As the leading foodservice agency we are of course passionate about food and drink. So it was great to get the chance to speak at an event dedicated to food and drink start-up businesses. The Food Exchange conference, run by Enterprise Nation and held at The Bakery London, was a day dedicated to the needs of newly formed businesses striving to make it, in what is a hugely competitive market. With buyers from leading supermarkets, a range of successful entrepreneurs with inspiring stories, experts in funding, pitching and PR, the day had something for everyone. I was lucky enough to be invited along to share my thoughts on the marketing and pitch tips panel discussion, but with so much on the agenda I stayed for the day and was glad I did.
For those who couldn’t be there, here are my top ten take-outs from the day…
1) When pitching to supermarket buyers – Do your research, have a clear USP, make sure your product is ready to go, be passionate, align your product to their business needs, be clear what margin you need to keep to, have a marketing plan that can tie in with theirs, budget what you can to support your product, understand the retailer’s target audience/consumer and how your product fits with it, know your figures, be ready to scale-up (possibly in a short space of time), be realistic about trial listings, be persistent, know when they review (Sainsbury’s is April, October, Christmas and January) and if all else fails…sample outside their head office as they leave for the day!
2) Know your brand – Your brand is so much more than your logo. Make sure you are clear about who you are and what you stand for, have a clear vision of what you will and won’t do. Be consistent and authentic in how you talk to people both in real life, on social media and in written communications and PR. Having a brand that is based on yourself, like Jimmy’s Iced Coffee makes things simple and more engaging (especially in Jimmy’s case!). Equally do as much research with strangers (not friend and family – they’ll sugar coat things). Find out what people really think and take note, they will be the ones to buy it after all.
3) Protect your IP – If you come up with a name you love, get it registered. It’s only £170 at the British Library so the sooner you can do it the better. Changing your brand further down the line can be a nightmare and an expensive one at that – just ask Claudi & Fin!
4) It’s not all about supermarkets – Supermarkets are an obvious route to get your brand into consumers’ hands, but they are by no means the only option. Delis, independent stores and smaller retail chains, food festivals and the foodservice or as it is sometimes called ‘Out of Home’ market (including anywhere you would eat or drink when you‘re not at home, like hotels, restaurants, cafes, leisure etc.) all offer great opportunities to sell and sample your product. They also work well to position your brand in the right places, helping to reach the kind of consumers you aspire to and to achieve the brand positioning you want.
5) Have a story – Your secret weapon as a small start-up is your story. You may have changed career path or been inspired by an event or challenge in your life, whatever it is, it’s the kind of thing features editors of consumer and trade titles will be interested in. So make sure you make a point of using your backstory as a selling point to gain valuable PR coverage. It only takes one good piece of coverage to get you noticed by the buyer who won’t return your emails.
6) Funding is there – The prospect of funding a new business when banks are risk averse and we are just coming out of a recession is a daunting one. Often initial funding comes from ‘friends, families and fools’, but there are other routes including crowd funding (where having a strong video is key to get your message across online), investment angels such as Jam Jar (the founders of innocent smoothies) and even big businesses like Unilever, who look to work with smaller brands to develop them (as with Snog). Whatever route you go, the one thing that came out of the day was that if you believe in your business you’ll find the money!
7) Packaging is everything – Make sure you do your research and look at lots of existing packaging for inspiration. If you know with who and where you want your product stocked, base your packaging on what you know they already fit on shelf, in order to give yourself a fighting chance. Don’t reinvent the wheel,’ steal with pride’ (so long as it’s not a competing product). Remember however to ensure you make it very clear on pack what the product is and take account of how it will be seen on shelf and from what angle. Ideally get as many facing on shelf as you can to appeal to passing shoppers, avoid unreadable funky typefaces or taking up half the pack with your brand, use familiar colour cues to create instant consumer associations (e.g. pink = sweet, shiny = attractive/eye catching, etc.), include images of fruit, if relevant, as they link directly to the pleasure centers in the brain and if you have a good looking product – show it. But to really find out why consumers buy your product and what impression your packaging makes, just ask them in the supermarket after they’ve picked it up! You might find you have a consumer driver you never even dreamed of! For example innocent veg pots over index with shoppers on a Monday based on the fact that people over indulge at the weekend and start the week with good intentions to eat healthily.
8) Be social – These days you don’t need a big budget to build your brand, you can go it direct from your mobile. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest all offer a DIY way to engage with consumers and market your product, so make sure you make the most of your potential online audience and start building your community today!
9) Food buyers look for trends & new products – And where do they do this? At Street Food events, Food Festivals and exhibitions, so be there! Get a stand and use it as your shop window, you never know where it will lead! Why not try Towchester Food Festival which offers bursary places for start-ups!
10) Get networking & find support – It is often a lonely world for start-ups and events like this one work to bring entrepreneurs of all ages and backgrounds together, where they can discuss their experiences, challenges and successes. Initiatives like Start-up Saturdays from Enterprise Nation, Start-up Britain, The Bright Ideas Club and Artisan Food Club are all great for learning and networking so if you’re a start-up food business get Googling and get involved!
You can read more about the day and the brands who presented on the Enterprise Nation blog here or have a look at the tweets from the day by searching for #FoodExchange. Praise of course must go to Emma and Lorna and their team at Enterprise Nation for a fabulous event and of course to all the speakers, buyers and start-ups that made the day such a success. I look forward to the next one!
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