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

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

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

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

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

Let us break it down for you…

[0:40] Introduction.

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

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

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

[11:30] Consumer confusion + terminology.

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

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

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

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

[38:00] Brands that inspire Marissa Epstein!

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

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

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

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

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

Marissa Epstein:
Thank you so much for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
Vision fatigue.

Marissa Epstein:
Exactly. Right?

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marissa Epstein:
It’s really fun. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
That’s cool. Very cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marissa Epstein:
Yes.

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

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

Alison Smith:
Thank you so much.

Karin Samelson:
Thanks so much Marissa.

Marissa Epstein:
Thanks guys.

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

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#21 Joi Chevalier on Thoughtful, Repeatable Management Systems

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#21: Joi Chevalier on Thoughtful, Repeatable Management Systems

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

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

Let us break it down for you…

[0:44] Introduction

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

[9:00] Voluntary separation with Dell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[51:00] Food is medicine.

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

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

#21: Joi Chevalier on Thoughtful, Repeatable Management Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Made it last night.

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

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

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

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

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

Narrator:
I want to win.

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

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

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

Narrator:
Program? Oh, okay.

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

Narrator:
Wow.

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

Joi Chevalier:
That’s just corporate. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

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

Narrator:
Wow.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. They were-

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

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

Karin Samelson:
I’ve been here.

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

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

Joi Chevalier:
It was. It was.

Karin Samelson:
… take you a while?

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

Karin Samelson:
Okay.

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

Karin Samelson:
Love it.

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Sounds like a product.

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

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. That was it.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

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

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

Joi Chevalier:
It was.

Karin Samelson:
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joi Chevalier:
Sure.

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Ooh, cookbook.

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Zoom camera off now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joi Chevalier:
Many of them do.

Narrator:
Nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
And somebody can do it better.

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
I hear that.

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

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

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

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

Narrator:
That’s absolutely right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
What’s the second thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Benefits of being small and nimble.

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

Karin Samelson:
Can’t bring up the processes.

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

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

Narrator:
So interesting.

Joi Chevalier:
That was a bit long.

Narrator:
No, no-

Karin Samelson:
No, I love it.

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

Joi Chevalier:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Narrator:
Good to hear. Good to hear.

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

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

Narrator:
That’s, I mean, something-

Joi Chevalier:
End up being throw away.

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

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

Narrator:
But just listening really.

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

Narrator:
Right.

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narrator:
I see. Okay.

Joi Chevalier:
But manage the system.

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

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

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

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

Narrator:
How has-

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

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

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

Narrator:
Okay. Okay. I wasn’t-

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

Narrator:
You can partner with Amazon.

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

Narrator:
Pretty neat.

Karin Samelson:
Food and tech.

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

Karin Samelson:
Call her.

Narrator:
Hold your line, please.

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

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

Narrator:
Yep.

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

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

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

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

Narrator:
That’s correct.

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

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

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

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

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

Narrator:
Yep. That’s so right.

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

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

Narrator:
I’m ready. Been born ready.

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

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

Joi Chevalier:
As your product.

Narrator:
As your product.

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

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

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

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

Narrator:
Very interesting.

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

Narrator:
Right.

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

Narrator:
The other.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Joi Chevalier:
Yeah. The other product.

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

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

Karin Samelson:
A lot of days.

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

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

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

Narrator:
Wooh, Kevin. Okay.

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

Karin Samelson:
Hey, that’s good learning.

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

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

Narrator:
Okay. Ooh, on Twitter. Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Thanks so much, Joi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Samelson:
Bye.

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

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#20 Financial Planning Success with The Good Food CFO

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#20 Financial Planning Success with The Good Food CFO

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

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

Let us break it down for you…

[00:45] Introducing Sarah Delevan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[44:25] “Right-sizing” a business.

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

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

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

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

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

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#20 Financial Planning Success with The Good Food CFO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
Wow, what a ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
That’s so interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
Right.

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

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

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

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

Sarah Delevan:
Absolutely.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

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

Karin Samelson:
Please do.

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

Karin Samelson:
We want the show notes.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

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

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Good decision.

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

Alison Smith:
Totally doable.

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

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

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

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

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
The data.

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

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

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah, how many-

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
What do you want?

Sarah Delevan:
Build that business?

Alison Smith:
Love that

Karin Samelson:
Did you call it right sizing?

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Never heard that before.

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

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

Alison Smith:
Really. I love that term.

Karin Samelson:
Me too.

Sarah Delevan:
It’s cool, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
It’s not the potato chips.

Sarah Delevan:
No.

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
I think you’re doing it.

Sarah Delevan:
I hope so, yeah.

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

Sarah Delevan:
Thank you.

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

Sarah Delevan:
Yeah.

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

Alison Smith:
Yeah, thank you.

Sarah Delevan:
My pleasure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Delevan:
Thank you guys for having me.

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

 

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

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

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

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

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

Let us break it down for you…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[32:57] The outlook on sustainable packaging. 

[35:43] Exciting packaging innovations to explore!

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

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

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

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

Mentions from this episode: 

Follow Buttermilk Creative –
Instagram 
Website 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy Kurtts:
I’ll try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
Okay. Cool.

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Smith:
That sounds awesome.

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

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

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

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah.

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

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. It’s crazy what people do to… The FDA provides lots of different formats for your packaging. Most people just think of that traditional just table version. But there’s a version where it’s just words. That would go on a really small package. But a lot of folks just take… Because you get a JPEG image of your nutrition facts and from whoever, the lab or whatever. Then you’re like, “Okay, well I need to take this format and then just slap it on this label or whatever.”

Andy Kurtts:
They just shrink it or they squeeze it or they compress it. While technically you have a nutrition facts panel, well for one, it’s not doing the consumer any good because they can’t read it. And then there is a potential that it’ll get flagged by the FDA, and then you have to fix it and there might be fines associated with that, so just that awareness of all the different formats in which one can go with which size of label. The size of label really drives everything.

Alison Smith:
Wow. That’s something so small I feel like a lot of people could easily overlook but… So those are the no nos. Are there any, you talked about grocery buyers resonating with certain types of packaging. Is there anything that stands out that people should look to add to their design?

Andy Kurtts:
I think it’s always having, if you don’t clutter the packaging but having good call-outs that are relevant to your customer and the category that you’re in. If it’s like, this is a very generic example, but if you’re making an energy bar, then make sure you mentioned keto and paleo or whatever. Really being able to… Then any relevant certifications or logos, like USDA Organic or Non-GMO, that kind of stuff. That really resonates with grocery buyers because they know that all of those certifications to use those logos costs money.

Andy Kurtts:
Well, first of all, you have to get your product approved and your facility approved and all that kind of stuff. Then you have to keep it up and you pay for that every year, so obviously you’re invested in whatever-

Alison Smith:
The standards.

Andy Kurtts:
Exactly. I think that means a lot. Beyond that, it’s very… They’re really looking for stuff that is going to stand out on the shelf, it’s going to be different than what they currently have. If you have the ability, then you go to whatever store you’re going to try to get into and really look at the set and really understand, okay but everything’s dark or everything’s brown here. Let’s say like the granola set. Everything’s either really light or really brown, so maybe we do a bright bag four ours or whatever.

Andy Kurtts:
They’re also, this is nothing I have control over, but they’re also looking for what the format is and how many they can get on the shelf and all that kind of stuff. If you have some funky shape or something and your competitor can get four bags on a shelf, and because you’re a crazy shape, you can only do two, that’s going to hindering you. And aesthetically, it’s all very subjective, I think from from the… Everybody has their own tastes.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Like fresh market’s going to be different than Walmart.

Andy Kurtts:
Even within those organizations, we had super conservative people that were grocery veterans that were like, “No, you got to have the Starburst in the corner. Then there were other folks who were really in touch with cutting edge trendy design, and they would push us to be more out of the box and be more subtle and whatever. It just ran the gamut there too. You’ll find the same wherever it is.

Andy Kurtts:
That’s why we work with a lot of other grocery stores, is that we have worked in-house at a grocery stores, so there’s already a bit of a learning curve that we’ve already gotten over. Because it’s a quirky world and to take a designer who maybe has been working in an agency environment and then say, “Okay, now you’re going to freelance with this in-house department at a grocery store.” It’s a totally different animal. That’s a value add that we bring, is that we can just get plugged into the team right away.

Alison Smith:
Very cool. Huge value. I love that tip, just go to the store. When you’re starting your branding journey, go to the store and just be different. It’s so obvious but. We talked about grocery buyers, what they’re looking for. Like you said, it’s going to vary. But anything specific that consumers are looking for? How can brands know what their consumers are going to look for on the shelf, I guess?

Andy Kurtts:
Well, that just goes back to knowing who your target customer is, and speaking to them. And really having a laser focus on who that is, and being as specific as you can. Way too many, I think, brands out there skip over that process. We talked to one of our clients early on, and we were like, “Okay well, who’s your target customer?” And they said, “Anyone with a mouth.” And then we say-

Alison Smith:
Oh gosh. I’ve heard that so many times. I’m like, “That’s not right.”

Andy Kurtts:
That’s not right. It’s understanding exactly who that is, and then that’s creating your messaging and your packaging all around that, detaching yourself from it and really focusing on who that… Because you could be a 30 something year old dude like me, who wants to make something that’s targeted for older women or something. I’m going to need to really research, which we’re actually doing right now. We’re making a packaging for powdered supplements that is going to target gen x women. I had to take a step back and say, “Well, what’s going to resonate with that?”

Alison Smith:
How do you figure that out? Or you’re just on tic-tac?

Andy Kurtts:
Well, not tic-tac. Did I say gen x? What was the ’90s? Who was the ’90s and early 2000s? Was that gen x?

Alison Smith:
Millennials.

Andy Kurtts:
Before millennials. Whatever that generation was before millennials.

Alison Smith:
Gosh, I don’t know.

Andy Kurtts:
It would be people like women who grew up in the ’80s, late ’70s, early ’80s into the ’90s come of age in the ’90s. It turns out that that demographic is not spoken to, really. Our client, we worked with a person who does marketing research. When you think about powdered supplements, you’re going to automatically think, it’s a younger crowd. It’s possibly skews female, health-focused exercise, and you do all that and you’ve basically just described every core customer for every powdered supplement brand out there.

Andy Kurtts:
She uncovered this untapped demographic for this type of product. I think those folks are… That demographic’s just as interested in eating good food and being healthy and active and all that kind of stuff, as the younger crowd. We didn’t make the packaging look like a Nirvana album cover.

Alison Smith:
But you’ll be sick.

Andy Kurtts:
[inaudible 00:19:51] to me. But we knew that that, again, that wasn’t really… That while they might’ve listened that music, it’s visually probably wouldn’t have… it would have been weird. We just worked on how do we get just really try to put on our target customer hat? Because it doesn’t look like a design that I would necessarily be attracted to. But-

Alison Smith:
I think that must be really difficult to… Like you said, you’re 30 something year old man, constantly having to design for other people, which makes a great designer. But tell us more how you get into that, like you said, the customer avatars. Are you listening to Nirvana every night and drawing like you do or what?

Andy Kurtts:
I just try to immerse myself in the research and just really try to check all the assumptions at the door. I also have great help from my wife who isn’t in the creative work on a day-to-day basis. She’s a studio director so she is invoicing and sending emails out and doing that kind of stuff, and managing other things. She really can look over my shoulder and say, what are you doing? Who’s who is that? Who are you designing for? And really helps ground me. Because I will get fall back into some just things that I like visually that do not fit. And so that’s a super help as well, having someone with fresh eyes look at it.

Andy Kurtts:
But it’s just leaning into it and by now I think I don’t really… My goal is not to make something cool. It’s to make something that the client is going to be happy with and is hopefully going to make them a lot of money. Whether I think it’s cool or not, or aesthetically pleasing or whatever is… It’s part of it and I’d like to think that what I’m making is going to look good on the shelf, but would I put pink at the top of a box or whatever? Maybe not, but if that’s what the client wants and feels that it’s going to resonate with their customer and it’s going to fly off the shelf, then I’m beak up there.

Alison Smith:
I like that. We just talked about the customer avatar, how you get in that zone. But how do you tell the story of a brand in such a small space? How has that done?

Andy Kurtts:
Oh man.

Alison Smith:
Sounds like a challenge.

Andy Kurtts:
It totally is. It’s even more challenging. I worked on these gourmet butters, and the cup is about an inch and a half tall. That design space was about an inch and a half tall, so then the cup is slightly taller. I had to sum up this whole story of this amazing butter that is developed by this the maker is from France and he’s got this whole culinary background and his grandma made this type of table-flavored table butter or whatever, all into this little tiny thing.

Andy Kurtts:
It really, you’re just looking for anything that you can pull from the history or from the story and integrate. If it’s a color, if it’s a little symbol, if it’s a… I don’t know. Then you have to also accept that you’re not going to be able to get everything across on that packaging too. There’s other opportunities with the website and other places to further tell the story. It’s a balance.

Alison Smith:
Finding that customer, that target customer, if you’re a part of process in any way-

Andy Kurtts:
Yes, that’s right.

Alison Smith:
… how can branding people help with that process?

Andy Kurtts:
Yes, we are part of that process. There are plenty of specialty studio or firms that help with that specifically, but we can help embody that avatar. Once you nail down who that persona is, then that is really when we can start humming along with… Because that’s going to inform objectively the work that a founder might… This goes back to what I was earlier saying. You as the founder might hate the color orange. But when I present something orange to you and you bring up, “You know I hate the color orange.” It’s like, “Well, but your target customer, prove to me that your target customer hates the color orange.” It just gives you as the designer a leg to stand on when… Because that’s the worst thing, poison pill for a design project, is the subjective feelings that come into play.

Andy Kurtts:
When people give criticism or try to give criticism who aren’t used to giving criticism, like art school, we were so used to being torn apart at a critique that that really doesn’t… none of that bothers me. Also giving constructive criticism. But a lot of the founders that we work with, they’re not used to that, and it’s uncomfortable to talk about design. You can either accept that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

Andy Kurtts:
Because I can’t tell you how to run a snack company. I don’t know the first thing about how to set up a line to fill bags of chips. I’m not going to tell you anything about that. I think a lot of people assume that, “Design is easy. I can get feedback.” And it’s not. The sooner you can accept that and just say, “I’m out of my element, but I can help you walk through what you’re feeling.” And then translate it into actual feedback that will help the design.

Alison Smith:
Design is difficult to talk about. Because I don’t know how you communicate design. There’s Pinterest and I think that’s a bridge to help people communicate their feelings.

Andy Kurtts:
Exactly.

Alison Smith:
But it’s hard.

Andy Kurtts:
Anywhere along the way… A good way to do it is through a mood board, which is basically just creating a Pinterest board and aligning on what a client means when they say clean and modern. It’s like my interpretation of clean and modern is going to be different than your interpretation of clean and modern, so let’s align on that. Then if that’s what you want your packaging to be and it aligns with your target customer, then we have a baseline.

Andy Kurtts:
But sometimes a mood board is too conceptual for a client, and they’re like, “What am I looking at?” So you’re going to actually use that font. It doesn’t say our name or whatever. Because you can also put font choices on mood boards, along with color and along with just overall look and feel. We do a case-by-case basis because we’ve presented mood boards where people just got way too literal with them and just couldn’t get away from them. And they thought that literally that’s what their packaging was going to look like. And it was like, “No, we’re just trying to capture a mood here. Mood board.”

Andy Kurtts:
Then trying to help your client. I know that it’s hard to give feedback, and so I’m not going to overwhelm them with a bunch of design terms. Because I know if a client doesn’t like a font, they can’t reference and say what it is. They’re not going to say, “Well, I just want the surf to be more humanist.” Or whatever. I know what that means, but-

Alison Smith:
I did not.

Andy Kurtts:
When they say like, I don’t know, just that font feels too cold. If it’s like a sans serif, then I’d probably need to explore some serif more warm, friendly fonts that’s more human looking. Versus something that looks more computer looking.

Alison Smith:
That’s so interesting. It really is. I love that you have to dissect what someone’s trying to say on a constant basis to get it right. It’s very cool. But you did talk about the evolution of brands, so I just wanted to ask, should a brand design their packaging knowing that in the future they’ll most likely want to do a refresh, or should they design something that’s withstanding time?

Andy Kurtts:
Sure. Especially for a startup brand, you can almost guarantee that whatever packaging you launch with, no matter if you invest $500 or a million dollars, you’re going to redo it very quickly. A lot of the startup brands, we try to steer away from. They should look at more economical options because… Then come to us afterwards when they’re out there for a year or so.

Alison Smith:
Because I can see that getting someone really stuck on launching, is the branding has to be right and it’s just like just put it out. Okay, cool.

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. I just, an article that I wrote for the Startup CPG Spotlight blog. It was whatever, published last Friday. It’s going to be a series where I talk to founders about what kind of packaging they started with and launched with, and what the packaging looks like now.

Alison Smith:
That’s the social media trend that’s happening right now. I love it.

Andy Kurtts:
Exactly. That’s what it’s called. It’s called, what is it? The, this is how it started, this is how it’s going.

Alison Smith:
And this is how it’s going. That’s so cool.

Andy Kurtts:
Thank you. The one that just published is with the folks who started Bare Bones Broth and it’s Kate and Ryan Harvey. I talked to Kate about it. When you look at how they started, looks nothing like what it looks like now. Some of that was due to just the challenges of a small brand. They had to do a label on a stock bag. Versus now, they can get bags printed, and it’s beautiful, full color bags.

Andy Kurtts:
But then it also was, you can tell the design aesthetic wasn’t as obviously polished. But they just needed to get out there and just learn along the way, versus getting hung up because you can almost guarantee it’s going to get redesigned. Then for more established brands, then obviously I’m trying to create something that’s going to be somewhat timeless so it doesn’t look like… you can tell something was designed in 2020 or whatever.

Andy Kurtts:
But you can pretty much guarantee, just based on a lot of different factors that you’re going to get a redesign, or you should start exploring a redesign around five years. That’s really… But then the shelf life of most designs, if the company sticks around, is around 10 years. But if you really want to keep things fresh and keep on top of revisiting call-outs or revisiting small tweaks that might improve your packaging and visibility, then five years is a good rule of thumb.

Alison Smith:
Great. I love having those hard numbers. I know it’s not a hard number, but I think that’s really helpful to wrap your head around. I would love to get your input on sustainability where sustainable packaging, what things you’re excited about in that realm or where we’re moving towards for that.

Andy Kurtts:
I’m really excited, but then also frustrated because the options are super limited. And it’s really going to take someone like a Coca-Cola or one of these large CPG companies to really lean into sustainable packaging, then that will help everyone else be able to-

Alison Smith:
As it’s got to go down the chain.

Andy Kurtts:
And it’s just so expensive right now. But it’s critical. Now, I did hear something interesting the other day, that we focus a lot on compostability and making something that you can throw away. They were basically like, “No, no, no, whether you’re throwing it into a landfill or doing some compostable thing, you’re still generating trash and waste. And really what we should really be focusing on is reusability.” That’s one thing that I’ve been really inspired by seeing how folks are doing the reusable thing.

Andy Kurtts:
There’s this soap company that sends out a little dissolvable pods. Your kit that you buy has the pump in it or the whole thing. Then you do a subscription and then in a month or whatever, they just send you a little pod, pop in there and shake it up with water. That’s really neat to think about how you can apply that reasonable, re-fillable to other industries.

Andy Kurtts:
Every client we work with, we try to help them navigate sustainable packaging or explore sustainable packaging, or just lesser impact packaging, just because it’s hard. Sometimes just that the investment just isn’t there and the budget isn’t there. Our business is on the line and so we can’t push them too much, but we do try to have a conversation when it comes to format and substrate. We try to bring that up.

Alison Smith:
You give the options. I completely agree. It’s got to start from the top because it’s just, it’s probably way too expensive. I know a lot of brands start with glass and things like that, but as they grow, they just can’t keep up with that, so… Any other packaging innovations that excite you?

Andy Kurtts:
Let’s see. There was this really interesting company that I talked to, that they do this neat thing, I think it’s called Phantom Graphics maybe. Basically what they do is it’s only with clear pressure sensitive labels right now, but they’re exploring other materials. But basically, they through printing on top of the label and behind the label, a certain pattern, it looks like the image that you’ve printed is moving. It’s hard to describe but it’s really cool.

Alison Smith:
Like a 3D thing?

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. When you were a kid, did you ever have books that had overlapping black and white images and when you moved them over, they look like they’re moving?

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I think I know what you’re talking about.

Andy Kurtts:
It’s not a hologram, it’s not a lenticular printing, which is like when you have something that you move back and forth and it’s like texture. This is something totally different. I don’t know, it was just fascinating to me that they have been able to… Pressure-sensitive, printing on clear pressure-sensitive labels, it’s not the oldest type of packaging printing, but it’s not particularly new. But they’ve been able to make something that’s old new and interesting.

Andy Kurtts:
You can think about the implications for… You could put a clear label on a beer can, and that would be really neat. Because it’s already a funky category and always looking for ways to innovate. We are actually potentially going to work with them on one of our clients who she makes, called True North Beauty. She makes skincare with chaga mushrooms, and she’s got this beautiful Malakai pattern as part of her packaging. To just think about how, if that Malakai looked like it was moving, almost like water moving around.

Alison Smith:
Cool.

Andy Kurtts:
I don’t know. That would be appropriate for a category. Because you just expect to have really beautiful rich packaging experiences with health and beauty.

Alison Smith:
Well, if that project goes through, definitely ping us. I need to see that.

Andy Kurtts:
For sure.

Alison Smith:
Cool. Well, that’s exciting. My final question is something that we like to ask everyone. It’s a difficult one though, so what are some of your favorite brands or packaging designs right now that we can all look at and get inspired by? It’s hard to choose favorites. We know.

Andy Kurtts:
I know, I know. Let’s see. Who are some of the… Okay, here. I’m going to name some studios that I am constantly amazed with what they’re putting out. Just because I followed them, and then you get to look at their work. Is that okay?

Alison Smith:
Yeah, that’s great.

Andy Kurtts:
There’s this one that’s basically who I consider just about the leader in this natural products packaging design world, is Interact in Boulder. Think of any like when you’ve gone to Expo West or one of the trade shows and there’s a really cool brand and packaging, that they probably had a hand in it. I’ll always look into them on a daily basis like, who are they working with or who did they launch, or I try to guess if I see a cool new, natural product out there. I’m like, “I bet Interact had something to do with them.”

Andy Kurtts:
Another really neat one is Miller, I think it’s Miller Creative in New Jersey. They do a lot of super great work. Look on their Instagrams. That’s where the best place I think to see things. But it’s funny. I do packaging on a daily basis, but it has become noise to me as well. I look for inspiration outside of packaging.

Alison Smith:
That’s cool.

Andy Kurtts:
Because if you just look at packaging, then you’re just going to [crosstalk 00:40:10] forever-

Alison Smith:
They all merges together maybe.

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah, what everybody else is making.

Alison Smith:
How do you get inspired? Let me ask you that.

Andy Kurtts:
Oh man. By art and just trying to expose myself to as much things outside of the design world as I can. You have to on one hand, be in tune with it so that you’re creating things that are within the same visual trend or vocabulary, so that customers, what you’re designing is going to resonate with customers. But on the other hand, you can’t. You have to infuse different new inspiration so that you don’t look like everyone else.

Andy Kurtts:
Just because of my background, I love art and I love painting, and so I’ll pull out… I’ve got a whole bunch of art books and that’s where I’ll look for… A few years ago, there was a California olive oil that I was designing, and one of my favorite movements is painting was the Bay Area, figurative movement. There’s this one particular painter named Richard Diebenkorn, and he did these really neat geometric paintings.

Andy Kurtts:
They were basically looked like landscapes, but they were geometric. They’re amazing and they have a lot of texture and everything. I basically designed the… Because it’s California olive oil, this was a California art movement. I tied those two together and made the label look like that. One of the ideas.

Andy Kurtts:
The other idea was a cliff with the ocean, would look very quintessential, like Highway 1, you pull off the side of the road. That’s the option they went with. But I still had that other option which had a ton of all this art history associated with it. I’ll do that a lot.

Alison Smith:
Were you like she’s so [inaudible 00:42:25]?

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. I was like, “It’s a slam dunk.” And they were just like, “I don’t know. I just really liked the seaside one. It just really sums it up.” And I was like, “Okay.”

Alison Smith:
Oh man, that must be hard. You need to frame all your favorites too and just be like, this should have won.

Andy Kurtts:
Oh man, I long ago have stopped to pick and favorites with my designs and just… You just can’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t be proud being associated with. That was the rule of thumb when I first started was… One of the techniques we used was always included a really bad one so that the other two look really good. And-

Alison Smith:
You actually do that?

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah, we would.

Alison Smith:
Also behavior 101 is like, “Don’t really give them choices. Give them a bad choice and a good choice.”

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah. Now we just limit the options and we only present just a couple options that we feel really strongly about, and they could pick either one and we would be happy. But my favorite designs, my hard drive is filled with so many of those that just never see the light of day.

Alison Smith:
Sad. You should have a second website of Andy’s graveyard or something.

Andy Kurtts:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
That’d be cool.

Andy Kurtts:
I’ll try that.

Alison Smith:
Well Andy, this was really fun and I learned a lot. Thank you for talking to us about branding and packaging.

Andy Kurtts:
You bet.

Alison Smith:
Everyone needs to go check out Buttermilk Creative. Can you tell people where they can find you or reach you?

Andy Kurtts:
You bet. Yeah. Buttermilkcreative.com is where you can see us. Then on Instagram we’re Buttermilk Creative. Then we are on Clubhouse and I love Clubhouse. I host a show every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern with my friend, Kirk, who’s also another… Kirk Fizzola, who is another packaging designer on the West Coast, and we just have a blast. We talk for an hour just about anything packaging related.

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

 

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#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 –
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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

#20: Financial Planning Success with the Good Food CFO

#21: Joi Chevalier on Thoughtful, Repeatable Management Systems

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

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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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#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.

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

 

Narrator:
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Narrator:
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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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