To kick off 2018, we brought a bunch of Boston’s best minds in food and beverage to our office to talk about one of the hottest topics of 2018: disruption. (In fact, we just talked about this very topic in the latest episode of our Powercast.)
Our first Power Hour event of 2018 started with hands-on tastings from some of our favorite customers (shoutout to Ghost Tequila, Down The Road Beer Co, LifeAID, Powell & Mahoney, Ipswich Ale Brewery, and UNREAL Candy!). The highlight of the night was an all-star panel featuring execs from Grillo’s Pickles, Farmer Willie’s Ginger Beer, and UNREAL Candy.
A pickle company that’s built a lifestyle brand supported by Cardi B and Joe Rogan, an alcohol company that wants everyone to know exactly what’s in their booze, and a candy company on a mission to unjunk the world? We wanted to know the tactics behind those successful brands we see today -- and their answers did not disappoint.
In this post, we’ll bring you a few highlights from the panel. Check out the full video at the end of this post!
Kevin McCarthy, CEO, UNREAL Candy
“We have a mission. We want to change the world. But at the end of the day, we make peanut butter cups, and we sell peanut butter cups. It starts and ends with the product and the consumer.
“Never assume that your product is as amazing as it is in your office. You have to be out there making sure that consumer experience is what you want it to be. Give it a try -- walk into the store and see yourself on shelf, and see what you think!”
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That mindset lead UNREAL to pursue a recent price drop to make their snacks more accessible, but it can spur changes across the board. From spotting trends that lead to packaging changes to realizing inconsistencies in your distributor’s merchandising quality, it never hurts to put yourself in your consumer’s shoes and take a fresh look at your brand on the shelf.
Travis Grillo, Founder & CEO, Grillo’s Pickles
Sure, opening a food cart isn’t must for every brand. But for Travis Grillo, a pickle cart in Boston Common was a springboard to building a brand with nationwide success.
The cart approach can boost sales for both small brands looking for a novel way to stand out, and bigger players trying to reach consumers outside of the store (when Travis sold out at the cart, he’d take to Twitter and tell everyone to visit their local Whole Foods). Whichever you are, here’s a checklist from Travis on how to start a food (or beverage) cart.
How to get your food cart set up:
- A health permit & official vendor location: Go to your local city inspection office to apply for a health permit. While there, you can check out a list of the city’s available vendor locations. If there are no ideal locations available, try out a store front (although the law varies by state). “When we started we used to hit up the guys who worked at 7-11 and just say ‘hey man can we just hand out pickles in the front of your store?’ and a lot of them said, ‘Sure, do it!’”
- Nutrition facts: If you already sell at retail you’ll have these at the ready. But if not, your nutrition facts shouldn’t be hard to get. “You can get these at a local lab,” Travis says. Alternatively, you can use a less expensive (although sometimes less reliable) database calculation.
- A good idea: We’re not joking -- it takes a seriously good idea to to the top of a list full of aspiring hot dog vendors. “The list is so deep. Hundreds and hundreds of people want to sell on the street, obviously, in the city. But when it was pickles? Right to the top.”
The best part, says Travis, is that “you can do it all for under 300 bucks.”
The Grillo's growth story sure is inspiring, and we're lucky to have been there since what feels like the beginning!
Nico Enriquez, Co-founder & CEO @ Farmer Willie’s
“When you first start, everyone says ‘learn your customers, really have a plan, and know how to iterate on it.’
We didn’t do any of that at the beginning. But the further along we got, we started to learn the value of really knowing how to test what we were doing.”
That attitude is a huge part of how Farmer Willie’s has evolved from a goat farmer’s hobby project to a brand that’s trying to change the alcohol industry as we know it. The brand’s mission to make ingredient labeling as transparent in alcohol as it is in soda is a strong guiding light, but without attention to execution the brand couldn’t have grown throughout New England as quickly as it has.
Bonus: How they connected with Cardi B, Tom Brady and Bill Murray
Two years ago, my rep messaged me and said “I got this photo with Cardi B!” I asked how she knew it was Cardi B (because she wasn’t well-known at the time) and she said “I just heard her voice saying ‘oh my god I love these pickles!!’ so she grabbed a picture with her.
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“When we started Bill Murray was at an event we were at, and he actually tried it and said, ‘this is the best ginger beer I’ve ever had.’ Then he poured a ton of rum in it, so who knows what he really thought.
“I think half of [connecting with celebrities and influencers] is soul and hustle. If you show up, you care about what you’re doing and it tastes good, then you just gotta keep showing up to the door. Cause they might not be there the first 100 times, but if you go back for 101 they might be there.”
“Tom [Brady] is a friend of our founder’s, and a very small investor in the company. We don’t pay him anything -- we’d probably be out of business if we were paying him -- but he really believes in our mission. What we’re doing is authentic, and he wants to help that. Tom is obviously a ‘health nut’ himself, and he eats our products. He believes in us, and our missions are very aligned.”
Watch the full panel from our Power Hour!
Frank Brogie is the Product Marketing Manager at Repsly. When he’s not thinking about how to position and sell Repsly’s products, Frank loves to explore Boston by bike and hunt for vintage cars through a camera lens. On weekends you can count on Frank to organize a pickup basketball game or play disc golf. An avid podcast listener, Frank recommends Philosophize This, 99% Invisible, and Radiolab.