Tipping the Scale on Emerging Brand Growth
Recently Emergent became an active Mentor partner with the Food Marketing Institute’s Emerge platform. FMI, under the leadership of Julie Pryor and Margaret Core, has created Emerge to help nurture the increasingly important population of up and coming food and beverage brands. These growing businesses are gaining attention of the food buying public and occupy an ever more significant proportion of in-store real estate at food retail.
This new world of emerging brands is evidence of a dramatic shift in consumer preferences for food choices with a creation story founded in higher quality, more artisanal and sustainable attributes. These businesses are often married to a higher purpose that transcends commerce; a purpose aimed at improving the food supply, sustainable farming, battling hunger or some other altruistic commitment that imbues the business with greater meaning.
For our part, we enter the FMI Emerge relationship as Mentors — a resource that new and emerging brands most likely would not have access to until later in their development. The goal is to help scale these businesses more rapidly while avoiding some of the mistakes that can occur early in the fundamentals around marketing, packaging, distribution and channel decisions or innovation.
Reengineering of the food and beverage business
The emerging brand growth engine has attracted the interest of private equity investment and large cap CPG looking to participate in this unique, culturally relevant space. Additionally, retailers interested in leveraging this wave must adopt a new set of best practices to help support these new brands that don’t come to the table with deep-pocket promotion and brand-building budgets.
As the pendulum swings towards marketplace reward for the more entrepreneurial food brand business — where everything about their origins and path follows the beat of a different drummer than legacy CPG food brands — NEW marketing rules must also be considered and executed with commitment to maintain the specialness of these businesses.
What remains true for all participants is an interest in scale. But not scale at any cost. Great care must be exercised in building these brands to make successful expansion a reality in a shorter time span. Wrong moves can violate the very principles that sit underneath why these emerging products got traction in the first place.
Application of old-school marketing technique and thinking can interrupt and disrupt the very important reasons why consumers prefer these up and comers. It’s critical that entrepreneurs maintain the artisanal characteristics of their products which is the very reason consumers are attracted to them in their ongoing treasure hunt for new and more interesting, real food experiences.
To uncover the right formula for growth, it only makes sense to understand the context that makes these businesses relevant and important to the future of the food and beverage business.
Perhaps fundamental here, is the influence of food culture cues on consumer behavior. At one time taste, price and convenience held sway in defining what consumers want. While taste remains an arbiter of anything that ultimately succeeds, other issues command consumer attention and help pull the purchase lever.
Consumers now look for cultural symbols and lifestyle relevance in the food and beverages they buy for the very reason they believe that higher quality choices help them secure a higher quality life.
Here in sum are some few of the evolutionary changes taking place which these new brands are tapping into:
- People see food differently: higher quality, real and fresh food = higher quality and healthier lifestyle
- Cultural markers are advancing around health and wellness, clean eating and cleaner labels, shorter ingredient lists, local sourcing, visibility to supply chain, more unique flavor profiles, even fresh versions of previously processed food ideas
- The pace of innovation and development of new food ideas has made a quantum leap– from concept to beloved at speed — witness Ripple pea milk and Beyond Meat
- Radical Innovation = new category creation — this is no longer a story built around line extensions of a legacy brand. Wholesale new categories and reinventions of existing ones are becoming the norm
- Embracing small-is-good — big used to be reliable, trusted and consistent. Now craftsmanship, ingredient integrity and more culinary-inspired solutions hold sway. Smaller often translates as better quality
- Mission mentality — what used to be understood as philanthropy has changed to represent a core belief imbedded at the onset of product development that then stretches beyond the product. It is most often anchored in a mission aimed at improving the world around us. Food brands with a true soul, if you will
Mentoring new brands
Perhaps most evident in early stages of emerging brand development are resource constraints that make optimal investments in marketing more difficult.
Yet, it also remains true that superior product experience is most vital to initial sales outcomes. The product itself is the marketing in this respect, and relies heavily on the creation story, higher quality components and more unique formulations to gain ground. Nevertheless, scale is a desired outcome for all involved and thus brand marketing will inevitably become a catalyst.
Challenges for new brands trying to scale:
- Lack of internal seasoned marketing talent
- Early mistakes and missteps in packaging, pricing, distribution (channel choice)
- Inability to fully leverage differentiation in crowded product categories
- Little to no investments in consumer insight that informs, adds relevance to the story and dials in the messaging
- Loose, patchwork sales infrastructure
- Supply chain inefficiencies that layer on cost and depress the ability to invest in consumer-facing communication
These conditions make intermediaries like FMI Emerge so important in growth and development. Larger CPGs and equity investors alike would also benefit from making contributions and resource investments in emerging brands that extend beyond sales and distribution infrastructure.
Emergent: The Bridge to Scale
Our agency, Emergent, is focused on these developing brand opportunities because we believe this is the future of the food and beverage industry, and so we have an obligation to support and address the need for scale on a more rapid trajectory.
To do this we help food, beverage and lifestyle brands successfully navigate the sea change from interruption style, talk-at marketing and communications to a more healthy lifestyle relevant and participatory model.
Here are some examples of appropriate guidance we make to emerging brands and CPGs working to help accelerate the pace of growth:
- Insight research on core user lifestyle, message testing, innovation assessments
- Wringing out inefficiencies in cost structures (supply chain) to help fund marketing
- Improved package design and communication; telegraphing from the shelf
- More strategic, consumer/lifestyle-relevant earned, owned and social communications assets and programs
- Developing novel trial-generating programs and product demonstrations
In the end, our offer is a team of experienced marketing, communications and operations talent focused on the unique needs of emerging brands. We eat, live and think Emergent. Our goal with FMI Emerge is to help provide this guidance while the industry continues to transform.
Are you ready?
Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog. Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.