joined by Marc Nathan, VP of client strategy at Egan Nelson, helping to connect CPG startups with funding and legal support. Plus, founder of T-Squared Agency, a specialized strategic consulting firm, and the creator of Texas-Boxed, a monthly digest email for CPG brands in Texas. Thank you so much for joining us, Marc.

Marc Nathan:
Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. Well, that is a lengthy resume.

Marc Nathan:
A mouthful.

Karin Samelson:
We’d love to start with your background. So, you have a degree in radio television film, is that correct?

Marc Nathan:
I do. Yes. From UT, that’s right.

Karin Samelson:
And then, straight into venture capital. Can you help us fill in the blanks there?

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. It wasn’t so much a blank. It was more of a dash. Well, here’s how it worked, very simply, really wanted to go into TV when I was younger. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Everything was great about TV. Films were a little bit more big. Whereas, I think TV was a lot more interesting and present. And went through three years of UT RTF, which I really enjoyed.

Marc Nathan:
And, in the summer of my junior year, going into my senior year, I was visiting my dad back in Houston. My dad was a lawyer back in Houston. And, there was a guy in his office, and the guy looked like a perfect casting for a CEO. Three-piece suit, the vest, the tie tack, the monogram shirt, everything. And he looked at me like I had three heads because I walked in, in shorts and sandals like a college kid.

Marc Nathan:
We got to talking, and he told me what he was working on. I was in the telecommunication space. He’s making set top boxes, and fiber optic, all this really cool tech stuff. And, I was very much a nerd. So, I was really into it. He went into my dad’s office, he came out an hour later, shook my hand, “Nice to meet you, son.” And, walked out.

Marc Nathan:
As I walked into my dad’s office, he looked at me and said, “What the hell did you say to that guy?” And, I said, “I don’t know. I was just talking to him.” And he said, “Well, he thought you’re pretty sharp, and he wants to hire you.” And I said, “Great. I need an internship. I’m happy to do it. Yes, I’m in.” And, he laughed. He said, “Marc, if you’re so damn smart, you’re going to work for me.”

Marc Nathan:
And, that’s true. So, I ended up interning for my dad as he was an attorney, as I mentioned, and he basically put me on helping this client who was actually raising money for the telecommunications business back in Houston. Then, at 21 years old, 20, 21 years old, I was in the thick of building presentations, and meeting investors, and figuring out all the processes that you needed to do to raise money.

Marc Nathan:
And I said, “I like this.” So, by spring break of that year, which is only a couple, three months later, after the fall semester started, I ended up forming a company called Bulldog Financial. My dad, he was the lawyer, obviously. I was doing essentially marketing, but specifically in very, very niche marketing for early-stage technology companies, trying to get them money.

Marc Nathan:
And, I basically did that little job for eight years, until my dad retired. So, I said it was time for me to take a break. Then, I ended up working for a bunch of other tech startup things. Plus, I was very, very active and frankly, still am very active in the startup community in Houston, even though I live here in Austin. Really, I just loved it. It just was one of those things that I fell backwards into, and never looked back. Never worked today a TV in my life.

Karin Samelson:
Unbelievable, that is a dash.

Alison Smith:
Yes, it’s a dash.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah, that was

Alison Smith:
I do love that you did say that he was the perfect casting for a CEO. So, you still have the lingo.

Marc Nathan:
Oh, yeah, no, yeah, that’s true. You’re right. I do. That’s right. Well, I came to realize, and this is something that took me a while to figure out that running a startup, and doing a film, or a television project are basically the same thing. Business plan is a script. You’ve got your CEO as the director, and the producers are the money people. There’s a lot of very similar things that.

Marc Nathan:
I’ve actually run very similarly, in that a startup, I don’t care if you’re CPG, or technology, or even biotech. They all have a problem trying to solve. In the case of a film, you’re trying to sell a story or tell a story. Whereas, the same is true in the marketing business, so you both know this. The same is true for a company. A company is constant telling their story. That’s what they’re doing.

Marc Nathan:
They first, the founder is always telling their story to a co-founder, so they can join them. The people that are then the founders are then selling their story to their employees, to entice them to come onboard. The group then turns around, and sells their entire story, really their vision to the market. And, they have to keep doing it because they have to keep selling.

Marc Nathan:
And so, there’s actually a lot of parallels to the film, and television business, and startups that it only took somebody with my very wacky, unique background to figure that out.

Karin Samelson:
I like that. I like the connecting of the dots there. That’s very interesting.

Marc Nathan:
So, it’s a lot of fun.

Karin Samelson:
And, you were focused in on tech. Really, now, are you working both in tech with CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas? 

Like where-

Marc Nathan:
I am.

Karin Samelson:
Okay.

Marc Nathan:
That’s right. So, in 2005, which feels like ancient times, we actually had a fairly sizable investment in a chocolate company. And this was a crazy industrial chocolate company out of Vancouver, Canada. They were selling chocolates all across Canada and then North America. We were the premier chocolate seller to Walgreens at the time that they were trying to compete with.

Marc Nathan:
Russell Stover, you know the big yellow box you always get for Valentine’s Day? Well, Walgreens thought that Russell Stover has had too much power over that particular category. So, they bought one of the brands that my company was selling, and they made it into their house brand. And that was an interesting thing to watch. And we did that for a while.

Marc Nathan:
And that meant I get to go to all the things, like the fancy food show, and expo, and all that. So, if you’ll pardon the pun, got a taste of the CPG business. And, I really enjoyed it. And, this has really become true. Most CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas that I’ve met are fantastic. I really, really like them. They’re warm, they’re friendly, they’re sweet. They really and truly want to put a smile on your face.

Marc Nathan:
That’s why they got in the business for the most part. Except, for chocolate people. Chocolate people that I found, and maybe it was just me, I found them to be very, very, closed off, and almost paranoid. And I think it’s because a lot of chocolate people come from Eastern European backgrounds, and they’re just very nervous around people that purport out money.

Marc Nathan:
And, they always think someone is going to steal something from them. It was a really shocking that every single chocolate person I met was a little standoffish, whereas CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas has been fantastic.

Alison Smith:
That’s so funny.

Karin Samelson:
That is so interesting. Be aware of chocolate people.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Well, you just have to treat them with kid gloves. They’re like introverts, you got to really coax them out of their shell.

Alison Smith:
So, do you see that a lot? You’ve been in the industry for a long time where a retail store sees that monopoly, and then buys, or creates their own brand of-

Marc Nathan:
Occasionally.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Awesome, that’s a good question. Yes, I do. The fact is, is just that, and you can even see this extrapolate even to Amazon. If Amazon sees a product that’s doing extraordinary well-

Alison Smith:
I’ve seen a lot in Amazon.

Marc Nathan:
And, it’s predatory. Yes. If they see something that’s selling really, really well, Amazon or some of these retail stores. What’s a house brand at a grocery store? It’s the same thing. And they can do it faster, cheaper, better, and without any of the headaches of dealing with vendors, so they do it. And so, yes, I think it’s a major thing.

Alison Smith:
Do you know what happened to Russell Stover? With their sales, or should CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas be scared to get that big, or I mean-

Marc Nathan:
No. No, no, no. Russell Stover is doing just fine. They’re going to be just fine at Valentine’s Day. A matter of fact, we were the ones that created, our company ended up not doing so well. We had some management issues. And what happened was basically, the brand it was called Truffelino’s at the time, went away.

Marc Nathan:
We couldn’t produce and Walgreens couldn’t get our products on the shelf. So, they’re basically saying, “You know what, we surrender.” Now, Russell Stover is what you see when you walk in the door on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And, that’s such a good note. I feel like there is a little bit of a fear with some past companies that we’ve worked with, where it’s like, getting into a retailer is the biggest thing. But if you have a really interesting product, and the store has an opportunity to create their own house brand, it’s just like, you’re dancing on this line of sharing too much with them, and then being able to run with it, and create their own.

Marc Nathan:
And that’s the biggest fear of working with Walmart. And everybody knows that. Walmart in particular has been doing this for years, decades, is that they will basically dangle a huge contract in front of these little CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas. It makes their day. Those CPG companies are popping champagne when they get that purchase order from Walmart.

Marc Nathan:
And the very next day, Walmart turns around, and says we need to knock your price down by 25%. So, we’re going to knock your price down by 25% every single year. Then, if you don’t do what we say, you’re off the shelf, and then all of a sudden, the CPG brands that these CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas have ramped up, they’ve bought new capacity, they’ve bought new packaging, they’ve pushed all of their focus into this one giant retailer because it really can’t make or break a brand.

Marc Nathan:
But oftentimes, that brand cannot handle the volume and overextend themselves. And they ended up going belly up because of it. We’ve seen this many, many times. There was an old story, and I don’t remember. I think it was Vlasic Pickles. I want to say it was that brand, where Walmart basically says, “We need a tub of pickles. We need a gallon-sized jar of pickles, and you’re going to make it for us. And this is what it’s going to cost.”

Marc Nathan:
And so, basically, the whole company geared their entire supply chain to supplying these huge vats of pickles. All of a sudden, they realized they were losing money every single time they sold one of these jars, and they took them off the shelf and Walmart said, “Listen, we want cheap pickles, and our players want cheap pickles. So, that’s the way it is. But, if you can’t supply it, we’re just going to cancel out completely.” Then, they did. So, that company ended up going bankrupt because of it.

Alison Smith:
Oh, wow.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. And that’s a fairly well-known story. I’m not giving all the details correctly, because I wasn’t obviously living in that pickle world. But it was definitely a very cautionary tale for dealing with giant company like Walmart.

Alison Smith:
So, is the moral of the story outlined something like that in your contract, or just don’t work with Walmart?

Marc Nathan:
No, no, you have to work with Walmart, you have to work with the whole foods of the world, the Amazon of the world, you have to work with retail, you must. It’s not going to work otherwise. What you do is you gently push back, and you have to say no. Don’t say yes to everything that the giant company demands, because it will turn you inside out.

Marc Nathan:
I’ve seen it many, many times. There was another company, a local company in Austin that got into Walmart, and it was in the energy bar space. And all of a sudden, it was the best day and the worst day of the guy’s life. Because they simply could not profitably supply Walmart with their downward pressure demands. And that happens over, and over, and over again.

Marc Nathan:
Walmart’s entire ethos is we have the cheapest prices. That’s what they do. That’s what it’s known for. And that’s why they’re the largest retail on the planet. One thing that amazes me about Walmart, I always like to say this, Walmart is the single largest private employer in the United States, second only to the US government. So, they can do whatever they want. And they do it. And when we go there, and we buy a cart full of cheap stuff, we do it because that’s what we’re trying to do.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. We have the buying power to keep them alive. But I don’t know the exact percentage, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I don’t know if it’s 50% of your business, or more shouldn’t be via one retailer or one means of income.

Marc Nathan:
But it’s like your business. I always say this to a lot of my startup friends, you never want to be somebody’s biggest or smallest client. If they’re your smallest client, they’re not going to pay attention. If they’re your biggest client, then they can basically dictate the terms. So, you want to have that baby bear just right fit. And that’s true on agency side. And that’s true on company side.

Marc Nathan:
You want to make sure that the company you hire, the agency you hire is the right fit for the stage that you’re in. And they say that the number one single killer of startups is expanding too quickly, is essentially building out infrastructure prematurely. And that can be also said about hiring bigger firms that they can afford to get to where they want to go. But they don’t know that they have to be in the same section, the same stage, as the agencies are working with. I see it often.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So, to mitigate that, I guess, just learn how to say no to things too.

Marc Nathan:
It’s hard. It’s hard. If somebody dangling a big contract in front of you, it’s really hard to say no, until you start doing the math, and making sure you can actually make money on the contract. Signing a contract is one thing. Actually, getting paid on it is another issue.

Alison Smith:
Very true. We’ve dealt with that.

Marc Nathan:
So, you have and that is the dirty secret about running any business in the entire world, whether it’s an agency, whether it’s a retailer, whether it’s a manufacturer. Your clients, your vendors dictate your returns by how fast they can pay you. And cash flow is the lifeblood of any business. And Walmart, and I keep dunking on Walmart.

Marc Nathan:
But, Walmart has done a lot of great things for this country, and they’re not going away anytime soon, whether I like them or not. In truth, I’m really impressed with the way they’ve been able to handle supply chain, and management, and distribution, everything else. But, they are notorious for slow-paying vendors.

Alison Smith:
Because they can.

Marc Nathan:
They can.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Most companies do Net 30 terms. You give them something, they pay in 30 days. Walmart has Net 90, and you know they? Yeah. And you know what they say if you don’t like it? Tough.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, not negotiable.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah, hit the bricks.

Karin Samelson:
That’s 90?

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, my gosh.

Alison Smith:
I’m sure they’re asking for huge orders too. It’s just how’s that… yeah.

Marc Nathan:
And so, in the last few years, a lot of these brands have learned these stories, and heard these things. And hopefully, by listening to podcasts like this, they can hear them some more. You have to, like you said originally, Alison, you’ve got to check the contracts. Because Net 90 is a killer, especially on super thin margin CPG brands.

Alison Smith:
You better have big money bags-

Marc Nathan:
That’s right.

Alison Smith:
… behind your brand if you even are considering a retailer of that size.

Marc Nathan:
That’s exactly right. Walmart is not your savior. You are getting a whole new kettle of fish when you’re dealing with a giant company like that. And the same can be said of Amazon and anybody else. Anybody can dictate your terms. They’re going to because they can. And that’s how the rich people stay rich, they don’t give their money away.

Karin Samelson:
We want to get CBG honors a piece of that pie.

Marc Nathan:
That’s right, and they deserve it. Totally agree. So, that’s Walmart. But I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve got to see a lot of really interesting brands, a lot of things coming up that are more informed and more sophisticated. The one thing that coming from the tech world and now being very much in the CPG world, I only gotten to CPG about three or four years ago, officially.

Marc Nathan:
And what I found, and like I said earlier, CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas are generally very sweet and very nice. Really, they want to put a smile on your face. So, this is a blanket statement. It’s certainly not true for everybody. But, I’ve also found that CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas are less sophisticated than tech people, but only because they don’t have a playbook. There’re thousands of blogs, and hundreds of podcasts, and all kinds of workshops, and books, and everything else about running a tech startup.

Marc Nathan:
But very, very few about CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas. And the CPG startup books out there are typically autobiographical. Here’s how I built this, or here’s what I did for this. And it’s about their individual story and their journey. But it’s not a blueprint of actually, how to run a brand. And so, CPG people, well, I find them a lot nicer in general than tech people. The tech people have a lot more information to go on.

Alison Smith:
And why do you think that is? Why do you think there isn’t a blue book or a playbook?

Marc Nathan:
There should be, and I’m sure there are out there, I just haven’t read it. I’m sure there’s something out there. But I think mostly, because, and I’m sure you both have dealt with this yourself. When you go and start a tech company, it’s typically the old story, it’s the old stereotype. It’s two young guys in a hoodie, and two hoodies in a garage, building some software piece that ultimately gets sold to Microsoft, or Google, or something like that, or Facebook.

Marc Nathan:
Whereas, CPG, the road is a lot more rocky. It’s a lot more obscure. Nobody really knows exactly what the path is. And I think it’s because they’re so individualistic. Every single brand is different. And every single brand has such a different vibe to any other brand, even the one right before them. Whereas, tech companies, the pattern is there.

Marc Nathan:
And it’s been essentially, the same pattern for the last 25 years. Whereas, CPG, the modern world, obviously, CPG has been around since the stone age. We know what a CPG is, we know what a brand is. We know what food is, and beverage, and accessories, all that. Whereas, I don’t think that they’ve had the forethought to really write it down and teach others.

Marc Nathan:
Because, frankly, most CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas out there – after creating their first brand, are one and done. You built a huge brand, you sell it, you may do another one. But most of the people retire because it takes them 20 years through the overnight success and selling it.

Karin Samelson:
So, when can we expect that playbook from you?

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. I have you guys write it. You people write it. I don’t know, it’s a lot. And I don’t know nearly enough to even put an outline together. But there are a lot of really smart people that do.

Alison Smith:
I find CVG to be the most, so many factors go in. So, you have to find your individual co-packer, or you can go the retail route, you can go the eCommerce route, you can go both routes. It’s just there’s so much going on.

Marc Nathan:
Right. That’s exactly right.

Alison Smith:
That I think that’s why there is no singular path. Maybe someone could create the most profitable path, but-

Marc Nathan:
There are people that are trying. I have seen it. I’m actually pretty impressed with what things are going. But what I found is that a lot of these newer CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, especially the DTC, the direct to consumers are taking pages out of the tech playbook. And we’re starting to see a lot more consolidation in the market. And I’m sure you’ve had clients that asked you questions like, where do I find a co-packer?

Marc Nathan:
Or how do I find a packager? Somebody who can actually do the packaging. What about picking place, and shipping, and all that? These are questions that are still very much in the stone age. There’s no website you can go to. Well, I’m sure there are quite a few websites you go to, but none of them are for your brand or for your location. And the real problem is that it’s still very much a trial-and-error business.

Marc Nathan:
The same is true for the actual taste of whatever you’re trying to make. How do you find the right ingredients? Next, how do you find the right mixologist? Then, how do you find the right food scientist to tell you that whatever you’ve cooked up in your kitchen is going to be able to be produced in mass with the right ingredients that are healthy, and organic, and all that? That adds a whole other layer.

Marc Nathan:
But the fact is, is that there is such a fragment in business that people have been doing this for 100 years, that there’s no real modern way of really deciding what your brand should be, and how your particular food item should taste. And then, you have to turn around, and go, and sell it once again, either eCommerce or through retailers. So, the entire CPG market really is very trial and error.

Karin Samelson:
And I think a lot of it is word of mouth too, just as many word of mouth recommendations you can get. And that brings us to another question about community, and how important it is to build community to grow your own brand. So, what does the Austin CPG community mean to you?

Marc Nathan:
Everything. It’s a great question. I love this town for CPG, and for other reasons. But the CPG market in Austin, and I can say to you while we’re recording this in the end of 2020, which has been a great year for everybody as everybody will admit, I’m kidding, of course. It’s been horrible for everybody. Except for CPG. The CPG market in Austin is absolutely white hot.

Marc Nathan:
It’s lava hot. It is lots of people, and brands, and people moving here, and sophistication, and money. Lots of venture capitalists are coming here with CPG in mind. There is this huge groundswell of activity. That’s really only happened in the last few years. And I’m very proud to be a part of it. I certainly wasn’t the catalyst. But I saw the trend. And I said, “This is something that we need to focus on.”

Marc Nathan:
And the way I did it about three years ago is as I was talking to a friend of mine, a guy that everybody in the CPG market in Austin should know, a guy named Felipe Vega with IronClad. He was just the greatest guy in the world. We met one day through one of the lawyers in my office, and shook hands, and looked at each other and said, “We’re going to be friends,” and we had been.

Marc Nathan:
And so, we ended up about three or four weeks later, ended up throwing a pretty big happy hour together. And we brought a bunch of brands in. It was a lot of fun. There were a lot of people there. I thought maybe 20, 25 people would show up. We’re 150 people there. It’s fantastic. And it was hot, in the summer at a brewery, and sweating.

Marc Nathan:
But, it didn’t matter because we were having a great time. And, it made me realize that there was a need for regular community meetups. So, that’s when I started a very, very simple coffee meetup that I called wakeup coffee. But, we ended up just very simply, I put an invite out to a bunch of people and said, “Come to this coffee shop.” At the time, it was Houndstooth.

Marc Nathan:
But we immediately switched it to a place called Cosmic Coffee down in South Austin, with a great patio, and great coffee, and good vibes, and good people. And we’ve been doing essentially, an open coffee every single month for the last three years. And it’s just a very casual, very easy way for people to come, and say hello before work. I love happy hours. I realized to go do those kinds of things.

Marc Nathan:
Obviously, not now during COVID. But I figured there was a lot of happy hours out there and they were great. The problem with happy hours is twofold. Number one, you don’t get a lot of work done because you’re too busy drinking. Fine. That’s what they’re there for. But number two, and really, for me, they’re always too loud. You can probably tell I’m a talker.

Marc Nathan:
And when I go to those happy hours, I’m usually yelling, and I can’t hear anything because the music is loud, people are loud. But a coffee is actually a lot easier. And it’s before work. I usually do it around 8:30 in the morning. So, people can be a little late for work because they are technically working. But it’s a lot calmer and a lot more interesting because the people that wake up early are the people that really want to go.

Marc Nathan:
Most people will show at the happy hour just want to go to happy hour, doesn’t matter who’s throwing it. And I’ve also found, and this is just a personal thing, happy hours are great when you don’t have kids. They are, they are a lot of fun. But kids take up a lot of time, and they’re great. They’re wonderful. And I’m very proud father and all that. But they’re a time suck.

Marc Nathan:
And so, it’s very easy to go to an open coffee, or a morning meeting when kids are either at school, or now during COVID times, working from home. And it’s very easy to actually get that stuff done because older people, people who are a little bit further in their career can actually do them. Whereas, happy hours are usually off limits. That’s just a lesson I learned over doing this for many years.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I’ve been, and it makes you very excited, and energized to continue your work, and you’re in it together with a bunch of other CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas or so. Truly, I think it’s great.

Marc Nathan:
I think that’s very true Austin. Austin in general, and I found this, I’ve only been in Austin for six years, and I’m from Houston originally, and Houston is great. I used to come up here all the time, even after I went to school here. But Austin has a very, very collaborative vibe. We love helping each other, and we love seeing each other succeed. There’re never any sharp elbows.

Marc Nathan:
There’s never any you do well, so I’m doing poorly. It’s never a zero-sum game here in Austin. I found Austin entrepreneurs, especially CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas are really, really open and very, very free with their time. If somebody has a question, they’ll always answer it. If there’s ever a hiccup or a problem, there’s always somebody to shoulder to cry on. But there’s a very collaborative vibe here in Austin. And I think that’s really what makes Austin special.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. We completely agree. Even getting to talk to you, and it’s interesting, you mentioned Felipe, I had no idea that he was connected in that way. But Felipe is one of two people that really got us our start.

Marc Nathan:
He is the greatest. He really is.

Karin Samelson:
And a very busy, very successful person that is willing to help others in this industry, just offering his time. You don’t want to take advantage, but it’s so true that this community is so strong, and we want to see each other succeed. I love it so much.

Marc Nathan:
And it’s a lot of fun too. And people like Felipe and a few others that are just there, they’re present, they’re open with their time. That’s the only reason I felt like I was even close to being a legit my toe in the water of being a supporter and a helper of the community. Because I saw other people doing it, and I just thought that I might be helpful in a certain way.

Marc Nathan:
So, I enjoy doing these happy hours. They’re all online now. They’re all through Zoom, and everything else. So, it’s a very different vibe. But we are trying. We’re doing our very best. And hopefully soon, we’ll be back into the real world, face to face, buying actual coffee and drinking it with each other vibe, soon, we’ll see.

Karin Samelson:
It’s so impressive that, I mean, just this last one that I was on, there are so many people on. You have built a very strong morning wake up with these folks. It’s really inspirational, honestly.

Marc Nathan:
Well, thank you. Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I enjoy it. Look forward to it. A lot of people will say they’re introvert. They don’t like networking. I’m the exact opposite. I’m an extrovert-extrovert. I like networking. For me, I enjoy meeting people. I enjoy learning about what they’re working on, and really who they are, and what their personalities are. So, to me, it’s great.

Marc Nathan:
And I will tell you that we were doing these things in real life when we were doing at the coffee shop, really, easily have 40 to 60 people there happily. That was an average time for us. Now, online, people have webinared out, they’re Zoomed out, they’re just tired, they don’t want to do anything. They don’t want to wake up early anymore.

Marc Nathan:
One of the greatest things about COVID is that you can basically roll out of bed and be in front of work five minutes later. And that’s something I don’t think it’s going to go away too soon. But our numbers are gone slightly down. And it’s not about numbers, it’s about the connections, and about the people. And the core group of people that show up are really great.

Marc Nathan:
But I will tell you, another advantage of doing these all online is that we had quite a few people from other cities that are joining us. We have a number of people from LA, San Francisco, Chicago, New York. And it’s awesome. That’s a really, really good thing because the more people that know about the Austin community, the more people, like you said, word of mouth, can talk about the Austin Community.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely. And since you’re talking to all these CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, what is a common factor, a common pain point that you hear with a lot of them?

Marc Nathan:
This is true, not just for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, this is true for startups across the board. The very first thing every startup will tell you is all they need is money to make it. I just need an investor., I just need a big customer. I just need a bank loan. Whatever that might be. The very, very first thing that a company should be thinking about, really, the deciding factor where they’re going to make it or not, is if they truly understand who their customer is.

Marc Nathan:
Who is your buyer? How do you get your buyer? Because if you know that, that piece of knowledge will help you get money. And a lot of people especially newbies in the startup world, they just think that you have an idea. You run out, you find some investors, or the proverbial VC that will stroke a check for you like a gift from God. AND then, all of a sudden, everything is easy street.

Marc Nathan:
And the opposite is true. Most investors will only give you money if you’re already successful, or getting to be successful. And therefore, to be successful, the very best way, and this is very much an Austin thing is Austin loves bootstrappers. We love to say, let’s find our customers, let’s get them to pay us, and let’s let them fund our services. And then, we can turn around and get money.

Marc Nathan:
And so, in the case of CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, it’s know your customers, know their profile, understand what their needs are, understand their price points, and figure out how to get to them in any way you can. Most people start with friends and family. And cottage industry laws have changed, so you could start selling cottage industry type products. Farmers markets are huge.

Marc Nathan:
We all know that. That’s how a lot of brands get started. Once you get past the farmers market stage, then it’s really time to think about eCommerce, specifically around direct to consumer. And only then is when you should really start thinking about retail because you have, once again, the buying power to actually make those contracts stick when some of the bigger retailers say this is what we want.

Marc Nathan:
So, things have changed dramatically because of the internet. And frankly, because of COVID a little bit. But I think a lot of people are putting the eCommerce step before the retail step, which I think is smart.

Alison Smith:
I love that you said that because Karin and I are pretty big on ecom first, just to prove your product, understand your buyer, hone in on your messaging before you start. It’s a lot of infrastructure. It’s a lot of money when you get into retail. To me, it’s archaic side of the industry still. So, I love that you said that.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. I’m a big believer in that. And the model has proven out. There’s a lot of companies out there, and just think about the amount of inventory money that has to sit on store shelves, or in warehouses, or on trucks to really serve that retail market, where you don’t have to worry about that at all in eCommerce. And the most important thing is if somebody buys your product at an H-E-B, you have no idea why they bought it, what they bought it for, how they bought it, what they put in their cart before that. Whereas-

Alison Smith:
Right. You can’t track marketing. It’s tough. So, with that being said, what can CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas brands do to really understand their buyer?

Marc Nathan:
So, talk to your buyer first, obviously, figure out who your customer is by either doing focus groups at the high end, but really at the low end, really understanding the digital marketing, whether that’s and obviously, UMAI does. So, I know that you have a lot more opinions than I do about this. But understanding who your buyer is by profiling them with exact matches on Facebook.

Marc Nathan:
Understand what they’re doing on Instagram, and TikTok, and every other system that’s going to come out that we don’t even know about yet. But really questioning the customer, why they have this brand, look alike brands, why are they buying this brand, except for, or because of another brand? How do you view adjacent markets? How do you do opposite markets?

Marc Nathan:
So, non-adjacent markets. I don’t think, and this is my favorite example. You don’t often see a yoga studio next to a gun store. There’re different vibes. The customers are not going to be going from one store to another. They are not doing that. Now, smoothie shop next to a yoga store. Sure, I get that. No problem.

Marc Nathan:
The fact is that you have to know where your customers are going, what their motivations are, and why they’re doing the certain things they’re doing, even if they don’t know themselves. That’s your job to figure out. But really understanding what that profile is, and building those personas I think are really critical.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. I would love to hear more about your firm, Egan Nelson, where you provide funding and legal support. So, how can CPG brands work with you? Do they pitch you? How does that work?

Marc Nathan:
Well, I’ll make this as easy as I can. And this is the easiest sales pitch I can ever make. Egan Nelson is a law firm, period, the end. Law firm is a law firm is a law firm. We offer a bunch of different services for a particular niche. In our case, Egan Nelson was founded in Austin. We have offices in Dallas, Seattle, New York, Denver, DC, and we’re thinking about a Boston office.

Marc Nathan:
And the fact is, is that we’re a boutique shop, and all we focus on is early-stage startups. We’re about 70%, 75% consumer tech, and B2B tech, so still in the startup tech phase. But in the last few years, we’ve really grown our CPG market quite a bit. We just hired a lawyer who came from Starbucks in Seattle, which is great. And we’ve got a lot of CPG experience.

Marc Nathan:
And we’re really focused on building up that early stage, that zero to one, and one to two style startup where they’re going from the initial friends and family round of funding to the Series A and Series B. So, the funny side of what we do is really me. They hired me, and essentially, acquired my consulting firm about five years ago, specifically so I can be a value add to our clients, which is helping them navigate all the different pitfalls of raising capital.

Marc Nathan:
My network of investors, whether that’s VCs, angels, Angel networks, high net worth individuals, family offices, banks, alternative funders. I know a lot of those folks, and I try to introduce my clients to them at the proper time. So, while we’re a normal, standard, everyday garden variety law firm, the one somewhat unique aspect of us is they have somebody like me who’s doing not just business development, and marketing, and events.

Marc Nathan:
But also working directly with the clients almost in the capacity of an investment bank, even though we don’t take any extra fees, or anything with that. We’re simply a value add. And our job is to make sure they have the very best legal service. And they have at least some guidance around the navigation of running a startup. So, they found me through my newsletter, which I was very proud of.

Marc Nathan:
And I can, with 100% confidence, say that newsletters work because it means I have the job I have now. So, it made a lot of sense to them to have a marketing guy who knew the market. Really, it made a lot of sense for them to have a business development person who knew business development. Then, I really do like the firm, they’re really good people.

Marc Nathan:
They’re not just good people, for lawyers, they’re good people, period. And, I enjoy the work. Plus, it sells itself because we do very, very good legal work for less than the cost of most law firms out there. So, you got me. So, what’s the loose?

Alison Smith:
That’s amazing. So, it’s just a value add, there’s no-

Marc Nathan:
That’s all it is.

Alison Smith:
… equity or any thoughts like that.

Marc Nathan:
Nothing.

Alison Smith:
Okay.

Marc Nathan:
No success fees, no equity, no hidden fees. It’s just I am there specifically to facilitate capital. And the reason we do that, A, is because clients need it, number one, it’s a market need. Number two, we have to make sure our clients have money so they can pay us. So, it’s a selfish need as well. But at the same time, it really does put us a little bit above, it edges us out a little bit above some of the smaller and equally good law firms out there.

Marc Nathan:
And it also hedges our vets against some of the giant law firms out there that would love to work with startups who are simply too big. So, we’re that in between middle market gap. And I really enjoy it. I think very progressive, very forward-thinking law firm, and we do very good work. And like I said, we do good work, very personal. And it’s less expensive and responsive than some of the bigger firms out there. So, it’s a win-win for everybody.

Alison Smith:
I think you said it, but I guess looking at financials, when should a CPG brand say, “Okay, I need legal help?” Is that when they’re looking at contracts with retailers or is that-

Marc Nathan:
[crosstalk 00:37:08].

Alison Smith:
Okay.

Marc Nathan:
So, the easy answer is you should get a lawyer the minute you want to start incorporating your business. The minute it becomes, “A real business,” you should have a lawyer. Nine times out of 10, that lowers your brother-in-law, or the divorce lawyer down the street, or somebody else. But the minute you want to get real with your business, you really should have a good attorney.

Marc Nathan:
All of these online services, and their best exemplified by something like LegalZoom, they’re fine at the very beginning just to incorporate, if there’s nothing complicated about it. But just a single LLC or a single-member organization, those are fine. The minute you get anything close to a complication, you want a good solid lawyer to look at it, and somebody who understands the startup space.

Marc Nathan:
So, our world is really just past that stage. We certainly do all the incorporation work, we certainly can convert you from the proverbial Texas LLC to a Delaware C-Corp to receive funding. Typically, that’s a company that’s been around for six to 12 months. And that’s where we really get involved. But our real goal is to work with a company from that year one to about your seven or eight and hopefully beyond.

Marc Nathan:
That’s the whole point. We get in very early so we can stick with these companies until there’s an exit, whether that’s through a merger and acquisition, an IPO, something like that. But ultimately, I think that as a law firm, we’re best served in that just after traction, you’ve figured out your brand new, you figured out your model, you are starting to look at contracts, you’re dealing with whether it’s distribution contracts, co-packing contracts, retailer contracts.

Marc Nathan:
That’s when you want to bring on a lawyer that’s going to really defend your interests against all the people that have been doing this for a million years. Personally, I do a lot of mentoring and a lot of support work for early-stage companies. So, back in the napkin idea, I hear all kinds of crazy ideas all the time, which I personally love. But from a client perspective, we’re looking for just a little bit later stage.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. So, please-

Marc Nathan:
Karin, I was just going to say the best way to put it, and my favorite way of putting it is that while we’re looking for startups, and this is true of every service provider out there, whether it’s UMAI, or Egan Nelson, or Felipe’s go IronClad, we’re all looking for funded startups. We love dealing with early-stage baby startups that have an idea, and a lot of pluck, and they just want to make it.

Marc Nathan:
But we also want to make sure they can pay us. So, funded startups, I don’t care if it’s your own credit card, or your trust fund, or whatever it might be, or outside funding. As long as you could pay your service provider, that’s really what we target, those types of companies.

Karin Samelson:
That’s an important note.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, that’s smart.

Marc Nathan:
Critical. There are lots and lots of places for these baby companies to go, and I try to be one of them. But in order to engage a professional service and like I said, marketing, legal, accounting, insurance. All these companies, they are not targeting early-stage baby startups.

Marc Nathan:
They’re targeting growth emerging companies that are typically making enough money to A, pay the founders themselves. Because sometimes all these startups can’t, and B, pay other people, whether it’s employees, or service providers like us. So, that’s the sweet spot for any service provider, any company that we look at.

Karin Samelson:
So, can you tell us a little bit about T-Squared, and your consulting?

Marc Nathan:
Of course, absolutely. So, T-Squared Agency was something I started back in 2013. We had just moved from Houston, my family picked up, and moved to Baltimore because of my wife’s promotion to her job. And so, I’m sitting at home, I was a stay-at-home dad for a year with a consulting firm, helping a lot of clients from across the country, but mostly back in Texas with their capital strategy, and really, their digital strategy.

Marc Nathan:
And so, T-Squared was a small little company I built. Through T-Squared, I actually helped launch or I started to launch of the newsletter I mentioned, the Texas-Squared Startup Newsletter that I put out once a week, which is essentially a digest of all the major startup headlines in the tech world. About three years ago, I did an offshoot of that called Texas-Boxed, which is the same type of thing.

Marc Nathan:
It’s a digest for all of the relevant news for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas that goes out on the first of the month. Because I had this newsletter, and because I continue to put in, there was a blogger, that I loved his stuff. I thought was very telling, very good, and very thoughtful. And I kept putting it in my newsletter. And he kept seeing traffic from my newsletter into his blog.

Marc Nathan:
So, he called me into his office one day, “Hey, Marc, come over, we’ll have lunch.” And I said, “Okay, sure.” And we had lunch, and I walked out of there with a job. It was the lawyer, it was Jose Ancer from Egan Nelson, and his blog, Silicon Hills Lawyer. And he said, “Look, we need somebody that knows this space. But we only target startups. We don’t really have connections or represent VC funds.

Marc Nathan:
So, we don’t like to make a lot of introductions. But Marc, can you do this and so forth?” And so, that’s what happened. T-Square was essentially acquired by the law firm, which is very, very rare. And I still use T-Squared is what I call my personal business. So, while I run my newsletters out of T-Squared, I do all of my events out of T-Squared.

Marc Nathan:
Occasionally, there’s a project like an advisory group, or something like that that I help startups that are not affected by the law firm. That’s what I use T-Squared for. So, T-Squared is my business persona. That’s not my actual work persona, if that makes sense.

Alison Smith:
Can you expand on what you mean by an advisory group? Is that like a mentor type?

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. So, you triggered something with me, so I’m just going to lean into it. Most accelerator incubator. So, think about the worlds of Y Combinator and Techstars, and here in Austin, Capital Factory. And obviously, we have skew here, which is a huge deal nationwide. And this is a semantic question. They call the people that work for them as advisors, they call them mentors.

Marc Nathan:
That’s just the name you come up with. I have a very serious problem with the word mentors. I believe very strongly that mentors help people in their careers, whereas advisors help companies. So, all of that class of people should be called advisors. And I know it’s a silly thing. And I know it’s interchangeable. A lot of people interchange the word accelerator and incubator, the same way people interchange mentor and advisor.

Marc Nathan:
But advisors are really consultants that are doing it for the love of helping, they’re not doing it for money. But mentors are doing it for the love of the person and the individual. So, I feel that most incubator and accelerator programs have advisors, not mentors. But the truth is, I am an active mentor and advisor every major incubator accelerator across Texas.

Marc Nathan:
And it’s something I really enjoy. But occasionally, a company will need a little bit more help, a little bit more time for me. And so, I’m working with roughly I would say, seven or eight different companies that I advise, where they will grant me some equity as an advisor, and we have regular meetings, and we grow the business from there. So, that’s what-

Alison Smith:
Well, just to play devil’s advocate here. With mentorship, you could say that the CEO or founder is the business in CPG.

Marc Nathan:
I get the point. I’ll buy that. It’s not exactly the same, and I’ll tell you why. You put me on the spot. So, I’m fighting back here. Yes. Nine times out of 10, the CEO is the heart and soul of the business. But they’re not the entire business because they have co-founders, and vendors, and a lot of cases, investors. And so, while they’re the nexus of everything, they’re not the only thing.

Marc Nathan:
And a business needs support and all kinds of different aspects. And sometimes a CEO can’t handle everything. So, they bring in advisors, or consultants, or mentors to help them or her with any specific issue, because that company really should be bigger than the individual. And so, that’s why I will push back a little bit on that.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. I’m definitely going to go to dictionary.com after this, and-

Marc Nathan:
Yeah, please do. And let me know.

Alison Smith:
… do a side by side.

Marc Nathan:
Let me know if I’m right or wrong.

Alison Smith:
I like that. No, I know, I’m sure you’re right. I like that distinction.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. And if you really want to dive into it, basically, there’s two columns. There’s the mentor column, where they’re helping people. So, they have mentors. At the lowest end of mentors, you have a coach, somebody who’s helping with a very specific thing. Whereas, in the investment world, you’ve got advisors, and they’re helping the company, and then you have paid advisors, which are consultants, then you have advisors that actually pay you, which are called angels.

Marc Nathan:
And so, if you start balancing these things out, you’ll realize that there’s all kinds of different people, individuals helping companies, but they do it for different motivations. Most of the time, on the personal side, people are motivated by what I call psychological profit. They’re doing it to see a smile on your face. They’re doing it to feel better about themselves. Whereas, if you’re doing it from a professional standpoint, you’re doing it to get paid. It’s as simple as that. But whether you get paid in cash or equity, it doesn’t really matter, but you’re doing it for profit.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. So, when you do advice, do these companies pitch to you? Can you tell us more what is good pitch or bad pitch?

Marc Nathan:
Well, the best pitch in the world is something that’s passionate, something that people actually believe in. And I say this to everybody, whether you’re pitching needs and advise, or introduction to an investor, the best pitch is one that comes from the heart and the head. It’s something that really is focused on… and the best entrepreneurs out there are the ones that observe a problem, and know how to exploit it profitably.

Marc Nathan:
There’s lots of problems out there you can’t make any money on. And those are called nonprofits. And there is a place for those. That’s not where I live. Entrepreneurs that pitch me, I had one yesterday, actually. The guy has very passionate about nutrition, and about solving world hunger, and solving behavioral issues. And he is very, very qualified to do that.

Marc Nathan:
It’s just not for me. Not my space. It’s not what I do. And I told him so. He asked me to be an advisor. And I said, “I can be an informal one. But I don’t think I’m going to be able to help get you over the hump, just by my name alone.” And so, I’ve seen a lot of really, really good companies that I can’t help. And I’ve seen a lot of really bad companies that I want to help, and just don’t see that there’s a reason to do so because they’re not in the right mindset.

Marc Nathan:
They’re thinking about a problem in the incorrect way. So, ultimately, the best companies, which means the best pitches are ones that see an achievable goal. And one that, and I like to call it, is the squeeze worth the juice? Is all the effort, and time, and money, and headache that you’re going to spend running this business worth it? Does it make you money?

Marc Nathan:
And there’s a huge difference between what we call lifestyle business, a company that can make you individually money that you can have a roof over your head, and food on your table, and vacation two weeks out of the year. That’s the lifestyle business. Then, there’s the growth business, the venture business, the entrepreneurial style business, where it’s scalable.

Marc Nathan:
And that’s really, the differentiator. Can it scale to the point where it’s bigger than an individual, and an investor can make money on it? I tend to work with scalable startup businesses, not lifestyle businesses. That’s just the way I operate. There’s nothing wrong or bad about either one of them. They’re just very different. And so, to get back to your question, the very best pitch is one that is an addressable problem that has a unique and special solution.

Marc Nathan:
There’s always unique selling proposition, always something that is either a insight to the market that nobody else has, or technology, or in this case, CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas creating a brand that doesn’t fit the market, or there’s a gap in the market they’re filling. Those are the ones I love. Those are a lot of fun.

Karin Samelson:
And the ones that have proven themselves with the ecom element.

Marc Nathan:
That’s right. That’s right. I’ll even dive into one right now, one that I love right here in Austin.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, please.

Marc Nathan:
So, she’s not a client personally, but she’s a friend. Her name is Dee Dee Bryant, and the company is now called Boozy Bites.

Alison Smith:
Yup, I’ve had those.

Marc Nathan:
I can honestly say I’m not the target market. Boozy Bites, for those that don’t know, is a vegan, algae-based Jell-O shot that comes in a patented Dee Dee cup that pops up like a blow pop, or a pop-up thing. So, it pops right in your mouth. Well, I don’t remember the last time I had a Jell-O shot. It’s been decades. But people still drink them or use them.

Marc Nathan:
And Dee Dee has come up with a brand and a product that I think is absolutely brilliant. It’s unique in the market. Nobody else is doing this. The way she’s doing it. It has a very specific target. Obviously, her market is not middle-aged white guys. It’s usually focused on younger women, typically sorority girls, and that’s perfectly okay. Sorority girls and bachelorette parties.

Marc Nathan:
And she’ll tell you that her brand is actually bigger than that. There’s tailgating, and a bunch of other things. But let’s face it, that’s who she’s going after. And I think she’s just done a brilliant job building this brand, building the formulation, and making it work right here in Austin, Texas.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Kendra Scott did it with that same niche. So, Dee Dee has got it.

Marc Nathan:
Absolutely. And Kendra Scott, I’m not saying that she made all her money at my house. But there’s a lot of Kendra Scott jewelry in my home right now. Because I have teenagers.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. How interesting. So, what would be your best advice for small, emerging CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas that’re just getting their legs and trying to figure this all out?

Marc Nathan:
Okay. So, I’m going to give you the answer. But first, I’m going to qualify the question. I don’t know anything. So, I am not qualified to give advice to anybody under any circumstances. Really, I learned this a long time ago from a personal mentor of mine. Once again, mentor is somebody who cares about you and not the business.

Marc Nathan:
So, this guy told me years ago that nobody cares about your advice, because everybody ignores advice. So, I can only tell you what my opinion is. And if you value my opinion, you’ll listen. If you don’t value it, okay, no big deal. So, my opinion about what’s the one thing a CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas and beyond can do, it’s there’s so many, but I think the number one thing, we said earlier, is know your customer.

Marc Nathan:
Really understand what they need, what they expect, what their taste profile is, what they expect in a packaging, what they expect on pricing. And if you’re going to change their expectations, you better have a good reason for it. You can’t just do it, because you think it’s cool, or you think it’s fun. You’ve got to really play with their expectations, and make sure that they fit with what they want, or what they’re willing to pay for, is a better way to say that.

Marc Nathan:
And also, and this is the very best thing about working with CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, especially in food and bev, and you’ll understand this, make sure it tastes good. I can’t tell you how many great brands, great companies, great packaging I’ve seen, and the product itself tastes like garbage. And it’s the most disappointing thing in the entire world. And it’s super subjective, obviously, your taste and my taste are very, very different.

Marc Nathan:
Your tastes might be different from one afternoon to the next. But there has been a few instances where I’ve actually opened up a really cool package. And I think it’s awesome, I love the name, I love everything about it, and I opened it up, and I taste it, and it just taste terrible. To me, that is the number one, and frankly, the best part about working for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas.

Marc Nathan:
Because it’s very binary, you either like it or you don’t. It’s that simple. With technology and software, you don’t have to love it, you don’t have to be a user of it to realize you can make a lot of money. Whereas, consumer food and bev, you really do have to like it to really be passionate about selling it, in my opinion.

Alison Smith:
And that’s another thing why CPG can be pretty difficult for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas in particular, not only need to solve a problem, every other business needs to do, you also have to make it taste good. So, it’s another additional.

Marc Nathan:
And, there’s all kinds of things where everybody wants to be in a category now. They want to be keto. Also, they want to be organic. They want to be all these different things. And, those are all very noble causes, and they’re great. But starting a company from an ideal and not a taste, I think is a big mistake, personally. Make sure it tastes good first, then make it healthy.

Marc Nathan:
Instead of making it healthy, and then making it taste good. I can’t tell you how many times, and once again, this is super subjective to me. And I’m not writing a lot of checks for CPG companies. So, I’m not the best person to ask. But I see this all the time. And, I hear this from a lot of my friends – CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas – that say, at the end of the day, the dogs have to eat the dog food. Really, it’s as simple as that.

Alison Smith:
I like it. So, that’s another step one for step two, I think that’s really helpful.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. And, this is the hard part. When you are starting to taste and test a product, you’re giving it to your friends and family. They’re not going to tell you to your face that your baby is ugly. So, you have to make sure that you’re getting an honest reaction from people. We went to the farmers market, I guess it’s about six months ago, it was really early on in COVID.

Marc Nathan:
And so, I’m at Lakeline farmers market, and I’m walking around, and the best part about me going to farmers market, I was actually, know people that are vendors there, so great. Hey, how are you? Good to see you, all that. So, I went to another vendor, and they had a package. I’ve never seen it before. And I said, “What’s this?” They said it’s a new snack brand, and it’s local.

Marc Nathan:
I said, “I’m in, I’ll buy it right now.” So, I bought two bags, took them home without trying it because during COVID, you can’t taste anything. I’m not going to say what the brand is because I opened it up. And at first, it was cool. It was like a puff. I tasted it. It was great. And then, three seconds later, the aftertaste was so awful, that I literally spit it out. And I never do that. It was like a cartoon.

Marc Nathan:
So, I thought maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I ate something wrong. So, I bring my kids in, and all of a sudden, in a row one, two, three, four, spit it out, spit it out, spit it out. And, half of that pack is still sitting in my pantry. But it’ll never get eaten because… and it’s just one of those things. You really have to understand what the taste is. And it’s really, really hard.

Marc Nathan:
Because you need a lot of people to tell you. Yes, no, or maybe so. And that’s really hard, especially now, we can’t really go out and do things like that. So, another challenge-

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. It’s so important to not only… I feel like so many founders that we know, we’ve worked with, we haven’t worked with, where they make the product just for themselves, when you got to make it for others.

Marc Nathan:
Absolutely, absolutely. I see that all the time. And, it’s something that I will tell you a huge perk about working for CPG, and both of you know this. This is not true in software I can promise you. I get a package two or three times a week, UPS, Amazon.

Karin Samelson:
My favorite part.

Marc Nathan:
It’s the best. And that box, whatever that box is, I don’t care if it’s a big box, small box, you open it, and you’re so happy because it’s somebody’s baby, you get to try and taste. And so, we are very, very fortunate that those boxes have not stopped.

Karin Samelson:
The magic of consumer goods.

Marc Nathan:
It’s the greatest.

Karin Samelson:
All right. Alison, I saw you lingering on this last question. So, last but not least, Marc.

Marc Nathan:
I like the hard ones, go for it.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Who are some CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas that inspire you that we should… other consumer goods people can look at?

Marc Nathan:
Absolutely. I’m glad you didn’t say who are your favorites because it’s like picking which kid is your favorite. I have one, but I can’t tell anybody. I’m kidding. The bottom line, some inspirational brand, and I’m going to go local. And, I’m just going to name them because they’re friends, they’re people that I really like. And, I really like [Cristiano Pardo 00:57:30]. He’s got a Brazilian cheese bread.

Marc Nathan:
And, I think it’s phenomenal. I think it’s great. I really like Morgan Potts with Granarly, which is a whiskey baked granola, who I just adore her, and I love the brand. Then, I think that Kevin Newsum with Steamm, and his cacao sweeten espresso shot is a phenomenal brand. Next, I absolutely adore Chantal Piet with stroopwafel or Stroop Club. She’s the greatest. There are a lot of local awesome brands that are achieving what I call escape velocity.

Marc Nathan:
They’re getting beyond Austin, getting beyond the local. I know I said four or five. And I’m probably missing 100, which is a shame because I love them all. But there are certain brands, and certain people here that you just like to see succeed. You like to see help. There are so many of them. It’s really hard to pick any, but these are inspirational people because they’re getting into national retail in a lot of cases.

Marc Nathan:
Hema Reddy with her Wundernuggets is getting into national retail, which I think is great. I think that there’s a lot of people that want to see those companies succeed. And frankly, and here’s the best part, we’re seeing a lot of companies moving to Austin for a variety of reasons. Look, people are landing in Austin now with their brands. It’s not just food and bev.

Marc Nathan:
I’ve seen a lot of apparel, specifically shoes. I’m seeing a lot of shoe brands coming here. And I’m seeing a lot of those places because born in Austin, made in Austin is actually a brand unto itself. It matters. If it was born in Idaho, unless you’re a potato, who cares? But I think that the made in Austin brand is really valuable. We touched on Kendra Scott.

Marc Nathan:
One of the biggest consumer brands in the entire world right now is YETI right here in Austin. We’ve got things like Tecovas boots here that are doing Superbowl ads. It’s just a phenomenal place to be.

Alison Smith:
It’s exciting. And we ask this question because Karin and I really don’t want to make it harder for people. We don’t think that you have to reinvent the wheel. Definitely, and check out these people, and model, and see what they’re doing for your brand.

Marc Nathan:
Right, right. And here’s the best part, you can absolutely do that, you can see what they’re doing on the public side through, once again, there’s Facebook and Instagrams. You can see what they’re doing on the private side by meeting them because they’re very, very vocal, and they come to these events, they show up. I will make a plug for naturallyaustin.org.

Marc Nathan:
It’s a great organization for a lot of people. The current, how should I say this? The woman who’s phenomenal, Emily Keeley, who’s running, it is now the director of marketing for her parent group. So, I’m not exactly sure who they’re going to bring in. I’m sure they’ll be announced shortly. But that’s another great group. In Dallas, you’ve got DFW CPG, which is a similar organization, which I think is doing phenomenally well.

Marc Nathan:
I’m a sponsor and a very active member of a Slack group called Startup CPG, which I think is great. There’s a Facebook group that I’m actually meeting with somebody on New Year’s Day on Friday, who I met through another Facebook group called OMGCPG. And, I think that’s a really good one. I see a lot of Austin names pop up on that one occasionally.

Marc Nathan:
But there’s really not a lot of national organizations for CPG support, that are not themselves events, like fancy food show, or naturally expo, or all those things. So, we’re starting to see some of those organizations pop up.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. So, join some, mingle-

Marc Nathan:
Show up.

Karin Samelson:
Connect.

Alison Smith:
It’s all about community. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Absolutely. Just showing up is really, really critical. And, it’s so easy to do that now online. There’s a brand that I love out of California that I met here in Austin a few months ago. And now, I see it online. It’s a ginger beer. And it’s an Aussie ginger beer. It’s fantastic. And I see her all the time, Donna Katz. It’s called Hard G’s. And, it’s just a great group.

Marc Nathan:
There’s actually one in Houston doing something very similar. That’s Erin Holt Simpson, with her brand Thirdborn. I find them to be plucky, and fun, and interesting. And like I said, and I’m going to be very direct right here, I’m going to be very blunt. This is just my personal experience, it’s not true for everybody. I have found that most of the brands we’ve discussed are run by women.

Marc Nathan:
And I find that these women are typically, and I’ve actually specialized in working with female entrepreneurs for many years. Long before I had a lot of girls, and kids, and all that, I like dealing with female entrepreneurs for one reason. I’m not playing to my audience here. I’m telling you the truth. I find that women are typically a lot more coachable than men.

Marc Nathan:
And I find that women are much, much better at synthesizing a lot of disparate data. Whereas, most guys that I talk to, especially those proverbial two 20-year-olds in hoodies, building software companies, they just listen to the last blog post they read. And, they just go do whatever that is without really thinking about it.

Marc Nathan:
But I find that women also tend to want to be more not motherly, but want to put a smile in your face. So, they really do care what you think about their brand, they’re not just looking to sell it. Whereas, male-dominated brands, this is not true in Austin, of course, but male-dominated brands are really just about self and velocity. It’s a financial aspect to it less than the taste, and the brand, and how it makes you feel.

Karin Samelson:
Not playing to your audience, eh.

Marc Nathan:
No, I’m trying not to. I would never pander.

Karin Samelson:
Well, Marc, it’s really such a pleasure. You’ve provided so much value to our listeners, and we’re so excited to have you on, and to get to know you a little bit better. Would you like to leave the audience with anything, a link, a call to action?

Marc Nathan:
Yes. Well, first of all, thank you both very, very much for inviting me. I feel very honored that I mean, in the same sentence, as a lot of the people you’ve already had in your podcast, I really appreciate it. The fact is, is that I never expected to be in any leadership role of any CPG ever – let alone one for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas. And now that I am somewhat thrust into that position, through my own making, of course, I got to tell you, I really, really enjoy it.

Marc Nathan:
I find it so fascinating, and so fun, and so interesting. And it’s because of people like you who are building this, and actually doing the professional things that these brands need on the marketing side to make them work, that this whole thing keeps turning. So, I think it’s really, really a testament to what you’re doing in such a short amount of time to build your brand.

Marc Nathan:
So, I really appreciative that you invited me in the first place. That said, the only thing I can say is, gosh, I have so many things I like to plug, and my favorite subject is myself, which you’ve given me an hour to talk about. So, I appreciate that. Obviously, the law firm, egannelson.com. That’s obvious. If you want to connect with me online, very best way to do this through LinkedIn.

Marc Nathan:
And, I’m easy to find. Actually, I’m easy to find anywhere on LinkedIn or on the internet. It’s marc1919, marc1919 is my very first high school email address that I basically kept through many, many years of online personas. So, marc1919 is nine times out of 10 me on any platform you can imagine. But LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, you name it.

Marc Nathan:
And also, please, please, please attend the Wake Up! CPG Meetup (amazing for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas and beyond), which we hold on the fourth Thursday of every month. So, the next one coming up won’t matter because it’ll be online. The meetup is the Austin consumer Products meetup, if you want to find it there, or on Facebook Wake Up! CPG.

Alison Smith:
Wonderful.

Karin Samelson:
Yup. We’ll be there too. So, you’ll say hi.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Good. It won’t be a party without you.

Alison Smith:
Well, Marc, thank you again. This is a lot of fun.

Marc Nathan:
I enjoyed this very, very much. I really appreciate letting me talk. Thank you.

Karin Samelson:
Thanks, Marc. Enjoy being with all the kiddos.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Good way to put it. Let’s try and enjoy.

Narrator:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas – the ideal pod for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas and beyond. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders, or whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram at UMAI marketing, or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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