How can new food and drinks brands make an impact in a crowded marketplace?

By Craig Sams and William Fugard, co-founders of Gusto Organic drinks

How does a new food or drinks brand compete with the marketing clout of popular high street brands with little money? Or get products onto the shelves of big supermarkets without a proven track record?  For small businesses it may seem daunting as they consider what feels like punching above their weight.

Despite the hurdles, small businesses, young brands, and new products can make an impact. I’ve been able to do this myself with a number of once-unknown brands and products. Let me share some tips based on what we’ve learned on this journey.

Be bold 

When you’re leading a small company, it’s understandable to think, for example, that supermarkets won’t be interested in stocking your new brand. You might be surprised! The only way to find out is to engage them with a strong pitch and an open mind. 

When I wrote to Jason Gissing, one of the founders of Ocado, to introduce Gusto. I was a little surprised when he agreed to meet so I could show him the range. It turned out that he loved our brand and ethos and helped us.

As a small brand it’s easy to get lost in the noise. Finding influential advocates really helps. LinkedIn is a goldmine for key industry contacts, as are in-person networking events. Finding one open-minded person who’s influential in the organisation, could help you enormously.

Follow the seasons 

The popularity of many food and drink products has seasonal fluctuations. We launched three drinks last April in preparation for summer and learned the hard way that the summer buying window starts around September/October and extends as far as March. 

It’s crucial to know all the cut-off dates for retail seasons and offer your products retail and restaurant chains well ahead of the cut-off date. Ideally, you’ll have decided your seasonal ranges a year in advance so you can also get a head start on marketing. 

Strong foundations

To succeed, your new product obviously needs to taste good, look appealing, and be sold effectively. All three pillars must be up to scratch. Better to delay a launch rather than push a product with bland packaging, a hastily pulled together sales strategy, or a taste that isn’t quite perfect.

A misjudged sales strategy will scupper your crucial launch and the first stage of growth, putting off potential retailers, investors, and partners who may doubt your abilities and your product’s mass appeal. Getting the taste, texture, or appearance of your product wrong, or indeed using poor branding, will be hard to recover from. 

Build your three pillars on strong foundations so you can succeed.

Create a product you love 

If you design a product you feel is simply missing from the market, it’s best to create it in your vision. Chances are that if you love it, many others will too.

We created Gusto because there were no natural, organic, and Fairtrade drinks out there, and we wanted one to drink regularly! So, rather than using focus groups or flavour houses, we set out to make the taste we wanted, by using only the ingredients we wanted to consume. Likewise, we made sure the design and branding resonated with us. Thankfully, it’s struck a chord with many others.

Sticking to your guns is also the best way to bring out a genuinely new and unique product. And if you really love your idea, you won’t get tired of trying to share it widely. This will make your advertising more genuine and enthuse customers.

Make sure you’re truly happy with your products and brand from the outset.

Patience, patience

Good opportunities can often take a frustratingly long time to come to fruition. We’ve had plenty of conversations with retailers and restaurants that have lasted more than a year before they agreed to stock Gusto. It was certainly worth the effort though. If you think the opportunity is an important one and the retailer hasn’t closed the door, don’t throw in the towel.

In general, strong sustainable brands with a broad customer base take time to build. So, seek to win over one shop, one café, one bar at a time. There is no silver bullet, just time and persistence.

Define brand values 

Every business is faced with an array of decisions, some of which can also challenge your ethics and values. Having clearly defined brand values helps a brand navigate their decisions and remain consistent. So, it’s best to incorporate your own ethos into your brand and stay true to it. Will you choose cheap or Fairtrade ingredients? Go organic or not? Will you add sugar and preservatives or tweak the recipe? Will your packaging be recyclable?

I hope you find these tips useful and implement some of them.  Despite the advantages that Big Business has in all industry sectors your product can succeed.  I wish you the best of luck!

About the Authors

Craig Sams

Craig Sams and William Fugard are co-founders of Gusto, the world’s first natural, organic, and Fairtrade energy drink. 

Craig Sams is also the co-founder of Green & Black’s luxury chocolate, and Whole Earth Foods. 

Gusto is available from over 600 outlets, sold in eight countries and distributed by 20 UK Wholesalers. Gusto is stocked by Ocado, Whole Foods Market, The Waldorf Hilton, Sourced Market, Eat17, Tate Modern, SKY TV head offices & Chiquito restaurants.  Gusto Organic was the official soft drinks sponsor for 2018 & 2019 Tour of Britain Pro Cycle race, and we directly market with Craft Clubs through their 28,000 monthly Gin subscription boxes.

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