The new caramel-pecan brownies are winning raves with their crunchy, moist deliciousness. That chipotle-lime salsa touches taste buds you didn’t even know existed. Congratulations! You have a product that needs, no, demands, a place in every food shopper’s heart and pantry. Read on to learn how to make that happen.
Whether you are an established food business and the above marvels have emerged from your R&D lab, or you’re at an earlier business stage, this article will help. Here is our 5-stage model for how to grow a food & beverage brand (many thanks to my fellow food marketing pro Dave Cleveland for important contributions).
As one of my favorite business gurus says, “75% of business success is asking the right questions” (Sramana Mitra). So, each stage has its own issues and questions that need to be asked and answered, before going to the next level. Let’s dive in!
1. Product Validation
Before you run up your budget buying ingredients or building a website, here are some questions you might try to answer. What other products like it already exist in the market? At what price point? How is your version an improvement on what’s out there, and is that difference meaningful? Will consumers notice and value it? Do you have just one product, or could it be a whole new brand with a range of items? Is it worth taking to the next level?
2. Go-to-Market Ideation
So, Facebook. Just do some ads on Facebook and Instagram and orders will pour in. Or Amazon. Thank you, internet! Or, get your local gourmet food store to stock your items, or some restaurants to put them on the menu. Or do all three.
Is one way ‘better’ than the other? Sure, if you sell online, direct-to-consumers (DTC) you can sell at full retail price, with little overhead. But how much will you have to invest in Facebook or Instagram ads to sell each item? If you sell on Amazon, how can you get found, along with the millions of other products there? Will you need to have Amazon stock and ship your product (Fulfillment by Amazon), or will you ship them yourself? How much will you have to advertise on Amazon to get found?
And if you sell through a retailer or restaurant, they’ll need their profit, so your wholesale price will need to be lower than full retail. And those channels will often require your product to be carried by their wholesale/distributors for them to be able purchase from you; they’ll need their cut, too.
As with many decisions, there is no one ‘best’ way to get a product to market. It is important to research and understand, and imagine, as many options to get your product out there as you can. You don’t know what you don’t know – well, try to find out what you don’t know (hint; we’re a resource for F&B businesses – contact us if you’d like help).
3. Channel Testing
Once you have determined one or more ways to get your product out there, you’ll need to test these methods. If online, what type of ads work the best? What photos work, what features and benefits do customers relate to? How much do you need to spend on ads to make each sale? And very important; do customers buy repeatedly – is your product ‘sticky’?
Same questions for selling through intermediaries like stores. Do you need to do in-store sampling to attract consumers’ attention? Coupons? Do you need to use Facebook to tell customers where they can buy your product in stores in their area?
Once a physical store distribution plan has been decided as (one-of) your go-to-market strategies, here are some more questions: Which are the right types of outlets? Trader Joes? Walmart? Restaurant chains? How much mark-up (profit) do they need to make? How are you going to get the attention of store buyers? Are there trade shows you should consider?
Now we’re getting somewhere. This is where, with store retail, you are ready to negotiate larger deals. More stores. Getting into wholesale/distribution warehouses and onto their delivery trucks (read more about wholesalers here). National trade shows. You may be ready to attract sales and marketing agencies (SMA’s – sometimes known as brokers) to expand your reach to retailers and foodservice in a wider region or even nationally (learn more about brokers here).
Your product also might be a fit for other channels where F&B products are consumed away-from-home. These include foodservice in colleges and universities, hospitals, and corporate offices – read more about these ‘non-commercial’ channels here.
Stage four is where your product is selling consistently, whether online, or in stores, or both. Store buyers are happy with sell-through. You are expanding with more trade shows. If you started online, it may be time to try brick-and-mortar channels, as well. This is omnichannel, which many experts believe is the future of retail. Check out our award-winning book about this, ‘The Future of Omni-Channel Retail: Predictions in the Age of Amazon’, here.
This stage, not necessarily an end-stage, is inevitable in the life-cycle of a product or company. This is where there is some market failure. Sales have dropped off. Customer demographics have changed. Competitors may have moved in. And large players like Amazon and Kroger are well-known for creating their own private label versions of products that sell well, for example.
No market success lasts forever; consumer demographics and tastes change. You may need to cycle back and re-visit earlier stages and modify or re-position your product. Or develop entirely new products and distribution strategies.
As Covid has demonstrated, surprise and change are business constants. But there are still many ways to innovate food and beverage products, and paths to successfully get in front of consumers, in new as well as legacy methods. We think that moving through these 5 stages by asking and answering the right questions will help.
At MSource we help F&B companies get from stages 2 to 4; to learn more, schedule a discovery call here.