I just gave a talk to a large marketing class at UCSC. My presentation outlined the specific process we use to identify the authentic core of a brand concept. I didn’t end up where I’d planned, however. As I looked out on my audience of sleepy, disinterested, somewhat cynical, young college students, I began to wonder why I was even there. Somewhere along the way, I left my script and started thinking about all the great young entrepreneurs I’ve met, like Greg Steltenphol who started Odwalla, Freddy Shilling who started Dagoba Chocolate and Josh Onysko of Pangea, They were about the age of the students in this class, when they started their garage manufacturing operations. I wound up encouraging the group not to think like marketeers but more like fearless entrepreneurs with crazy ideas. The question and answer session was lively and fun. The students were interested, enthusiastic seemed full of a sense of the possibilities. Amazing what a few good stories can do.
“Whole Foods will make me rich.”
We often see this basic assumption when we’re asked to look over the sales and marketing plans of start-up ventures. Understandably, many first time entrepreneurs tend to overestimate buyer enthusiasm for their idea and underestimate the costs and time involved in moving a product into the market place. Here are a few basic tips gleaned from sales experts that will help you sell into Whole Foods.
Tip One – Be Ready
Don’t make a sales call until you are clearly ready to launch, however, getting buyers’ reactions and opinions on a concept is a great idea. Buyers know the market. They can tell you what’s selling and they are, in fact, your first customer, so informal market research through conversations with in-store buyers and distributors is smart. But trying to make a sale with a half-baked mock-up is a waste of everyone’s time.
Tip Two – Ingredients Matter
Whole Foods cares about ingredients. If they don’t like what’s in your product, they won’t sell it. Labels also need to be designed to meet FDA specifications. Make sure your label is to code and you have a functioning bar code. Here’s a list of the “bad stuff” Whole Foods won’t sell.
Tip Three – Understand Your Pricing Strategy
We had a client who developed a super-premium, environmentally righteous product. It was fantastic but the ingredients were neither easily nor cheaply sourced. The founders figured out their cost of goods but did not figure in the additional distributor and broker costs involved in the sale. When the product hit the shelf they faced the unpleasant dilemma of either losing money on every sale or cringing at the sky-high price after the distributor and retail mark up. Whole Foods will add 35.4% to the wholesale cost. If you can’t land on a competitive price that makes you a profit, think twice about launching.
Tip Four – Know the Playing Field
By the time you’re ready to launch, you should have have a crystal clear understanding of your product position. A position answers three basic questions.
1. What is it?
2. Who is it for?
3. Why should I buy it?
A good brand and package will answer these at a glance, and you should be able to tell the story in a well tuned, “elevator pitch.” It’s also important to be very clear about where your product will live. Does it go in dairy, body care, produce, grocery? Is it a snack item? Each department has its own specific buyer. You need to find the right buyer for your product and understand that person’s turf. Here’s a list of the product categories.
• Grocery, which includes dry goods, dairy, frozen, & general merchandise
• Nutrition, which includes supplements and personal care
• Prepared Foods
• Specialty, which includes cheese, beer, & wine
Tip Five – Follow procedures
Buying is done at the regional level and each region has different review procedures. You need to find your regional office and track down the category-specific buyer for that region. That person will tell you what will be required in terms of information, product samples and presentation opportunities. Sounds easy right? In fact, getting the key decision maker on the phone and scheduling a pitch can be a very long and arduous process. This is where an experienced sales person who knows their way in, and can navigate the system, will be an extremely valuable asset.
Tip Six – Be Local
Whole Foods makes a concerted effort to support local vendors. They have a well established “Local Producers” loan program and a designated position at store level called “Food Forager.” This person is responsible for identifying local products. This may be a fast track in if you can get the attention of the “Food Forager” for your local Whole Foods and work with them to get placement in your neighborhood store. Whole Foods makes the “we buy local” claim. Hold them to it! Here’s more information on the program. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/locally-grown/north-atlantic.php
Tip Seven – Have Your Web Act Together
Buyers these days do a lot of their research online. Before you make the call, have your website up and consider the wholesale buyer as your target audience. Have great visuals of people sampling the product at promotional events. If you have the product in the market, show it on the shelf. Show examples of display options. Build a community of real fans. You can offer links specifically for buyers that offer PDF sell sheets, and sales manager contact information. Buyers want to see a strong brand from a real company that can consistently deliver a quality product.
Tip Eight – Be Ready and Willing to Offer Support
It’s one thing to get on the shelf; it’s another to stay on it. Buyers want products that sell and they want to know what you intend to do to make sure your product will. Discounts, coupons and demos are a part of the package which buyers will expect you to provide. Don’t forget to figure these marketing pieces into your budget. And don’t promise anything you can’t deliver!
Tip Nine – Build a Sales Story First
This may well be the most important tip of the bunch. It’s a lot easier to sell something if you can show it’s already selling. Coming to the sales meeting armed with existing figures and accounts helps. There are a lot of good reasons to start smaller than Whole Foods. The main one lies in the fact that independent groceries, coffee shops and farmers markets are simply easier to approach. The key contacts are more accessible and the sales and distribution logistics are simpler. What’s more, the smaller venues can provide a valuable testing ground where you can gather direct consumer feedback and fine tune your concept before moving into the big-time. Whole Foods buyers, most likely, will give you only one chance. Best not to take it until you’re confident you can make the most of it.
What should you think about when designing a new brand or revamping an old one? This was the question presented at Expo West Manufacturers educational seminar. Expo organizers invited Mythmaker’s David Bernard to help answer the questions. He breaks it down into four basic principles.
We Branding people keep talking about what a gold mine the
“Millennials” are. We blog about reaching those
twenty-to-thirty-something, tech-savvy hipsters in order to spark
wildfire brand success, warning that if you can’t speak their language
you will become irrelevant. YYSSW (That’s “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure,
whatever” in Millennial speak.) What about their parents?
At a recent financial services industry conference in New York a group
of marketing experts discussed the overlooked opportunity of the 50+
consumer. Here’s a great blog post that sums up the five big
misconceptions marketers have about Boomers.
There are really only two good times to measure the worth of a brand. One, when it comes time to sell, and two, if the brand goes through a crisis. I experienced both measures working for Odwalla in the ’90s. The first happened on Oct. 30, 1996. On that day, just after lunch, I bumped into the company PR Director in the hallway. Her face was ashen. Something was clearly wrong. “The FDA is here,” she said, “There’s been a recall. People are sick. This is really, really bad.”
The true horror of the situation would reach its peak weeks later with the death of 16-month-old girl who had consumed an Odwalla apple juice tainted with E. Coli 0157:H7. The event was emotionally devastating for all Odwallians. Sales dropped by ninety per cent. The stock lost nearly half its value. At the end of the fiscal year, the company posted a loss of 11.3 million dollars. You can imagine why many people thought the company was finished. A significant number of investors figured the company was not big enough to weather a storm of this magnitude.
But Odwalla did survive, and the 180 million dollar* question is: How?
* the price Coca-Cola paid for Odwalla five years later
Those of us here at Mythmaker who lived through the ’96 recall believe that the saving grace ultimately came down to having a strong brand built on authenticity and heart. In fact, how Odwalla handled the recall, and the role its unique brand and corporate culture played in keeping the company going, has become a case study in effective crisis management for business schools.
As the head of “Channel O,” the company’s innovative, in-house multimedia communication department, I was in a unique position to document events. I do a presentation ( Expo West and else ware) about the recall that consist of news footage taken over a twelve-month period showing how the event played out in the media, and the impact of the company’s message strategy on the evolving story – a strategy proven so successful the case study is now referenced in business schools. Contact me if you this is of interest to you or your organization.