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Food & Beverage Companies: Time to Go from Bland to Brand

If you’ve walked the health and beauty aisle at Target in the past few years (back when leisurely strolling a retail store was an everyday occurrence), you’ve seen the rise of a particular brand aesthetic.

Lots of whitespace, sans serif type, an absent logo, soft modern colors. Designers and marketers have dubbed this aesthetic “blanding” — a sort of no-brand branding. Lots of successful brands have adapted this style: Brandless (the exemplar), NativeHey Humans and others. Target’s newly launched Favorite Day brand of 700 (!) indulgent food and beverage products is another example.

The personal care and natural food/beverage categories are ripe for the blanding approach: The aesthetic is right for wellness or better-for-you brands because the whitespace and cleanness echo an old-school pharmaceutical look that implies health and purity.

Why Brands Embrace Blanding

Brands favor this blanding style because it plays well on social media, it’s scalable for different digital channels and screens, and it’s easy to systematize. Blanding is essentially a kit of parts: Pick a sans serif typeface — or, if you want to parrot Goop, a quirky, cute serif — add Pantone’s color of the year, no need to design a logo, and you’re cooking.

Online, this less-is-more bland style pairs with perfectly imperfect lifestyle photos — all midcentury modern and luxury décor and rose gold and other visual cues that appeal to Millennial shoppers. Millennial consumers especially like to curate their lives, with products that have a complementary look that they can display on a bathroom vanity or kitchen counter. For that reason, blanding is purpose-built for Instagram, which is highly visual and focused on beauty. Consumers get to associate with that vibe and imagine themselves immersed in the images they see in their IG feeds.

Too, there’s a sort of faux consumer confidence that emerges among lookalike blands. “If my snack bar looks like my deodorant looks like my vitamins, then it must be good.”

Because it’s a) super popular right now, so a proven creative concept, and b) really easy to pull off without hiring a high-fee design agency, many startup and direct-to-consumer brands have adopted the blanding approach right out of the gate.

But there’s a real challenge for these companies. As a FastCompany article puts it, “Blands are like teenagers. They dress the same, talk the same, act the same. They don’t have a defined sense of self or, if they do, they lack the confidence to be it. It’s a school-of-fish mentality where the comfort and safety of the familiar outweigh the risk of attracting too much attention.”

Blanding is simply a visual style. It’s not branding. And without a capital-B Brand, your product risks becoming a commodity. By Brand, I mean a mission or purpose: a wrong that your company and its community strive to remedy, a higher calling, a better way of life for your customers.

Blands recede into the swirl of other similar products on the shelf; brands — especially Beloved & Dominant brands — stand up, stand out, and stand for something. And to do that, you have to use your own voice.

Graduating from Bland to Brand

I get the appeal of blanding. When done well, it can be quite attractive. It’s why so many charismatic entrepreneurs in food and beverage start-ups leverage the style: Their product looks great, their packaging looks great, and by association they look great.

My sense is that this design trend would have passed already were it not for the pandemic, which forced emerging DTC and ecommerce brands to rapidly ramp up their consumer presence in the first six to eight months of the quarantine.

You can get away with a bland for a while, but as the brand matures and starts to stand for something, this one-of-many design style becomes useless. The challenge is that just like emerging artists who haven’t yet gelled their own style, these young brands emulate their peers.

When the quarantine is over, people will go out to shop more frequently and more leisurely than they do today. And the blands will quickly start to feel like private label.

Bespoke brands understand how to stand out enough to become Beloved & Dominant category leaders. The first step is to look critically at the ecosystem of your consumers and then work to becoming a one-of-a-kind standout in their world. If Instagram frames your worldview, then you’ll land on the same visual construct that other players in your category are using.

Blanding is normcore — it’s riskless, you don’t have to stake a claim to meaning, it’s the easy path. Branding is unique — it’s risky, pegged to an idea, and demands a deep understanding of your consumer and their world.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with blanding as the tool kit that your startup incubator gives you; a beautiful package might get you into a conversation with retailers or investors, especially if you’re riding the passion of a charismatic founder.

I think of blanding as a “fake it ‘til you make it” business strategy.

But once you’ve lost velocity or aren’t selling through or can’t get meetings with new channel partners, then you’ve outgrown it. If Target wants you on the shelf but your products don’t move and then they make a private label version of your offering, then it’s time to hit “eject” and move on.

The good news is that you’ve already begun to build a following. Now it’s time to do the work to establish a strategic foundation before you get to the cool stuff like making a logo and choosing a color palette. That includes:

— Defining the brand’s mission and values

— Articulating a brand story that’s bigger than your product

— Identifying places where you want to play, outside of Instagram but in the real world of sales

In order to become a category leader you have to exit the superhighway of blanding and go offroad to seek your tribe who will love you forever and will pay what you ask in order to deliver on your mission.

Elevating from one-of-many bland to Beloved & Dominant Brand takes guts, vision, and leadership. It’s a massive, exciting opportunity because it means you’re ready to grow up and out. We can help you take those steps, so 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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7 Tips to Expand Your Better-for-You Audience Without Losing Your Fans

It’s the No. 1 concern for every better-for-you company we talk to: How do we rebrand without alienating our current fans? This is an existential question — because growth always means adding new consumers to the fold, and in appealing to those new people you risk leaving your early adopters behind.

Marketers mistakenly worry that building an audience is a zero-sum game: for every new customer you lose an old one. But it’s possible to grow and retain. In a marketplace that’s moving at breakneck speed, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you know what you’re doing. If you do your job well as a marketer, you can’t possibly blow this. (Read on for strategies to manage a big brand change with your audience.)

Brand Changes that Consumers Care About

So what kinds of brand changes may be off-putting to your longtime fans? Let’s look at four big ones:

Identity — Particularly for “badge brands” whose logo has become a marker or status symbol for consumers, a change in graphic identity should be done with care. For positive examples, look no further than professional sports, where teams regularly update uniforms and tweak color palettes, and fans flock to team stores to buy the new versions.

Packaging — Any packaging design change other than an evolution, without any preview and explanation, make consumers wonder what else is changing (i.e., ingredients, cost, company ownership).

Formula — This is a big change, and it can be risky for brands that have anchored their positioning on a singular ingredient or flavor profile. Mission-driven brands will have an easier time altering the product itself, so long as the change upholds the larger reason for being. A compelling case study for shifting or expanding formulation is Krave Jerky, which made a logical stretch from meat-based protein snacks to include plant-based products.

Size — Even if your audience isn’t value-conscious, they’ll notice a downsize in packaging, especially if you’re the only player in your category making the change.

Avoid the arrogance of thinking, “Our consumers will figure it out; we don’t need to explain it to them.” The worst-case scenario if you pull major changes on your brand loyalists without communicating to them is that they’ll abandon you for an alternative. You may fear social media backlash, and in fact, some of your fans will call you out for changing a brand they love. That’s actually a golden opportunity, however, because you’ll hear the complaints and be able to respond and make your fans part of the solution. But without a dialog in which you acknowledge their concerns and educate them about why you’re making the change, you’ll lose them forever. The essential ingredient in any brand change is communication.

7 Considerations & Strategies for Brand Change

As you contemplate a brand change that you think may have repercussions with your loyalists, consider these points:

1) Your current consumer may not really be your real target audience. Marketing to your current consumer means you are always looking backward and inward. You probably think, mistakenly, that the customers who buy your product are just like the people leading the brand. Instead, you need research and analysis to identify future consumer needs, habits, and trends. For example, Essentia came to us with the notion that their target audience was primarily athletes and fitness buffs who needed to replenish water lost in workouts. But our research identified a whole new universe of people across all kinds of interests who wanted superior hydration to fuel their work and interests.

2) Change is easier when you’re leading. From a marketer’s perspective, the ideal opportunity to do something big is when you’ve had such consistent and tremendous success that you’re now faced with having to stay ahead. The worst time is when the brand is on life support and you know it.

3) Marketing cannot supplant change when change is necessary. You may fear you can’t do anything meaningfully different from other brands in your space, or do anything your original customers won’t like. That you have to stay in your lane and just work to out-market the competition. But you can’t out-market the competition — especially store brands — because they’re simply copying what you do at a cheaper price point and stealing your thunder.

4) It’s nearly impossible to over-communicate with your audience when you make a change. There are three platforms of the Brand Ecosystem to leverage: in-store (packaging in particular), social media, and your website.

5) Start communicating change with a bug or banner on your existing packaging. The best example of communicating change came from Chobani: They added a “new packaging coming soon” message to the inside of the lid, so it was unmissable to existing consumers.

6) Use social media to build anticipation and excitement before the change. Look at how your loyalists engage with you and tell them through that channel that change is coming. By the time it happens, no one will be surprised; in fact, if you bring them along they will embrace and advocate for the change.

7) Marketers commonly make the mistake of waiting to update the brand’s website until the change is already happening. Instead, make that your first communication platform to share the news, so that if the loyalist sees something about the change they can go to your website and understand why it’s happening.

When brand marketers and executives consider a pivot — a new mark, revised packaging, whatever it may be — they may fear a loss of share that never materializes. When fear overrides opportunity, you’ll swirl in a constant cycle of incremental tweaks instead of making great growth strides. Remember: Your original tribe will never entirely go away — as long as your brand stays true to its core values, the risk of losing your core consumer is small if they see that you’re upholding your brand promise.

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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Does Your Naturals Brand Have a Mission? Or Just a Mission Statement?

Type “how to write a mission statement” into Google’s search field, and it’ll return 434,000,000 results. Clearly, there’s a lot of advice out there for writing a mission statement.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about capital-M Mission: Your brand’s true purpose.

It’s easy to have a mission statement. It’s harder to live a true Mission. If your operations team or customer service team don’t know how to do their job against your company’s Mission, you’ve got a marketing tactic, not a vision for the brand’s higher calling in the world.

The Difference Between Mission and Mission Statement

You’ve done this at some point in your marketing career, right? Been part of an internal task force to develop a mission statement for the brand. Someone on the team Googled “how to write a mission statement” and you went through the steps. Maybe you even stenciled the resulting copy on the conference room wall. Mission statements are Marketing 101.

But a mission statement without a Mission is BS. “Ensuring stakeholder value” does not a brand Mission make.

Mission, rather, is the very soul of your brand. It is your promise and the ways in which you keep it. It’s the wrong you exist to right in the world, the fight you fight, the good you do.

Why does Mission matter? Because no matter how good your product is, eventually, someone’s going to come along with a cheaper version. David outlines how this happens, inevitably, in his book Beloved & Dominant Brands.

And if you aim to rebound from One of Many to Beloved & Dominant status, then your Mission is essential. It’s the foundation of your brand strategy. Remember: People don’t buy products. They buy brands.

Mission is a Holistic Business Strategy

Your brand’s Mission doesn’t just guide how you market the product to consumers. It flows throughout the entire organization:

  • Does your corporate culture match? Do people in the organization treat each other according to your higher values?
  • Does your payroll match? Can your employees afford your products?
  • Does your decision-making match? Are the strategies and initiatives you pursue in line with your Mission?
  • Does your ops match? Is your ingredient deck as clean and natural as possible?
  • Does your philanthropy match? Do you work to solve real needs?

Every employee, from the C-suite to the folks taking customer calls and the marketers repping the brand in social channels, should understand how their work advances the Mission. It’s like the guy sweeping the floor at NASA in the 1960s, who knew that his role was essential to getting people to the moon.

When your Mission is clearly defined, it serves as magnetic north on your corporate compass; you can say no to all the stuff that falls outside the lines. Mission builds internal alignment, team trust, and momentum. If you’re working in a company that has a mission statement without a Mission, you know it: Every decision is hard, marketing campaigns don’t land, the organization is dysfunctional, and your product development is all over the map.

What a Strong Mission Looks Like

When we consult with a struggling brand, we often start by helping them identify or refine their Mission. A Mission should be a BHAG — a big, hairy, audacious goal. Furthermore, there are four key attributes to a strong Mission:

It must be an action – it leads with a verb to describe what the brand does toward the goal.

It must be specific and quantifiable – you need to have a dashboard on it so you can track how you’re delivering on your promise.

It must change lives — it’s not just about selling stuff and returning value to stakeholders.

It must avoid sentiment – you need to develop language that is not so emotional or self-focused so you can’t enroll the broadest audience both internally and externally. [Note: When you translate the mission into marketing, it can become highly personal and emotional.]

The magic happens, of course, when your Mission resonates so deeply with so many people that sales naturally follow. Consumers so thoroughly buy-in that they will stick with your brand over all others, no matter what. That’s Beloved & Dominant. (And that’s what we do!)

Organizations often write mission statements so they can check that box on the “what companies do” list. But there’s no there there.

Frankly, you can get by if you have a Mission without a catchy mission statement. But the opposite is not true. You can’t Copywrite your way out of a lack of Mission. No matter what those 400 million Google search results might suggest.

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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Naturals Brands: Is Your Charismatic Founder Helping or Hurting the Business?

We’re just gonna make a bold statement here: If the sole reason for your company’s success is the actual, physical presence of the founder — during visits with retail partners, sales meetings at trade shows, in-store demonstrations — then you have a branding problem.

Because when that charismatic founder/owner isn’t in the room, the wind goes out of your sails.

It’s a challenge that we see frequently in the natural food and beverage space, which is populated by brands launched by individuals who developed products that initially met their own needs. (Think: an avid hiker needed an energy bar to power through day-long treks; a parent with a kid with a food allergy needed a clean snack.) Typically, a brand rides to out-of-the-gate success on the back of that passionate, visionary founder.

But as the brand grows and the founder/owner can’t be everywhere at once, a few gaping holes begin to develop. While the sales team is capable of selling the brand’s offering to retailers, the product itself doesn’t match the hype. Consumers don’t see the brand as meaningfully different from competitors and choose lower-priced options. The brand loses velocity and risks discontinuation. It’s exhausting to rely on charisma, and it’s expensive to not get the sell-through you need to stay profitable.

When the Founder Becomes a Liability

In the lifecycle of a brand I describe in my book Beloved & Dominant Brands, the risk of founder-as-brand shows up when the brand tips from Beloved by Default (still riding the visionary’s coattails) to One of Many (lost in a churn of copycats).

First & Only — an innovative, world-changing newcomer

Beloved by Default — a niche brand attracting a growing audience of fans

One of Many — a once-darling brand copied by cheaper competitors

Beloved & Dominant — a category-crushing superstar so favored by consumers that it’s competition-proof

Two fundamental truths about entrepreneur-led brands are at play here: One, the founder can’t replicate herself, and as she spreads herself too thin her influence wanes. Two, and perhaps more important, the leader and her executive team assume, wrongly, that they ARE their customer. They fail to see that consumers’ needs are different, and that the product doesn’t fit as well into their lives. They think: “Everyone must love this brand as much as we do.” We see this especially in competitive categories where the barriers to entry are lower (e.g. snacks) and where look-alike products are hard for consumers to differentiate.

Faced with dipping sales, the marketing team often steps in with quick fixes: tweaks to the packaging design or sometimes even positioning. The deeper the bias of the founder or leadership about their product’s superiority (when for retailers and consumers, it’s parity) the smaller and more frustrating the moves. Marketing is often unsuccessful or merely produces a short-term bump prompted by ad campaigns or discounting. Meanwhile, the brand struggles to meet minimum velocity hurdles. Sales and marketing are doomed to fail if the brand and business are hinging on the charisma of the founder.

Separating the Brand from the Individual

So, how can marketing executives steer the brand away from the founder’s persona? Very gently.

First, it’s important to remember one definition of brand:

Brand is what they say about you when you aren’t in the room.

That’s because it’s about them, silly, not about you.

Perhaps the smartest thing you can do is to enlist an external ally to help identify the issue — the primacy of the founder/owner is creating serious branding and business problems — and to deliver the difficult news and take the heat for saying so. And yes, there’ll be some heat. (We’ve been in that chair, and we’re well-versed in sharing tough news with grace.)

Just as important, you must frame the situation not as a complaint about the founder, but as a natural, growth-related challenge that has a strategic solution.

Think of other brands pegged to an individual founder: Bob, Barbara, Justin, Annie … it’s been a long time since Bob or Barbara was in a regional retail sales meeting. But Bob and Barbara still project a halo of wisdom and a promise of quality over the brands, even those that are now owned by large multinationals.

As a spunky, entrepreneurial naturals brand grows, the role of the founder/owner must pivot away from hands-on, in-every-meeting doer to benevolent guide. The founder/owner becomes a shepherd for the brand rather than the brand itself. She shows up like a pastor or chairman emeritus; the brand stands for itself and its mission, and the individual hovers above in a sort of endorsement role. Like Justin or Annie, the founder’s presence serves as confirmation that the brand is a real thing based on real people.

Think of the founder/owner’s position like a patronus. (“Harry Potter” fans will recognize the patronus as a magically conjured apparition that guides, protects, and inspires a person in his moment of need.) The founder, then, doesn’t fight the fight, but serves as a beacon.

When we advise founder-centric brands on evolving the brand beyond the dynamic individual, we help turn the liability into a strength by involving the founder in the journey from lead warrior to champion. It often takes some coaching, but rarely have we seen the founder resist the move. Typically, he recognizes his responsibility for the business impasse, feels the pain of decreasing sales, and embraces his new role as vision-giver and mentor to the brand.

And then the whole organization breathes a sigh of relief. The overtaxed founder gets to step out of the day-to-day and focus on work that adds value. Product development responds to real market opportunity rather than the owner’s whim. Marketing moves the needle because the brand’s values align with consumers’.

Apple is often celebrated as a brand with a powerful connection to fans, and it’s also a case study in how dominant leaders can and should behave. In Apple’s darkest days, Steve Jobs was in every meeting, weighing in on every decision, driving every aspect of the business. When he stepped back to let other exceptional minds shape the company and instead became a spiritual guide and external presence at product-launch events, Apple soared.

If you’re working with an in-the-weeds Steve Jobs when you need a product-unveiling Steve Jobs, give us a call. We’ve traveled this path and can help founders find their most fulfilling and difference-making roles.

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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You Can’t Do Good In The World By Yourself featuring RaeJean Wilson, GloryBee

Gooder Podcast with RaeJean Wilson

In this episode I had the privilege of chatting with RaeJean Wilson, Director of HR/Communications of GloryBee – a supplier of natural and organic ingredients to manufacturers, bakeries and consumers for decades. We discuss the how the naturals industry has changed (and stayed the same) since the company’s founding in the 1970’s as well as how the brand has evolved from a simple expression of love to one of stewardship for the greater good. Along the way we discuss the efforts GloryBee is making to ensure the future of honeybees, and to make sure the brand continues to stand as a leader and information source for farming practices as they relate to pollination, general food production and the overall health of our planet.

“It isn’t about one business or one company; it’s about all of us doing things together to make this world better.” – RaeJean Wilson

In this episode we learn:

  • The challenges and joys of leading a brand through the evolving naturals industry.
  • How farming practices have evolved and how the introduction of food science has affected the honey and sweetner industry.
  • How RaeJean and her family have managed transitional leadership change.
  • Why food is considered a love language.
  • How bee propagation is instrumental in the success of an industry that is leaning more and more heavily into plant-based diets and products.
  • Why leadership doesn’t need to be heavy-handed to be effective.
Gooder Podcast

You Can’t Do Good In The World By Yourself featuring RaeJean Wilson, GloryBee

About RaeJean Wilson:

RaeJean Wilson is the daughter of GloryBee Founders Dick and Pat Turanski. RaeJean has served in the family business in several capacities for 25+  years. After earning a BA in Public Health at the University of Oregon, her focus was on sales and building GloryBee’s customer base. RaeJean now serves as GloryBee’s Director of HR and Communications, overseeing marketing, human resources, safety, sustainability, and community outreach.

RaeJean is married with two adult sons and a daughter. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, wine, and travel.

Guests Social Media Links:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/raejean-wilson-9154221ab/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GloryBeeFoods

Instagram: https://instagram.com/glorybeefoods/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GloryBeeFoods/

Show Resources:

GloryBee – With over 45 years of experience in the natural foods industry, we have been supplying natural and organic ingredients to Pacific Northwest natural food manufacturers, bakeries, and shops for decades. It’s likely that you’ve enjoyed our ingredients in your favorite natural and organic prepared foods and restaurant meals! You may even have a jar of our honey, coconut oil or natural sweetener in your pantry at home.

SAVE the BEE: Led by GloryBee, the SAVE the BEE Initiative is a partnership of researchers, beekeepers, businesses and consumers committed to protecting honey bees.

B-Corp – Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Seattle Pacific University: is a premier Christian university that equips people to engage the culture and change the world.

The University of Oregon: is a public flagship research university in Eugene, Oregon, United States. Founded in 1876, the institution’s 295-acre campus is along the Willamette River.

Franz Bakery: is a source for the highest quality breads, bagels, buns, English muffins, cookies and more.

Eugene Mission: We are not a homeless shelter in the traditional sense. While we certainly provide our guests with food and shelter – and do so with an abundance of God’s love.

Oakshire Brewing: is a community-inspired, small-batch brewing company founded in 2006. We are locally owned, employ 24 people, and produce a wide variety of fresh, quality beers through our three distinct brewing programs.

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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Leverage Your Network to Maximize Business Opportunities featuring Ashley Hartman, Bluestein Ventures

Finding an investment partner, at any time, is no easy task. It’s not unlike soccer or football. The greater the number of shots on goal, the more likely to score a goal. But for young entrepreneurial brands, many entering business ownership for the first time, a capital raise can be a complicated and grueling task that can make or break a business owner’s dreams.

In this episode, I had the privilege of chatting with Ashley Hartman, Senior Principal at Bluestein Ventures, a family-backed venture capital fund that invests in the future of food. Ready to provide insights into a new way of seeing the capital raise. Ashely shares how investment and venture capital firms have taken the opportunity of the 2020 events to re-evaluate how, where, and with who they do business with. She shares how this year has become an opportunity to get better and stronger, meeting not only business but personal goals. Along the way we learn the importance of being a good community partner and how investing beyond a financial commitment has become a cornerstone in her firms’ success.

“People need to be utilizing their network a little bit more and asking a little bit more.” – Ashley Hartman

In this episode we learn:

  • The reason why Ashley and Bluestein Venture focuses on helping brands in Seed to Series A stage funding.
  • The ways investment firms are finding and supporting brands during this time.
  • The criteria and evaluation tools that Bluestein uses when courting brand opportunities.
  • The key differences in communicating with serial entrepreneur’s vs the home-grown “Hatchery” style entrepreneur.
  • About diversity initiatives in business and how Bluestein is able to outreach to those communities that traditionally haven’t had accessibility to capital investment.
  • Where Ashley derives her energy to keep on pushing hard to meet her goals and those of Bluestein’s brands.
Gooder Podcast

Leverage Your Network to Maximize Business Opportunities featuring Ashley Hartman, Bluestein Ventures

About Ashley Hartman:

Ashley is Senior Principal at Bluestein Ventures, a family-backed venture capital fund that invests in the future of food. Bluestein looks for game-changing, early-stage ventures across the food industry that redefine how consumers achieve their health and wellness. Our investments span the entire value chain – both B2C and B2B – with a focus on four areas: high-growth consumer brands, proprietary foodtech, next-gen commerce, and value-add digital technology. At Bluestein, we’re active investors, going beyond capital to help its portfolio companies develop, iterate, and implement their go-to-market strategy to achieve product-market fit and set the foundation for scale.

Ashley is involved in all areas of Bluestein, including screening, due diligence, portfolio company support, as well as firm development and strategy. She has extensive experience leading growth strategy and establishing scalable infrastructure necessary to build sustainable ventures, honing these skills throughout her time running and scaling her family’s business, working on new ventures at Coinstar, and her experience in financial consulting. Active in the Chicago food community, Ashley serves on the Selection Committee and Associate’s Board of the Good Food Accelerator and is a mentor at Food Foundry and The Hatchery. Ashley received an MBA with honors from Harvard Business School and a BA in Political Economy, summa cum laude, from Williams College.

Outside of Bluestein, you’ll find Ashley on her yoga mat, exploring Chicago on foot, hiking up a storm when she can escape to the mountains, or at a contemporary art museum. A health & wellness nut, she’s been vegan for nearly eight years, but doesn’t preach!

Guests Social Media Links:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashleyhartman2/

Email: ashley@bluesteinventures.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/a_hartman1

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ashleyhartmanrobin/

Show Resources:

Bluestein Ventures – We invest in the future of food. We’re looking for game-chaigne, early-stage ventures across the food industry that redefine how consumers achieve their health and wellness. Our investments span the entire value chain – both B2C and B2B – with a focus on four areas.

Chicago Food Community – A united community effort working to bring food, dignity and hope to Cook County neighbors.  They act as the hub for a network of more than 700 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs which provide food where it’s most needed.

Good Food Accelerator – The Good Food Accelerator gets emerging Good Food CPG brands ready for prime time, giving them the skills to scale up

Food Foundry – A Chicago-based growth accelerator program by Relish Works built in partnership with Gordon Food Service and 1871. It supports, connects, and propels innovative startups who are reimagining the food industry.

The Hatchery – A non-profit and beverage incubator dedicated to helping local entrepreneurs build and grow successful businesses.

Yerbae – A line of zero calorie sparkling waters that are enhanced with a blend of yerba mate, white tea extract, and guarana seed extract.

Coinstar – An American company operating coin-cashing machines

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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Never Give Up featuring Denise Woodard, Partake

Gooder Podcast featuring Denise Woodard

In this episode I had the privilege of chatting with Denise Woodard, CEO and Founder of Partake Foods: a brand of allergy-friendly snacks inspired by her daughter’s experience with food allergies.

Denise takes us on a journey of discovery as she tells us the story of tackling her daughters’ dietary restrictions while meeting her sweet tooth “demands”. With a little tough love from her daughter’s childcare provider “Your daughters’ diet is boring.”- Denise embarked on a journey of discovery and perseverance learning to bake, develop product, start-up and run a company and developing it into a beloved industry darling. Along the way we hear about the 86 investment rejections, road trips selling product out of her car, to becoming the first black woman to raise a million dollars in seed capital for a packaged food brand.

In this episode we learn:

  • The genesis and inspiration of Partake.
  • What is driving the demand for allergen-free foods.
  • How Denise plans to support the growing needs of the allergen-free consumer.
  • How food and beverage brands can improve their listening of consumer needs – beyond product development.
  • How Denise is supporting other BIOPIC women in the industry.
  • The ways Denise stayed inspired during the early days of fundraising and growing Partake.
  • The advice that Denise gives new food and beverage entrepreneurs.

“Successful people are just regular people who want to solve a problem and are very passionate about it.” – Denise Woodard

Gooder Podcast

Never Give Up featuring Denise Woodard, Partake

About Denise Woodard:

Denise Woodard is the Founder/CEO of Partake, a line of allergy-friendly snacks inspired by her daughter’s experience with food allergies. Since launching in July 2017, Partakes first product – delicious, nutritious, allergy-friendly cookies – can be found in over 2,500 retailers including Target, Sprouts, and Whole Foods Market. The company has been featured by People, Black Enterprise and Entrepreneur and, in June 2019 closed a seed round of funding led by JAY-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners.

Prior to launching Partake, Denise spent a decade in consumer-packaged-goods at various Fortune 100 companies. Most recently, she held the title of Director, National Sales in Coca-Cola’s Venturing & Emerging Brands division. Denise holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and an MBA from Arizona State University. She lives in Jersey City, NJ with her husband, Jeremy, and their 5-year-old daughter, Vivienne.

Guests Social Media Links:

LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/denisegwoodard/

Website:  https://partakefoods.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PartakeFoods/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/partakefoods/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/partakefoods

Show Resources:

Partake: Our products give delicious peace of mind to those with dietary restrictions… and “how is this so good?” enjoyment to everyone else.

Marcy Venture Partners: Co-Founded by Shawn Carter (JAY-Z), Jay Brown and Larry Marcus. The firm has a passion for building game-changing consumer businesses and mass-market brands that resonate with culture across products and services, media and technology. We combine unique access, instincts, deep networks, operating and venture capital expertise to be long term partners in growth.

Whole Foods Market : An American multinational supermarket chain headquartered in Austin, Texas, which sells products free from hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. A USDA Certified Organic grocer in the United States, the chain is popularly known for its organic selections.

Honest Tea: A bottled organic tea company based in Bethesda, Maryland. It was founded in 1998 by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company. The name is a pun on the word “honesty”.

Food Equality Initiative: Improving the health and ending hunger in individuals diagnosed with food allergies and celiac disease through access, education and advocacy.

Frito-Lay: An American subsidiary of PepsiCo that manufactures, markets, and sells corn chips, potato ships and other snack foods.

Stacy’s Rise Project: Created to help bridge the funding gap for female founders, Stacy’s Rise Project™ has been connecting and empowering women business owners for years.

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 | Call For Entries for Season Two

Retail Voodoo is recruiting participants for Season 2 of Brand Slam – Episodes starting March 2021.

CPG brands spend a lot of time telling consumers how different they are. And with the brand world changing faster than ever, the fundamentals of brand building are receiving scrutiny. What is a brand anyway? A logo? An idea? An ad campaign?

We have decided to answer those questions, in real-time and have created a monthly workshop for food, beverage, health and wellness company founders looking to gain insights on how to use brand positioning, language and strategy to gain unfair advantage in the market. Learn what opportunities and details Retail Voodoo looks for when building a strong brand and how your brand must use these tools to educate consumers about it.

Our Brand Slam Brand Tune-Up will start by auditing and benchmarking your brand against competitors in your categories to develop a powerful platform for brand growth. Our goal is to help you think about building a stronger brand by giving you tools and examples from a live case study.

Each month, Retail Voodoo’s David Lemley will choose one entrepreneurial brand (maybe yours?) to showcase the lessons and strategic thinking that go into building the heart of a brand – in a live broadcast.

Are you ready for a Brand Slam?

Application Criteria

  • Must be a food, beverage, wellness, or fitness brand
  • Applicants should be $2M or less in annual revenue
  • Must be in market a minimum of 6 months
  • Must be based, and doing business, in North America

Watch Previous Episodes:

Sign Up To Apply – Deadline: January 15, 2021

We can’t wait to meet you!

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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Defining Success Beyond Financial Gain featuring Thereasa Black, Amore Congelato

Gooder Podcast with Thereasa Black

In this episode, I had the privilege of interviewing Thereasa Black, CEO and Founder of Amore Congelato, a start-up gelato brand taking a different approach to treats, community and the definition of success. Thereasa takes us on a journey of being a professionally driven single mom finding a way to develop a dessert that her daughter fell in love with, while Tereasa was deployed overseas, to create a new opportunity for her family and her community. Along the way we explore the hurdles of starting a new food brand with no experience in food or frozen desserts, CPG, or retail.

In this episode we learn:

  • The genesis and inspiration of Amore Congelato.
  • How Thereasa’s military experience influences her decision making and level-headedness.
  • How to stay focused on the mission of a company regardless of challenge.
  • To always have a real plan B, ( and C).
  • How leaning into other people and resources can help at every level of business.
  • How to stay inspired when working through unfamiliar situations.
  • That the real key to success is balancing work life with personal life.

She leaves us with a word of advice: “Your drive should be the want to achieve your goals.”

Gooder Podcast

Defining Success Beyond Financial Gain featuring Thereasa Black, Amore Congelato

About Thereasa Black:

Thereasa Black is an attorney, Naval Officer, and the CEO and founder of Amore Congelato, a company that makes all-natural, nutritious gelato and sorbet that contains zero cane sugar.

In March 2018, a month after she was sworn into the Maryland Bar and a week before her daughter’s 2nd birthday, Thereasa was deployed to Djibouti for a 13-month deployment.  This was Thereasa’s 4th deployment, but her first as a mom. Every day away from her daughter was s struggle because her toddler, who believed that Thereasa had dropped her off and moved to a new home, was suffering greatly.

Thereasa knew immediately that she couldn’t deploy again and that returning home and practicing law working 8o hour weeks was also not an option, so she decided to start her own business. She chose gelato in honor of the last food that she and her daughter shared before their long journey apart. Thereasa had made an ice cream cookie cake to celebrate her daughter’s birthday the night before she deployed. It was the first time that her daughter had ice cream and she fell in love with it.

Thereasa decided to make an ice cream that was nutritious so that she would be happy to allow her daughter to eat it. She removed all of the cane sugar and replaced it with a tasty combination of date syrup, agave nectar, and coconut sugar. It has up to 16 essential vitamins and minerals and 24 grams of protein. Now her daughter can enjoy gelato that has more nutrients than kale and Thereasa will never have to leave her side.

Guests Social Media Links:

Email: CEO@amorecongelato.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thereasa-m-black/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amorecongelatofrozenlove/

Instagram: @amore_congelato

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Amore+Congelato&sp=EiG4AQHCARtDaElKT19UdkVqMVB0b2tSLTJXTkdvWjBlU1E%253D

Show Resources:

Amore Congelato: Gelato sweetened with dates, coconut sugar, and agave nectar. Zero cane sugar.

Stacy’s Rise Project: 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.

HelloAlice: Step-by-step guides, expert resources, and collaborative communities of fellow entrepreneurs – all for free.

MassChallenge: MassChallenge was founded in 2009 with a singular purpose – to make it as easy as possible for entrepreneurs to launch and grow new ventures.

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
all Insights

Naturals Brands: You’re Missing Your Biggest Target Audience

In the hypercompetitive naturals category, brands define the natural consumer in a very narrow way: rich, suburban, white, educated, able-bodied, and already healthy.

But that overlooks a huge audience of consumers just waiting for these brands to find them.

Naturals brands are tripping over each other to reach the same defined audience. These consumers are fickle, quick to flip from one brand to the next. In other words, companies are fighting with each other and spending tons of money to reach the same volatile market.

Why?

If you’re a marketer in this category, we’d like to introduce you to a different group of consumers hungry for your better-than products: low- and middle-income families.

Consumers of Modest Means & Why They Matter to Brands

You may imagine that your prototypical fan is a suburban white mom active on Instagram and into health and fitness. So your better-for-you product might be just right for her. But she doesn’t really need your brand.

Who does? Consumers of more modest means who actually need products that can help them lead healthier lives.

These consumers look different from your model fan. These families are more likely to be of color, disabled, or LGBTQ+. They live in urban or rural—not wealthy suburban—areas, where access to healthy food choices is more limited. There are myriad reasons—financial, cultural, logistical—why these folks think differently about health and wellness than the consumer you’re currently reaching.

Before you dismiss the idea of connecting with them, realize this: While spending power remains concentrated with upper-class shoppers, the middle and lower class represent a far greater portion of the population. As of 2018, 52% of American adults qualified in the middle class and 29% in the lower class. There’s a vast market to be tapped.

And as Emily Brown of the Food Equality Initiative told me in our recent discussion for my Gooder podcast, these consumers are incredibly brand loyal—because their spending habits and budgets don’t allow for shopping around. Once they land on a product or brand their families prefer, they stick with it.

Why Are These Consumers Overlooked?

These folks are out there—why don’t marketers see them?

A big part of it is innate bias in our industry. In the natural food and beverage category, marketing is all about finding your “tribe”—consumers who buy into your brand’s values and see your products as a way to express their affiliation with those values. We assume those fellow tribe members are just like us. We don’t see consumers who don’t look like us, and most of us are white, educated, and reasonably well to do.

The early adopters of natural food and beverage products were a bunch of 1960s and ’70s countercultural hippies who were concerned about the commercialization of food and farming and who advocated for whole, unaltered, healthy food. Then and now, founder-owners of better-for-you companies tend to be entrepreneurs with enough capital to launch, manufacture, and scale a business—and executives and investors in the category are predominantly white and wealthy as well. Our category is a closed-loop.

So what has this navel-gazing approach to product development and marketing yielded?

  • High price points for products that aim to benefit people and planet
  • Flavor profiles and niche ingredients that aren’t widely appealing
  • Exclusive channel strategies that don’t bring products to the consumers who might want them
  • An implicit belief that only white suburban folks want to live healthy lifestyles

In short, the naturals industry has evolved beyond the reach of people who are new to the idea of eating whole, healthy foods.

How to Reach Low- and Middle-Income Buyers

Here’s the upside: Naturals brands, with their powerful missions to improve lives, should find it easy—indeed, critical—to reach these underserved audiences. If you’re a thriving naturals brand, you’ve already invested in the consumer education platform of your Brand Ecosystem—it’s the very foundation of your communication strategy. You know how important it is to teach people why your brand matters and what your products can do for them.

Mission and education: Check. So it should be an easy lift to reach out to a broader audience.

A couple of points to think about:

Understand who these consumers are. Shift your research mindset from transactional (who buys what) to empathetic (what do they need in their lives). The right syndicated consumer data exists; you just have to ask for it in different ways. Seek research that shows where, why, and how these kinds of consumers shop. Collaborate with retail partners that have access to that information; they’re also interested in reaching that consumer.

Reach them where they are. Our category shares so much education, but it’s pointed to people who already buy into our brands, not to people who are early in the journey. Don’t ostracize them; welcome them with information that’s helpful to their lives and interests. Same goes for product development. Consumers of modest means may be taking small steps toward eating healthier and may not care about ingredients like kale or chia or Himalayan salt. A baked corn chip may be the ideal option, for example, for the consumer who wants an alternative to fried snacks but isn’t keen on organic vegan lentil puffs.

Get samples into their hands. On a limited budget, a middle-class mom can’t afford to try three different healthy snacks to figure out which one her kids will like. So find ways to get a free trial to her. Once she’s formed a preference for your product, she’ll stick with it.

Get over your high-priced mindset. Leaders in this market attach too much clout to offering an expensive product. Drop the snobbery. The idea that people with restricted income won’t buy is false. When they’re shopping a category where they don’t have a brand affinity, they will buy on price—but if they have a brand preference, they will always spend on that product. They just have to feel a connection to the brand.

There’s nothing wrong with creating a niche product that’s more expensive—but if you’re mission-driven and trying to save people and planet, then your goal should be to go mainstream, expand your market, cost engineer production, and lower your retail price.

Embrace a vision that’s big enough that your goal is to get your product into everyone’s hands. And if you’re not quite sure how to make that happen – drop me a line.

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