Last week, we recapped some of the key talking points from the most recent installment of our monthly webinar series. We talked to two food industry entrepreneurs about finding a market niche, the pros and cons of bootstrapping, and finding an audience for marketing.
This week, we will learn what they had to say about influencers, retail vs. DTC, and how to market to investors.
Meet the Experts
Our first expert is Jim Simon, a serial entrepreneur who started five companies before launching JiMMY! in 2014. Since then, Jim has taken the brand from a small kitchen and onto shelves across the globe.
The second expert we spoke with is Kate Stoddard, a wilderness river guide whose passion for nature and nourishment led her to found Orchestra Provisions in 2018. Her goal with Orchestra Provisions isn’t to get rich but to “incite a food systems revolution” through her products and education.
The use of celebrities in marketing is nothing new. But thanks to the rise of social media and online communities, brands can now utilize micro-influencers to reach hyper-targeted groups.
For example, Jim is working with retailer-specific influencers. These influences focus on specific retail chains, like Costco, Sam’s Club, or Target. There are also retailer-specific influencers for regional chains like Meijer in the Midwest. In addition to retailer-specific influencers, JiMMY also identifies influencers within “food tribes.”
One of the difficulties of working with influencers, according to Jim, is that attribution is challenging. This is especially true with macro-influencers. For example, you can send hundreds of samples to a person and get a half-dozen people to use a promo code. However, tracking attribution is a little easier with micro-influencers.
Kate has also seen success with micro-influencers. Giving a team of influencers free products for Orchestra Provisions has a few significant benefits. First, it allows the brand to use their images and testimonials on its website. And secondly, it validates the product in the eye of the consumer.
But, Kate says, “we have not utilized influencers to their full potential and definitely have it in our plan in the next year to start using services that help us find appropriate influencers that will reach the right people.”
At the end of the day, both Jim and Kate agree that working with influencers is all about authenticity. Yes, it’s great to have a huge celebrity endorse your brand, but if it isn’t authentic, it won’t motivate consumers as much as you’d think.
Retail vs. DTC
During last month’s webinar, we spoke at length about retail vs. DTC with a beauty industry expert. The debate is just as healthy in the food and beverage space.
Right now, Jim is primarily focused on retail and he has seen tremendous success. Kate, on the other hand, is putting most of her time and energy into a direct-to-consumer model.
Kate’s product requires more education than most. So she sees her website as the best place to educate consumers. Educating consumers in a retail store is much more difficult than online because you have way less time. But online, you can take the time to tell them a compelling store and give them a reason to support your brand. “We can do all the education we need to at a much lower overhead,” says Kate.
Jim has found some success online, but primarily through retailers like Amazon. While getting sales on Amazon is helpful, selling directly through a website would be better. When you sell a product through Amazon, not only do they take a cut, but they also own all the data. That means you can’t remarket to purchasers because you don’t know their information.
In addition to owning the channel, DTC gives brands and businesses a few more options. Subscriptions, for example, are one thing that both brands are interested in.
That isn’t all to say that DTC is the only way. JiMMY is on the shelves of hundreds of stores across the United States and a few overseas. Being in so many stores gives him much more exposure than he would receive if all his marketing was only online.
Marketing to Investors
In Part One of our webinar recap, we spent some time talking about the pros and cons of bootstrapping. While both companies chose to go the self-funded route, both Jim and Kate mentioned that they were on the lookout for outside investors.
So we asked them, what’s the difference between marketing to consumers and investors?
Jim, who has a separate email list dedicated to investor relations, said it is actually quite simple. According to Jim, it’s “very different messages to the retailers and the investors. It’s self-promotion.” For example, JiMMY sends messages to investors and retailers when they land a big retail deal. “Everyone wants to invest in a winner,” says Jim, “everyone wants to see growth.”
For Kate, it’s all about finding the right investors to market to. For her, it’s important to find an investor that “really understands the values behind the company, so that really narrows the playing field quite a lot.” She also echoed some of Jim’s sentiments. “They don’t want an up-and-coming brand or idea. They want something that’s already there.” Until Kate finds that special investor, she is looking towards crowdfunding as another way to gather funds to grow the brand.
Food Industry Trends
To close out the webinar, we asked our experts what trends F&B brands should be paying attention to. Neither of them hesitated in their answers.
“Functional, functional, functional, functional,” says Jim. “Everyone’s eating with purpose; whether you’re eating high protein from alternative sources … I think that trend will only get bigger.”
“That’s what we found for sure,” agrees Kate. “People are very intentional about why they’re putting the fuel into their body.”