Keeping your brand under consumers' noses is key, writes Christopher Price.
Some of New Zealand's fastest-growing companies are niche food businesses that have captured consumers' imaginations and tastebuds with their stories and products. But it takes tenacity to stay in the business for years and maintain a prominent spot in the supermarket.
What type of services do food companies need to grow?
They will need strategic advice on distribution, branding, packaging, design, website hosting and website construction. They need their story told to the consumer and trade via a communications/PR strategy. We recommend a combination of PR strategies and advertising across all media, supported by web and social media strategies, such as Google adwords and Facebook. Few clients have the time or contacts to manage communications daily. We manage Facebook accounts daily for a number of food companies, often complemented by a monthly e-newsletter print and radio.
How do you build a strong, valuable food business?
Improve distribution, develop export markets, which is much easier for ambient products than chilled or frozen. Get their story and "point of difference" across to the consumer, via PR/communications and traditional advertising. Communicating the story behind the food and the origin are increasingly important. You want consumers to bond and identify with the brand. Tastings work well, people identify with food with a strong story and personality behind it. Peter Leitch "the Mad Butcher" is a fine example.
Food manufacturers need to get their story and food samples in front of food influencers, food writers, editors, bloggers, social media platforms and traditional media. These combined activities create brand equity and drive sales. However, to keep growing you cannot stop; you must be in front of consumers continually or they forget you and switch brands. Learn from big brands Vogels and Tegel - their communications continue in perpetuity.
Some fresh food businesses can't easily export, because their products don't travel well. How do you advise companies on this?
Many food manufacturers export frozen, but they are mostly in the $3 million-plus turnover bracket due to the health and safety regulations and other costs. Container loads of frozen specialty foods leave every week, mostly to Australia and Asia. With two big supermarket groups who can delete you at any time, hospitality and export are vital to long-term survival and growth.
What is the usual route for small food businesses to get into specialty food stores and the supermarket chains?
Most small food companies start with a pitch to get stocked at specialty food stores and delis first. They grow sales through marketing, demonstrations, a supportive distributor, advertising and PR, then attempt to get listed with Progressive and Foodstuffs. This is an expensive and arduous process, and not for the faint-hearted. First, if you get listed can you supply 160 stores? You need the help of a professional distribution company which knows the supermarket category buyers. If you don't meet sales targets you may be delisted by a big supermarket chain. Getting in is one hurdle, staying is the next. To keep your position you need support in merchandising, communications, marketing and in-store activity.
Should food businesses think about having their own store?
Your own retail outlet can strengthen the brand and be profitable because you're selling direct with larger margins. Obstacles are high rents, fit-out, staff costs and increased administration. Get top advice, a strategic location, promote, provide great food with attentive service. It can work very well - look at Colestown Chocolates' tiny retail store in Two Double Seven.
We want to solve your business problems. From tax headaches to recruitment nightmares - every week, with the help of specialists, we will answer your questions on any topic related to business. Send your questions to Gill at: Southgill1@gmail.com