It can be tough for small businesses in a competitive sector such as food and drink. After all they simply don’t have the resources of their large established competitors.
So, the questions are: How does a new food or drinks brand get products onto the shelves of big supermarkets without a proven track record? How do they compete with the marketing clout of popular high street brands with little money? Or to put it another way how can a small brand punch above its weight and succeed in getting listed?
Despite the many hurdles, small businesses, young brands, and new products can make an impact. I’ve been successful myself with a number of once-unknown brands and products. Let me share some tips based on what I’ve learned in the process.
When you’re leading a small company, it’s understandable to think, for example, that supermarkets won’t be interested in stocking your new brand. You might be surprised! The only way to find out is to engage them with a strong pitch and an open mind.
When I wrote to Jason Gissing, one of the founders of Ocado, to introduce Gusto. I was a little surprised when he agreed to meet so I could show him the range. It turned out that he loved our brand and ethos and helped us.
As a small brand it’s easy to get lost in the noise. Finding influential advocates really helps. LinkedIn is a goldmine for key industry contacts, as are in-person networking events. Finding one open-minded person who’s influential in the organisation, could help you enormously.
Follow the retail seasons
The popularity of many food and drink products has seasonal fluctuations. We launched three drinks last April in preparation for summer and learned the hard way that the summer buying window starts around September/October and extends as far as March.
It’s crucial to know all the cut-off dates for retail seasons and offer your products e.g.to retail and restaurant chains well ahead of the cut-off date. Ideally, you’ll have decided your seasonal ranges a year in advance so you can also get a head start on marketing.
Prepare for launch
To succeed, your new product obviously needs to taste good, look appealing, and be sold effectively. All three must be up to scratch. Better to delay a launch rather than push a product with bland packaging, a hastily pulled together sales strategy, or a taste that isn’t quite perfect.
A misjudged sales strategy will scupper your crucial launch and the first stage of growth, putting off potential retailers, investors, and partners who may doubt your abilities and your product’s mass appeal. Getting the taste, texture, or appearance of your product wrong, or indeed using poor branding, will be hard to recover from.
Make sure you get all three aspects ready and as you want them to be.
Work to your vision
If you design a product you feel is simply missing from the market, it’s best to create it in your vision. Chances are that if you love it, many others will too.
We created Gusto because there were no natural, organic, and Fairtrade drinks out there, and we wanted one to drink regularly! So, rather than using focus groups or flavour houses, we set out to make the taste we wanted, by using only the ingredients we wanted to consume. Likewise, we made sure the design and branding resonated with us. Thankfully, it’s struck a chord with many others.
Sticking to your guns is also the best way to bring out a genuinely new and unique product. And if you really love your idea, you won’t get tired of trying to share it widely. This will make your advertising more genuine and enthuse customers.
Make sure you’re truly happy with your products and brand from the get-go.
Act with patience
Good opportunities can often take a frustratingly long time to come to fruition. We’ve had plenty of conversations with retailers and restaurants that have lasted more than a year before they agreed to stock Gusto. It was certainly worth the effort though. If you think the opportunity is an important one and the retailer hasn’t closed the door, don’t throw in the towel.
In general, strong sustainable brands with a broad customer base take time to build. So, seek to win over one shop, one café, one bar at a time. There is no silver bullet, just time and persistence.
Clarify your brand values
Every business is faced with an array of decisions, some of which can also challenge your ethics and values. Having clearly defined brand values helps a brand navigate their decisions and remain consistent. So, it’s best to incorporate your own ethos into your brand and stay true to it. Will you choose cheap or Fairtrade ingredients? Go organic or not? Will you add sugar and preservatives or tweak the recipe? Will your packaging be recyclable?
Clearly big businesses have advantages over small and new would-be competitors. However, if you act boldly and use these tips you might be pleasantly surprised by your success. I wish you all good fortune.
About the Authors
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.
Gusto is available from over 600 outlets, sold in eight countries and distributed by 20 UK Wholesalers. Gusto is stocked by Ocado, Whole Foods Market, The Waldorf Hilton, Sourced Market, Eat17, Tate Modern, SKY TV head offices & Chiquito restaurants. Gusto Organic was the official soft drinks sponsor for 2018 & 2019 Tour of Britain Pro Cycle race, and we directly market with Craft Clubs through their 28,000 monthly Gin subscription boxes.
Gusto Organic: https://drinkgusto.com/