Alex Galindez of ROAR Beverages: “A strong team is everything”

To me, a strong team is everything. Even if you are the founder and only employee of your startup, you can start investing in building a team of advisors, industry allies, collaborators and others outside of your company whose input you value. ROAR would not be the brand it is without the incredible work and […]

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To me, a strong team is everything. Even if you are the founder and only employee of your startup, you can start investing in building a team of advisors, industry allies, collaborators and others outside of your company whose input you value. ROAR would not be the brand it is without the incredible work and constant feedback we get from our team members and stakeholders.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Galindez.

A 20-year food and beverage industry veteran, Alexandra (Alex) Galindez is the Chief Executive Officer of ROAR Beverages.

Alex has led ROAR in a new direction with a reformulated brand promise designed to exceed consumer expectations about wellness benefits and flavor. Under Alex’s leadership, ROAR delivers “Complete Hydration,” a perfect complement to a busy lifestyle, positioning the brand as the one-stop hydration and wellness solution. In addition to unveiling new packaging, ROAR under Alex’s leadership has focused on bringing heart, soul and hydration to consumers in a way that closely matches their lifestyles.

Alex began her food and beverage industry career with roles in Marketing and Sales support as part of the U.S. launch team at Red Bull Energy Drink and the U.S. launch team at and Glaçeau VitaminWater and SmartWater. Most recently, Alex Galindez was Chief Executive Officer of RUNA and General Manager of BluePrint at Hain Celestial. In these roles, she focused on brand commercialization through business development, e-commerce strategy development and implementation, brand strategy, sales and marketing plan development and execution.

During her career, Alex also consulted with numerous start-up brands such as Temple Turmeric, Brad’s Plant Based, Real Brands and Cloud Water to develop and implement go-to-market plans that garnered greater marketplace appeal with a diversified sales and marketing channel strategy.

Between 2006 and 2015, Alex led multicultural marketing at Burger King and client development at Facebook. This experience allowed her to obtain exposure to driving the business planning and commercialization process from start to finish.

Alex is from Miami, Florida. Born to Colombian parents, Alex is an avid Spanish speaker and salsa dancer and holds a Bachelor of Science in Advertising and Marketing from the University of Miami.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. From a young age, I was always interested in the world of food and beverage — what we eat and drink and how it affects our bodies — and this interest turned into a career as I went off to college at the University of Miami and began to specialize in marketing. That interest in the link between what we put into our bodies and how they function is still a driver for me to this day, especially as we work to ensure ROAR brings complete wellness opportunities to our consumers.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

When we looked at the ROAR brand and its opportunities for growth, I saw a beverage with a lot of potential. Previously, we offered a strong option in the beverage category, one that offered hydration at a lower than average calorie count and sugar content. But as I looked at our consumer data, I realized that a “strong option” in the beverage aisle wasn’t enough, and our brand had an opportunity to offer even more.

That realization is what drove our rebrand and my push to ensure ROAR offered what we now call “Complete Hydration” to our consumers. In addition to maintaining its organic status and low sugar and calorie counts, our newly rebranded ROAR beverage now offers 100% daily value of energy vitamins B5, B6 and B12; 100% daily value of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; and electrolytes from coconut water. It’s now an all-day complete wellness solution — and that all stemmed from that realization.

That moment pouring over the data was a big one for me, and one I reflect on often when I think about the “science” and “art” of marketing coming together to elevate a brand in a big way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the funniest mistakes I made was early in my beverage career at Red Bull. We had a pivotal meeting with one of the region’s biggest grocery store chains and we were trying to gain distribution for Red Bull across the entire chain. We were reviewing data that showed Red Bull sales performance in other retailers to show this buyer what Red Bull’s sales potential could be in his stores. At that time, Red Bull was so young that we didn’t really have sophisticated data sources. We would track our sales in an Excel spreadsheet. So, when the buyer suddenly asked me “what is your UPSPW in those stores?” I somehow thought he was making a reference to UPS and if we used UPS shipping to get product to stores. I started to explain to him that we used our dedicated distributor, not UPS and he burst out laughing. He said, “no, UPSPW refers to how many Red Bull units per store per week are sold. It’s a metric that tracks how the product is ‘pulled’ off the shelf. In other words, it’s a velocity metric.” I was so embarrassed. Luckily, he was a really forgiving buyer and miraculously granted us chain-wide distribution during that meeting. Little did I know then that my career would be all about driving USPSW while building brands for years to come.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I often see first-time entrepreneurs try scale too fast. They have their eye on selling their brands to a large strategic company and as a result, they want to go from 0 to 100 overnight. That “desire to sell” usually leads to short-term decision-making that burns a lot of capital. Before they know it, they’re in a vicious cycle of fundraising that leads to dilution and a lack of selectiveness regarding WHO their raising money from.

One of the things that can be done to avoid those errors is to solicit advisors and board members early on that have a long-term view of success. In addition, raising capital from investors that are connected to manufacturing facilities, ingredient and packaging companies, logistics companies, etc. can help the brand owners lower their cost of goods so they can invest those savings into growing the brand through sales and marketing.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

The first thing I’d recommend is to research the consumer marketplace, the retail landscape and the ecommerce marketplace. Find out what brands, if any, have gotten a head start and what their key product and brand differentiators are. Look at their pricing and try to find out where they’re manufacturing. Get as many product development quotes as possible to see if you can drive an advantage in the cost of manufacturing your product.

Then look closely at their brand. Are they targeting a specific demographic? If so, how? Where? Is there “white space” in the product category? For instance, is there space for the brand to be positioned as a more accessible and /or more premium brand than competitors? If so, what are the key differentiator(s) that would help win over the target consumer with this positioning.

Then start developing the product prioritizing the differentiators. Once the product is available, start testing. I always recommend that brands try to launch online before they launch in retail. The reason is speed to market and rapid feedback. You can launch via DTC without distributors, retailers, etc. and get immediate feedback to help fine-tune the product offering, the packaging, and the pricing. The cost of failure is lower in this environment because there are no middlemen involved. It’s just your brand and your target consumer.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

I would encourage them to either seek a Co-Founder that’s “done it before” or to obtain advisors and/or product developers that can get from idea to tangible offering. Nowadays, there are a lot of co-manufactures / co-packers that cater to start-ups. For a small fee, they’ll develop product concepts, provide pricing for the manufacturing of those concepts and even produce “minimum runs” for testing and trials.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

If the person is new to the industry, I would encourage hiring a consultant. The reason is that it’s all about the network. Innovation consultants have a plethora of partners for ingredients, regulatory support, packaging, quality support, manufacturing, etc. In addition, they have benchmarks for pricing for all of these services so you’re less likely to be taken advantage of.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

This is such a great question but one that really doesn’t have a “one-size fits all” answer. I am a huge proponent for bootstrapping for as long as possible. However, there really does come a point where outside money becomes almost inevitable. That moment is usually when you start going into chain-wide retailer distribution or selling large-scale in e-commerce. The reason scaling and external and / or institutional fundraising tend to go hand-in-hand is because at this point, you have an obligation to your customers, your distributors and your retailers. You can’t just “not have the money” to produce large volumes of product. You can’t just “not afford to pay distributor fees and margins,” and you can’t just ignore that retailers, whether online and /or brick and mortar retailer, have to meet their margin requirements too.

However, WHO you raise funding from is just as important as HOW MUCH money you raise. And I’d much rather bootstrap longer than not be aligned in the definition of success with my investors.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

Each of these is enough to write an entire book on, so I’ll share my insights on the ones that have been on my mind most these days: how to source a good manufacturer, how to find a strong distributor partner and how to find a strong retailer.

When it comes to sourcing a good manufacturer, scale, service and size are everything. There are a lot of manufacturers that cater to larger, more established brands that might just be “too big” for a pre-revenue or start-up brand. Two key indicators for determining if a manufacturer is “too big” is 1) the brands they manufacture (are they big, national brands or start-up brands?) 2) the minimum amount of product they’re willing to produce. If there is a big gap between the amount of product a brand owner thinks they can sell and the minimum amount of product the manufacturer is willing to produce, then that’s a good sign that the manufacturer may be “too big.”

When looking for a strong distributor, there are quite a few variables to consider. The first is “do they service the classes of trade” the desired consumer is shopping at. The reason for this is because there are distributors that cater to natural stores, distributors that cater to more mainstream conventional stores, those that cater to convenience stores and / or those that service more “on-premise” accounts such as restaurants, offices, campuses, etc. As a brand owner, you want to make sure that the expertise the distributor is offering is a match for your brand and the consumer you’re targeting. A great way to find out what distributors are out there is to simply ask a manager in the department of a store you’d like to sell into. Ask them who is bringing X product in. Many distributors don’t really have exclusivity with brands and are rather trying to build out a portfolio of like-minded products that offer different attributes to consumers so don’t let the fact that the distributor might be carrying one or two competitive brands be a detractor. Another important variable for sourcing and eventually partnering with a distributor is the brands they carry. Are they “better for you brands” or mainstream brands? Will the distributor rep be able to authentically represent your brand to grocery managers? Other variables to consider are routes. How many trucks and routes does the distributor have and will they give you the “breadth of accounts” you’re looking for. Finally, the financials. What kind of margin does the distributor expect to make and will that margin allow you to get to an on-shelf price that makes sense to a consumer once you add the retailer’s margin too?

As for finding strong retailers, a lot of the “searching” is actually mitigated when you DO have a distributor because they have a list of accounts they’re selling like-minded products to that they can just plug your brand into. However, when NOT working with a distributor, a great way to secure retail distribution is to reach out to the category buyer. Send him / her samples with your highly differentiated product story, your highly differentiated brand story, your case and /or unit price and expected SRP on shelf. Most retailers expect to make between a 32% and 45% margin so you can “back into” the price they’re expecting to pay a distributor for your product. When selecting the retailer, look at the size of your product category set in their stores. Is it cluttered? Is there a “white space” for your brand to drive differentiation? What are the competitive products priced at? How are they packed? Those are all questions you want to have answered BEFORE you reach out to a buyer.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

The big one! Here is my advice to folks trying to grow a food or beverage brand:

  1. Create a brand backed by a mission or principles.

Although a great product is necessary for success, it’s no longer enough to make a brand that is totally dependent on your product for its growth. A strong brand is backed by a mission — like ROAR’s mission to deliver Complete Hydration and support our consumers’ wellness — and/or a set of principles, like all of ROAR”s products are organic, low sugar, etc.

2. Align every product you create with your brand and your mission.

Once you establish a mission or set of principles within your brand, you need to align everything you do behind it or your consumers will lose faith in your brand’s ability to deliver on its promise. For ROAR, that means updating all of our products to align with our Complete Hydration proposition and deliver a full-service wellness option. If we put out a sugary, non-organic soft drink with no hydration or wellness capabilities, we would alienate our consumers, even if the product was top tier.

3. Learn who your customers are.

At ROAR, we believe in data-driven insights, and learning who our shoppers are has been an illuminating excise as we refine our brand proposition. For business owners looking to grow, this is even more important as you leave your local network and distribution chains and begin to expand regionally or nationally.

4. Communicate clearly how and where your product meets your consumer and your mission.

This is where it all comes together. You need to place your product in the middle of a Venn diagram of what your consumer wants, what your mission or set of principles dictates and what is feasible/profitable for your company. If you can hit that, you’ll have scalability and a product you can count on.

5. Build a strong team that will help you get to where you need to be.

To me, a strong team is everything. Even if you are the founder and only employee of your startup, you can start investing in building a team of advisors, industry allies, collaborators and others outside of your company whose input you value. ROAR would not be the brand it is without the incredible work and constant feedback we get from our team members and stakeholders.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Creating a strong product is easier said than done, but I think it relies on blending the “art” and “science” of marketing and product development. To make a great product, you need to identify the gaps in the market and develop an innovation that fills those holes in a way that will resonate with consumers. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I think that balancing both the data and the “gut” of product development is the key to continued success and product innovation.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I think we’ve already taken ROAR to a place where our growth creates more opportunities for our consumers to make better choices for their lifestyles. If we can have people put down a sugary beverage and pick up a lower calorie, vitamin-packed ROAR, we’ve helped them make a good choice for their bodies and improved their wellness routines in a small way.

However, ROAR is about more than the product, and we’re always looking for ways to support the whole person through our marketing, promotion and community building. We’ll share more news on this soon, but you can expect to see an extension of ROAR’s mission in the coming months that will speak even more directly to supporting our whole consumer.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

What I love about drinking ROAR is that it is a small, easy change someone can make to improve their wellness. Swapping ROAR for another beverage means introducing a healthier choice into your diet and cutting down on your sugar consumed each day.

I’d love to see more brands make commitments to their consumers’ wellness in the way ROAR has, both by improving the healthy offerings in their products and creating opportunities for their consumers to connect with the products they consume in a healthy way. Too often I see toxic diet culture or gym culture tied to making better choices for your body, and I think as an industry we have a lot of room to grow in that respect.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’ll give you two: Michelle Obama and Jessica Alba. They’re both incredible women of color and mothers who have used their platforms to create opportunities for greater access to wellness and nutrition. I’d love to pick their brains on their journeys and their perspectives on wellness — and frankly, both seem like they would be a lot of fun to have lunch with!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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