Formulating Authentic Better-For-You Products With Marissa Epstein
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

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

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

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

Let us break it down for you…

[0:40] Introduction.

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

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

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

[11:30] Consumer confusion + terminology.

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

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

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

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

[38:00] Brands that inspire Marissa Epstein!

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

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

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

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

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

Marissa Epstein:
Thank you so much for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
Vision fatigue.

Marissa Epstein:
Exactly. Right?

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marissa Epstein:
It’s really fun. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
That’s cool. Very cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marissa Epstein:
Yes.

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

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

Alison Smith:
Thank you so much.

Karin Samelson:
Thanks so much Marissa.

Marissa Epstein:
Thanks guys.

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

Leave a Reply

Sign up below to subscribe to our newsletter and get free marketing guides + how-tos!

Ready to scale your consumer goods brand?

Take our FREE 5-day Mini Course and learn our strategies to drive growth!

Skip to content