You have an awesome food product and you’re sure people are going to want to buy it – now what? How do you get your product in front of prospective customers? Where can they buy it? Some products sell well online, but some need to be sold in stores. And that means you have to create a strong brand and get your product on the shelf.
Samuel Adam’s Brewing the American Dream program focuses on helping budding entrepreneurs realize their business ownership dreams. As part of this program, Whole Foods Market’s Global Senior Coordinator of Local Brands and Product Innovation talks about what it takes to develop and build your branding and food distribution system.
1. Starting Out: Know Your Product Category
Start small and simple to stay focused. Before making the leap to marketing and distributing your product, it’s important to know the lay of the land. You really want to know your unique product’s category inside and out.
Key Questions to Consider:
- Who are all the players in your category?
- What differentiates you from the other players?
- What does your product bring to the market that no other product does?
The food and beverage industry is a deeply saturated, highly competitive market right now. There are vast amounts of competition for those just starting out. Part of this is because of the low barrier to entry (aka, relatively low costs) to develop and sell a food or beverage product. The goal here is to differentiate your product from all other competing products. What does your product offer that others do not?
This is why that it’s important to know yourself, your product, and your position in the market from the outset. Clarifying those details will prevent you from spending needless time and money on branding efforts which may be high-cost, low-return.
2. Positioning in The Market: What Value Are You Offering?
Once you’re identified your product’s category, it’s time to consider positioning your product. What place can your product fill in your customer’s lives? What unmet needs can your product address?
Value vs Values
First ask yourself: What value is your product or brand offering? When you’re thinking about value in food branding, the factors you should consider include:
Next you should consider whether your brand is a value-driven brand. A value-driven brand means that your product is price-sensitive for its consumer. Certain brands highlight their value as the hallmark for why their product is special. Whole Foods’ 365, for example, is the store’s value-driven product.
Contrast a value-driven brand with a values (plural)-driven brand. A values-driven brand is a brand that focuses on the mission and the story behind the product. Both value-driven and values-driven products can offer compelling reasons for why their brands are best. Figure out where your brand and product falls on the value vs. values spectrum and use that as part of your branding story.
Another component of positioning is your choice of channel. This basically boils down to which stores you’re targeting to sell your food products. Key planning points include where and how your product will be featured in these different markets. Think about where your target customers are most likely to shop!
Channel strategy questions to consider include the following:
- How do you plan to roll out your product in these stores?
- Will you be focusing on natural foods or otherwise?
- Will you be starting in convenience stores or drugstores?
Whole Foods advises using caution when making specific claims on product packaging on or your business website. The food industry is fraught with lawsuits, so you want to make sure you don’t make claims that cannot be independently verified. For example, organic or non-GMO foods must be verified and certified by third parties. These processes are time-consuming, costly, and involve a lot of paper work. They may be worth it depending on your branding, but make sure you’re following all the rules.
Whole Foods also cautions against trying to be everything all at once to all consumers. For example, trying create an allergen-free, non-GMO, and organic product right out of the gate may be too much to take on. It’s better to start with one key branding or labeling goal, and focus on that one specific component. For example, you could start by going through the process to be certified organic by the USDA.
Once you’ve mastered that one specific component, you can also broaden your brand reach to include other labeling attributes. It’s far easier to take on these new categories once your product and brand are fully established.
Allow Your Principles to Direct Your Branding
What if you’re not sure which attribute to focus on? Whole Foods recommends starting out by focusing on the most important attributes to you. Do you value fair trade? Do you want to bring another gluten-free snack to the market?
Determine what is most important to your food product and focus on that one component or attribute at the start. Your goal is to figure out your key principles and then build on that.
3. Branding Your Products and Your Company
Branding is a vital component to the success of any food or beverage company. Regardless of whether your company is just starting out or is an established company, the same branding principles apply across the board.
Have a Solid Branding Plan
When it comes to branding, it pays to have a solid game plan. Don’t wing it - think about your concept. Ask yourself the following:
- What are you trying to evoke with your products?
- What is your unique label or color palette trying to communicate to your customers?
- What do the words on your packaging express to your potential purchasers?
- Are you focusing on health, indulgence, bright flavors and colors, another culture or tradition, special diets or allergens, or something altogether different?
Use of Buzz Words
Buzz words can sell a product, but it’s important that they are effective and correct. For example, “plant-based” or “100% grass fed” are key product details to customers that can be incorporated into buzz-wording to convey a certain message to prospective customers. Just remember not to make claims that can’t be verified.
Sometimes Less is More
Successful packaging is not only on-brand, it is also clean, attractive, and succinct. There’s a danger in being overly verbose on your packaging label. There is a fine line between conveying vital product information and visually overwhelming the buyers with busy designs.
When it comes to deciding what wording to include on your food product packaging, Whole Foods recommends the adage “less is more.” If the words are not of value to your product or brand, then they shouldn’t be included on the food product label. Keep it simple!
A Word on Price
When it comes to branding and food products, every detail matters. With so many other food options for customers to buy, you want to make sure that you stay competitive. Whole Foods advises that you think about each detail — this includes price. You may have the most exquisite, locally sourced produce in your product, but if you price yourself out of the market, your product won’t sell.
Pricing can be tricky to figure out – it takes some market research to figure out a ballpark number and then you may need to use trial and error to narrow down the right number.
Strong Products, Strong Brands, Strong Sales
Branding and distributing your food product is a matter of knowing the market, focusing on your product’s unique features, and sharing that message with the world. When you’re selling a food product, you don’t just have to convince your customers – you also have to convince the stores (like Whole Foods!) that your product is high quality, well-managed, and will sell to their customers. Show that you’ve put thought into your product and your branding scheme and you’ll show that you can add value to their stores. Getting a foot in the door at a major store like Whole Foods can be a huge boon to your business, so put the work in up front to get your product on the shelves.
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