At every Repsly Power Hour, we dig in and get closer to the thriving food and beverage community in Boston. Earlier this year, we hosted Farmer Willie’s Ginger Beer, Grillo’s Pickles, and UNREAL Candy, inviting them to give us a glimpse behind the curtain at what it takes to grow a successful brand in Beantown.
At our most recent event, we decided to take a slightly different angle to understanding the market. Rather than chat with brands, we invited a few Boston-area connectors and tech specialists to give us their two cents on Boston’s evolution as a hub for consumer brands.
In this post, we’ll bring you the highlights from this all-star panel, featuring Branchfood’s Lauren Abda, Drizly’s Bryan Goodwin, and Repsly’s own founder Marko Kovac.
Watch the panel here and read through some of the expert tips below:
About the Panelists
Branchfood is the community connector for food-related businesses in Boston. They serve as a link for investors, entrepreneurs, CPG companies, tech organizations, and more. The team strives to highlight food innovation through classes, workshops, and events. Their goal is to provide resources such as their Angel Network, which invests in early-stage food product and food tech companies
Started by a couple of college kids out of a dorm at BC, Drizly is an e-commerce marketplace that connects consumers with the liquor store. The business started with one fundamental question: How do I get alcohol delivered directly to me? After looking into the Boston laws, they found that alcohol could be delivered if it was from a local retailer. From then on, Drizly has been the online link between consumer and local liquor store.
Repsly began as a custom project for L’Oreal, helping the beauty brand track products through their “last mile of distribution.” Continuing to build and sell that software to other brands, we added customers around the world and became one of the fastest-growing technology companies in Croatia. Marko then set his sights on Boston as a place where we could connect with the knowledge and market we needed to keep growing.
Denise Morrison, CEO and President of @campbells, speaks about a recent investment in a new nutrition tech startup, Habit.http://ow.ly/GMEZ305BFIo . . . #food #foodie #foodinnovation #foodstartups #foodtech #foodtechnology #startup #foodforlife #entrepreneurship #entrepreneurs #innovation #foodprogress #futureoffood #campbell #campbellssoup
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The Advantages of Being a Startup in Boston
Lauren points of the forgotten history of Boston food innovation. Staples like Marshmallow Fluff and Polar Seltzer got their start in Beantown. The CPG legacy acts as a catalyst for hyper-local activity, inspiring new products and creating a space for consumers to seek them.
The strict liquor laws in Boston turned out to be a positive for the Drizly team, forcing them to figure out more difficult regulations before moving into easier markets. As Bryan put it, “if you can do it here you can do it anywhere.” Their head start coupled with the culture and community gave them the confidence to ask questions and the network to find the answers.
Marko specifies three distinct advantages of being in Boston:
- Size of the Market
- Access to capital
More importantly, he points out that they all stem from a culture of entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur spirit. Recognizing the need to expand his own knowledge and skill set, he chose Boston to be Repsly’s HQ.
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The Recipe for Success
Although Branchfood is more of a community than a tech or food/bev company, the one thing they have in common is catering to customers. They craft their knowledge around catering to the specific needs of tech and food product companies. Their key is the constant customer feedback loop. They are always there asking “what do you need and what resources can we provide?” This keeps customers continually engaged with Branchfood.
First, Drizly recommends embracing change. Bryan recommends being willing to make mistakes (they’re inevitable) and being able to pick yourself up to try something new. Once you get past the early stages, focus on scaling and strategy. From there on out, it’s all about keeping an even keel.
“The secret is there are no secrets,” according to Marko. As you can imagine, if there was a secret everyone can be doing it. Because there is not magical formula, mistakes are unavoidable on the journey to success. Marko emphasizes the importance of making mistakes in order to find the formula that works best for you. You need to know what doesn’t work to know what does. The relentless drive of Repsly has helped our team overcome any setbacks. Marko also highlights the need of authenticity as you grow with your brand. Setting realistic expectation for yourself and others makes the process more honest.
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Lauren raved about Barnana. She notes the growing number of companies making products that involve upcycling/recycling of food. Barnana purchases bananas that would otherwise be thrown away and turns them into a delicious snack. With 40% of food we grow going to waste, disruptors like Barnana are taking action to alleviate this travesty.
Drizly admires two companies in the alcohol space. Bryan first commends Farmer Willie’s on being a scrappy startup and hustling with soul. Second, he salutes Sam Adams. After a brewery tour with Jim Koch, he was blown away by the passion that has exploded into a multi billion-dollar company. Cook meets with every new sales guy and tastes every product with them to show them what the company is all about.
With a love of entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit, Marko’s brand of choice was Smart Lunches. Like our panelists, Smart Lunches is a connector in the community. As a connector, they are putting caterers with drivers to deliver healthy lunch options to schools.
Did you know, October is Non-GMO month? Sounds like the perfect time to grab Barnana for the cute trick-or-treaters at your door! 🎃🤖👹 pic.twitter.com/37XnPqewIS— barnana (@barnana) October 9, 2017
*Bonus* Panel Insights
Trends in the Food and Beverage Space
All three panelists agree on the skew towards health conscious products. “Since 2009 the top 25 US food and beverage brands lost $18 billion in market share,” Lauren told us. People are focusing on local, sustainable, and healthy products, even in the alcohol space.
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What Does Local Mean for These Brands?
One attendee at the Power Hour wanted to know what exactly our panelists mean when they talk local. The way each of these brands talk about local is different.For Branchfood, Local means hyper-local as they cater directly to the Boston-Cambridge area and some of the greater New England Area. They aim to bring the boston food and food tech companies together to learn, grow, and thrive together. Their goal is for New England to be the leading food hub. As an e-commerce app for booze delivery, Drizly caters to 28 states and 70 markets. Although Drizly might have more locations, their whole business model relies on local retailers of the places they are operating out of.
Tracking Customer Needs
Other techies in the industry wanted to know how Drizly tracks the needs of their customers and meets demand. While the needs of each customer and location may vary, it is easy to cater to many by ensuring there is a variety of products hitting the right price point. When starting out, Drizly knew their demographic was urban millennials with some cash to spend and who were looking for convenience. They built their business model from this demographic and built outward to meet the needs of a wider market. For Drizly, the main goal is to get the best local retailer with the best selection and the best price. They don’t want to just be a delivery company, but want to become the best way to shop for alcohol. To do this, they go breadth of coverage then quality of coverage.
Gabrielle is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly with an enthusiasm for creativity and innovation. While pursuing her passion for writing, she is studying economics and philosophy at Boston College. She spends her free time exploring Boston in search of the best cup of coffee and cannoli.