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7 Things You Should Do Now to Ensure a Successful 2020 for Your Naturals Brand

While we think we’re pretty good at identifying trends and opportunities for our food and beverage clients, we can’t foretell the future with certainty. What we can see, though, is a number of smart strategic steps marketers and leaders of mission-driven food and beverage brands can be doing now to position their businesses to thrive over the rest of this year.

We’ve identified seven strategies aligned around three key positions you can take to ensure success in 2020: stretchinvest, and pivot. You can’t expect to do the same things forever and generate the same business results; that’s doubly true now.

Understand Key Roadblocks to Success in 2020

Before we get to the seven strategies, let’s first put our fingers on the hurdles you’ll inevitably face in leading your organization now.

Fear

We’re not talking just about fear of shutdowns and other risks unique to the current pandemic — rather, cultural and personal fear that always lingers in the background. Brand leaders fear that they won’t meet expectations (of customers, stakeholders, employees) and so they don’t stretch beyond what they know. They fear not just failure, but success. Fear can trickle through an entire organization, leading to a culture of, “we don’t do it that way” or “prove the concept first, then we’ll implement it.”

Safety

Of course, the bottom line is essential; without profitability, you’re out of business. But if you’re focused on preserving market position and minimizing erosion instead of growing, you’re missing opportunity.

TMI

There are too many inputs, too many unknowns, too much conflicting guidance. It’s hard to even trust your gut. TMI makes decision making difficult: which of the conflicting scenarios or forecasts can you believe?

7 Strategies for Food & Beverage Brand Success in 2020

Looking ahead to the end of the year, what are the things you can be doing now to ensure your brand’s good health as the economy emerges from its hibernation?

1) Ask better questions

Revisit the brand’s strategic foundation. What is your brand, really? (We define brand as the promise that you keep and the ways in which you keep it.)

Define where the real boundary is, not just the safe one. You can’t stretch beyond the reality of your brand promise (for example, your vegan brand can’t suddenly start making beef chili), but you can go right up to that frontier.

Ask your team questions like these to identify how far you can move in search of opportunity:

  • What is our brand’s contribution to society? Why do we exist beyond products and profits?
  • How can our brand create value for our community/tribe of followers?
  • What does our brand have permission to do that our community cannot get from other brands?
  • How does our brand evolve from good and services mentality to a citizen brand that provides a unique contribution to society?
  • What are our brand’s core values? (e.g., community, social justice, loyalty, fun)
  • Do our core values align with what we currently contribute?
  • How is our brand willing to change behavior to better emphasize and deliver upon our values?

2) Do your research

You should have pre-existing research — usage & attitude studies, competitive audits, audience segmentation — and that information remains valid. Post-Covid, we’ll get back to that familiar territory. Once the supply chain resumes normal capacity and consumers feel comfortable getting out again, they’ll return to familiar habits. We live in a commerce-driven economy; that hasn’t changed. What we’re seeing now is a situational disruption, not a permanent national disruption.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • Who else can claim these exact values our brand represents?
  • How are they behaving, taking action, delivering on their promises?
  • What does our brand do that is different or better?
  • Who is our consumer, and what kinds of products can we innovate that will meet their needs?
  • Can we become even more relevant to the people who’ve already chosen our brand? Can we resonate more deeply in their lives?
  • In a sea of sameness, how can we be meaningfully different by tapping into their emotions, not just their functional needs?

3) Stretch thyself

For natural food and beverage brands, stretching is all about determining what’s possible and removing the roadblocks (culture, fear, etc., as discussed above). Stretching is a quest for logical opportunity.

One of the exercises we conduct in client workshops is to have the brand group write a eulogy for the brand. We preface this exercise by a lengthy session that defines the capital-B Brand (the promises you make and the ways you keep them) and then envisions the brand’s future contribution to the world.

We then ask the team to articulate what people will say about the brand when it’s gone. It’s a powerful way to create clarity around the brand’s superpower. (For example Patagonia’s superpower is environmental justice; it enlists fans in the mission.)

Questions to ponder:

  • What is something our brand is not currently doing that only it can do?
  • What does our brand have access to that others don’t? (investors, distribution, ingredients, leadership)
  • What is our brand’s superpower, and how can we use that to contribute to the common good?
  • In what ways could our brand die?
  • Write the eulogy: What will our brand’s legacy be?

4) Go for impact

Aspire to citizen brandhood, not commodity brandhood. As a mission-driven brand, you are a member of the very community you create, a shepherd and a guide and a protector. That role, combined with strong product features and benefits, is unbeatable. Let Maslow’s Pyramid guide you: First meet the consumer’s functional needs, then meet their desire to belong to a community, then appeal to their sense of self, then help them achieve their higher purpose.

Armed with consumer research and your stretch potential, consider:

  • What role does the brand play in our tribe’s lives?
  • How might it be relevant to future consumers, as well?
  • Beyond features and benefits (like minty flavor of toothpaste), what does our brand help people be or achieve (i.e., a wellness-focused lifestyle built on natural products)?
  • What wrong does our brand seek to right in the world? What problem does it solve? What fight does it fight?
  • What’s possible, given our organization’s resources?

5) Craft a better story

Storytelling is the flavor of the month in marketing, and for good reason: People are hardwired for stories. Storytelling is the means of connecting the brand strategy with your target audience. You don’t have a story if your brand doesn’t have a WHY. And you don’t have a story if you don’t know who you’re telling it to.

This is an excellent time to revisit your brand’s narrative and the way you communicate it through the channels of the Brand Ecosystem.

  • How can the brand’s narrative connect our products, company goals and values, ideology, ethos, to our specific community?
  • How should the brand story (or tone of voice) shift in our current climate?
  • Are we telling stories that our fans will be compelled to share?
  • What do we want customers to walk away telling one another?
  • How does our new story relate to the brand’s history?
  • What and how do we want to tell this story?

6) Pivot

Many brands are pivoting in their communication right now, with mixed results. A couple of examples of brands that are getting messaging right in times of crisis: Tide’s
“Loads of Hope” initiative is bringing laundry services to healthcare workers and first responders. And Frito-Lay has shifted from its usual “food for fun times” messaging to run a highly regarded TV spot that talks about how they’re hiring. Brands have passed the “we’re all in this together” messaging and are now focusing on what they are doing to help.

No doubt, brands will need to remain sensitive to their audience’s needs and flexible in tactics through the end of this year. Some things to think about:

  • How are we leveraging social, digital, email, and website messaging to demonstrate empathy and mention how the brand is evolving, helping, contributing?
  • Do we need to talk from a different perspective than we would ordinarily?
  • Are there pillars of our brand platform that are not normally at the forefront but would be relevant to communicate now?
  • If we look at pivoting as on an axis (not a leap forward or sideways), how should we shift?

7) Invest

Two ways to think about investment: opportunistic and short-term; and strategic and long-term.

In the short term, investing might look like one-off activities that support the brand and your messaging strategy. Think about giving product away to people in need: food pantries, school nutrition programs, healthcare workers, social service agencies. Or donating dollars to organizations helping those reeling from the pandemic and its fallout.

On the long-term, strategic side, it’s now time to get serious about innovation. Look at all those initiatives you were thinking about doing but have set aside for a while. Determine where and how your brand has permission to stretch and create an innovation pipeline that will expand your brand’s reach and long-term relevance.

Issues to think about:

  • Is there a piece of equipment we could add to the manufacturing process to upgrade the product? (Something that might, say, take an ice cream bar from One-of-Many product to Beloved & Dominant treat.)
  • While competitors are pulling back, what will our post-Covid campaigns look like?
  • What visual or content assets can we assemble now so we’ll be ready to launch as the time comes?
  • Can we break through barriers in the organization to innovation? What about co-manufacturing? What about investing in higher quality ingredients?
  • Considering our audience, our brand foundation, and our stretch, what products do we need to develop now so they’re ready to go when things get back to normal?

Normal, of course, is a relative term. If you’re looking ahead to the rest of this year and beyond, we can help you find the right kind of opportunity. Let’s connect.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Brand Strategy Checklist 3: The soul of consumer branding

Brand strategy is a bit like faith — you can use it to believe in something and you can use it to call in the desires of your heart or, conversely, your worst fears.

Segments one and two of our Brand Strategy checklist discuss both the external forces shaping your brand and the ways the psychology of your leadership team impact brand strategy. Today, in the third and final segment of our checklist, we will discuss the spiritual aspect or soul of your brand.

Today’s could also be titled, “12 questions to give your purpose-driven brand a real purpose while maintaining a defensible market position” (but that felt too long). We will look at your brand promise vs. mission statement and study the crucial aspects of your brand’s pillars as well as show you how archetypes directly plug into brand strategy.

In order for brand strategy to become a powerful driving force for your organization, you need to understand why you and your team are here beyond making a profit. Retail Voodoo believes and navigates strategy through the maxim that “reality exists in language.”

So if your brand and leadership are speaking, but are unable to articulate the what, how, and why of your strategy, does it really exist?

Brand Promise

What is it?

A brand promise is externally focused. It is crafted to hold your company accountable for delivering a consistent customer experience.

The Retail Voodoo Way:

We believe your brand promise needs to be a powerful, clarifying narrative for the world. One that moves from the realm of goods and services and into that of purpose. Purpose as brand promise goes beyond a profit-driven transaction and strives for deeper, emotive connections that encourage people to have a relationship with your brand. Today both consumers and employees want brands to be purpose-driven as our world evolves from an experience economy toward a purpose economy.

What you can do with it:

When your brand promise is purpose-driven it catalyzes your internal team, engages recruits, energizes prospects, enlists vendors and suppliers, and enrolls customers in ways far beyond profit. Purpose as brand promise will upgrade your company.

Questions to ask:

  • How do I know if our brand promise is meaningfully different?
  • Does our leadership team understand our brand promise?
  • In what ways might recruiting and training evolve by focusing our brand promise on our purpose?

Mission Statement

What is it?

A mission statement is a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual. Based upon this definition, and seeing hundreds of real-world examples framed in break rooms and wallpapered in corporate lobbies, I used to think a mission statement was a meaningless word stew intended to synergize shareholders or something like that.

The Retail Voodoo Way:

Mission statements should be, well, a defined mission. Which means they are driven by ideas that are quantifiable and specific. We define our version of a purpose-driven mission statement as a hybrid between the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), company values, and public speaking to a classroom of fifth graders (a cohort of exceptionally savvy young people with a low tolerance for BS and a strong desire to understand the bigger picture). In other words, specific, measurable, changing lives, and simple enough that everyone clearly understands what it means and how their role fits into the mission.

What to do with it:

A purpose-driven mission statement has the power to change the world because everyone in your organization from the C-suite to the front line and backroom employees will know why and how their job function fits into the big picture. People are more engaged and committed to an organization that uses a common vocabulary. It helps them understand and believe that their job is connected to the big picture.

Questions to ask:

  • Is my company’s mission statement driven by purpose without over-indexing on feel-good emotion?
  • How many sentences is my company’s mission statement? If it doesn’t fit on a single phone screen, chances are high its got marketing-babble in it.
  • Do my co-workers understand how they fit into our company’s mission statement?

Brand Pillars

What is it:

Values or guiding principles on which to run your business or organization.

The Retail Voodoo way:

Brand pillars are key vocabulary born out of our belief that reality exists in language. We see brand pillars as a combination of guardrails and guiding principles that are based upon organization values, offerings, mission, and brand position. We delve into company culture to create brand pillars as guardrails upon which to run the superhighway of your brand with clarity and confidence.

What to do with it:

Brand Pillars help leadership, product development, operations, sales, and marketing all to sing from the same songbook. When everyone in the organization speaks the same words, understands and believes them, change occurs with confidence and commitment.

Questions to ask:

  • Does my organization behave as though it believes the words we say (and write) create our company while reflecting real life?
  • Does my organization have a clearly defined set of guiding principles for our brand that are adhered to by all?
  • Does my company speak and behave in functional silos?

Archetype

What is it:

A framework of Jungian mythos establishing all forms of behavior as central characters in the human narrative. (Woah!)

The Retail Voodoo way:

We subscribe to the theories set out in the book The Hero & The Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes. (Margaret Mark & Carol S. Peterson).

The book explains the personality basics of each of the twelve core human archetypes and applies them to brands. We have written a lot on archetypes. Our views break from traditional agencies using archetypes when it comes to our application of shadows (a concept first explored by Carl Jung to explain the negative behavior of inherently good characters). We apply a shadow-archetype as a grounding element to give additional strength rather than seeing it as a dark side to avoid.

What to do with it:

A well-defined archetype gives marketing leadership confidence to keep all forms of outreach on brand and mapping back to strategy. This is especially important when internal marketing oversees multiple internal clients and external agencies.

Questions to ask:

  • Does my brand have a strategy-driven personality that we all agree upon?
  • Does my brand use a clearly defined set of filters for creative translation ta?
  • How might our consumer touchpoints align better by using an archetype?

This series of checklists has been articulated to inspire confidence in your belief that brand strategy is the ultimate defensible business asset. Imagine what kind of brand and business you might grow if you could answer all thirty-six questions with hard-hitting answers.

Review our case studies to see our brand strategy checklist’s impact in the real world. These brands faced tough growth challenges and we have played a role in helping them succeed by using brand strategy to make certain they understand their brand physically, psychologically and spiritually.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Brand Strategy Checklist 2: Mental Strength for Purpose-driven Brands

In segment one of our brand strategy checklist, we explored the external forces shaping your brand. In part two, we examine the areas of your brand strategy driven by the psychology of your management team.

It has been said that the success, challenges, and struggles of any business are the direct result of the psychology of the leadership. This is where brand strategy expands the domain of marketing. It’s where the perception of marketing changes. It goes from being viewed as a mechanism for the organization to always be reaching outside itself for answers and ultimately customers and sales to begin to influence organizational development at the roots of the business. We believe this is one of the most overlooked areas of brand strategy.

In order for brand strategy to become a powerful driving force for your organization, you need to get out of your own head. This means that you and your team need language to describe the real and (hopefully) dramatic differences between your brand and your competitive set. Then, it is up to leadership to understand and evangelize the way your organization’s self-talk, behavior, and vocabulary shapes your employees’ and customers’ experiences.

We will look at:

  • The 12 questions you need to ask yourself to build a mentally strong, purpose-driven brand.
  • How and why to conduct a cultural assessment.
  • The importance of brand positioning.
  • Tips and tricks on how to meaningfully separate yourself from the competition.
  • How each of these components affects your brand’s known and unknown gaps.

Cultural Assessment

What is it?
A cultural assessment is a look at the driving forces within the company to understand historical preferences, passions and quirks, social, economic and marketplace bias, strategic assumptions, and marketplace performance.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We believe that the fish stinks from the head down. If there is a cultural problem, it’s almost certain to be a leadership problem. We conduct a cultural assessment as part of a key stakeholder survey. One of the outcomes is overall company appetite for change.

What you can do with it:
Once you understand your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, you can only get so far without C-level commitment and permission to affect change.

Questions to ask:
1. How is the psychology of your leadership team impacting your brand?
2. If there was evidence to suggest a change would be better for the growth of the organization, what would help you to feel safe about making a change?
3. What will happen to your brand, products, and people if you continue to do the same things you have been doing?

Onlyness

What is it?
Onlyness is the thing that only your brand brings to the world. This idea comes from Marty Neumeier’s book Zag: The Number-one Strategy of High-performance Brands. In the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout also circle around the idea of onlyness with what they call, “The Law of Focus.”

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We believe in getting as specific as possible, so your brand is either number one or number two in its category. If you can’t be number one or number two, then you need a new category. We mix the what you make or do with your how and why in order to define your brand in people’s minds. This process can give the perception that becoming a brand with an onlyness requires the sacrifice of opportunity in the market. However, what we see with great frequency is that true onlyness empowers leadership to start new ventures and stop others that no longer make sense in the light of an articulated brand strategy.

What you can do with it:
Onlyness is a powerful confidence booster for your sales team. Spoken with credibility (and believed by the speaker), an onlyness will up your sales game and your marketing strategy.

Questions to ask:
1. Who else in your category could currently claim your onlyness?
2. What should your brand start or stop making or doing in order make your onlyness true?
3. How many subcategories or distinctions does it take to get your brand to become a category of one?

Positioning Statement

What is it?
It’s a clear statement of your brand’s market position in relation to the categories you play in and the competition. Positioning frequently starts with a product (such as a piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution or person). Given this, one might think “we make a better cup of coffee” is a fine position, but that is actually twentieth-century advertising thinking at its worst. It is a common mistake.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
Positioning is really about your brand’s promise becoming secured in the mind of your audience. This requires us to stop looking at the competitive set thinking that we are better. Superlatives such as “better” and “best” focus on subjective comparison. In order to find a hole or white space in the marketplace that can be leveraged to secure your brand in the mind of your audience, we don’t need to create something entirely new. Instead, we need a reality check. Once we fully see what already exists in the marketplace, we work to rewire the perception to focus on how the audience perceives the situation and how we help them.

What you can do with it:
A positioning statement helps retail buyers and your target audiences understand how you are different and why they should care or think about your brand at all.

Questions to ask:
1. Can your sales and marketing teams explain your positioning statement?
2. Who else in your category could claim similar positioning of your offering?
3. Do you understand the why behind your differences and similarities?

Gap Analysis

What is it?
A gap analysis involves the comparison of actual performance with potential or desired performance.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We focus our gap analysis on systems and leadership required to empower the organization to bring its new brand strategy fully to life. We look at performance and benchmark it against the new strategy’s potential through the lens of culture, daily behaviors, and technological know-how. The goal: unearth a prescription which emphasizes action, process improvements, product optimization, portfolio alignment, and personnel.

What you can do with it:
With a brand strategy-driven gap analysis in place, your brand’s leadership can establish an easy-to-use road map and follow it across a multi-year growth plan.

Questions to ask:
1. Why is your brand no longer getting the traction you once enjoyed in the marketplace?
2. What milestones, events, or marketplace shifts have occurred in the past two years?
3. Are you struggling with people, places, processes, and/or products in our brand?

In the third and final installment of our brand strategy checklist, we will discuss the areas that affect the soul of your brand. If you missed part one, we discuss the external physical forces that influence your brand, so be sure to check that out as well.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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Brand Strategy Checklist 1: Strengthen Your Brand’s Body

We all agree that brand strategy is vital to your business. Profit, loss, fame, or ruin all hang in the balance. Since getting it right is critical and fortune favors the well-prepared, Retail Voodoo created our own brand strategy checklist toolkit to drive all client engagements.

Why is Retail Voodoo’s brand strategy checklist in three parts?

Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of clients evolve their businesses through brand strategy. So, we’ve learned a few things about how to make it stick. And we believe the journey of developing a comprehensive brand strategy is best broken down into three realms:

  1. The physical (external forces) that influence your brand.
  2. The mental (the psychology) of the organization.
  3. And the soul (the spirit) of the brand.

Just like people, when your organization’s brand strategy has clarity and alignment in these three realms, the outcome is strength and confidence, powerfully focused on the future. In this first installment of our brand strategy toolkit, we explore the physical, external forces that influence the mechanics of your brand. The external forces or physical aspect of brand strategy will help us see the way toward meaningful and long-lasting differentiation.

For brand strategy to be successful and lucrative, your team not only needs to understand but collectively buy-in to the ways in which the outside world shapes your brand’s reality. Let’s look at the difference between a competitive audit and competitive advantage with the goal of using both to put shape to audience mapping through the lens of trend analysis.

Competitive Audit

What is it? 
The basic version is a review of all the competing brands in your space and how they communicate. But this is just the beginning. A meaningful competitive audit also looks at offerings, events, and circumstances competing for your audience’s attention and dollars.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We assess all of your competitors with this checklist. We study their social media streams, public relations, consumer-facing communication, in-store, and online experience. We then benchmark your brand against that information.

What you can do with it:
When armed with a robust competitive audit, your company’ has the power to change from emotion-based marketing to differentiation based communication. It also lays the foundation for seeing innovation from a strategic perspective rather than merely opportunistic.

Questions to ask:
1. Do we know our real competition?
2. What adjacent categories are consumers looking at when considering our brand?
3. What other businesses and products might we make if we had clarity?

Core Audience Map

What is it?
A comprehensive profile of who currently purchases your brand.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
A meaningful core audience map goes beyond demographics by placing the people currently buying your brand into an audience-to-be universe. We use primary research to map this and find out who is different and where things overlap.

What you can do with it:
A research-driven core audience map gives a company new power. Not only does this allow for easier persona creation in sales and marketing, but helps leadership and product development get into new businesses and get out of others.

Questions to ask:
1. What primary research are you using to build your current audience map?
2. Who else in your category shares the same audience?
3. Who would you include in an audience-to-be map?

Competitive Advantage

What is it?
Admit it, you think this one is obvious. But remember, there are 300 choices of toothpaste. But competitive advantage isn’t simply what you make, who you are, and how good you are at the 4 P’s of marketing (product, price, place, promotion). In our world, it’s much more.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We look at competitive advantage as a three-legged stool. First, we determine what your company does or makes better than anyone else. Then we look at whether you have proprietary ingredients in your matrix, or not. Finally, we look at who is disrupting you – along with how and why. And when appropriate, we look at which competitors and adjacent categories your brand can disrupt.

What you can do with it: 
Once your team understands your distinct and ownable differences in the competitive landscape, your brand has a chance to move from competing on price and being in the right place to being sought out and commanding a premium at the same time.

Questions to ask:
1. What market conditions exist to give us clear competitive advantage?
2. How and why are we different than others with similar offerings?
3. What needs to change internally or externally for our brand to have a stronger advantage?

Trend Analysis

What is it? 
Trend analysis for branding is different than the financial world. In branding, history does not necessarily repeat itself. In brand strategy, trends are social proof.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
Since brands and branding run on the backbone of modern culture, it is imperative to anyone crafting a brand strategy to have insight into what’s coming next. But that takes more than following the Kardashians on Instagram. We believe data, shopper insights, and emerging cultural preferences are the strongest predictors of trends that brands can leverage.

What you can do with it: 
A validated trend report provides management with confidence to move boldly toward a new future, create new offerings, and stop producing items that no longer fit the cultural norm.

Questions to ask:
1. How do our products and services fit into modern society?
2. What social proof do we use when evaluating our innovation pipeline?
3. How might our business change and grow by paying attention to trends as part of strategy?

In our next installment of our brand strategy checklist, we will focus on the psychological aspects that shape your brand.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David