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Driving a Mission in Plant Based Meat Products featuring Christie Lagally, Rebellyous Foods

Gooder Podcast featuring Christie Lagally

This week on the Gooder Podcast I had the pleasure of talking with Christie Lagally, the founder and CEO of Rebellyous Foods, a food production technology company working to make plant based meat price competitive with traditional chicken products. 

In this episode we discuss how Christie’s development of “Meatless Mondays” while working as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry at Boeing, helped her understand the barriers to plant based meat in offices and institutions. Join us as we discuss how Christie has parlayed this information into building her own company to bypass those barriers by catapulting meat alternative production toward price parity and convenience with animal-based meat.

In this episode we learn:

  • The history of Christie’s brand Rebellyous, how it was started, and reasons for its existence. 
  • How Christie is using the pricing method to make her products accessible to everyone and why that’s important.
  • How Covid impacted their company, the opportunities that came up, and how it affected their market, and how they responded. 
  • The importance of why brand owners should understand the purpose of their brand’s existence before they focus on the income. 
  • About the process of enrolling investors and partners.
  • Christie’s vision she has for Rebellyous and what people should expect in the near future.
Gooder Podcast

Driving a Mission in Plant Based Meat Products featuring Christie Lagally, Rebellyous Foods

About Christie Legally:

Christie is the founder and CEO of Rebellyous Foods and a mechanical engineer who holds multiple patents in manufacturing technology. She spent much of her career in the aerospace industry working at Boeing. Previously Christie served as senior scientist for the Good Food Institute and covering the technical barriers in the development of plant-based meat and clean meat. 

Guests Social Media Links:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christie-lagally-875b9a4/

Email: info@rebellyous.com

Website: https://rebellyous.com/about-rebellyous-foods/christie-lagally-founder-ceo/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/lagallyc?lang=en 

Blog: http://christielagally.wordpress.com/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BqLQI4MjHif/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_medium=loading 

Show Resources:

The Good Food Institute is an international 501 nonprofit that promotes plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs as well as cultivated meat.

Rebellyous Foods is a food manufacturing technology and production company defined solely to catapult meat alternative production toward price parity with animal-based meat.

Humane Society is a movement leader when it comes to farm animal advocacy in The United States.

Food Equality Initiative in Kansas City Improves health and end hunger in individuals diagnosed with food allergies and celiac disease through access, education, and advocacy.

Seattle Food Tech​​ is a food manufacturing technology and production company on a mission to “catapult meat alternative production toward price parity with animal-based meat.”

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Brand Slam Episode 5 – featuring Plant Works

Brand Slam 5 – Finding Your True Audience and Standing Out in a Crowded Category

Download now to watch this fun and informative webinar where we audit Plant Works’ brand ecosystem and identify gaps, highlight opportunities and help the team understand where to focus her marketing spend.

Brand Slam was created by Retail Voodoo to help CPG entrepreneurs in food, beverage, and wellness reduce their struggle with brand growth in the face of Covid-19. Using the auditing process models created by Retail Voodoo to develop Brand Ecosystems, (which we’ve used for some of the world’s most beloved brand and featured in the book Beloved & Dominant Brands,) we will benchmark Plant Works and provide strategies to help Anna, Trever and the rest of their team regain brand traction.

More About Plant Works: Being workout and protein fanatics, trying to maintain a better-for-you, more plant-centric diet, they made the switch from whey protein powders to plant protein powders. They soon grew tired of drinking terrible tasting shakes, made with low-quality proteins that lacked the right ratio of essential amino acids to help our bodies recover, so they decided to make their own. 18 months and many failed attempts later, they finally built a formula that met their goals. They combined a blend of high-quality plant proteins with super herbs, adaptogens, added BCAA’s and a few other natural ingredients to create a great tasting plant-based performance protein powder that helps the body recover, rebuild, and repeat.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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Frito-Lay is Changing the World of Business for The Better with Ciara Dilley, Frito Lay

Gooder Podcast featuring Ciara Dilley

Those of us outside the walls of Frito-Lay have not necessarily considered the brand aligned with natural foods, environmental stewardship, or considered a small business advocate. But little did we all know, that this mammoth tanker of an organization has been quietly growing a passionate army of stewards ready to take on some of businesses biggest issues including healthy food innovation, food instability, small and women-owned business finance and mentoring, environmental stewardship and so much more. The number of business initiatives PepsiCo and Frito-Lay has been developing to make a positive impact in business and the lives of the most marginalized is staggering.

Join Ciara Dilley, VP of Marketing, Transform Brands and Portfolio Innovation for Frito-Lay North America and I, as we discuss how she is harnessing the resources of a multi-national to affect positive change in the food and beverage industries — starting with the Stacy’s Rise Project and venturing into other initiatives. It turns out that Frito-Lay may be becoming the largest Citizen brand in our category, and they’ve got just the right person to lead the way.

When we support women-owned business – the world will become a better place. – Ciara Dilley

In This Episode We Learn:

  • Ciara’s passion for Female Founders and woman-owned business.
  • How she uses Frito-Lay strengths of brand, product, and voice to empower and support female founder brands.
  • The power of Stacy’s Rise Project and WomenMade initiatives.
  • Why Stacy’s Rise Project is bridging the funding gap for female-founded business.
  • How Ciara uses stewardship initiatives to grow employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction.
  • How the impact of the Frito-Lay initiatives complement and supplement the work being done in the Naturals industry.
Gooder Podcast

Frito-Lay is Changing the World of Business for The Better with Ciara Dilley, Frito Lay

About Ciara Dilley:

Ciara Dilley – Vice President of Marketing, Transform Brands and Portfolio Innovation for Frito-Lay North America, leads the company’s ever-evolving and diverse portfolio of Transform Brands – including Stacy’s, SunChips, Smartfood, Popcorners, and Off the Eaten Path. Also overseeing Frito-Lay’s portfolio innovation, Ciara is making it easier than ever for consumers to discover new flavors, ingredients and brands powered by purpose. Ciara also leads our Sustainability agenda, championing our focus on more environmentally friendly packaging solutions.

A seasoned veteran with more than 20 years of industry experience, Ciara’s passion is supporting women, both inside and outside the walls of Frito-Lay. In addition to being personally involved in a number of initiatives that involve coaching and connecting businesswomen, Ciara recently led the launch of WomanMade, a PepsiCo initiative developed to advance female founders in the food and beverage industry through funding and exclusive mentoring opportunities.

Since joining Frito-Lay in February 2019, Ciara has led Stacy’s Rise Project – a flagship grant and mentorship program by the female-founded Stacy’s brand – to flourish as an industry best-in-class initiative, awarding up-and-coming female entrepreneurs with hundreds of thousands of dollars in business grants and providing them with unprecedented access to PepsiCo people and resources to achieve long-term success.

In addition, under Ciara’s leadership, Smartfood popcorn added Smart50 to its lineup – featuring 50 calories or less per cup – and underwent a full brand redesign that involved a complete swipe of its social channels and packaging updates across the entire portfolio.

Prior to joining PepsiCo, Dilley leveraged her experience in communications and innovation to grow major international consumer brands including Diageo, Campbell Soup Company and Kellogg Company.

LinkedIn: Ciara Dilley, https://www.linkedin.com/in/ciara-dilley-305469b/

Media Contact – Frito-Lay Brand Communications: Jen Crichton, jen.crichton@pepsico.com

Show Resources:

Pepsico – An American multinational food, snack and beverage corporation headquartered in Harrison, New York, in the hamlet of Purchase. PepsiCo has interests in the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of grain-based snack foods, beverages, and other productsFrito-Lay – an American subsidiary of PepsiCo that manufactures, markets, and sells corn chips, potato chips, and other snack foodsStacy’s – Stacy’s Pita Chips is a brand of snack products based in Randolph, Massachusetts, specializing in various flavors of pita chips. Pita chips are slices of pita bread which are baked until crunchy.Stacy’s Rise – Created to help bridge the funding gap for female founders, Stacy’s Rise Project™ has been connecting and empowering women business owners for years. That’s why Stacy’s is sharing our resources with other female-founded businesses like those founded by these 30 women. Support them by adding their products and services to your cart.Pepsico Foundation – As we strive to become a Better company, we are helping nurture that potential all around the world by leading the way toward a more sustainable food system, from investing in sustained nutrition, to promoting safe water access, effective waste management, and women’s empowerment.Kelloggs – An American multinational food manufacturing company headquartered in Battle Creek, Michigan, United States. And the original plant-based well-being company.Greenhouse Accelerator – Support food and beverage entrepreneurs through a collaborative mentor-guided business acceleration program.Hello Alice –  Step-by-step guides, expert resources, and collaborative communities of fellow entrepreneurs to find funding opportunities and experts for small business.The J.E.D.I Collaborative – The OSC² J.E.D.I Collaborative of industry peers and experts is leading this project for the natural products industry to frame the business case for embedding justice, equity, diversity and inclusion into our entire food ecosystem. Our intent is to take a positive, forward look vs. a “fix what’s broken” position. We seek to understand the deeper issues and to devise an outline for the best solutions. We will clarify the systemic issues that require courage and thought leadership and define immediately controllable issues we all can address as an industry and in our day-to-day operations. We will develop a step-by-step approach to serve as a model to facilitate and inspire the industry to commit and take action. We will develop a reporting tool to demonstrate the impact of the project on progress. We believe the benchmark reporting will result in an increase in productivity in an increasingly multicultural marketplace.Untamed by Glennon Doyle – In her most revealing and powerful memoir yet, the activist, speaker, bestselling author, and “patron saint of female empowerment” (People) explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet others’ expectations and start trusting the voice deep within us. Untamed shows us how to be brave. As Glennon insists: The braver we are, the luckier we get.The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates -A debut from Melinda Gates, a timely and necessary call to action for women’s empowerment.The Boss Network by Cameka Smith – Our mission is to promote and encourage the small business spirit and professional development of women of color. The BOSS Network is a community of career and entrepreneurial women, who support each other through content, online programs and event-based networking.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Food Trends & Innovation: Branding Will Decide the Winners at Expo West

Trends. Are you tired of following the whiplash of what’s next in food? No? Me neither. My favorite trade show of the year, Expo West (or better known as the Natural Foods Expo), is just around the corner. This show touts itself on being “the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event,” and it is frankly THE trade show for food, beverage, health, and wellness right now. I love seeing our clients and partners, but I’m mostly excited about innovation – real innovation, not just flavor profiles. I’m talking about revolutionary thinking about food, nutrition, and extensions that align with brand positioning.

Plant-Based Protein

We can probably call this a mega-trend at this point. The continued desire to eat more plant-based foods is part earth sustainability, part health, and part animal-welfare related. The bigger guys are doing it well (I’m looking at you, Tofurky, Field Roast, and Amy’s – you guys are killing it with line extension right now), but we see a lot of up-and-comers continuing to move into this space too, like our friends at Hilary’s. Specifically, Beyond Meat has caught my attention. Yes, it’s super kitschy that the burger “bleeds,” but the strategic merchandising next to ground meat in the meat department is freaking brilliant. I’d like to shake the hand of the salesperson that convinced Kroger to do that. There’s your zag. This trend is going to be around for a while, and we are excited to see how it grows beyond soy-based products and outside some of the basic products.

Sugar-Free or Low-Sugar Beverages

I’m not talking Stevia or some other sweetening substitute. I mean removing sweet flavors from the palate completely. The continued sugar backlash is creating quite the demand for alternative beverages (AKA not soda or traditional juices). Add the sugar tax and you’ve got a beverage consumption shift happening that is going to bring us whiplash. I anticipate 2018 to be just the beginning. I find it interesting that many traditional beverages like water (yeah – the clear stuff) and tea are rising in popularity. I suppose that’s to be expected, everything old is new again. Add sparkling beverages like DRY and drinkable soups and broths and you’ve got a full-on rebellion happening. Coke and Pepsi are certainly watching and taking note – as is evidenced by Diet Coke’s recent rebrand, but I don’t know that they are moving fast enough. My bet is there will be several portfolio acquisitions in their future to offset decreasing traditional soda sales. If you’re a brand considering a purchase, now might be a good time to clean up your books.

Ethnic Flavors

Consumers’ demand for something interesting and new is extending away from earlier trends of Mexican, Chinese, and Thai. An infusion of Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, and African flavors are showing up on the shelves. As these are new flavors to the traditional American palate, it’s easy to position these as healthier options to the traditional Americanized version of our current “ethnic” options. While Korean and Vietnamese have been in my rotation for a while, I’m excited about the influx of “legit” Middle Eastern flavors becoming more accessible.

Biohacking

As consumers become more comfortable with the idea of using science to maximize the benefits of food, we are now seeing biohacking cross over into more conventional diets. From the more conventional Whole 30 to intermittent fasting, eating well has become a lifestyle. While Bulletproof and Soylent are my current brands to watch, I have a feeling Expo West will produce more food and snack options for those that have become comfortable with hacking their food for performance purposes.

Root to Stem

Eating the leaves of beets or the roots of cilantro doesn’t sound very exciting to me. However, if you are a foodie or a person interested in your environmental footprint, this might be for you. The flavors and nutrition from fruit and vegetable parts we have traditionally thrown away are becoming vogue. This trend is so new that I’m not sure I’m going to see any Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) on the floor just yet, but it is picking up speed in restaurants and homes of the more adventurous chefs. What I do expect to see are the beginnings of these conversations in the fresh produce sections of the show. How it will manifest for the average consumer (outside of maybe food delivery services and the produce section) is yet to be discovered. I’ll be curious to see how this trend might manifest in the next 12 months.

Meal Delivery

In the beginning, there was Schwans. Yeah – they’re still around, but being first to the market doesn’t make you the winner. Newer and hipper brands like Martha & Marley Spoon (sorry – Martha is my queen) will continue to grow. This category is getting incredibly crowded, and the winners won’t be the ones that have the best recipes, cheapest meals, or fastest delivery – it will be about the brand. Other than Martha (who is already a titan in the foodie world), the others will need to figure out their brand in order to stay in the game.

Instacart, Amazon, and even Kroger and Walmart will likely disrupt this category. They already have strong existing brand equity, supplier partnerships to support this area, and a robust operational infrastructure. They can deliver exactly what Sunbasket and others are doing with little heartache to their business. In the case of Instacart, the Uber of grocery shopping, they have a lot of flexibility because they are not limited to one retailer. The consumer that stays with them will be the one that wants to shop but is fickle about their commitment to a single retailer or brand and doesn’t mind paying for the convenience of having someone else do the shopping. (I love that my shopper texts me during their shopping trip to help me navigate inventory!) The newer brands will need to figure it out quickly and buckle up. It’s going to get bumpy through this transition. These brands will likely not have a booth at Expo because they sell direct to consumer, but they are on-trend and competing for those grocery and CPG dollars. They’ll probably be walking the floor looking for ideas or partner vendors.

Cannabis and Hemp Infusion

OK, OK, cool your jets. I am actually not sure this is a mainstream trend yet. However, with the growing number of states legalizing marijuana and the number of people that are warming up to the idea of it not being “the Devil’s drug,” cannabis and hemp seem like the next frontier for CPG. There is still a lot of research and development going into learning the health benefits of this product outside of recreational use. But one thing is for sure: It’s not going away, as evidenced by the financial investment into the high brand and packaging that is hitting the market. It will be interesting to watch how (and if) the recreational and functional (I’ll call it) parts of the product break apart for the different product shoppers. I fully anticipate Expo to be the place for this trend to break out into the CPG world.

As you can see, some trends may not be ready for CPG primetime, but it’s fun to watch the genesis transform. Sometimes you need to hit the floor and see the brands live before you really know if they’ve got legs. I’ll be sure to follow up after the show to reveal what mattered on the floor – not just what stood out.

By the way – if you are interested in seeing our work at Expo this year, here are the brands you should visit: Wedderspoon, Essentia Water, Second Nature, DRY Sparkling, Hilary’s Eat Well, Sahale Snacks, Living Intentions, Teton Waters, Alden’s Ice Cream, Atlantic Naturals, and Derma E. And if you want to meet up to chat, book a time today!

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Diet Coke’s Rebrand: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Article after article has praised Diet Coke for making this “bold” move. However, most fail to recognize the flawed strategy behind the design and potential dangers in some of their design and messaging decisions.

Diet Coke’s new look aims to attract health-conscious millennials by adding four new flavors, modernizing the typography of the Coke logo, adding color and illustrations to the package, and introducing a slimmer 12 oz. can.

Although the brand seems to have good intentions, Diet Coke misses the mark in our books. This is a classic example of a brand attempting to target a particular audience without really understanding said audience and using faux innovation to cover up gaps in their brand strategy.

The Good: What They Got Right

The move to a sleek, slimmer can heightens the illusion of a “diet” soda being a healthier choice. This move, reminiscent of Sparkling Ice, gives off a lighter, high-end feel. Additionally, in most of their messaging the brand leaves out the word “soda” completely. Reframing the brand as a sparkling beverage instead of a soda positions it to seem healthier and more adult-friendly. The brand seems to have taken a page right out of DRY Sparkling’s book with this move.

As we all know, bottled water sales now far outpace soda sales in the U.S. and sparkling water is rapidly approaching that milestone as well. Strategically introducing four new fruity flavors to the Diet Coke line potentially threatens to grab market share from millennial LaCroix lovers. Targeting this booming demographic – although not necessarily revolutionary – is a smart move. Millennials hold tremendous buying power, so it would be foolish for a brand to ignore this influence.

“From the vector illustrations to the ‘fresh’ new flavor names, they’re screaming at a Millennial and Gen Z audience saying, ‘Hey, remember Diet Coke, the original diet beverage? We’re not a normal soda, we’re a cool soda.’” – Kat Simpson, designer at Retail Voodoo

Unfortunately, we’re not sure those “hip” new flavors (like twisted mango) will be used for what Diet Coke intended. Instead, we feel they’re just one step away from partnering with Smirnoff. These “feisty” flavors scream college party mixer. From their messaging, it seems like they’re trying to give consumers “what they wanted.” but it feels more like they are trying to re-engage those consumers that have already grown out of the soda phase of life. Although we don’t see the new flavors being consumed in a way Diet Coke intended, we can see them being used a bit more than the classic flavor is being used currently. But hey, at least we can see the flavors being embraced on some level – even if it’s not the intended one.

The Bad: What They Got Wrong

In terms of identity, Diet Coke failed to meet our expectations. The design and messaging changes feel disjointed and misleading. The flavor illustrations feel like an afterthought and destroy the only interesting new element of the can: the stripe.

“You can start to believe that the reduction of graphics and exposed can is like wearing a bikini after a diet, but those illustrations stop any dreamy visions you have like that.” – Eric Wyttenbach, senior designer at Retail Voodoo

The flavor naming conventions try to be young but just seem confused (twisted mango, zesty blood orange, feisty cherry, ginger lime). What’s so feisty about cherry Coke? They really feel like party drinks, not healthy and refreshing alternative beverages. And although as we stated before, this might potentially give a bump in sales, it won’t be among the target demographic nor will these flavors expand Diet Coke’s reach into new realms as this redesign intended.

The Ugly: The Bottom Line

A pretty new package, strong advertising, and fun messaging might be enough to briefly drop Diet Coke back into this audience’s consideration set. But when this audience takes one look at the label and sees that aspartame is still present, they’ll place it back on shelf and avoid it like the plague.

“News flash: Millennials and Gen Y are label readers.” – David Lemley, founder & chief strategist at Retail Voodoo

Although messaging and design updates attempt to communicate health, the brand still uses the harmful ingredients that repelled these consumers in the first place. Ultimately, Millennials will never replace their LaCroix (or any sparkling water for that matter) with soda.“This feels like a disingenuous move driven by a desire to pander to younger audiences and health-conscious consumers, but I predict both audiences will see through it and shun the can as a poser.” – Jacob Carter, design director at Retail Voodoo

Diet Coke’s VP of marketing is quoted in AdAge as saying that they didn’t want to change the formula for fear of risking their current loyal audience. They ignore the fact that nutrition and ingredient labels are important to most young people. Looking on-trend doesn’t matter when the product is full of unhealthy ingredients. If Diet Coke really wanted to make a bold move, they would have removed aspartame fully.

Diet Coke’s redesign is a prime example of why diet soda sales continue to fall. Brands focus on the exterior appearance of their products without addressing the real issues lurking beneath the surface.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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The Unrealistic Luxury of Conscious Consumerism

The idea of conscious consumerism is inherently elitist. It’s a first world club for city dwellers who make enough money to be worried about where their $300 tee-shirt is sourced from.

Yes, sometimes worrying is a luxury.

For a much larger portion of the world, worrying is devoted to making sure there is enough food on the table, enough money for rent, heat and clean water. They are not actively supportive of the terrible labor conditions or havoc wreaked upon the environment in order to manufacture a cheap pair of sneakers. But sending their child to school without shoes doesn’t feel like an option either.

In a world where “consciousness” is commoditized and “sustainability” is a buzzword, how can we make sure the world doesn’t disintegrate before our great-grandkids take their first steps?

The answer lies in businesses themselves. Instead of an elitist club of “conscious consumers” we need an overall enlightenment of the world, particularly in the companies that keep it turning. The truth is no one wants to be responsible for killing the planet, but similarly it shouldn’t be so absurdly difficult to avoid it.

If that thrift store dress you need to scour the racks for is the same price as the mass-produced romper from Forever 21, can we really blame anyone for choosing the latter?

Many consumers have woken up. They want the things they buy to be less traumatic to produce, but they need help.

Efforts such as Everlane and Toms Shoes prove it can be done successfully. Data from the National Resource Defense Council detailing the cost of cutting water, energy and chemical use, demonstrate it can even save companies’ money.

Obviously businesses can’t adopt new practices overnight. So if you are one of the lucky members of the enlightened who know too much to justify spending money on cheap mass production, it is also your duty to spread the word.

Refrain from judgments and share the wealth of knowledge.

Encourage people to buy local, shop at farmers markets or Community Supported Agriculture, and make a sport of finding those hidden gems at the thrift shop. Help them realize that while the dress at the independent boutique might cost more upfront, it will last for ages, compared to a few washes. In the end it’s better for them and the planet.

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 Extensions: Worth Doing or Not?

Quick: how many new brand extensions made an impact on you last year? Can’t remember many, if any, can you?

That’s the problem.

So many new products come out and fail; So few are memorable. Even fewer are hits.

It’s just too tempting. That’s why brands repeatedly go out on the proverbial limb and extend their brands. The problem is that it’s ill-advised to extend brands without answering fundamental questions first. “What is the #1 ownable aspect of the brand in consumers’ view?” Then: are there logical reasons for wanting to extend the brand? What are they? After all, it has to make sense to the company involved or it surely won’t make sense to consumers.

What many people perceive as brand extensions are in reality, line extensions. If an established brand adds a new variety to its existing assortments, it’s a line extension. Brand extensions take an established, well-recognized, respected brand into an entirely new category or categories of consumer products.

6 Reasons for Considering Brand Extensions:

  1. Finding logical categories to expand the brand’s footprint. Ocean Spray is a great example. Leveraging its cranberry business into the juice category and the snack category with Craisins were both logical moves and they’ve paid off.
  2. Creating a new category that makes so much sense consumers marvel that it hasn’t been thought of before. The Tide To Go stain removing pen that treats spots no matter where consumers are is a perfect example.
  3. Leveraging the equity of a respected brand’s assets and raising its visibility to more consumers. Harley Davidson’s biker boots and apparel are a winner for both bike owners and wannabes.
  4. Expanding the business with products in viable categories when sales are mature in existing ones. Kellogg’s Special K is a great example of a brand that leveraged the idea of losing weight from cereal to cereal bars, shakes, waffles and crackers.
  5. Reducing potential risk and lower costs of entry since going to market with a recognized brand is far easier than trying to build a new one from scratch. There’s inherent trust among consumers which is a major asset. Crayola is a brand that went from being a crayon company to a provider of paints, markers and creative play sets for kids.
  6. Ability to utilize the company’s expertise in branding, marketing and advertising and sharing these resources for the fledgling brand extension until it gets established and merits its own dedicated team.

By making rational assessments and tapping into consumer research, potential mistakes that can possibly harm or dilute the parent brand can be avoided. There are plenty of examples of brand extension failures; some of them embarrassing the most powerful of consumer brands. Who remembers Richard Branson’s powerful Virgin brand’s failures: cola, jeans, liquor? Thankfully for the company the brand name is so strong that its brand extension flops didn’t damage it. That’s a rare phenomenon when a brand has experienced a number of failed extensions.

While the Virgin brand offers consumers more value, more enjoyment and an unwaveringly high level of customer service and satisfaction, it could not break into categories where it didn’t seem to “belong” in consumers’ eyes. Or in categories where powerful brands already dominate: Coca Cola, Levis jeans, Smirnoff vodka. Extensive research would have uncovered that.

7 Dangers When it Comes to Brand Extensions:

  1. Stretching a brand that doesn’t have an ownable asset other than its brand name. There are high recognition brands that have considerable value but don’t “own” a specific asset in consumers’ minds. As a result, their brand extensions often fail. Xerox found that out. The brand is synonymous with “copiers”, not high tech. Repeated attempts to launch high tech office products and office networks failed.
  2. Stretching a brand with an ownable asset too far. Does anyone remember Bic underwear? What is Bic’s ownable asset? The concept of “disposable”; that’s why pens, lighters and razors work for the brand and underwear was a total flop.
  3. Not assessing what is truly ownable to the brand and then leveraging that in appropriate categories. A Harley Davidson cake decorating kit? Really? What on earth does that have to do with the rugged individualism, freedom and celebration of the open road embodied by the brand?
  4. Launching without consumer research: finding out whether consumers will accept the brand in a specific category is crucial. Do they associate the brand with the category or not? Is it acceptable to them or not? That’s how Hershey’s launched a chocolate milk product: research.
  5. Getting into incompatible categories in consumers’ view. LifeSavers soda? Is it obvious why this brand extension was a bomb?
  6. Getting into categories that are so dominated by other brands, it is hard to gain traction. Heinz is almost synonymous with condiments and food. When the company decided to stretch its brand to bring cleaning vinegar to market, it went up against major players in the cleaning category. It didn’t make sense to consumers, either. So it failed.
  7. Diluting and eventually destroying the brand by extending into too many categories, often via licensing agreements. Dior. Period.

As is the case with everything else, there have been solid successes and spectacular failures when it comes to brand extensions. Jello pudding snacks, Arm & Hammer baking soda toothpaste, Starbucks coffee liqueur and Planter’s peanut butter make sense so they’ve done well. But does anyone remember Pond’s (of face cream fame) and its ill-fated launch of toothpaste? Of course it bombed! How about Coors spring water? And Colgate, the oral care company’s foray into frozen entrees? Anyone can easily see why these brand extensions failed.

The moral of the story

Some of the best brand extensions include retailers’ store brands from Starbucks to Macy’s and retailers in all channels and sizes.

As long as the retailer has a loyal following, and an ownable brand there’s no reason why well-planned and developed brand extensions can’t be successful.

Retailers’ brand extensions appear in every category from apparel and hard lines to packaged consumer products. But they, too, have to make brand sense. And they have to have appeal to the customer because every category is crowded with competitive products. Otherwise, they won’t succeed.

Getting brand extensions into meaningful categories is only the first step. Labeling, hang tags, packaging and advertising—each consumer touch point has to carry the message and the brand forward. Brand extensions can be risky and even major brands have experienced failure, but the rewards can be great. It just takes asking the right questions, doing the research and making sure that extensions align with the ownable assets of the brand.

Best advice to brand owners: don’t go this one alone. Get expert help and advice. Too much is at stake: no less than the health and well-being of the 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.

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