When we hear about entrepreneurs and startups in the food and beverage industry, the category that often gets lost in the shuffle is one that has the most ‘spirited’ approach to new product development. Here to talk about the untapped market for advising and mentoring the independent brand owners and entrepreneurs in the wine, beer, and spirits category is Taylor Foxman, creator of The Industry Collective.
Launched in 2020, the Industry Collective takes the wisdom of numerous experts around the world in the Beer, Wine, and Spirits category and uses it to advise entrepreneurs, start-ups, and others on how to make the biggest splash into the market. Throughout the episode, Taylor walks us through why organizations like the Industry Collective are needed in the wine, beer, and spirits category as well as how she’s turning the collective into the ultimate resource for the entire beverage industry.
Erin: Taylor, welcome to the Food for Thought podcast. I want to have our audience get to know you and what you do a little bit more. So, I want start off by talking about what the Industry Collective is. Can you explain it in a little more detail?
Taylor: Industry Collective is comprised of a series of experts all around the world. We also have about 15 founders and CEOs that we work with across the wine, beer, and spirits space, primarily fast-growing small to mid-size beverage brands. The inception for the business really came from my background, I've worked since I was in college for about 70-80 global wine, beer and spirit brands ranging from iconic companies from Boston Beer Company, to Absolute, to Jamison, to Jagermeister.
I saw an interesting opportunity area because there are approximately 6,000 to 7,000 independent wine and spirit brands here in the U.S., not even really factoring in beer at this point. Where I saw an opportunity was in and around resources for the founders. You know, up until the past year and a half, there weren't as many resources available for independent brands in the beverage space when you think about investments.
There were only really a handful of bigger companies that would acquire or partially acquire your brands, which does come at a literal and metaphorical cost.
There's a system in place called the three-tier system making it difficult for spirit brands to sell directly to their own consumers. And then when it comes to other resources, a lot of these entrepreneurs in this space don't necessarily come from beverage alcohol. They are entrepreneurs that, like they'd say on Shark Tank, found a problem and tried to create a solution for it. This industry is just unbelievably complex.
Where I – and the rest of my company – come in is to serve as an advisor to all of these different founders and CEOs. We help them across the board when it comes to counsel, whether it's, strategy around how to go-to-market and sell products or if it’s expansion of product portfolio, development of thought leadership programs. We work with founders to find out: What do they stand for? Who are they? We then help them develop their story. A lot of times, even though you would assume that many years into the development of a company that they have that figured out, most don't yet.
Erin: Can you tell me a little bit more about your background? Maybe talk about how you arrived at where you're at now.
Taylor: Absolutely. I'm one of those people that majored in communications, interned for a vodka company, and have stayed in my lane. I've been fortunate enough over the years to be able to work with such incredible brands, work with such incredible teams, and really have honestly been on all sides of the alcohol spectrum.
I realized in college that there was an opportunity to work in communications in beverage, and I postponed a Master's Degree. I was supposed to go to USC Annenberg School of Communications at USC, in California right after college. I had an opportunity right off the bat to work for Glenlivet, and Jamison, and Red Brass and all these amazing brands. I couldn’t believe that I could work in a category like that and get paid, so I postponed that Master's.
I started out my career, packing boxes of whisky for a PR firm. I was told at that time to pack boxes and not to reach out to people on the editorial side. I happened to reach out to the editor in chief of Men's Health at the time. I was 21 years old, and I just said, "I really love what you're doing, and I would love to get together." That just started this runway for me which, even though I stayed in my lane, has really expanded over the years. I started with packing boxes and making relationships and I just haven’t stopped. I mean, I've stopped packing boxes, but I have not stopped with the relationships. Over the years, I have worked for various PR agencies and I switched over and evolved my work as head of communications for Pernod Ricard, running the second-largest global wine and spirit company in the world. I now have my own entrepreneurial endeavor in spirits.
I still feel like I'm that racehorse, but I feel like I've been granted the opportunity to evolve my skill sets, mature my professionalism, but also be able to still stay in that metaphorical lane. Over the years, I’ve worked to become the person others think of when they’re looking for a resource.
Erin: I want to go back to a data point you brought up because this number seems shocking to me. Did you say that there were 6,000 to 7,000 independent brands when it came to, like, wine, spirits, beer within...did I get that right, 6,000 to 7,000?
Taylor: Six to seven thousand. And that's in wine and spirits. The beer sector I'm assuming is its own beast. I don't know offhand exactly how many. But no, 6,000 to 7,000 is approximately what I've been told most recently by one of the bigger organizations in the space.
Erin: On Food Processing we've covered a lot of food entrepreneurs I know from our listeners and from our readers that it's those resources that are so hard to come by, and that's so much appreciated. Because, yes, you may be a great mixologist, you may be a great entrepreneur that’s great at creating companies, but unless you have the perfect cross-section of having done both, you're going to need resources. I know you've been in the spirits and beverage space for your entire career now, but where did the idea come from? What was your light bulb moment?
Taylor: There was no, "Oh, I think this is a good moment in time." Funny enough, the original model for this was a little bit different than the current model and now it's kind of a hybrid. The original concept was actually to take all of these experts that I've worked with over the last decade, from bartenders to mixologists, to sommeliers and actually connect them to brands. Where the original idea was that you have a lot of these big companies that, in my opinion, don't really always look at third party experts to counsel them on how to look at something a little bit differently, or perhaps to challenge them. For instance, where would a big beverage brand go to find a sommelier or maybe a bartender to consult on a new product?
There was no website or, frankly, nowhere to go. I wanted to create a one-stop-shop where brands could reach out and say, "I'm looking to create a sustainability program. Who do you got?" Then I bring in one of the top founders of one of the most sustainable beverage brands in the world, based in London.
That was the original idea.
How it unfolded so far was me being recommended to the businesses. It was all word of mouth where I started working and advising one group and then said, you should really get in touch with the Collective because you need similar resources, and they needed similar resources. That was really it. Where we're at now is we have this array of different companies that we work with, all of which, as I mentioned, are fast-growing brands across wine, beer, and spirits. And really, the model is still the same in the sense that we plug-and-play: the experts or the people working on the business based on the needs that they have. I look at it from their perspective.
I typically sit down usually with the founders and understand where they're at and what their goals are. I want to know, are they looking to raise more capital? Do they want to get sold? A lot of brands do, no problem with that. Are they looking to create more products?
After the evaluation, we determine how we the Industry Collective can help them. We will plug-and-play the right experts, and we will help provide them the resources that whether they don't want to allocate necessarily all the money in the funds to or they can't, or they don't know where to go, we can provide that for them. That feeds into what entrepreneurs are looking for: they don't need to find all of these people or spend all of the money. They’d like to get all of their resources in a one-stop-shop.
The other facet of it is, entrepreneurs don't necessarily want to shackle themselves to a two-year contract with a lot of different vendors. You really want to have a partner that is nimble and flexible and gets it. I've always been of the mind frame, let's work together and keep it rolling not only because I know that as an entrepreneur every hour of every day things change for you. You’re going to need to pivot. Why do we need to hold ourselves to those traditional confines when right now, there are no rules anymore. I can guarantee that given that you're a startup, your needs will change.
They may change tonight or tomorrow. So, again, why shackle ourselves to a scope of work that's so specific for two years, when we can provide you with the right experts and the right resources on a rolling basis to meet your needs.
Erin: You keep talking about resources. So, my next question for you is, are the resources people? Is it a thing? A Library of Resources or maybe some PDFs? One of the podcasts we recorded earlier this year we talked about how, PepsiCo works with female-founded companies. Or for instance, the Stacy's Rise Project, to help kick-start a great idea. The biggest thing that they do is they pair mentors. Is that what the resources are for this? Is it like a mentorship pairing? Are there actual hard draft downloadable resources? Is it people? Is it consulting?
It's expertise across the board…. expertise across everything. That's why this model is and from what we've heard, so far, extremely unique. I think also, we really are not trying to peg ourselves as a vendor...we're the anti-vendor of record. We really integrate ourselves into these businesses, you know, we get email addresses with these companies. We're on happy hour, virtual happy hours with these teams. I mean, we are really integrated.
I think there is some beauty in working with startups now having been on the big brand side because they're very fluid. They're totally open to new ideas. I'm not necessarily saying that big brands aren't innovative or nimble, they are. But there are always so many more layers.
You have my team and all of these experts that can look in things and poke holes, and say, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Like, did you even think about XYZ?" Or they can ask questions about whether or not the startup has the ability to do that time-wise or budget-wise.
You're seeing this shift and, Erin, we talked about this when we initially connected, where you have so many of these brands that would have never been able to even get the remote voice share of conversation, visibility on social funding. And this is not just due to me, this is what I said earlier, which is there are resources, there's financial resources, advisory resources like us, and there are distribution routes. There's just so much more there, that what's stopping these people from being able to go head-to-head with so many other companies that up until this moment in time was that even a possibility?
Erin: While we're still on the topic of financial resources, do you help folks with venture capital? Either through granting money or helping them prepare to be in front of VC firms?
Taylor: We have some really strong relationships with different food and beverage VC firms just given our line of work. We also help if there are companies that are looking to raise funds, we help them with the strategy for that. Also, if there are strategic introductions that we could potentially make, we help support them there.
I'm actually more focused on what I call the broader expertise around relationship management. I have been a huge proponent of relationship management, from my younger years through now. I think investment, even though I'm not actively in that space, falls very much in line with how I look at all of my strategy, which is looking at your stakeholders, and understanding their viewpoint.
Whether it is current investors in the company, potential investors, employees, potential employees, media, whoever it is.
I help them understand things such as “what do these people need from you, founder of wine brand X, for them to even want open your email? What about you is different?” I spend the time to try to help people figure that out before they resize a font, let’s say.
We provide tactical support as well as strategy if they need it. Where I come in is helping some of these people, especially when they're founders and companies – when things are running a million miles a minute. We help them try to manage not going under or paying for this thing and doing that.
How do you go about that in a way that feels authentic? In my viewpoint, it is not by immediately pitching a deck. I look at it as that is a stakeholder that is constantly being reached out to by people, how can you differentiate yourself? And in my opinion, it is being authentic and being genuine and not just reaching out to people when you need something and in that case, it's money.
Erin: Say there's an aspiring or a mixologist with an idea and and they want to get in touch or someone with beverage industry expertise that wants to lend their expertise, how can they get in touch and be a part of the Industry Collective?
Taylor: Yeah, easy enough. It's just you can email me at [email protected] or just go on theindustrycollective.org, and we would love to connect with you whether you're a brand or you're an expert. We are always looking for more brainpower aboard. So, yeah, feel free to reach out.