Part II: The Anatomy of A Foodpreneur


Following on from part one of my trilogy of thoughts and insights into ‘Foodpreneurs: Taking Back Control of Who We Are and What We Eat’ today I ask: What makes a successful foodpreneur? Who are these new age stars who are filling our physical and virtual baskets with a diverse slew of products which successfully combine tradition with innovation?

Do not be fooled.

Despite the image, not all new food brands are started by cool young things. What many younger founders have in abundance is an understanding of their consumers’ vision, drive and enthusiasm. What they often lack, however, is the necessary experience and skill set to transform their proposition into commercial success. They need to choose their partners carefully.

Many of these new brands are started by Generation X and Xennials who’ve had another career often completely unrelated to food. They’re either disillusioned or have had some sort of epiphany usually related to their health, or they just want to make life more meaningful. Food is a natural draw, we all think that we know food; we relate to it, it is essential and pleasurable, or at least it should be. As a result, the barriers to entry are perceived as low.

Others do have a food background but want to break free because they recognise an opportunity which traditionally would not see the light of day in an established company with a complex supply chain. However, “being” in a big or even a successful entrepreneurial company does not mean that you know how to do it. I used to work for Shell, but I know nothing about getting oil out of the ground.

What all new age foodpreneurs share however is a common set of core values. Nowadays these invariably include:

  • – Naturalness – what’s not in it is as important as what is
  • – Wellness – even those products deemed a “permissable pleasure” must be a leader of the movement to cap the nation’s dependence on oversized, calorific foods. Why buy an overly topped, overly large pizza when you can purchase it by the slice, topped with quality, seasonally produced flavour combos.
  • – Authenticity – new age consumers seek out food that is simple, local and if possible from an artisan or small batch supplier. And trust is the primary driver.
  • – Connectivity – foodpreneurs connect more directly and personally with their consumers.*
  • – Credibility – to build credibility, foodpreneurs display good social purpose.

In other words, they sweat the detail, immersing themselves in consumers and using digital channels to steal a march on the category big boys.

*(This element tends to be aimed primarily at “Millennials”, but this can be a mistake as the target Millennial may have less available spending power or time to engage with the product.)

Despite these two limiting factors, the Millennial mind-set is much more appealing commercially, but psychographic segmentation** may well show that that mind-set can be more widely and differently applied.

We have witnessed this at close quarters. A premium fresh milkshake directed its hard earned marketing spend towards hip, young festival goers when in reality the product was being bought by 45-year-old plus empty nesters with more disposal income and spare time.

However maybe that just reinforces the point about the Millennial mind-set. I mean, who can really afford to go to the big Festivals these days when the price of a set of tickets costs the same as a small family package holiday?

Hence the explosion of middle class, middle-aged family festivals combining two great loves: music and food – events like Tom Kerridge’s laidback, local Pub in the Park. Or the Black Deer Festival which combines low ‘n’ slow American barbeque and outdoor cooking with sets by Kiefer Sutherland, but clearly positions itself as a community. More to come on community later…

**Psychographic Segmentation is the division of customers into distinct groups based upon their psychological factors as opposed to their age, gender, location etc. These factors include their lifestyles, innate beliefs and pre-existing biases.

Recognising the wheat from the chaff

Separating the wheat from the chaff

Thank goodness some people never listen to “expert” advice otherwise we might not have the iconic Marilyn Monroe to admire nor the photocopier to replicate her image. Of course Marilyn Monroe was a creation and it could be argued that Norma Jean Baker might have lived a long and happy life if she had accepted the advice that she didn’t have what it took to be a model and actress. We will never know.

My point is that some things defy logic and common sense and succeed anyway, but an awful lot do not. Personally I believe in instinct and gut decisions because when I have ignored my gut it has not worked out for me. However, I do like a few good facts to interact with my instinct even if I choose to disregard them.

For the best part of the last decade, I have seen countless people come up with a product idea born out of their dream of becoming a brand owner.

I always want to understand the Why. This is the essential question.

Why are they doing it and Why does this product exist? It is remarkable just how many people cannot answer this, but I know from experience that without this clarity there is no power to drive the brand creation.

For some people it is a mission and for others it is a commercial ambition to build up a brand and sell out. Both are valid and something to be proud of, but foodpreneurs have to be clear with themselves. Change the world? Change your life? Make a fortune? Maybe all three?

I often feel like a dream stealer when I meet someone with a vision and then introduce them to the rigours and reality of FMCG. It is not my wish to discourage anyone, but people need to be armed with the knowledge and skills for the challenge ahead.

I can still feel the sinking of my heart when eight years ago a couple told me that they had mortgaged their home to secure a loan for a production facility before even having a proof of concept for their brand. I heard this year that that they no longer have their home.

It is always our aim to help people explore their idea so that even if it is not a project which we can commit to, they will leave us with a little more knowledge than they came to us with. We haven’t always made the right call and missed some good opportunities, but we always learn from what we got wrong as well as what we got right.

Another guiding principle is “just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should”. I refer to this as looking down the wrong end of the telescope. It is great if you believe that you have the best soup in the world, but it really doesn’t matter that you believe this if no one else does.

Market and sector insights are critical.

  • – Who is your audience?
  • – Why will they think that it is the best soup in the world? (I am clearly a little obsessed with soup at the moment – homemade French Onion and a roasted Tomato soup in the fridge)
  • – What will they do about it?

The brutal reality is that buyers don’t care if it is the “best soup in the world”, they want to know how much money it will make them and how consumers will be enticed to their shelves.

So to be clear, success is spelt with four Ks:

  • – Knowing the consumer. Naming them, creating them, describing their lives and getting inside their heads. It’s about applying all the psychographic led insights that we talked about earlier.
  • – Knowing where they shop
  • – Knowing what they value
  • – Knowing how they behave

Saying your target market is the “Millennial” doesn’t cut it. It’s not specific enough and I wholeheartedly support the argument that mindset across the ages is more relevant now than consumer definition by age chronologically.

Foodpreneurs have to think more broadly. Their three cardinal rules should be: ditch any preconceptions about your “target” customer; don’t segment too tightly; and definitely don’t stereotype.

The proposition that just because you can doesn’t mean you should is even more pertinent if you are launching second or third to a market.

In which case, two further questions need to be answered before any investment is made:

  • – What is your brand differentiator?
  • – What is the precise problem that you are solving?

A good example of this is Chia Seeds in a spout pouch. Chia seeds are ubiquitous, but premium superfood brand Andean Sol has minimised the chances of spectacular spillage by restricting the opening of its packaging to a very sensible pour spout which is easy to use and resealable too.

Andean Sol Chia Seed with Bioactive Cultures

I assure you that anyone reading this who has experienced chia in their floor grooves will know that this modification is of clear benefit to the consumer and therefore a meaningful differentiator in what is heading toward a commodity market.

It is this ability to create or recreate products with a better reason to exist that is encouraging some big retailers to seek symbiotic relationships with the upstarts in a bid to redefine their USP.

The injection (in terms of real support, low cost data and resources) their latest NPD schemes offers food disruptors, and the potential to leverage, nurture and support a new generation of small suppliers in this way, is immense.

I’ll raise a glass to that!

By Fiona Esom

Fiona Esom