KeHE & C.A. Fortune Answer: What Gets You Excited About a New Food Product?

Good Food Expo Get On the Shelf Panel: What Gets You Excited About a New Product?

I was fortunate to be asked to moderate the “Get On The Shelf” panel at the Good Food Expo held mid-March 2019 at the University of Illinois Chicago west loop campus. The panel was made up of several food industry experts like Kelly Cosgrove, New Business Development Director, Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Buddy Levin, Local Purchasing Associate Coordinator, Whole Foods Market, Tyler Lowell, Managing Partner, C.A. Fortune, Katie Paul, Executive Director, KeHE Distributors, LLC, and Julie Smolyansky, CEO, Lifeway Foods.

This post features Kelly Cosgrove, New Business Development Director, Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Tyler Lowell, Managing Partner, C.A. Fortune, Katie Paul, Executive Director, KeHE Distributors, LLC answering the question: “What Get You Excited About a New Product?” from the viewpoints of a distributor, broker.

Moderator: Because you both do product development plus placement, right? What gets you excited about a new product and what gets you excited about positioning it in the marketplace in the right way and help it get on the shelf?

Katie Paul: Sure. What worked yesterday isn’t working today. Also what works for one buyer doesn’t work for another buyer. I think there are so much grass-roots research food entrepreneurs can do to understand the target audience that makes it a little easier to tailor your message to that specific person. Maybe there’s somebody that is data-driven. Data doesn’t mean you have to go to IRI or Nielsen and buy the data if you can’t afford it. If you can get in the store, you can check out the plan-o-gram sets. You can go to their competition and check the plan-o-gram sets out, know how many SKUs they have, know what their average price point is, understand how they’re promoting the section.

Understanding all of that before going in is so important, and that’s important to a distributor as well when you’re going into that distributor and understanding the cost associated with going through distribution to the retailer. If you don’t understand those costs, asking the right questions beforehand and just being very prepared with the correct information. Whether that be a price list, a spec sheet, a sell sheet, some simple stuff that often gets passed by and you go to them and ask for a meeting without maybe an agenda put together, things like that. When my team’s looking at products, they’re analyzing a ton of different things to determine if it’s right.

The first thing food entrepreneurs may ask is: does it align with the distributor’s category strategy and their current brand portfolio. KeHE Distributors has 70,000 SKUs, so there’s a lot in those brand portfolios.  One of the things to think about is how are your new food product differentiates from other brands in the category. Is it ingredients? Do you have functional ingredients, CBD, or collagen, or ashwagandha… whatever it may be. Maybe it’s something along the lines of attributes. Is your new food product is grain-free, keto, paleo, plant-based?

Maybe it’s certifications KeHE is looking for. Are you USDA organic or Non-GMO Project Verified? What are the things that differentiate you from your competition? Also, we like to look at brands that are doing more than just selling their brands. For instance, KeHE is a B Corp. We often look at B Corp certified brands. But are you a mission-based brand? What’s your story? Nowadays consumers, specifically millennials and Gen Z, are looking for things that align with their beliefs and their values. So you may have a hip, cool personality that you can talk about when you’re going to these buyers because that means a lot to the consumer but also to the buyer, so they have the right products on the shelf.

Tyler Lowell: So good. I can give a similar response from a different angle. Again, from the agency perspective, we’re partnering with brands to provide a service. So a multitude of different brands across all categories, they’re looking and targeting to get into a multitude of retailers. A couple of things that I’ve heard mentioned but I’ll reiterate them. It’s our responsibility with those brands that we partner with to ensure that before they are to get in front of Buddy at Whole Food or Katie’s team at KeHe, for example, is that they’re well-prepared. We’re not doing our role if we’re not putting you in the proper position and if we have not sufficiently educated you on what needs to be ready to go before that presentation is made.

So dropping off products at a store, you heard right here and now is not the right approach. You’re probably not going to get that type of intel from our team with something like that. Being very prepared could be many different things. From literally having the right samples, to ensure the proper paperwork is filled out, to again, a multitude of different things. The other one is, and I heard this talked a little earlier, is what does it mean for my category, and I’m talking about it from the retailer’s perspective or a distributor’s perspective.

Look at it this way. My team is made up of experts on the market and the retailers and you being the experts on your product and brand.  The whole idea is for that to marry up, and for us to then obviously put together a very compelling story for the retailer or distributor. A part of that is ensuring that we’re thinking about what’s best for that given category, not just from the lens of yourselves or us as a team.

If we take it from the perspective of how this will grow the category, whether it’s fact-based selling oriented or if it’s something we just see with our blind eye as far as going to a store and then walking through an aisle. If you take it from that approach, we have a much better authentic feeling when we walk in that door with that buyer.

More to come from the Good Food Expo Panel

We’ll be posting more of the Q&A with the Good Food Expo panel in the coming weeks. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the Good Food Expo or NewPoint, please reach out to the NewPoint team — interested in more food marketing topics? Please visit our “Intel” page or check out my book: Moving Your Brand Up the Food Chain.