Natural food Packaging and Branding

How To Sell To Whole Foods

“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
•  Produce
•  Meat
•  Seafood
•  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.

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.

Going Off-Road

Going Off-Road

GOTthumb_thumbWe are best known for our work in the natural food and beverage industry thanks to our history with Odwalla but actually we do a lot more. Mythmaker has created brands and helped position everything from ethanol companies to cloud computing services. We just finished creating the identity and website for Garrahan Off-Road Training. Check it out.

Brand Design Mistakes

Top Ten Mistakes By New Entrepreneurs

Back in 2011 I collaborated with Brian Lovejoy and Corey Comstock  on this illuminating list for a presentation at Expo West. Brian is a brilliant product formulator and founder of Drinks That Work and Dr. Kiefer.  Corey is a General Partner at Sherbrooke Capital, and former CEO of Oregon Chai. Both have had their share of success and failure. Here’s some of their hard won wisdom.

1. Unrealistic forecasting, especially cash flow projections. Your forecast WILL BE wrong. Know that your customers will pay late and pay short. Your suppliers will want to be paid now. Your costs will be higher than expected. Your sales might be lower than expected. If you plan with this in mind you may not run out of cash.

2. Lack of a 1-3-5 year “business / strategy plan” and the annual updating thereof. Many entrepreneurs become so enthusiastic about the business day to day they forget that a measured / methodical approach to the long term strategies increases the viability of the company and in turn creates a stable foundation

3. Not building the right team, internally: Unwillingness to hire expert team members that are smarter, more proficient, and higher skilled than the entrepreneur.

4. Not building the right team, externally: Unwillingness to hire expert external support advisors such as attorneys, accountants, tax advisors, IP council, marketing and PR professionals, etc.

5. Not knowing when to say no: There is a tendency to want to please every account, especially the big ones. If each account doesn’t make you money or if the sales and promotional costs “required” to maintain that account are too costly, be willing to walk away…for now.

6. Undercapitalization: Undercapitalizing the business and misjudging the amount of capital it will take to sustain a brand and company until consumer / customer adoption is achieved.

7. Falling in love with your own ideas: Know when your ideas on product, packaging or marketing are not working and be willing to move on.

8. Not knowing your market: Know your competition, the market and all of the differences between your product and other similar items. Never be surprised about what else is out there.

9. Being too opportunistic: When starting a new enterprise, entrepreneurs find opportunity everywhere – just because an opportunity may exist, if it doesn’t tie in to the business plan and mission – ignore it.

10. Trying to have your product sold everywhere – “boiling the ocean”. With any product or brand having ubiquity is hard to maintain without large capital budgets. With that said, most acquirers would rather see strong performance in specific markets with “white space” available for them than mediocre performance in a broader market.

Venture Socialists?

Venture Socialists?

Two years ago I attended an “Entrepreneurs Forum” hosted by Sherbrook Capital at the Expo West Natural Food Convention. It featured a panel made up of people from different VC groups charged with identifying promising young companies in which to invest. I asked the panel this question: “How much value do you place on cause related marketing strategies or values based marketing positions when it comes to assessing product potential?” There were seven panelists and they all agreed on the answer. “None. Product appeal and margin potential are the big drivers.”

Now this would not have surprised me if I were at, say, the National Association of Food Manufacturers convention, but this is Expo West – ground zero for the natural product industry. A community that owes much of its success to the LOHAS consumers… those erstwhile hippies (us) and their children (ours) who shop with principles of health and environmental sustainability in mind. “How times change,” I thought.

Fast forward to this year’s Expo West. Another Forum. This one for entrepreneurs looking to learn how to raise capital for their fledgling businesses. What was the basic message this time? There is real value in principled positioning. Consumers are actively looking for companies that connect with a larger purpose. VCs want principled visionaries who understand business.  “It’s an emerging and hot trend.”  How times change.

David Bernard On NPR

David Bernard On NPR

Click Here To Listen

Passover is a week away, and if you know anything about this Jewish holiday, you know that it involves matzos, the unleavened cracker that you can buy in your local grocery store, usually in that one aisle with all the “ethnic foods.” The kosher section of the supermarket is dominated by one brand in particular, Manischewitz, which as of today is owned by Sankaty Advisors, a division of the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Manischewitz wants people to think of the kosher symbol — that little letter K on food packaging — in the same way they think of the Fair Trade symbol, or the USDA Organic symbol — higher quality and healthier..

“People want to know where the stuff comes from, how it’s made, who’s making it,” says David Bernard, a marketing strategist with Mythmaker, a company whose strategy is to turn brands into compelling stories about “the essential human truth or core beliefs that brought the company to life.”.

That strategy seems tailor-made for kosher foods, which according to Jewish belief are approved by God.

Market Place, the NPR business news show wanted our opinion on a new trend with companies starting to use the  Kosher symbol to signify “healthy.” Mythmaker founder, David Bernard spoke with reporter, David Weinberg. Listen to the interview“That’s a pretty strong endorsement, but I think what it gets down to is this idea of authenticity,” Bernard says. “It’s like, ‘The people behind this product really care about what goes into it.’”