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  • Writer's pictureJason

You're Not Lost

How to Scale Your Specialty Food Company

I've met a record number of founders over the past three-to-four months thanks to recommendations from existing clients, and last January's Fancy Food Show. Here's the single most common question I get from those of you under the $3M mark:

What am I doing wrong?

The stage entrepreneurs really begin asking themselves this question often depends on their niche, but I tend to see it the most with specialty food brands stuck somewhere around $2M. They see younger brands with huge store lists and massive social media followings sucking-up all the oxygen, and they can't help but feel that they've missed something along the way. After a little digging, the answer to scaling-up their companies typically comes down to the same two pain points:

  1. Congratulations, You're Growing! - You may not know it yet, but you're about to grow. There's only so much a founding team can do when it comes to sales, marketing, and production. If you're anywhere near $3M and you don't already have individuals in-charge of these three areas, then it's no surprise that you're feeling stressed. Founders are typically great at one of these three disciplines which inspired starting the company in the first place. They take-on one of the other two responsibilities (usually sales) out of necessity, and if they're lucky...their company does well enough to afford professionals to continue growing. That's not to say you haven't learned a lot to be proud of, but you've successfully reached a new level of business and "you don't know what you don't know." I regularly recruit Sales and Marketing professionals with 10+ years of specialty food experience and there's simply no way a founder can compete with their national Rolodex of buyer contacts, or their omnichannel marketing experience. The good news is, your new Sales or Marketing hire will pay for itself quickly if you have a strong line of products and hire the right person. The "right person" won't likely respond to your job posting, but that's a topic for another post.

A Sign For Food Company Founders, You're Not Lost

2. You Lack a Strategic Plan for Growth - This one shouldn't come as a surprise considering you're reading a post from a marketing consultant. Most companies make their first million with their heads down, focused on building the best product(s) possible and improving them with time. With luck, you'll build a strong reputation in your local market and develop a regional distribution. Growth tends to happen by signing additional distributors, but founders beware...there's a heavy cost to growth without a plan in place.

First, you'll need to sharpen your pencils and learn everything there is to know about promotions...I can't stress this enough. Not only will you need to understand the nuances of each type of promotion (MCB "Manufacturer Charge Back", Off-Invoice, etc) to ensure your strategy is sound, but you'll also need to actively manage your promotions to avoid cash flow issues. Most founders learn these expensive lessons the hard way...because let's face it, it costs a lot of money to hire consultants. With hard work and a little luck, you'll make it through the unexpected charge backs and have fairly accurate sales estimates. Did anyone mention that you would be paid late?

I should also note, buyers are getting increasingly more sophisticated when it comes to branding and require proof that you're actually marketing. Not only do they want to know that you've already created demand for the line potentially taking their shelf space, but they'll likely look for proof of an omnichannel marketing plan including:

  • social media (How does your social media marketing to competing brands? Is it sizable and professional? Do you advertise retail partners?)

  • branding that resonates with their target markets (Your voice, values, and story needs to appeal to their target market...yeah, you need to target!)

  • sales support (Point-of-sales material with paring notes, swag for employees and/or customers, in-store tasting events, etc)

  • website (Is it a modern design? Do you have a store locator? Are you undercutting their prices online?)

  • email marketing (Does you list include customers in their region?)

  • partnerships (What complimentary brands do you collaborate with to earn new fans and ensure easy upselling?)

  • events (What events in their regions do you have scheduled to help drive interest to their stores?)

  • advertising (TV, radio, online...their customers should have heard about you before seeing you on their shelves)

  • awards (Are you winning awards to create brand-awareness?)

In other words, this is what it takes to reach the next level of sales. Some start with their brand and sell DTC before reaching-out to retailers, while others take their time building brick and mortar sales over decades. No matter how you choose to grow, don't hesitate to reach-out to me (Jason) because no one does it alone.

Good Luck!

Jason at Gigantic

📷 thanks to Eileen Pan!

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