Small businesses have a tougher time than their larger and better-established competitors. Unlike the big brands, who enjoy plentiful resources and instant recognition in their industry, SMEs have plenty of hurdles to overcome, so we asked Craig Sams and William Fugard, co-founders of Gusto Organic drinks to share what they have learned from launching Gusto, Green & Black’s and Whole Earth Foods.
The food and drink industry can be particularly tough to break into. So, how can a new brand take on the big names without being able to match their marketing budget, staff and huge capacity, for example? Or, how do they get big supermarkets to stock their products without a strong sales history?
In businesses, size is a massive advantage. It denotes reputation and reliability ? essential components for long-term retail partnerships. SMEs, new brands and fresh products can, however, make a big impression and even reach the mainstream in a relatively short period of time.
Since finding success with a number of challenger brands and products, I’ve made sure to keep track of what helped me along the way. Here are my top six tips which should help your small food and drinks brand to thrive.
1. Think big
When your company’s small, you can be prone to think that big players will ignore you from the outset. For instance, you might think your brand will be of no interest to the big supermarkets.
Surprisingly, you might find that there are many who will consider stocking your brand. You just need to approach them with a great pitch to find out. So, don’t be discouraged.
When I wrote to Ocado co-founder, Jason Gissing, to introduce our new brand, I wasn’t banking on receiving a reply. To my surprise, he agreed to meet up and check out our entire range. It turned out that he loved our product and our company ethos, and even plugged our brand to his senior colleagues, who have since become key contacts.
In the crowded food and drink market, small brands must shout much louder to be heard amongst the competition. Finding connections with a bit of clout can help hugely when you’re trying to be heard, but you’ll need to do some networking to find them.
LinkedIn is full of key industry contacts who you’ll also be able to engage in-person at conferences and networking events. Finding just one influential person in an organisation who is willing to hear you out and can really change your fortunes.
2. Prepare for the seasons
It’s no surprise that ice-cream sells better in the summer and hot chocolate is more popular in the winter. Food and drink trends shift with the seasons, and you need to be ready for them well in advance.
We thought we were well prepared when we launched three drinks last April, ready just in time for summer. It turned out that the summer buying window actually starts in the early autumn and ends in March at the latest!
So, it pays to learn the deadlines for all retail seasons and offer your products well in advance of the cut-off. It’s really worth picking your seasonal ranges a year ahead, which will also leave you more time for marketing and give you the best chance of a seasonal sales boost.
3. The Three essentials
It may seem to be stating the obvious, but for a new product to survive, it needs to look and taste good, first and foremost. It also needs to be sold strategically, so that it’s being targeted to the right customers and stockists.
If any of the three essentials fall short, it’s better to put off the launch rather than bring out a product with forgettable packaging, a flawed sales strategy, or a taste you know isn’t up to scratch.
A poor sales strategy could see you flatline at your most crucial time – your launch and initial stage of growth. A bad start will turn off many would-be retailers, investors, and partners who will have no faith in your company or the viability of your product.
Falling short on the taste, texture, or appearance of your product, or indeed using the wrong type of branding, will be tough to bounce back from. If you nail these three essentials from the outset, you’ll give your product the best possible chance of success.
4. Create a product in your vision
If you decide a product is absent from the market and hope to fill that gap, create the exact product that you would want to see, rather than what you think others might. Market research is important, but so is your own gut instinct (and taste buds).
We made Gusto because there were no natural, organic, and Fairtrade drinks on the market. So, rather than launching focus groups or using flavour houses, we aimed to make taste we wanted, using only the ingredients we were comfortable with. We also used branding that resonated with us and, thankfully, it caught the attention of many others too.
Staying true to your vision is the key to discovering a genuinely new and exciting product. More importantly, if you truly love your idea, your mission to share it with the world won’t seem like such a hard slog.
True passion will also help to produce more honest advertising and garner genuine enthusiasm from customers. So, strive to be content with your products and brand from day one.
5. Be in it for the long run
Strong opportunities tend to take a frustratingly long time to blossom. We’ve lost count of the more than year-long conversations we’ve had with shops and restaurants that did eventually lead to them agreeing to stock our products.
Our patience certainly paid off though. If you think the opportunity is worth it, and the retailer hasn’t declined, don’t stop trying to win them over.
All great brands with a loyal following of customers take time and effort to bring on board as partners. Each shop, café and bar you win over is an important victory. There’s no magic wand, just elbow grease and persistence.
6. Stick to your values
Every business must make plenty of tough decisions throughout its existence, some of which test your ethos and values;
- Should you use Fairtrade, organic ingredients, or opt for something cheaper?
- Should you add sugar and preservatives, or search for natural alternatives?
- Will all your packaging be 100% recyclable and sustainable?
Understanding your own brand values, and sticking to them, will help you to make key decisions and make your original vision a reality. So, it’s best to integrate your own ethos into your brand from the outset, and make sure you stay true to it.
For example, our use of organic and Fairtrade ingredients is part of our core ethos and brand values, which we know are important to our customers too. With an ever-growing selection of products out there, we feel that ethos holds a lot of weight.
With their size and limited resources, small companies are always at a disadvantage against their larger counterparts, and this is certainly true to the food and drink industry. However, take note of these tips and be prepared to a challenging, yet rewarding time ahead, and I’m sure your product will have every success.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Craig Sams and William Fugard are co-founders of Gusto, the world’s first natural, organic, and Fairtrade energy drink. Craig Sams is also the co-founder of Green & Black’s luxury chocolate and Whole Earth Foods.
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