Category Archives: Food production business

How to Blemish Your Brand and Lose Market Share Due to Short-foresightedness: The Trouble with Major Food Brands

By James D. Roumeliotis

Nestle

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Yours truly, who took the audacious dive into the functional food and beverage business as a start-up and has presently taken it into the early stage phase, is having a field day reading about the challenges and frequent plethora of lawsuits brought about by consumers who have had enough of the deceit of the major food and beverage brands.

Once upon a time, during previous generations, renowned household brands such as Kraft, Kellogg’s, Pepsi Co. and General Mills, among many others, who once dominated the supermarket shelves along with loyalty.  Today, through their complacency and/or (as public companies) continuous pressure for quarterly sales and profit results mount, as well as through their cunning practices, we notice a backlash from food shoppers – most notably the more health conscious and finicky Millennials.

What Gives in the New Normal?

Today, consumers are more health conscious. This justifies the constant and extensive growth and popularity of the organic, non-GMO, clean label, plant based, farm-to-table and gluten-free product offerings. A large percentage of food producers of products in those categories are the small and nimble new kids on the block. They have hit hard on the established brands who are scrambling to adjust to this new reality.

Despite their vast resources and capital at their disposal, as large ships, they are not able to swiftly make the necessary reformulations or to introduce a healthier fare. As a result, the pressure from the unceasing decline of their revenues and market share are leaving them with no choice but to react, rather than be proactive.  Their path to least resistance is to acquire small health food and functional beverage brands in large numbers to compensate for their short-foresightedness.

The Permanent Health Craze

Hasty and reactive decisions, conniving strategy and foolish leadership have come back to bite them – serves them right. Use of inexpensive and toxic ingredients to engineer taste profiles and in some cases, make the products addictive, some of which include refined grains, MSG, artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, Carrageenan and the other artificial and unfavorable which most of us have a difficult time pronouncing. Add to this GMO corn, soy and…well you get it.  More expensive and healthier options can be used but their fiscal paranoia signifies to them this will hurt their bottom line. The big brands avoid raising prices to compensate for more expensive natural ingredients despite research showing that consumers are willing to pay more for healthier choices.

Lawsuits Galore

The cause of distrust among consumers can be rationalized due to corporations misleading the public as a whole, since most of those public food producers are, first and foremost, accountable to heir shareholders. Deliberate misleading information by food producers in regard to nutritional benefits is akin to the nickel-and-diming by airlines, hotels and banks. But unlike the latter list, when it pertains to food, it is considered more critical as our health is at stake.

As a result, in the last few years, there have been frequent class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies. Everything from Non-GMO claims and the use of a better-for-you sounding ingredient such as “evaporated cane juice” rather than using the simple term “sugar” (one and the same). Such negligence and deceptive practices have made the established food brands vulnerable.

According to a Forbes August 2017 article by John O’Brien, titled “Food Companies Beware: Class Action Attorneys Aren’t Slowing Down”, it describes that  “Plaintiffs attorneys who target food and beverage companies with class action lawsuits are showing no signs of slowing down, according to analysis from international law firm Perkins Coie that also shows California’s lawyers are the most active.” Some of those lawsuits include consumers claiming they were misled into buying the product due to mislabeling.

Here is a small sample list of the shameful established food and beverage brands (click for the link to lawsuit article) with seemingly dysfunctional and old school strategies. They have become a favorite punch bag from the likes of this author along with numerous consumer groups and their hired attorneys.

Why Brand Image and Loyalty Matter

A “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

Brand reputation quote from Benjamin Franklin

Customers first, employees second — investors/shareholders third

In the ivory towers of public corporations, the CEO and board of directors have been programmed to put their stakeholders best interests above all else. Their mission is to do what it reasonably takes to deliver quarterly results ─ in other words, to focus on the short term rather than sow the seeds and do what is most beneficial for the future direction of the company ─ despite any short-term pains. Savvy and considerate top management know better that customers and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  The main principle is that if employees have a positive attitude, are passionate, well trained and competent, results will be reflected through positive customer experiences resulting in brand loyalty. Ultimately, the shareholders will reap the benefits through stock performance and generous dividend distributions.

Large well-established companies have several advantages over smaller ones mainly due to their imposing size, their brand recognition as well as for their plethora of cash and human capital. However, despite their deep pockets and plethora of resources, they are risk adverse, bureaucratic in their decision-making process and to some extent, disengaged from their customers. Moreover, if they are a public company, their initial allegiance is to their shareholders.

Start-ups and smaller businesses, on the other hand, have less money and resources at their disposal to grow or even compete in the unapologetic and competitive landscape. Yet, the small business is agile, nimble and creative and possess several advantages such as a clean slate, rather than the baggage many large corporations have been carrying over the years, as well as perceived as more trusting by consumers, further engaged with their customers, and a refreshing alternative to the established brands – provided the products offer unique and attractive characteristics.

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Filed under 1, brand equity, Branding, branding not products, Business, business management, consumer packaged goods marketing, cpg branding, customer engagement, customer experience, decision making management, discerning clients, discriminating clients, dysfunctional companies, executive decision making, Food business, Food entrepreneurship, food marketing, Food production business, inept management, leadership, poor leadership, preventing business problems, public relations

Food Distribution Guy interviews James Roumeliotis from Artizan Fine Foods

Sharing an interview podcast I recently had, conducted by a food marketing expert on how I launched Artizan Fine Foods with my partner and what differentiates our products.

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James and Manny - Ogilvy-Holt Renfrew - May 2017.jpg

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Filed under 1, Branding, Business, competition, entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship success, Food business, Food entrepreneurship, food marketing, Food production business

20 Steps to Launching a Food Company: Lessons from a Start-up in the Gluten-free Sector

by James D. Roumeliotis

plethora-of-same-old-big-food-brands-on-shelves

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For those who are considering venturing into the recession proof food production sector, though previous experience in that domain would be a valuable asset, if you have the passion, discipline, adequate funds, a viable product, and a high caliber team (with individuals that bring sales, marketing and finance expertise along with CPG know-how), your rate of success will undoubtedly increase. However, in practice there are no guarantees of triumph regardless of your resources. Blame is not entirely on the entrepreneur but rather on circumstances beyond one’s control. As such, there is a way to increase positive outcomes throughout the start-up journey by being prepared and anticipating potential hurdles in advance. This entails implementing a feasible strategy, remaining resilient along the way and applying a practical step-by-step process as the one outlined in this article. Consider it as your guide which was developed as a result of painstaking experiences during 18 months which ultimately led to launching a gluten-free and health snack from the ground-up.

What it takes to make it to market

  1. Food product or beverage idea, viability and development: How unique will your product idea be? Which food category is it supposed to fall under (snack, poultry, dry snack, frozen etc.)? What will be unique about it? Will it possess sales potential ─ especially repeat sales? Initial sales are fine but repeat orders are more important.
  2. Market research and competition: Like in every type of business and industry, conducting market research and your in-depth information about your competition is imperative in deciding if your potential product is good enough to compete with existing products. How will it be sold? Pricing etc. (marketing mix).
  3. Testing/Sampling and feedback: Before you invest in purchasing ingredients, packaging and other items in bulk, it is highly advisable that you determine if your food product will have appeal in the marketplace. That said, feedback from focus groups can not be underscored.
  4. Co-packer/contract manufacturer or kitchen space leasing: To produce your product you may want to find and negotiate with a facility where it will be produced in small or large batches – either with your own team or one provided to you. Co-packers/contract manufacturers normally charge per hour of production (with a minimum daily run) or a fee per packaged finished product. Along with their own in-house brand, they have the extra capacity to accommodate private label contracts.
  5. Product costs and potential earnings: Have someone with accounting and costing experience do this on a spreadsheet. Know your costs and margins ahead of time, as well as what you can potentially sell it wholesale and/or direct to the consumer ─ keeping in mind there are intermediaries involved such as food brokers and/or distributors.
  6. Ingredient sourcing: Contact potential suppliers of ingredients. Shop around especially for the best deal, supply capabilities, for quality certifications, and credit terms. Make certain you always have two or three suppliers as a back-up. Ask for specifications of each ingredient.
  7. Product formulation testing and sampling: This is most certainly not a one-time event but an on-going process. Do not be surprised if it can take as many as 50 or more trials before the formula has been refined. Refrain from haste in launching your product until the flavor profile and texture you are trying to achieve are above board. Your brand and brand new reputation are at stake.
  8. Scaling from the kitchen and lab to mass production: Small batches in the kitchen will not yield the same results when going into full scale production. The formula will almost certainly require several tweaks made progressively during the production process to produce similar texture and flavor.
  9. Funding requirements and sources: Based on what it will cost you to bring the product to market (with a reserve for unforeseen expenses), including constant operating expenses and perhaps a reasonable salary, determine how much you will need less your own funds (dubbed “bootstrapping”). The balance can be sought from either private investors and/or friends and family. Banks are reluctant to lend to start-ups as they would rather wait several months for your business to show some traction.
  10. Market – Retail, institutional or both: Establish where you will be pitching and selling your product. Keep in consideration that by going retail, you ought to invest additional funds in branding, packaging, instore sampling, promotional activities and perhaps shelf/slotting fees by major supermarkets. Start locally and slowly expand outside your area, state/province and eventually beyond your country borders.
  11. Channels of distribution: If you will be dealing with retailers, it is not always possible to go direct as they prefer you do so indirectly via distributors they deal with (a matter of streamlining inventory and invoicing). Distributors can tag anywhere from 30” to 40% margins above what you wholesale the product for. Retailers will tack on an additional 30% to 45% by the time it is sold to the consumer. If you are seeking to outsource your sales activities, consider doing so by hiring a food broker or two who have great contacts in the retail and institutional food sector, thus open many doors for potential purchase orders. Typically, they earn 5% to 6% of sales made under their account.
  12. Marketing and branding strategies: In the business world, it goes without saying that marketing and branding activities are crucial in developing awareness for the product. The new normal is more emphasis on digital/social media, experiential marketing, cause marketing and guerrilla/grassroots marketing among other tactics. Going retail takes long to establish brand recognition which is a costly affair.
  13. Business model and business plan: A business model describes how and where you wish to operate your business, as well as how you plan to generate revenue and profit, whereas the business plan is a comprehensive document which states your businesses’ operational, marketing and financial goals and how it intends to meet them. It is like your company’s road-map. The business model you create is detailed in the business plan. Therefore, the business model comes before the business plan akin to the horse before the cart. Both are essential.
  14. Company name and formation, as well as product liability insurance coverage: There is no legitimate business without forming a company – an incorporation (limited liability) in favor of a sole proprietorship or general partnership (merely a registration). Additionally, do not take any risks in case there is a recall and/or someone gets ill caused by your product. Anything can go wrong from the supply chain to the product getting processed at the plant – regardless of the safety measures in place. Top food brands have not been immune either.
  15. Brand name trademark: Take the cautious path of protecting your company name and brand (including the logo). In the end, you will have invested an adequate amount of time and money, therefore, make certain you protect the intangible assets you are creating, otherwise, it may cost you plenty more to defend it in the future.
  16. Food safety issues, nutritional declarations and labeling requirements: This is a vital responsibility and requirement from the FDA (U.S.), CFIA (Canada) and in the European Union it is Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 . Legislation with those governmental agencies includes what should be declared as ingredients on the packaging, as well as on the compulsory nutritional label (format varies from country to country).
  17. Packaging design, formats, POPs and UPC bar codes: The expression, “You eat with your eyes” applies quite well when it comes to food packaging – especially if you want your product to stand-out. A colorful, yet minimalist clean design on a quality package speaks volumes and can command a premium retail price. It is what is know as “perceived value.” Consider creating a POP display which will further expose your product, accentuate it, as well as possibly avoid paying slotting fees. Bear in mind that every product item, called a SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) requires its own bar code called a UPC (Universal Product Code). You can register and obtain this for an annual modest fee at gs1.org (or www.gs1ca.org in Canada).
  18. Going to market, in-store sampling and other activities: Launching a product for sale requires careful planning and timing. This should be well coordinated with your team and the food broker and/or distributor (or retailer directly). To introduce the unfamiliar product/brand to the consumer, where he or she shops, it is highly recommended that sampling be conducted in-store. There may be a cost associated with this if a third-party marketing company, specializing at this, is hired.
  19. On-going refinements and customer feedback: Once a product arrives on retail shelves, there is no reason to get complacent. A product’s flavor profile should be enhanced based on customer feedback which should be encouraged by making it easy for him or her to communicate with you (email, social media and perhaps a toll-free number on the packaging).
  20. Continuous research and development for new products – in-house production consideration: Progress and category success require constant innovation, refinements and tactics ─ whether it is with existing products or launching new ones.

Everyone needs to eat to survive

Starting a business is a challenge with statistically high failure rates during the initial five years ─ let alone starting a food production business. Statistics on this sector show promising growth.  However, the food sector, especially in the health category, has tremendous opportunity for brands which offer snacks, ready to eat or easy to prepare meals which are tasty, allergen-free and with all natural ingredients – especially plant based.

The biggest challenges in the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) sector are the need for a large sum of capital (most notably if you plan on opening your own facility), a focus on research & development, scaling the product from the kitchen to manufacturing, as well as executing a plan for going to market. It is also an industry with government safety regulation requirements which the food entrepreneur should be quite familiar with and comply without compromise.

Despite the industry’s inherent challenges, it is still worth considering this route as there is plenty of room to increase one’s prosperity while also benefiting the consumer with nourishment. Although there is complexity involved, it is recommended that one starts small, hires a contract manufacturer for production. The moment sales begin to increase dramatically along with cash flow, a that juncture, in-house manufacturing may be a viable option.

As for risks, choose to take the “calculated” type as in “planned with forethought.” Anticipate problems and be prepared with viable solutions. Finally, watch those margins carefully.

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According to Mintel, a research firm, these are the food market categories.

  • Baby food market
  • Breakfast cereals market
  • Dairy market
  • Fruit and vegetables market
  • Meat and egg products market
  • Pet food market
  • Savory spreads market
  • Snacks market
  • Bakery market
  • Chocolate confectionery market
  • Desserts and ice cream market
  • Meals and meal centers market
  • Processed fish market
  • Sauces and seasonings market
  • Side dishes market
  • Soup market
  • Sugar and gum confectionery market
  • Sweet spreads market
  • Sweeteners and sugar market

I would also add:

  • Specialty-Gourmet
  • Gluten-free
  • Health food
  • Vegan
  • Paleo
  • Artisan
  • Meals-to-go

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