When a brand reaches a point where it’s distributed nationally, cool things start to happen. You have the opportunity to augment your team with new skill sets, add budget to your yearly programming, and develop new manufacturing processed to keep up with the surge in demand.
As exciting as all of that can be, it doesn’t happen overnight. And it certainly doesn’t happen on its own. In many cases, as many founders will tell you, rapid expansion can feel more like a burden than a blessing at times since every new account introduces another layer of risk.
But despite the stress, scaling up can be the most rewarding part of the brand building journey (not to mention an essential one for brands looking to be acquired!).
In this post, we check in with a brand that’s owned the scaling process as well as anyone. Health-Ade has gone from selling its homemade kombucha in local farmers’ markets to playing at the top of the kombucha market coast to coast in fewer than four years.
Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at how Health-Ade maintained a culture of excellence during a phase of rapid growth, featuring an exclusive interview with co-founder Vanessa Dew.
It’s hard to believe that a brand with 100+ employees and distribution across 7,500 stores started out selling at farmers’ markets. Vanessa told us that in the beginning, their small team relied on self-delivery before landing their first big retail account (that being SoCal gourmet retailer Gelson’s).
Even at this early stage, the team ran into challenges as they grew. First and foremost was packaging compliance. At the farmers’ markets, Health-Ade bottles sported simple, manually-applied labels.
To sell in the retail environment, however, they needed to upgrade to a wraparound that included nutritional information and precise weights and measures of the bottle’s contents. Gelson’s also turned up the heat by requiring Health-Ade to sell 200 bottles per SKU per week to keep their spot in the store.
“Meet Customers Where Their Lifestyles Are”
There’s no denying that the customer is king in today’s food and beverage marketplace. For a brand like Health-Ade, which is sold in both natural products retailers and national chains, tailoring their message to their respective consumer is critical.
Vanessa tells us that shoppers at mainstream conventional grocers “may be more driven by value pricing, may not care about production methods, and may care about certifications and the word ‘organic.’” Contrast this with the natural retailer shopper who “really looks at ingredients and really cares about production practices.”
Want insight on how to approach different types of retailers the way Health-Ade does? Check out this playbook with tips for managing relationships with buyers, from big box to c-stores.
Equally important as messaging is choosing which SKUs to stock at which retailers. Vanessa explains that customers of natural retailers “may be a little more progressive, so they are willing to try something like reishi mushroom”, whereas shoppers at conventional grocers could get scared away by ingredients they’re not familiar with.
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Find Team Members With The Specialties You Need
Another integral piece of the puzzle is the folks who join your team as it swells. “Make sure you have the right talent to support your growth in all different ways,” Vanessa advises. By that, she means looking beyond just your sales and marketing teams to drive value as you scale.
Finance and account data specialists, for example, can create the analytics and models that will deliver you valuable insights. Even further, external partners, like brokers, represent your brand on your behalf when you can no longer do it all yourself.
Generally speaking, no matter what role you’re looking to fill, Vanessa suggests asking yourself the question: “Are they going to bring huge value to the brand?”
Leverage Your Investors
Your investor network has a lot more to offer than capital. Oftentimes, these people were startup founders themselves, or at least have a lot of experience working with such brands.
That being said, be sure to leverage your investors as a source of expertise, especially as you transition to the national stage. Vanessa says she sees Health-Ade’s investors more as a sounding board than a compass.
“The more questions we ask, the more answers we get,” she says. By doing so, the brand is “building with a little bit more knowledge in [their] pocket.”
Perfect Your Production
At one point or another you’ll need to address the elephant in the room - that is, how is your brand going to ramp up manufacturing to meet its new production requirements?
For a product like Health-Ade with such a unique brewing process, this was an especially tough challenge. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the company partnered with a brewer with experience in the industry to design a proprietary brewing process that preserved the handmade, small batch quality for which Health-Ade had become so well-known (every drop of Health-Ade is still fermented in 2.5 glass containers!).
Ever wondered what makes #HealthAde the best tasting, highest quality #kombucha you can buy? ⚓️ Well, it starts with our brewing process! We're proud to brew in 2.5 gallon glass jars (never plastic 🙅) and we always flavor with cold-pressed juice from organic produce 🍎🍋🥕 The result is handcrafted, REAL food! 🙌 #FollowYourGut
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Full of state-of-the-art, custom technology, the all-new facility in Torrance, CA can fill 700 bottles every minute -- a far cry from the old days when it took about 3 minutes to fill just 4 bottles. What’s more, Health-Ade’s fermentation room is even equipped with earthquake-resistant glass jars, a special consideration that’s imperative for companies who manufacture product in SoCal.
Overall, while redesigning the manufacturing process was a massive and necessary challenge, it presented opportunities for the company. With a bit of creativity and a whole lot of experience at the table, they were able to design a modern process that balanced perfectly the brand’s need for quality, volume, and security. While not all manufacturing processes are quite as complex as Health-Ade’s, it’s important to see just how far creativity and prioritization of quality can go.
Even as the brand achieves breakout status, it’s not stopping just yet. Vanessa comments that doing field execution flawlessly is a key strategy for how they plan to harness what she calls the “white space” of the rapidly-growing kombucha category. This entails using store-level insights to win at each account and dominate the category.
“I’d love to see Health-Ade as a household name, she tells us. “If we could be the ‘Kleenex of kombucha,’ that’d be my dream.”
Victoria is a Marketing Associate at Repsly, where she leads the company's P.R. and social media efforts. You can also catch her prepping for slew of exciting industry events. A New England native, Victoria has spent time living in Italy and traveling throughout Europe before settling back in Boston. When she's not planning her next trip, V is probably tasting wine or brushing up on her Italian.