At Repsly, we want to provide you with the latest industry specific news and advice on managing field teams, so we’ve put together a series of repsclusive interviews with experts in the field. We hope that through the series you will gain valuable insight!
Miles Masci, Perfect Fuel
Perfect Fuel was founded in 2011 by Nicolas Warren and Miles Masci, two health-oriented entrepreneurs who introduced nutrient-packed dark chocolate energy snacks to the market. These organic chocolates can now be found in Whole Foods stores throughout New England and Northern California, in addition to local shops and grocery stores. Today, we sit down with Miles Masci, Director of Operations, to talk about his experience and get some expertise on retailer relationships and the process of launching a new product.
To start off, will you please describe your role as Director of Operations?
Miles: We’re a pretty small team here. The other founder Nicolas Warren and I, are the only fulltime staff. I manage a lot of our inventory and production scheduling, but have my hands in a lot of other activities. These include everything from managing our demo team, to invoicing and even sales.
How much market research went into your company and product at the beginning stages?
Miles: Quite a lot. As far as time we definitely dedicated a lot of time to getting firsthand market research as well as market research that was already out there on energy products.
There are hundreds of novelty chocolate producers out there. How did you go about differentiating yourselves in the market both through your products and through your brand or marketing efforts?
Miles: We do a little bit of straddling and it has been tough to define ourselves. We’ve actually changed the name of our company from Perfect Fuel Chocolate to just Perfect Fuel. We had done a few tests early on, merchandising it with different chocolate products and it doesn’t do very well. It does great next to other energy products like energy shots or other grab and go type items. So that has actually been one of the best things about our product and our company; separating from chocolate has been very easy.
In line with differentiation, most small companies try to target a specific niche. What would you say Perfect Fuel’s target audience is?
Miles: We’ve been very active as far as grassroots marketing at races; being present at races and active in the race community. The idea of the product was born at a triathlon, but we do a lot of 5Ks as well. We try and get out there and target people that are active. It was strategic in both that they’re going to appreciate our product and understand what we’re doing, but also those are the type of people who are really good at getting the word out about our product. We really cater to active lifestyle people who are looking for a healthy alternative for a pick-me-up and energy and enjoy dark chocolate.
So it sounds like you get a lot of customer engagement at these races. How else do you keep your customers engaged once they are aware of your product?
Miles: We do a monthly newsletter which has promotions and race giveaways and we try to make them as entertaining as possible. We have a really nice camera that we bring to the races and we’ll be taking a lot of photos. Afterwards we’ll send out a preliminary newsletter with here’s some great photos we got of you at the eventˆ, post an album on facebook, and give photos away. We’re pretty active on social media as well. Mainly Facebook but we also have a Twitter and Instagram feed and those are main ways that we are communicating with customers directly.
Moving on to the retail side, today your products can be found in Whole Foods stores across New England and North California. This is a huge achievement in the food and beverage industry. How did you initially get your foot in the door and what challenges did you face?
Miles: We were one of the founding members of Youth Trade which is a certification that advocates for young entrepreneurs and helps them get their foot in their door at Whole Foods basically! They were instrumental in brokering some meetings with regional buyers all over the country with Whole Foods and with other companies as well, so that’s how we first got into Whole Foods. Through Youth Trade got an audience with regional buyers, the Youth Trade logo is on our packaging, we presented to Whole Foods, and we took it from there. The big challenges of working with Whole Foods included logistics; getting our products to the store and all the paperwork it entails. But we’re marching along. We now have distributors that deliver our products to these bigger accounts and we’re getting things pretty streamlined.
How have you continued to grow your relationship with Whole Foods and ensure client retention?
Miles: It’s definitely a relationship that as a young product company, you need to put energy into and cultivate.
We are really active in doing demos and during those we can always touch base with team members at Whole Foods. Whenever we demo, we find out what’s going on on their end and what we can do better, and also get everybody jazzed on the product itself.
What advice would you have for aspiring food and beverage startups on getting their products to the shelves?
Miles: I would say, as you’re developing a product, talk to retailers before you have a finished product because they’ll know things that you didn’t even think about like the size of your box on a shelf. Does it even fit on a shelf? So we were really lucky to have local retailers take an interest in us before we even had a product and advise us on how to go about it.
I would also say to do the market research upfront. Once you start developing your package and how you’re going to go to market, you’re kind of pouring concrete into your business systems and it’s really hard to back out, so take your time in getting it right.
You said that retailers took interest in you early on. How do you grab the attention of a retailer?
Miles: Well, most retailers are pretty nice! So we went in and asked them. We told them what we were doing and they liked what they heard. You know, just have coffee with them or offer to make them dinner or bring them flowers! It’s not that big a burden of them. Just ask for 15 minutes of their time or even an hour. If it’s really exciting to them they may even want exclusivity they may give you a preorder and a PO before you even have a product is a really good feeling!
I’m sure! So staying on track with the retail side, what does your distribution process look like right now and how do you keep track of your field activity?
Miles: We use a distributor to service our accounts and those distributors give us reports, generally quarterly reports on what was sold and to each store and then as far as Whole Foods, Whole Foods offers a really robust backend service to monitor your sales and how you’re doing at the store level which really nice. So we monitor that really closely. We do weekly reports, and if there seems to be a store that’s struggling we’ll definitely give them some extra attention with demos or just a phone call just to see what’s going on. So that’s how we manage our logistics and marketing. The stores that aren’t serviced by our distributors, we use a 3PL service or third party logistics service where we warehouse all our products and can ship it out to independent stores.
And have you experienced any pain points in that process?
Miles: Well sure, I’d like it to be more automated. It seems to be a lot of double-entry when you have to enter a customer into Quickbooks and then enter it into our 3PL, it’s just a lot of manual work that’s time consuming and tedious and I feel like there are probably automated options out there.
What is your vision for the future for Perfect Fuel?
Miles: We’d like to work on some other product lines, not just the energy bite. Some other healthy convenient snack, powder, mix, drinks and we’d like to crack the nut on notoriety and visibility and distribution in other geographies not just here in New England but to be a national brand. I’d like to see it on shelves next to Five Hour Energy in convenience stores. We’re currently making a push into New York City. I’d also like to build more of a community around Perfect Fuel as well. The reason I got into chocolate was because I was in the Peace Corps and worked with cocoa growers for two years in Ecuador so I’d like to see some change in the supply chain and get a little more transparency along it and build on that community so that the end consumer knows what a cacao pod looks like, where it goes, and what kind of people are growing it. That’s definitely part of the vision for Perfect Fuel!
Aya Tsuruta is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly where she covers sales and marketing content through a creative lens. In addition to writing for Repsly, she is a frequent contributor to the music blog, Indie Music Filter, and BC magazine, the Gavel.