Editor's Note: The next great barbecue sauce, marinade or rub is being developed in a kitchen somewhere in America. However, unless the right steps are followed, that product will not be successful. As CEO of Compass Blending, Angie Ruff has built a contract manufacturing business by helping clients, especially entrepreneurs, translate their passion for their product into a successful business plan and product launch.
One highly rewarding element of being part of the food processing industry—whether you are a manufacturer, co-packer, distributor, employee or customer—is that food is fundamental to existence. It is a feature of daily life and is spotlighted at practically every celebration. From birthdays and weddings to family meals and even funerals, food is special.
Food nourishes. Food heals. Food comforts. Those of us, like me, in food processing touch lives in an intimate, physical way. This is why defining a product’s niche, brand and brand strategy are crucial to success. Our clients need to reach the right people with the right message.
What I’ve found during my years leading clients from R&D to distribution is that a successful launch and a continued upswing in sales are achieved through certain critical components of the process.
Craft the product’s niche and brand
First and foremost, success demands time spent building a relationship between the entrepreneur and co-manufacturer. Here is where the product’s niche and brand emerge and are defined. More often than not, the client’s why— their personality, values and purpose for creating the products they create—are represented in their niche and brand, so these naturally emerge from developing a solid client relationship.
Once the niche and brand are cemented, don’t change either mid-stream. Keep the brand consistent; remember that logos, colors, labels and packaging all matter to the consumer. A loyal customer could be confused by un-marketed formula or label changes. An expertly niched and branded food product is where success begins and where it continues.
Top questions to ask when developing a niche include:
- Who is the product’s consumer?
- What value does the product bring to the consumer? (What problem does the product solve, and how does the product create this solution?)
- What product features help naturally define its niche: organic, gourmet, children’s food, etc.?
- What is the product’s price? Make sure to reverse engineer the price to ensure all costs are accounted for.
Questions to consider when developing a brand:
- How does the brand identity create a customer following?
- Why is the client creating this product?
- Are there certain values the client wishes the brand to uphold? How does the brand relate to these values?
- What are the client’s preferred well-known brands and why? Always know your competition.
- What does the client want the customer to remember about their brand?
Develop a brand strategy
Now that the niche (who the customer is) and brand (what the product stands for) are identified, it’s time to focus on the brand strategy. A brand strategy is created by answering when, where and how you will communicate and distribute to the customer.
Here are some top considerations:
- Determine a slotting strategy. Proper placement in stores is key to being noticed, and great placement doesn’t mean spending money.
- Reach out for your own UPC Code prefix. Do not borrow one! You want to keep YOUR brand under your control.
Typically food products do not flop because they’re not good. They fail either because they’re not well-niched or branded or not supported. One reason this happens might be a lack of communication between the client and their manufacturer or co-packer. This could also occur because of a communication breakdown between food processing companies themselves.
Just as building a good relationship with the client is important, solid relationships among companies involved in the process, from R&D to slotting, are crucial. Developing relationships with others in our industry creates success for everyone involved.
Truly, excellent planning fuels effective execution, and these combined create success for our clients and ourselves.
Angie Ruff is CEO of Compass Blending, an ingredient blender and co-manufacturer based in Polk County, Fla. As a 2018 startup which ended the year at $1.8 million, Ruff took her concept for dry foods blending and packaging and turned it into a successful brand. She has more than 19 years of experience in the food industry and currently is steering three companies.