The companies in the Chobani Food Incubator came together in Soho last week to focus on what I believe is the lifeblood of any growth company: sales. When you’re a food startup, growth is all about hustling to grow number of doors, negotiating great deals with your retailers, working well with your brokers and the artful calculus of promos and trade marketing. Here are some of the key takeaways from the week:
Relationships, relationships, relationships
Ultimately, it’s all about relationships, and Chobani’s Sales leadership team led some excellent workshops and mentor rotations to provide insight into the best ways to navigate them.
Never underestimate empathy: when up-and-comer food companies are lined up around the block willing to pay the same slotting fees, you have to find a way to pop on the shelf. And the chances of getting to that end cap display and disrupting the store are greatly increased when you roll up your sleeves and help the retail team do their best work. If you can find a way help someone look better to their boss, you’ll get more than your fair share of someone’s attention in any business relationship.
A focus on sales wouldn’t be complete without a deep dive on ecommerce, especially as the grocery market continues to grow online. The benefits of appealing margins and access to customer data mean growing food companies must master the online sales game. We were thrilled to welcome Amazon Launchpad to help the teams navigate Amazon’s infrastructure and marketing tools and optimize their performance on a variety of platforms on the site. A few of the teams have already experienced significant multiples of growth in online sales since the start of the Incubator. If you’re a food startup, the Launchpad is a no-brainer.
What happens inside the store?
When you have a team of three, it may be hard to fathom a whole department of shopper marketing experts and brand managers strategizing the best promotions and point of sale programs to build your brand at the retail level. The Incubator companies were able to get practical advice and next steps from Chobani’s Shopper Marketing team on everything from digital banner ads to in-store cooler promotions.
We’re also all about making sure the teams get facetime with Chobani’s senior leadership. CFO Mick Beekhuizen led a roundtable session on setting up a good financial base to make informed decisions, and encouraged the companies to prioritize growth:
Talk every day about the top line numbers for profitability and cash flow in order to stay on track for your goals.
The Chobani finance team has also been a resource, spending one-on-one time advising the teams on fundraising and decisions around investing in your own operations vs. working with a co-packer.
Learning from other founders
One of my favorite parts of the Incubator are the opportunities to sit down with founders of like-minded companies. Last week we stopped by Sir Kensington’s for some fries and condiment tasting (personal favorite — Fabanaise Chipotle Vegan Mayo) and a candid, interactive chat with Sir K’s co-founder Mark Ramadan. Hearing war stories and tactical advice from a company a few chapters ahead of the Incubator companies was hugely helpful.
Because the creative side of the business is essential, too, we had fun “body-storming” with Collins Agency to prototype a temporary customer experience in an airport to bring the Incubator companies’ brand promise and values to life and think creatively about driving trial and brand awareness of their products.
To top it all off, we were able to treat the teams to a very special tour and dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. As we strive to bring better food to more people, the importance of adaptable and regenerative farming that respects the limits of season and builds soil and economies is part of that story. Only a truly special place allows you to snack on some sweet rye cover crop and delicious kohlrabi tacos all in one day!
After last week’s programming, I had the pleasure of joining Coalition for Queens as a judge at their Access Code Web Development hackathon. C4Q trains talented software engineers from diverse and underserved NYC communities and helps place them at leading tech companies. Dozens of students spent 48 hours building an app to solve a problem facing an underserved New York population. I was blown away by team Desert Oasis, who built an app to help New Yorkers manage their SNAP benefits and easily identify nearby farmer’s markets that accept food stamps in food deserts.
I left feeling energized and excited about the next generation of builders trying to improve broken food systems and solve pressing food problems. I’m honored that Chobani is part of the movement and am fired up to help it continue to grow!
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